Sun - Perfect Pitch - July, 1998


Fidel T. Beauson ventures to the edges of hi-fi. with the latest CD tweak from Ringmat Developments
ore tales from the hi-fi loony bin. The last piece of heresy as regards digital audiophilia was when some suggested that painting the outer and inner edges of your CDs green would make the music encoded on them sound better (it did, in varying degrees). Now out from the hat pops STATMAT, a "biaxially-oriented polypropylene film coated on both sides with an aqueous dispersion of polyvinylidene chloride copolymer (which has anti-static properties) and specially formulated inks."

So the STATMAT is thin film of stretchy plastic imprinted with secret ink. Place it on top of a CD and kaboom. The qualitative difference almost hits you between your eyes.

Origins and gobbledygook
STATMAT rings a bell because its the digital sister of Ringmat, the record platter made of cork that some vinyl enthusiasts swear has restored their turntables and record collections to life. While Ringmat presumably addressed mechanical impedances between platter and LP STATMAT addresses electrical ones, namely low voltage "hot spots" caused by the build-up of electrostatic fields during CD playback (its plastic spinning within a hot and dry environment). STATMAT evens out this static build-up, which "introduces continuous electrical vibration, resulting in phase changes."

How and why, this should happen to an optical disc reading system is not made clear, much less why it should affect a digital system. Unless of course so-called digital playback isn't entirely digital which it isn't. ·

Arguably, the reading of the CD is an analogue process, and more often overlooked is the fact that although the digital-to-analogue conversion process itself is by design digital, its implementation cannot be due to electrical parts not yet possessing zero tolerances. In any case, listening to STATMAT shows just how much more there is of digital technology that is yet to be discovered.

STATMAT was developed over the last five years by QR Design and DNM Design. Assuming the latter is the same company! headed by Denis Morecroft of solid-core cables and plastic amplifiers fame (or infamy), the tweaky nature of STATMAT comes as no surprise. The secret of STATMAT isn't just in the ink; its also in the pattern which adorns this plastic film.

There's something very X-Files about it, because the pattern resembles those much bigger ones once found in Midwest American cornfields` as well as looking a chip off the swastika-like metal devices; used by the Combak Corporation in its Harmonix tuning devices.

Test run
The introduction of STATMAT on to any CD galvanises a once-sloppy musical ensemble into producing a stronger, more lively and organised performance all-round. Vocalists
appear to have improved breathing technique because they actually sing when pre-STATMAT, they might have been mealy mouthed. They take control of their voices, projecting lyrics with greater force. In hi-fi terms, vocals gain in strength and focus, remaining stable in their chosen spot on the soundstage and appearing bigger without being larger than life.

In fact, these observations are true for any leading instrument, whether human voice, guitar or piano. Strumming and plucking technique are more resolute and pianos sound like their strings are attached to sturdier frames of wood. In clearer tones, notes do not swim into each other. ·

The immediately noticeable difference is of a louder sound, and this paradoxically, is partly because the level of electronic background noise which all hi-fi imparts to music, is lowered. With the lower noise floor, dynamic range - the difference in level between the softest and the loudest sounds - is greater, and incidental sounds such as fingers sliding across a fretboard become clearer, thus ' adding to the authenticity of the reproduced musical experience. It should be noted that this is not about loudness alone, which actually implies a lack of dynamic range.

STATMAT yields greater subtlety as well, because it also improves dynamics, making for livelier, more committed performances. Again, the removal of hi-fi artifacts helps: a greyish, homogenising veil is cast off the musicians, and if they are raucous and lacking in finesse instead, STATMAT's ameliorating of any dryness in the recorded sound makes them that much more listenable. Again, to analyse in, purely sonic terms, a stable pitch makes for clearer tone colours, and hence, crisper attack. The beginnings of separate musical notes is thus delineated more clearly allowing superior technique to be more easily appreciated.

How much of an absolute difference does STATMAT make though, and how much of a qualitative one? Well, it won't make a silk purse out of a khinzir's ear, but the differences it makes to CD players at different price points is consistent, as is the relative magnitude of improvement. So the Sony XA-5OES sans STATMAT is stilt better than the cheaper XA-5ES with STATMAT. Truth be told, I find the former has an indispensable lightness of touch which I am partial to, as well as a more integrated sound. But add STATMAT, and it improves further as much perhaps as the improvement yielded by its addition to the 5OES. Ah, so. Good to know that hi-fi reflects life: it is never static. Even if I never had a carpet in my house, I would still own a STATMATİ