More of an isolator than a traditional platter mat, the new HEXMAT “Yellow Bird” is both visually striking and intriguing.
As vinyl enthusiasts, we are constantly in pursuit of the perfect setup and sound. A great turntable is only half the battle, as all aspects and components of any HiFi setup will affect the final sound. Turntable mats are certainly no exception, and the market is awash with various options from simple felt mats to high-end materials sporting complex engineering theories.
Each mat design and the material will have a direct impact on the sound of your vinyl records. After all, with vinyl, we are dealing with a mechanical process that happens at a microscopic level; the smallest change in material or design can have a significant impact.
Most platter mats focus on dampening and controlling resonance by coupling the record to the platter or mat as closely as possible. Clamps are often employed to enhance this process even further.
The HEXMAT is different…
Instead of increasing mass and surface coverage, the HEXMAT brings the record contact surface area close to zero. (Just 1-2 square millimeters to be exact. The disk is practically floating). The HEXMAT isolator separates the record from the vibrating mass (your platter) and allows the vinyl to utilize its own damping properties.
A Hungarian sound engineer named Zsolt Fajt contrived the concept through a combination of passion for vinyl and his knowledge of the recording and mixing process. In his words, “I firmly believe that there is the same stable sound on the analog disc as I get in the digitalized format, but I am just unable to get that out of it.”
In short, Fajt is describing how vibration affects the playback of an otherwise perfectly mastered and cut record. Speaking to Sound Matters, he comments further, “One thing to be aware of while driving our sound system at a comfortable volume, is that we bring enormous energy to the air. This vibration passes through gaps, doors, windows, and walls, so it’s easy to imagine the amount of forces at work. The sound from our speakers returns to the stylus with some delay, which manifests as phase distortion. The problem increases exponentially with increasing volume, and the result is inaccurate groove tracking.”
So you can see what Fajt is getting at here. It’s an interesting concept that flies in the face of convention. The product looks pretty striking too, with is bold yellow color and hexagonal shape that sports laser-etched logos and spherical cuts. The HEX mat looks pretty cool on my acrylic platter, but I think it looks particularly striking with the contrast of a black platter.
The development of Fajt’s first platter mat was three years in the making, as he went to work developing more than 100 prototypes made from a variety of material compositions. These included a variety of polymers, wood species, tropical trees, industrial metals, ceramics, gold, silver, crystals, gemstones, and various coatings. So as you can guess, expect new designs and materials to surface over the coming years.
For now, we’ll stay focused on their debut design, the “Yellow Bird”.
How Does The HEX MAT Sound?
If your turntable VTA (vertical tracking angle) is adjusted for a 3mm turntable MAT, the HEXMAT is a quick and easy swap. If you don’t currently use a platter mat, you’ll need to check if your turntable is compatible with a 3mm thick mat, or if you can adjust the VTA. I tested the HEXMAT on a Pro-Ject X1, which is fully VTA adjustable, and so I was able to adjust the VTA for 3mm for the best result.
For the listening test, I selected three records that I regard as being mastered and pressed well.
Firstly, John Frusciante The Empyrean. The recent re-press of this record was mastered by Bernie Grundman, a mastering engineer who I greatly respect and is responsible for some of the best sounding records in my collection. The mix is dense, complex, and densely layered across many sections of this album—particularly during the closing section of “Unreachable”.
On the stock acrylic platter, the record sounds very good, as I regard acrylic platters to perform very well when it comes to resonance control. With the HEXMAT in place, everything gets a gentle tighten. The bass is solid and controlled, and the low-mid range less muddy. There is a notable reduction in noise across the entire frequency range, and I’m able to easily pick out each layer of intricate guitar work without losing sight of the solid rhythm section.
So far, so good. Next up, Kasabian’s first album, which is unusual for an album released in 2004 for retaining a good dynamic range. There are lots of electronic elements to this album, and the HEXMAT stood up well to the wide frequency range presenting the pounding bass with focus and intent. Also, the presentation in the mid-range is clean, and the high frequencies crisp yet controlled.
Last but by no means least is Counting Crows August & Everything After. My vinyl copy of this record is mastered at 45 RPM, revealing more precision and detail from another record I regard as having great production and mastering. The music is more folk-influenced than the previous two offerings, with plenty of organic textures. The opening track “Round Here” begins softly with the pulse of a Hammond B3 organ and with the HEXMAT its continued presence sitting beneath the guitars is easy to place throughout the track. The drums are tight and crisp throughout, and the well-mixed stereo separation is easy to appreciate.
The Bottom Line
With any turntable accessory, if you’re looking for a revolutionary change in sound, you might be disappointed. But that’s not what the HEXMAT is all about. This isolating platter mat is designed for the perfectionist, who is likely to own a high-quality turntable, but wants to squeeze every last drop of performance from their investment. At $150 or £115, it comes in at the higher-end of the platter mat market, but I conclude that this innovative new design is up there with the best available, including the Soundeck and the FunkFirm Achromat. Arguably, the HEX MAT is also the prettiest of the three. Hats off to Zsolt Fajt and his team for pushing the envelope in what is a very competitive market. We can’t wait to see what’s next from HEX MAT.