Record Support and Slippage

The most overlook part of a turntable is most probably the humble mat. In most turntables the provided mat is like an afterthought. These are usually make of felt or for the bigger manufacturing company a molded rubber unit is provided. Most users do not take a second look at these or question the choice of support for the record. Few turntable designs actually take the turntable platter and record interface into serious consideration. Those that do are the specialist high end manufacturer. These include Oracle, Michell, SOTA and Micro Seiki , to name a few. Record support provided by these specialist designs uses a clamping system, sticky mats, vacuum hold down or a combination of these. These systems are effective in what they were designed to do- that is to hold the record firmly down. But by clamping or damping, the music reproduced by these turntables is often overly tight and dry. To understand how and why some record support systems sound better than another, it will be better to look at some basics first. The first of these basics is "record slippage". Probably 90% of turntables, including some high end, super expensive units do very poorly with respect to this. It is very easy to test the degree of record slippage on your turntable. Place a record on the platter. Immobilize the platter with one hand, put the other hand on the edge of the record and try to move it across the platter. You will be astounded to find your highly regarded turntable do very poorly in this test.

Why is it important to prevent the record from slipping on the platter during playback? This is important if you want to maximize the amount of information you want your turntable to retrieve from the grooves. When the stylus is in the grooves trying to trace the music out, it is also moving across the record at 33 1/3 or 45 R.P.M. In this imperfect world comes the bugbear call friction. This causes the record to be pulled in the opposite direction of the traditional clockwise movement of the record during playback. In a hypothetical situation of "perfect slippage" between the platter and the record, the platter moves at 33 1/3 rpm but the record would be at a standstill of 0 rpm. Of course in a real world situation, slippage doesnít get anywhere near this bad. But even in mild slippage, which is very common there is a very audible effect on the music reproduced. These include smearing of the sound with resultant poor focus, poor ill defined bass, poor high frequency extension, poor transient response and overall a tremendous loss of details in the musical content of the recording. Turntables with serious record slippage problems, always sound warm and forgiving with poor details. This could explain why lovers of classic turntables like the warm sound of these turntables. Especially their adherence to the original parts of these classics, including the worn out slip like crazy mats. These may also explain the abundance of felt mats provided by many turntable manufacturers. These mats give their turntables the so call warmth of analog playback. DeeJays use these mats exclusively for their scratching work and they donít call these slip mats for no reason. However replacing these with properly designed non-slip mats may cause the users to hate their turntables. This is because a slippery mat is actually hiding the true sound of a cheap or badly made turntable. Sometimes the truth hurts.

The second fundamental of record support is that the record must be able to "breathe". That is the record must not be "choke" by using a clamp on it or "suffocated" by over damping. Thus turntables that suck the record down by using clamps, vacuum, or sticky mats always sound overly dead and unmusical even though they solve the slippage problem. The music reproduced by a turntable sounds more natural when the record is supported in such a manner that allows it to resonate freely. Itís hard to explain why this should be so, seen technically speaking a record that is sucked down and damp out, would allow the stylus to do a better job. But in a situation like this, the ear should have the last say.

Turntables that supported the record in this manner are not many. Some of the older Michell did this, with the records resting on discs and most of the surface of the record being unsupported. The common wisdom then was that this was too radical and would not bode for good sound. Maybe Michell was ahead of its time.

These dual properties of minimal record slippage and a freely supported record seems to be at odd with each other. Turntables that have a record support system that combines these two properties are rare. I have come across only one turntable that fits this picture. This is the EMT 950. The EMTís range of turntables has long been recognized, as Germanyís finest, they are perhaps even the best in the world. They are not often seen in domestic use but more in the professional circle. The music produced by this turntable is the best I have heard. Full of energy that is evenly treated across the entire audio band. The details were there. Nothing was hidden yet it was just as musically involving. Build quality was superb and massive at 75 kg. Two other things stuck me about this turntable. The first was that it is a direct drive unit and sounding good. This is a very rare combination. Thus my adage of "the only good sounding direct drive turntable is a dead direct drive turntable" goes out of the window.

The second thing was the platter. It has some very unusual characteristics that were at odd with common wisdom. It is very light. Feels like a Frisbee and make of fiberglass. The manual explains the rationale behind the light platter and it is definitely convincing. However I will not go into this, as it is not directly related to this discussion. The other thing that is unusual about the platter is its liveness and the way it grips the record. There is absolutely no slippage between platter and record. The record is supported on three  raised rims that encircle the spindle. The platter is coated with a non- skid substance.  However  it is not sticky. Lifting off the record was as easy as any other turntable. Rapping the record while it was resting on the platter indicated a strong resonance character.

Thus this turntable is innovative and is among the rare few that supports the record correctly which is imperative to achieving good sound in analog playback. What vinyl lovers need now is a properly designed mat that take into account this objective of minimal record slippage yet allow the record to "breathe".