If you’re wondering “what is a slipmat?” or “do I need a slipmat for my turntable”, you may not realize how a mat improves your vinyl experience!

Most audiophiles don’t realize how much debt they owe to DJ-ing and hip-hop culture for the recent interest in turntables, and vinyl records. However, one thing probably needs clarification, the difference between a slipmat, and a standard turntable mat.

Crazy, I know, but remember, this is a group that likes to discuss, compare, contrast, and sometimes get into heated discussions about sound quality. So, let’s focus on the terminology, materials, and applications, so you can join the party when everyone’s talking about your record player!


First, the DJ Slipmat


The true reason for a turntable slipmat is to allow the record to spin freely, so that a DJ can back cue a record to the precise spot they want a cut to begin (also done in the broadcast industries years ago) when transitioning from track to track.

While some analog DJ’s use a leather slipmat, the weapon of choice is a felt slipmat, as it allows the most freedom of movement, both back and forth on the platter. There really are no cork slipmats, because they do not allow for movement of the record on the platter, but we’ll get into the usefulness of a cork mat later.

What a lot of people either don’t know or remember is that in order to set your record player up for DJ use, the VTA (vertical tracking angle) on the stylus needs to be set to 0 degrees – straight up and down. That way when you are cueing, or back-cueing a record, the stylus will move freely.

Using the standard 15-degree VTA will cause the stylus to shear off when scratching or back-cueing. While this “straight up and down” VTA scheme will affect normal playback somewhat, in a DJ situation at maximum volume, no one will notice!


Turntable Mats for Hi-Fi Lovers

pro-ject slipmat turntable

Looking at a more hi-fi application, the turntable mat is a different accessory. The tonearm, platter, headshell, cartridge, and even the turntable platter mat need to work together as a high quality playback system to achieve maximum fidelity.

DJ turntables, like the ubiquitous Technics SL-1200 utilize a direct drive system, in part for their quick startup time, and maximum torque, to aid in a quick recovery from scratching and cueing. As Pro-Ject turntables all utilize belt drive, we will concentrate on their approach with different mat materials for audiophile playback.

Though some turntable manufacturers choose a felt mat as a standard option, its biggest downfall is the lack of anti-static properties this material has. In some cases, this can make things in an audiophile setup worse.

Some of those “clicks” you hear when playing a record might not even be dirt embedded in the grooves, it might just be micro bits of static electricity between the vinyl record itself and the felt mat.


What is a Slipmat Versus a Platter Mat Versus a Felt Mat?


Depending on the turntable engineer’s intent when designing a turntable, they can decide how much the platter will assist in dampening the micro-vibrations that occur just from the act of the stylus tracking through the record grooves.

Some turntables (and even some in the Pro-Ject lineup) use synthetic platter materials, like acrylic to achieve these goals. Often the acrylic platter is designed in concert with some kind of record weight or clamp, that goes over the spindle, holding down the record in the center. This can make for a better platter to album interface, allowing the cartridge and stylus to extract more information from those minuscule record grooves.

This is a challenging experience when listening to an EP versus playing a 12-inch LP. Turntable manufacturers making acrylic platters suggest no mat at all, but like everything in audio, you can experiment.

The most popular turntable mats are usually rubber mats or cork mats. Turntable Lab is a great place to start. They have a number of different mats for Pro-Ject and other tables, including a full line of felt slip mats and decorative mats. Even if you aren’t going to be scratching for a house party with your Pro-Ject table, adding a cool felt decorative mat is a great way to personalize your setup.


Adding a Slipmat or Turntable Mat to Your Deck


One thing to remember when adding a rubber turntable mat, or a cork mat to your turntable is that you will need to reset your turntables’ VTA, as these mats are almost always thicker than the felt mat they replace.

Adding even a millimeter or two to your platter’s height will throw the VTA adjustment off.

Should you forget to reset VTA, you may notice your records sounding a little bit duller or slightly brighter (more emphasis on treble) than they did before. That’s when you know it’s time to make a fine adjustment. Then you can start listening seriously.

Depending on the resolution of your system, changing the mat will change the resonant characteristics of the platter, and in the end, change how your system will ultimately sound. Sometimes a mat can make all the difference in the world, even with a modest setup. The most fun (and sometimes most frustrating) part of analog playback is that everything makes a difference.

Cork mats tend to be slightly more benign in sound character, while the rubber mats tend to have more of a dampening effect on playback. One cartridge will respond better to one, and you’ll know by listening, when you’ve got it right. Again, if you live in a fairly dry environment, it might be worthwhile to switch to a rubber or cork mat just to minimize the static effects.


Turntable Mats are Functional and Decorative


In the end, adding a mat to your turntable, or changing the one you have will give you a sonic improvement at best, or up the cool factor at worst. Nothing wrong with that, and it’s an inexpensive tweak. Give it a go and see what you think!