Designed to replace the mat on the platter of your turntable, the Yellow Bird is an intriguing looking accessory. Paul Rigby wonders how it performs
When building a hi-fi, everything matters. Everything affects sound. Somehow. At some level.
So, looking at a turntable, that means the platter and the plinth, the arm and the cartridge, the motor and the drive type. It also means the feet, the addition (or otherwise) of a lid, any cables and, of course, the platter mat.
When you buy a turntable, the mat often receives next to no attention because the manufacturer’s build budget prevents that. It’s busy sorting big stuff like the bearing and the plinth construction. The mat is often a last-minute add on and sneaks onto the final design depending on how many pennies are left in the kitty in or the corner of the chief designer’s pocket.
This is why it’s always a good idea to survey any new turntable and then to ask yourself, “Just how good is this bit…and this? And what about that over there?” The core of your new turntable should be fine but it’s the accessories that might be suspect. If you want to maximise your turntable’s performance, enhancing the quality of these accessories can pay major dividends in getting the most from your turntable in sound terms.
Turntable mats can be had for low prices. Even good quality examples. Pro-Ject’s Cork-IT fetches around £18-£19, Origin Live’s mat is more intricate and costs bit more at around £40. There’s also mats made from leather (ok but not my favourite) and a butyl rubber sheet from Oyaide which is well worth a look at £90. The latter is a rare exception of a platter mat tipping over the £50 mark. In fact, the latter was the only one I had previously seen.
The Yellow Bird from Hexmat tops even that figure.
At £115, the Yellow Bird is an intriguing design and one that has obviously been created after some serious thought.
Created by Zsolt Fajt, an engineer from Budapest in Hungary, he has studied the issue of vibrations and noise in and around hi-fi and has developed his own philosophies to tackle them. For a vinyl record, “I tried to get the size of the contact surfaces close to zero. The total contact surface of a record is several decimeters square. Using the Hexmat isolator, this surface is close to zero, just 1-2 square millimetres and the disk is almost floating.”
With its internal structure and coating, the Hexmat isolator isolates, “…these damaging vibrations from the recorder, generating full power transfer between the platform and the disk and utilizes the vibration damping properties of the spherical form. The Hexmat isolator is a clamping mechanism that separates the record from the vibrating mass it contacts and allows the vinyl to have its own fairly good damping properties.”
One of the benefits of this system is, according to Fajt, “Less noise due to more accurate groove tracking.”
And the man has been working hard on this thing, from what I hear. More than 100 prototypes of this mat have apparently been made with a variety of material compositions including a variety of polymers, stabilised wood species, tropical trees pieces, industrial metals, ceramics, gold, silver, crystals, gemstones, various coatings and, apparently, many more besides, “During this time, we have experienced what works, what does not and how to produce it. The range of variations is almost inexhaustible. Because the combination of materials used has a dramatic impact on sound, we are planning to release several product variants. Our current product is a first series entry-level device.”
Now I did try to get more information from Fajt about the exact materials used, the shape of this mat, the nature of the blisters on the mat that push the vinyl record vertically up and away and more. What I received in return were polite deflections and, to be honest, I can see why. Revealed build secrets will open up the mat to copying by others which will then kill Hexmat stone dead, stopping Fajt’s income and taking him out of the game. So, I can understand is reticence. I’d be the same, to be honest.
The above information does offer a range of clues and guides to where this mat is at, as it where. Which leaves me with the meaty task of sound testing it.
I began with The Four Freshmen’s A Today Kind of Thing, a four-piece vocal harmony combo backed by an orchestra and the track Byrd Avenue, a short yet bouncy and energetic song. The four singers front a varied backing band stuffed with varying instruments from a Doors-type organ to glockenspiel, a string section and electric guitar.
Keeping a track on the instruments, which tend to sit behind the voices in the mix, is tough because of their position but also because its easy for the hi-fi in question to blur the edges between each.
With the Hexmat in place, the sonic response was intriguing indeed. I considered this test a tough one because I have used the wholly excellent Origin Live mat for some time now. Its a simple looking mat but uses some exotic materials within. I’ve had no cause to doubt it but this, admittedly more expensive, Hexmat added something to The Four Freshman’s track here.
What I was getting was a lowering of noise. Noise I thought had already been removed. But no, there was a definitely a lowering of noise and, with that, greater air and space in the midrange which encouraged a new focus in the vocal presentation. The harmony effect seemed tighter, integrated and slender. That is, there was no floaty bass bits hanging off it. The vocal harmony seemed smooth and flowed very easily. Then a band of silence appeared underneath and then the instruments appeared.
Again, focus was the thing along with the lowering of noise which encouraged the rather shy gamut of instruments to pop their head further out of the mix but in a naturalistic manner. There was never any sense of false focus here, no smearing of the treble or upper mids. Everything felt very natural and at ease. Music flowed across the soundstage with a complete lack of friction.
Does this make the Origin mat suddenly a bad product? Of course not, it’s a superb accessory but the Hexmat (which, I repeat, is more expensive) does push the performance envelope.
Moving to rock I tried We Will be Strong from Thin Lizzy. Full of big, heavy percussive strikes, slashing guitars, steady bass guitar, it’s a solid rocker. With the Hexmat in place the bass honed up tremendously, the new focus meant more impact and drive to the track as a whole. There was weight behind each percussive impact. Each time that drum was hit, it stayed hit. It wasn’t getting up again. It was out for the count.
The band’s twin guitar effect was also interesting. Their sound had extra bite, like a knife that has been newly sharpened, the guitars cut through the air with a finer slice, adding to their slashing effect in the song.
One new element that I was now aware of were cymbal splashes. I’m sure that they were there before but they were more noticeable now.
Vocal harmonies sounded dense and compact with a precision that gave the delivery new weight and added emotion and insight when certain words were stressed.
Despite the relatively high price, the over-riding effect of the Hexmat was to clean your music. That is, the enhanced sense of clarity was superb. The effect smoothed the upper mids towards your ears, added precision to treble and tonal accuracy to bass. For jazz, this included an intriguing analytical sense to the accuracy of the presentation.
The reduction of noise and the added precision that reflected that also added bass impact and weight giving rock movement and a sense of power. While rock vocals created a new sense of urgency.
I fully expected to be underwhelmed by the Hexmat. Oh how wrong I was. It is, in fact, a little cracker.
HEXMAT YELLOW BIRD PHONO RECORD ISOLATOR
GOOD: clarity, precision, bass impact, midrange accuracy, emotive vocals
[Don’t forget to check out my new Patreon Page at www.patreon.com/audiophileman, for exclusive postings, giveaways and more!]
Origin Live Sovereign turntable
Origin Live Enterprise 12″ arm
Van Den Hul Crimson XGW Stradivarius Cartridge
Pro-Ject RPM 1
Icon PS3 phono amplifier
Aesthetix Calypso pre-amp
Icon Audio MB845 Mk.II monoblock amplifiers
Quad ESL-57 speakers with One Thing upgrade
Blue Horizon Professional Rack System
Harmonic Resolution Systems Noise Reduction Components
Gutwire Consummate Grounding Cable
All vinyl was cleaned using an Audio Desk’s Ultrasonic Pro Vinyl Cleaner
James Thurston31st March 2020 at 5:01 pm
Is this Yellow Mat designed for a certain level of table/platter? I have an older AR suspension table that’s been customized. While in no way at the level of a lot of the tables out there, it is a nice design. Oh, and I have a leather mat on right now:)
Paul Rigby31st March 2020 at 5:15 pm
It’s suitable for any turntable James but, because of its price, I see it being used more on turntables from, say, £600 onwards if only because of the price. But it’s really up to you and your wallet on this one. You can use it on any turntable to improve the sound.
Ilir10th November 2021 at 2:31 am
Hi Paul. Can I ask please; Would this mat go on top of the factory mat that comes with the Technics 1200G? Or does it replace it?
Paul Rigby10th November 2021 at 11:54 am
It would replace it.
Dermot5th April 2020 at 2:13 pm
Thanks Paul for your review. I have two questions:
1. What thickness is it including those tiny isolators?
2. Wondering how it would compare to the Achromat. I currently use the 5mm version which obviously necessitates readjusting the VTA.
Paul Rigby6th April 2020 at 1:01 pm
Hi Dermot, the whole thing arrives at 3mm (1mm per isolator and 1mm for the mat itself) so you might need to look at VTA changes. Saying that, with your mat, I would advise sound tests before you change the VTA, you might prefer the mat with the arm in the same VTA position.
Dermot6th April 2020 at 2:11 pm
Thanks for your advice Paul. So the tiny isolators are 1 mm thick and the mat itself is also 1 mm thick. So……the total thickness = 2 mm thick 🤓
Thanks for the advice on sound testing though before I change the VTA. Something I wouldn’t have thought of; Unfortunately I’m one of those nerds who must have an arm resting on the record to be actually parallel to it. At all costs! Just me I guess 🙄
Paul Rigby6th April 2020 at 4:25 pm
Hi Dermot – 3mm. It’s: isolator/mat/isolator – each 1mm. I agree on the parallel siting of the arm and that’s my view. But it might be worth testing first. I’ve heard other companies (i.e. Rega) waver on the VTA thing for minor adjustments. Might be worth investigating.
Dermot6th April 2020 at 6:43 pm
Ah right! Thanks for that.
As regards leaving the VTA alone, that should be ok if you’re using the same thickness mat. Otherwise you must adjust the downforce when changing from a thinner mat to a thicker type and vice versa and especially so if you haven’t altered the VTA. Does that make sense?
Paul Rigby7th April 2020 at 11:37 am
Indeed, I’m all for tweaking the VTA myself.
Derek James5th April 2020 at 3:58 pm
Thanks for this review, very interesting. Would one need to adjust vta? As I have a Rega 2016 Planar 3 would I need to add a spacer under the arm?
Paul Rigby6th April 2020 at 12:59 pm
Strictly speaking yes because you’re using a felt mat aren’t you? Correct me if I’m wrong on that. Saying that, I know Rega doesn’t hold much credence in VTA changes like this, even though they sell a spacer so, if you want to buy a Hexmat, you might want to sound test the mat on a standard Rega first. See how that sounds. Then think about the spacer upgrade afterwards.
Derek James7th April 2020 at 6:53 am
Alan Speed5th July 2020 at 9:05 pm
Hi Paul I have a Kuzma XL DC, do you think this would bring any sonic benefits to my turntable.
Paul Rigby6th July 2020 at 10:53 am
Nice turntable and yes, I certainly do.
Alan Speed6th July 2020 at 9:35 pm
Thanks Paul for your prompt response. Ordering one right now.😀
Mike Janowski5th April 2020 at 6:29 pm
So Paul, did you consider the difference in vertical tracking angle? Perhaps simp[ly lifting the record higher, resulting in a different angle of attack at the stylus tip, caused what you were hearing?
Paul Rigby6th April 2020 at 10:35 am
Hi Mike, yep I checked that. That scenario would be valid for my Origin Live mat but I tested the Hexmat with a favoured cork/butyl rubber mat of the same thickness.
Richard Pike6th April 2020 at 3:44 pm
It’s an intriguing design, do you know how high the record sits above the platter, just thinking whether any adjustments would be needed to the tonearm on my Rega P6. Will you stick with your Origin Live mat or is this now your one of choice? I suppose what I am asking are the differences that marked that it is worth upgrading?
Paul Rigby6th April 2020 at 4:23 pm
Hi Richard – you’re looking at 3mm thickness. I tend to move from my Origin mat and a favoured cork/butyl rubber combo mat but I’ll be using the Hexmat from now on. Yes, you may technically have to add a spacer on your arm although I’ve heard Rega wonder about the necessity of that, even though it sells a spacer because of demand. Hence, it might be worth giving the mat a demo before investing in a spacer.
Mark Harding22nd August 2021 at 12:02 pm
Have been using the HexMat from its earliest days, thanks to your original review above. Have just discovered that it’s causing a problem in my setup and wanted to share. I’ve been exploring Peter Gabriel 4 recently, trying to find a first press “keeper”. Every one I’ve tried playing gets stuck on Wall Flower. Tried everything I could think of to try and resolve, but no joy. Then I thought about the HexMat… so I put a traditional flat mat down (same thickness, so no change in cart geometry) and the problem went away. Flip flopped the mats, and with the HexMat on, the records get stuck every time…
I have the new HexMat Eclipse arriving this week so will test with these sticking records. If they still stick then it seems like I’ll be looking for a new mat, which is a real shame as I love the HexMat.
Anyway, just sharing in case anybody else has noticed some records sticking…
Mark Harding24th August 2021 at 5:45 pm
Wanted to follow up my comments. I’ve been looking more closely at my HexMat, specifically putting it on a piece of glass and looking at it from below. It’s clear that my HexMat is now slightly warped as only some of the bumps now make contact with the surfaces – I’m guessing this might be the cause of the skips – an uneven spinning surface and the forces created. Wonder if there’s a way to unwarp the mat? Hopefully the Eclipse won’t suffer this issue…
Paul Rigby25th August 2021 at 11:18 am
Let me have a chat with the company for you Mark…you may need to wait for them to get back to me but, as soon as I get a reply, I’ll pass it on.
Paul Rigby25th August 2021 at 1:51 pm
OK, that was quick, the company has got back to me. Contact the company via this address, Mark: [email protected]. Say you’ve talked to me on this website and explain your issues. Hopefully they can help.
Dermot25th August 2021 at 2:12 pm
Sorry to hear about Mark’s ‘sticking’ problems. Unfortunately I too can relate to what he discovered in relation to the mat being slightly warped. Based on Paul’s initial positive review I was impressed enough to buy one for myself. After a few plays I discovered that the mat was indeed slightly warped. Some of the bumps weren’t making any contact with the platter. This, to me, defeated the whole raison d’etre of the design. However I didn’t experience Mark’s ‘sticking’ problem. Anyway I couldn’t ‘fix’ it so I returned the mat and got a full refund without any qualms whatsoever. They are really nice guys and I sincerely wish them all the best with this radical idea. I’m sure a thicker mat similar to the Achromat 5 mm version should sort the warp issue unless they’ve already done so with the next one up?