Component Reviews

Marigo Audio Signature 3-D Stabilizer Mat

The last word in tweaks to go on top of or around your optical discs!

Published on July 22, 2005

Marigo Audio Signature 3-D Stabilizer Mat
Marigo Labs Signature 3-D Stabilizer Mat

 

SRP: $199

 

Marigo Labs
360-546-2727
www.marigoaudio.com
info@marigoaudio.com


Intro

A common misconception of the conservative coterie in audio is that
various tweaks cannot possibly make any improvement in sound with
digital components because bits are bits – they’re either on or off and
subtle analog-type enhancements are not going to enhance the sound.
They are forgetting that just as vinyl discs, for example, have many
imperfections: warps, eccentricities, pops, flutter or wow – so do
digital optical discs: accuracy of the pits, their depth, eccentricity
of the disc, corrupted data, etc.  Although the error correction
circuitry covers up all but the very worst imperfections, it can
contribute to poorer sound when it has to work too hard. The point is
to get the cleanest data stream to the DAC, and any number of gadgets
have been dreamt up to try to do that – some resulting in such subtle
enhancement that few ears can hear it, and others creating a different
sound but not necessarily a better one.

Various discs to lay on top of your CD in the drawer have appeared over
the years.  Some have been very thin plastic sheeting material,
some heavy material that is supposed to produce a flywheel action, and
there have also been elastic bands to go around the perimeter of each
CD to achieve an improvement more noticeable than that gained with the
now-familiar green marking pen. Some audiophiles merely stacked a
second CD on top of the CD they were playing, but that often produced
too great a thickness which would hang up the CD drawer.  

The Marigo 3-D Mat is the result of an effort to develop a new level of
enhancement for digital replay, and its price reflects the seriousness
of that effort. The new technologies involved in the mat include a
carbon fiber and Kevlar composite matrix to control damping, embedded
ultrafine silver wire for stray field suppression, proprietary coatings
on both sides of the mat for damping, draining of charges, and
spectra-modified light absorption, plus other original proprietary
technologies developer Ron Hedricks chooses not to reveal to us. 
The mat is thin enough that it should not be a problem in most players,
but if it does slip off the CD when the drawer is opened or closed, Ron
provides some of his little rubber bumpers with the disc, which are
affixed to the drawer and which prevent the mat moving around. The mat
has a green side, which should be on top for audio replay, including
hi-res discs. The other side of the mat is gold and should be faced up
when used for DVD replay.

Auditioning

I tried the mat on both video and audio sources, including my  Dan
Wright modified Sony S9000 ES two-channel SACD/CD player, my
DW-modified Sony  CE-775 SACD/CD changer, and the Pioneer DV-59AVi
universal player I was reviewing.  I began with one of my
tried-and-true test CDs, an Opus 3 gold sampler titled “Testrecords 1,
2 & 3”, on which I frequently use  the second track – a
classical guitar quartet playing Telemann, and the third track – a
traditional jazz ensemble. This disc has also had the thorough green
pen treatment. Played straight thru my Sunfire preamp with the Source
Direct option bypassing all digital processing, it sounded great
without the mat. (The 9000 analog output feeds thru a Taddeo Digital
Antidote processor prior to the preamp.)

Then I open the disc drawer and slipped on the Marigo mat.  The
sounds of the guitars now had more pronounced plucking of the strings,
there was more ambiance in the recorded space, the soundstage was wider
and deeper, there were increased dynamics, deeper bass end, and the
attack on emphasized notes was stronger. With the mat off the four
guitars sounded perfectly on pitch and almost like clones of one
another; with the mat in place one could hear minute pitch/timbre
differences between the guitars that actually added another degree of
musical interest.

On the trad jazz track the piano which opens on the left channel
sounded rather distant and a bit dull without the mat, and the banjo
solo which shortly comes up was a bit mild and reticent-sounding. 
With the mat the piano sounded closer and more realistic and the string
tone and plucking of the banjo stood out with gusto. About the middle
of this track is a loud centered soprano sax solo.  Without the
mat that was an attention-getter and sounded like my center channel
speaker was operating when it wasn’t.  However, with the Marigo
mat it nearly knocked me over with its presence, solidity and impact. I
noticed similar improvements on both of these tracks with all four of
the players at hand, including my Rotel RDV-1050.

The second standard CD I tried was a new band disc from Bill Cunliffe
titled Imaginación on Tori.  The second track (Do it Again) opens
with a section of various Latin-type percussion instruments – guiros,
scratchers etc.  While they were clearly laid out across the
soundstage both with and without the mat, the mat gave all the
instruments more crispness of delivery and subtle overtones that were
not noticed before.  I have a few discs in duplicate for
comparisons, and one is an excellent BIS CD of Ernesto Lecuona’s piano
music, Vol. 2.  I put both discs (also green-penned) into my Sony
changer with the mat on top of the second one so I could skip back and
forth using my remote. The orchestral introduction on track 1 has a
flute against a string section and the mat-less disc showed some
edginess in the sound. The disc with the mat lost the edginess and
sounded sweeter.  On the solo piano pieces on the CD, the mat
resulted in more upper harmonics, a crisper piano sound, and generally
more life in the entire performance.  I also tried the same disc
on my two-channel player and the improvements were similar though not
quite as dramatic as with the formerly $300-area changer.  I
believe that with less solid and resonance-prone transports the mat
could provide even more improvement. Changing a $300 player to a $500
one? Possible, and that would pay for itself, right?

I moved next to two-channel SACD playback, starting with a new CPO
disc, Harpsichord Concertos of Benda. The mat brought increased low
bass support, made the string tone more silky and achieved much
improved soundstage depth. Without the disc the passages when the solo
harpsichord came to the fore sounded as thought there was a partial
lute stop in operation. With the mat on there were added harmonics to
fill out the sonic picture of the harpsichord and it no longer sounded
slightly muffled. (I play and own a harpsichord so I’m familiar with
what it should sound like.)

The Water Lily Acoustics stereo SACD of Scriabin’s Divine Poem with
Alexander Dmitriev conducting was next. This lush and sensual symphony
opens with extremely low, murky-sounding rumbling involving tubas,
trombones and string basses. Then over this background  is heard
higher-pitched strings.  About this time, being a live concert,
one hears a loud cough on the left channel.  Without the mat the
music sounded fairly impressive, illustrating the mid-audience acoustic
viewpoint achieved by Water Lily with their single stereo mike for the
entire orchestra. Adding the mat caused the higher string figurations
to stand out in bolder relief against the rumbling underpinnings. And
when the cough comes, one realizes before it was clearly spaced on the
left side but nothing more; now there is the sense that it is a real
person at a particular spot in the hall, and the reflections of the
cough off the walls of the concert hall are clearly discerned.

I’ve been using the Bedini desktop Ultra Clarifier for years for
serious listening sessions to any disc. Naturally I was curious if the
mat achieved a similar improvement since the cost of the two is about
the same. Yes it does, though I feel the mat can be slightly superior
on certain discs.  Using the Bedini first and following with the
mat seemed to make little improvement. The big advantage of the mat
would then be that you don’t have to wait for the disc to finish its
spinning cycle on the Ultra Clarifier (which takes some time), but can
just put the mat right onto any CD you are playing. Of course for my
Sony SACD changer I need to open the tray after each disc is done and
move the mat to the next one, or just use the first disc slot
exclusively.

 
On Video

I’ve tried several tweaks designed to enhance video display, including
special feet and disc mats. Perhaps my video setup (Pioneer Elite 52”
RPTV, component connection to Sony S9000ES)  is not of sufficient
definition to see improvements, but I have not registered any. 
I’ve tried both still images and moving on several discs using the gold
side up of the Marigo mat – which is recommended.  Again I saw no
difference. However, when I compared the DTS 5.1 option on the new
Image Entertainment DVD of Bernstein’s operetta Candide, I heard a
major enhancement in sonics.  First I compared the DTS and Dolby
Digital options without the mat. The sparkling overture to the work
sounded good without the mat but the mat immediately widened and
deepened the soundstage, gave more bass support and  in general
more spark to the whole sonic picture.  After first placing the
mat in the drawer and closing it again the overture began without my
having switched to the DTS option. (Dolby Digital 5.1 is the
default.)  I thought there was little improvement on the DTS with
the mat, but then I discovered I was hearing the Dolby option being
enhanced to sound like the DTS!  Properly selecting DTS and then
using the mat resulted in an even better upgrading of the inner
details, soundstage and ambient information.

So the bottom line here is that the Stabilizer Mat does work and very
well too.  I would be curious to try it on a cost-no-object player
such as a Wadia, Meridian or Linn, but for those of us in the real
world it comes down to whether or not we think it sensible to spend
this much on a tweak – and I feel many of us will.

- John Sunier




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