The HEXMAT Yellow Bird Isolator is a record mat, but a record mat with a difference given its’ unusual design. It costs £115 including delivery and Alan McIntosh was keen to give it a whirl.

What’s yellow, has six sides and spins around? Nope, not the start of another of my “dad” jokes but instead an intriguing and interesting new product out of Hungary that takes the record clamp process and “reverses” it to help users achieve better sound from vinyl. As a vinyl fanatic and fan of all things weird and unique, I jumped at the chance to get my eager hands on one of the first in the UK!

CONSTRUCTION

Hailing from that city straddling the Blue Danube (Budapest to save you googling it) the inventor, entrepreneur and importantly sound engineer, never mind long time audiophile Zsolt Fajt, says he has been “chasing the sound” ever since he bought his first turntable (a ThorensTD320) and after many years consumed in other projects finally found time to focus on getting the very best out of his first love (in audio) – Vinyl.

Before we go any further- and like in cables – the world of “Isolation” does tend to illicit some zealot opinions and science lectures. Not that they are incorrect I am sure, but they lose the essence of what we are focusing on as “listeners” in my mind. The designer calls the Yellow Bird an Isolator but also describes the effect at times as clamping (some may call that coupling) and I don’t plan to get into that debate so I will talk about damping. If anyone wants to discuss the science please contact HEXMAT as mails to me will be met with nothing but “I’m not a materials scientist – I just love music and HiFi! “

A six-sided, canary yellow platter made from a propriety compound (plastic polymers of some sort to my untrained eye and feel) and coated in another “rubbery” compound.  It has a number of raised dimples on both sides to get as near to zero contact as possible and allow LP’s to “float” as far as possible, isolated from as much platter interference as is achievable and practical. Zsolt is clear this is not a “platter mat” in the classic sense, but really it’s is an isolator product. The raised dimples are arranged in 3 concentric circles, 6 on the outer 2 and 3 in the centre, with concentric circle lines laser etched into the surface on both sides. Watching the production process is fascinating! The Bird itself feels to the touch like a hard plasticised rubber – flexible to some degree but pretty rigid – certainly not flimsy, but slightly soft to the touch – not like hard shiny plastic which would concern me, especially when placing my treasured vinyl on it. Both the pattern and coating go towards its performance HEXMAT tell me.

Thin, light but very robust feeling with the HEXMAT name etched into it, I have to say it does look pretty cool on my modified 1210’s which usually employ either an Oyaide BR12 mat (on main reference system) or a simple Technics rubber mat on the one in the dining room.

Over the 15 years (the last 3 intensely he says) Zsolst was developing the formulae they tried over 100 prototypes leveraging compounds and mixtures of everything from exotic woods to precious metals, ceramics and even crystals before finalising on the current approach. (I’m not sure how well a gold and crystal-encrusted turntable mat would sell at large so this is not a bad thing!  That said HEXMAT has indicated they plan to release variants of the Yellow Bird to take advantage of what each material brings to the overall effect.

Shipped in a simple cardboard and plastic cover it’s certainly not difficult to set up beyond some VTA adjustment as it comes in at less thickness than my thicker Oyaide mats but about the same as the stock Technics one.

The design HEXMAT explain is all about damping vibrations that naturally occur either through air movements against the stylus or from turntable mechanical actions, or even externals such as heavy traffic rumbling past. The implication of the dimple design reduces surface contact between vinyl and mat down to around 1-2 sq mm and when you look at it the record looks to be floating in space almost. This also delivers as much power as possible to the rotation without any of the unwanted interference. Very clever!

SOUND QUALITY

This is always a tricky one, and with damping products, I always find more so. I decided to choose a selection of well-known to me, well recorded and mastered vinyl offerings – mostly Blue Note Music Matters and various MoFi and Abbey Road Half Speed Masters to start with a strong base of quality.

The primary test turntable is a modified SL120 M3D with Timestep’s latest He V external PSU, Origin Live Zephyr arm and the wonderful Hana ML low output MC cartridge on it – all running via a Vincent Pho700 Hybrid phono stage and into the Hegel H190 via WyWire Silver phono cables.

It feels strange at first putting your precious vinyl onto a bright yellow dimpled plastic hexagon, but as it’s actually the points that are in contact, the colour and even shape of it is kind of irrelevant, I guess (although I did wonder if the shape is linked to resonant frequencies). Certainly, the level is bang on, your record “floating” only a couple of millimetres, perfectly plumb, between platter and stylus.

As with all my testing, I listen louder than I do day to day – enough to discern differences and to get more dynamics in play, but not so loud as to be uncomfortable.

Kicking off with some lovely MoFi pressings of Dire Straits (the recent collection is stunning) and then strolling lazily around things like OMD and Art Blakey on Blue Note everything is just as it should be. “Lockdown” has, among other things, brought me a newfound opportunity for just sitting and enjoying things and not feeling I need to be busy all day or that I have too many deadlines in my personal life (outside my very busy day to day working from home). This means I can dedicate more time to listening and comparing.

Getting comfy and after some warming up of both the system and my ears I can hear that basslines in material like OMD’s Orchestration are full but controlled, mid rhythmic sections pace very well and stay very coherent even at volume, the very top end cymbal hits and electronic hits are very crisp. Everything gets a bit of a lift and tighten. Dire Straits Brothers in Arms, Communique and Telegraph Road are as wonderful as ever and seem to have been given just a soupcon of extra life and detail, while an afternoon of listening to Blue Note pressings mastered by the wizards like Kevin Gray at Music Matters is just a simply joyful experience.

The Yellow Bird is not transforming sound in massive leaps, very few accessories in my experience do that to anything more than a small degree, but I am really enjoying some well-loved tracks here and they are given a good sense of lift with some new air and life breathed into them – crisp definition and less sibilance probably most evident, especially in those songs with cymbals and crashes or with those electronica era productions and vocals. Staging and separation are very good. With the organic instrumentation of well-recorded Jazz it’s about refinement but again that extra little hint of punch and energy, bringing me that bit closer to Van Gelders studios and that’s what it’s all about for most of us I think.

CONCLUSION

A very cool and quirky product in what is a fairly homogenous market and the colour certainly is eye-catching. Comes in a decent price point albeit above others like the Funk Firm’s Achromat which sad to say I just didn’t get on with, although I know many swear by it, and the more premium Oyaide BR12 mat. Improvements across the board playback wise and especially in the top end – marked reduction in sibilance vs the very basic felt mats some turntables ship with. The Yellow Bird was never going to be a “night and day” change in my opinion (as very few accessory products are) but overall I’m leaving it in situ for now and enjoying the effect it’s having on my vinyl listening with the BR12 relegated to the dining room. Definitely one to try!

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: Yellow! Rubberised and light. Robust, well finished.

Sound Quality: Staying in my setup and certainly brings something extra to the table vs stock platter mats that I’ve experienced. Brings a sense of increased clarity and less “smearing” of sound especially in the top end. Definite reduction is sibilance. Stability of sound holds well even at increased volumes.

Value For Money: Good if you are seeking to get the most out of your vinyl set up and are exploring well thought out accessories to compliment a good arm and cartridge.

Pro’s : It’s yellow – I mean it – I  love the look of it, well made, brings some definite sense of improved playback.

Cons: Its yellow – not everyone may like that … but see above !  Priced higher than some.

Price: £115 including shipping (in the UK)

 

 

 

 

 

Alan McIntosh

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