MARIGO AUDIO LAB AIDA CD MAT
As the guy who writes for those of you who still play physical digital media, I’m pleased to inform you of another non-stratospherically-priced accessory to enhance your listening experience.
My history with CD mats goes back many years, when I purchased a Marigo Audio Lab Crossbow mat at CES from Bes Nievera at the Music Direct booth. I used it for over a decade until it was “eaten” by my Linn Unidisk transport about three years ago, being too thick to work consistently in the Linn. Until then, I was always pleased by its performance, removing digital artifacts and making CD, SACD and DVD Audio discs sound smoother.
With the Crossbow rendered unusable, I called Bes at Music Direct and inquired about Marigo’s then-current CD mat, the Clear Transformation. Bes said, “If Ron Hedrich (the owner/designer at Marigo Audio Lab) says he’s improved a product, you can take it to the bank.” Bes also assured me that the new mat was far thinner than the old Crossbow.
Success! I bought the Clear Transformation, which added to the Crossbow’s virtues by enhancing the richness and detail of my digital discs. The Clear Transformation CD mat was my choice for the 2016 Most Wanted Component list.
I was surprised when Ron Hedrich sent me an email saying that it took four years, but he had improved upon the performance of the Clear Transformation with his newly-released CD mat, the Aida. Remembering Bes Nievera’s words, I asked Ron for one to review.
The Aida is not made of metal or carbon fiber, as some other CD mats are. According to Hedrich, it’s made of “a proprietary new composite material using an embedded carbon nano-tube structure.” This material is translucent and very flexible, and contains “unique hand laid-up polarizing filaments” inside. The appearance of the parallel filaments is thicker and more substantial than those in the now-discontinued Clear Transformation mat – and that’s the only difference in appearance between the older mat and the Aida.
You won’t have any difficulty loading the Aida in your transport: it’s only 1/100 of an inch thick. I tried it with notably finicky CD and DVD player drawers, and the Aida worked perfectly with all of them. The Aida can be bent and it will snap back to its original flat form – but don’t fold it, please!
There is a clear stripe with two triangular holes down the diameter of the Aida, parallel with the filaments inside. The stripe should be aligned perpendicular to the printing on the label side of the digital disk for maximum performance.
Say what?! How could aligning the mat with the printing on the CD make a difference? Remember when we all used to use a green magic marker to color the edges of our CD’s green to stop the laser light from scattering? Remember that CD’s are printed using very fine rows of dot matrix printing. And here’s the explanation from Ron Hedrich: “In the optical domain, two polarized films placed one in front of the other pass light when the polarized films are parallel to one another. But almost no light passes when the two films are perpendicular to one another,” as is the case when the filaments are perpendicular to the printing on the CD. In addition, surface-level vibration in the CD is minimized when the Aida is placed against the disk, especially in the prescribed manner. Whether you buy the explanations or not, why not take the extra five seconds to use the Aida in the way it’s meant to be used?
In my long experience with CD dampers, they all have made a positive difference: making digital audio smoother with a more coherent image, and just easier to listen to. Until the Aida came along, I considered the Marigo Clear Transformation mat the best I’d tried, followed by the excellent Herbie’s Audio Lab Super Black Hole (discontinued). These and the other mats I’d tried had made the differences above, to a greater or lesser extent.
But the Aida keeps these virtues, and then goes to another level entirely, doing things that I’ve never heard by adding a CD mat — and I didn’t even have to listen carefully to hear them. More than any other quality, inserting the Aida brought out fine musical detail to an eyebrow-raising degree. It’s almost as if these details suddenly were magnified, or their presence was increased relative to the macro elements of the music. And I don’t mean the music became compressed, so that softer sounds and louder sounds were more similar in volume: loud was still loud, but those soft sounds and nuances were there in a far more substantial way.
My favorite example of this quality is my old standby for comparisons: Gordon Lightfoot’s “If It Should Please You” from Gord’s Gold Volume 2 [CD, Warner Brothers]. In the instrumental open, there’s a rhythm guitar that is much softer than the lead guitar and other instruments. This guitar can sound dull, and buried in the noise, easy to gloss over or even miss. But with the Aida on top of the CD, the rhythm guitar simply demands to be heard, with an added luster to the leading edge of the strums, and the ringing (in the positive sense) of the notes’ decay.
As would be expected, this increase in detail also solidified the stereo image in every dimension. It was as if the individual voices and instruments acquired more palpable boundaries while remaining part of the whole performance. The interplay between instruments, especially in symphonic material, was much easier to follow, and more enjoyable!
Ron Hedrich’s four years of developing the Aida has yielded quite a set of accomplishments for a “humble” CD mat! But if you play/burn any digital audio or video discs, I think you’ll appreciate what the Aida does. You can try it with no risk by taking advantage of Marigo Audio Labs’ 30-day in-home audition with a full purchase price refund if you’re not satisfied. There’s also an unconditional five-year warranty to the original purchaser, covering all conditions. The MSRP of the Aida is $199, but the website (www.marigoaudio.com) mentions an introductory discount. Call Ron Hedrich at (360) 835-9239 to discuss.
Marigo Audio Labs
32711 S.E. 16th Street
Washougal, WA 98671
Tel: (360) 835-9239
Fax: (360) 835-9249
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