MILLENNIUM CD MAT
JAMES L. DARBY
If you have been reading Stereomojo for long, you know that I am a bit of a skeptic – no more so than when it comes to tweaks and little accessories that claim to miraculously transform the sound of your system when applied. Particularly things like this Millennium CD Mat – a rather flimsy little circle that sells for the ludicrous price of $119! As McEnroe said, “You cannot be serious!”
I have used CD mats before. Yes, I heard a little improvement – maybe – if I listened real hard. But, when someone you trust and know to have good ears and a pure heart says, “Hey James, you gotta hear this thing!”, it tends to grab my attention.
That is what happened at Rocky Mountain Fest last year when big John Tucker lassoed me. I know Big John does not impress easily and I have never heard him so enthused over a product- ever. Not even his own. So I checked it out in the Aaudio imports rooms, distributor of the mysterious disc. I had talked to Brian Ackerman, the head honcho there, many times before. I played it cool and let him tell me about the petit contraption. “It really works. We are selling tons of them”. I just nodded, expecting a lot more hype, forgetting for the moment the Brian is not one predisposed to obnoxious sales hyperbole.
“Would you like to try one at home?”, he offered. I nodded again and added a smile. He handed me an aluminum box almost exactly the size of that in which a DVD movie would come.
I had almost forgotten about it until I unpacked all the collected brochures and business cards from Denver. I listened to a track or two of the Stereomojo Evaluation Disk and then stuck in the little gray disc on top of the CD and sauntered back to my chair, fully expecting to be underwhelmed.
Surprise, baby. No, my jaw did not hit the floor. Are you as tired of reading that hackneyed line as I? Actually, what happened is that copious amounts of BLOOD began to SHOOT out of my eyes! No…not that, either. I was a bit astonished though. There was a significant difference – a very audible, significant difference. Hmmm…now….game on, dudes.
The first thing I had to determine is what the difference was and is it actually a good difference – and improvement – or just a difference that may sound impressive initially, but eventually proven to be a non-musical gimmick. I went into hyper-critical mode and spun a bunch more silver platters.
What happened next? The ultimate test. The Linda test! Rather than write about it again, I’ll just paste the letter that I sent to Mr. Ackerman the following day:
I have to admit that when you gave us the Millennium CD disk at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I wasn't that enthused. I've tried a couple of CD mats before, both of which has gotten enthusiastic reviews in other publications, but neither resulted in much significant improvement, certainly not what was claimed in the reviews.
By nature and years of experience, I am rather cynical of devices of any kind that claim to improve various areas of playback, especially when the cost appears to be disproportionate to the device. I think you said the disk was $119, is that correct? Unless it contains a significant portion of 24 karat gold leaf, that seems a bit much for a small CD-sized disc. I'm using the words "appears" and "seems" because I don't know what goes into manufacturing the device, so I have no idea what the true cost is. Nevertheless, my job is to help our readers determine the true value of products we review and that reflects on how much it contributes to overall improvement. Does that make sense?
After settling in a few days post RMAF, I tried the disk. I was more than a little surprised and impressed. So much so that I questioned whether what I was hearing was as good as I thought. So last night Linda and I were trying to relax a little by listening to some music - is there any better way? We had been listening for a couple of hours to some beautiful music, as usual, in the dark. The current disc was "Celtic Woman - A New Journey". Gorgeous stuff and very well recorded in HDCD. I asked Linda if she was up for a little audio test. She said, "Sure, if it doesn't take too much time to set up, I'm really enjoying this. I told her the change would only take a few minutes and she could get the the coffee maker set up for the morning.
We listened to a single track twice - "Carrickfergus", a ballad that featured a single female vocal accompanied at first only by harp with strings entering half-way through. We listened carefully, preparing for the comparison. Linda left the room, not knowing what I was about to change. I hadn't mentioned the disc at all. When she came back in, the lights were still out and she had no idea what change had been made.
We played the same track again, this time with the CD mat. I played asked her if she had heard any difference. She replied, Ohhhh yeah. BIG difference. Everything was bigger, wider and deeper, more spread out. The harp had so much more detail...I could hear her fingernails on the harp strings. Her voice was much more pure and emerged more from the background. Much more dimensional. The strings were less strident and more silky. I can't believe the sound was that much better!"
"OK, I'll show you what was different". I turned up the lights and walked over to the player, opened the drawer and showed her the Millennium disc. She kind of frowned and asked, "What's that?". I reminded her of our visit to your room in Denver and the package you had given us. She said, "That's IT? That was the only change?"
"That's unbelievable! That little thing made THAT much difference? I thought you had put in a whole difference amp or something. That's IT?"
Brian, as usual, I had heard exactly the same thing, except I had noticed that the bass was also much firmer and detailed. The difference was not at all subtle and I was stunned by the improvement. We listened to the whole CD again and then a couple of more, amazed at how much more lifelike and musical the sound was. We even listened to the Stereomojo Evaluation CD and marveled at what we heard. We stayed up till about midnight. CD discs all sounded much less digital and much more like the finest analog.
All I can tell you is that I will never play a CD again without the Millennium CD mat. It's that good”.
What I was using at the time was an Oppo DV 980H strictly as a transport going into a very fine Xindak tube upsampling DAC.
Not long after that, Carl Marchisotto, owner and designer of the very fine Nola speakers came to set up our World’s First review of his new $55,000 Baby Grand speakers. I need to interject here that it is Stereomojo policy to NOT permit company people to come in and set up their wares in our homes for review – unless they do it for all their customers. Since Carl is willing to come to a customer’s home to set up the Baby Grand models, we allowed him to do so for us.
After everything was copasetic, we were just listening to and talking about music – jazz since that’s Carl’s favorite genre. I performed the same test with him with him not having any idea what change I had made. I simply said, “Listen to this track again and tell me if you heard any difference”.
Five seconds. I estimate 5 seconds before he exclaimed that the sound was much better and went on to say exactly what he had heard – which is exactly what Linda and I had heard from day one.
When I showed him what it was, his first words were, “Where can I get one?”.
I performed the same test, this time just for fun, with several friends – mostly non-audiophiles – who came over. They all heard significant improvement with the Millennium Disc, indicating that it does not take golden ears to hear what it does.
I might add that I have the turntable platter mat by the same company made out of the same carbon fiber material that came with the TW Acustic Raven One table I reviewed (another world’s first) a couple of years ago. It does not make nearly the difference as the CD version.
Using the CD mat in the top loading $5,500 Ayon CD-2 balanced tube CD player (another upcoming world’s first review) rendered some improvement, but not as much as the front loading Oppo. The top loader already has some stabilization built in which is not the case in the front loading Oppo, so it stands to reason that the improvement would not be as great.
Millennium also claims that the mat improves the burning and ripping of CD’s in computers. Hmmm. I’d just like to say that it is absolutely true! I’d like to say that, but I cannot. The disk did not work in any of my computer CD or DVD drives. In fact, I was afraid the terrible grating noise it made when the drive spun up would ruin them.
I tried it first in my Imac G5. The Imac drive is built into the side of the monitor along with all the other computer guts, so it is vertically oriented. It was not really a surprise that it did not work with the mat. But I also have a PC with THREE standard horizontal drives and the mat dislodged in all three. Not good.
I did use the mat when playing back MP3 disks in the Oppo and there was also substantial improvement. Same with SACD and DVD- Audio.
The company also states that video reproduction is improved with the mat, but I didn’t even try that. This is Stereomojo, not Videomojo. However, video is digital too, so I would bet that it is also better with the mat. If you try it, write me and tell me.
So. How does it work its apparent magic? First they say it stabilizes the CD thus allowing the laser to track it better. Since all blank CD’s are not the same, that makes sense – which leads us to another of our famous…
Winston Ma, one of the world’s great audio engineers and record producers as well as head of FIM records, told me that he spent two years testing, measuring and listening to every known CD stock maker in the world. What he found is that the quality of blank CD’s varies widely. Some vary in thickness, others in roundness, quality of materials and so on. Just like vinyl LP’s, an out of balance, out of round CD made from poor materials plays and records with more errors than a perfect one. As a result the sound quality varies from brand to brand. The Millennium mat claims to help tame those variances.
In addition, if you have ever looked at a stack of CD’s on a spindle, you probably noticed that from the said they are translucent. When being scanned by a laser, the light is said to scatter and leak out the sides and edges which reflects back into the pickup which causes read errors.. The mat claims to reduce that as well by absorbing stray light.
One issue that I and others have experienced with other competing (and more expensive) CD mats is that they are rather fragile and prone to wrinkle or kink. That is not the case with the Millennium. Made of carbon fiber, it is very flexible immune to malformation. It is thin and light, but it is very rugged and sturdy.
Since I have had it, there have been two occasions when I forgot to insert the CD mat. Both times within a matters of seconds I heard that there was something amiss with the sound. Both times I jumped to the conclusion that there was a major malfunction somewhere in the electronics – a tube had gone bad or something was not working properly. Both times, when I discovered it was only the absence of the Millennium mat, I was struck again by the degree of improvement the little device makes.
It often pays to be a bit leery or skeptical of outlandish claims. It is also more fun when your expectations are low and the results surpass them to the extent that you are delighted and happy at the results. That is the case with the Millennium CD mat. While it stills irks me a little that something so small and simple costs so much, there is no other conclusion to draw than that it is worth every penny for those who listen to a lot of CD’s. I have heard much less difference in upgrading a component or speaker for thousands of dollars. I have certainly heard much less improvement and some diminishment in costlier cables.
That the product works is beyond question. The improvements it makes can be heard by civilians who are not audiophiles and audiophiles do not need to lean forward and strain to detect its enhancement – it is not subtle.
It does not work in all players all the time. Even in the Oppo which does not have a very deep CD tray, the mat would become off center and have to be repositioned once in a while. Since it did not work for me in four different computer drives, I suspect it may not work in all CD players. Make sure you can return it if that is the case for you.
We were so impressed with the Millennium CD Mat that we have named it our
2008 Accessory of the Year.
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