The audio accessories world has gone a little bit loopy of late. The fact you can spend more money adding the right cables and equipment supports to hook up an £80,000 dCS Vivaldi four-box stack than you might spend on the dCS Vivaldi itself points to a world out of balance. But it needn’t be this way. Cro Audio’s new turntable mat and record clamp have all the right high-end credentials and sound quality, just not the price tag.
The ‘Cro’ in Cro Audio is short for Croatia, and the most obvious sign of the brand’s Slavic roots is the company’s Turntable Stone Weight. This is a machined and polished puck of Dalmatian Brac limestone, with a rubberised cork particulate surface facing the record, and a little black rubber o-ring set into the pale stone surface to make handling the polished weight a little easier. The weight notionally weighs 450g, but being made of natural stone, there is slight variance in the weight, and our sample came in at 446g. It’s supplied in a nice little cardboard gift box, about the size of a small tube of Pringles.
Of course, adding a half-kilo weight on the spindle of an LP means this weight isn’t designed for use with most suspended turntables (although some of the more heroic suspension systems – like the SME Model 20 and 30 – could accommodate the Cro Audio turntable weight), but it works well on many rigid decks. There is no screw thread on the weight, just pop it on the spindle and play.
Currently, the other product in the Cro Audio range is an LP mat. Like the base of the weight, this is made of a proprietary mix of cork and rubber particles. The mat is available in two different thicknesses; 2mm, for those with existing felt mats and no means of adjusting the arm’s vertical tracking angle (Rega springs to mind here), or 3mm for those who want the maximum Cro Audioness and can adjust VTA accordingly.
Cork is a surprisingly good material to use with some platter designs as the interface between LP and everything else because it has good antistatic and antimicrobial properties, and it’s a natural sound absorber. Rubber is also good because it limits any slip that might occur on a felt mat, and will reduce some of the potential for ringing on a polished aluminium platter. The two combined seem to bring the best of both worlds to the slip-mat, in the process maximising the number of places a replacement mat might work best – rubber is a good replacement for felt on metal platters, cork is better for glass platters, and rubberised cork seems to have a more even-handed nature.
Of the two though, I think the influence of the weight is the greater. The mat is good, and it’s a great leveller in that it works across a wide variety of platter types, but the weight has the greater overall effect on the sound quality itself. On my VPI Prime, replacing the screw-in clamp with the half-kilo weight did give the sound better high frequencies, especially with fast-transient instruments like cymbals. Cro Audio itself claims the weight acts to reduce vibration, and that certainly seems to be the case in the listening.
The other big improvement in using the Cro Audio Turntable Stone Weight is in the stability and size of the soundstage. For this, out came an old recording of the RPO and the D’Oyly Carte company performing the overture to The Pirates of Penzance [Decca SXL], a recording that is both outstanding in terms of presenting a (literal) stage in front of the listener, and in terms of placement of musicians within the image. It’s also notable for a distinct tape ‘wobble’ that made it both to LP and subsequent CD. The Cro Audio weight helped make that orchestra pit have the correct dimensions, and gave every instrument a solid place within that soundstage, which even stayed true during that tape problem.
How big or small a difference I think is turntable dependant. The Prime is relatively self-sustaining in this respect, and the difference between its supplied clamp and some of the more ornate models out there are somewhat lessened and what improves seems to be in the areas of high-frequency transients and tonality, and soundstage openness. Aspects like bass depth and dynamic range are already well defined on the Prime, and the Cro Audio weight helps, but not substantially.
The differences aren’t massive between the Turntable Stone Weight and the standard clamp, and there is a level of improvement wrought by the really expensive clamps that Cro Audio doesn’t quite achieve. But, you could buy several Cro Audio weights for the cost of one of these ultra record clamps, and the operative word is ‘quite’; this gets you 90% of the way there, and that last 10% costs a lot of money.
Cro Audio’s two products combined do make for a better performance than the sum of the parts. The mat and weight do seem to bring out superior dynamics, tighter bass, and just snap the sound more in focus than the two taken separately. The oft played Mo-Fi version of Beck’s Sea Change is a perfect example of how this works, because his voice is locked optimally between the speakers instead of wavering slightly in the standard Prime guise.
In an audio world where expensive is par for the course, it’s a refreshing change to find products that improve the performance of a turntable without costing a small fortune. The Cro Audio Turntable Stone Weight and matching rubber/cork mat fit that bill perfectly. While it’s true that if you spend more you get better, you actually need to spend a lot more to get a little better. As a result, the new Cro Audio turntable accessories are an obvious recommendation.
Cro Audio Turntable Stone Weight: £89
Cro Audio Record Mat: £39 (2mm), £45 (3mm)
Manufactured by: Cro Audio
Distributed by: Audiofreaks UK
Tel: +44(0)208 948 4153
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