When you get a pair of decks, the first thing you do is toss the platter's rubber mat and replace it with a slipmat, right? This frees up your vinyl for some slip-sliding, scratch-mixing pleasure. But have you thought much about which slipmat you are using? By checking out the different features and performance quirks of some current market offerings — in this case, traditional slipmats, ISP Butter Rugs and Slikmat custom slipmats — you can choose the best option for your scratching needs.
Traditional slipmats are made of a dense felt material and come in a variety of printed logos and designs. Although traditional slipmats offer some friction reduction, many are not slippy enough for scratch DJs and tend to be quite stiff with a slightly abrasive feel.
A few years back, the Invisibl Skratch Piklz released the ISP Butter Rugs (distributed by Thud Rumble), the first significant advance in slipmat technology. Currently in their second version, the Butter Rugs are paper-thin floppy slipmats made by gluing two materials together: one that has a dull, fuzzy texture that almost looks like hairy velvet and one that has a shinier plasticlike feel. The shiny side faces the platter, and the fuzzy faces up toward the vinyl.
Recently, other manufacturers have begun offering new slipmats that address the drawbacks of traditional slipmats. Slikmats, manufactured in the UK, look more like traditional slipmats but are made of a softer, fuzzier material. Available in many designs, they have the added selling point of offering custom printing of any logo at no additional cost. The printing is high-quality and does not sit above the surface, allowing the slipmat to retain its soft texture on both sides.
FACT OR FRICTION?
To scratch or even to just hold the vinyl in place while cueing, a slipmat must provide enough slip that it allows the platter to continue to move freely. If you are using belt-driven turntables, this is critical, as the weaker motors can strain considerably against a high-friction slipmat. Traditional slipmats often do not provide enough slip for this purpose. A common modification is to place wax paper or plastic between the platter and the slipmat to reduce the friction further. This solves the friction problem but can result in a fairly thick setup that has an obvious degree of bounce.
The Butter Rugs, on the other hand, provide plenty of slip but take some getting used to, particularly because they are so thin — they have little give and feel quite different. Although they allow the platter to spin freely, if you press down hard, you can create enough resistance to slow the platter considerably. Slikmats have a thickness similar to that of a traditional slipmat, yet they have little resistance and require no modifications. They have the comforting feel of the old-school slipmat.
To compare the slippiness of each, I tested two things: how much the platter slowed down when holding the vinyl steady and how easy it was to spin back the record half of a rotation on the turntable. With the traditional slipmats, holding the vinyl steady slowed down the platter such that the -3.3 percent dots on the side were steady, and they required the greatest amount of force to spin the record back one-half turn. The Slikmats were the slippiest of all, and the platter speed was reduced by only 1.5 percent. Spinning the vinyl back a half turn was easy — almost too easy. The Slikmats' friction reduction made the amount it spun back somewhat unpredictable. Finally, the Butter Rugs were right in the middle, reducing platter rotation by about 2 percent. Backspinning on the Butter Rugs took slightly more force than with the Slikmats but was predictable enough that I could spin back the vinyl by a half turn consistently.
Another slipmat feature is its effect on skipping: Differing thicknesses and densities of material result in different behavior when scratching vigorously. To test this, I played a track and tapped the vinyl with my finger progressively harder until the needle began skipping. The traditional slipmats skipped the easiest when modified with pieces of vinyl and paper underneath. Without the paper and vinyl, their degree of skip resistance was only slightly better than that of the Slikmats. Because of their soft material, the Slikmats have a somewhat bouncy quality that might cause problems for DJs with a heavy hand. The Butter Rugs performed best overall. In fact, it was even difficult to make the needle skip by tapping the platter.
As an additional test, I performed a series of sloppily executed rubs and hydroplanes, scratches that result in skipping if not performed well. Again, the modified traditional slipmats skipped the easiest, with the Slikmats and unmodified slipmats a close second. As expected, the Butter Rugs also resisted skipping the best in this test.
CAN YOU TAKE IT?
The final factor in comparing the three slipmat types is their robustness under typical DJ use and abuse — in particular, how the center hole stands up to wear, as this is often the biggest problem that negatively impacts slipmat performance. In a bit of a changeup, the Butter Rugs came in dead last: The center hole stretched out slightly over time, and the two sandwiched materials began to separate at the outer edges. Both the Slikmats and the traditional slipmats are considerably more robust than the Butter Rugs, with the traditional slipmat providing the best resistance to abuse.
Taking all of this into account, it's safe to assume that the traditional slipmat's days are numbered. Both the Slikmats and the Butter Rugs provide considerable improvements to the slipmats of yore. Those who like the feel of traditional slipmats will love the performance of the Slikmats. Nevertheless, heavy-handed DJs may want to avoid them due to their bounciness. Although the Butter Rugs take some getting used to, they represent the best choice for the hardcore turntablist.