The Garden State definitely loves its live music, rock stars, and record stores. We gave the world Bruce, Bon Jovi, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Lauryn Hill, Donald Fagen, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter and Count Basie. It’s also the home of VPI turntables and Analog Restorations.
Have you ever wondered where people on Instagram are getting those fantastic custom cork platter mats?
There’s a company in New Jersey that makes them and how they got here is a bigger part of the story.
How did you get started and why?
How much time do you have?
Looking back, I am not clear on the exact specifics of when I decided to do it versus how it all happened and ended up where it is today.
I went to school for Mechanical Engineering and after I graduated, I bought a bicycle shop — because that is apparently what you do with an engineering degree.
All kidding aside, I really was always into bicycles and audio. I had raced bikes for many years, and I started in the audio business about 20 years ago. At that time, I was involved in speaker design and construction for car audio and made the transition into home theater, which felt like the obvious thing to do at the time.
I bought the bicycle shop in 2005 and owned it for 5 years, which wasn’t great timing because of the financial crash that was forthcoming. With the economy in bad shape and needing a job, I got back into the auto dealership world; a sector that I had worked in during my college days.
I had gotten a turntable to fix and restore from a friends’ record shop. He had asked me, and I honestly had no clue whether I could. I knew I had the wood working experience to do it (my father was a carpenter and wood shop teacher for 30 years) and I did enjoy taking old things and making them look new.
It was a rather rough looking Lenco L75 and something about it made me work even harder to get it right. The end result exceeded my expectations and suddenly I had a few more tables to work on.
I have a very vivid memory of my wife walking around our home with her phone making a video of the 25-30 turntables that I was working on. The transition from the single table to a business happened so quickly that I was honestly perplexed by it all.
What I didn’t know at the time, was that very few people were fixing turntables, and this was well before the start of the viny revival. There were some small proprietors out there (Vinyl Nirvana in NH), but it wasn’t really anything more than a tiny cottage industry.
For some strange reason, I decided at this exact moment that I was really good at fixing old tables — the truth was that I wasn’t. I also started to understand why really competent repair shops (at other things) would turn away a turntable repair.
Every single repair is different; many older tables have mechanical, electronic, and physical issues that have to be addressed and not everyone is qualified to do it.
Repair shops are going to take the jobs that are easiest and most profitable. The more tables I examined — the faster I realized that I needed to put the brakes on and stop taking new repairs. Unless I had real world experience with a table, it wasn’t right for me to take it on and I became concerned that it would only take one or two botched jobs to sink my growing business.
Rather than give up, I did the most logical thing. I started buying as many old and used tables as I could and at one point I think I crossed over 100 turntables.
I also started to take piles of tables form record shops, as most of them had them. The good thing about that is they came with no promises. If I fixed them, they didn’t have to pay and could sell it. If I didn’t fix it then they were no worse off. What this allowed me was to put my hands on as many tables as possible to build experience with.
I also became very proficient in fabricating the parts I would need and solve problems that would otherwise make the table a paperweight. From there, I got more involved with Dual turntables because of the wood base.
I discovered that people were really interested in vintage tables and a business was born.
I would not sell a table that had scratches, broken dustcovers, blemishes, a used cartridge and even RCA cables. I removed all the old cartridges and almost every table (keep in mind they were all mostly tables in the $150-$300 range for the average person) came with the same brand-new cartridge.
Every table came with its own dedicated output jacks, and a brand new power cord. I heavily polished the covers and made sure the tables looked as brand new as possible. I added a lot of custom touches and if it was wood I would redo the entire plinth with new stain; airbrushing if needed, and a heavy clear coat for a piano finish.
I set up shop on Craigslist and business began to take off. “Analog Restorations” was born and I began dealing with specific shops. Word of mouth drove business and I quickly created a Facebook page and website.
All of a sudden people wanted a table that specifically was “Analog Restorations” branded. What ever the hell that meant to them. I ended up setting up a repair shop in a store and had opened up 2 other stores. I did this for about 8 years and specialized in turntables, speaker repair, and smaller electronic repairs.
The revival of vinyl was a double-edged sword for me. A renewed interest in the format created a lot of demand for tables — new tables below $500. Take a wild guess where most of my sales sat on that spectrum. Thank you Pro-Ject, U-Turn, and Audio-Technica.
Expensive vintage tables appeal to a totally different customer and COVID put a final nail in the coffin. I closed up shop and decided to take a hiatus for a few months and rethink what I wanted to do in the category.
Cork platter mats. Obviously.
Why a platter mat and cleaning solutions?
I was tired of seeing the average turntable manufacturer offer a crappy mat and I knew the mat was far more important than most people buying those tables understood. The manufacturers don’t include a quality platter mat as a way of saving money which I thought was foolish.
If the turntable manufacturers were not willing to include a better quality mat with their tables, I was going to take the guessing game out of the equation for consumers and offer a much better cork mat and even let customers personalize them.
After going through what felt like hundreds of different cork options, I settled on a specific density and construction. In the process, I learned much more about cork than I thought you could. My original intention, as I am not a print shop, was to just offer that mat. It was only when I investigated how I could get my name onto it that the custom option came about.
This quickly became a wholesale option and having a record shop use it as a perfect upgrade option as well as continued branding for them. I put it all together in a couple weeks and presented it to the public and to record shops.
I sent dozens out to shops and followed up. Hundreds of calls and emails later, I was successfully replacing most shops junky slip mats that don’t belong in home audio and replacing them with a more refined and better option.
Shops were loving it and I now had about 110 wholesale customers. It’s that success, which allowed me to sell the retail mats, taking a portion of the proceeds and giving it to a charity.
This is still a side gig as I have a “real” job during the day, so why not right? All of this really was still catering to the average person as there was a need for a better option without spending a lot of money. I took all that and rolled it into cleaning products, more specifically the cleaning wipes.
What were some of the biggest challenges starting and how did you overcome them?
Convincing consumers that what you have is not only different but better; especially at a time when quality/price doesn’t guarantee a sale. Platforms like Instagram have thousands of people trying to influence what you buy and it’s now considered to be product “research,” which is slightly misleading.
Most of the people who follow me and have helped me on Instagram are genuinely passionate music listeners who share my love of the format. There is nothing in it for them other than getting more people interested in vinyl and I am very grateful for their support.
I’ve been very aggressive on social media and with record stores making sure that a lot of people see my products. Customers see a custom cork platter mat being used in a store and that creates confidence in the product.
Who is your typical customer?
The average person who just wants to enjoy listening to music and is semi-active in regard to what they own. The customer who is overly absorbed with every aspect of the equipment is not the right target for me.
I was once told by Bill Low (AudioQuest) that there are two types of audiophiles; there are people who want to listen to 1,000 songs on 1 system and people who want to listen to 1 song on 1,000 systems.
My customers are definitely more interested in the music than the equipment.
How have you navigated the pandemic as a business?
As I mentioned earlier, I closed my turntable and equipment repair business at the beginning of the pandemic and took some time to rethink how I wanted to operate.
I actually like what I am doing now with cork platter mats and cleaning solutions more. Having wholesale customers keeps me very busy, but it has been the interaction with vinyl listeners through social media that has really been the best part. They’re not hardcore audiophiles and their passion for the music is infectious. People love the customized platter mats because it allows them to express themselves and they use it every single day.
Why platter mats and cleaning solutions? What makes what you do unique?
I’m not exactly reinventing the wheel with cork platter mats or cleaning solutions but I do think I’ve helped people think differently about their turntable investment and how they can maximize what they have.
Most new tables come with cheap felt mats and older tables have dried up rubber mats that need to be replaced. None of those sound very good but people who are new to vinyl have nothing to compare it against. They don’t question why a manufacturer would put a cheap felt mat in the box unless it was supposed to be used.
My customers continue to tell me that they can hear an immediate difference in the sound quality and they love looking at the custom artwork because of the personal connection. They love the quality of cork platter mat and know that I stand by the product.
Cleaning solutions are a completely different ball of wax. Most of the people getting into vinyl for the first time are not investing in an expensive record cleaning machine from VPI, but they read hundreds of posts online about the importance of cleaning your records and maintaining your stylus and they want something effective and affordable.
I truly believe that there are differences between bad and good cleaning solutions. I do not believe, however, that there are huge differences between good and great cleaners.
I also know that audiophiles have 1,000 different opinions about record cleaning solutions and I wanted to stay out of that.
For this reason, a tremendous amount of time was put into the cloths that we sell. This includes the fiber construction and material, the rate at which the cloth absorbs the cleaner and dirt, the capacity and absorbency the cloth has, how the edges of the cloth are cut and even how the fabric and cloth handle static and ions.
How do you come up with the designs for the platter mats?
Most of the designs we do are ideas submitted by our customers, including logos that shops already have. We also use popular themes and styles that are current with whatever may be trending at the time.
The more difficult aspect is getting it to work on cork. This takes a lot of graphic work with colors, edges, shape, and layout. From a graphic design standpoint, we have also spent a bit of time creating logos for people. That is something that can take a large amount of time as its more of a “lets see how this takes shape” process.
What do you use in your own system at home?
Because of my involvement over the years, I have used lot of different things and have had my hands on a lot of stuff. This includes new and used. Vintage and current. With that being said I tend not to change things a lot.
For years I hade an NAD 1700 pre with a 2400 amp. A few years ago, and of course this is just for my two channel setup, I switched to a Cambridge C75 preamp with a matching A75 amplifier. This is hooked up to a set of Shelby Kroll speakers/subs and I use a Marantz TT15s Turntable with an AudioQuest MC-3 Cartridge. I also have a lot of other products that don’t get as much use anymore.
I’m definitely a 1,000 songs on 1 system listener.
Does it surprise you that vinyl has not only come back but become the #1 physical format again?
Not so much. This is a much longer conversation and we have all had the discussion, including your staff on a recent podcast where you talked about having something tangible, pride of ownership, the ritual of listening to a record, and the hunt.
I think it has a lot to do with how it makes you feel — and that applies to almost anything in life. Why do people love classic cars? They certainly were not very reliable or safe, but people loved the experience of driving them and those memories can’t be replaced by some super-safe minivan from Honda or Toyota with plastic cup holders and Bluetooth audio.
Consumers care about convenience and when something requires any real form of effort, the alternative becomes less appealing. CDs, downloads, and digital streaming delivered access to more music and the ability to take it with you. That’s very compelling for 95% of the human race who don’t care about MQA, hi-res audio, expensive hi-fi components, and $2,000 cables.
Listening to records is a process. You cheapen the experience when you take short-cuts. I make products that enhance the experience.
Why do you prefer listening to records?
I like the tangible pride of ownership and the mechanical aspect of all the equipment. The whole package seams like the best experience to me. Technically and emotionally.
What is the most rewarding part of the job for you?
Aside from the ability to make sales and donate them to a charity, which is huge, I like the involvement. For very little money, the average consumer can change their enjoyment of the music and that’s very important to me. I want people to stick with vinyl and not push it into the dustbin of history again. Creating a better experience and prolonging their investment in hardware and records means that I am contributing to the lifespan of an artistic medium. I find that very rewarding.
For more information: Analog Restorations Cork Platter Mats and Cleaning Solutions