ONLINE - ISSUE 8
Adventures at the Far End of Reality
Random surfing on the Web can produce interesting results. It was during one random surf that I stumbled across the Herbies Audio Lab vacuum tube dampers that I reviewed in Issue 6 of Positive Feedback Online. It was while following my interest in science fiction on another surf that I learned more than I ever wanted to know about sex with robots. Apparently I have been leading a very sheltered life. One web address that I keep going back to is www.belt.demon.co.uk, the site for Peter W. Belt, an Englishman who, for the past twenty years, has been responsible for some of the most controversial tweaks in the world of audio. What makes Mr. Belts tweaks so controversial is his underlying hypothesis. It is not possible to summarize his theories in one paragraph, or even one page. You need to spend several hours reading the material on his website. However, to give you the gist of it, he is a supporter of Rupert Sheldrakes theory of morphic resonance. The following is a quote from an article written by Peters Belts wife, Mrs. May Belt, that appeared in The PWB Newsletter, Number One, Volume 5, in April 2003:.
Mr. Belt believes that his products work because they alter the morphic resonance energy field surrounding the treated object. Changing the energy field of the object changes our perception of the object. Thus, Mr. Belts products change our perception of the sound coming from our audio system. The sound is not changed in any wayit is our brains interpretation of the sound that is changed. This is not the sort of concept that receives great acceptance in the mainstream audio pressyou know, the people who say there is no difference between zip cord and Nordost cables. Even in the alternative audio press, Mr. Belts ideas have received little attention. The only articles that have appeared in the last few years are Greg Weavers 1999 reviews of Belts Rainbow Electret Foil (now known as Silver Rainbow Foil) and Cream Electret in SoundStage. (See www.soundstage/belt1, www.soundstage/belt2, and www.soundstage/belt3). Carol Clark discussed Belts procedure for freezing CDs in your home refrigerator (www.positive-feedback/belt). She also reviewed his P.W.B Red "X" Coordinate Pen (www.positive-feedback/beltpen). Not much press for tweaks that, according to the reviewers, appear to work.
After having read everything on the Belt website, I sent for the free sample of Silver Rainbow Foil being offered at the time. Upon receipt of the foil, I applied the small strips to a number of CDs and then froze the discs, twice, in my refrigerator per Mr. Belts instructions. The foiled and frozen CDs sounded better than they had prior to the treatment. Intrigued, I ordered more of the Silver Rainbow Foil, along with some Cream Electret and Sol-Electret.
I spent the better part of a Saturday applying these products to my audio equipment. Cream Electret is a white cream, sort of like vanishing cream. The instructions say to apply it like furniture polish to all surfaces of all components, including the undersides of the covers of electronic gear. According to Belt, the coating only needs to be one molecule thick, so the cream can be used sparingly. I coated all of my equipment, inside and out, including individual parts within my preamp and phono stage. I even coated the four sides and top of my massive VMPS FF-3 loudspeakers. Treating all of my components, including the loudspeakers, used up a volume of cream equal to that of the first joint of my thumb.
I then applied the Sol-Electret, which comes in a syringe. You use Sol-Electret as you would a contact cleaner/enhancer like those made by Caig. After treating all of my systems electrical contacts, I turned it on to hear what the treatments had wrought. I heard a noticeable improvement. I have spent other Saturdays cleaning the electrical contacts in my system with Caig products. The improvement that I heard from applying the Belt products was significantly greater than the one that I heard after applying the Caig products.
Over the next few weeks, I foiled, creamed, and froze virtually all of the CDs in my collection. Again there was a perceived improvement in the sound. Interesting. I then tried the "photos in the freezer" tweak discussed in Carol Clarks article. No improvement. Darn. Nevertheless, removing the photos from the freezer had a significant, deleterious impact on the sound. This was getting freaky. Was I really hearing differences, or was there a placebo effect? Was I hearing an improvement because I wanted to hear one, or was there really an improvement?
As a reality check, I found four identical LPs in my collection. I played them, and noted very little variation in sound quality. I kept one as a control. I froze one LP twice per Mr. Belts instructions. I creamed the labels of two of them using the Cream Electret. One of the creamed LPs I froze twice. I then listened to the four LPs. All of the treated LPs sounded much better than the untreated LP, with the creamed and frozen LP sounding the best. I then labeled the LPs with the numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4, gave them first to one audiophile friend and then to another. I asked them to play the records, to note if they heard differences, and if so, to rank the LPs in order of preference. I told them that the LPs had been treated differently, but I did not tell them which ones had which treatment. Both of my friends listened to the LPs on their own systems, without my being present, and amazingly, both heard what I heard, which was that the untreated LP sounded the worst, the creamed and frozen LP sounded the best, and the other two LPs sounded nearly alike.
Okay, time to do a more carefully controlled experiment. I made four computer copies of one of my favorite CDs and treated them just as I had the LPs: one twice frozen, one creamed on both sides, one creamed on both sides and then twice frozen, and one control disc. I was getting ready to distribute these at a local audio society meeting when one of our technical gurus commented that you cannot make identical copies of CDs using your computer. A quick e-mail to Jennifer Crock and Mike Pappas (Positive Feedbacks technical gurus) confirmed the fact that my CD-Rs were not identical copies of the original. Off to the clearance bins at my local CD store. There I found and purchased six CDs that looked to be identical. Each of the six had three stamper numbers, and the numbers were the same for each, so I did have identical CDs. One I put in a safe place. I then did the freeze one/cream two/freeze one creamed disc routine. At this point I realized that I had an unopened box of Audiences Auric Illuminator, a highly respected CD treatment that consists of a black felt pen for treating the edges of a CD and a thick fluid for polishing both sides. I did not use the pen, but I did use the fluid on both sides of the fifth CD. I then gave the five CDs labeled 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 to an audiophile friend, telling him only that they had been treated in various ways. My friend listened to the CDs, ranked them in order of preference, and wrote his comments on a piece of paper that was put into a sealed envelope. The CDs were then passed along to seven other members of our local audio society, who were instructed to do the same.
Upon receiving the CDs and envelopes, I tabulated the results, with one point being given for a "best sound" ranking, 2 points for the next best, and so forth, with the bottom-ranked CD receiving 5 points. In case of ties, the points were divided equally. If one listener said one CD was the best, one said it was the worst, and the other three were the same, second, third, and fourth place received three points each ((2+3+4)/3=3).
The results of this double blind experiment were interesting. Three of the eight listeners heard no discernible differences between the five CDs. However, five of the listeners heard differences. Their rankings were as follows (low score wins):
While the sample size is too small to draw any statistical conclusions, there do seem to be clear preferences. What does this mean? It means that some people can hear the sonic differences that the treatments appear to cause, and that the differences are not random. People that can hear the differences hear them in pretty much the same way.
If the treatments make a difference that somethough not allpeople can hear, so what? I could apply for a government grant that would allow a sample size large enough to draw statistical conclusions with a high level of confidence. Of course, the probability of that happening is very small. Im not quitting my day job. Nevertheless, my experiments signify to me that the changes I heard in my system when I applied the Belt tweaks were probably real, and not attributable to a placebo effect. The logical thing for me to do is to try more Beltian tweaks. You might want to try some of the free tweaks, such as freezing your CDs and photos (see the Belt website or Carol's article for details). If you hear improvements, congratulationsyouve gotten something for nothing. Of course, if that happens, you may be starting down the slippery slope to the outer edges of reality, as Greg, Carol, and I did. Caveat Emptor, and have fun.