by Carol Clark
freezing, im frozen, im icicle blue
Are you in love? If you answered yes, chances are youd be hard pressed to explain the reasons. For most people in love, its just something they know. It is different for each person, and cant be measured, but the fact that it cant be measured is not a reason to throw the notion away. How, youre asking yourself, does this relate to Peter Belt and PWB Electronics? I decided to try out some of Belts theories, and see how they worked for me. I have found, in my initial experiments, that though the results couldnt be measured, there were differences in my listening experience. As with love, I cant scientifically measure the results, but that is no reason to throw them away.
I decided to experiment with cryogenics first. Apparently you can alter the way a CD sounds by freezing it. Fortunately, it is not necessary to cryogenically freeze the disc to the temperature of liquid nitrogen (75 degrees Kelvin, or about -300 degrees Fahrenheit).
According to Peter Belt, CDs can be placed in the freezer compartment of a home refrigerator to achieve the desired result. Why does freezing CDs work? After reading several articles on the subject, and visiting the PWB Electronics homepage ( http://www.belt.demon.co.uk/ ), the theory that made the most sense to me was the one detailed by Jimmy Hughes in the January 1993 issue of Audiophile magazine:
CDs are subjected to heat and pressure in the pressing process, thus distorting the lattice structure of the polycarbonate substrate. Freezing relaxes this structure and realigns it. This potentially leaves the disc less vibration-prone. This makes sense to me. You must keep in mind, too, that the process leaves a lot to the ears of the beholder. More on this later.
Using the method described by Hughes in his article, I chose two CDs that I know well, Mezzanine by Massive Attack and The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails. According to Hughes, the discs should be placed in individual self-sealing plastic bags to avoid condensation. I placed both CDs in my freezer for 24 hours, then placed them on a hand towel kept for that purpose in the fridge. They remained snuggled in the towel for another 24 hours. At that point I whisked them away to the closet in my den, as I had determined that this was the coldest part of the house, and the CDs could rest there, relatively undisturbed, for another 24 hours. The key is to unfreeze the CDs slowly.
Finally, after three days, the CDs were ready (and about time, too, as I was beginning to suffer withdrawal from being without NIN for so long!). I listened to the Massive Attack disc first. I chose this CD because I have more than one copy of my favorite test track "Inertia Creeps." (As an aside, I am aware that, even untreated, the CDs would differ in sound, as each was processed differently.) So, what did I hear? Well, a lot! The frozen version of "Inertia Creeps" was much more vivid and distinct. Ive listened to this track hundreds of times, and its true that I hear something new on a regular basis. This time, though, it was all new. I enjoyed it more, and was truly swept up into the magic of the track. Upon listening to the unfrozen CD, I was back to my normal enjoyment, this time as an outsider.
Nine Inch Nailsif youve read my previous reviews, you will know that I adore them. I know it is impossible for me to get inside Trent Reznors mind to decipher how he wants this music to sound, but that is a separate debate. Ive recently read some articles about Nine Inch Nails which lead me to believe that freezing the Downward Spiral has allowed me to get closer to Reznors vision. In the book "The Making of Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral" (Alan Cross, Collectors Guide Publishing 1996), mention is made of the curious quote that appears on the disc Broken. It says "Not for use with mono devices."
According to Cross, the reason is that some elements of that CD were mixed out of phase so they would stand out. Im certain that Reznor has continued to experiment with this. Freezing The Downward Spiral made it far more engaging than it has ever been. For instance, the layers at the end of the song "Closer" are more in evidence. Little bits of sound present themselves that I have never heard before. NINs sound is close to industrial, with what at times sounds like machinery droning in the background. After freezing this disc, these sounds became more easily discernible. The overall NIN experience increased tenfold for me after freezing the disc.
I followed another of Belts suggestions, with information gleaned from an article entitled "What a Mess!!! An alternative view of reality" on the Belt Electronics web page. In the article, Belt asserts that photographing a person affects them adversely, and that if you place a photograph of yourself as an infant or small child along with a current photograph of yourself in a plastic bag in the freezer, you will improve your listening experience. Does this change the sound of your audio equipment? It doesnt?it changes you, and your enjoyment of the music, and the effect will follow you everywhere. I have my photos in the freezer, and it has not only improved my enjoyment of music at home, but at fellow audiophiles homes nearby, and as far away as Las Vegas during this years CES. Okay, skeptics, dont dismiss this until you try it. Freezing your photographs costs you nothing but the loss of looking at the pictures, since theyll have to stay in the freezer forever. It costs you nothing, and the results are stunning. I tried it because I was skeptical, and my photos have been in the freezer ever since.
Im sure some of you are finding all this a little hard to swallow. I posed Belts hypotheses to an acquaintance of mine who is an audiophile, a scientist, and a psychologist. His initial reaction was:
"Youre putting me on, right?" He claims that Belts procedures cause a person to focus more on what theyre hearing, thus leading them to perceive something new. This may be so, but there have been times when Dave has made changes to the system, and Ive heard no difference even though I was concentrating. My friend went on to cite the Hawthorne Effect. A series of studies was made in the 1920s at Western Electric, in which things totally unrelated to productivitylike the lighting or the paintings on the wallswere changed, and found to have a measurable effect. My friend states that if you have a preconceived notion that freezing a CD will improve its sound, then it will, regardless. I suppose this is good psychological reasoning, but Im not sure I buy this either. For instance, I recall one experiment in which Dave placed bits of wood on various components in our system, using specific types that were touted to make the biggest impact. Even with the notion that this was going to improve the sound, I didnt hear anything. The same holds true for the acoustic panels he recently installed in our listening room. I know theyre supposed to change the sound, but I dont hear it.
I suggest you give Belts theories a try, and judge for yourself before you
dismiss them. It will cost you nothing but time. Even though I cant scientifically
measure Peter Belts theories, I know they work for me. I will report on more of his
procedures in future.