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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Read This Facing North: The Strange Audio World Of Peter W. Belt

For maximum understanding, please read this article with your nose pointed at Oslo: I’m a quarter Norwegian and make more sense when you do this….

Right, then. That’s the silliness out of the way for the moment and everything that follows now is perfectly serious, though perhaps just as hard to credit. In the last week I have frozen CDs to make them sound better and have improved a £25 DVD player considerably by smearing a thin white cream on the inside of its cover. Oh yes, and when I wrapped a small spiral of white plastic tubing round all of my audio and power cables, the sound of my primary system perked up no end. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the audio world of Peter Belt’s Leeds based company, PWB Electronics.

Although Peter Belt is a highly qualified electronics engineer who manufactured well- rated electrostatic headphones and a variant on the electrostatic speaker in the 70s and 80s, he’s neither orthodox nor part of the hi-fi establishment. In the late 80s he caused a stir in the audio equipment press (Hi Fi News, Hi Fi Answers, Hi Fi Review and Audiophile for instance) by demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that small and usually overlooked ambient electromagnetic fields in most rooms could seriously detract from the perceived performance of the most expensive audio equipment. Worse than that, he developed relatively cheap ways of combating these problems, sometimes with the curious and highly unpopular result that cheaper kit sounded magnitudes better than higher-end stuff – which made him less than welcome with everyone of course, manufacturers and their customers alike.

Now while it’s fairly obvious that big fields coming from power cables, ranks of computing equipment, large amplifiers and so on might well affect working sound equipment nearby, this wasn’t what Peter Belt was concerned by. Instead, he believed that small fields from things like the spinning platter of an LP turntable (or worse still a spinning CD itself) affected the way we hear the sounds from our beloved systems. There were also, Belt said, unnoticed (and unfortunately unmeasurable) fields unwittingly built into the designs of most electronic equipment, but because these failed the falsification test for scientific hypotheses (if you can’t disprove a proposition then it’s not science as we know it) experts wrote off his fixes as Snake Oil. ‘Mere self-deception’ they said, ‘Auto-suggestion for the gullible,’ to anyone who claimed to hear Belt’s improvements.

For a while however, some audio writers were thoroughly persuaded. Paul Benson for instance, writing in the July 1989 edition of Hi Fi Review said that a Belt treated loudspeaker actually improved the sound of the working speakers when brought into the listening room - in diametrical contrast to the more usual deterioration that happened when any other passive speaker was introduced. ‘Peter and May Belt,’ he wrote, ‘have ways of treating all electromagnetic pollution. Ways that are incredible –literally incredible. But they work…..The beauty of it is that the products and free applications (see below - BK ) clear up the electromagnetic smog in the room (which) allows us to hear what equipment is capable of doing.’ The really odd thing about this ‘smog clearing’ though, was that according to Benson it made the listening room and the listeners feel better. The improved listening environment, he added, is far more important than expensive equipment upgrades.

And it’s at this point that everything goes pear-shaped when it comes to everyday logic. Peter Belt’s 1989 free ‘treatments’ included pinning up one of the corners of curtains with a safety pin and placing plain pieces of unprinted paper under one of the feet of anything fitted with four feet. Preposterous, surely? Well, try it and see - and if that whets your appetite, then try out this new one. Make a small rectangle of plain paper – the size doesn’t matter (no, honestly) but the corners should be right angles, and then pin prick a hole in each corner and another where the diagonals intersect. If you then Sellotape the pin-pricked rectangle to the wood of one of your speakers the sound will change. It’s completely impossible of course, but my wife (a supremely logical woman with a Ph D and hearing that makes bats envious) asked me immediately what I’d done to the system when I tried it.

Small wonder then, to discover that Peter and May Belt were dropped relatively quickly by the audio press. After a flurry of interest and glowing reports from such worthies as Jimmy Hughes, Benson and Keith Howard, most press coverage dried up from 1993 onwards, and next to nothing was printed about their subsequent developments until 1999. Then however, when Soundstage Audio Online and Audio Musings began to review their products, a new wave of interest developed and is still going on. The Belts are still in business and their products now run to some fifty odd all told.

My own interest was sparked off recently by finding a couple of Belt devices in a box of audio junk in the attic. I had used them with some satisfaction in the 90s but meanwhile my audio system had become like my grandfather’s knife (four new blades and two new handles, so to speak) and I had moved house a couple of times in the interim. Would they do anything to the sound now, I wondered? On finding that they did, I looked the Belts up again on their website and discovered that their thinking had moved on considerably.

The sound system is pretty good these days, if I say so myself. It’s not as good as the Music Web reference system of course, but at its heart is a Chord SPM 1000 power amplifier, driven by John Curle’s Parasound PL/D 1200 Line Drive Pre-Amp. Until recently the sources were a Linn LP12 turntable with an Ekos arm, a not terrific but seriously tweaked CD player with an outboard DAC and for the last couple of years, I have used the Sky Digital satellite as the radio source. The speakers are stand mounted Audio Spectrum Axxias (great for voices since I listen to a lot of opera) and there are decent cables, interconnects and power cords throughout. At its best it sounds musical, is low on distortion and can be listened to for hours without fatigue. When I swapped the Linn last Christmas for the Primare DVD30 universal disc player, I thought that the overall sound was as near as I could get to a real performance and was very pleased with it. I was wrong though.

May Belt kindly sent me some Spiratube for my cabling, a sample of something called Silver Rainbow Foil for treating CDs and a small amount of a compound called Cream Electret which has a lot of applications. She also sent a heap of information about the firm’s history, copies of reviews and printed versions of a news letter that a Belt enthusiast called Dr. Richard Graham maintains for the benefit of all product users. There was a set of instructions on using the products included in the package and some new information on free tweaks, one of which is about freezing CDs. I started experiments with that before making other changes.

As it turns out, the idea of freezing CDs has been around for a while. The UK’s Sunday Times (ST 10.10.93) carried an article by Mark Skipworth describing a controlled and blind-tested comparison between identical frozen and normal CDs in which the judging panel invariably preferred the frozen samples. The technique is simple enough: the CDs are placed in a sealed polythene bag to prevent condensation and left in the freezer compartment of a domestic fridge overnight. After freezing is completed, the CDs should be allowed to thaw to room temperature extremely slowly. (I wrapped mine in a towel, transferred them to the cool compartment of the fridge for some hours and then left them -still in the towel - to reach room temperature in my living room.) The result was startling in all cases but can best be described with one particular example.

The BIS disc of the complete Sibelius ‘Karelia’ music (Lahti Sinfonia / Osmo Vänskä BIS –CD - 915) has two male folk singers at Track 2 performing Finnish runo singing with its rocking 5/4 rhythm, while accompanied by the orchestra. Since the voices are reasonably similar in sound, it has always been difficult to tell them apart (even with the new player) or to locate them spatially as they toss the melody back and forth between them. Not any more: after freezing, it’s quite clear which singer is which and the physical distance between them is extremely precise. Better than that though, the perceived depth of the stereo image has increased too, so that the singers are now surrounded by the airy ambience of a live performance and the gap between them and the orchestra is almost tangibly real. Similar effects are heard on the whole disc.

The effect is enhanced with rather more subtlety by freezing the disc a second time after which the three dimensionality of the sound (on every disc tested) seemed even greater. Instruments and voices were even more precisely located – it’s possible to spot the position of different horn players for example - and generally the overall sound is characterised by a greater sense of easy relaxation. Everything feels.. well, pleasanter as well as more realistic, closer (as Quad used to say) to the original sound.

Why this should be, is more than mysterious. Similar beneficial cryogenic treatment to brass musical instruments was reported by New York Times On The Web, November 2nd, 1999 and attributed the improvement to changes in the grain structures of the metals involved. Since Peter Belt says that freezing is beneficial to audio cables (and actually, though it’s hard to believe, to entire CD players, amplifiers etc) the restructuring of grains within metals does seem plausible.

There may be I suppose, a parallel physical explanation for CDs, if freezing realigns the crystal / grain structure in their metal coatings although why that would enhance the detection of the digitised dimples read by the average CD laser is distinctly less than clear. There may be an explanation of course, but so far as I’m aware nothing agreed is to hand. And if all this seems to defy simple physics, the next Belt CD treatment is much, much odder. Step forward Silver Rainbow Foils.

After continuing to experiment by wrapping short lengths of the helical white plastic Spiratube to all my non-white audio leads and power cords – yes, it’s the colour that’s stressed as important - with a generally greater sense of control over the sound, I added small pieces of Silver Rainbow Foils to the labelled side of a couple of CDs, frozen and unfrozen, one of each. The foil has those pseudo-holographic circles imprinted on it that change colour when lit from different directions, hence its name. Two 15mm by 5mm strips are placed on a CD, one of which has to cover the Compact disc Digital Audio logo that appears on all of them. The other piece of foil can be placed anywhere else but on most discs, positioning the strips at about 45 and 270 degrees (where the logo often is) seems to work nicely. While an improvement appears on all discs treated, there is a definite cumulative effect when the foil is applied to frozen discs and this goes a step further to increasing the life-like qualities of orchestral and vocal music, often as not revealing even more of the inner parts than formerly. Mrs. Belt is happy to provide a sample of the foil to anyone who contacts her by email or by surface mail (see below for addresses.) It’s certainly worth trying in my opinion and I’m told that the foil is one of the most popular devices that PWB Electronics provides since it costs only £20 for three lengths of 170mm by 15mm.

By far the most startling result of any of the Belt treatments however, came from using the sample of ‘Cream Electret’ on a £25 white goods store DVD player that I bought a while ago when my Primare DVD30 had to be sent for repair. Among the many uses for the cream (it’s a white, water and oil based emulsion) such as coating it sparingly on cartridge fuses in power outlet plug tops, on audio leads in conjunction with Spiratube and so on, is the claim that it can be usefully coated on the inside surfaces of audio equipment’s cases, amplifiers, players and so on. Not willing to risk taking the restored Primare to bits lightly, I applied it to the cheap player with dramatic results.

For all its cheapness, the sound and picture quality of the budget machine was really quite good to begin with. It was just about ‘hi-fi’ and a bit bass light, but it gave a very decent two dimensional stereo image when playing CDs and was an object lesson in how manufacturers of budget electronics can buy up slightly outdated technology to mass-market advantage. I couldn’t have lived with it as a main player of course, at least not for long, but as a stand-by it was better than expected. After applying the cream though, all that changed and I began to understand the claims that properly treated budget equipment can give higher-end kit a run for its money. The immediate effect was that of buying a fairly expensive upgrade – imaging was actually three dimensional now with almost all of the ease and control of the Primare, particular on the treated discs. It was still rather bass light and yes, the Primare was still better. Whether it was 84 times better (the price differential between the two machines) or even 50 times better became highly debatable however and if I had been sceptical before about Peter and May Belt’s claims I was certainly won over. I could live with the cheap player now, even as a CD source which is not its main purpose.

In a future article I’d like to experiment further, perhaps with a few other devices and with not a little trepidation, I’ll also attempt to summarise a bit of the theorising behind these products. Since one of theories involves Rupert Sheldrake’s ideas about ‘morphic resonances’ a definitely New-Agey notion about hidden and unrecorded energy fields, that’s clearly going to be no easy task. Meanwhile, I’d recommend that you try some of these experiments yourselves, especially the free ones perhaps after reading this article again - while facing Oslo. With morphic resonances around apparently, even that suggestion might just work.

Bill Kenny

Contact Mrs May Belt for more information or a sample of Silver Rainbow CD Foil either by emailing foil@belt.demon.co.uk or by surface mail at PWB Electronics, 18 Pasture Crescent, Leeds, LS7 4QS, UK Please enclose your name and postal address in your communications.

The PWB Product Users Group is at http://groups.yahoo.com/groups/PWB

The PWB Web Site is at http://www.belt.demon.co.uk

Note: This is not one of MusicWeb's justly famous April Fools - Len M

 

PART TWO Hunting the Snark



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