Reviewers story, written in
By May Belt.
To bring up many of the points I wish to make, the best way I know how is to use the form of a story. I will call the story
"Six weeks in the life of a fictitious reviewer"
Before I begin the story, for the people who have tried and have had success with our techniques and devices, I suggest that they have a bottle of smelling salts to hand ! - because what follows will not be 'relaxing' reading.
If people think that I am exaggerating in the following story, my exaggeration is only that I am condensing a ten week period into six weeks, in order to shorten the story.
I will start my story at Week Two - it will become obvious why later.
In Week Two, our fictitious reviewer is due to carry out a review of five cartridges. On the face of it, it all seems straightforward but one has to be aware that in Week Three, our fictitious reviewer is due to do a review on ten pairs of loudspeakers, so, gradually during Week Two, ten pairs of loudspeakers will be delivered and stored in the hallway, next to the listening room.
Monday morning of Week Two, our fictitious reviewer begins to review the first cartridge. "Well" you will say, "No problems here". Except that there is another important fact to be aware of. That in Week One, our reviewer reviewed a pair of large planar loudspeakers and two massive American mono block amplifiers and these are still stored in the hallway, awaiting collection by the importer.
On Tuesday of Week Two, our reviewer begins to review the second cartridge. Two pairs of loudspeakers are delivered (in readiness for the review in Week Three) and stored in the hallway, along with the pair of large planar loudspeakers and the massive mono block amplifiers (from Week One), still awaiting collection.
On Wednesday of Week Two, our reviewer begins to review the third cartridge. A further three pairs of loudspeakers are delivered and stored in the hallway, the large planar speakers are collected but the massive mono block amplifiers are still in the hallway, awaiting collection.
On Thursday of Week Two, when the fourth cartridge is to be reviewed, a further three pairs of loudspeakers are delivered and on Friday when the fifth cartridge is to be reviewed, all ten pairs of loudspeakers are now stored in the hallway, together with the massive American mono block amplifiers which have not yet been collected.
Week Three sees our fictitious reviewer ready to review the ten pairs of loudspeakers but it has to be realised that in Week Four, our reviewer is due to review SIX amplifiers for one audio magazine and FOUR CD players for another magazine, so, six amplifiers and four CD players will gradually be delivered during Week Three and stored in the hallway, next to the listening room.
Week Four sees the ten pairs of loudspeakers stored in the hallway, awaiting collection, whilst the review of the six amplifiers and four CD players takes place. At the same time during Week Four, eight budget tape recorders will be delivered for a multiple review that our fictitious reviewer has agreed to do for yet another Hi Fi magazine during Week Five.
Week Six looks as though it is going to be a relatively quiet week. The only equipment our reviewer is due to review is a large American amplifier and a 'State of the Art' Canadian turntable. BUT, both of the distributors of these pieces of equipment have informed our reviewer that the equipment has to be "warmed up/run in" for at least one week before listening to. And where is our fictitious reviewer going to have this equipment "warming up/running in" during Week Five ? The Listening Room ? At the same time as carrying out a review on the eight budget tape recorders ? At the same time as the six amplifiers and four CD players from Week Four are still stored in the hallway, awaiting collection ?
I have reached the end of my story "Six Weeks in the life of a fictitious reviewer" but do not put your smelling salts away just yet ! - because I have not made any mention of the T.V. sets, the video recorders, the computer, the word processor, the fax machine, the telephone answering machine, the household appliances and the many kitchen appliances which have all been used at various times during these past six weeks - and used whilst the reviewer was carrying out his listening tests !
What review of any equipment can be valid under these circumstances ? For example, did the XYZ amplifier get a 'thumbs down' verdict because it does actually sound inferior to the other five amplifiers reviewed, or was the 'bad luck' factor involved because the XYZ amplifier was the one that just happened to be reviewed on the day that there were six pairs of loudspeakers still in the hallway PLUS already five of the budget tape recorders PLUS that was the day that the children had the day off school and had a TV/videomachine/radio/computer connected in another room and with the washing machine and drier in constant use ?
Our many children will tell the story (with a grimace on their faces) that every time they arrived home from school at 4.00 pm, they had always to check if Peter was conducting listening tests before they could connect the electric kettle, the T.V, the toaster, the food mixer, the cooker, the extractor fan, the washing machine, the electric iron, the immersion heater etc. etc.
The only reviewer of equipment I knew who made an effort to treat any equipment awaiting review in his house was Jimmy Hughes. But Jimmy Hughes is heavily censored as to what he can write of his experiences, using our techniques and devices - as was Peter Turner and, after Paul Benson's April 1990 article in Hi Fi Review (where he encouraged people to treat their existing equipment ), he was told by the editor that Hi Fi Review no longer wanted him to write for them !
The trigger for my story "Six weeks in the life of a reviewer" was a number of visits to various well known reviewers where I observed at first hand the conditions in which they carried out their reviews.
The visit to the last of these reviewers was a revelation ! The day we visited was a Friday and the reviewer had been carrying out a review of five different cartridges during that week and was still listening to the fifth cartridge the day we arrived. Peter noticed some audio interconnects randomly strewn around the floor. He asked how long they had been like that and the reviewer replied that they had arrived in a packet earlier in the week, that he had unpacked them, looked at them and decided that he did not have time to listen to them so had just put them on the floor until he did have time ! Peter told him that they would be having an adverse effect on the sound in the room whilstever they were there, on the floor. "No way" says the reviewer, "I do not believe that". We then noticed some rolls of polystyrene and aluminium (to be used in house decorating) leaning against the wall of the listening room. Again, Peter asked how long they had been there. The reviewer answered that he had visited the DIY store on the Wednesday and purchased them then. Peter told him that they would also be having an averse effect on the sound. "No way" said the reviewer, "I do not believe that". Also in the listening room, plugged into the AC supply and 'running in/warming up' in preparation for a forthcoming review was the pump for an air pump pick up arm.!! Whilst we were there, two massive American amplifiers for another forthcoming review were delivered and left on the floor of the listening room. In no way would the reviewer believe that any of these things could have an effect on the sound in the listening room. When we read the subsequent review of the five cartridges in the magazine the following month, we were left wondering if the cartridge voted the worst sounding of the five was really the worst sounding or was just the unlucky one which was reviewed on the Friday - after the delivery of the package of interconnects, after the rolls of polystyrene and aluminium were purchased, after the delivery of the massive American amplifiers and after the connection into the AC supply of the pump for the pick up arm.
This latest visit to a reviewers house brought into sharper focus an earlier visit to the house of one particular reviewer of audio equipment, so I searched back issues of various Hi Fi magazines and counted the reviews of equipment carried out by this single reviewer. When I counted the different equipment reviews for one month's issue of one Hi Fi magazine and then counted the equipment reviews for one month's issue of another Hi Fi magazine and so on for yet another Hi Fi magazine and so on for yet another magazine, all carried out by this single reviewer over a three month period, then my story is hardly an exaggeration!!!
It reminds one of 25 years ago, when no one would believe that different interconnects or wires could produce different sounds. That 25 years ago, most manufacturers would wire their components with any wire that was to hand, that most loudspeaker manufacturers would wire up their loudspeaker drive units with any wire that was to hand - I know - I was there ! That reviewers would not believe that different wire could produce a different sound and would therefore connect equipment for review with whatever interconnect or speaker wire was to hand at any particular time - I know - I saw them ! That retailers would not believe that different wires could produce different sounds and would demonstrate and sell equipment without any thought as to what wire they used in the demonstration room or what wire the customer would use at home - I know - I was there ! It appears relatively amusing to think back 25 years, but it is not so amusing when you realise that it is still going on today. This type of disbelief, rigidity of attitude and downright denial is still being perpetuated in 1993.
I have just recently re-read an account of a talk that Peter Baxendall gave in 1985 to the British section of the Audio Engineering Society in which he is quoted as saying, amongst other things, "I do not believe that the type or quality of dielectric used in LF coupling capacitors is of any significance whatsoever" and " I do not believe that the use of expensive, special loudspeaker cable, no matter which way round they are connected - confers any sonic benefit whatsoever".
Peter (Belt) has been telling people for the past ten years that anything connected to the A.C. supply, anywhere in the building, will have an adverse effect on the perceived sound. He has also been saying for nearly as long that every passive piece of equipment (not connected - not working) will also have a similar adverse effect.
But how can a Hi Fi Magazine even report Peter's findings ? How can they logically have on some pages reviews of equipment by reviewers who do not believe (or do not want to believe) that equipment connected to the A.C. supply, anywhere in the building, will have an adverse effect on the perceived sound and on another page print any of Peter's fundamental discoveries. That is why I was taken completely by surprise to see quoted in an article in the January 1991 issue of 'Stereophile' someone saying exactly what Peter has been saying for the past ten years.
".......and Michael said that almost anything you plug into your house wiring could have a sonic effect. Kind of mind-boggling when you think about - enough, in fact, to drive a person insane..." Stereophile Jan. 1991.
How can a Hi Fi Magazine logically have on one page a review of a £3,000 piece of equipment where the reviewer is recommending readers to save their money to buy it, whilst on another page print Peter's findings that every component, (printed circuit board, capacitors, resistors, transistors, valves, integrated circuits, transformers etc. etc) causes an adverse problem to the perception of sound and must be treated ! And yet the people who have had success with our devices will confirm that this is exactly the case. Gradually, very slowly, one by one, people in the audio world in America are beginning to realise that there are things affecting the perceived sound which cannot be explained using conventional electro-magnetic or acoustic theory. They are still at the stage of trying desperately to fit conventional explanations onto what they are observing. Some of them are satisfied with a quick, easy, simplistic explanation and therefore look no further but others, although satisfied initially, are beginning to find the original simplistic explanation unsatisfactory.
A few years ago, when one particular audio journalist telephoned Peter to inform him that he had not been able to hear any improvement using our devices, Peter asked him if he considered that he had good sound. He replied that "Yes, he considered that he had really good sound and that his friends thought so too". No doubts in his mind, no hesitation, no qualifications such as "usually it sounds good but sometimes it can sound poor". And yet, that is more what real life experience is like ! We receive quite a number of enquiries which start "The sound of my Hi Fi system varies and I have no idea why. I understand that you may have some solutions which I can try to see if they will improve matters".
Why is it that you can search high and low in the British audio magazines and hardly anyone will mention that the sound of their Hi Fi varies and they have no idea why ? That is why I found it so extremely encouraging to read Arnis Balgalvis in a 'Stereophile' discussion group say,
"Some nights Sonofabitch, that system really sounds great and everyone is happy. I'm happy. Then next evening people come over and are listening to it - Shit, it isn't like it was last night !"
It seems as though people have to reach a certain stage of realisation - that they are no longer getting the quality of sound from their Hi Fi, that somehow or other it has deteriorated, before they are prepared to search for ways of retrieving it and then later, to search for explanations as to why it had deteriorated in the first place.
Which leads me into describing one such experience in 1987 involving Jonathan Kettle and Andy Benham. This particular event has been reported before but I think it is well worth repeating again.
Keith Howard of Hi Fi Answers and Jonathan Kettle and Andy Benham of Hi Fi Sound were due to give public demonstrations at the Bolton Hi Fi Show in October 1987. Now, the Bolton complex is a dreadful place in which to house an audio fair (from a good sound point of view). The complex has it's own electricity sub-station on site.
Peter had been asked by Keith Howard to 'Belt' the Hi Fi Answers demonstration room in the Bolton complex. Jonathan Kettle and Andy Benham of Hi Fi Sound were to give the first public demonstration of DAT versus CD in the U.K. Jonathan and Andy had taken with them to Bolton a varied selection of equipment from which they hoped to select a combination capable of giving a good sounding demonstration. Prior to the opening day of the audio show, Jonathan and Andy worked late into the evening, struggling with one combination after another, trying to produce an acceptably good sound - without any success, leaving them with
"an unlistenable jumbled mess"
as described by Jonathan Kettle.
"after trying everything we could think of, we decided not to bother with the Hi Fi Show and go to the bar for three days instead".
as described by Andy Benham, and
"They came armed with numerous amps and speakers, and had begun the depressing task of trying to find a combination that would work acceptably. By the time they came into our room to witness Peter Belt at work, they were almost suicidal".
as described by Keith Howard.
On the first morning of the show, Peter arrived to 'Belt' the Hi Fi Answers room. The then Editor of Hi Fi Sound, Neville Farmer, sat in on the demonstration given by Peter. When Neville heard what a success Peter had achieved, he asked if Peter would 'Belt' the Hi Fi Sound demonstration room. This Peter did with considerable success.
"Transforming the sound to an involving and musically satisfying one"
as described by Jonathan Kettle.
"Belt spent a couple of hours in our room and totally transformed the sound. Visitors to the show complimented us on the sound quality"
as described by Andy Benham.
"Two hours later, they were all smiles"
as described by Keith Howard.
If the sound in the Hi Fi Sound demonstration room was so improved, what explanation can the people involved offer ? They cannot explain the effect of Peter treating the chairs, treating the carpet, treating the curtains, treating the windows, treating the telephone, treating the cold water pipe in the bathroom, treating the audio equipment stored passively in the bathroom etc. etc. using conventional electrical or acoustic theories, so what explanation can they give.? They may not like some of the explanations that Peter puts forward but someone, somewhere, at sometime is going to have to come up with an explanation !
I would now like to look at the much maligned term 'Tweaking' and at some 'improvements' in particular.
Quad manufacturers a CD player and on the integrated circuits in this CD player they stick a label saying 'specially selected' or 'quality controlled'. If these labels are removed, the perceived sound from the Quad CD player will improve. If the labels are placed back again onto the integrated circuits, the sound will be perceived as having deteriorated. Now, engineers who wish to explain why this happens will pluck out of conventional theory an explanation such as "Oh, the dielectric of the label is obviously having some effect on the signal passing through the integrated circuits". That explanation will satisfy then and as far as they are concerned, they need look no further for an explanation.
BUT, if further experiments are carried out, things begin to look very strange indeed. You keep the first Quad CD player as the music source and you bring a second Quad CD player into the room and sit it alongside the first CD player. The second Quad CD player is not connected to the AC power supply, it just sits there passively. You then repeat the experiment but this time remove the label from the integrated circuit in the second, PASSIVE, CD player. The sound will be perceived to have improved, just as it did with the first CD player ! Replace the label back on the integrated circuit in the passive CD player and the sound will be perceived to have deteriorated. Now, how can conventional theories be used to explain this phenomenon of a passive object affecting the perceived sound ?
The point I wish to make now is that what I have described is not a 'Tweak'.
Firstly, the label should never have been placed on the integrated circuit in the first place.
Secondly, when you have successfully experienced the results of this experiment, you will realise that there is something going on out there which cannot be explained by conventional electronic or acoustic theories. This means that there is a serious gap in the knowledge of the so called 'experts'.
Now, 'experts' do not like to admit that there may be a serious gap in their knowledge so what better reaction to have than to dismiss such happenings as 'Tweaks', as 'Hints and tips', so that such things do not have to be taken seriously by the 'experts'. So that their conversations and writings can be dominated by assessments of various measurements, laser beam technology and computer printouts ! So that any gaps in their knowledge are not exposed !
What better way of dealing with people who challenge the narrow, conventional approach of looking at audio problems than to dismiss them as 'Loonies' and 'certifiable'. If such people can be dismissed easily as 'Loonies' then they do not have to be taken seriously, do they ?
© P.W.B. Electronics 2007