The Audio Skeptic’s F.A.Q.
“All lies and jest
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
and disregards the rest…”
- “The Boxer”
When faced with strange and unusual products and ideas that belong to the category of advanced audio, a great many people scramble over to join this group of audio skeptics, even if they know little or nothing about the products and their inventors. Not all, however. Some were already born to it. So I wrote a small FAQ especially for you guys. I have battled with audio skeptics for over fifteen years, in all kinds of forums of debate, and mighty rare is the time that I have ever seen a mind change. Actually, the only times I have ever seen it happen is when someone tried one of the free techniques, like those that I have included on this site! The neurotic attitude expressed by the eternal skeptic of the audio community is known as “pathological disbelief“. I believe the only known cure is a long walk off a very short pier.
Let me say, that even now that we are firmly entrenched in the 21st Century, human beings being the fearful and irrational creatures that they are, it’s not easy being an advanced audiophile. It’s not easy advocating products or ideas that are beyond the grasp and the imagination of the masses, and which quite unintentionally, happen to appear to be nonsense for the sake of profit. And for some advanced audiophiles, it’s not easy being the target of relentless mockery and ridicule by the skeptics, should they want to talk about the products that they use, or worse, advocate them in an open forum of discussion. If you advocate such products before such skeptics, you will soon be tagged as a “shill” for whatever company who makes the products you advocate. And it only gets worse from there.
It’s all too easy for audio cynics to diminish and dismmiss “Beltistm” as “cultism”2 with arcane rituals, so this they do. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the minimum requirements to obtain a passport to Beltland comprise of a modicum of listening ability with which to discern real differences in a casual listening test, and an open mind. Open enough to support the idea of a casual listening test, and that perhaps hundreds or thousands of audiophiles who have heard the effects of this phenomenon are not insane or under the magic spell of self-delusion. Once you are able to overcome those minimum requirements and you have heard “The Belt Effect”, then it’s no longer so easy to diminish and dismiss Beltists. I’ve heard from Beltists who were as skeptical as anyone out there when they first heard of these products and practices. The difference between them and other skeptics has to do with whatever they did to overcome their prejudices. It’s not a question of “suspending your disbelief”, because you don’t really have to believe in any of it. Beltism does not require any self-deluding tricks. It’s mostly a matter of listening without prejudice. If you can’t even attempt to do that, then there are a lot of things in audio that will forever pass you by, not just Belt’s products.
It is the height of arrogance to vehemently denounce the experience of others, basing your opinions on ideology, or lack of evidence on their part, to a degree that might satisfy you. Naysayers, in their attacks on advanced audio ideas, use science as a religion. Putting all their faith in what has already been established, making immediate dismissals of what has yet to be established. It wasn’t meant to be used this way. Indeed, if the entire world was comprised of the same short-sighted, dogmatic, narrow-minded audio skeptics you find in the audio community, science would still be attaching leeches to peoples bodies to drain them of their poisonous blood. So Science (by its true principles anyway), stands on the sidelines, staying silent and taking neither side. While the pundits continue to squabble. Tonight, let’s hear what some of them have to say…
Q & A (Quotes n’ Answers)
Q. “I don’t need to try such products to know they don’t work. “
A. Think perhaps that that’s the height of arrogance and dogmatism? Well, I have read a surprising number of naysayers say just that in their attacks against advanced audio products. Really. Not kidding. Said without shame, by people who claimed to be experts in audio or science. When a brain shuts down that quickly and effectively in its knee-jerk reaction against things it can’t begin to fathom, because it simply won’t try, well what can you say to that? It’s like trying to discuss the finer points of Wittgenstein with a six-year old. Or even trying to convince your teenage kid that no, they don’t actually know better than you and all the rest of the adults in the world. Speaking of six year olds, here’s the next most common knee-jerk reaction of the audio skeptic….
Q. “I choose to believe in “real” audio ideas, products that are proven to work based on widely accepted theory. I don’t have time for ‘faffle’ “.
A. For those people who take this tact, which is prety much all audio critics, let me clue you in on a couple of things. Science is a wonderful guideline to go by for understanding our world, but, and I’m sorry if this may shock some of you skeptical sort, we don’t actually know everything yet. There seems to be a common myth among audio skeptics that we do or we should. Well, we don’t. Sorry! Example. We don’t even know every possible aspect of how magnetism works. We may be swamped by electromagnetic fields of various frequencies, and know that waves of energy can pass through each other without interfering, that matter is condensed energy, and we can see that form of energy. But there is a lot of energy we can’t see. Science knows how EM fields operate, but not necessarily how they work.
It may use virtual photons to describe their interactions, and even deduce accurate behaviour in relation to their state, but still not know why they behave that way. I tried to make this point on an audio discussion group once but was shouted down by all the audio cynics (who use science in a religious form). Obviously not with evidence that proves things about electromagnetism the rest of the scientific community have been unable to come up with, but with denouncements that none of it is relevant to anyone’s arguments. But it very much is. For if skeptics can’t understand all principles behind the very elements that are used in their speaker drivers or amplifier transformers or other parts of their audio chain, then according to their world view, how can they possibly be hearing what they profess to be hearing, since even the hardest of hard-core audio cynics profess to be hearing some differences in speakers at least?
If we take that to its logical end, how can we possibly exist, when science can’t even tell us how the universe came about? I don’t mean how it was formed but… what was there before it ever got started. And if we can’t prove how it all came about, are we really able to hear what we claim we can on our audio systems? Don’t be silly, of course we are! Simple point being, you don’t have to understand how something works in order to be able to observe how it works. Sure I agree it would be nice to fully understand how a new phenomenon works every time a theory is posited, but every scientist who discovered a (valid) phenomenon down throughout history did not have that luxury.
Q. “I put pineapples down my trousers to improve the sound! It’s just as effective as the tweaks you advocate! Try it! If you don’t, you’re not being open minded, hypocrite!”
A. This is of course another form of non-thinking knee-jerk reaction, using the old reverse psychology routine. Which is about as worn-down as Abbot & Costello’s “Who’s On First?” comedy routine. I fully appreciate the fact that, to the uninitiated, some of the products and ideas promulgated by the advanced audio industry seem ridiculous, implausible, and let’s say it, “just plain wacky”. No doubt, many will think as much of the free tweaks offered here.
So just how does a thinking, intelligent, rational human being go about deciding what he/she should or shouldn’t try? If we’re going to “listen” to little battery-operated travel alarm clocks that promise better sound, or freeze our photographs, or tie alligator clips on knotted wire or smear special creams on things to improve our sound, where does it end? “Life’s too short to try every wacky idea anyone ever tells you that promises to improve sound!” , says the naysayer.
While it’s true that every life is finite, all the more reason to take a few minutes to try out some ideas, because if they end up improving your sound in ways unimaginable to you, the life you do have left then gets a lot more interesting, and pleasurable. And more importantly, you may have learned new things about the world of audio, and the world in general. To answer the above question, if there is only one person in the world advocating stuffing pineapples down your trousers in the interest of good sound, you’re probably safe to exclude the idea from your to-do list, if your time for trying out new ideas is limited.
However, if there are others advocating the same ideas or products, then you may have a basis to go forward on it. Most advanced audio products that I know of, as with conventional products, have their base of satisfied customers. Some may not be, just as with conventional audio. In the case of PWB Electronics, which has been selling such products for nearly 25 years, they have enough satisfied customers to form their own discussion group . Not to mention positive reviews and articles in print and online publications since the early 80′s. That’s a lot more than one lone wacko standing on the corner screaming that you should put pineapples down your pants to improve sound. That’s why the argument that any crazy-sounding thing you can think of is the equivalent of a Belt idea, is rather insulting to Beltists. I can only imagine how insulting it would be to Mr. Belt himself. The Belt ideas are brilliant to the degree of genius, while masquerading as lunacy or snake oil to most so-called “rational thinkers”. But I think Albert Einstein put it better, when he said…
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. “
- Albert Einstein
Q. As P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”.
A. Actually he didn’t say that. But if he knew how many times dogmatic audio reactionaries on the internet would repeat that trite old quote a hundred years later during their endless “tweak attack runs”, ignorantly attributing it to him, he’d have claimed it as his own, found a way to copyright it, and collect royalties on it to this day. What the catchphrase doesn’t tell you is, a mind closes as often as a sucker is born. Do we blame Western rational thought for this? Our primordial instinct? The government? The school system? Bad TV?
What about us who are courageous enough to explore advanced audio products, use them and even advocate them? Are we gullible “suckers” that need to be protected by those who claim to be in possession of sane, rational thought, as they would have us believe? Well, if we are, I would argue, many of us are suckers with the most sublime sounding audio systems. That’s not a bad kind of “sucker” to be, actually. The relative sound quality of your audio tends to separate the rationlists from the empiricists.
Of course, I’m having fun with the idea, but we are not “suckers” at all, despite the false images the perpetual skeptics wish to project upon us. Some of us who have tried and used devices from PWB and other manufacturers of advanced audio products are well known professional audio journalists, celebrated audio engineers, lawyers, doctors, and others who are intelligent, well educated, and very well aware of scientific doctrines. The one thing we have in common is that we love music, and we will not limit ourselves to enjoying music at its fullest fidelity, because of unfounded ideologies about what is and isn’t a valid audio product. Our finances however, may be more of a hindrance to our love of music reproduced well in the home! Luckily, a site such as this exists, which discriminates against no one, no matter what their finances may be!
Whilst they are railing against any and all alternative audio products or ideas, there are two facts that the audio skeptics won’t ever advertise:
1. No one is forcing you to buy such products.
2. With most advanced audiophile products, you usually get a money back guarantee.
You can’t even say the same for most conventional audio products that you buy from stores! That means you can try them in your home, and no matter what your personal beliefs are, if it doesn’t work for you, you get a refund. In fact, if I couldn’t obtain a refund on such products, I would probably hesitate to buy them and I would have a hard time even advocating them. I feel the same about any audio product that I can’t have the chance to listen to, even if they are well reviewed in some major magazine. Because for one thing, everyone has their own opinions about what sounds good, and their own systems in which to fit the product, and its my opinion that rarely do products sound the same from one to another. So there’s no guarantee that what the reviewer heard is exactly what you are going to hear, unless you bought the very piece he reviewed.
I once purchased a Rega Planar 3, and read many reviews about what a great budget record deck this was. No matter what I did to set it up, and I’m very skilled at setting up and tuning turntables, I found it totally boring to listen to. Detailed yes, but boring. I much preferred my old Sugden Connoisseur, at a fraction of the Rega’s price. Not a popular opinion I realize, but that’s my point. One of the things I would buy on reviews alone, without a guarantee, is in fact the phono cartridge. But that’s because these days, dealers won’t let you try out the cartridge of your choice, nor will they usually offer refunds if you don’t like the choice you made.
Q. You “wacko tweako’s”, spending so much money on “worthless tweaks”, are responsible for giving non-audiophiles the impression that the rest of us “sane and rational” audiophiles, who spend so much money on audio equipment that is at least proven to be effective, are nuts!
A. So how does it feel to be ridiculed and regarded as a nut with more money than sense, by those who have no understanding of the esoteric products that you use and advocate? You might get a little more understanding if you stopped treating those who have tried and found alternative audio treatments to be effective, in the insensitive and condescending manner that non-audiophiles might regard you.
It’s all about human prejudice. When someone makes a judgment toward someone for taking an interest in products they have never tried and know nothing about, even though they may presume they do, that’s prejudice. The way to fight that isn’t with more prejudice, but with understanding. As much as you can muster, anyway. Usually, the only way you may hope to convince naysayers that your interests have merit, is for them to understand what you understand. In the case of traditional audiophiles, this means demonstrating to the naysayer that despite the fact that your audio system costs more than what they paid for their car, if they will sit down and listen to you playing music on it, they may start to get an appreciation for why you have invested so much time and money into creating it. As prevalent as ignorance about quality audio may be, most people do still have the capability to be educated.
In the case of the avant guarde audiophiles, it means demonstrating the effect of advanced audio products, and how they can improve upon conventional audio gear. That’s usually not as easy, because doing this with audiophiles, who may have built up years and decades of rigid ideas about what is and isn’t true in audio, means having to fight their prejudice that such products can’t and don’t work. This is even more true if they’ve heard a few and weren’t convinced of the differences! I have found these prejudices inherent even in budding neophyte audiophiles. To make it easy for those who can overcome such prejudices, I have created this site to help skeptics and curious alike, demonstrate these ideas for themselves. If some of the ideas in the free tweaks section are more than your prejudices can handle, start with whichever seems the most “rational” to you.
Q. “EVERYTHING can measured! If it can’t be measured, guess what? It doesn’t exist!”
A. It’s funny how the perpetual skeptic always wants to measure things. Give him a measuring tool and he’s happy. Tell him that, while measuring tools in audio may have their place under some conditions, he’s unable to use measuring tools to measure everything the human ear can hear, and suddenly he’s no longer happy. An unhappy skeptic is an argumentative one. An argumentative skeptic is an irrational one. If you tell him it can’t be measured, his knee will jerk immediately, and he’ll respond with “then it doesn’t exist and you are fooling yourself to think otherwise!”.
This is actually an old debate among “measurers” and “listeners” in the audiophile community. It’s the difference between, say, “The Audio Critic” and “The Absolute Sound“. By far, it is not solely an artifact of advanced audio products. For years, amplifier designers gave us horrible sounding, truly treacherous amplifiers. They looked good on paper though. The engineers followed measurements and specifications. Blithely ignoring the fact that the human ear can hear all sorts of distortions or aspects of the musical reproduction test instruments can’t pick up on. The better sounding amplifiers were created, at least in part, by designers who actually listened to their product during the design stage, and based the designs on that. This is why we say audio is part science, and part art. The rest, part of the audiophile “objectivist” group, lauded their horrible sounding spec-centered amplifiers that couldn’t even get Ginger Rogers to tap dance, on the argument that they were “accurate”, because that’s what the specs “proved”.
The human ear is actually a lot more complex than many seem to think. Because it is part of the human hearing mechanism, which is part of the human brain. And the human mind is one of the most complex things on earth. People don’t just hear things objectively, as a test instrument might. There is a lot of processing going on, and what they hear is dependent upon many factors, including how much tension they are under at the time. Complicating that further, there is often a discrepancy between what they can hear with their ear/mind combination, and the conclusions they make with their mind. So what they interpret in the final result may well be different than what their ears/minds registered.
Measurement-happy skeptics cite this complexity of the human brain as the reason why everything in audio should be measured. Except it can’t be. Test-happy skeptics cite this as the reason why everything in audio should be double-blind tested. Except that has its own pitfalls…
Q. “The solution is simple. Double-blind test everything in sight, that will tell you if its real or not. After all, you shouldn’t need to see fancy labels to tell you which sounds better”.
A. <Sigh>. If only the real world were that simple…. Advocates of the double-blind audio test, particularly the ABX test, at least on the net, are something of an audio cult unto themselves. Extremist skepticism at its best, really. There is ample empirical evidence, both in my studies and those of others, that shows when you impose “blind conditions” upon the listener, you disorient the listener. You can’t call yourself a scientist and dismiss all that evidence in favor of theory, that doesn’t work. Now you may not need to see the device under the test, but the rigid structure imposed by the blind test will more often than not, yield results that are inconclusive at best, false at worst. It isn’t just me saying that, it’s thousands of audio hobbyists who’ve undergone such tests. Including John Atkinson of the audiophile magazine Stereophile, who during a debate at a high end audio conference, explained how he had led himself to trust in the credibility of the double blind test.
The test was between a tube amplifier and a solid state model, and even the most extreme of the extremist anti-audiophile brigade have always agreed that there is and should be differences between tube and solid state sound. Yet, JA, professional audio journalist, could not pick them out in an ABX test. That led to him selling his amplifier, and getting one that scored no worse in the test. This was alright for those who purport to follow the so-called “rational and scientific method”, except it wasn’t alright for his enjoyment of music. Which he learned months later, after learning the lesser amplifier simply did not satisfy on a musical level, as his former one did.
JA’s been quoted as saying that the double blind test produces a null result, even when real differences do occur, and is more of a test of the listener, than whether the device itself is valid or not. I would tend to agree. It’s really not easy to pass a DBT to the statistical significance required by staunch, so-called “objectivists”. I’ve often read where audio skeptics say they heard differences between A and B, but when a double blind test was performed, those differences disappeared. Well no wonder! If you actually look at the overall results of audio DBT’s, you’ll find that most conventional audio gear that has undergone double blind tests also show no differences! Sometimes, people have even failed DBT’s involving speaker trials, and you won’t even find the most extreme audio skeptic arguing there is no audible differences among speakers.
John Curl, the celebrated designer of many great high end audio amplifiers, found that at the end of a series of DBT trials, he could not reliably hear differences between one of his own designs, the preamp stage of a Mark Levinson JC-2, and that of a Dynaco PAS-3X. Yet had no problem hearing them under casual listening conditions. Based on his reading of the book “Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain”, Mr. Curl hypothesized that the stresses of performing well in an ABX test causes the right brains of many participants to shut down, or skip a synapse or two. May Belt, of PWB Electronics, refers to this as “going under tension”.
Despite what the extremist DBT advocates would like to believe, there are clear differences between casual sighted listening, and being put through an unnatural double blind test. In the case of PWB’s products, all of them are claimed to work at reducing tensions that humans react to in our modern environments. Other advanced audio products, such as the Clever Little Clock or the green CD edge treatment markers, may in fact work on similar principles. This being the case, the DBT would compete against the beneficial effect these products purport to have. So it would be entirely the wrong solution to testing them out.
The audio skeptics often confuse audio DBT’s with double blind tests in other scientific domains, such as the medical industry. Yet the two are not comparable, for any variety of reasons. Including the fact that audio systems were meant to be evaluated on a purely subjective basis. Trying to do otherwise infringes upon the scientific range rule, which invalidates any such test as unscientific. Moreover, the hypocrisy of audio DBT advocates is evident in this simple observation by one forumer: So-called “objectivists” in audio dismiss any and all subjective inquiries that are not part of the DBT experience, citing that the ears can be fooled. But these same doctrinaires also admit that the eyes can be fooled, by slight of hand, by illusionists, and other “trompe d’oeil”. However, when guaging whether to apply the brakes on their car to avoid hitting the car in front of them, they don’t ever seem to have a problem with using subjective measures to do so. Even though the eye can be fooled by subjective measures.
By the way, I have sometimes gone to visit these audio skeptics at their homes. Their audio systems are some of the worst I’ve ever heard, not even approaching the sound of my system. I guess it’s all what you get used to. Their systems were boring as all get out, and appeared to be designed to reproduce sounds, not music. It is a sobering lesson that makes me repeat this to my fellow audio hobbyists:
Don’t let ideology get in the way of good music reproduction!
It’s already responsible for millions of kids across the globe, thinking that mp3 is about as good as you need to get. If for no other reason than the love of good music reproduced well in your home, that’s why you should always carry an open mind with you wherever you go.
Q. I try to keep an open mind. Just not so open that my brains fall out.
A. Ha! Ha! That was really funny the first 500 times I read that from skeptics across all the audio forums but after that… it started wearing thin. “Keeping an open mind” means just that. Keeping an open mind. It doesn’t require that you automatically believe any advanced audio products or concepts work, before you have evaluated them. It’s understandable that people will be skeptical of things they don’t understand, that seem impossible, and are indeed indistinguishable from so-called “snake oil”. Keeping an open mind means not passing judgment on products or ideas you haven’t tried. Especially not condemning them. It means simply saying “I don’t know whether that would work or not, I haven’t tried it”. You could add “Although I have my doubts…” if you really want to be cheeky. . I can say this from personal experience: once you have confirmed for yourself that the Belt phenomenon really does exist, you’ll have little problem keeping an open mind to other implausible ideas in audio. But it doesn’t necessitate that your brains turn to mush. On the contrary, you just become more knowledgeable in your understanding of audio, and human biology.
“Scorn and derision are forever heaped upon anyone who dares to stray beyond the narrow confines of “scientific” dogma. You know this, if you’ve ever heard an improvement offered by an officially unsanctioned change in, or addition to, an audio system. With reptilian aplomb They proceed to instruct you that, essentially, you are full of shite. Just kidding yourself, or suffering from an emotional illness. Trying to sell something fraudulently. Snake oil. Voodoo. Alternatively, if there actually is an audible difference, ‘who’s to say for sure whether it’s an improvement?’ They ask.”
- ”Entries in Four-Part Harmony”
: C. Johnsen
Q. So what you’re saying is…. these products can’t be measured.
A. No. I’m not saying that. They can be measured. It’s done subjectively, which is the only way that all audio products can be measured under test, including the double blind test1. It requires trusting your ears, and your ability to judge differences without the aid of measuring devices. I can understand someone questioning their ability to judge an audio product based solely on their sighted, subjective listening tests. But fear not, its not that difficult, if you keep at it. Have a look at my How To Listen section and learn how that works.
There might come a time when such products can be measured using objective means. Laser interferometry was one such proposition bandied about. But no one has yet devised a means to measure these products using objective lab instruments, including the manufacturers themselves. Obviously, its not a simple task to come up with such a device. Until someone does, unfortunately, we have to utilize the tools that Nature gave us. Our ears and our minds. In order to do that, they both need to be made freely available.
Q. This whole thing is a joke, right? I can’t believe that you even believe what you are advocating here!
A. Yes my friends, believe it or not, I’ve gotten ridiculous responses like that, too. Inevitably, a test of any of Peter Belt’s ideas isn’t just test of sound or vision. For many, it is also testing open-mindedness (to new ideas). Because you have to have enough of an open mind to begin testing the ideas. In this sense, it separates those who have an open mind, from those who previous to a Belt challenge, merely thought they did. In the blink of an eye, when their conventional views of audio are challenged by the Belt principles, most die-hard discussion group “subjectivist-types”, who may have spent the last 10 years arguing against “objectivists”, find themselves thinking and acting like the narrow-minded dogmatic “objectivists” they had always rallied against from the beginning.
Which is to say, they refuse to believe any of it could be valid, immediately dismissing positive reviews or empirical evidence from hundreds of audiophiles that have tried and use these unusual products and principles, with the most casual disregard. Conveniently rationalizing away all of this evidence in favor of the predictable “expectation effect” response. Which also happens to be the audio objectivist’s favourite tool in dismissing the reality of millions of audiophiles across the world. Although after decades of arguing about it, both sides still can’t agree on whether quality wire & cables have any effect, debaters of both persuasions most often agree that any “weird sounding” advanced audio products don’t have any effect. The stranger it sounds, the more likely it is to be a hoax. They speak as though it were fact of course, when it is merely their groundless opinion, as none that I’ve ever seen who denounce such products on the net have any extensive experience with them, and very few have any such experience at all.
There’s no doubt in the minds of many who’ve witnessed his products and ideas for themselves, including audio engineers, audio journalists and audio magazine editors, that “Peter Belt is on to something”. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s not merely “on to something”, that’s trivializing the revolutionary work of half a distinguished career. Rather, he has been quietly pioneering research into major new scientific advances in anthropology / audio science for more than two and a half decades, and is way ahead of his time. Too far ahead for the advance to be accepted by the community at large. When faced with the prospect of discovering this for themselves, those who sit on fences will say “Let someone else try it!”. And wait for others to come down from the mountain with news of what they discovered in Beltland. Only to be heckled and denigrated by those who haven’t yet made the journey. Bit of a Catch-22, isn’t it. The problem with waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with where Peter Belt was 25 years ago, is that you will very well be dead and buried by the time that happens. Life’s too short! I say if you are ever going to, then it makes more sense to discover the Belt phenomenon while you’re still alive! And it’s as easy as clicking on “Free Tweaks!“….
“I believe that it is scientific, not pseudoscientific, to do research on unexplained phenomena and to base one’s opinions on empirical evidence. By contrast, it is anti-scientific to try and suppress enquiry and discussion on the basis of dogmatic beliefs.”
“Reply to Shannon Rupp”
- Dr. Rupert Sheldrake