That’s me on the left. Well, me and my trusty dog Gromm…. Grommophone. Yes, Grommophone. He helps me with my tests, because he’s got super keen hearing, like… well, a dog. Over a 28 year audiophile career, with much of it tinkering, you can bet I’ve done a lot of listening tests. No doubt far more than most professional audio reviewers/journalists. I’ve done sighted tests, blind tests, double blind tests, ABX double blind tests…. I’ve tested myself, my friends, other audiophiles, and non-audiophiles. I’ve tested them on advanced audio principles (ie. Beltist), and conventional principles.
None of this was for the sake of “tweaking”, but for the sake of “discovering”. Having an interest in music and an interest in audio doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive, as many seem to think. Discovering new things in audio by experimentation has always provided an interesting challenge for me. Long before messing with the ‘quantum world of Beltism’, I was the guy with 3′ horns sticking out of the front of his speakers, the guy with a stack of things 2 feet high under his portable CD player (starting with a hubcap….). I remember walking into an audio shop, listening to a $1,000 home cd player, and saying “This thing doesn’t even sound as good as my portable!”. And the salesman would ask “What do you have for a portable??”. Not an easy question to answer.
Most of the time, I would keep my esoteric experiments to myself (and I’m talking about the conventional ones!). Even audiophiles didn’t get it, or didn’t appreciate it. With them, the conversation would, in no time, get into theoretical arguments. Even though I might have been ready to discuss the sonic influence of eggshells or something, and long past the notion that cable direction matters, ‘they’ would still be stuck on the idea that cable direction doesn’t matter. Something I’ve resolved years ago. So then I would find myself in the position of having to engage in arguments with audiophiles who either haven’t done the experiments on cable direction, or have but haven’t been able to hear it, that it does matter (and can we move on already?!). I don’t care if someone gives me 65,000 reasons as to why a given idea shouldn’t work, backs it up with journal citations from the AES, the NIH, the NSA and the FBI. My ears are the final arbiter of any such judgement call, and that’s the end of that. Many other audiophiles have yet to learn how important that concept is and choose to believe in words, citations and so-called “objective” tests. So be it. As my granpappy from Tullahoma used to say, “You cain’t make chicken scratch from hawg grits”. (Okay, I don’t really know what that means. Okay, I didn’t really have a granpappy from Tullahoma either…).
The theoretical arguments about what one should and shouldn’t be hearing quickly grew boring, because they only wasted time that I could use to learning new ideas, and hearing hundreds of the same arguments repeated over and over again was mind-numbing. I had to realize at some point, that the problem wasn’t simply a lack of imagination on their part (that something could work), but the fact that all my hands-on experimenation caused my listening skills to develop, and the lack of desire from my audiophile peers towards this activity never did anything for their listening skill. So more often than not, it ended up that even if they could believe a certain product or idea works to effect a change, their listening may not have been up to par on that particular thing. I knew what I was hearing though, regardless of whether others didn’t, because I could characterize the change, and I even learned to feel the difference via physical reactions to the music. (I discovered “musicality” can be divided into 2 distinct groups, and then in more recent times, discovered a couple more facets to this).
But trying to convey those changes to someone who wasn’t conscious of them was like trying to describe colours to a blind man. So the blind man refused to believe that the concept of “colour” even existed. Nevertheless, I grew to believe that it didn’t really matter if another listener couldn’t hear changes that I could, whether from a change of components or a modification to components (or supports, or the electrical line). If the changes were there, they would still have to be affected by them in some way. But, different people do react differently to the same changes. Which confuses the issue about whether those changes exist even more.
Developing an understanding of what changes were important, and which weren’t, was also an advancement in the learning process. I could see that even if others could hear those changes, they might characterize them in wrongful ways. For example, hearing more real detail in the highs may get characterized as being too bright, for someone used to not hearing those frequencies in the music, or simply who simply prefers less detail. But as well, improvements in one area, at the expense of another more important area, was later considered by me as unacceptable. I learned which improvements were most beneficial to the listening experience in a ”musical” sense (hint: timbral resolution is one), and which could be sacrificied as “superficial excess”.
The discovery of Beltism added a whole new dimension to my audiophile career. For the first time, I experienced an audio discovery that I could say had an influence on my line of thought well outside the audio industry. That’s another way of saying that discovering and exploring the existence of the Belt phenomenon was such a unique experience, that it opened up a lot of other questions about other alternative approaches. Whether to science, medicine or what have you. Not to say I paste unicorns on all my footwear, but, even though I was an open-minded chap long before Beltism, I am now far less likely dismiss something just because it sounds “unlikely”, if I don’t know much about it or have never experimented with it.
For example, I will not arrogantly dismiss all beliefs in the entire New Age movement, as all dogmatic audio skeptics I’ve seen will. I don’t practice any New Ageism either, but that’s just the point; I don’t know enough about it to dismiss it all. If it helps some people, who am I to deny there may be something there? Millions of people for thousands of years practice Feng-Shui or principles of Chi, and more modern Western studies that may be based on that phenomenon. It’s not a sign of intelligence in the slightest to dismiss such well practiced phenomenon when you don’t know anything about it and can only speculate from your ivory tower, using ignorant judgment based on a very limited understanding of the world (including the world of science). Those who join in on that form part of their own fraternity of religious zealotry.
It’s as May Belt points out, once you have experienced this (Belt) phenomenon and come to the realization that there really is something to it, that the products really can change your perception of sound in a real and tangible way, you can’t go back to your mocking ways any longer and ridicule those who use such products. For those audiophiles who have been courageous enough to persist in testing the techniques and ideas I offered them, that certainly turned out to be true. They stopped mocking me, apologized for doing so, and even thanked me for the tips, wonder of wonders. So really, this has all been a big 25-year misunderstanding between the traditionalists and the avant-garde. But in a few hundred years when the general public catches up to Peter and I and the rest of us in the “secret community of advanced audiophiles”, boy are they ever gonna have egg on their faces!
“you can really learn a lot that way
it will change you in the middle of the day
though your confidence may be shattered,
it doesn’t matter”
- “For The Turnstiles”
: Neil Young
the advanced audiophile