Peter Belt, 1930-2017

On March 13, May Belt of PWB Electronics announced via e-mail that Peter W. Belt, the company's founder and her husband of many years, passed away on February 17. He was 87.

Englishman Peter Belt came to attention in the mid-1980s, thanks mostly to a series of articles in HiFi Answers and other British audio magazines. He specialized in the design and manufacture of decidedly non-traditional audio accessories, the workings of which were regarded by many as anomalous. But May Belt steadfastly maintained that the products of the company she ran alongside her husband have less to do with mysticism than with shifting the emphasis from altering the performance of playback gear to altering the perception of the listener: "It has always been perception," she told me in 2012.

As I wrote in Stereophile's April 2012 issue, "The products of PWB Electronics, Ltd. all derive from a discovery that Belt, an electronics engineer and former radio repairman, made in 1979. A wooden table in his listening room had suffered a spill of some sort, so Belt used a cleaning product—he refers to this as Chemical A—to try and remove the stain. Right after doing so, he and his wife, May, noticed that the sound of their music system was markedly worse than before. They removed the table from the room, upon which the sound improved. Then, out of curiosity as much as anything else, they brought the table back into the room, and the sound worsened again—and so it went, back-and-forth, until the curious relationship between poor sound and the newly "treated" table was beyond all doubt."

There followed a long line of PWB accessories based on this and other of Peter Belt's discoveries, many of seemingly fanciful design: ointments (Electret Cream), stickers (Rainbow Electret Foil), and specially treated paper clips (Morphic Links) have been sold direct and through a handful of retailers, few bearing prices greater than £10 or £20 apiece. One of PWB Electronics' most recent accessories is a Morphic Link Magnetic Bookmark priced at £10, intended to be placed in the user's dictionary. Adjacent to the word link.

Over the years, reactions to the discoveries and developments of Peter Belt have ranged from hopeful acceptance to calm dismissal to hostile ridicule, the latter always borne with quiet graciousness by the Belts, whose consistent response was to urge skeptics to simply give their ideas a try—and who always sent free samples of their products to any interested parties, just for the asking. The scientific grounding of Peter Belt's work has been called into question by many, but the man's sincerity, honesty, and integrity remain beyond doubt.

Funeral services for Peter Belt took place last month; May Belt writes that she will continue to run PWB Electronics alongside the couple's son Graham.

COMMENTS
Bill Leebens's picture

...but he clearly had a good long run.

I've never understood the level of rabid dogmatism with which most folks approach things like Belt tweaks, magic dots, whatever. To me, our understanding of the physics of both electronics and of listening are so rudimentary that it makes more sense to just try something, rather than reject it out of hand.

And yes, cables matter, break-in matters....

John Atkinson's picture
Bill Leebens wrote:
I've never understood the level of rabid dogmatism with which most folks approach things like Belt tweaks

"Rabid dogmatism" seems a little strong, Bill. In an essay on, among other things, the Belt devices that I wrote in 1991 - www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/787/index.html - I said "I reread Peter Belt's literature promoting the virtues of his 'Black Electret Rings' (what appear to this lay eye—and to J. Gordon Holt's—to be black nylon cable ties) . . . I note that Mr. Belt's uses of the words 'electret,' 'gravitational,' and 'energy' imply meanings for those words with which I am not familiar. I might still try tying a 'Black Electret Ring' around every cable in my system, though to accept Mr. Belt's statements at their face value means having to unlearn everything I know about electrets, gravity, or energy."

So yes, I am skeptical, but I don't think dogmatically so. I did try the Black Electret Ring but I couldn't really hear any effect.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

JimAustin's picture

As a result of several extended exchanges with May over the years, I do not doubt her (and presumably Peter's) sincere belief in their products. Indeed, she (and other enthusiasts) seem to have a well-developed philosophy that undergirds their beliefs. I often wondered where it came from; at times I've wondered if it was related to rationalizations of homeopathy. I've never figured it out.

There can be no doubt that manipulating the state of awareness of the listener can have a profound effect--not on sound but on hearing. In our exchanges, though, May Belt rejected the notion that awareness was necessary for the various products to do their thing--perception, then, is altered without awareness. That, to me, is mysticism. Conscious awareness may not be necessary, but awareness surely is.

One need not agree with his ideas, though, or share his belief in his products, to regret and mourn his passing.

Jim Austin
Contributing Editor, Stereophile

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

In my experience, homeopathy works, and lacks not for empirical data to back it up. Indeed, rationalizations may involve the insistence upon rejection of that which is demonstrable, albeit not fully understood. As for mysticism, it has motivated some of the most brilliant scientists and thinkers of the present and past.

Does the cookie crumble, or does it merely change form? Thus doth the world turn.

JimAustin's picture

... to debate homeopathy, but I will anyway, since it would be irresponsible to leave this claim unchallenged.

Classically, homeopathic remedies are highly diluted, to the point where, statistically, they contain no molecules of the active ingredient (often a harmful substance). The idea is that somehow an "essence" of the substance remains. Since no such thing exists outside mysticism, the efficacy of such a remedy would--much like Beltian tweaks--require awareness and be attributable to something akin to the placebo effect (which can be powerful and affects all of us). When you take homeopathic medicine, you're aware of it. If you weren't, it couldn't work. This and other homeopathic concepts are inconsistent with basic laws of physics and chemistry--the very laws that made it possible to, e.g., create transistors, vacuum tubes, and much of the technology that underlies our audio systems. Without those laws, there would be no recorded music in the home. The approach taken by those who came up with homeopathy could never have led to working devices.

I wrote that this is "classic" homeopathy. In fact, many homeopathic "remedies" contain substantial quantities of substances that, because they have been inadequately tested, may well be unsafe. (The diluted kind, though, are harmless enough.) For example, like "patent" medicines, some contain heavy metals (or used to; the study was done in 2012, not so long ago), the health effects of which are well-known and usually detrimental. Supplements containing significant quantities of active substances can definitely effect how you feel; some, for example, contain significant amounts of alcohol.

The most recent comprehensive, rigorous study I'm aware of is from 2015, from the Australian government (it's National Health and Medical Research Council). It concluded, "Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective." If you reject the approach taken by such authorities, or their independence--perhaps preferring anecdote or less rigorous, more biased studies--then there is nothing to discuss.

There's nothing wrong with taking homeopathic remedies for minor ailments, as long as they don't contain harmful substances, and I defend the right of people to do as they please. I'm also quite untroubled by harmless audio tweaks; whether they work or not, the Belt's devices do no serious harm. Issues of public health--treatment of communicable diseases, vaccinations--are a very different matter, since they effect all of us. Similarly, it's wrong--maybe evil--to market therapies that cannot work to seriously ill people. I sincerely hope that, should you become seriously ill, you'll seek serious science-based treatment.

As for the motivations of scientists, they're mostly unimportant. Some are motivated purely by curiosity and the search for knowledge, others by the pursuit of money or fame. But, all but the fraudulent ones subject their ideas to rigorous empirical testing and, in time, accept the results.

Respectfully,

Jim

es347's picture

..anomalous...a generously kind adjective

Allen Fant's picture

A good life indeed. R.I.P.

tonykaz's picture

A one candlepower lamp with all other lights OFF will improve my listening experience. I have a Flickering LED bulb but a single candle works well ( if a person can tolerate the smell ).

Mr.Fremer gets credit for that "Everything Matters" Rule.

Early Religious Beliefs are chuck-full of this stuff.

Most of the Engineering Community and the Pro-Audio still feel that Enid Lumley was a bit off but an entire Audiophile Industry grew out of her observations.

Cramolin Cleaner and Conditioner works, I'll swear to it!

Tony in Michigan

ps. Dear Mr. Peter Belt, we're all just waiting to join you.

dalethorn's picture

Offering free samples is indicative of good intent. I don't doubt the table experiment, but then, any object of significant size entered into the room could have an effect on the sound. The notion that the sound would be mostly affected by the liquid spill isn't as easy to swallow (heh), but then, once they decided after the spilling incident that the sound changed, it seems fairly easy to believe that removing and adding the table would affect the sound.

Wimbo's picture

You made the hobby interesting back in the 80's.

wkhanna's picture

i have had a few V respectful & interesting exchanges with May on this forum over the years. i offer my sincere condolences to her today.

i also think the truth is, the belief system plays a V large roll in our hobby. if one is pleased with what they experiance, then their reality is effected.

my belief is there is no such thing as pleasure, only lack of suffering. there are no ordinary moments. each experiance is precious.

it is not for me to judge right or wrong. if Peter (& May) eased suffering for someone, then that person found value in it. when belief out ways truth & knowledge it can be perceived as true, especially when the amount of empirical knowledge on the truth is inconclusive.

there is no need to discuss intent here, at this time.

let us just acknowledge there is far more that we do not know than there is what we do know.

if Peter did one thing, he made us aware of that.
not a bad epitaph, one i would envy, actually.

EA's picture

I am among the people whom May contacted by mail last week, to inform us of the sad news.

I am above all the sole french audio pro who during six years, in the early nineties, made the radical choice to use, recommend and sell to his customers most of PWB items. Simply because I heard (and STILL hear) a real difference for the better when using them.

A few PWB treatments did not wow me, but they were a handful in several dozens on offer.

Almost all people saying bad things on Peter, May or anyone associated with PWB actually have never tried the treatments, nor even just the "for free" ideas you can find on their website. They are so proud to know for sure what can work, or not...

This is saying MUCH about the state of the audio world, and explains why most audiophiles are often going nowhere, and spending silly amount of money in a neverending race for audio heaven (if there's such thing, anyway...).

I closed doors when I realised most people are led by what they read, and adverts or reviews I'd better not comment on...

I have not met in the trade someone as friendly, forward thinking, uninterested et generous as Peter or May, simple fact.

Anyone is free to use his audio sytem without ever wondering if some uncommon treatments can improve it without a single component change. But please, just stay silent on PWB matters unless you have an actual experience on them, mean listening sessions where you were able to hear if something was happening or not when using them.

May, you already had a private message from me, this public one is meant to say to all of you audiophiles, or better music lovers, reading me that PWB is still the sole source for some ideas/items that may well have you enjoy more fully your music.

Try them if only once, most will cost you MUCH less than a "big name" cable or tweak.

Peter's peacefully passing is really sad, but PWB is still going on with May and their son, so feel free to contact them if you want to investigate on their discoveries and make your own opinion, fair way.

Thanks to all