L'Affaire Belt

When I attended Britain's Heathrow Penta hi-fi show in September 1987, I had hoped to come back with big news about some breakthrough cartridge or preamp or loudspeaker system. I didn't. No, the talk of the Penta show was something called the "Belt Phenomenon," which may possibly be a breakthrough of some kind, but then again, it may not.

Peter Belt is a person—a likeable Englishman, and seemingly anything but a wild-eyed crackpot, even though his grasp of basic physics seemed to be rather shaky. (I met him and talked to him at some length.) But, you see, he has this...how should I put it?...this THING.

A while ago, it seems, Mr. Belt read with alarm some articles about the growing evidence that overhead high-voltage power lines may pose a health hazard for people living near them. Extrapolating from this, he theorized that the AC wiring in all homes radiates "adverse energy which affects our sense of hearing and suppresses our ability to correctly perceive complex musical information," to quote from his literature. This will certainly get the attention of nuclear paranoiacs, who equate all radiation with gamma rays and imbue it with supernatural powers of evil, but not to worry. Mr. Belt has also devised a number of arcane gadgets which purport to solve the whole problem by "neutralizing" these adverse charges.

Here are some of them:

• Two different sizes of safety pin, medium and large, each with a bolt, a nut, and several metal washers at its pivot point. The small one clips to your shirt, to treat one's self. The large one can be fastened to the carpet of an automobile to "correct" the sound of its audio system. I was also told that you can attach these to anything—the drapes, a bed pillow, the family cat, in order to improve anything from the sound of your audio system to the taste of your breakfast cereal.

• A 3"-square printed sheet of small, adhesive aluminum-foil squares called "Reactive Electret Foils." You separate these and stick them on various strategic spots in the room: the walls, your listening seat, your record labels (one side only!), the underside (important!) of your record player lid, around every mains fuse in the room, on your loudspeaker stands, and at the back of each loudspeaker grille. Finally, you wrap one around the water pipe coming into your home, but only if you don't have a computer or an electric heater.

• A magic "Electret Brush" which polarizes anything in the direction in which it is brushed. Wiping it the "right" way improves the sound; wiping it the other way makes the sound worse.

• A 22" length of wire solder with, at both ends and center, a bolt/nut/washer kit like those on the safety pins. This gadget is claimed to be a "water reformer," capable of applying "powerful reforming electret charges to the water flowing inside a pipe." (The claim is that a single mouthful of the treated water will make your system sound better "immediately." That's better than I can claim for gin.)

• A vial of "Sol-Electret" fluid which allows paint-on polarization of any object. (What's the matter with the brush?) Said to be "a lyophobic colloid combining a special mixture of high-grade lubricating oils and billions of microscopic PTFE spheres," this is to be applied to your turntable platter bearing, your signal connectors, your AC plugs, the hub of your CD player, and (I gather) anything else that takes your fancy.

• A syringe of the same magic fluid for treating anything you can't reach with the brush or the vial.

This guy is clearly a three-layer nutcake, right? That's exactly what I thought when I first started hearing about all this. But then I heard more. Mr. Belt, I learned, has been demonstrating his devices to various audio people, individually and in groups, and most of them were reporting that his gadgets do in fact improve the sound. Martin Colloms, for example, and his associate Paul Crook felt that differences could be perceived when a sheet of Mr. Belt's electret foil was placed under a CD player. John Atkinson felt that he heard a difference between when an LP was "polarized" correctly and incorrectly in a demonstration run by the English magazine Hi-Fi Answers at the show. Jimmy Hughes, chief reviewer of Hi-Fi Answers, was—despite admitted skepticism—so impressed by what he heard that he extolled the virtues of the Belt devices across four pages in the October 1987 issue of the magazine! Jimmy also demonstrated to our own Alvin Gold much of the effects claimed (see "Pure Gold," Vol.10 No.6).

Now, we are not exactly talking here about your average, inexperienced, gullible audio tyro. We are talking about veteran listeners who have built professions on their ability to hear what's going on in reproduced sound and, presumably, ignore what isn't. Could all have been conned into hearing what was not there? Or is there something to Mr. Belt's far-out ideas, and the absurd devices he sells for outrageous prices ($28 for an Electret Foil sheet, $1250 for a "polarizer," only to be sold to dealers, consisting of a 9V battery, two plastic cable ties, a metal clip and a length of wire!) to implement them?

I attended one of the listening sessions at the Penta show, and was unable to hear any change as a result of the devices. I brought some of them home with me, and I am still damned if I can hear them doing anything at all. But then, I didn't expect to. And maybe that's the key to this whole phenomenon.