Friday, May 16, 2008

The Demystification of Peter W. Belt

He used to be frowned upon by the audio mainstream for his “left field” views during the late 1980’s, Peter Belt’s theories were later proven to be fact as the 1990’s wore on. Will his more “radical views” be proven otherwise with time?

By: Vanessa Uy

Though being labeled as a mystic has its pros and cons, Peter W. Belt could would past muster being called a rock star – albeit the most unconventional one to date. If DJ s were already passing themselves off as rock stars in the 21st Century, shouldn’t people who make listening to recorded music more enjoyable be considered as rock stars too? Anyway, you can consider yourself as a hard core audiophile if you have heard of Peter W. Belt, of his company: PWB Electronics in Leeds, England or of his more “iffy” advises on audio tweaking. But if you’re like me who have found out that over 90% of his radical views have been proven true in first hand experience or have been proven in more technical electronic journals like EMC Test and Design, then consider yourself welcome to the wonderful world of Peter W. Belt. For the sake of the uninitiated, let us discuss first how Peter W. Belt became famous in the hi-fi audio world. Then dissect a number of his relatively “radical” theories and decide for yourself – either through experimentation and or firsthand experience – whether these hold water.

First and foremost, Peter W. Belt is a highly qualified electronics engineer who was able to manufacture and market well-rated electrostatic speaker of his own design and electrostatic headphones during the 1970’s and the 1980’s. But during those times, he’s neither orthodox nor a mainstream part of the hi-fi establishment. The most damning of Peter Belt’s criticism came in the form of his so-called “hi-fi tweaks” that are based on very new and cutting edge electronic theories that have not yet seeped through to the civilian populace. Most damning of all is the fact that almost all of these so-called tweaks are relatively inexpensive, and could make the subjective (i.e. perceived) sound quality of inexpensive audio kit sound magnitudes better than their more costly counterparts with no tweaks applied. And these things made Peter Belt less than welcome with both manufacturers and customers in the hi-fi world during the late 1980’s.

Then the 1990’s rolled along and came with it the first step of the long road to vindication of Peter W. Belt and his theories. As the consumer electronic manufacturing conglomerates – i.e. personal computer and audio gear makers – started to adopt electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) awareness, an aspect of one of Peter Belt’s theories can now be scientifically scrutinized. Belt used to demonstrate in the 1980’s that a small and usually overlooked ambient electromagnetic fields in a typical living / listening room could seriously affect the sound quality of audio gear. So he tried various methods of EMI / RFI (electromagnetic interference / radio-frequency interference) shielding and gasketting i.e. Faraday Cages. These methods did work with varying degrees of effectiveness the problem now is that it is very hard to objectively measure the subjective improvements in sound quality. Unlike the field strengths of EMI / RFI which can be easily measured by a field strength meter in units of V / m (volts per meter). You would need to generate EMI / RFI fields at least 1,000 times the existing ambient field readings in a typical listening room just to measure the interference effects in a typical audio gear via conventional means. This just proves the versatility of the human ear, not to mention the proverbial “golden ears” of typical audio / hi-fi enthusiasts.

The other often referred “radical theory” of Peter W. Belt is on how turning platters – of LP turntables and CD players – can have a noticeable effect on the sound quality of your audio gear. Though I’ve yet to experience first hand those “platter accessories” intended to improve your LP turntable’s sound quality, the ones intended for CD players – like the STATMAT - do improve the unit’s sound quality. The ones marketed for CD player’s works on the principle of limiting the magnitude of static electricity – i.e. triboelectric field suppression – that’s generated when a CD player’s “platter” revolves at high speed. This static suppression devices work for at least two reasons, first of all the active electronics used to process the digital signals being read of the pits and bumps of the CD disk are CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) devices. CMOS devices are very sensitive to static electricity and can even be rendered inoperable – i.e. damaged – by high levels of ESD (electrostatic discharge). We’re talking of ESD here several magnitudes higher than that a typical person generates by walking across a carpet and getting a shock as he or she tries to turn the doorknob. Second, if you are fortunate enough to use a gallium arsenide-based night vision goggles (NVG) to see a helicopter landing at night, you’ll notice that a helicopter rotor generates static electricity of magnitude that’s visible enough to be seen by NVG gear as it lands. You’re CD as it rotates at high speeds inside the player does this too. Even if the electrostatic buildup near your CD player’s laser assembly is not of magnitude that would burn-up the junctions of the CMOS devices, this electrostatic build-up can cause the signals to phase shift 45°, 90°, or even higher. This will cause the absolute phase of the signal appear inverted. These phase anomalies can affect the timing of the music, with relatively disastrous consequences on the quality of the reproduction. The phase and timing issue is probably the most contentious reason that divides the respective merits between analog and digital music, and yet there are mitigating external factors that came into being - especially when it comes to electrostatic build-up in CD replay.

These are just the few aspects of Peter W. Belt’s theories that had been proven so far to have a bearing on sound quality. His views on cryogenically treating audio components have also been proven to be effective. The interconnect I use are of the cryogenically treated variety and I swear by them. Even musical instruments are joining in the cryogenically treated bandwagon. Dan Markley marketed bass guitar strings that are cryogenically treated back in 1992, and many musicians – from heavy metal to jazz musicians – swear by their improved sound quality and consistent feel. Even firearms have joined in the fray. Looks like Peter W. Belt will get his vindication after all.