And we have a mechanism!

I have been asked whether Mr Hughes, author of the loopy pamphlet ‘A Decade of Tuning Tips (Part 2)’, has given any explanation as to why putting a piece of paper under one leg of a couch, or snipping the corner from one page in each book in your library, will improve the sound of your stereo system.

And, indeed he has! He actually opens the pamphlet with a mechanism. Those of a skeptical inclination might see a certain similarity with the concepts behind Chiropractic (‘innate intelligence’), Acupuncture (‘chi’), Homeopathy, Naturopathy and the like. These tweaks don’t actually change our stereo systems, they change us, the listeners. Here, let Mr Hughes, channelling Peter Belt, explain:

During the past two or so years nothing has caused greater controversy in hi-fi circles than the ideas put forward by Peter Belt regarding electromagnetic charge fields, and the adverse effects these have on us. PWB’s discoveries probably show their greatest potential in the area of health care and medicine, and in improving our everyday health and well-being at home and at work. Almost every week it seems, we read or hear of fresh evidence that suggests electromagnetic fields can be harmful to the body. Yet our exposure to such fields is increasing constantly, in all areas of life.

What has all this to do with hi-fi? Well, the body’s nervous system functions electrically, and evidence increasingly suggests that surrounding electromagnetic charge fields can interfere with its operation. Hearing is by far the most critical of our five senses, and our ears seem to be capable of detecting the tiniest changes in the environment. Peter Belt believes that hearing sensitivity can be manipulated electrically, and can demonstrate how the perceived sound of a piece of music–be it performed live or reproduced–can be altered substantially by nearby electrical charge.

Perhaps most worrying in this context is the way in which objects placed in the listening room can worsen the adverse effects of this charge because their surfaces are polarised by it. At present we might not know exactly how the presence of charge fields and polarised objects within these fields (which include our bodies and the clothes we wear, as well as the food and drink we have consumed) affects our ability to hear. But those willing to approach the subject with open ears and open mind will discover that some very srange things indeed can manipulate the sound in a room.

Just about every word in this is utter crap. Peter Belt has made no discoveries. He has come up with a whacky idea that he may, perhaps, have subjected to a cursory subjective examination. A discovery would follow controlled experiments to determine whether the hypothesised effect exists. There is not now, and was not then, ‘fresh evidence that suggests electromagnetic fields can be harmful to the body’. Occasionally by dint of extreme statistical manipulation some groups can extract from innocuous data a hint of an association between some electrical thing and some health thing. But what we have here is simply an assumption.

Hughes continues with an astoundingly thoughtless application of history:

If you contrast the average household of, say, forty years ago with a typical modern home in terms of electrical items, you can easily appreciate that our use of electricity has increased considerably. Quite apart from colour television sets and computers the sheer range of appliances found in the average kitchen today is quite remarkable. Add to this the large number of battery operated devices now in common use–remote control handsets, clocks and watches, portable radio and cassette players etc–and you begin to see the extent of the difference between a typical modern home and one in the late 1940s or early 1950s. The presence of this large number of electrical appliances in the home has an adverse effect on our well-being. It also adversely influences the sound we hear from our hi-fi systems, to a greater or lesser degree according to the circumstances.

Now here’s an interesting question: did music systems sound better in the late 1940s, early 1950s, or in the late 1980s when he wrote this? Here’s another: do music systems sound better now, in 2011, than they did in late 1980s? Despite the massive increase in all those devices he was bemoaning. Despite the many more radio and TV transmissions, and the satellite transmissions, and the near-saturation 2.4 and 5.8GHz bands used by WiFi and wireless phones and intercoms and Bluetooth and countless other gadgets.

Somehow, despite all this, stuff continues to sound better.

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