Magic digits

I’ve just been thoroughly berated by the proprietor of a website called ‘The Advanced Audiophile Press‘. He (I assume) did not like my remarks on Peter Belt’s various nostrums for improving the sound of audiophile gear. I have responded to him in comments.

But of course I had a look at his site. It is very interesting. He is admirably up front about what it’s about. As the sticky post at the top says, it is about his:

various thoughts and experiments within the scientific domain of Beltism. Beltism is a relatively new science (discovered by Peter W. Belt), still little known and understood. It deals with energy fields in our environment that affect human senses, by reducing the tension these fields create within us, when around them. This allows us to better perceive sounds, in particular, musical sounds. Among other things, the practice of Beltism can improve our ability to perceive both music and video.

I particularly liked this post: ‘The MP3’s of Morphic Messaging‘. Be prepared, the post might seem like a parody.

Aside from a USB device that Belt sells which improves the sound of — well, anything you plug it into apparently — the post concerns an easy way to improve the sound of your MP3 files, and indeed the sound of the CDs from which the MP3 files originated.

Here’s the trick. Follow the link to the post, copy the block of 1s and 0s. Open up a song in an MP3 tag editor. Paste in the block of 1s and 0s into the ‘Lyrics’ field.

Voilà! Your song sounds better!

But you have to do it right. You have to copy the block of digits from the last one to the first one, not the other way around. Or do you? The post says to do it both ways. Also, it should go in the ‘Lyrics’ field ‘to produce a more musical result’ than putting it in the ‘Comments’ field. And if you’re doing groups of songs, make sure you only do odd numbers of them with each selection.

Anyway, if you do that then with each playing the sound will improve. And you know what? ‘By tagging comments on mp3 files with the above message, it is possible to subjectively improve upon the sound of the original CD.’ How’s that!

As he says, ‘This is Beltism, after all.’

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Tech note.

Quite aside from how putting anything in particular in a text field in an MP3 file would change the sound of the streaming audio, which comes from a different part of the file, you have to wonder why a sequence of 1s and 0s are used. It suggests to me that whoever came up with the idea felt that putting a bit of binary code into the file might have some effect.

Problem is, whatever 1s and 0s you enter in any of the ID3 text fields ends up as a very different binary sequence. Here is a hexadecimal view of the start of the recommended numbers in the lyrics field of an MP3 track:

The Magic Numbers

The left column is the line number. The middle two blocks are the hexadecimal characters representing the actual binary. The right column is the ASCII representation of the hex characters (the unprintable codes are shown as dots). I have highlighted the section where the text starts. As you can see, each text character is separated by a 00 null character.

You put 1010 into the lyrics field of an MP3 file and it is recorded as: 00011111 00000000 00011110 00000000 00011111 00000000 00011110 00000000.

And somehow that is meant to change how the file sounds.

‘This is Beltism, after all.’

This entry was posted in Audio, Imperfect perception, Mysticism. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Magic digits

  1. Simon Reidy says:

    LOL! Utterly crazy. He’s gone to town on the above post too in the most arrogant and insane of ways, defending the good name of Beltism and its magical founder (that is some truly batty stuff). The placebo effect is a powerful thing, that some people are incapable of understanding, or accepting is occurring to them.
    Reminds me of some of the customers I used to get when working at a HiFi store in Hobart. One of whom was angrily convinced that Kodak branded CD-Rs had a much warmer sound than any other brand , and he also offered the profound bit of wisdom that the slower you copied a CD, the better the final audio quality! No point even trying to argue with him as “he had heard the difference for himself with all kinds of music”.

    P.S. if you paste the above comment into the lyrics section of any mp3 track, it may or may not subjectively improve the dynamic range of your speakers 😉

  2. Simon, some of these really weird things start out as relatively modest, somewhat plausible claims. For example, if you use a slower speed to copy a CD then you might get a more reliable result if your burner is not in top operating condition, or the quality of the blank stock isn’t 100%. FWIW, I used to do 52x CDs at 40x, just to be on the safe side.

    Having said that, burning a 52x CD at, say 2x or 4x would generally not work at all well. The physical properties are designed for the higher speeds and, thus, shorter exposure times.

    Second, problems with burnt CDs is never anything to do with a loss of essence or musicality, but a pain-in-the-arse chittering sound, or even complete failure to play.

  3. Adrian says:

    Don’t be too hard on Beltists, anything that makes people think about and appreciate their music more has to be a good thing, right? 🙂

  4. Adrian, kind of, I suppose. What people do in the privacy of their own homes doesn’t trouble me in the slightest.

    When, however, a respected audio journalist gets a booklet of these nonsensical procedures published in a magazine, it’s fair game and should be opposed. When someone puts on my blog an aggressive defence of such silliness, and publishes suggestions that magic numbers in MP3 files makes them sound better, I think a response is in order.

  5. Adrian says:

    Absolutely.

    I hope I am open minded enough to be sceptical, yet convinceable given the right evidence. But unless we find someone who speaks Hungarian it looks like any potential evidence will have to wait.

    It does remind me a bit of the anecdote told by John Diamond (ex-husband of Nigella Lawson now sadly dead from cancer) who was at a medical conference with a naturopath. On getting a bad rap for natruropathy from a double blind trial the naturopathist remarked to Mr Diamond “See, this is why we don’t use double blind testing – it doesn’t work”.

    We humans are curious creatures 🙂

  6. I let Google Translate have a go at it, and the results were not very satisfactory. Hungarian isn’t even an Indo-European language. It’s part of the Uralic family. English is more closely related to Hindi than it is to Hungarian. So the translation was very choppy.

    Nonetheless, as far as I could work out it was some individual’s experiences and arguments for Beltism, not any kind of rigorous testing.

    I also am open to evidence, but given that the claims are mostly completely devoid of any mechanism of operation known to science, I’d want strong evidence that the effects exist. For example, at least a couple of well conducted double blind tests of good numbers of subjects as a starting point.

    Evidence of that kind would be of great interest not just to me, but many in the scientific community for it would hint at wide new fields for exploration.

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