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More From Peter Belt's Weird World
Since my take on the PWB Rainbow Foil appeared last April, I have gotten tons of e-mail about the products and their sonic benefit. One other thing that has come of it is that May Belt has chosen to stay in regular contact with me. Over the past several months, she has sent me numerous other PWB "applications" (coming soon to a column near you!) to experiment with, as well as copies of the PWB newsletters and other assorted printed materials. In with all that printed material was one thing that really stood out to me -- the concept of freezing your compact discs.
Ive taken some flack over speaking out on the Foil and its positive attributes. But the vast numbers of you who tried the free sample -- and went back for more -- then thanked me for taking such a risk has made it all worthwhile. So at the risk of more disparaging e-mail -- as well as the opportunity to bring some of you less rigid minded a FREE tweak that will let you enjoy your polycarbonate playback a little more -- here I go again. And once again, I do this not without some skepticism.
I first heard about the process of freezing CDs in an "As We See It" column written for Stereophile by Robert Harley back in October of 1990. The column described his experiences with the cryogenic process as applied to the compact disc, including some blind A/B/A testing in which some of the staff writers were able to pick the treated disc time after time. In that article, Harley attributed the process to Ed Meitner, designer of the Museatex line of electronics. Stereophile made much ado soon thereafter about the special release of a cryogenic issue of their first test CD.
In a recent correspondence, May Belt states that she and Peter have known the importance of freezing for some 15 years and that others may have come upon the discovery more or less independently. But more importantly, that document outlines the circumstances for an "experiment" using the lowly freezer section of your standard kitchen refrigerator. This less-involved process has been apparently well reported upon in the U.K. by Audiophile writers Jimmy Hughes and Tom Marsden during the early 90s. Yet to my knowledge, there hasnt been much coverage of the process elsewhere, so the Internet to the rescue.
I dont have access to a cryogenic freezer, but the documents May sent me suggested that something as simple as spending a single day in "the old Norge" would have an advantageous effect on my listening. Hmmm. This sounded weird, but given the fact that it would cost nothing to find out, and considering what I had learned with the little Foils, it was worth a try.
Only by comparing an identical unfrozen disc to a frozen one would I be able to have some semblance of control over the before and after listening. I wanted no questions that I was basing any differences I noted -- should any actually arise -- on direct comparisons to the untreated reference. I didnt expect much, but I wanted to be prepared -- just in case I was as wrong about this as I had been about the itty-bitty Foils.
I selected five CDs of which I own two copies: the 1982 Dire Straits classic Love Over Gold [Warner Brothers 23728]; two from Steely Dan, 1972s Cant Buy A Thrill [MCAD 38040] and 1984s Gaucho [MCAD 37220]; Thomas Dolbys 1988 uproarious Aliens Ate My Buick [EMI CDP-7-48075]; and finally a 1969 version of Vivaldis Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons) [Philips 422 479]. I wondered if "Winter," from the last selection, would derive any special benefit? A good cleaning and brief audition of both copies of each title were done before freezing the test set.
All five discs were placed into a Ziploc-type freezer bag in order to minimize condensation. I actually double bagged them to be safe by inserting the now-folded bag holding the five discs into a second freezer bag. Then I popped em into the freezer compartment for the night. According to the material that May had furnished me, the discs needed to be frozen for a minimum of five hours, so I figured that overnight should do adequately. As the article suggested, I also tossed a towel into the freezer to assist in slowing the re-warming procedure.
It turns out that thawing the discs as slowly as possible is just as important as the freezing itself. So the next morning I opened the freezer and pulled out the towel and the bag of frozen discs. I hurriedly wrapped the discs in the towel and then placed the whole package on the top rack of the refrigerator, right beside the milk and orange juice. About eight hours later, I took the discs out, still wrapped in the towel, and let them sit for another five or six hours in my basement in an attempt to allow them to reach room temperature as slowly as I could.
I have since read other suggestions that include placing the discs in a food cooler after they come out of the freezer along with several bags of ice. Placing the cooler and its precious musical cargo in a cool place, like your basement, and letting the ice slowly melt can help delay the thawing process to room temperature perhaps two or three days. The best results are said to be achieved by repeating the freezing/thawing process twice, with no substantial benefit resulting from more than two such freezing cycles.
Hang on to your mice, Synergizers. This actually works! Things got better. The overall character of the change was that of a higher degree of clarity and focus, as if somehow the noise floor had been lowered. Im not suggesting that freezing actually did lower the noise floor, only that the resultant sonic effect can be best described in that manner. Space within the soundstage was better resolved and differentiated. Low-level detail and subtle spatial queues were more readily apparent. Higher frequencies were reproduced more cleanly, with less "tizz" and "whiteness," while bass and midbass seemed to have extra punch and better control. Only one inconsistency to report: the frozen copy of Cant Buy A Thrill was a tad quieter than its untreated counterpart. The rest all seemed to be unchanged in that department.
Listening to the tenor sax from the title track on Gaucho was even more of a treat on the frozen disc than the untreated one. It was more robust and present. The descending bass run from the opening of "Airhead" on Aliens Ate My Buick had more power and had greater weight and detail. The feeling of space and air surrounding the opening to "Telegraph Road" from Love Over Gold had been enhanced noticeably. The ride cymbal on "Reelin In the Years" from Cant Buy A Thrill was more "bronzy," better focused and localized in space. The degree of transformation varied slightly from disc to disc, but was apparent on all discs nonetheless.
But the most evident change was manifest on the Vivaldi piece. Violins and cellos rose to new heights. Their string sound, even the bowing of those strings, became much more focused and took on bloom and body that were stirring. Space between instruments wasnt so much enlarged as it was better demarcated, fleshing out the instruments in a more realistic fashion. Instruments all seemed more individualized and separate within the sonic landscape, yet didnt seem the least bit unnatural in their distinctiveness. The solo violin that opens the Largo was just more "there"; it reconstructed so effortlessly by comparison that I was really taken. Color me speechless -- again. This freezing thing actually worked!
Were these enhancements earthshaking? I guess that would be in the ear of the beholder. Were they significant? To this listener, on my system, the answer is a resounding yes. The heightened level of enjoyment and involvement with the music and the elevated degree of "thereness" is well worth the almost insignificant effort required to enjoy it. I would equate the degree of change derived by freezing to be analogous to that achieved by using a CD treatment to mark the edges of your disc. You can bet Im planning on freezing and refreezing of all my CDs as soon as I can manage the task.
The New York Times on the Web published an article on November 2, 1999 relating the application of cryogenics to the manufacture of brass instruments. In the article, Steven Wasser, a flute manufacturer in Maynard, Massachusetts, approached Dr. Joseph Markoff, an ophthalmologist and classically trained trumpet player, about cryogenically treating one of his trumpets. The article goes on to detail how the selected trumpet, one "best suited for a lamp," according to Dr. Markoff, had become "one of the freest-blowing" and most superbly focused trumpets he had ever owned after the freezing ritual.
The process of cryogenically deep freezing a musical instrument may seem a bit extreme, but it seems to be just one more way for brass-instrument manufacturers to perfect their craft and build a better product. The piece states: "Stretching metal into the contortions that make up the average trumpet or tuba may upset the alloys molecular structure. What was a discernible arrangement of molecules becomes less orderly, and stressed. Heat may make metal more malleable, but it may also spread the molecules. Super-cooling treatments appear to return the molecules to a more orderly arrangement, relieving the stress in the metal." It goes on to state: "Most everyone who has tried a blind listening test picks the treated instrument." Dr. Markoff closes the piece by stating, " the bottom line is that it makes it sound better."
The material provided by May Belt similarly suggests that the freezing realigns the molecular structure of the material and reduces internal stress patterns, possibly leaving the disc less prone to vibration. Freezing might relax the lattice structure of the polycarbonate substrate distorted by heat and pressure during the pressing process.
Some writers, again in the U.K., have gone as far as to apply this technique to CD players, tuners, interconnects, even speaker and power cables. They have gone on to complain that, were it not for the size constraints, they would have performed this procedure on their amplifiers. I have not tried this -- nor do I know that I will. But if you should try it on any electronics, BE SURE to let any products you freeze sit for several days to dry completely before plugging them in. No letters about blown up or damaged gear if you go this route. I WILL NOT be held in any way responsible. You do this at your own risk.
CD manufacturer Philips has gone on record as saying that they have tested the claims, but they found no measurable differences between frozen and unfrozen discs. Well shucks, why doesnt that surprise me? You cant measure the differences between many audio cables either, but the audible differences are undeniable and quite easily heard. Their spokesman said, "Freezing is like a placebo in medicine -- its all in the mind. But if hi-fi buffs think it sounds better, who are we to argue?" Sage advice. Why not see for yourself? Enjoy.
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