In my carefree youth, I lived for a time in an idyllic
beach community in Southern California. For one memorable,
golden, nine-month period, I inhabited a $150 a month apartment
a half-block from the beach, got around on a ten-speed bicycle,
and collected unemployment. Highlights of my busy days included
getting a tan, playing ultimate frisbee, and watching the
sunset. It was a delightful way to waste nine months, and
I think it's something everyone should strive to do at least
once in their lives.
Naturally, with lots of time on my hands and watching
sunsets a daily event, I became aware of the legend of the
Green Flash. Supposedly, under certain special conditions,
careful observers of the sunset are on rare occasions treated
to a flash of brilliant green light as the sun sinks below
the horizon. To see the Green Flash is to be accorded a
singular honor, according to local beach lore. According
to most meteorological sources, green flashes are almost
never seen by inexperienced observers with the naked eye.
Eventually, of course, I became convinced I'd seen it-and
maybe I had.
Ten years ago, the monthly CD newsletter ICE (International
CD Exchange) reported, "It's being claimed that the sound
of CDs can be significantly improved simply by marking the
inner and outer edges of the disc with a green felt marking
pen." Naturally, as technical support engineers for the
first CD publishing systems on the market, my colleagues
and I caught wind of the rumor via our customers, and it
soon became an industry inside joke. Even today, with the
"green magic marker" theory properly enshrined at the ever-useful
Urban Legends Web site (http://www.snopes.com/music/info/greening.htm),
there's an occasional snickering reference to the likelihood
of solving an unlikely or non-existent problem by applying
a green (or red, for DVDs) marker ring to the hub and outer
edge of optical media.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered recently
that not only is the "green marker" myth still alive and
well-and not considered a myth-among many audiophiles, but
a company called Audio Prism sells a product called CD Stoplight
(three for $54.95) that purports to "reduce jitter" by absorbing
"stray light" that supposedly bounces around inside a CD
player and distorts the signal detected by the pickup assembly.
Not only that, but it has been endorsed by Stereophile
Magazine as a "recommended component" for audiophiles.
Not only that, but according to FullSwing.com ("a new type
of high-end audio salon"), "we know of nothing on this earth
that makes a more significant improvement to the musical
reproduction of any system than CD Stoplight." If edging
the discs with green really absorbs random laser light and
improves playback, I wonder why replicators never offered
a green stripe on audio disc labels as a feature?
Whoa, I thought. Do audiophiles actually believe this
works? The answer is yes, apparently they do, and this is
not even the most extreme example of "tweaks" employed by-and
fervently believed in-by the more credulous of the golden-eared.
For example, there's the follow-on to CD Stoplight, CD
Blacklight ($65 each). This one is billed as "..the most
significant improvement in CD playback since the invention
of the CD." Basically, it's a disc that can be "charged"
by exposing it to fluoresent or natural light, which then
sits, glowing, on top of a disc in a CD player. It's supposed
to accomplish three things: increased stability, reduced
electrostatic discharge, and reduced jitter.
Along the same lines is the Harmonix RF-11 CD Tuning Sheet
($22 for eight sheets). This is a clear plastic, adhesive-back
label with green rings near the outer edge and hub and four
evenly spaced cross-shaped cutouts. Attaching these sheets
to your discs is purportedly useful for "eliminating resonances
and jitter" and freeing the music from the "hardness often
associated with CD sound" - in other words, it makes a CD
sound like a vinyl LP.
Then there's the QR Design Statmat ($40). This is another
sit-on-top-of the disc device, also meant to reduce electrostatic
discharge. How exactly electrostatic discharge could be
harmful to the playback of an optical medium that is impervious
to the effects of static and magnets is beyond me.
But wait, that's not all. For the really serious audiophile
with money to burn, there's the Bedini Dual Beam Ultra Clarifier
($179.95 + $10.67 shipping, in the U.S.). This must-have
device uses an electro-magnetic beam that "polarizes the
polymer in such a way as to maximize the laser's ability
to retrieve stored data."
For those with minimum cash but maximum gullibility, there's
a simple technique for improving CD playback that involves
nothing more exotic than a household deep-freeze. Apparently
this technique was inspired by a column about CD cryogenics
written for Stereophile magazine by Robert Harley in October
of 1990 (1990 was obviously a vintage year for audiophiles).
Last but not least, a tweak that works not only with CDs,
but with vinyl LPs, cassette tapes, wine, plants, and who
knows what else-Rainbow Electret [sic] Foil ($20 per pack).
Simply attach a small strip of Eletret Foil to the surface
of a tape cassette, album label, or CD (it's especially
effective if placed over the CD logo or the numbers 33 1/3
or 45 on vinyl record labels). This will "neutralise the
adverse energy [created by interaction of all spinning discs
with the gravitational force] by inverting the energy pattern
and therefore restoring it to a naturally occurring environmental
pattern." In other words, it doesn't affect the sound, only
our perception of the sound. There's no explanation of why
this should have an effect on non-spinning objects such
as wine and plants, but all the results aren't in yet.
So, does any of this stuff actually work? Well, can you
prove I didn't see the green flash?