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The Green Flash, and other Urban Legends

by Dana J. Parker

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). See http://www.belt.demon.co.uk/tfs.html for details.

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?

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