The mystic world of hi-fi (circa 1994)

“Oh, you’re going to use one of those,” says Jimmy Hughes, reviewer and columnist for the hi-fi magazine Audiophile, as he eyes my little tape recorder. “Yes,” say I, prepared. “Are you worried it will affect the sound?” “Oh, it will,” says Jimmy, whose living room is a shrine to hi-fi and to music, its walls stacked, floor to ceiling, with records and CDs. “But we can treat it.”

So saying, he produces a plastic bag, full of bits of reflective foil in different colours, a blue plastic paintbrush, and a pair of scissors. Carefully, he cuts some black foil into tiny triangles. Opening up the machine, he sticks one on each of the batteries, lined up so the apexes face each other. Then he strokes the batteries, lengthwise, with the brush, which I notice has a number of small coloured rings secured by a tie about halfway along its length, and puts them back. Now he cuts a small rectangle of blue reflective foil and sticks that on the back of the tape recorder’s case. “You have to personalise it,” he says, and instructs me to lick my finger and rub it along the blue strip. “You’ll hear the difference.”

Hughes starts up his CD player again and his huge loudspeakers fill the room with music once more. But he still isn’t happy. He’s convinced that my little  ....