They look like hapless subjects in a mad scientist's research project. But the zonked-out Californians at Randy Adamadama's Universe of You salon are actually having a mind-blowing good time. From their headphones waft the soothing strains of synthesized wind chimes, surf and human heartbeats. Their "stroboscopic" goggles feed them gentle, regular pulses of light. After 40 minutes of this, Adamadama claims, clients emerge feeling relaxed and in possession of "balanced brain-wave function." Take it from him, that's a good thing to have. "A brain tune-up can be an epiphany," he says. "My first time, it was like delivering a child."

Last August Adamadama, 54, installed a Synchro-Energizer, the machine whence all this magic flows, in a studio at Marin County's Paradise Mall. Since then 1,500 stressed-out souls have paid $10 each for a tune-up, which is designed to create levels of mental bliss once attainable only through meditation or by being Shirley MacLaine. "It sounds crazy," raves landscaper Alice Forrester, 45, a meditation vet, "but it makes me happy as a clam."

Patented in 1982 by inventor Denis Gorges, a Cleveland researcher, Synchro-Energizers have begun turning up at New Age outposts of late, and hip types like rock singer Sammy Hagar have been eagerly tuning in. Not that the $58,500 gadgets will do them an iota of good, warns Stephen Peroutka, a Stanford University neurologist. "The idea that flashing lights and sound exercise your brain is nonsense," he says. "It's a gimmick."

Adamadama, whose salon is one of the cheapest and most popular in all of brain-conscious California, is not exactly the master of all he purveys. His literature says the Synchro-Energizer spiffs up one's alpha, theta and beta wavelengths, but if clients ask him to define brain waves, he admits, "I really couldn't say."

He does, however, know a good career move when he sees one. Born Randy Stephens, the son of a Pennsylvania auto parts dealer, Adamadama once taught high school English but got canned, he says, for long hair and unorthodox thinking. "No one knew what to make of me," he says. "And I sometimes wondered if I was on the right planet." After years of drifting, he was a night watchman in San Francisco and "in a very bad space" in 1986 when, he says, he "called upon the universe to show me how to heal myself." Lo, three days later he came across a Synchro-Energizer at a high-tech fair. "If anyone needs a tune-up, it's me," he reasoned, and forked over $5 and was hooked. He spent his life's savings on an Energizer all his own and set up shop. Universe of You is in the black this month, and Adamadama, who lives alone in a mobile home, now hopes to franchise peace of mind. "Some day," he says, "I want to be the Burger King of Synchro-Energizers."