The Entry Level #32 Page 2
I go where the girls go. Getting back to Natalie's problem: We connected her iPhone to the Audioengines and called up Pandora. The music sometimes dropped out altogether, and was otherwise plagued by intermittent buzzing. I guessed this had something to do with the cable, a simple minijack-to-minijack interconnect supplied with the Audioengines, which transmitted the audio signal from Nat's phone. It sounded as if the cable's connector was no longer making proper contact with the speaker's input jack. Though music was momentarily bearable, the intermittent buzzing was terribly annoying; listening to music would soon become impossible. Applying pressure to the cable at the input jack seemed to help, but not entirelythe slightest movement caused the buzzing to return. Replacing the stock cable with AudioQuest's Evergreen ($32/1.5m) took all of two seconds and completely cured the problem. The connection was secure. Music was free from interruptions and sounded clean, clear, robust, and very well controlled.
Replacing the Audioengine's stock cable with an identical one would have cost Natalie $5, maybe less. The AQ is significantly more expensive, but the quality and value it represents are so great that its cost still seems negligible. The Evergreen is pretty, built to last a long time, sounds excellent, and works like a charm.
How can the high-end audio industry attract more customers? The answer has always been obvious: Make good products that people actually want to buy. Products like PSB's Alpha PS1 powered speakers and AudioQuest's Evergreen interconnect will succeed for the simple reason that they provide obvious improvements over the components already found in most homes. Imagine that.
During the recent New York Audio Show, held April 1214 at the Palace Hotel, in Manhattan, I noticed several older audiophiles accompanied by young childrentheir sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, even their students. It made me very happy. I've said this time and time again, and I'll probably never stop saying it: The best way to get young people interested in hi-fi is to share it with them. Make it fun. Keep it simple. Let it be about music, happiness, and discovery. They'll enjoy it.
My favorite and most memorable experience of the show was when a father and son entered one of the Innovative Audio demos and introduced themselves as fans of this column. The son was holding tight to a copy of our May issuethe one with the Beats Solo HD and Skullcandy Aviator headphones on the cover. Earlier that day, I'd received an e-mail from a reader who, I'm pretty sure, was disappointed with both the cover and my column. The subject of the e-mail was "canceled," and the text read: "Hi. I just canceled my subscription to Stereophile because: a) the cover; b) I skipped to your article and it's just garbage. I can't believe it's come to this. Maybe call the mag Teen Stereophilejust a thought. Regards."
When I receive this kind of e-mail, my first impulse is to leap from my desk, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka-style, and deliver a flying head-butt to the computer screen. I console myself with the thought that losing a few bad readers (the kind I don't like) will make possible the acquisition of many more good readers (the kind I do like). Then I hear John Atkinson's irritatingly calm, rational voice telling me that all readers are good readers. Then my anger returns. Then I scold myself for being angry. Then I forward the offending e-mail to my friends, and we all have a good laugh. Nicole usually comes up with the wittiest retort. In this case, she offered some keen and needed levity: "Wow. It's nice that he skipped right to your article."
Nicole had taken the edge off, but by the time I'd arrived at the New York Audio Show, my anger had returned in full. It wasn't until I met the father and son in the Innovative Audio suite that my mood took a decided turn for the better. The son, who appeared to be in his early teens, asked for a recommendation on an "entry-level" digital-to-analog converter.
"Would $250 qualify as 'entry-level'?" I asked.
I told him about the AudioQuest DragonFly. His eyes lit up.
DragonFly, meet Navigator
The AudioQuest DragonFly digital-to-analog converter ($249) is another truly affordable, truly high-performance audio product that marries sense and simplicity. It's not just a good audio product, it's an important audio product. That's why it was named Stereophile's Budget Component and Computer Audio Component of 2012. It's important because it provides peopleaudiophiles, but also real people, normal people, even women and teensan easy way to make their music sound better. It gives us what we want.
I handed the DragonFly to Ms. Little. She didn't understand its purposenot immediatelybut she knew exactly where to stick it. The DragonFly is the size and shape of a flash drive. It's cute. It lights up. It delivers music directly from your computer to your headphones or, via an interconnect, to your desktop speakers or hi-fi.
I offered a quick demonstration. Ms. Little seemed surprised. "Hmm," she said. "Yeah, the music sounds biggerand better."
"Bigger's always better, baby," I winked.
"What is that thing, anyway?"
Most people have never heard of a digital-to-analog converter. They don't know what one is, don't know what one does, don't know why they need one. Fact is, you don't need oneyou've already got one. If you didn't, your computer couldn't make sound. But your computer wasn't designed to play music. Music may be your first priority, but your computer, like your weird Uncle Buck, would rather solve algebra equations or make fancy spreadsheets or stream porn. A dedicated D/A converter, such as the AudioQuest DragonFly, bypasses your computer's compromised audio circuitry and delivers your music with pure, high-quality sound. Music is the DragonFly's only priority.
Art Dudley reviewed the DragonFly in our October 2012 issue, but used it primarily, if not exclusively, as a supplement to his main hi-fi system. I used the DragonFly to drive Skullcandy's Navigator on-ear headphones ($99).
You can think of the Navigator as the smaller brother to Skullcandy's over-the-ear Aviator ($149.95). Similarly styled but slightly more discreet, its plastic earcups (available in gloss white and translucent black, blue, or pink) are shaped to even more closely resemble the lenses of Ray-Ban's famed eyewear. I found the Navigators to be just as well built, durable, and comfortable as the Aviators, but with better isolation from external noise. And while the Navigators provided a similarly well-balanced overall sound, they traded the Aviators' brilliant highs and open mids for something softer, darker, more bottom heavy.
Compared to my trusty Grado SR60is ($79), the Navigators produced a heavier, more robust and exciting sound, but lacked the Grados' refined highs and wide, open soundstage. The Grados are classic; the Skullcandys are cool. I recommend bothespecially when partnered with the AudioQuest DragonFly.
Right now, I'm sitting at my desk, using the DragonFly and Navigators to listen to Jenny Hval's brilliant new album, Innocence Is Kinky (CD, Rune Grammofon RCD 2142; see this issue's "Record Reviews"). The DragonFly is creating more space around Hval's beautiful voice, tightening the image focus, providing more impact and drama, revealing tone color and texture so that I can more easily distinguish and enjoy the various instruments. The sound and music are spectacular, vibrant, grippingexactly what I want.
In fact, I can hardly pay any more attention to writing this column. Excuse me while I spend the next five hours Googling Jenny Hval and streaming everything she's ever released.