Dear Non-Audiophile

It's me, Jana. I know you're probably not reading this because you most likely don't spend your down time on, but I feel compelled to write to you nevertheless on the off chance that you might. If I've managed to catch your attention so far, please don't go away.

I know it can be difficult to understand why this hobby exists and why we do what we do, but let me try to explain it to you, for it was not so long ago that I was you. Even though I began studying music at the age of four, and later even proceeded to attend a conservatory in New York, my love for music had no connection with audio quality and definition. I was gluttonous with my musical consumption and shamelessly cycled through countless pairs of $10 drugstore in-ears. (Yeah, I'm talking 7-Eleven.) On top of that, the files were heavily compressed and courtesy of Limewire and early Piratebay. This happened all through my childhood up until I turned 19. I sometimes blame it on the fact that I was born and raised in Hawaii, where high-end audio wasn't as popular as elsewhere, but the truth is, it was there but I just never cared enough to look.

I still consider myself a newborn audiophile, but a lot has changed since the days of JVC Marshmallow Buds. My ears can now drink and appreciate the musical equivalent of a Bruichladdich Octomore (10 year), when they used to be content with chugging shots of Fireball. I would never dare to pretend to be at the level of JA, the Yoda of my life, whose ears can intelligently sip on a 55-year Macallan. But right now, I'm content with where I am and where I'm headed.

Let me start by telling you that audiophiles are some of the most beautiful souls in the entire universe. They can be incredibly complicated and socially awkward; I'll give you that. But to me, nothing is more attractive than a person who not only loves music, but also cares deeply about the manner in which it is produced and reproduced. To care at a level like that is, in essence, to be respectful to the musicians, the listeners, and the music itself. That's all an audiophile really is.

Now, there's also the gear. The gear is wicked cool. I'm talking cool like Paul Newman's ability to consume 50 hard-boiled eggs in Cool Hand Luke cool. Like the feeling of successfully reciting every line of Lord of the Rings (extended version) cool.

Anyways. Gear comes in all different colors, shapes, specs, and sizes. If you haven't found a component functionally or aesthetically pleasing yet, not to worry—your dream component is out there somewhere. For me, nothing makes my heart beat faster than sleek black chassis, brushed metal, hot glowing tubes, solid handmade beauties, practicable works of art. (Shindo, you know I'm talking about you.)

Oh my god, I could go on forever about my gear crushes. But non-audiophile: please remember that, even though it can sometimes seem like we audiophiles care about the gear more than the music, that's not true. We sometimes get distracted, but we always find our way back.

Then there's this whole audiophile culture phenomenon of reviews. Reading/writing reviews and discussing all facets of high-end audio is how we bond with each other, other than listening to music, of course. I personally have a sick addiction to reading reviews. (Art Dudley and John Darkø, I'm talking about you.) If I couldn't justify it by working at Stereophile, it would be depressingly unhealthy. But non-audiophile: even if you come across the occasional dry review, the amusingly childish forum post, or the unfavorable naysaying comment, do not let it dissuade you. We are fiercely passionate music lovers at heart, who are all fighting for the same thing.

Love, Jana

PS: It was probably not a wise decision to write to non-audiophiles on an audiophile site. So if you, reader, are an audiophile who somehow happened upon this letter, I apologize for telling you things you already know. I sometimes get carried away in the details and forget why I'm here. (Don't we all?) Perhaps I wrote this subconsciously to remind myself of why I originally fell in love with high-end audio, and why I keep falling in love with it every second of every damn day.

David Harper's picture

I was in Best Buy last year considering Martin Logan ESL's and I was talking to a young guy who works there and I wanted to hear the ML speakers and this guy say's "sure" and he starts getting ready to demo these electrostatic speakers by connecting his I-phone to a receiver with a USB cord!!!!
I said'you're kidding, right?"
He was going to play his MP3 files from his phone on the speakers!!
I tried to explain that the sound quality of that source is crap.
He looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.
He was genuinely bewildered at what I was saying.
As far as I could tell,he was completely unaware that there was any such thing as sound quality AT ALL!!!
He said he does all his listening on earbuds and all his source material is MP3.
I wanted to take him back to my house and let him listen to a MFSL original master vinyl LP thru a Marantz reference integrated amp.
It would have been interesting to see his reaction.

JoeinNC's picture

You were in Best Buy...

You're as likely to find an audiophile salesperson there as a find a chef working at McDonald's. That same guy probably sells laptops, refrigerators, and XBoxes on any given day.

In my area, nearly all the actual hi-fi retailers closed shop years ago. I miss 'em.

readargos's picture

Best Buy sells higher-end equipment in some stores since taking over the Magnolia chain. Even so, some of the Magnolia stores are woeful, like one I recently went to in Chicago's NW suburbs. It was more like a mid-to-higher-end home theater store, and I didn't see a single turntable.

However, there is a Magnolia Best Buy in Lincoln Park with at least one knowledgeable salesman, and rooms set up with an ear toward sound quality rather than domestic acceptability. Not to mention some nice gear, McIntosh, B&W 802s, Sonus Faber Cremona, etc.

Okay, so the Magnolia-featured Best Buy stores are not perfect across the board, but we should in some sense celebrate that they exist at all.

JoeinNC's picture

Point taken. There isn't a Magnolia in my area, so maybe I shouldn't have been so quick on the draw. I'm just an old fart who misses the non-chain, locally owned stores I used to frequent three and four decades ago. My curmudgeon side got the best of me.

michaelavorgna's picture

Years ago, I was listening to music on the hi-fi when a cable guy came to the door. Back then, the listening room/library was adjacent to the foyer with no door separating the two. Mr. cable guy heard the music playing and walked toward it, smiling. I offered that he sit in the red Eames LCW, which he did. He continued to listen and smile and move to the beat.

After a few minutes he looked at me and said, "This is important."

Anton's picture

Which cable company did he work for?




michaelavorgna's picture


Anton's picture

I learned how to stream from Tidal!

I still haven't added Roon, but will try to learn more.

Hope you are going to THE in Newport.

michaelavorgna's picture

But feel free to email me if you'd like to talk about Roon (or limoncello)

spacehound's picture

Still trying to sell us idiotic platforms, 'conditioners', Synergistic "quantum" stuff and expensive wire to get a:

"deeper, darker background, clearer, wider sound stage, cleaner etc. sound than he got yesterday?

That's all he ever says about the junk he and you are trying to push.

We ALL know that the web sites, magazines, and manufacturers are intertwined to sell us stuff. Fools we are NOT.

michaelavorgna's picture

My suggestion is someone needs to sell you some better meds.


spacehound's picture

Any few months will do, it's always the same garbage he spouts.
He never says anything else when he's pushing some new snake oil.

And every time it makes his gear become clearer, darker background, etc. etc. etc. etc. No matter what it is falsely claimed to do.

Remember that dopey Synergist Research thing that was clamed to push "waves" into your head? Crazy, but Plaskin said it was great - we got all the "cleaner, darker, stuff again.

And from your response above you don't like being disagreed with, do you? You've got the HiFi pot to keep stirring, in the hope we will buy more stuff and will keep looking at your site.

Fools we are not. He is there to laugh at. Only.

David Harper's picture

I think he meant a cable TV guy

Anton's picture

If you can 'hear' someone say 'cable guy' and think "TV," then you should have your audiophile epaulettes torn from your shoulders, your audio sword taken from your scabbard and broken, and then be marched out of the Hi Fi Fort as the drum corps plays a somber beat lacking PRaT as you make your exit into sonic exile.

(Only kidding around, I don't really hope any of that, I was just thinking of Chuck Connors as The Rifleman.)

Cheers, sir.

Journeyman's picture

in a local FNAC store, a clerk looked at me like I was an alien, and the only thing I said to him was to try some decent Sennheiser or AKG headphones and I was actually careful not to speak about anything expensive because I know these clerks don't make much money.Anyway because I understand most people look at audiophiles in a peculiar way I explained to him that using a decent source and headphones was a wonderful way for him to enjoy his favorite bands.
I know he probably made fun of me when I went away because for some people music is just background noise to work, run or multitask.

mrounds's picture

Glad to see some younger people actually interested in what it sounds like not just background sound. Unfortunately, too many people do enjoy music simply as the background sound track for life, without ever even wanting to hear better.

Happens around my house, unfortunately, so the decent (won't admit to even "fair" by 'phile standards) system is upstairs in a room with a door, and even then I can only play it reasonably loud when nobody else is home. Living room system is dead - old Sony receiver finally lost one channel completely (and too expensive to repair). I was thinking about replacing the Sony with a small amp (tuner hasn't been used in years), but the better move is probably to get rid of everything that's left (huge Optimus Mach 3's and a Sony CD carousel - garage sale?) because the only things used there are the TV and game consoles. Travails of an older fringe audiophile...

cgh's picture

I hope that sticks.

JoeinNC's picture

A thousand points, Jana, for the Cool Hand Luke reference... but Lord of the Rings? That's just nerdy.

Guess it is cool that you can embrace both, though.

dalethorn's picture

I've worn headphones to my favorite local park (the "crown jewel" of our city they say) each day for nearly 7 years, mostly around my neck as I'm mostly talking to folks. One person there, a city employee, commented every time I changed headphones to another brand/model, but otherwise expressed no interest. Definitely not an audiophile. But when I mentioned that my latest, a Bluetooth headphone that actually sounds pretty good, was given to me and that I'd be passing it on to someone else, the city employee asked for it, and a few days later I gave it to him. Then everything changed. A couple of days later he was raving about the sound quality and how much more he could hear of his favorite varieties of music with said headphone. He sent 3 followup "thank you" emails, and I'd like to note that he could easily have afforded that headphone had he been inclined to buy it.

So my take on this is, there are many non-audiophiles around us who shy away from the hobby, but who would like a piece of the action to improve their listening experience, if the time, the item, the price etc. are just right. If one were to gift a friend or relative with some significant piece of gear that requires no additional purchases - a self-powered desktop speaker set for example, knowing that the recipient is receptive to using the gear, it might make a real difference in their life. What goes around comes around.'s picture

Great to show us such love, Jana! But be aware of audiophilia nervosa & upgradentitis...


Anton's picture

My corollary to that is: "Different" is not always "better."

John Atkinson's picture
I edited your post accordingly.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Anton's picture

Can you apply that to Michael Green in the forums?'s picture

Thx for the fast moderation John Atkinson :-) Message understood...

robrector's picture

Anyone that references Cool Hand Luke is awesome in my book. Enjoyed reading this.

MilesFerg's picture

I'm not sure what I'm more impressed by: Jana's music/audio knowledge, movie nerd knowledge or taste in scotch. She is obviously a triple-threat! Very refreshing and eye opening. Keep writing and giving us both perspective and hints at how to introduce younger people to quality music playback. Sometimes I feel like I'm at a museum watching art lovers look at masterpieces through glasses that are mud-splattered; trying to just get them to clean their lenses so they can enjoy what they love even more.

dtfjr's picture

I've been collecting music and building myself (and a few friends) stereo and home theater setups for over 40 years. (I felt that was necessary to give context to my post- I'm not trying to brag). The point is getting past the crappy sound of tiny compressed digital files and cheap playback equipment, be it $10 earbuds or $200 receivers and $40 DVD players, is a great thing. Almost anyone without a serious hearing limitation can immediately recognize the difference (and benefit) of a hi-rez file played back from a decent digital player through good earphones. Vinyl can also be a revelation when the playback equipment is of decent quality and the setup is well done. So what is the point of my post?

As someone who has at times obsessed over this hobby and spent enough to buy a second house (my wife would attest to that) the difficulty I see with being an "audiophile" is that we tend to get overly fixated on the hardware and forget that listening is what we should be doing (your column even alludes to the fact you have fallen into the same trap). About 15 years ago a friend with a beautiful NY brownstone was replacing his relatively new Mark Levinson amps with their reference mono-blocks for $35K. When I asked why he admitted the new amps were "audio jewelry" and he probably wouldn't hear any difference. That's fine. He wanted them, could afford them and I would have done the same thing at that time in his position. Today I would say- if I can't make a positive change, one that adds realism to my listening experience, why do it?

My experience is that most of the differences in true high end audiophile equipment are subjective and preferences of the designer and the customer. The power of Wilson speakers vs. the transparency of Martin Logan electrostatics is a preference. There is a point when playback goes from accurate reproduction to how do I like by system to sound. The "absolute" improvement is rare.

And now I will speak the ultimate heresies, first, room setup and acoustics are as, if not not more important than that new super amp or cable. Second, as we age we lose hearing acuity. It's a fact and can't be overcome, even if we are careful about protecting our ears. As a man in his 60's who takes an annual hearing exam, anything above 10 KHz isn't worth worrying about for me anymore. I've also been a long time Stereophile reader and can tell you that Mr's Atkinson, Fremer and Dudley are almost assuredly in a similar situation, and possibly worse if they have been listening at extreme volumes throughout their lives. Can't be helped. It's biology.

There's been a trend by the audio equipment producers in recent years away from mainstream products to "cost is no object" super audiophile gear. This magazine has even acknowledged it. It's a business decision plain and simple,the margins are better and there are customers for it- for now. The problem is that it provides a few exceptionally well heeled buyers components no one else can afford and I believe discourages others from pursuing the hobby. If you can't juggle student loans, trying to save for a house and trying to replace your dying car, why would you eat PBJs for a year to buy a great stereo when you've been convinced by the audiophiles that you need $1000/meter cables for great sound? (to his eternal credit Art Dudley threw the BS flag on that one a few years ago).

If you truly want non-audiophiles to buy into (literally) better sound you must show them a path from cheap junk to good (and sometimes great) sounding but affordable equipment. The over emphasis on the esoteric is a turn off and worse, cost doesn't equal sound quality (now there's a third heresy). And reviewers can learn something about younger readers who are turned off by the endless use of superlatives (I use my 5 children as examples). Terms like "jaw dropping" and "gob smacked" (whatever that is) are used to the point of meaninglessness.

And I will close with the last heresy. Audiophiles are in a love hate relationship with the engineers who design their equipment. On the one hand we obsess over the beauty and design of components and can't hear enough about wire annealing and drawing and winding geometries. Then when it comes to measuring amplifier outputs or speaker frequency accuracy we say, "None of that matters, it's all about the sound".

It is in fact all about the sound. But how we portray equipment and its cost/benefit is of paramount importance if we are to cultivate the next generation of people willing to make audio a priority in their lives. Fairly presented we can show people it is possible to greatly improve their enjoyment of recorded material, whatever the source, and not have to decide not to have another child. The engineers who design equipment working for big companies are quite aware of how to make good products. It doesn't take a niche piece of "audio jewelry" to make great sound.

This post will probably get me a lot of flak. That's OK. I believe everything I've said here. I'll make one last point, directed at the editor's of this magazine. I think that you could benefit from looking at how photography magazines review equipment. Their reviews are much more fact based and do a better job of representing what new and also higher priced gear can, and can't do. That would be a paradigm change, but I believe in the long run a beneficial one.

Eoldschool's picture

Hi Jana,
It may surprise you to know (and maybe not) that I am NOT an audiophile by any stretch of how it is defined these days. (A real non-audiophile). I am a music lover, first, last and always. It begins and ends there.
So what the heck am I reading this for? It’s because I care deeply about music. It is true that I am concerned about sound quality (not only for myself, but others as well), but I do not listen to gear. I listen to music.
I also believe that music is of core importance to human-kind. It is one of, if not the most powerful force. Music can do many things: heal, bring folks together, nurture memory (yes, even help Alzheimer patients), cause change for good and so much more. After all, it was and still is a form of communication to all peoples and cultures. That’s part of why not only music itself, but the sound quality and preservation of it is paramount.
I am not into debating audio gear, it only serves to disenfranchise people and turn them off. All of audio is purely subjective with the exception of scientific basis in what we can measure.
I don’t take your article to offense at all. Your writing is a breath of fresh air.
Well done Jana and so far in spite of any areas where we may not agree, if there are any, I love and respect your writing. Not only are you a wonderful writer, but I believe you are sincere. It's so nice to read stuff besides five figure gear reviews, which I don't read anyway.