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 entirely—the 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.

Teen Stereophile
During the recent New York Audio Show, held April 12–14 at the Palace Hotel, in Manhattan, I noticed several older audiophiles accompanied by young children—their 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 issue—the 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 Stereophile—just 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.

He nodded.

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 people—audiophiles, but also real people, normal people, even women and teens—an 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 purpose—not immediately—but 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 bigger—and better."

"Bigger's always better, baby," I winked.

"Is it?"


"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 one—you'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 both—especially 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, gripping—exactly 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.


sfrancey's picture

I really like your column, and that you write about things that average people can actually afford.  That said, I have two thoughts about this: 

1.  This quote:

 " It's important because it provides people—audiophiles, but also real people, normal people, even women and teens—an easy way to make their music sound better. It gives us what we want."

 Really? I can understand singling out teens, but women? WTF, Stephen. As if women don't have the capability of understanding the fancy, complicated hi-fi equipment.  Oh, no, leave that for the men-folk.  Women's brains are just not sophisticated enough </sarcasm>.  Way to turn any female readers you do have completely off.  

2. I don't know your girlfriend, and I'm hoping that she has many stellar personal qualities, but the way you write about her, makes her seem like nothing more than a dunce with a pair of ass and tits. She probably does not appreciate being made to seem like a moron on the Internet. 

JohnnyR's picture

He always likes to wander off topic and bring up the "women in his life" (Or his fantasy life that is) and the content of his postings is 70% "Who Cares About Mejias Personl Life" Vs 30% of the actual on topic subject matter.

Stephen Mejias's picture

1. Unlike some people, I don't need editorial brackets or other signposts to alert me to sarcasm. In this case, I wasn't being patronizing or sarcastic. I was making a valid point. The point is not that women can't understand technology—they can—but that more often they don't want to. In fact, I would say (and I did say) that most people, in general, don't want to. And too often a product's technological complexity keeps most people from appreciating the product at all. Fortunately, that's not the case with the AudioQuest DragonFly.

2. That's right. You don't know my girlfriend.

<sarcasm> Thanks for reading Stereophile. </sarcasm>

sfrancey's picture

I don't think the best way to respond to that was make more sexist generalizations about women. I am saying this as a woman who, up until this point, legitimately really liked your column. In fact, it was my favorite one in that you wrote about equipment and music relevant to me, since I am in my 20's. 

I apologize for the comment about your girlfriend. It was uncalled for. I just know that I would hate to be written about that way. 

If stereophile wants to gain readership that is young, possibly female, and new to hifi, I think there are ways to do that without singling them out and insulting their intelligence. I used to think that if stereophile were going to expand its audience, you would be the one to do it. Given the way you've reacted to criticism about the way you write about women, I now doubt that. 

Stephen Mejias's picture

I don't consider one sex ultimately superior to the other. I do think we have some general differences. There are always exceptions, of course.

I apologize for the comment about your girlfriend. It was uncalled for. I just know that I would hate to be written about that way.

I accept your apology. Thank you. And I'm sorry I've insulted you, but it was never my intention to insult anyone based on their gender.

I'll continue to be sensitive to these issues, but I'll never want to be so sensitive that I sacrifice being myself or avoid making a valid point.

JohnnyR's picture

Mejias is just being himself so THAT should tell you what he thinks of women. You are correct in being offended but he just doesn't get it does he?  Not getting it sems to be a common problem with Stereophile writers and reviewers.

Toptip's picture

 "...real people, normal people, even women and teens" can only mean one of two things: Miss Little is either a man or a child.

swillyums's picture

Although including women in a list of people who you wouldn't expect to be interested in or knowledgeable about hifi may be slightly prejudiced, it's not altogether inaccurate. It's rare for teens and women to have much of an interest in quality audio, or use anything other than the stock apple earbuds, in the same way it's unlikely for older people or the average man to be near as knowledgeable about fashion and trends. However, the former category will certainly find joy in hearing high quality audio in the same way the latter will take pleasure in looking good.


Sometimes the key is having someone from the 'in' crowd introducing an outsider to the culture in order to spark their interest. Also, it's less of a gender thing, and more of a culture thing... but let's not get into it; time and place and all that.

dalethorn's picture

Stephen knows demographics. That's the science of actually knowing the numbers, as opposed to knowing one's feelings, prejudices etc. Or even "What should be", but never is. Anyway, my youtube review channel has been cooking along with headphone and headphone DAC/amp accessories for nearly 2 years, and up until 2 or 3 months ago when I added camera reviews, the male readers/viewers represented a rock-steady 94 percent of the total. After cameras were added, it dropped to about 90 percent or slightly less. And the audio numbers, i.e. 94 to 6, aren't an anomaly - I participate in  dozen or more headphone sites on a regular basis, and that's the way it is.

Unfortunately for prejudices and what feeds them, the shyness in numbers seems to be roughly proportional to the erstwhile audiophiles' shyness in digging into the technical details of audio, or any of the DIY projects that audiophiles often get involved in.