Re-Tales #26: Building an audiophile community

Audiophilia often leads the afflicted on a long journey, but no one need take that journey alone: Many audiophiles seek the company of like-minded people, on-line or in person, to exchange tips and advice, buy and sell gear, and share skills, fun, and musical experiences. And those who don't seek audiophile companionship? Perhaps they should.

Audiophilia is not congenital. Most audiophiles can trace their obsessions back to a particular event, a stirring experience hearing music they love on a high-quality hi-fi system. A vibrant community helps all of us while providing rich opportunities for more people to have that pivotal experience, which helps usher in the next generation of hi-fi enthusiasts.

We audiophiles—many of us—spend a lot of time alone in our listening rooms, which, while it gives us pleasure, is not the best way to form a community. So how do audiophiles find each other?

A dealership may once have been the answer to that question, and it may still be in some places—places where dealerships still exist. But they have vanished from many American cities. Audio shows are great, but they're annual at their most frequent and held in relatively few locales. If you don't have a dealer nearby or the time, means, or opportunity to travel to attend an audio show, how do you connect with other enthusiasts?

The obvious answer is the internet—but it has limitations. Even in the metaverse, you can't properly appreciate a good hi-fi system. Still, the internet can play an important role in building community.

Jac Zylstra—(above right), known as Jac Revival on Facebook, after the name of his hi-fi business—has fostered a local audio community, primarily online but also off. Although Jac's endeavors are Edmonton-focused, his activities could serve as a model for people living in areas that lack a hi-fi community.

Jac was born to Dutch immigrants in a small town in Ontario. In 1979, he made Edmonton his home. Shortly after settling there, he started a home-based business, Revival Audio, repairing and selling audio equipment. Before long, people were calling him for advice. He expanded Revival's services to include consulting, turntable setup, and event work. He cofounded Canuck Audio Mart (CAM), an online marketplace, in 2000. CAM is, reportedly, Canada's largest online classified site for hi-fi, and it hosts a bustling user forum.

Recognizing a need for a place where local enthusiasts could connect, Jac created Black Hat Desperaudios—BHD for short. ("Black Hat," he explained, refers to a rivalry between Calgary, where a white hat is a civic symbol, and Edmonton, which defines itself in contrast.) Initially a Google Group, BHD moved to Facebook as a local group, mostly restricted to people in the Edmonton area. With some 375 active members, including rookies and wizened veterans, BHD is one of Canada's largest online audiophile groups.

BHD is an online group, but its effects also radiate into community offline. Members host others at their houses for Scotch and listening parties. Jac has organized BHD "gatherings" at which, Jac said, "listening to products was the big deal. Gear reps or designer/builder folks would bring in some of their creations, and ... time was spent arguing the merits of various combos. It is said that audiophile-level listening is a solitary event but I beg to differ when these gatherings were on. Talk. Discuss. Argue. It was fun to witness." The group also shares expertise. "One member was very good at transferring vinyl to the digital realm," Jac explained. "Another was particularly adept at building replica wooden cases for vintage integrated amps and the like. Another had a garage shop outfitted to do veneer work for speakers. Likely one of the best electronic repair techs I've ever met became a member, and now he's so inundated with work he's had to hire help."

At a record show sponsored by BHD, Jac invited attendees to bring their record players in to Revival Audio for a free tune-up. Nearly three dozen people took him up on it, and almost none of their 'tables were set up correctly. "Imagine explaining things like cartridge alignment and downforce 33 times!"

Jac turned 70 recently, and he says, in true analog fashion, that he's "winding down." He is, however, "not disappearing." He intends to continue consulting work, but he is no longer accepting repairs. "I promised myself I wasn't going to be an old man with a basement and a garage full of audio gear," he wrote, in a post at Canuck Audio Mart and on Facebook. He's keeping a few of his hi-fi pieces but selling everything else, including most of his vinyl collection and a large inventory of vacuum tubes. Attracted by his vacuum tube "garage sale"—Jac's huge inventory could easily fill a two-car garage—people have descended on his shop, crate-digging for tubes as he dispenses advice.

Jac intends to continue with BHD, and to offer advice. It's what he loves most, especially when it paves the way for the next generation of audiophiles. He estimates that about 40% of BHD's members are under 40. "They want to get into it. They're jumping on it. They're buying vintage stuff now—family, kids, not a lot of money kicking around, but you can see the track coming because they're asking the questions: 'Is that cartridge any good? Why don't you like that turntable? Where should I put my speakers?' I'm just loving that."

He'd like to see young people spend more money on new, modern hi-fi—not just vintage—better equipment for better results. When I asked what advice he would give fledgling audiophiles, he answered, "Buy the best you can afford and only cry once. You may be poorer, but also richer."

When he's not dispensing advice, helping with setups, moderating BHD, or enjoying music at home, Jac is probably out flyfishing, if the season is right, a lifetime desire only recently realized. Don't try talking audio with him when he's fishing: He might have earbuds in.

Herb Reichert's picture

great writing good story

bravo Julie!


Julie Mullins's picture

Thanks, Herb! He was fun to talk with, very enthusiastic.

Jack L's picture


It depends. If it were some digtial like a DAC & the like, it could be "the best you can efford" the time when "you" purchase it.

But digital technology literally revolutionizes nearly every month, "you" would "cry once" every month

Unless "you" don't mind living in a nutshell & ignore what is happening out there.

Jack L

Jack L's picture


OK. "Perhaps" some Jac's BHD community memnbers should ask Jac why he has not organized an anglers community as well. Jac reportedly loves fishing & yet he angles ALONE with his ears plugged with earbuds.

So why such contradictary philosophy in Jac's mind: audiophile community vs his solitary angling given audio & angling are both his loving hobbies ??

Of course I know why pretty well. Jac's organized his BHD community is apparently to SELL his audio service/hardwares to the members for money. There is nothing wrong with it: service for money & money for service, like running a business. No free lunch, my friend.

Yet angling is his own truly loving hobby & he wants to be undisturbed to enjoy it.

So do I NEED or want some "audiophile companionship" ? Nope. I don't want to be disturbed while enjoying my music like Jac's solitary angling. Besides too busy to spare time off my daytime job for me to help out in any such HIFI gatherings even though i am an audio handyman.

Jack L

Anton's picture

Maybe he's gone to an intimate evening of fly fishing with only 50 other people fishing the same spot.

Some passtimes are different than others, Jack.

Jack L certainly puts the Onan in inconsonant.

Jack L's picture


"Maybe" only YOU would go fly fishing "with only 50 other people fishing in the same spot", plugged your ears with earbuds.

Playing deaf & dumb to keep the evening "intimate" ????

Yea, 50 anglers gathered "in the same spot" should form an anglers

Have you ever gone angling to meet some "only 50 other people fishing the same spot"? I never got such luck, pal. In case I did, I would surely plug my ears with earbuds like Jac does.

Jack L

Jack L's picture


First off, your English beats Merriam-Webster bigtime. Where you learnt your English again?

Too true, "Same passtimes are different FROM (not "than" per Merriam-Webster) others".

Let's stick with audio, no more way way out of topic on "fly fishing"!!

Like yours truly, I am so "different" from most most, if not all, audiophiles who get no choice but to leave their audios at the mercy of audio vendors &/or reviewers.

With my love in live & vinyl music, I've been design/build/upgrading my audios for decades, attempting to achieve the music nirvana for miniumum cost without paying big bucks to finance the vendors. Thanks to my self-learnt audio electronic know-how, supplemented by my electrical engineering background.

YES, I take audio sooo "different" from "others". My skeptical ears only accept good music relative to live, but no sales pitch from the vendors or reviewers.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Jack L's picture


So have you ever tried it ?

Why don't you request J.A. to set up a "group fly fishing" forum for you to show off yr fly fishing fun (if any)? Otherwise, please stop yr strolling in this audio forum. Thanks.

Back to audio, "I wonder if Anton has ever tried" playing vinyl with a SET amp ??? FYI, I always do so on my days-off.

Jack L

ChrisS's picture

...for many more days off.

Please heed.

Jack L's picture


Thanks for yr concern. "Take heed" for what ???

I am well off enough to retire yesterday as I'm making easy money from the money markets (managed by my darling wife).

I still hang on to my current job simply to keep myself active & social. Idling at home due to retirement is not sooo good for health., IMO.

Jack L

ChrisS's picture

...time off.

We know you like what you have.

Enjoy yourself.

Jack L's picture