She Lit Up a Candle and She Showed Me the Way

It's a Sunday in suburbia. Sunny, 95°—"sweltering," some would say. The kind of heat where, you grab that cold can of Guinness, and the moment it leaves the cold comforts of the fridge, it's dead on impact.

You invite your good ole non-audiophile pal Stan (footnote 1) over. You use a ruse you know Stan will fall for, like "Let's flip some burgers and listen to the cool commercials on Spotify's free tier," or "I just mastered the piña colada and torrented David Bowie's entire discography" (as if the piña colada alone wouldn't be enough to lure that sucker Stan), or "You left your phone at my place, want to come pick it up?" (In this last scenario, you would have to steal his phone first.)

Fast-forward 30 minutes. Stan arrives. (He lives nearby.) You welcome him inside. Offer him a "cold" Guinness. He gladly accepts your offer.

Quick! As he reaches for the Guinness from your kindly extended sweaty arm, you pull back and whack him on the head with it. Not hard enough to kill, but just hard enough to momentarily maim.

You carry him down the stairs. Enter the complex 20-digit alphanumeric passcode, complete facial recognition, and speak the Elvish word for "audiophile" to enter your secret governmental listening wing. You zip tie groggy Stan up to a chair and wave some smelling salts under his nose.

Time to begin.

You take Stan's favorite song "Hotel California" and play a 128kbps MP3 of it through $5 Chinese-drugstore ear buds and blast them in his ears. How're you liking that, huh, Stan?

"Actually, it's not bad!" Stan yells over the static.

So you slap him in the face.

"Ow! What was that for?"

You slap him again. Harder this time.

A couple minutes go by. "Hotel California" continues to play on repeat. Once more. Slap. Twice more. Slap. Slap. Fifty times more. Slap. Was it fifty? How much time had passed? Slap.

"I don't like this." He moans. Poor Stan.

"Why?" You ask.

"I don't know . . . I'm sick of Hotel California. Why are we listening to it on repeat?"

Slap. Extra hard! Doesn't he know it's cool to listen to "Hotel California" on repeat? Dumb Stan. Do you need to switch to electric shocks? Waterboarding? Nail gun? Heavy metal through a Bluetooth speaker? What will it take?

You're feeling generous. You switch Stan's setup to a DSD256 "Hotel California" file off of an Astell&Kern AK380 playing through Audeze LCD-4 headphones.

His eyes widen. "Okay, okay—Now I understand. I didn't like the previous setup because the quality of the file wasn't great, and those earbuds were crap!"

He's catching on. You knew he would! You hand him a nice cold piña colada and a freshly grilled cheeseburger with a side of onion rings.

"Wow! Thank you!" He smiles. What a simple creature, this Stan.

Wait till we get to cables, Stan. Just you wait.

---- You're probably wondering why I'm recounting this experience of mine with my buddy Stan. Here's why:

Things often need to get worse before they get better. By this logic, if the masses continue to value quantity over quality, and the mainstream market continues to reflect this behavior, quality will continue to decline until it can decline no more. At this point, we can hope that a realization will follow that will compel the masses to regain belief and desire in high-performance audio. In essence, we may choose to view it as a drawn out cycle of conditioning.

We see it happen all the time: in our self-evident habits, in our relationships with others, and in daily local, national, and global crises. Perhaps the realm of high-end audio is not immune to this cycle, and such a realization is inevitable.

We (or, at least, I) continue to pose the question "How can we attract the masses to higher quality audio? How can we continue to grow the body of this industry? What will audiophiles be in 50, 100, 1000, years?"

Unfortunately, it may not be as simple (or unethical) as getting an undercover government agent audiophile to singlehandedly condition the Stans of the world into receiving positive stimuli from high-end audio. Or, more traditionally, it may not even be as simple as showing your non-audiophile, non-caring, non-believing friend your impressive system and gifting them a subscription to Tidal.

As you continue to search for the answer—or, as you continue to foolishly believe that this is not an issue—you may find it worth your while to entertain the idea that it is completely out of everyone's control. Perhaps the only productive thing we can do is watch from the sidelines as the world gradually conditions the Stans—much like the scenario above, but in a significantly more humane way.

Footnote 1: Because you most certainly have a non-audiophile pal named Stan.

Anton's picture

Getting Stan to associate pain with pleasure is the first step on his path to audiophilia.

Nicely done.

john abramson's picture

1. i assume that your piece is written with tongue firmly in cheek. alternatively, since you have 'hipped' stan to the astell and kern/audeze 'rig', that you will help him to accumulate $7400, or access a reviewers discount to purchase and enjoy these high end pieces and send him on the road to high quality sound. :)

2. as to your umbrella theory of things getting worse or bottoming out before they get better (with your associated examples), that ain't necessarily so....unless you can prove that it is:). or, just maki your assertion based on your limited life experiences.

3. maybe in the real world, where discretionary income is shrinking, we can demonstrate that regardless of whether our rigs are "impressive', high-end systems or not, just how damn fine music can sound and be enjoyed on a limited budget is a most worthy piece of genuine outreach to the non 1% population.

perhaps, i misinterpreted your piece and/or missed the point. if so, apologies are in order

mvs4000's picture

I would only add that even as an exercise in farce this piece is Exhibit A in why high end audio will always remain a niche industry.

michaelavorgna's picture

...people who end a sentence with "...why high end audio will always remain a niche industry." are why, well, never mind ;-)

mvs4000's picture

Point taken. I'll explain myself:

- The knee-jerk focus on expensive gear. Why use an Audeze/Astell&Kern set-up as the example when a Sennheiser/Audioquest set-up would provide 90% of the performance at 10% of the cost?
- The condescending references to non-audiophiles as "the masses."
- The fundamental assumption that non-audiophiles are making an incorrect choice by choosing more music over better gear given a constrained budget.
- Complete disregard of that budget constraint (see first point).

I get that the author wrote this to be humorous but, again, even at that level it's an example of what I think are unhelpful stereotypes and biases.

michaelavorgna's picture

While I can't speak for Jana, I'll address a few of your points where I can hopefully add something of value.

- Jana's knee does not jerk ;-) What I mean by that is she is a thoughtful person and very diligent about her work and words. I know this because we've worked on a number of projects together and spoken in some detail about her column. I'd suggest the choice of the A&K is there for a specific reason.

- I don't read "the masses" as being condescending but that may be because I've read it about 10 million times in audio writing.

- My reading is this piece is about quality reproduction. The majority of music buyers buy lossy downloads, if they buy downloads at all, so this goes against the notion of quality.

- See my earlier response. Also, try to imagine this story, and it is a tale, if you inject the notion of budget/value. I think it would shift the narrative and make it less interesting. That is, of course, simply my opinion.

mvs4000's picture

- Please explain
- ;)
- Right. I subscription to Tidal costs money while Pandora/Spotify can be had for free. In the marketplace more almost always trumps better. And my point is that is a completely rational response. Unless and until the audiophile press can dial back its condescending rhetoric towards that choice from 12 to, oh say, 8 or 9, they will continue to alienate the very folks they claim to want to convince.
- OK. Maybe Jana can pick that up in a future piece.

michaelavorgna's picture


Anton's picture

I choose to refer to 'the masses' as "civilians."

'The masses' get less upset that way.


michaelavorgna's picture some people who are so sensitive about a word or words they read, can be completely insensitive when it comes to the words they write.

NeilS's picture

Several promotions short of sophomoric humor.

michaelavorgna's picture

...of you slamming your toe in a door and post it here. I promise I'll laugh.

NeilS's picture

Why the hostility?

michaelavorgna's picture

You see, you said "sophomoric humor" so I replied with a textbook example of sophomoric humor. So no, there's no hostility in what I wrote, it's all in your head (that was the other part of my joke).

John Atkinson's picture
And you'll get the literary device used.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Anton's picture

Now I'm picturing The Audiophile With the Dragon Tattoo, The Audiophile Who Played With Fire, and The Audiophile Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest....which seems to have happened here!

Back on the subject.....if Stan got revenge by using The Eagle's "Hell Freezes Over" recording on her, Jana would know what it's like to go to an damned audiophile show! :-D

Back off topic to more 'try the veal' type of imagery....I hope Robert Baird survived a positive blog about The Eagles.

NeilS's picture's not funny.

michaelavorgna's picture

Give it time, I'll be here all week.

Anton's picture

I especially like when a joke flops and I can laugh while no one else is and say, "You see, it's funny because..."

I love that.

NeilS's picture


michaelavorgna's picture


fetuso's picture

"You're feeling generous. You switch Stan's setup to a DSD256 "Hotel California" file off of an Astell&Kern AK380 playing through Audeze LCD-4 headphones."

That type of exotic set-up as the standard would actually be a barrier to entry into better sound. How about a good old reliable 16/44 rip, an Audioquest Dragonfly Black or Red, a smartphone, and a decent pair of headphones? Much more realistic, portable, affordable, and a huge improvement to earbuds attached to a phone's jack. Not to mention a possible gateway into truly higher end sound.

Archimago's picture


john abramson's picture

Prior to his departure from SP. Steven Mejias was quickly becoming a fine, substantive reviewer of affordable quality audio; the very audio that would attract the demographic that the OP would seem to be interested in nurturing the audiophile itch.

If SP wants to attract younger people into this hobby, then really go after them by featuring audio systems in real apartments, with realistic rooms.

Here's a modest positive,proposal: those of us who have systems that might be within budget stretching reach of young (18-35 yo) make an effort to reach out to this population - perhaps, even through their own kids, would they have any - and demonstrate to them how fine music can sound, how their listening pleasure would be enhanced , through a modest audio system, played under real life modest conditions, rather than demonstrating unattainable, albeit mouth watering aspirational equipment in a defined music listening space. In this regard, I would direct readers to take a look at older SPs that provided photos of Mejia's apartment. That was a reality based living and listening space.

As we know, all too well, once the audio bug is caught, it becomes a life long condition, which will maintain the ongoing vitality and growth of audiophile community.

Otherwise, I am unclear as to the rationale for publishing the OP, 'cause it wasn't in itself humorous. As usual, each according to his/her own taste.

Anton's picture

I know he moved on up, but he was quite an asset to Stereophile.

I still hold out hope he will return one day.

lazyriver's picture

I do miss the weekly records Mejias recommended. was great to have music I listen to discussed in Stereophile. I don't mind these types of audio stories. creative stuff. I just miss Stereophile discussing music

Anton's picture

I just read Mike Fremer's Hi Rez Digital Conference Report (which was great) in the latest print edition of Stereophile and, as it turns out, we are not a niche market that needs EPA protection, after all!

It seems lots of people 'care' about sound quality, except for women making salads, barefoot, in the kitchen. (That's a joke based on Sony's representation of music enthusiasts who are not audiophiles, not my own gender bias. You'll see it in the Fremer article.)

It's gonna be OK folks.

I have always said, "Bandwidth will outrun compression" and we will not even need to call it "Hi Rez" in a few years - there will be no low rez!

I don't know if Mike's report will get blogged here but it was 10/10 interesting.

John Atkinson's picture
Anton wrote:
I just read Mike Fremer's Hi Rez Digital Conference Report (which was great) in the latest print edition of Stereophile and, as it turns out, we are not a niche market that needs EPA protection, after all!. . . I don't know if Mike's report will get blogged here but it was 10/10 interesting.

You can find Michal Fremer's report at

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Jan Sieveking's picture

Hm. Quite actually I always found that line erotic.
And I do like Jana's writing as she get's a perspective I would most likely not have seen before. When Stephen Mejias was writing I liked that as I could see him grow on the subject of getting better sound and thus could relive much of my own coming of age. Jana is different and that is just fine.

Jana - don't be fazed by disgruntled voices. In my book you are doing well.

michaelavorgna's picture

...first posts from back in 2005, before he started his "Entry Level" column, you'll see that he also started posting without mentioning gear. If you look at those posts, you'll also see a marked difference in the tone and tenor of the comments.

Maybe people were more civil in 2005. Maybe some people feel they can treat women differently. Maybe both.

Bill Leebens's picture

...and that's how I interpret the pissier/pissiest comments above.

Stephen certainly took more than his share of shite from, shall we say, well-established readers, many of whom are likely dead now.

So---a charitable reading of the nastiness would be, "same shit, different target".

A less-charitable reading would be "vulnerable young woman, likely too nice to respond to vituperative outbursts in kind...therefore, attack."

Either way,I don't appreciate it. Get over it. Give her a chance and grow the fuck up.

mvs4000's picture

Here's what's odd about that. The critics here are actually treating Jana as an equal, fully capable of defending her position should she choose to do so, while you seem to be implying that she deserves some sort of special treatment simply due to her gender.

And even by the admittedly cellar dwelling standards of internet commentary what I see written here is mild indeed.

michaelavorgna's picture

"Several promotions short of sophomoric humor."

That is the definition of condescension, i.e. treating someone as less than an equal.

mvs4000's picture

The whole notion of drugging your friend and then "smacking" him until he agrees with you sounds like it could be an episode of Jackass. I don't think it's necessarily out-of-bounds to characterize it as sophomoric. Yea, the comment had sharp elbows but if you write an edgy piece you should expect to provoke a response.

michaelavorgna's picture

Taking a piece of fiction literally and assuming you know the one and only interpretation thereof, is just plain....silly.

I'd also add that if your point of reference is an episode of Jackass, you are telling us more about you than the story in question.

mvs4000's picture

I get that you have a personal investment here but your refusal to brook any criticism is just plain...well, never mind. ;)

michaelavorgna's picture

Wise for you to back out, gracefully.

MontanaMontanaDana's picture

We finally get something refreshingly different in both style and substance from someone under 50, and many of the over 50s puke up their oatmeal.

Bill Leebens's picture

Is it possible I overreacted? Surely not....;->

john abramson's picture

but then again, neither did the other posters. lolol.

Archimago's picture

The choice of the A&K + Audeze headphones will more likely induce sticker shock than interest for the vast majority of people. DSD256 is also unfortunate... Bringing up "DSD" to the common music lover likely will already elicit shrugs; much less fringe storage-space-gorging DSD256 samplerate of an old analogue recording! This will only bring up ridicule as demonstrated by many of these comments.

I bet Stan has a nice smartphone like maybe the iPhone 6 capable of >16-bit dynamic range already. Be generous and buy him a decent sensitive pair of headphones (like say an Audio-Technica ATH-M50x) for less than $200 for his birthday. Put on a rip of "Hotel California" from the Asylum first pressing CD on his phone in ALAC/AIFF.

Once he's into the sound... play for him and demonstrate the sonic difference with the DCC Gold release. Then maybe show him the PonoPlayer and play the 24/96 DVD-A or a DSD64 SACD rip. Maybe let him try some different headphones - maybe some of the open-air Audio-Technicas (not expensive) especially if he likes classical or jazz, or the Sennheiser HD600, etc...

There is so much more depth here than jumping to an A&K and Audeze. Build expectations and joy. It's never about the *thing* itself and certainly focusing on the adventure rather than the product is much more exciting and builds relationships rather than slapping anyone across the face :-).

Allen Fant's picture

I love your work- Jana ;)

very Clockwork Orange (ish) indeed and that is alot of slapping
(laughing). Poor Stan.

Anton's picture

Let's keep this gender thing alive, let's say a man had written it...

"As she reaches for the Guinness from your kindly extended sweaty arm, you pull back and whack her on the head with it. Not hard enough to kill, but just hard enough to momentarily maim.

You carry her down the stairs. Enter the complex 20-digit alphanumeric passcode, complete facial recognition, and speak the Elvish word for "audiophile" to enter your secret governmental listening wing. You zip tie groggy Stephanie up to a chair and wave some smelling salts under her nose.

Time to begin...."

So, a guy writes that, does it change anything? What do people say to him about it?

(This is all in good fun, no criticism of anybody intended, just pondering the gender question that someone raised.)

John Atkinson's picture
Anton wrote:
Let's keep this gender thing alive, let's say a man had written it...

Corey Greenberg already did something similar from a male point of view in 1992:

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Martin Kasemsan's picture

Jana, I have been quietly reading your posts and you really got me with this one! You may be sick of hearing this but I really enjoyed Stephen's writing and was really bummed when he left, more so after I met him at RMAF and realized he was still awesome in person. Anyway, I loved this, our hobby needs some lightness and humor to offset the prices.

I'm curious, though, if your younger friends care about better sound quality and what their tolerance is for cost. I'm a married father of two so I have to balance that equation in my life. Having said that, I would spend a fair bit more if I could. At work, I listen to Spotify premium through a Dragonfly and Shure SH840's and they win hands down versus cheap phones' and no DAC. Some of my friends, musicians among them, just don't care.

fourpobs's picture

I have a friend who has great taste in music, endless curiosity and has jumped into the vinyl thing. Problem is he has little time and even less money for acquiring and setting up gear.

So I put together a system for him composed of dirt cheap craigslist finds and my own hand me downs. I have even secretly purchased new parts for his system because I am that committed. I sort of think of his as my second system (important because I have limited space and small children)

Last time I was there he had taken the speakers off of our makeshift stands and placed them directly on the shaggy rug on the floor. "They still sound great!" He reassured. This will be harder than I thought....

veentage's picture

Stereophile is on my radar because of Jana's brave and exciting posts!

eisforelectronic's picture

I am enjoying your writing more and more. Keep it up!

Herb Reichert's picture

I am enjoying your writing more and more. Keep it up!