A new listening companion

I have a confession, one I’m hesitant to make for reasons that will soon become clear, but my conscience compels me to make it.

I have a new dog. A puppy. Her name is Ella Wren.

Yes, “Ella” honors Fitzgerald, who started her career singing on the streets in Harlem, not many blocks from here, some 90 years ago. Wren was the puppy’s shelter name; we liked it, so we kept it. To me she is a beauty: brindle all over with a long, elegant snout and sad brown eyes. She’s nearing 40lb at just 4½ months: She’s going to be a good-sized dog.

We don’t yet know what kind of dog she is, and we don’t especially care, although we’ll know soon, since we recently sent off an “Embark” DNA test, a doggy-adoption gift. She could be part Pit—Staffordshire Terrier, specifically, which I understand comes in a brindle version—though the build doesn’t seem right. She could have some Great Dane in her, or Plott Hound, or Treeing Tennessee Brindle, or Mountain Cur, although some of those breeds are quite rare. (Why is it that so many brindle breeds originate in the North Carolina/Tennessee region?)

Whatever DNA she embodies, she loves everyone and everything. If she’s out for a walk, she’ll stop, wag her tail, and approach any person who passes, hoping for a rub on the head. If a dog is in view, even 100′ away, she’ll lie on the sidewalk, in Sphinx position, long tail wagging, until the other dog approaches. (This makes dog walks frustrating and boring.) She loves to play and, at the dog run, plays enthusiastically, though she’s still learning the rules of doggy play. In contrast to some other dogs I’ve had or known in my lifetime—delicate flowers with sensitive dispositions—Ella Wren is every ounce a dog.

Why am I writing about dogs in a hi-fi magazine? If you don’t understand, maybe you’ve never had a proper four-pawed listening companion. It’s an important change in my life—especially my listening life. My previous dog—Bilbo, a Boston Terrier and a very different soul—left this world about two years ago after 15 years of loyal co-listening. I had not realized how much difference it makes to have a four-pawed critter share your listening space (or not) until after Bilbo passed late one night, lying on his bed with me on the floor beside him. A good dog is at least as much an influence on the listening experience as a few sips of your favorite beverage.


Ella Wren isn’t yet quite as fine a listening companion as Bilbo was, but she’ll grow into it. For now, she’s too rambunctious; she lacks focus. Still, she shows potential. She loves music and subtly adopts its rhythms, and when she occupies the main, central seat—my seat—she stares at the image of the vocalist or instrumentalist and does not, as some dogs do, look from speaker to speaker, the audiophile-dog equivalent of staring at your finger when you point.

Screw Westminster: Someday I’ll take her to an audio show, and she can sit in the best seat, furrow her brow, and bark her approval (or not) about image density and stability and soundstage depth. I’m thinking that when she matures and settles down, after some intensive listening training, I’ll teach her how to write.

I called this a confession—why? Because at just over 4 months old—closer to six by the time you read this—Ella Wren is a serious, passionate, improvisational chewer. How long would it take my aspiring (but fast-growing) hi-fi critic to shred, say, a pair of speaker cables she finds especially overpriced? I worry that manufacturers’ reps who read this—whose equipment I have on hand, in for review—will change their minds and ask for their stuff back lest it get shredded by sharp puppy teeth. I’ll even encourage manufacturers not to send tasty-looking wood-cabinet speakers my way for at least a few months. Considering her taste for bookshelf legs and sticks from Riverside Park, I’m pretty sure a pretty pair of wooden speakers wouldn’t last long.

So far, so good. The most expensive thing Ella Wren has destroyed is a $50 MacBook charging cable—two of them, to be precise: She destroyed the replacement the second day I had it. A couple of days ago, she ripped a hole in a nice wool sweater while pulling off the tag (she loves—or hates—tags on chew toys, clothing, pillows). She has destroyed two throw pillows. She pulled a CD off the rack and shredded its cardboard sleeve. That bookshelf leg I mentioned—on a cheap IKEA bookshelf, fake furniture made of fiberboard—looks like was attacked by a beaver. She has ripped apart a couple of magazines, including the December 2021 Stereophile, last year’s Product of the Year issue.


Importantly, Ella Wren has not yet damaged a single piece of hi-fi equipment, which shows that, despite her youth and that one regrettable Stereophile meal, she has good taste and sound judgment. She wants good things to continue to exist in the world.

In the November issue we introduced not one but two new (and renewed) columns, Brilliant Corners by Alex Halberstadt and Aural Robert by Robert Baird. This month brings one more: Among the Musical, by longtime music writer Tony Scherman, whose book Backbeat: Earl Palmer’s Story won a 2000 ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music writing. For now, his column will appear every other month, though his other contributions to Stereophile will be more frequent: He has already contributed several pieces, and this month’s issue includes not just Tony’s column, which appears on p.139, but also his My Back Pages on p.162. I know you’ll enjoy Tony’s contributions to Stereophile‘s music coverage.

Another first this month: Making his first contribution to Stereophile is longtime Sound & Vision contributing editor and turntable setup specialist extraordinaire Michael Trei. Michael, welcome to our pages.

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