Chinese Hi-Fi - does it stand up? [Archive] - Audio & Video Forums


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08-27-2007, 02:24 PM
There's been a lot of discussion about this lately, so I wanted to see what people were thinking. By Chinese Hi-Fi, I'm not talking about the designed in Europe/US and assembled in the Far-East stuff - I'm talking about those products designed, manufactured, and assembled there. Here are some of my questions:

- Are there any brands that are starting to stand out as reliable, solid, and supported?

- How are these being imported? I see the stuff on eBay all the time, with $300+ just to get it overseas. That's not really workable, IMO.

- Has anyone who has bought one of these had to return one? How was that experience?

- Any US distributors that stand out? Any come recommended?

- Does the gear have a particular "sound"?

- Is the cost really a lot less, or is that just hype?

- How does it compare with the regular stuff (e.g. the designed in Europe/US and assembled in the Far-East)?

- Other than China, what are some other countries that are establishing themselves in Hi-Fi?

- Any other thoughts?

08-27-2007, 05:37 PM
The only Chinese brands I can think of off the top of my head are Cayin, Vincent, Shanling, Opera, ASL, and Usher (if you include Taiwan). There are probably more, but those are the ones you seem to hear about the most.

There was an interesting article about this very topic here. ( One of the most revealing comments came from an engineer at Nordost, famous for their hideously expensive cables. He notes that "Hi-fi is a complex thing -- it's about music, it's about sound but it's also about how it makes someone feel." This was in response to the perceived snobbishness of the hi end realm. In other words: marketing matters as much as engineering...possibly more.

Of the Chinese equipment listed, I only have experience with Usher, a speaker that I like very, very much. The Dancer 8571's are on my short list if I ever get around to building another rig.

China is the last great frontier, and is really emerging as a superpower. There is already so much western investment in China that it's almost impossible for them not to emerge as a the Next Big Thing. Seriously, most of the audio gear is manufactured over their anyway, and China is infamous for poaching technology, whether they have the rights to it or not. Their automobiles are damn near clones of established manufacturers (i.e. Jeep, Mercedes) existing models, and yet despite legal action, they continue to rely on blatant plagarism year after year. Different legal system over there so why care?

The real question is whether or not audiophiles will every step down from their high horse and take them seriously. To ignore them would be a mistake. As the hi-end market continues to shrink, fueled in part by the perceived snobbishness and exorbitant pricing of the whole thing, affordable hi end will become more and more prevalent.

08-28-2007, 03:48 AM
I don't know of any purely, 100% Chinese designed and built (even Usher has had some serious US/European designers helping out) that I would say are going to crack the audiophile ranks anytime soon.
Guess it's just a matter of time. China doesn't seem to me to be a likely location for esoteric, high-end, hi-fi gear manufacturing for a few reasons.
First, perception - imagine some audiophile snob with 300,000 K in his system - is he gonna tell people his stuff was built in China? Is he even going to give something built in China the time of day? I doubt it. Some Chinese company could build the end all be all of speakers or amps and is still going to have to overcome a lot of stereotyping.

Second, those extremely high end audio components have ridiculously obscene profit margins on them - the benefit from a business model perspective of moving to china for mass production advantages is minimimal in that regard. Ie, the cost savings aren't as much as they would be on entry-level, mid-level stuff. I think there's less incentive for those guys to do business in China.

China's getting scary good in the QC area - they're really briding the gap. In a few years it's going to be very hard to justify not buying chinese anything. Logic dictates this could only carry on for a short amount of time. Their economy is growing tremendously fast, wages are increasing, foreign investment is growing - eventually there'll be a lack of labor to the point wages (or some crazy taxes) will have to go up, putting more money back in the people and (more likely) the government's bank account. Then China won't be so cheap and will lose its advantage. If China doesn't allow the market to correct itself naturally, they're going to have a lot of pressure from Europe, North America, Russia, pretty much everyone, to get with the times. It will happen. The only question is will it be the easy way, or the hard way?

08-28-2007, 06:48 AM
I totally love my "made in China" speakers. I have also been looking closely at the Emotiva line of pre-amps and amps. Their first HT pre-amp seems to have a few annoying bugs in it, but I haven't seen one bad review of their amps yet.

Our company buys a lot of Chinese products. (non-audio) As with anyone else, some of their products suck, while others are top notch. It's just that with so many new companies popping up, it's hard to tell which is which.

08-28-2007, 06:57 AM
I don't much care for made in China as a matter of principle these days but if the company is controlling how its products are being made it isn't necessarily a problem at all. I'm pretty sure my NADs may have been made in China, although the rest of my system was not.

08-28-2007, 07:10 AM
Granted I live in Korea but I will have gander at this.

Basically, there is no innovation in South Korea or China. Everything is merely copied from the West. One can argue about how good the copies are but if you take South Korean gear -- and this country is doing very well, copying for less is not a bad approach.

China of course is in Africa and for all the talk about America's treatment of people and the environment on that continent China is FAR FAR FAR FAR FAR worse. It is not the government's treatment of their people that is bad it is Chinese companies' treatments of other people that is horrendous. And forget Quality control and forget pollution controls.

Is there anything coming out of China that is absolutely fantastic? Not from my experience. I own the ASL MG head but it's far from the last word in headphone amps. Joseph Lau is Chinese and makes the stuff in China -- seems to have a bit of advantage in this and is a generally well put together company with a growing following.

Price is never really the issue - In my view it comes down to design. A better design using cheaper parts will sound better than an lesser design using better parts.

I don;t see why a Chinese or Korean person on an assembly line can't put a screw into a piece of metal or wodd as well as an American doing the same thing.

South Korea has modeled nearly their entire society off of 1950's America which has a few advantages and some disadvantages -- especially for women. Of course I am hoping for the 1960's and this place will be one freaking FUN place to be.:cornut:

Anyway, I would not judge anything on WHERE it is made. I care about the end result. For everyone who says made in the west is better that may be an argument but after owning Ford and GM buying American is certainly nothing to write home about. And in England with their "all the power to the unions" getting them to do any work is pretty amazing I've been told. Koreans putting up an apartment or skyscraper -- well let's see they work from 6am until 10pm and they take lunch on the site and take a nap on mats on the job site. None of this overtime pay rubbish so you can deliberately slack off so you can over time and get paid double. Things get built here lightning fast. Of course safety standards and inspections -- well let's not ask questions about that.

Despite all that coming here and listening to the classic lines Voice of the Theater's the old Tannoy Westminsters, Klipsch K-horns, classic JBL when JBL gave a damn about music reproduction etc and I know they have good taste here even if they are not making it. Such terrific music makers and it depresses me that in Canada where homes are about 5 times larger to see and hear tiny floorstanders and puny ass standmounts of lifeless drudgery that passes as high end audio. All for imaging -- what a bill of goods that is.

08-28-2007, 10:27 AM
I actually own some Chinese speakers in my office system (and I use the same CD player model for both my home and office systems... also Chinese).

Opera Audio Consonance was a brand I never heard of before I walked into their room at CES/THE Show in 2005. Their tube amps and Droplet CD player were powering some superb Von Schweikert DB99s... To make a long story short, I found that room one of the best rooms at the show and the sound was absolutely phenominal to say the least.

In a side room Opera Audio Consonance had a rig setup with a CD 120 solid state CD player, a solid state Consonance pre and a solid state Consonance amp powering Consonance Eric-1 mini-monitors and I bought the demo CD player the next day after finding myself in awe at what you can buy nowadays on a tight budget. Later I bought the Eric-1s too. Now I have a great sounding budget office system that I would put up against many many others at double the price without being a bit worried.

Needless to say I find Opera Audio to be quite good. :-)


Jimmy C
08-28-2007, 01:37 PM
...the "tube sound" and ordered the PrimaLuna integrated.

I didn't want to drain any savings, or put $7000 on my AmEx (Jimmy's not a big fan of charging), so I figured this would be a fun piece to try. I bought it unheard, but due to Kevin Deal's good rep, all the owners/pro reviews, I figured it was a good gamble. $1350 later, I couldn't be happier! That doesn't mean this the the end-all component, but really good for the price.

Yup... built in China, but uses good parts. Solen and Nichicon caps, Alps pots and (best of all) autobiasing! I don't have to do anything! (Kinda like living in my condo :*) Seriously, I look at the daunting amount of biasing screws on a local dealer's Audio Research amp... uugh. Sure, she sounds purdy, but that's a lotta work (as well as money).

The PL2 feels/looks/sounds like a mill - point-to-point hand wiring, fairly small but weighs like a tank. Had I known, i would have EASILY skipped my Rotel separates (200 WPC no less!) and went right to Upland, CA. I could have also saved $200. No biggie.

As long as reliability is there, and it sounds good...

08-28-2007, 03:28 PM
I'm pretty sure my NADs may have been made in China...

I'd prefer to know for sure where mine were made...

Sorry, I couldn't let that one go. Seriously, though, It sounds like the consensus from most people is that:

1. The stuff that's designed in Europe/N.America, but made in China, seems better, but no one really knows for sure.

2. China has an image problem about copying things.

3. Chinese product are less expensive because the cost of labor and the regard for regulations is not the same as in Europe/N.America.

4. Only audiophiles really care about any of this.

So that brings me to the following question: won't all these concerns eventually go away as Chinese products force prices down throughout the industry? More specifically, if perception is the only thing that's keeping the prices of non-China products up (think Gryphon, Halcro, Herron, etc.), isn't that really a bubble just waiting to burst?

Should I hurry up and sell my Euro-American gear before the bottom drops out, :nonod: ?

08-28-2007, 04:44 PM
I'd prefer to know for sure where mine were made...
:lol: :D

Rock&Roll Ninja
08-29-2007, 03:41 AM
Should I hurry up and sell my Euro-American gear before the bottom drops out, :nonod: ?
Unless your idea of "music" is listening to your T. Rowe Price portfolio compound then I wouldn't worry about your stereo's value bottoming out, cause it did when you opened the box, It was a pretty poor investment financially anyway. Just try to get some non-lucrative enjoyment from it.

08-29-2007, 07:17 AM
Unless your idea of "music" is listening to your T. Rowe Price portfolio compound then I wouldn't worry about your stereo's value bottoming out, cause it did when you opened the box, It was a pretty poor investment financially anyway. Just try to get some non-lucrative enjoyment from it.

Best coment of all.

08-29-2007, 06:16 PM
Rock n Roll,

I was being facetious. I'm just pointing out the comparison between hifi pricing and your typical marketing bubble.

BTW, I manage my own portfolio, but I'll take another look at my Harman shares just to be safe - and I did so well with them in the last decade..