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The rise of Chinese Hi-Fi

By Kenny Yeo - on 22 Jul 2018, 9:52am

Cheap and good. Mostly.

Chi-Fi is the term that audiophiles have endearingly given to the throngs of incredibly cheap and value for money audio equipment coming out from China. These span the whole gamut of audio devices ranging from in-ear headphones to portable digital audio players and even amplifiers and DACs (digital-to-analog converters).

It is hard to say for certain when this little audio revolution of sorts began, but certainly, the proliferation of online marketplaces like Lazada, Shopee, Carousell and before all of them - our very own Electronics Bazaar Marketplace and Mass Order Forums have made it easy for audiophiles and music lovers to find and buy Chi-Fi.

Bewilderment is often the first feeling that greets beginners when they start shopping for Chi-Fi. The sheer number of options can be overwhelming and it can be difficult to know where to begin. After all, can a pair of headphones that only cost S$12 really be that good?

The answer, much to some readers’ and my surprise, is yes. Depending on where you look, the KZ ATE can be had for as little as S$11.57. You don’t get much for your money. The headphones come in a small box and all you get with the headphones is a couple of extra silicon ear tips. But what you do get is a sonic experience that leaves you wondering if other brands are mad for charging exorbitant prices when there is a S$12 pair of headphones that sound this good. It is by no means the last word in audio fidelity, but for the cost of roughly two McDonald’s Extra Value Meals, it sounds amazingly coherent and balanced.

And it is not just headphones either, the Chinese are also disrupting the amplifier and DAC space with some amazing offerings. Case in point, the M6 from Shenzhen-based SMSL. The M6 is a handsome little headphone amplifier and DAC combo that accepts USB, digital coaxial, and TOSLINK inputs and decodes up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM. Yours for around $220. A comparable desktop setup from a more established brand will cost more than double.

However, not all products are worthy of recommendation. Some do not perform up to expectations and there are numerous products which are outright ripoffs. Nevertheless, the rise of Chi-Fi should be viewed positively as it democratizes good sound and gets more people thinking about the gear that they are listening with. This is important if the hobby is to thrive. After all, the first step to (audio) enlightenment is being aware of your own ignorance.

Kenny Yeo

Kenny Yeo / Associate Editor

Specifications are not everything. It's what you do with what you have that matters.