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After the hype of Chinese HiFi brands, what is the jury?

Your sentiments on Chinese HiFi brands?


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CleanSound

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First, this is an analysis and discussion of current consumers' sentiment of Chinese HiFi brands after a remarkable and disruptive market entry; this is not a bashing of Chinese HiFi brands, so please be respectful and fair with your comments.

Moderators, I am not sure how you feel about this thread but if you don't think this thread is appropriate, please kindly intervene.

Clarification: I am not talking about Chinese manufacturing, I am talking about HiFi brands that are Chinese in origin, where the corporate headquarter is in China, and the design and engineering are conducted physically in China and the businesses sells the products as their own brand.

Some background: For many decades Chinese companies has been OEM and ODM manufacturers for ages. It started off with their manufacturing quality being not so great to mastering it. Many factories are ISO certified and the quality of some of their high end manufacturing is quite impressive. In fact, all of your revered Revel speakers, including the Salon, are made in China, not to mention your iPhones and much more.

Over the years and decades these Chinese OEM/ODM has gain experience and skills (albeit some are forced technology transfer by way of doing business in China and some are, let's be very honest here and call it what it is, patent and trade secret infringements, but that's besides the point). As the Chinese economy grows so are their ambition to move up in the value chain.

Instead of being OEM/ODM, it's time to market their own designs and products to the international market. Hence, the birth of many domestic branded companies and products, and in the world of HiFi, they are the trail blazing, high end, Matrix Audio and Denafrips, followed by superior performance market leaders such as Topping, SMSL, Gustard to name a few.

But what is so special about these Chinese HiFi brands? Superior audio performance (objective of course, this is ASR after all) at unheard of price points. A $800 DAC will out perform audibly anything Japan, North America and Europe has or can offer at easily half of the price.

Wow, what a big bang way to enter a world stage party.

But after, maybe a decade now or maybe a little less than a decade. And after this flashy coming out party for these Chinese HiFi brands. . .what are consumers current sentiment?

Across different internet channels (including ASR) I have noticed an uptick of "complaints" if you will. They largely revolve around (1) reliability (2) local support/customer service (3) aesthetics/industrial design not to international markets' taste. Though (3) is tricky, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder and not everyone cares.

What are your sentiments on Chinese HiFi brands after the hype? Before you answer, keep in mind if you want more, such as (1), (2) and (3) above, the price will increase, potentially to the levels of Japanese, North American and European brands.

EDIT: Please also see post #108 and #155 for clarification on the word "hype" and "Chinese HiFi Brands."
 
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None of your options work for me. In fact it is much too complex for a simple poll.

For example, my answer will be different for amps and dacs. It will be different at different price points. What concerns are we talking about? What about features included (or not) such as DSP? Local supplier or order in China? Etc Etc.
 
I have a number of what I assume would be "hyped" inexpensive made in China audio items. They've all more than met my needs. I'm not particularly interested in paying more just to say I didn't buy Chinese. The more something sells, the more you're likely to see complaints. I wouldn't be surprised though if the number of complaints relative to unit's sold isn't actually lower for a lot of these items than it is for some boutique stuff.

And your dac numbers are way off. Try sub-$200
 
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A $800 DAC will out perform audibly anything Japan, North America and Europe has or can offer at easily half of the price.

Audibly? Really?

My main take from all of this, is that some Chinese brands seem to put their money where their mouth is in terms of serving the subsection of the hobby that's all about "wire-with-gain". It's refreshing to see some companies actually doing the thing that countless high-end brands have been claming to do for decades with nothing but lyrical marketing to show. That being said, I don't think a SINAD powerhouse DAC from Topping will be audibly better performing than a $9 Apple dongle in any way worth mentioning, as long as the comparison is done without bias. Impressive engineering though.... Still got my doubts about reliability.

Other Chinese companies target the traditional fairy tale market segments. Denafrips does it to some degree, and Audio GD goes all in on the cockoo nonsense.

The Chinese are really good at identifying a market and getting a flow of products going at a good price point. You'll have to give them credit for that.

Honestly I'm starting to see it as them picking a carcass. If the hobby really wants to evolve, separates will go the way of the dinosaurs eventually. But then again, there might never have been a real wish for evolution, and it might never come. In some ways the hobby is painfully dependent on keeping status quo.
 
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A $800 DAC will out perform audibly anything Japan, North America and Europe has or can offer at easily half of the price.
That's absolutely wrong... :rolleyes:

Anyway, I voted.
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I remember back in the 60’s when “Made in Japan” products were sneered at.
Similar for “Made in China” today …
The interesting difference is that , what most people possess or use, is “Made in China”.

Peace.
 
Reliability and service of Chinese brands don't seem to be worse than the rest of the industry. The Marantz PM6006 integrated amplifier has high pitched tone emanating from one the speakers when you use it's inbuilt DAC. It not loud but detectable and higher volumes. It's never been fixed by Marantz and affects all of them. People have sent them back under warranty but Marantz just sent them back unfixed. I use my Chi-FI E1DA 9038d DAC now.
 
Talking about Chinese hi-fi brands is like talking about the American voter, or American audio brands. You have to address things from a per-product and per-vendor perspective.

American Audio brands include GR Research which produce good and bad products from the measurement perspective as well as companies like Meyer Sound which has great science driven products.

Many of the Chinese hifi brands when it comes to DACs, utilize US or Japanese chips (ESS and AKM) and op amps from the US (TI). If I go to a restaurant in China that imports its beef from Japan, or its soybeans from the USA, am I just assessing the chef or the quality of ingredients that go into the dish?
 
Besides audio,
pragmatically I prefer to order a product in the country of origin, as smartphones and such stuff. Why not? The reseller does same.
But for more than a hundred do rely on local (means European) regulations.
And that is for audio.
 
No skin in the game, no poll choices work for me. I don't own any but would include such in possibilities should I need something, tho. I don't worry about country of origin a lot as a driving factor either.
 
I've experienced problems with quality, longevity and firmware bugs with both Topping & SMSL DACs. Also poor support. However, they do have excellent measured performance for the cost, when they are working. Build quality, extensive software/firmware QA and support are not free. It's neither good nor bad, just a set of tradeoffs to hit a price point. Choose your poison.

One great thing about sites like this is open & honest sharing of people's experiences. In some cases, in great detail about various issues and how they are fixed. This is a win-win for everyone. Helps us all make good decisions, and some manufacturers pay attention and improve their products.

... Across different internet channels (including ASR) I have noticed an uptick of "complaints" if you will. They largely revolve around (1) reliability (2) local support/customer service ...
Keep in mind the natural sample bias - people who encounter problems are more likely to post about them, than people who have a trouble-free experience.
 
I remember back in the 60’s when “Made in Japan” products were sneered at.
Similar for “Made in China” today …
The interesting difference is that , what most people possess or use, is “Made in China”.

Peace.
Clarification: I am not talking about Chinese manufacturing, I am talking about HiFi brands that are Chinese in origin, where the corporate headquarter is in China, and the design and engineering are conducted physically in China and the businesses sells the products as their own brand.
 
It would likely take a lot of work to make a correct list of Chinese audio brands under your specifications. Not many audio consumers and also not many persons who are regular readers of ASR clearly know and distinguish what brands are Chinese. Oppo was, I believe, a Chinese brand by your terms. I would bet that many products branded and marketed by non-Chinese European, US and Canadian companies/labels are in fact relabeled Chinese product. Marketers, advertisers, retailers, resellers are masters of mixing and matching, and of obfuscating product origins, and of creating a fabricated nice patina to otherwise ordinary products. The same goes for automobile brands. Do Indian and Chinese corporations own plants across the globe and also own many brands once classically European or classically American?
 
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I voted choice 4, my original Fosi Dac and Amp are still going strong at a friend's. My SMSL Dac and Amp have been on 24/7 for over a year now. So I am well pleased with them.

I have read horror tales here of the DAC misbehaving but I've been lucky. Also I guess we only read those tales of those who have issues. No idea how many happy punters exist.
 
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I guess, I will share my experience and my sentiment:

1) Topping D70: there is an issue, where anyone can connect to it's Bluetooth without a PIN. My neighbor kept connecting to it. Bad designed. Returned it.

2) SMSL SU-8: using XLR output on my integrated amp, it sends some kind of signal where it puts my amp in fault. Got to be something with the signal, no other source puts this amp in fault. Returned it.

3) SMSL DA-9: It locks up on power on. You then have to disconnect the power and reconnect to reset it. I'm on my 3rd replacement unit and still same issue. Will be returning it to get store credit.

4) LKS MH-DA004: I ranted about this after ASR's review on the 005, it's big brother. Long story short, LKS lied about their measurements. Liar, liar, pants on fire.

5) SMSL SU-9: It replaced the SU-8, working with no issues thus far.

6) Topping D90SE: Working with no issues so far, except when the power goes out and comes back on, the unit is in the on state and stays on until you shut it off. If you went on vacation and there is a power blip, well, the DAC is on until you come home. Bad design, otherwise great DAC, but I personally hate the desktop size.

So, there you have it. I voted for: "I'm willing to pay more, if they address all the concerns. Until then, I'm out."

But with a caveat, if the retailer is reputable and the I don't see much reported issues with the product, I might still give it a shot. . .but will be very careful and diligent going forward.

EDIT: After such great participation, this has been a wonderful discussion. Thank you all.

I want to amend this post with my personal conclusion. First, I am very grateful for these Chinese brands scooping in and disrupting the long time status quo. It was much needed, this is what free market is all about.

While there certainly are challenges such as reliability, local support, industrial design to the taste of non-Chinese consumers, overly amount of and sometimes confusing products in its lineup. We cannot be too hard on these challenges, remember these Chinese brands are still relatively young.

I am routing for them to improve and work out these challenges and yes, I happily would pay more for it. But until then, I will largely hold back but not completely, I will be very diligent and selective on what Chinese brand products I will buy.
 
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For topping, it started with the L30 fiasco of headphones being destroyed by ESD... I think they took care of that. Few years after that they introduced more functionalities on their amps (touching only on amps) and circuitry to prevent mishaps like the original L30 that blew up headphones. I'm just wondering if the introduction of extra functionalities along with softwares to control them and the checking circuitry to counter ESD etc make their products like the a90d and a70pro become less stable and error prone?
 
One of my big grips with Chinese brands, in general, but specifically with Topping, SMSL etc is their marketing departments are on crack. And you cant (at least I cant) make head nor tail of the model names/model families.

They pop out "new" products almost every month... which says they dont have a long term strategy... or maybe that is the strategy: Make stuff cheap enough and people will re-buy a newer product.

And the differences between models with the same name but with an extension (say PRO) is minor: with or without balanced outs, with or without specific digital ins/out etc. Nothing that couldnt be avoid if they had one model that covers all basic requirements in a larger chassis (if needed).

So lets compare that to say Bryston. They produced their first DAC, the BDA-1 in ~2007 then maybe 2011 they released the BDA-2 then a bit later the BDA-3 and then most recently the BDA-3.14. Each model was a logical upgrade from the previous model (new features or tech), over a period of ~15 years and with a consistent look/feel and naming convention.

And of course the obvious issues around support with Chinese brands. There has been gear in the more expensive range that I would buy but because they dont have dealer networks, then yeah/nah, its cheap to buy (cause of the direct sales model) but when it dies you are screwed.

For example, I do like the look/specs of the Soncoz amp recently reviewed and I would buy two BUT I wont cause if they crash and burn, I am left high and dry. I dont mind taking a risk on its sound... but not on its reliability/support network.

The reason mainstream brands cost more is because they have established support networks so I will buy Bryston or a NAD Master series way before a Chinese brand, simply because I know I will get support.


Peter
 
I was going to choose;

There are some issues, but overall the value and engineering still makes it a top choice.

But then decided not to vote, as it doesn't seem right to lump all Chinese based Hi-Fi companies in the one basket... it's too general, as the market is broad.


JSmith
 
One of my big grips with Chinese brands, in general, but specifically with Topping, SMSL etc is their marketing departments are on crack. And you cant (at least I cant) make head nor tail of the model names/model families.

They pop out "new" products almost every month... which says they dont have a long term strategy... or maybe that is the strategy: Make stuff cheap enough and people will re-buy a newer product.

And the differences between models with the same name but with an extension (say PRO) is minor: with or without balanced outs, with or without specific digital ins/out etc. Nothing that couldnt be avoid if they had one model that covers all basic requirements in a larger chassis (if needed).

So lets compare that to say Bryston. They produced their first DAC, the BDA-1 in ~2007 then maybe 2011 they released the BDA-2 then a bit later the BDA-3 and then most recently the BDA-3.14. Each model was a logical upgrade from the previous model (new features or tech), over a period of ~15 years and with a consistent look/feel and naming convention.

And of course the obvious issues around support with Chinese brands. There has been gear in the more expensive range that I would buy but because they dont have dealer networks, then yeah/nah, its cheap to buy (cause of the direct sales model) but when it dies you are screwed.

For example, I do like the look/specs of the Soncoz amp recently reviewed and I would buy two BUT I wont cause if they crash and burn, I am left high and dry. I dont mind taking a risk on its sound... but not on its reliability/support network.

The reason mainstream brands cost more is because they have established support networks so I will buy Bryston or a NAD Master series way before a Chinese brand, simply because I know I will get support.


Peter
Why would an astute consumer be bothered by this unless they were bothered by this?

I think for the most part the Chinese brands have made inroads not made in many other markets for decades....despite marketing to obscure that.
 
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