Chinese Hi-Fi headsets are popular among foreign enthusiasts, according to foreign media reports. Although the brand of these Chinese headphones is little known, but because of the complete supply chain, they can also use the accessories of well-known large factories, while eliminating all kinds of marketing marketing costs, to create sound quality and cheap products.
Photo by The Verge
When buying a new headset, most foreigners may go to Amazon or Apple retail stores for screening. However, a few people appear edgy on Head-Fi, the world’s largest Hi-Fi headset forum, and will make insightful comments about balancing armatures (moving iron) and dynamic drive units, as well as testing their devices and making frequency maps.
But as an enthusiast, they are increasingly concerned about a wide variety of little-known Chinese-branded headphones, which typically cost less than $175, the equivalent of a pizza. These people buy the headsets through Global Express, then write detailed research and performance reviews on blogs and YouTube, and have endless debates about the pros and cons.
Little known low price, quality can be guaranteed?
Online, the phenomenon is known as “Chi-fi”, or “Chinese” and “high-fidelity” mash-ups, and they are often used to refer to portable audio devices, virtually all of which are headphones, including AirPod-like and in-ear listening headphones (IEMs). The devices are mostly produced by unknown Chinese companies. When you search on Amazon, you’ll find a lot of Chinese brands you’ve never heard of, but this could be a turning point in your entry into this strange “shadow market.”
The names of these companies are simple and sometimes confusing, but headphones are incredibly cheap. As a rational consumer, many people may think that a forty-fifty-dollar headset can’t be too good. But in fact, China may offer the best Hi-Fi headsets. How does it feel if the brand is not known and the price is strangely low, but the quality and function of the product are amazingly good?
“The first time I heard the word Chi-Fi was two or three years ago, it smelled a bit popular,” says Lachlan Tsang, youTube’s Red Lachlan Tsang. Lachlan Tsang works at a high-end sound store in Sydney, Australia.
“Around 2010, these headphones were only available on Taobao, but they are now everywhere,” says Alfred Lee, a Hong Kong resident who runs AccessAudio, a Chinese audio products site with friends. “
“Chi-Fi” first appeared on Reddit in late 2015, but the concept had been around for several years. These brands have many quirky names, such as TIN Audio, Yinyoo and Revonext, and some are made up of letters, such as KZ, BQEYZ and QDC. Prices vary, but most people are fascinated by very cheap products. Their manufacturing quality is uneven, accessories are limited, after-sales service basically does not exist.
Most brand-name sound companies actually make products in China because they have an advantage in price. The concentration of equipment, expertise and raw materials has created many semi-DIY electronics hot spots, most notably Shenzhen, where you can buy plastic headphone casings, wires, drivers and all the parts you need to make them.
Shenzhen and other similar Chinese cities are the perfect birthplace sits for these unnamed companies. The origin story of each brand is a little different. Some companies start out as OEMs, which means they are actually contracting for brands such as Beats. Mike Klasco, an audio engineering consultant, said: “Some of these manufacturers were initially trading companies, while others provided engineering support for other brands. “
The quality of the finished headphones is difficult to guarantee because the relevant components, such as wires, housings, drivers, and chips, are relatively inexpensive. For headphones, the quality of the components is directly at stake in the overall quality of the product. The diaphragm price for the micro-speakers in the headset may be as low as 0.3 yuan, while the price of a diamond-coated diaphragm can be as high as 28 yuan. If you have top-notch drivers and chips, your product will sound good, even if the build quality is a little poor.
The entry threshold was low, and a bottle of glue in a van was enough
People care about audio equipment differently than they do about other electronic products in Shenzhen. No one will spend a few days picking out the best portable battery chargers, USB wires or smartphone stands for their cars. These are components with clear functional boundaries: they either work or they don’t work. The audio is different. There is a wider range of good and bad, there are fashion and design concerns, different use cases, different brand combinations. And because most customers don’t have the time or money to test each brand, most of us end up relying on well-known brands.
Of course, premium brands also mean higher prices. “Best Buy could raise the price by 50 percent, ” Krasko said. “For brand-name audio companies, the costs come from extensive testing, design, marketing, employee overhead, packaging, transportation, and multiple distributions from manufacturers to wholesalers to retailers.
But Chinese brands have eliminated all these costs, and only the biggest and most ambitious companies bother to build websites, with most having only simple supplier pages on global sales. Some of these companies buy drives from Sen.
These same drives, or at least very similar drives, can also be found in The Ultimate Ears IEM for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The factory that makes the drives doesn’t care who they’re sold to, they maintain a specific level of quality because their customers understand this. Once the parts have been found, it’s not expensive to assemble them at all. “If you have a van and a bottle of glue, you can enter the industry,” Krasko said. “
Sometimes you end up with a headset with a high-end interior, which means that a company that has little marketing overhead produces headphones with great sound quality. If someone can find their stuff, these companies can make a lot of money.
It is difficult to say how much intellectual property rights are involved in this process. But Mr Krasko says most companies would be happy to allow him to visit, and he often finds that they are doing the same thing as big companies: buying components from factories that make components, assembling finished products and selling them. Of course, this market sometimes comes up with design inspiration, and sometimes even big companies can be inspired.
Vibrant community, screening “gems” in “garbage”
Sometimes even small manufacturers can build up enough followers to move across traditional retail channels, hiring customer service staff, web designers, quality control staff, and all the rest of the more established company. The most famous example is Anker, which began making replacement batteries for laptops and then switched to portable battery chargers. In just a few years, they have become a globally recognized brand.
Some Chinese Hi-Fi headset companies also have this potential, such as Fiio and HiFiMan, both of which have actual websites that introduce their products. Krasko was actually angry that HiFiMan, which was initially a very small Chinese manufacturer, had unexpectedly succeeded in several products and quickly rose. “HiFiMan is not a nameless brand at all, they’re releasing a lot of very expensive and complex stuff,” Krasko said. “Fiio has also been well received by many mainstream media outlets.
But for most Chinese Hi-Fi headset enthusiasts, the most exciting thing is “hunting”. They like to sift through “garbage” and hope to find “precious gems”, such as the $25-worth, angular red metal IEM, which was inspired by a larger company, but, incredibly, it sounds almost as good as the $500 IEM. Lachlan Tsang says: “This is a product from these anonymous factories, and the brand story has been replaced by this common little story about Chinese manufacturing. “
The release of a new Chinese-made Hi-Fi headset could spark heated debate on the forum. For the most part, these companies seem unprepared and never expect to have such a popular product in their hands. This is not because they think they are publishing junk products, but because competition is so fierce that their sales in the Netherlands, the US or Germany seem unlikely to suddenly soar.
Some in-depth review sites focus exclusively on Chinese Hi-Fi headset brands such as AudioBudget. The longest post on the audio forum Head-Fi was also about “Chi-Fi” and more than 48,000 related posts. Although the number of followers is not a true fair measure. But you can see that the community is full of energy, with factions debating how best to clog the small vents in some ImMs for enhanced bass, or which aftermarket silicone heads are the best. Enthusiasts like this argument.
With a steady stream of fresh and affordable products emerging, China’s Hi-Fi headset brand offers many new topics. For many of these forum users, the classic enthusiast outfit is beyond their reach. CNET Review’s top-of-the-line headphones cost $2,400, while high-end speakers typically cost as much as $670,000. For most people, the device seems a bit unattainable, even for those obsessed with audio quality. However, China’s Hi-Fi audio boom has given them a chance to experience high-end experiences that have never really happened before.
Even the devices that make these frequency maps are becoming more affordable. MiniDSP makes a product that’s about $200, basically a pair of artificial ears with a microphone, but it’s perfectly up to the job. The device used to cost tens of thousands of dollars to buy. It’s still, and it’s better, but like the torrent of cheap headphones, The MiniDSP is super powerful, a little weird, but it’s affordable for everyone.
Given all these cheap new toys, it’s understandable that people are a little obsessed with them. “It’s easy to get into the industry, you just need to keep trying,” says Alfred Lee. For Chi-Fi, it’s a different experience for $20, so why not try it? “