A couple of weeks ago Brent Butterworth posted a picture story showing a variety of Chinese-made audio gear. My first reaction to the pictures and prices for that gear was, "Wow! What great looking and wickedly inexpensive stuff! I want..."
And then I began to think about why the gear that Brent refers to as "Chi-Fi" is so inexpensive. The obvious answer is lower manufacturing costs. But that's not the only thing that makes this gear so low-cost. With no advertising costs, no distributing costs, no retailer to split profits with, and perhaps most importantly for customers - NO REPAIR OR WARRANTY SUPPORT, it's easy to see why "Chi-Fi" can seem so inexpensive when compared to U.S. or European Union-made gear.
There are some audiophiles who have the skills and knowledge to do their own repair work on tube gear. For them, buying Chi-Fi gear directly from China and Hong Kong may still be a great idea. But for most U.S. audiophiles, including myself, who lack a complete repair facility in-house, this lack of support should be a deal-killer.
For any audiophile who doesn't do their own repairs buying a "Chi-fi" component directly from a Chinese manufacturer is roughly the same as buying a piece of used domestically made audio gear that is out of warranty. If it breaks, you've got a doorstop. And if you do get it repaired you may find the repair cost is far greater than its original price.
In time, as the Chinese audio industry matures, there will be Chinese manufacturers entering the US market who will have the same level of support as manufacturers from other countries. We already have companies such as Grant Fidelity, who import and support Chinese-made gear, but that is not the same as a vertically integrated international audio firm such as Focal, Naim, or Sony.
When Chinese manufacturers begin investing in the same level of customer support, service networks, and advertising outlays as U.S. and other "Western" based manufacturers, I suspect the Chinese "Bargain" gear will not be as inexpensive as it seems to be right now, but it will also offer greater value...