China at the door

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by Josh Ray on March 17 '06

 Audioreviews Aad Hero
In a review of the $1200 PMM1 bookshelf speakers by AAD, 6Moons Srajan brings up a good point about the future of audio and China:

With audiophiles, "made in China" was very uncool about 10 years ago. Our kind at that time referred to NAD as Nearly Always Defective. It was a reflection on the QC issues that then still plagued many an apparent Euro product that was really manufactured offshore...Those all-Chinese, all-Malaysian or otherwise exclusively Pacific Rim products were considered plain uncouth if you wanted cachet, quality and reliability.

Then he goes on to say how China is quickly becoming known for quality and solid manufacturing. In fact, companies like England's Onix (distributed in the states by design what I would classify as distinctly British-finished speakers made "with pride in the PRC."

Today, the question isn't, "you don't manufacture in China, do you?" But, "how much would this speaker cost if it were made overseas?" One manufacturer I spoke with, when broached with the China question, responded, "our $3000 speakers could be sold for $2000 if made in China." For a $1000 price drop, how much does the China label matter to you?

Interestingly, at CES, a number of Chinese companies booked rooms to show off their OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and ODM (Original Design Manufacturer) services, trying to convince American brands to make the big leap. One company showed off a line of demo speakers using the thin ply construction (rather than MDF) found in a handful of American $20k+ speakers. Price in China? $450 per speaker. Of course, that doesn't account for the many other costs that feed into the food chain, but it is an interesting number to reflect upon.

Then again, there is something to be said for USA pride. Companies like Escalante, Zu, Manley and others advertise home-grown products as part of their identity. In the clothing industry, American Apparel has made a name for itself manufacturing in downtown Los Angeles using sweatshop-free labor. Successful? Heck yeah. They have dozens of stores in 11 countries selling what amounts to trendy Hanes Beefy-Ts. They're nice shirts, but 5 times the price nice? Many vote with their money and say they are, indeed, worth the extra coin. Hey, I even own a couple (and one even says "Zu" on the front and "A Revolution in American Hi-Fi" on the back...fancy that).

So is it out of the realm of possibility to start seeing companies advertise "made in China"? Best bang for the buck or pride in American craftsmanship?


China has lost 20 million manufacturing jobs in the past ten years. They're being forced to move into the hi-end area because the cheap mass-market stuff has all moved to places like Malaysia.
It's only best bang for the buck if you never look beyond the pricetag, which most do not and it seems to have escaped the attention of many that China is still an oppressive Communist dictatorship with nearly non-existent worker helath/safety and environmental laws and regulations. We cynically condemn US corporations for caring only for the bottom line, yet the bottom line is all that is on the minds of the millions who flock to Wal-Mart as well as those who cheerlead for Chinese-made hi-fi. se
Here we see the great choices in life. We pay less, we save lots. But in the end the money we earn is ours to spend as we see fit. Price is not the only factor affecting purchasing decisions. Have you checked out Harley Davidson motorcycle sales lately? What ebay vintage electronics is fetching the highest prices? Our lifestyle is the envy and dream of a large part of this world community. Asian buyers are paying top dollar to have a slice of this. And the audio pursuit is (after all is said and done) a luxury item. In a circular economy, your choices do affect where jobs end up. There is a nice feeling supporting people who have invested the most closer to home. Everybody needs to earn a living; this includes China and all of us here in North America. And profit is not a dirty word but a fundamental requisite of solid business ventures, including the ones we work at. Decisions, decisions...
"Nearly Always Defective"... ha, ha. Things have certainly come a long way. Here in Latin America, where you can consider yourself a millionaire if you make about $15K a year, Chinese-manufactured imports are not just an option - they are THE option, more often than not. There is no market here for American $20K amplifiers (Boulder, anyone?) and $40K+ loudspeakers. However, there are a few choice manufacturers outside Asia (Energy, Paradigm, Triangle, etc) that still believe in delivering quality craftsmanship for prices most mortals can afford. All the more power and respect to them. If I had to make a breakdown of my system by country, it may be about 30% Canadian, 20% Eastern European, 35% Chinese-British-American, 5% Japanese, 5% German (My Sennheiser HD600s) and 5% American (The Zu Mobius cable for the aforementioned Sennhsiers - really good cable BTW)
I think its absolutley amazing how someone can claim to be leaving the US for a little island in the Aegean/Mediterrenean (well known for its own political corruption) sea because of apparent political dissent and yet report so favorably and positivley on Chinese manufacturing - 10 million dogs are beaten, eaten and slaughtered each year, for example... not to mention disgusting human rights violations and other issues...
I got to give it to old time manufacturers and major companies that keep on ranting how products made with cheaper or more affordable labor costs in the end benefit the consumer with more affordable goods. perhaps I have myopia, and hiend audio is a different world, but as far as myself being a consumer, I do believe that I am getting the "shaft" instead of a good buy in the majority of the products that I purchase and are made in PRC. When I walk in to a Coach store today, I can only see dozens of different designs, as well as very high price tags for bags made in PRC...what happened to those great leather Coach handbags that used to cost $199-350 and were made in NYC? Now we pay $450, for half leather, half canvas, all made in PRC....tell me where do the consumers get the benefit of production overseas. And for that person who will claim that the masses benefit when they go to Walmart to buy a 130" TV today for less than a Sony Walkman 20 years ago, go check the trashbin and the dumping sites that are running out of space in our land of the free etc... Let not a dump site be proposed in your corner of the neighborhood for G..ds sake! Who pays for all the chemical and environmental degradation? Sure, don't we take into account THAT when we buy that TV from Walmart. I do not blame the hard working Chinese, but the ignorance that has been implanted in our slowly deteriorating brains here in our beloved country. The argument that giving all our purchases are giving millions of destitute Chinese a job and a better life, go check if a factory job of $110 a month is worth all the pollution and carcinogens that are so wide spread in backland Chinese industrial areas. PS: And Gerhard, the fact that some of the Chinese have been accustomed to eat dog meat instead of beef or any other Western approved meats does NOT mean that the Chinese are "uncivilized" or anything else. Now, human rights violations, I do give it to you, but then, how many dictatorships do Western/Industrialized countries have supported and still support, for the sake of economic gains and political stability? Want to see where freedom of choice and opinion leads you, check the 5 PM news.
This all sounds very nice, why trust your dollar to country in which there are minimal guarantees of health/safety standards. Well fact of the matter is that China is a major contributor to financing the US debt and so makes it possible for you to buy US build audio products. So if you are able to see the interdependnce...go ahead and buy Chinese Audio, I know I will!
Onix isn't an english company i think they are from singapore
Hi Chris, No, Onix is in the UK. Melody amps, which Onix rebrands, is based in Australia run by a Chinese man who doesn't speak a word of English.