FiiO, HiFiMAN, Shanling, Cayin, Aune Audio, iBasso, Xiaomi… You may not be familiar with all of these names, however, these brands have taken the audio and video industry by storm.
What do they have in common? They are all Chinese.
Their goal: to win over the hearts of audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts across the world.
China has long been the factory of the West, mostly due to the very low cost of labour. Many European and American companies relocated production to China so they could provide consumers with attractively priced TVs, speakers, hi-fi devices and all sorts of electronic devices.
But the reputation of goods with the “Made in China” label has suffered for many years from the plethora of cheap merchandise of questionable quality that has flooded the market. As a result, it isn’t rare to see a wry smile when someone is told that a product is made in China. The implication being: “it must be of poor quality”.
However, China is bursting with brands specializing in sound and image, often young technological start-ups but also older brands that excel in a variety of fields: portable audio DACs, DAPs, hi-fi headphones, in-ear headphones, hi-fi tube amplifiers, 4K Ultra HD TVs, AV network streamers and projectors.
Founded in 2007, the Chinese company FiiO rapidly gained an excellent reputation thanks to its first portable audio DAC, the FiiO Alpen E17. Today, the manufacturer offers a wide range of portable hi-fi devices with remarkable audio qualities, including headphone amplifiers, portable headphone amplifiers, DAPs, earphones and Bluetooth receivers.
Among FiiO’s iconic products are the FiiO M11, FiiO M11 Pro and FiiO M15 DAPs, the FiiO F9 Pro, FiiO FH5, FiiO FA7 and, our personal favorite, FiiO FH7 in-ear monitors, but also the FiiO Q1 MKII and FiiO Q5S portable headphone amplifiers/DACs.
The HiFiMAN company was founded in late 2005 by Dr Fang Bian while he was still living in New York. First named Head-Direct, it officially began using the name HiFiMAN in 2007. Two small production units emerged in China in 2010 before the headquarters were moved to Tianjin in 2011.
HiFiMAN mainly produces hi-fi headphones featuring Planar Magnetic technology, such as the HiFiMAN HE-500, which was acclaimed by the specialized press and eventually replaced by the HiFiMAN HE-560. As these headphones have a low sensitivity rating, a headphone amplifier is a must. Because few models on the market were able to fully explore the potential of HiFiMAN headphones, the Chinese manufacturer decided to produce specially adapted headphone amplifiers.
Among the products in HiFiMAN’s catalog, the HiFiMAN Sundara, HiFiMAN HE560 and HiFiMAN Shangri-La Jr headphones rank high on audiophile wish-lists, alongside the HiFiMAN EF100 headphone amplifier, which features a tube preamplifier and a USB DAC.
Founded in 1988, Shanling is a high tech company that designs, develops and produces DAPs, portable headphone amplifiers, hi-fi earphones, CD/SA-CD players, hi-fi amplifiers and many other hi-fi devices.
Notably, the brand produced the high-end Shanling M5 DAP (Asahi Kasei AK4490 DAC, 32-bit/384kHz compatible, USB DAC mode) and the ultra-compact Shanling M1. They were both released in 2016 and were a big success.
The Chinese manufacturer’s expertise is currently illustrated through the successors of these two best-sellers: the entry-level Shanling M0 and the flagship Shanling M5S. The intermediate models are the Shanling M2S and the Shanling M2X.
Cayin is one of the first Chinese high fidelity brands to have conquered the West, especially with its tube hi-fi amplifiers that are regularly lauded by the specialized press for their natural and lively sound.
Cayin was founded in 1993 with the goal of producing the best audio devices possible at competitive prices. Since then, the manufacturer has developed several hundred devices, including headphone amplifiers, tube hi-fi amplifiers, preamplifiers, stereo hi-fi amplifiers and CD players. More recently, Cayin has expanded its catalog with DAPs, USB DACs, audio network players and portable headphone amplifiers.
Among the Chinese manufacturer’s most popular stereo hi-fi amplifiers are the Cayin CS-55A EL34, which also has a vacuum tube version using KT88 tubes (Cayin CS-55A KT88). We were very impressed by the latter during our review (discover our review of the Cayin CS-55 KT88).
Equipped with a pair of iconic 300B tubes and a dedicated external power supply, the Cayin HA-300 headphone amplifier is also a reference in its field. As for the Cayin N8 DAP, it remains one of the best models available on the market today and is the only one with a tube preamplification section. Chinese manufacturers know how to innovate…
Aune Audio is one of China’s leading companies specializing in high quality digital audio. It is famous for its headphone amplifiers (the Aune Audio X7S, for example) and its USB audio DACs (including the Aune T1 SE model with its tube preamplifier). Aune Audio products combine an attractive design with solid technical specs to deliver great audio quality at a reasonable price.
The iBasso brand is very popular with traveling audiophiles, who have enjoyed its high-quality DAPs for over a decade. Founded in 2006, iBasso Audio also specializes in designing and manufacturing amplified portable audio DACs and in-ear headphones.
In 2011, iBasso successfully bypassed the ALSA Android driver and developed the world’s first Android-powered DAP with 24-bit/192kHz compatibility: the iBasso DX100.
Among the in-ear headphones sold by the Chinese manufacturer, the iBasso IT01s with their 10mm drivers offer a very musical sound despite their very reasonable price.
Xiaomi was founded in April 2010 as a software company to create a new custom ROM based on Android. The goal was to provide an operating system for smartphones with additional features that Android did not yet offer with an intuitive interface. MIUI, the ROM created by the team, has become a huge success and has been implemented on many smartphones.
In 2011, Xiaomi released the Mi One smartphone. The company demonstrated that it could not only create its own software, but also produce its own devices. With the Mi One, Xiaomi offered a high-end smartphone at a very competitive price. Making the best technology accessible to everyone has been the company’s philosophy since its creation.
Over the years, Xiaomi made a name for itself in the mobile telephone market before branching out. Today, the Chinese manufacturer’s catalog is extremely diverse: smartphones, smart objects (light bulbs, lamps, detectors, cameras, smart bracelets), small household appliances, electric scooters, headphones, video projectors, network media players… You can even find luggage! Their electric scooter is possibly one of the most popular models in the world. You’ve probably already come across one, if you don’t own one yourself!
The design and finish of its products, which are always highly sophisticated, as well as their intuitive functionality, have even earned Xiaomi the nickname of Chinese Apple.
It goes without saying that not all audio and video devices made in China are created equal. You can often find poor-quality devices in supermarket high-tech aisles that perpetuate the negative reputation of “Made in China” products.
But you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! There are many Chinese hi-fi and high-tech manufacturers who are passionate about their trade and who strive to produce sophisticated, elegant and high-performance devices.
Don’t hesitate to try these devices in one of the many Son-Video.com stores. They are proof of how the Chinese market has truly reinvented itself.