Country of Origin



Writer: Srajan Ebaen

In a recent article here and on darko.audio, I broke down some of the stickum which continues to surround 'made in China' origins. Today I want to peel out a still emerging newer trend: that of current Chinese ÜberFi. Long behind us are the days when ChiFi meant just cheap 'n' cheerful tube integrateds; or "upper middle-class" value kit. Today certain makers from the Middle Kingdom propose to mix it up in the League of Leviathans established by the Western likes of the always Relentless Dan d'Agostino whose elite 1.5kW/8Ω muscle amps are mirrored by Boulder's 3050 monos. The same league hosts kilowatt beasts like the Goldmund Telos 5500 NextGen, Bryston 28B³ and Michi M8 monos. A bit lower on their power perch sit the 900-watt Accustic Arts Mono V, 800W Electrocompaniet Nemo 2, 600W 701 by Soulution, 600W X600.8 by Pass and 530W Heisenberg by Audionet.

Three Sino efforts I'm aware of that now flex similar transistor muscle are Cen.Grand's new 9i-958 class A/B monos capable of 1kW/8Ω below; AM Hifi's A1000 monos doing 900 watts; and Kinki Studio's 600-watt 791 monos with four power transformers on their lower deck above. Going with their gilded specs are matching stickers: £22K/pr for the Cen.Grand, £30K/pr for the AM Hifi, €25K/pr for the Kinki.

Here are the 9i-958 amps with their matching preamp.

Lest we think those are the limits and forget about hot glowing glass, there are Allen Wang's 30-watt €122'000/pr Melody Hifi Everest 212 monos of today's lead-in image. At 75kg each, these are true heavyweights including authentic NOS Western Electric glass. At a fraction thereof but still a very real €10K coin toss, there's Line Magnetic's LM-845 Premium integrated shown next.

Moving the opposite direction again are AM Hifi with their 833m Mk2 monos at £24K/pr [left] and the 833s Ultimate at £60'000/pr [right].

When it comes to loudspeakers, perhaps no Sino effort is grander than the ESD Acoustic $760'000 114dB 5-way Dragon system with multiple solid-state field-coil power supplies, carbon-fibre horns and all necessary electronics here represented by their DCT-1B CD transport with magnetic levitation.

On their own Hangzhou premises they also have smaller complete systems for demonstration including the fully active Avatar [lower right] which also comes as a desktop version with a 2.2T coaxial titanium mid/woofer with central beryllium tweeter and field-coil power supply.

To go designer digital we have Auralic whose present catalogue shows next. Industry insider John Darko positions this brand somewhere between Naim and dCS. That's elite company either way. It's why for today's thumbnail I deliberately combined the Swiss flag with a yellow plus sign. No this stuff isn't from that other CH but CHina. But yes it aims just as high if we know where to look. Even the CHüFi moniker with its umlaut looks swish Swissy. No coincidence there.

So there are companies behind the Silk Curtain which extend us uncompromising and unapologetic luxury propositions. Whether we find them indecent because we're not up to scratch, very real they are to demand mention, coverage and consideration whenever we do shop such strata. And there must be other brands/models I'm unaware of which also belong on this page. That makes this a mere teaser rather than any pretense at completeness. In fact, once we follow my Auralic lead as gear built in China then marketed as Western, flood gates open. Hegel and Vincent beckon. So does IAG's entire lineup including audiolab, Leak, Luxman, Mission, Quad and Wharfedale. And there are many more. Here I simply focused on brands which aren't just made in mainland China but proudly market themselves under its flag.

On that note, let's conclude with a musical reco of my favorite Chinese album of all time, Qi Feng's My Date with the Grassland on the Red Records label. It could be hard to nab up a copy but would be well worth it. I got mine ages ago at a Guangzhou Hifi Show.