For as long as I can remember, and trust me it is a long time. The thought of buying audio equipment made in China was laughable to anyone with ears and a budget that cracked the ten dollar ceiling. It wasn’t just the fact that overall build quality was abysmal but the sound was akin to that offered by a Dixie cup phone system.
Jump forward to 2010 and not only is China making pretty much everything consumed on the planet (and possibly nearby planets) but electronics and the technologies that manufacture them have progressed to the point where top audio companies often have their products assembled there.
Internet only audio companies like Emotiva design their products in the US and have them built in China. Removing the middleman and selling direct to the public already allows these companies to sell quality equipment for far less than the competition, having it built in China demolishes the old world pricing structure. Many established, high end companies have moved their manufacturing to china but must retain their expensive brick and mortar distribution chain. I am going to address this change in relation to headphone amps and not how it has changed, for better or worse, the overall audio industry.
A number of individuals in China saw a demand the major manufacturers had failed to address. Reasonably priced amps, both for home and portable use were almost nonexistent. Companies like Little Dot and Matrix began with a single person building amps on the weekend. Sales quickly pushed dozens of these startups into full time production. Selling their wares on Ebay or through simple websites kept costs down and word of mouth overcame the fear of ordering directly from a business based in China.
If you are new to audiophile headphones it is important that you do your research before making a purchase but don’t immediately dismiss a Chinese product, it may be the best purchase you make in this hobby. In later articles I will discuss the types of amps available and why you may want more than one. As always, I encourage you to post your questions, suggestions, and comments. This passion keeps growing because of a tight knit community of which you and I are now members.