Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Articles

Chi-Fi in the Time of Self-Righteous Indignation

Chi-fi has rather strangely become part of the communal lexicon and we think folks need to rethink that entire practice.

Collection of earphones made in China

An ugly trend has developed on social media and in some audio forums regarding Chi-fi and we think there needs to be a wider community discussion about its use. 

Whether we want to acknowledge or not, the use of the phrase “Chi-fi” has derogatory connotations. It was originally coined to reference the start-up Chinese audio industry and even then, it came with the understanding that the products being labeled as such were inferior to their more developed counterparts coming from the United States, Canada, U.K, France, Germany, and Japan. 

It parallels the early days of Japanese car sales in North America when it was not uncommon to hear them referred to as “Jap Junk” which was more blatantly racist and derogatory but also carried roughly the same sentiment.      

For those who would argue that the term is merely a reference to where the products are being made, I ask the question, then why do we not have Kor-fi, Ger-fi, US-fi, and Jap-fi? We don’t identify other products by country of origin which goes to negate part of that argument.  

The remainder of the argument can be quickly called out by the fact that people are quick to exclude certain Chinese-made products (HiFiMan as one example) as not qualifying as Chi-fi. If some products are excluded, what are the grounds for inclusion in the class? Obviously, it isn’t just the country of origin that is being used to make the distinction.  

The term isn’t applied to Western brands whose products are produced in China. Many American, Canadian, and British brands have production facilities in China including KEF, NAD, Wharfedale, Quad, PSB, Cambridge Audio, Polk, and many others. Consumers seem perfectly fine buying those products manufactured in China because that reality saves them money. 

What about companies that source parts from China but then assemble them elsewhere?    

Campfire Audio faced a backlash for having some parts fabricated in China because their ad copy stated the product was American-made, while many other companies have been given a pass for moving production to China and using the term “Designed in” instead of “Made in” in their advertising.

How is a product designed in Germany and made on a Chinese production line, using Chinese parts and Chinese labor inherently better than a product designed in China? This seems to suggest that Chinese audio engineers are not as competent as those in the rest of the world.   

There is a word for that right?

What percentage of the parts used in a product have to be made in China? Many Chinese brands are now using Sonion and Knowles drivers so essentially the shell is made in China, but the internals may all be made elsewhere.   

Some of the boutique “Made in America” IEMs may have more Chinese-made parts than many that are labeled as “Chi-fi”.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Many will cite Chinese labor practices and intellectual property laws (or lack thereof) as reasons for disliking and avoiding Chinese-made products. There is no question that the situation in Xinjiang and the treatment of the Uyghurs is a major human rights issue and that some companies have chosen profit over people. Anger on social media in the West regarding the topic ranges from outright hostility towards the CCP to a weird level of indifference.

China’s suppression of free speech in Hong Kong should raise red flags throughout the West, but many only care about how cheaply they can get their new iPhone.

Meanwhile a lot of those same people continue to support Western companies that are benefitting from that same labor. If we are going to claim the moral high ground, don’t we have to be consistent about it and not support companies that are profiting from those practices?

The answer to what qualifies for the Chi-fi moniker unfortunately is perceived quality. The insinuation is that Chi-fi only encompasses low-quality Chinese-made products. If it was designed elsewhere it doesn’t qualify, and if it has a high enough price point, it doesn’t qualify. If that doesn’t smack of bigotry, I don’t know what does.    

Honda very quickly proved that its “Jap Junk” could outlast Western offerings and is now known as one of the most reliable automobile brands in the world. Much the same, many of the budget Chinese IEMs offer construction quality that rivals anything on the market, and some have the sound quality to match, yet they still have this albatross of a moniker to overcome.   

I think the time has come to retire the name, it may have started out as a somewhat catchy play on Chinese and Hi-fi, but it has taken on a meaning that is insulting and counterproductive as the products being released today are quite competitive and don’t deserve to be branded with a term that has negative implications.

So, if we drop the term from our lexicon, what do we replace it with? I propose we don’t replace it. Like what we are seeing in so many places today, the fact that we feel the need to distinguish one from another is divisive and not helpful. Why can’t headphones just be headphones?

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. James Tremblay

    July 2, 2021 at 12:18 pm

    Typically German, British and other such manufacturers who use Chinese labor supply the parts they choose to use; they do not buy off the shelf Chinese caps, resistors, drivers, etc. The term Chi-fi is used about Chinese gear that is, whether you PC fools want to admit it or not, inferior in both design and construction, sold cheaply on eBay and includes such travesties as DartZeel knock-offs, fake Krell gear, fake Quad electronics, etc. Audio is not a hobby that needs to have your two cents on political correctness thrown in. Chi-fi is, always has been and always will be subject to extreme caution. That you even wrote these, to me, negates the quality and accuracy of anything you review and/or comment on. Unless, of course, you are Chinese as well, in which case kudos for waving the red flag.

    • Ian White

      July 2, 2021 at 1:31 pm

      James,

      1. Calling us “PC” is one of the strangest things I’ve read in a long time. I’m possibly the least PC audio reviewer around and take a daily beating on social media for being Jewish, Conservative, and a staunch supporter of Israel. 1/2 of my family lives in Israel and I’m the grandson of survivors. I would be careful about tossing around that comment at any of our staff who are all quality people who have the right to express their views.

      2. Perhaps because you don’t spend enough time behind the scenes in the industry, you don’t see how the term is used by “audiophiles” on many social media platforms in a derogatory manner about Chinese companies, Chinese engineers, and Chinese products.

      3. We know that the high-end brands don’t use off-the-shelf components in their factories in China, but they are also extremely quiet about the behavior of the Chinese government and their use of slave labor. Out of sight? Out of mind?

      PC? Don’t make me laugh.

      Ian White

  2. Phil

    July 4, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    Marantz, Denon, Polk Audio are now produced in Vietnam…anyone remember the predictions Nixon et al made about where this nation would go??? Quality control is unknown in China and many of what I have bought from HDMI cables, AC adopters have been inferior…I ended up buying a premium American made HDMI long cable and it works always…V-2,V-1 rockets were made in Germany by Slave Labor…China is a bad actor but when in doubt…look at the profits U can make…

    • Ian White

      July 4, 2021 at 2:25 pm

      Phil,

      It’s very strange what is going on. Some of the Chinese brands like Questyle and Topping make excellent products with superb QC. As good as anything made in N. America or Europe. KEF, PSB, NAD, Bluesound, Quad, Wharfedale and others have their loudspeakers manufactured and assembled in China and the quality is excellent. They do it there because it’s dramatically cheaper than a similar setup in Ontario, or England. It’s about profit margins.

  3. Erik L Scott

    July 7, 2021 at 10:30 pm

    For me I feel that it’s how individuals infer the word. Originally I believe it was meant as better performing for a dollar audio products. Maybe I’m wrong. I also myself don’t feel it’s a derogatory term. Because for me my view is that the term is meant to be better performing per dollar audiophile borderline quality. I think of it in a positive manner. Because let’s be honest some of the brands that have emerged are actual contenders in the audiophile world. Look at the legacy line of iems by a very popular seller. And there are tons of what I would consider expensive $500 or more iems by very good manufacturers that are still be considered ChiFi. I tell people I’m into this chifi Thing and proud of it. I also communicate with a lot of sellers over there and have what I feel are very nice relationships. I have certain people that I deal with on the almost daily level. I think the Chinese culture itself is a phenomenal culture. Yes even if it is communist and it does have its shortcomings but every country has its shortcomings. For myself I’m going to continue using the term and wearing it proudly and I’m a 6’5 500 lb blonde hair blue-eyed American Norwegian. Thanks guys

    • Ian White

      July 8, 2021 at 12:20 am

      Erik,

      I like your philosophy in regard to this. I do think some people use the term in online forums as a derogatory phrase. I don’t hear people saying “Jap-Fi,” or “Ger-Fi.”

      The truth is that there are people in China who make cheap knock-offs of established products and you will never see us write anything nice about those.

      On the other hand, there are Chinese companies (Questyle, Topping) making excellent products that I would proudly own. 1More? I own 3 pairs of their headphones.

      HiFiMan? I own 6 pairs of their headphones.

      I think people should keep the politics out of it and just appreciate good products for what they are. Good products.

      IW

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

Articles

Looking to build a great sounding stereo system for under $6,500? The Wharfedale Linton Heritage Speakers are a great place to start.

Articles

Build a complete audiophile-grade stereo system around the Acoustic Energy AE1 Active Bookshelf Loudspeakers for under $4,500.

Car Speakers

The Lotus KEF partnership has created a premium car audio system for the new Lotus Elmira. LS50s in a Lotus?

Articles

Klipsch and Wharfedale loudspeakers can work exceptionally well in smaller spaces with the right components and setup for under $4,000.

Advertisement

ecoustics is the unbiased resource for the latest technology news, coolest gadgets, and best consumer electronics. Plus get product reviews, roundups and deals from all over the web on everything electronic. Read more



Copyright © 1999-2021 ecoustics | Disclaimer: ecoustics may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.