The murky waters of Chi-Fi might be daunting,but therein lies some of the best audio bargains in the world.
Chi-Fi’ is the term audiophiles have endearingly given to the cheap and value for money audio equipment coming out of China. These span the whole gamut of audio devices, from in-ear headphones to portable digital audio players, even amplifiers, and DACs (digital-toanalog converters).
It is hard to say for certain when this little audio revolution of sorts began. But the proliferation of online marketplaces like Lazada, Shopee, and Carousell has made it easy for music lovers to find and buy Chi-Fi.
Bewilderment is often the first feeling that greets beginners when they start shopping for Chi-Fi. The sheer number of options can be overwhelming and it can be difficult to know where to begin. After all, can headphones that cost only $12 actually be any good?
The answer, much to my surprise, is yes. Depending on where you look, the KZ ATE can be had for as little as $11.57. You don’t get much for your money. The headphones come in a small box and all you get are a pair of headphones and a couple of extra silicon ear tips.
But what you also get is a sonic experience that leaves you wondering if other brands are mad for charging exorbitant prices when a $12 pair of headphones can sound this good. It is by no means the last word in audio fidelity, but for the cost of two McDonald’s Extra Value Meals, the KZ ATE sounds amazingly coherent and balanced.
And it is not just headphones either. The Chinese are also disrupting the amplifier and DAC space with amazing offerings. Case in point, the M6 from Shenzhen-based SMSL. The M6 is a handsome little headphone amplifier and DAC combo that accepts USB, digital coaxial, and TOSLINK inputs, and decodes up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM. Yours for around $220. A comparable desktop setup from a more established brand will cost more than double that.
However, not all products are worthy of recommendation. Some do not perform up to expectations and there are products that are outright rip-offs. Nevertheless, the rise of Chi-Fi should be viewed positively as it democratizes good sound and gets more people thinking about the gear that they are listening with.
But what you also get is a sonic experience that leaves you wondering if other brands are mad for charging exorbitant prices.