The Great Sound of Chi-Fi

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The Great Sound of Chi-Fi
As a long-time audiophile and music lover, I’ve often been asked by friends what I think of Chi-fi or Chinese brands making hi-fi gear. Today’s hi-fi products from China are actually pretty decent. Actually, some are actually excellent!
Visit the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and the proliferation of China branded electronics is quite staggering. They’re ready to do battle with powerhouses in this arena, and the positive reviews by the audio press has increased their acceptance.
Even the venerable What H-Fi magazine has started featuring and reviewing Chinese-made audio products.
If you’ve ever trawled through the online space for audio products, you’ll most definitely be greeted by a mind-boggling array of these products.
SilverStreak will guide you through the great wall of Chinese hi-fi gear and show you how best to select and set them up for the home or when on-the-road.
Chi-fi For The Home
The Great Sound of Chi-Fi
HiFiMan Sundara Closed Headphone
The Great Sound of Chi-Fi
Cayin iHA6 Headphone Amplifier
Chi-fi brands in this space are pretty far from household audiophile brand names. Brands like S.M.S.L., Topping, Gustard, Denafrips, and Cayin, have been around for some time, and are available for demo and sale in Singapore via local distributors like SAM Audio, Zeppelin & Co. and Vinshine Audio, among others.
You can also get them online, but ensure that the voltage ratings are suitable for Singapore use, and meet local safety standards.
To upgrade your existing CD or DVD/ Blu-ray player and bring the audio up to scratch, the Denafrips Iris DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter), is an amazing value proposition, utilizing technologies from its more expensive siblings.

If, however, you’d like to downsize your audio equipment, your best bet would be to go for an all-in-one player/amplifier like the SMSL A300 Bluetooth Amplifier, which could easily drive your bookshelf speakers or a PC setup that’s also used as an entertainment centre for movies and music.

It has two analogue inputs for an external source like a CD player, and a USB input for any digital music files you may have stored on an external hard drive. With Bluetooth 5.0 functionality you can stream your favourite music from your mobile phone or tablet without dropping audio quality (for more on streaming audio read our earlier article here).
If your needs veer more towards headphone audio for the home, then the Cayin iHA-6 gets a thumbs up!
Connect it to your existing CD player, plug in your exotic headphones and be prepared for audio bliss. It’s innovative current and gain control technology maximises compatibility with even the most difficult to drive headphones in your arsenal. With two sets of inputs and four headphone outputs, no task is too demanding for this little powerhouse.
If you’re looking to upgrade your headphones, models from the well-respected Chinese brand HiFiMan should be on your shortlist, with the Sundara Closed-Back a favourite among the audio community.
Chi-fi On The Go
The Great Sound of Chi-Fi
Moondrop Sparks
The Great Sound of Chi-Fi
Fiio FH9
The Great Sound of Chi-Fi
Lotoo PAW-S2
IEM’s or in-ear monitors are the widest and most commonly found Chi-fi products in the market. The popularity of mobile phones, tablets and to a certain extent, portable audio players, have given rise to this segment of the audio market.
Chi-fi IEM’s may deliver excellent audio quality, but it’s usually at the expense of fancy packaging, a companion app for your mobile phone to adjust settings, and other bells and whistles you’d normally expect from a premium brand.
What consumers are slowly finding out is that these affordable products can hold their own against the established brands.
Some of the better-known Chi-fi head-fi (headphone hi-fi) brands available for audition and sale in Singapore include Shanling, HiFiMan, Fiio, iBasso, Moondrop, DDHiFi, and TinHiFi.
Wired IEM’s, Portable DACs & Wireless Earbuds

For budget wired IEM’s TinHiFi, KZ and Moondrop come to mind. The TinHiFi T3 Plus is an incredibly affordable earphone using a Liquid Crystal Polymer Diaphragm and 3D printing technology to simulate the best engineering for comfort.

This technology allows the T3 Plus to achieve a good fit, even if you wear it over long periods. For an even less expensive alternative, the KZ ZS10PRO offers amazing value.
Featuring multiple drivers to handle the various audio frequencies and a highly resistant resin outer shell, it’s a wonder how the company has managed to fit so much tech into a tiny device the size of a thumbnail!
For something a little more up-market, the Fiio FH9 has been known to compete positively with the big boys. The FH9 features a semi-open acoustic design resulting in a more natural, comfortable experience.
Most people would probably connect these earphones directly to their phone. However, for better audio performance, a portable DAC/Amp would be the way to go. These devices can be connected to your phone via the supplied connecting cable(s).
The Hidizs S8 is a wonderful option for owners of Android or iOS devices. It supports native DSD and High-Resolution Audio (HRA) playback in a slim, light case that’s easily pocketable and comes with the necessary connecting cables.
Another option with similar features is the Shanling UA2. It even has a companion app for your Android phone to help with any settings or equalization if required. And if you want to up the audio ante further, then the Lotoo PAW S2 deserves an audition.
Featuring top grade components, superlative audio engineering and Tidal MQA decoding as standard, its all-round audio format support, remote control functionality and musical coherence make this a winner in my book.
However, if you’re looking at “cutting the cord”, then the Truly Wireless options are a must.
As long as the earbuds utilize at least the Bluetooth 5.0 and above protocol, have long battery life, and the latest chipsets, you’ll be assured of connection stability and high-fidelity audio, as long as your mobile device supports it.
Options to consider include the ridiculously inexpensive Earfun Free 2 and Moondrop Sparks. Both these models support the Bluetooth 5.2 protocol, wireless charging, long playback times and astute engineering.
Digital Audio Players (DAP)
The Great Sound of Chi-Fi
Credit: Photo of a proud new grandmother and her beloved grandson
Photo Courtesy of Ling family
If you listen to music while commuting via your mobile phone, why would you need another device like a Digital Audio Player (DAP)? Well, a smartphone is a jack-of-all-trades, while a DAP is dedicated only for music.
From the component quality, design, construction and internal layout of the components, everything is dedicated to achieving the best audio performance possible. DAP’s have independent DAC and amplification chipsets to make your headphones and IEMs sing with exceptional music and audio performance.
A DAP also has multiple headphone output ports including both single-ended as well as balanced ports, and if you use Android-based digital audio players, you get access to the entire play store library of applications like Spotify and Tidal as well.
Storage sizes are also huge, so you can transfer high resolution music files over to your DAP for many hours (or days) of musical bliss.
The iBasso DX170 is a great budget alternative to get you started. This pocketable, Android 11 powered music player gives you a taste of the high-end, and appeals to all levels of music lovers.
The similarly priced Hiby R5II is also one to consider as it comes with a Class A discrete transistor balanced amplifier pushing the purest audio to the 2.5mm and 4.4mm headphone jacks.
For those demanding the very best performance, then the Questyle QP Master deserves a long listen. It utilises the company’s patented Current Mode Amplification technology which provides listeners with an experience of being there and listening to the original sound.
Owning Chinese Hi-Fi products can be an obsession and searching for a great bargain is akin to the thrill of a hunt. Relatively low pricing, coupled with a vast array of options make them a great starting point for the audio hobbyist. Give them a listen and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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Leon Pereira

The Silver techie who enjoys good sound and gadgets that make life more enjoyable.

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