Click pics to enlarge. Lorenzo loudspeakers on silent display (maybe just as well?). Wadax electronics (ugly to many people; I'm neutral). And those garbage Goldmund towers (yes, I've heard them in HK). This lady to me looks a little like my favorite Michelle Yeo.
Guangzhou Hi End Show (AV Fair), Part V (of V), Overview, Summary and Postscript (with bonus Video)
Editor: 1) As the show was big, this is a multi-part effort; 2) If you first come to this page, I'd urge you to first read Part I for Basic Info.
Some of the equipment have featured in the Shenzhen Audio Show
that I reported on. This is relevant here: Although I did not do the China Hotel segment of this GZ show and missed some big rooms, many of the brands can be found in my coverage of the SZ show (e.g., Raido, CH Precision, Analog Source, Line Magnetic, Hanowa, Eizz, Pilium, Simaudio, Scansonic, rossofiorentino, Hegel, Gold Note, Franco Serblin, Prima Luna, Audes, Audio Analogue, Quested, Mymei, Ologe, Triangle, and more).
Overview, Summary and Postscript (with bonus Video)
After my “coverage” of the show, for this Final Part, I shall tie up loose ends, provide a video, and give you some of my very personal Thoughts and Reflections.Attendees
According to the show’s official Weixin page, it’s the world’s second-largest Audio Show
(after Munich), with more than 20,000 visitors per day (I think on Saturday; usually less on Firday and Sunday). This is likely not counting in the significant number of “VIPs” brought in without charge by exhibitors. Nonetheless, crowded as it was, given the generous real estate, it was less so than in HK Shows, and more often than not one could still sit down and listen a little
. In HK, in many rooms I had to raise my arm all the way over the crowd to even get a shot. The crowd is fairly young (especially for personal audio), good sign for the industry.Official Video
Here’s a just-issued official video which cannot be downloaded over Weixin, so I just pirated by video recording on my cell. It shows the crowds and the China Hotel section
that I dropped. You can see flashes of brands that I did not cover, like (just to name some) Albedo, Avantgarde, Line Magnetic Foshan (Analog Source) with large Horns driven by 212 amps, Duevel, Bayz, Vivid, Bergman, Dartzeel, etc. I particularly like the comparably extensive coverage of personal audio, some with aerial view! I just wish they had devoted less time to irrelevant models (both ladies and equipment).Seen and Heard
Being a one-man band and limited by my car-ride hosts’ timetable, I only had about 6 hours
inside. I wrote about most of the “real” smaller audio rooms
, which are more interesting usually, but there were many rooms that I popped my head into briefly but did not mention (like companies majoring in AV stuff, power conditioning and cables).Not Seen, Not Heard
As mentioned, I deliberately sacrificed the smaller adjacent China Hotel
location, as some of the players there I had explored in full at the SZ show (like Hanowa, Eizz, Line Magnetic Foshan and Zhuhai). Some others there also had an additional small room or have partnered with smaller exhibitors (at Eastern Hotel) to demo some of their products, which I heard. There were also large exhibitors that I was not interested in (like HK Radar). Talking about the very high end, I think the HK Shows still have even more that could be heard, not silent display (especially Swiss stuff, like Soulution, CH Precision, Steinheim, Nagra, etc). Notice I did not count Goldmund (with silent presence at this show) among them, as I personally think of Goldmund as expensive mediocrity now (some of the Swiss companies I did mention above were founded by people who left Goldmund, and they are better). I also skipped all rooms and sections devoted to CD and LP resale
(a LOT). As in shows anywhere, lots of inferior music sold at high prices.Pics and Research
Honestly, the way I popped in and out of rooms, I just prioritized my gut feeling toward the sounds. There is no way that I’d recognize all supporting equipment
. When writing the articles, I scrutinized the pics I took with my old Samsung Galaxy S7 (which, though not good, is still much better than my even older iPhone 5S which I use for Weixin). Often, I saw something I did not notice before, and I’d look at the other photos too to try to identify it (this is also because the official booklet is well-nigh useless). And on dozens of occasions, I used Google Image Search
, mostly with success (that was how I identified lifestyle product Geneva and even that awful-looking Unison Research loudspeaker, to name just two)! Amazing tool
! In previous HK shows I’d not care to provide more details, but this (and the SZ) show intrigued me in many ways, and I put in my best effort. Remember, just 6 hours with yours truly, solo! I don’t think any Western magazine man, even team (who mostly have somewhat narrow knowledge of the highest end) can do much better. In this show, it was made more difficult by the large number of not-yet prominent (but excellent) Chinese products that interest me - there is a considerable language barrier, even for someone like me who is fluent in Chinese, as it takes a different mindset to grasp all the names in Chinese
. AND most representatives didn’t know English and can only tell you the Chinese names of the Western products, or worse, the transliterated vernacular/nickname, like Nagra is 南瓜 (Pumpkin in Chinese)! :-( Trends ObservedPersonal Audio
I don’t need to emphasize this obvious worldwide trend, and it is not my beat at all. Still, the sheer scale of the product offerings here is truly astonishing
(watch the video). For headphones, the big names (Sennheiser, Beyer dynamics, AT, less so niche Stax etc) still have a strong presence, but many Chinese companies (beside the well-known HiFi Man) unknown to me are in the game too, and it’s a big and competitive world out there. When it comes to Headphone Amps and DAPs, the future for Chinese Personal Audio is even brighter. Chinese products simply offer more bang for the buck.
Would anyone around here buy Schiit? No. Is there any reason to? No (aside from a few unique models, like Valhalla and the Saga series). I shall soon be briefly reviewing a few very low-end Douk/Nobsound devices. The only earphones I have here in China is the excellent Grado SR-80e; I have no high impedance cans but that hardly matters for the budget sector. Streamers/Digital Transports
It used to be just a few players, like Korean Aurender, Chinese Auralic, HK Lumin etc, but now there are many considerably cheaper players, like the excellent and ubiquitous Matrix Sound, and also Soundaware, Puresound, AVMei, etc.
The future for Chinese streamers imho is very bright. In many ways, this is a low-tech cosmos. Basic computer knowledge packaged with a little electronics knowledge and audio know-how to “upgrade” and sell for ridiculous sums. The reckoning is here. Judging from what’s used in a large number of rooms, the cheaper stuff (still not cheap enough for me) are just as good as the expensive and overpriced stuff.
The best examples were served in the ultra-reliable (and pro) Genelec demo rooms, where the compact Matrix Audio really shone. HOWEVER, since I have not operated them hands on, I don't know how good the interfaces are. My friend Andy told me they are not very user friendly, and need improvement. Unless I’m mistaken, most, like Matrix Sound, are all-in-one, with the DAC built into the Streamer. When it comes to redbook disc spinners, Chinese CD Transports are also all over the place (most top loading; popular with DIY too), all very reasonably priced.DACs
Unlike the low end, it seems this is an area where the Chinese higher end dwell less in
. It’s not that China lacks talented digital engineers (the reverse is true) it's just that very few companies achieve international repute like Auralic and Holo Spring. But many are moving up, like SMSL.
Looking at the many digital companies on the horizon, I am confident many more names shall emerge.MQA
At the show, I was shocked to find many Chinese brands jumping on the bandwagon
. I asked the Puresound people (they make an MQA decoder), why? It’s on its deathbed in the West!
And he said, well, everything is a bit delayed in China. WELL! You know what, a few days later, while I was writing this article, I read that MQA had filed for bankruptcy
(good article)!!!! As the article said, Tidal
(which likely is the main reason for the companies to offer MQA) is unlikely to withdraw their MQA offerings any time soon.
- The Show MQA CD The SACD/CD/LPCD etc. of HK shows are bad enough, this is worse. I mean content. Just plain boring. It is supposed to be an MQA CD. When we popped it into my friend’s dCS Rossini, it didn’t display MQA. I guess the CD transport cannot extract the code. So, later we ripped it into a Lossless File (since it was a Macbook, AIFF was used) stored on an USB stick which was then played on the Rossini, and sure it displayed MQA!
Turntables The vinyl renaissance is ablaze in China
- MQA vs Redbook And, so, on my friend’s reference system of dCS, ML, Hegel, JBL 66000 (which I shall feature in this blog soon), three of us compared the MQA encoded lossless files with CD playback on the Rossini. The differences were very real. To cite just one track, Teresa Tang imitator Chen Jia 陈佳. With the CD playback, the voice at the top was a little grainy, and MQA smoothed it out, becoming “richer”. With the CD playback, although the voice was more forward, the backing instruments still retained their own details and dynamic envelopes. Switching to the MQA was a shock to me: First Impression was that sound level was lower, but this was likely due to a lower “energy level”, with loss of space and separation - now it was harder to distinguish the positions of the performers, as the singer seemed less forward and the backing instruments less distinct. There is no doubt in my mind that with the MQA, dynamics were definitely compromised, especially microdynamics. My friends are more vocal-centric people and don’t at all listen into the mix (like I do) and they seemed to like the MQA. Not me, for sure! It is also possible the AIFF file format may not be the best, but previously, when I had a desktop, I had compared it studiously with Wav on my own Macbook. While I preferred WAV by a hair, the difference was not night and day, and I used AIFF exclusively as it is friendlier to metadata, very important to this classical listener. There is also the factor that CD playback on a good CDP, which dCS certainly is, to many of us still sound better than Files (at least 44.1 ones). Personally, I have zero interest in MQA, but I have to report on it. Also, my friend has J River, but not Roon, so perhaps we shall have a re-match using the former. Don't hold your breadth.
. Like in the West, not just among audiophiles, young people too! At the lowest end, the market is driven by young people and flooded with Chinese all-in-one’s. A bit up, belt-drive Audio Technica (like the 60) still has a hold, but its position is steadily eroded by Chinese makes. Higher up, AT direct drives (like the classic 120) have many Chinese imitators (as well as Chinese belt-drives too). At this point and up, we have serious TT makers like Amari entering into high end. At the top, megabuck Chinese TTs are beginning to emerge (like Shenzhen’s EIZZ).Preamps and Amps Aside from the Digitally based segment of the industry
(usually from very low price, like Aiyima and Douk etc, to somewhat higher priced ones, like Tecsun, to even higher priced ones like SMSL), there are not so many higher end makers, especially in solid state.
There is a plethora of (interesting) cottage industries on Taobao, but few at the show. When it comes to tubes, it’s completely different. Chinese products have considerable strengths here. Take transformers, there are many people wounding transformers in China but, in the West, this is not at all true
. There are many high-end Western brands that use Chinese trannies, but due to contractual and legal limitations on disclosure, it cannot be revealed. It’s very simple really, if a brand (even “hi-end” one) does not tell you the trannies are made in-house (or Magnequest in the US and Lundahl in Europe) and you can find nothing on that, they source it from elsewhere, mostly China. And that goes for a large number of so-called Western (or Japanese) tube product manufacturers.The Chinese Low-end Tube stuff (very competitive) are all happening on Taobao
. Boyuurange (Reisong) is one of the very few that had an exhibit at the show. Some erstwhile low-priced manufacturers have moved up
(imho necessary for any manufacturer). Raphaelite (even Opera Audio at its start) is a good example. Moving on into the middle range, companies like Line Magnetic have established themselves in the West.
But, for me, particularly interesting is LM Foshan division Analog Source 安歌. They have seized my imagination with their Retro and WE-like offerings (challenging WE replica specialists Xinshe 新时 etc on their turf). But I’m not so sure of the huge fad of using SE transmitter tubes to drive less efficient loudspeakers
. Imho, this is not the way to go. Perhaps it’s a market thing. But, as I have said before, I find most of the stuff from traditional big tube manufacturers very boring (say, CJ, ARC, VAC, VTL etc) and it’s time for a new narrative. Believe me, it’s happening...Loudspeakers
Well, not yet so many commercially successful Chinese offerings! The scene is incoherent. The exception is, of course: LS3/5A clones!
These are all over the place. On TB and even in this show. Well, most of these are not “faithful replicas”, just loosely adhering to the basic sound. How successful are they? Variable, but not bad imho. As regular readers know, even before the show, I’ve had experiences with a couple, and harbor high regards for the Beydas “Stirling” (which is a faithful replica, with bespoke wound autoformers/inductors). I shall probably try to contact some of these other people (like 乐霸，江工）for review samples, but, given my pickiness, I’m by no means certain that they will entertain me. Of course, I’d like to review the upmarket “blue-blood” Rogers version too...don't hold your breath. Nonetheless, anyone who recognizes the merits of the BBC LS3/5A (plenty in HK and China) can be regarded as a pure-at-heart, and the resulting product should not be too bad - this is what I think and depend upon (at least the reference is a solid one). It particularly fits the Chinese penchant for vocal performance. What about other hi-end loudspeakers?
China has some really incredible horn stuff, but they are not at this very commercial show (aside from Xinshi, and the LM room at the China Hotel - see video). One can probably safely say a small but significant part of the future for Chinese audiophiles would be tubes and 3/5As and horns.
Of course, the middle is wide open, and the void will not be filled by Chinese companies any time soon
, imho.Who is Buying What?
This is very interesting. In the past, most Chinese regard Imports as superior, but that is changing fast. Chinese are more and more willing to look into their own brands. This shall only accelerate if the West decouples from China even more. It’s a fact that Japanese and Korean cars (not to mention lousy American counterparts) have steadily lost ground vs Chinese made ones. Slowly, that will happen in audio too.
What do Chinese in China Buy? When it comes to watches, there will always be people who buy Rolex and Patek Phillipe; people who buy Seiko Citizen Casio; people who buy Swatch; and people who just buy whatever affordable things they like and encounter. Same in audio, no matter Gringos or Chinese. There will always be the high end regardless of price and country boundaries, some thriving just on being status symbols. There will be the hotly contested middle ground, and special pockets. Chinese are no exceptions, but I’m certain they have more interest in their own products now, because the quality is more commensurate with the price. And that’s the way it should be. There are just too many absurdly over-priced “hi-end” garbage out there, mostly emanating from the West.
US vs Europe It’s obvious Europe has overtaken US in China (Taiwan and Hong Kong too). In fact, while the Chinese look to sell to the West, the West, especially the highest end, sell to Asia. Recently, I asked my friend Andy Shum, importer of niche luxurious European brands in HK, who in HK would buy his stuff? He said not many, most are sold to China. There you go! The American presence is steadily dwindling (think of ARC, CJ, etc).
What would I the cheapskate buy?
Were I starting from scratch, and were I to stay much longer in China (unlikely), here are my choices (loosely based on TB experience, what’s available at the show, and some extrapolations):Low End Cheap Taobao Offerings remain a fertile ground on which to explore new frontiers
. Say, u are interested in a “1969” Class A ss amp, well, get one for around RMB 1K and see if u think it has potential (I almost bought one from ETA, during the winter, but it’s almost summer now, and the heat...). The TB/Amazon/Ebay low end is not present at Hi-end shows, but it poses a formidable challenge to even higher price brackets. Say, you want an amp made of Purfify IET400A and Hypex modules, well for several hundred USD you can find quite a few offerings on TB.
- One Box I’ll buy the Showfeel in an instant! It’s beautiful, classy and great sounding. Yes, I prefer it to Naim, Meridian, B&W etc for the sound, not to mention the ridiculous price advantage. Not yet available in the West, I think.
- Separates - Super Budget I’d choose a pair of Chinese 3/5A clones. Even the worst of them (like the Anubis) are still relatively OK if one is not critical, but the best of them, like the Beydas (with wound autoformers/inductors), shall give even UK replicas a run for their money. A Chinese USB DAC for source. And from TB, a Chinese Preamp (like Nobsound E6, or Eastern Transmission 6N3 SRPP), and an amp (SE amp if room is not large).
- Separates - Budget to B+ Still, a Chinese 3/5A clone, USB DAC. A somewhat more expensive Chinese Preamp and Amp (say, Raphaelite). Add a cheap Amari belt drive TT and Chinese phonoamp.
- Separates - Mid Price Loudspeaker of your choice (3/5A or whatever; maybe a smaller Fyne?). I’d also seriously consider Active Genelec. Chinese Matrix Sound (or the others mentioned in report) for Streamer. Analog Source (Line Magnetic Foshan) 2A3 Preamp and 211/805/845 Amp. Add an Amari Magnetic Suspension TT. And Chinese phonoamp. Another wildcard and fantasy. German Duevel, which I didn’t cover at the China Hotel (likely just Silent display) is the cheapest of all the German Omni loudspeakers (MBL, German Physiks). I have heard them before to good effect. Their cheapest Planets and a couple of models above should belong in this category (though I have not heard them). I say this because, although I’m not exactly an omni fan, I like the fact that I am not tied to a so-called “sweet” spot. And, paradoxically, omini’s sometimes have a little bit of the horn factor and flavor.
- Separates - Hi-End Soundlab ESL, perhaps with Atmasphere Amp (the ss was very good; should check out the OTLs). For Preamp, consider the Atmasphere too but I shall likely prefer the Analog Source 2A3 mentioned above. Or perhaps the KR Audio 45 preamp? If more power is needed, I’d consider the Canor tube monoblocks. For speakers, perhaps a pair of bigger Fyne’s? Lowther could be a fun choice too (not suitable for humid locations though, due to ultra narrow gap and paper cone).. For Streamers, I’d still stick to the Chinese ones like Matrix Sound. For TT, I’d still choose the Amari magnetic suspension and Chinese phonoamp. Just because one can afford price no object doesn’t mean one has to spend more. For my taste, only nut-heads buy things like Clearaudio Statement TT (and I know a few of them).
There, I have given you my “all” but, although I am eager to conclude this series, things may yet pop into my head in days to come, so there may be revisions. I hope you have enjoyed it, as I surely had.
In fact, come August, I think I may not attend the HK show (haven’t for quite a while). the gargantuan GZ and petit SZ shows are just more fun!