原创翻译:龙腾网 http://www.ltaaa.com 翻译:聂小璐 转载请注明出处

the wonderful world of Chinese HI-FI
The best pair of $20 earbuds you’ll ever buy

中国HI-FI的奇妙世界
你花20美元能买的最好的耳塞



When most people need a new pair of earbuds, they’re picking from a pretty small set of brands, usually chosen from Amazon or, worse, the Apple Store. Then there are the outliers, the ones who haunt forums like Head-Fi, who speak knowledgeably about balanced armature versus dynamic drivers, who test their equipment and produce frequency charts. Increasingly, those outliers — a subset of audiophile culture — are obsessed with a wide variety of no-name Chinese brands selling earbuds that often cost less than $25. The outlier obsessives buy these by the dozen from the back pages of AliExpress, write or perform exhaustively researched reviews on blogs and YouTube, and debate endlessly the pros and cons of headphones that cost about as much as a large pizza.

大多数人需要买一副新的耳塞时,他们都会从少数几家品牌中选购,通常是从亚马逊或者更差劲的是苹果商店中挑选。不过也有一些不随大流的人,他们经常出现在像Head Fi这样的论坛里,这些人对动铁单元有着很好的了解,他们会测试自己的设备并绘制频率响应图。越来越多的人正成为上述的不随大流之人,成为音频发烧友的一员、痴迷于各式各样的不知名的中国品牌,这些品牌的耳塞售价往往不到25美元。这类小众的发烧友从阿里速卖通的主页上买了一堆耳机,在博客和油管上撰写和发表详细的研究评价,并且不断的讨论各款耳机的优劣,这些耳机的价格仅仅相当于一个比萨饼。

Online, the phenomenon is known as “Chi-fi” — a mashup of “Chinese” and “high-fidelity.” It’s usually used to refer to portable audio gear — they’re almost always earbuds, which sit outside the ear canal like AirPods, or in-ear monitors (IEMs), which have squishy tips and actually go inside the ear canal — that come from essentially anonymous Chinese companies. It’s a twist on the strange shadow marketplace you enter when you search for something basic on Amazon (“iPhone case,” “boxer briefs”) and end up with pages upon pages of Chinese brands you’ve never heard of. The names of the companies are fluid, the prices are incredibly cheap, and the listings are bare bones or confusing. As a reasonable consumer, you assume that nothing priced at six dollars can possibly be good. But Chinese hi-fi offers the best possible version of that world. What if the brands were unknown and the prices bizarrely low — but the product was actually good?

在网络上,这种现象被称为“Chi-Fi”,这个单词是“中国”和“高保真”的混合体,通常是指便携式音频设备、几乎都是耳塞,或如AirPods之类的平头塞、或者就是入耳式耳塞(塞头柔软、实际上是塞入耳道内的),这些耳塞基本上都出自不知名的中国公司之手。当你在亚马逊上搜索一些基本的东西如iPhone手机壳、boxer内裤时,你就会进入了一个奇奇怪怪的小众市场,你会发现一页又一页你闻所未闻的中国品牌。这些公司的名字是不固定的,价格则是难以置信的便宜,这些商品清单会让你无比困惑。作为一个理智的消费者,你可能认为:6美元的价格不可能买到好东西。但中国的HI-FI设备却能提供这种价位上最棒的产品。如果品牌不明、价格低得离奇,但产品的确很好呢?



Most name-brand audio companies actually make their products in China, so it makes sense that homegrown companies would have an advantage on price. The concentration of equipment, expertise, and raw material has made for many hotspots of semi-DIY electronics manufacturing, most famously in Shenzhen. This is one of the few places on Earth, and certainly the biggest, where you can buy a shipping container full of plastic earbud bodies, cables, drivers, and all the other parts needed to make earbuds. Shenzhen and other Chinese cities like it are the perfect birthplace for these companies. That said, the origin story for each individual brand is a little bit different. Some start as original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, meaning they actually make that name-brand stuff for Beats or Shure or whomever. “Some of them are just trading companies, some are engineers that left another factory, it’s every possible variation,” says Mike Klasco, an audio engineering consultant who has been scouting factories throughout Asia for 35 years.

大多数知名音响公司、实际上都是在中国生产产品的,所以本土公司在价格上占优势也是合情合理。设备、专业知识和原材料都很容易获得,从而电子制造“半DIY”大行其道,其中以深圳最为著名。这是地球上为数不多的几个电子市场之一、当然也是最大的一个,在深圳你可以购买到一个装满塑料耳塞腔体、线材、发音单元和所有其他制作耳塞所需部件的集装箱。深圳等中国城市、是这类公司的完美孕育地。也就是说,每个品牌的起源故事都有点不同,有些公司最初是原始设备制造商(OEM),这意味着他们实际上是为Beats、舒尔或其他公司代工名牌产品的;音频工程顾问Mike Klasco说:“其中一些可能只是贸易公司,另一些则是从其他厂家离职的工程师,任何可能性都有”,35年来Mike Klasco一直在亚洲各地寻找工厂。

This kind of quality is possible because the relevant components — the cables, the casing, the drivers, the wiring — are all relatively cheap, even at the highest quality. The diaphragm of the tiny speaker inside an earbud may cost as little as five cents, or as much as four dollars for a diamond-coated version. And for earbuds and IEMs, the quality of the components translates directly to the quality of the product. If you have top-tier drivers and circuitry, your product will sound very good, even if the build quality is a little off. (This is different from, say, a pair of shoes, where the best-quality leather and foam won’t necessarily translate to a comfortable fit.)

质量出人意料的好也是有可能的,因为相关的部件如线材、腔体、单元、接插件都相对便宜,甚至质量可能还是最好的。耳塞里的微型扬声器的振膜可能只需要5美分、一个金刚石涂层的版本可能只需要4美元。而对于耳塞来说,配件质量直接会直接关系到产品的质量。如果你有顶级的单元和电路、那么你的产品听起来就会非常的棒,即使制作质量差一点也没关系。(这与一双鞋子不同,比如最好的皮革加上最好的泡沫、也不一定能带来舒适的贴合感。)

People also care about audio gear in a way they don’t care about so many of the other electronics manufactured in those Chinese tech hubs. Nobody will spend a week researching the best portable battery charger, USB cables, or smartphone mount for their car. Those are binary utilitarian obxts: they either work or they don’t. Audio is different. There’s a much wider range between good and bad; there are fashion and design concerns, different use cases, different brand alignments. A Bose person is different from a Grado person. And since most customers don’t have the time or money to test out each brand, most of us end up relying on well-known brands that you can count on delivering a pretty good experience.

人们对音响设备的关心程度、不亚于他们对中国科技中心生产的其他电子产品的关心程度。没有人会花一周时间去研究谁家出的便携式电池充电器、USB线或智能手机底座最好,这些东西都是非黑即白:即它们要么好使要么不好使。但音频设备就不太一样了,优与劣的评价要宽泛得多,是否时尚、设计是否合理、品牌定位是否合理等。Bose粉与歌德粉又是不一样的(译注:这俩都是耳机品牌)。而且由于大多数客户并没有时间或金钱来测试每个品牌,大多数人最终都只能依赖于知名品牌,而这些品牌可以为您带来相当好的体验。

Of course, premium branding means premium profits, too. “Best Buy might get a 50 percent markup,” says Klasco. For name-brand audio companies, the cost comes with extensive testing, design, marketing, staff overhead, packaging, shipping, and multiple cuts of the pie from manufacturer to wholesaler to retailer.

当然了,知名品牌也意味这商家的利润非常高。“百思买可能会加价50%”Klasco说。对于名牌音响公司来说,成本来自于大量的测试、设计、营销、员工管理费用、包装、运输以及从制造商到批发商再到零售商的层层抽利。

Chinese brands cut out all of that stuff. Only the biggest and most ambitious of these companies even bother with a website; most of them have little more than a vendor page on AliExpress. Some of these companies buy their drivers — the actual speakers — from the same factories that provide Sennheiser and Beats with theirs. Tin Audio uses Knowles balanced armature drivers for its T3 model; those are the most important thing inside this product. Those same drivers, or at least very similar ones, can also be found in Ultimate Ears IEMs that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The factories that make the drivers don’t care who they sell to; they maintain a certain level of quality because their clients depend on that. And once you’ve sourced the parts, it’s not expensive at all to put them together. “If you have a van and a bottle of glue,” Klasco says, “you can be in the business.”

而中国品牌把所有这些中间环节都删掉了。在这些公司中、只有规模最大、最具野心雄心的公司才会为操心自家的网站,他们中的大多数公司在速卖通上仅有一个供应商页面,其中一些公司会从森海塞尔或Beats公司同一家供应商处购买驱动器(也就是发声单元)。Tin Audio公司在其T3型号中就使用娄氏的动铁单元,这些动铁单元是是该型产品中最为重要的部件。这些相同单元、或者说至少非常相似的单元、也可以在售价数百、甚至数千美元的UE(译注:UE,著名动铁耳机制造商,已被罗技收购)耳机中找到。制造动铁单元的工厂根本不在乎把单元卖给谁、所以质量水平是很稳定的,因为他们的客户十分依赖于这一点。一旦你找到了零件,把零件拼在一起的费用是很低的。Klasco 说:“你只需要有一辆货车和一瓶胶水、就可以做这个生意了。

What you sometimes end up with is a headphone with shockingly high-end internals, meaning excellent sound quality, from a company that has essentially no overhead. Those companies can still make a solid profit — if anyone can find their stuff.

所以有时候、他们最终得到的会是一款内在超级高端的产品,这也意味着卓越的音质,而这些公司基本上没有任何开销。如果有人能发现他们的产品,这些公司仍然可以获得可观的利润。

It’s difficult to say how much intellectual property theft is in the mix. There’s rampant counterfeiting going on in these same Chinese tech hub cities, and you can often find homegrown Chinese brands sitting alongside counterfeit Western products at the markets and conventions around China (and on AliExpress and Amazon, for that matter). Klasco told me that he’ll often just ask vendors at these conventions for a tour of their facilities. If they make excuses for why he can’t come visit, the company might be doing something they want to keep quiet — reselling, or counterfeiting, or worse.



A few Chinese hi-fi companies have this potential. Both Lee and Tsang mentioned Fiio and HiFiMan, both of which have actual websites for their products. Klasco actually bristled at the inclusion of HiFiMan on this list of no-name brands, although really it’s just a larger, slightly older, and more successful version of the scrappier companies. HiFiMan started as a very small Chinese manufacturer, unexpectedly found success with a few products, and ramped up quickly. “HiFiMan’s not a no-name brand at all,” says Klasco. “They do some very expensive and sophisticated stuff.” Fiio, too, has garnered acclaim from mainstream sources

有几家中国HI-FI设备公司也同样具有这种潜力,前文中的Lee和Tsang都提到过飞傲和海菲曼(HIFIMAN),他们都有自己实际网站。而Klasco实际上对海菲曼(HIFIMAN)被列入“非知名品牌”名单感到十分愤怒,尽管实际上海菲曼只是一家更大型一些、资历更老、更成功的版本不知名公司而已。海菲曼最初是一家非常小型的中国制造商,这家公司出人意料地在一些产品上获得了成功,并迅速发展了起来。Klasco表示“HiFiMan根本就不是杂牌,他们的产品非常昂贵且复杂。”飞傲公司也是如此,赢得了主流媒体的称赞。

And with an endless supply of fresh, affordable product, Chinese hi-fi brands have provided something totally new to debate. For many of these forum users, the classic audiophile gear is hopelessly out of their reach. CNET’s top-ranked audiophile headphones cost $2,400, which isn’t even that bad, comparatively. High-end speakers often cost well over $10,000. That kind of gear is totally unattainable for most people, even those who are obsessive about their audio quality. The Chinese hi-fi boom has given them a way to actually shop, purchase, compare, and analyze audio gear that’s up to their standards, which has never really happened before.

随着新鲜、实惠的产品层出不穷,中国的HIFI品牌、让人们提出了一种全新的讨论。对于论坛用户中的许多人来说,经典的HIFI设备往往贵上天、根本遥不可及。CNET公司的顶耳机售价2400美元,相对来说这都算好的了;超高端音箱的价格通常远远超过一万美元。对于大多数人来说、这种设备根本是不现实的,即使是那些对其音质着迷的人来说也是如此。而中国产H-IFI热潮为他们提供了一种实际购买、比较和分析符合他们标准的音频设备的方法,这在以前的HI-FI界是闻所未闻的。

Even the equipment that produces those frequency charts has gotten more affordable. MiniDSP makes a product for about $200 — it’s a pair of artificial ears with microphones, basically — that does a totally adequate job. That kind of equipment used to cost tens of thousands of dollars. It still does, and it’s still better, but just like the flood of cheap high-end earbuds, the MiniDSP is capable, a little weird, and affordable to all.

即使是绘制频谱图的设备也变得更便宜了,MiniDSP公司生产的产品售价约为200美元,基本上就是一对带有麦克风的人造耳朵,且完全可以胜任频谱绘制工作。那种设备在过去要几万美元,那些设备现在仍然是这个价、也仍然更好一些。但是、就像那些廉价高端耳塞的泛滥一样,MiniDSP也很好用、有点另类、而且所有人都买得起。

Given all of those cheap new toys, a little obsession is understandable. One proprietor of a Chinese hi-fi website declined an interview, saying he was “actually on hiatus from the hobby to spend time with my family.”

考虑到所有这些新玩具都很便宜、所以有点痴迷是可以理解的。中国一家HIFI网站的一位老板拒绝了采访,他说自己“实际上因为业余爱好而中断了和家人在一起的时间。”

“It’s just so easy to get into it, and you just want to try more and more and more,” says Lee. “For Chi-Fi, it’s like, oh, it’s only another 20 bucks, so why not?”

而Lee说:“入坑真的太容易了,越买就越想买,对于Chi-Fi来说,就好像:啊哦,只要20块,不买还是人吗?”