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John Atkinson
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US-made audio a dying breed?

We have just shipped the December issue of Stereophile to the printer, which includes the magazine's annual "Products of the Year" feature.

While I was compiling the list of winning products from the votes submitted by the magazine's writers, something struck me: of the 63 contenders (chosen by the writers from what we have reviewed in our November 2004 thru October 2005 issues), the majority were manufactured outside the USA.

Specifically, 21 of the products were designed and manufactured in the USA, 2 were designed in the USA but manufactured in China or Taiwan, and 40 were designed and manufactured outside the US (with Canada, Italy, Great Britain, China, and Taiwan most represented).

We don't deliberately pick foreign-made products for review, nor do we boycott domestic companies. So why this imbalance?

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dcrowe
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?


Quote:

Specifically, 21 of the products were designed and manufactured in the USA, 2 were designed in the USA but manufactured in China or Taiwan, and 40 were designed and manufactured outside the US (with Canada, Italy, Great Britain, China, and Taiwan most represented).

The fraction of US-connected products is 23/63 = 36.5%. This is much higher than the 21% that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) represents of the total global figure, using data from 2004 at the CIA World Fact Book site.

The first question this raises is, why does the U.S. contribute more than its "fair share" of audio equipment by GDP? The answer is, of course, that we expect a larger contribution from the U.S. in technology-based and consumer-based categories, because the U.S. has more technology-based industry, and the U.S. has more free disposable consumer income.

The second question, then, is: why do you think that 36.5% is a low number? In the past, the fraction made in the U.S. was probably higher, but as global technology and consumer activities increase, that fraction may be expected to decline, eventually approaching the 21% number (updated for its own decline over time). If costs continue to be higher in the U.S. then we may expect the U.S. fraction to eventually fall below the fraction of GDP the U.S. represents. The savings by manufacturing in China is roughly 20% in my limited experience.

There is no technology being used in audio that is exclusive to the U.S., unlike some defense activities, for example. In fact many audio technology leaders like DEQX and Halcro are not U.S. based. As technology advances, DSP will eventually make high-end audio performance more affordable, and the line between the specialty manufacturer market (where the U.S. can compete) and the mass market (where the U.S. is more expensive) will eventually disappear.

Editor
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?


Quote:
The fraction of US-connected products is 23/63 = 36.5%. This is much higher than the 21% that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) represents of the total global figure, using data from 2004 at the CIA World Fact Book site.

Of course. But as Stereophile is exclusively concerned with products that are offered for sale in the USA, I had incorrectly assumed that US-made products would predominate our choice of what to review.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dcrowe
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?


Quote:

Quote:
The fraction of US-connected products is 23/63 = 36.5%. This is much higher than the 21% that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) represents of the total global figure, using data from 2004 at the CIA World Fact Book site.

Of course. But as Stereophile is exclusively concerned with products that are offered for sale in the USA, I had incorrectly assumed that US-made products would predominate our choice of what to review.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Quite so, but the U.S. market is strongly influenced by the international market, unless and until import laws become more restrictive. Analogously, some of the domestic automotive offerings are made elsewhere, and some of the Japanese and european brands are now manufacturing in the U.S. As long as this market is relatively open, I think the world economic view holds useful insight. There are some differences in safety and emissions equipment between the U.S. and other countries' automotive offerings, which might be compared to 120 VAC 60 Hz, versus 240 VAC 50 Hz, and to PAL versus NTSC in the entertainment markets. Given that the vast majority of video equipment in this country originates overseas, audio is actually relatively parochial so far.

jamesgarvin
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

"But as Stereophile is exclusively concerned with products that are offered for sale in the USA, I had incorrectly assumed that US-made products would predominate our choice of what to review."

John, I am not sure why you would make that assumption. Consider that there is not a video recorder for sale in the United States that was not made in the Far East. Nor, I understand, a television. On the other hand, I could reasonably understand such an assumption to the extent that because Stereophile's review coverage is significantly composed of high end audio products manufactured by smaller companies which are not making product in bulk that they are more likely to be made in the United States, or the country of the companies' origin.

Obviously, these companies are not publicizing the point of origin for their manufacturing operations. I remember years ago about whether Adcom was manufacturing in the Far East. Some saying yes, some no, some saying they had "heard" rumors, some saying the sound of the amplifiers was negatively affected. But through all the discussions, I do not rememember anyone from Adcom stepping forward to discuss the matter.

I think that the car analogy is not applicable. I suspect that the Japanese automobile manufacturers produce vehicles here because it is difficult to ship from Japan as many cars as necessary to meet demand in the United States. The costs of shipping would be high given the space requirements of an automobile, and probably eat more into the profit than the difference in wages. Better to manufacture the vehicle in the United States and deliver them by rail or truck to the dealer. I suspect that no such space constraints are present for amplifiers, et al.

As I am typing this, I am at work. I do not recall, but does Stereophile publish this information in the review? Does the manufacturer tell you where the product was assembled? If not, would they, if asked? Or is that information they would prefer to keep to themselves? I am curious, though; Is there a particular component(s) that seem(s) to be manufactured in the U.S. more so than others?

Buddha
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

I blame Sam Tellig.

I bet if you took Sam Tellig out of the mix with his Italophile and Anglophile leanings, the mix would move in favor of the U.S.

Let's get him into California cuisine, give him a tour of the Spectral and Infinity/Revel/Harmon factories and see what he comes up with!

As an aside, I would wager that Canada would be very over-represented in the high end based on population and economic data.

templeboy
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

As a reviewer serving greater China area, I must say that US-BRANDED audio has been flourishing in the region in recent years. This is partially due to the soaring euro in the global context.

Is US-MADE audio a dying breed? It probably is. Without naming names, quite a few US makers outsource manufacturing in greater China region, while declaring it is made in US. Since there is almost nothing new under the sun in the field technology-wise, why not take the advantage of competitive labor cost overseas? It is International Economics 101 I have been coaching students. Unlike automobile case discussed above, the hifi industry is way too tiny to invoke U.S. politicians' attention to call for any protective trade barriers that stimulated Japanese automakers to open factories in the U.S.

I applaud Sam at Sam's Space who already recognized the trend and started to review a whole series products from greater China area.

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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

With all due respect I beleive we must first question the relevance of the data. For example does the list correlate strongly with actual consumption (for audiophiles in the US?, globally?).

Well given the publication we can safely assume that many of the items respresent the SOTA, and as such will in many cases be priced beyond what most audiopiles are willing or able to consider; the same would be true of exotic sports cars in a list compiled by an auto magazine. These items can then be expected to contribute but a tiny portion of overall consumption despite high sticker prices.

Thus actual consumption statistics would be necessary to determine what reasonable question we migh pose regarding US-made audio components. For example a more valid question might be "Why is US-made audio thriving?". I suspect given the presence of high quality, reasonably priced components originating from the Far East that such is not the case, yet I don't see why the list in question provides a quide one way or the other.

Perhaps I've missed something?

BTW - Is it just me or do others percieve that a rather high proportion of Far East components are tube based? And when I think US/Canada the battle of high-powered SS monster amplifiers comes immediately to mind, and worst I think hyper-detailed horrid sound; though by no means all, a buddy of mine has a great sounding ML power amp, so good I don't even mind the slight tizzy sound!

300Binary
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

US vs Them? Earth is home to all the best audio. Relax, and let the good tunes roll

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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?


Quote:
The question is does it matter ? The country of orgin should not be relevent to an audiophile. It is the product quality that should matter.

It seems like an interesting question to me. The fact stands that 40 of 63 contenders were from manufacturers outside of the US. Does this then mean that the US is making crappy gear?

Monty
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

I think the United States still makes the best equipment, but it comes at a high price and we don't seem to be attempting to go after the mid to low price customer. In those areas, the competition from cheaper labor overseas is pretty stiff and abundant.

I think if Stereophile were to break down the equipment based on price, you would see an increase in American made products as the price point increases.

dcrowe
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?


Quote:

Quote:
The question is does it matter ? The country of orgin should not be relevent to an audiophile. It is the product quality that should matter.

It seems like an interesting question to me. The fact stands that 40 of 63 contenders were from manufacturers outside of the US. Does this then mean that the US is making crappy gear?

If the question is, how does US equipment compare in quality, then we need an entirely different set of data: What fraction of US-made equipment is recommended versus what fraction of imports? Does Stereophile test the appropriate fractions of US and import gear? How does Stereophile choose the fraction of US versus imported gear to test? What would the fractions be if Stereophile tested everything? Maybe importers are just better at getting their equipment reviewed in Stereophile? If the Stereophile testing is not designed to answer the question of relative US versus import quality, then it probably doesn't answer that question. Which is just fine, by the way.

jamesgarvin
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

"The question is does it matter ?"

That depends on the consumer. If it is important to me, then the answer is yes. The question is not whether it matters, but rather whether the country in which the product was contructed should be disclosed. I believe that full disclosure, with respect to any issue, is a good thing.

"The country of orgin should not be relevent to an audiophile."

Why not? Are audiophiles any different that any other consumer who feels it important to purchase American made products? I readily admit that, all things being equal, I prefer to purchase available American made products. That is my right as an American, as is my right to purchase based upon whatever criteria I decide is important. Because I may use the information of where the product was manufactured in my decision, I deserve to know that information. And if it does not matter, then what is the harm in a company telling the consumer where the product was manufactured? Full disclosure. As American as apple pie.

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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

"It seems like an interesting question to me. The fact stands that 40 of 63 contenders were from manufacturers outside of the US. Does this then mean that the US is making crappy gear?"

I don't think thats the case at all. The U.S. has 21 pieces on the hot list, that seems pretty impressive to me. I'm interested in the two designed in the U.S. and manufactured elsewhere. Associating the quality of the product with the place of manufacture should be something left to the 1950's. Manufacturing technics in reference to high end audio gear are basically the same world wide, it doesnt really matter where the stuff is put together anymore, thats a thing of the past. What matters now is what parts people are using inside the box. If a company designs a pre-amp that uses crappy connectors, a noisy power supply, and an unreliable attenuator it doesnt much matter where the thing is manufactured it'll still sound like crap. To me a more relevant question would be: "what parts are you using, and HOW not WHERE are you putting them together". Once we know that we can make educated guesses on sound quality and it becomes alot easier to make value based judgements. Some people like gold plated plaques, Rolls Royce caliber paint jobs, and diamond studded tube covers. I'm happy with a killer sound system that doesnt put me in the poor house... or the dog house for that matter.

nrchy
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

I am late to the discussion, but I have some thoughts that if true to form should be of little value.

American buyers make it very hard for American manufacturers. As a rule people shop price. People here seem to want something for nothing, and are less concerned with quality and actual value than in perceived value, or getting a first rate product. It costs a lot of money to build anything here. Employees want good wages, paid vacation, and medical benefits. All of these are factored(?) into the cost of cables, amps, speakers, whatever. Sounds kinda like Bob Dylans "Union Sundown" from the Infidels LP.

When a manufacturer who provides all of those things competes with a company that designs a good product, but has it made by a person who makes $1.00 a day and gets no benefits, there is an insurmountable obstacle placed in the way.

When product USA costs $7000, and product PRC costs $3000, and they are somewhat similar the former is going to have a difficult time in the marketplace. In the long run I think this is going to hurt western consumers.

So, are US-made products a dying breed? If not they are in intensive care, until consumers wise up.

Then again, there is the issue of soo (spelling error intentional) many products which have not be reviewed. This is not a criticism, simply an observation. There must be hundreds of amps, pre-amps, speakers, etc that have not seen the light of PRINT that are worthy of consideration on such a list.

When you get to the end of this, remember my first sentence...

gkc
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

Yo, nrchy,
Actually, your comments are apt and focused. Stephen, it has little or nothing to do with RELATIVE quality, as long as both the foreign-made and USA-made gear are both of SIMILAR high quality. If the quality level is even close (and it most definitely is), the science of Economics overtakes the science of Electronics. Can you say, "large current account deficit (and getting larger as we speak)," "negative balance of payments," and "non-US holders of government debt"? The pigeons inevitably come home to roost, and that loud whirring noise you hear is being made by some gigantic U-turn towards US soil. The average US worker is still hideously overpaid, and the dollars-from-thin-air that have been overpaying him are now showing up on the balance sheets of China, Japan, Indonesia, Euroland, South America, and, yes, even some financial centers in the Middle East. And, smiles aside, many of them don't like us very much. Mr. Chavez, for political reasons, has cashed out his US Treasury portfolio at the Bank of Venezuela and parked it in Euros. At present, this is just a small trickle, but a trend is a trend, and you can expect this trickle to turn into a torrent. Welcome to the dark side of Globalism. Does this mean the end of the world is coming? Of course not -- the great buyout of American resources may take 200 years. But it has started. And it DOES mean it is going to become increasingly more difficult for the American worker to compete on a global scale. Since I am an old fart, I won't live to see the worst of it, but since I have seen this movie before (Nixon being forced to close the gold window in 1971), I saw the red flag being hoisted in 1999, when the current cycle of negative trade balances started, and we began to run monthly deficits (small, at first) instead of surpluses. This was a clarion call to those of us old timers who were listening to buy gold. If y'all out there think we are no longer on a gold standard, think again. I sure hope all that gold tinfoil in Fort Knox isn't filled with chocolate! We'll come out okay as this cycle cools -- the world can't afford to lose its wealthiest suckers...er, customers -- but the ensuing calm won't last ANOTHER 30 years, and each successive cycle will most likely become more intense. Sorry Mr. Bernanke, but you volunteered for this mess. How many of you out there think inflation is REALLY only 2.5%-3%? Snicker. How many of you are relieved each month when the Fed reasserts that it's still under control ("well-contained" is the phrase, I believe)? Trust your instincts on this one. Still, thank the chunk gods we got our music -- an idyllic center in the eye of the hurricane if there ever was one. Geez. I guess that was a rant. Sorry. Happy tunes! Clifton

Jim Tavegia
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

You can go to the US Census web site and track the trade imbalance if you aren't already depressed. Where but in American can your replacement printer cartridge cost almost as much as the printer!!!!! You might be better off buying a new printer if it has a rebate since it comes with a free??? cartridge.

It is just like cell phones...they are mostly free because it is about the minutes not the phone...unless you want the Blackberry-copier-fax-digital camera-mp3 player that is the size of half a graham cracker. It just doesn't taste as good.

I had a guy from one of these printer companies who had two Acuras in his driveway of this $300K plus Atlanta home complain about prices to me as he was asking me how to get music into his Color IPod. I reiterated his company's cartridge pricing plan. He looked at me and started laughing as he admitted I was right. No kidding!!!!

The only problem with American made gear is that most of it ie McIntosh, Cary, CJ, et all, is of the highest standard and expensive. It is a great value just out of my league. That is fine with me. I am glad they are still around.

gkc
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

Jim, you are really in the center of all this, since you rub elbows with importers, exporters, the rich, the wannabes, and, MOST of all, you most likely work on commission. I have spent half of my life on commission, and it is the most exhilarting and depressing pursuit of a living the chunk gods ever invented. You get a piece of what you sell. Period. This Bud's for you. Your point about Mac, CJ, and Cary is well taken: these guys somehow, in remarkably different ways, have dodged the bullet and kept up the quality. And put a lot of GOOD people to work. I wish I had a crystal ball and could forecast a happy ending to this, but I only know the speculative side of the markets, and the charts don't look good. Still, music in the home is a niche market in the overall global economy and thus may survive, even thrive. A lot of rich folks out there love great sound and I, personally, hope they keep ponying up for the Macs, CJ's, Wilsons, and Carys of our great country, but the macro-picture is not good. We're spending more, as a country, than we have. Not good. Isolated pockets in the overall fabric will survive, but money moves, and the general drift of things is away from quality and craft, towards the quick buck and a good balance sheet. One thing I have learned from 30 years of speculation, is that the markets are cruel, and they don't seek style points, or gold stars for altruism. They just follow the fundamentals, shun uncertainty, and can smell out a loser better than an Alabama coon dog. But, as I said, we got music and it keeps gettin' sweeter by the day. Hell, Nero, as legend would have it, was a passably good fiddler. Cheers and happy tunes, Clifton.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

Clifton,

You are right on the money. And unfortunately this new MP3 mentality is not just in music downloads. We talk about our microwave society, quicker, faster, fogetting to even smell or taste the food as we are off to some game, event, club et al.

Selling quality is very hard these days, but we do not have to tell any reasonably good audio retailer that. They know that the Best Buys of the world are telling their customers that the swell IPod speaker/doc is all they "really need". What is in the front of the store tells you all you need to know. Home audio is buried in the back. Heck, home appliances and vacuums are closer.

I have always tried to convince customers that some things in life should not go to the lowest bidder: bridges, elevators, surgical procedures, brake work on your car, et al. Make your own list.

I used to do over 1 million dollars a year at Colt Firearms when they made the M-16. We made parts for them. I asked the buyer, a veteran perchasing agent, how he chose vendors. His rule was he threw out all the low bids that were within 15-20% of each other and delt with the rest. He felt that you could never have quality take a back seat and have the price dictate what the company would put "into" the product.

He said he had never had a company show him anything close to the quality we shipped on a daily basis. He said that has to be worth something. It was to him. 365,000 parts at $4.38 each. That works for me.

I still think quality matters to some, but we have this everthing might be just a commodity mentality creaping into all we do. Yet, we will treat ourselves to a $5 cup of Joe. Go figure. This is not where our parents or grandparents came from. They are surely rolling over in their graves as to what we think is important these days.

I was just looking at the new Bently off MSN auto. (Not to buy obviously) $187,000 of the fastest passenger sedan ever. I wonder if the potential buyer will go in and "work" the salesman to death? How degrading for both of them. Does anyone really "sell" a Steinway? I think here the salesperson just needs to get out of the way and let the customer pick the right length and buy.

When the cell site BDAs we offered were quality and $5K a pop and the made in China ones were $2,500 it made life tough. Even though cellular providers make tons of cash they will still cheap out in a heartbeat. All they really care about is you will not get mad enough to quit when your calls drop out. That is why you start off with a contract. Gottcha!

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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

I think that there are certainly many fine products designed and manufactured in other countries, and I have no problem with buying them.
I am actually surprised that so many US and British and French companies stay competetive, when you look at the manufacturing in other electronics.
I know this though; it is comforting to me to know that the Vandersteen factory is not that far away if my speakers need to be shipped for a repair or upgrade.
The same goes for my Audio Research preamp (but since I have owned 3 of them for 25 years and never had any need for repair or service, I guess its academic).
I guess the only thing in my system that isn't american-made is my Sony CDP777ES player, but I never really considered where any of this stuff was made when I bought it; just best value for the money. I guess that counts too.

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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

My system (by country of manufacture):

Tuner: France (design), Greater China (manufacture)
Transport: US
D/A: Norway
Preamp: Canada
Power amp: Canada
Speakers: Denmark

Only had (repeated ) problems with ONE component.
Can you guess which one ?

CECE
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

Legacy Audio..U.S.A.

VanAlstine-U.S.A.

Rane-U.S.A

MagnumDynaLab-U.S.A (well sorta Canada)

Audio Control-U.S.A

Audio research-U.S.A

Furman sound-U.S.A

VPI-U.S.A.

Philips-Belgium,Netherlands,Hungary

Shure-Mexico

SoundKing-U.S.A.

Leviton

Mexico/U.S.A.

Tascam-Japan

BenchMark Media DAC/ADC-U.S.A.

ProSound cable-U.S.A.

Boltz racks-U.S.A.

What you talkin' bout Willis?, there is lotsa BEST stuff made right here

Senheiser headphone-Austria

Electrons powering the stuff and finding their way to the speakers-U.S.A.

Air being moved by them speakers-U.S.A

gkc
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Re: US-made audio a dying breed?

Hi, Commsysman -- yeah, if you can afford it and the price/quality relationship is okay, the closer to home the better! I have never had to call somebody in France, China, Italy, or Great Britain for shipping instructions to get something repaired, and I don't think I want to. There's always the distributor, I suppose, but they normally don't fix broken stuff...even IF you can get hold of someone without 30 minutes of 'phone tag. Proximity is always a priority. Cheers, Clifton

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