8 Remarkably Quirky Yet Awesome Chi-Fi Tube Audio Products

The Meixing MingDa MC-08PPA Vacuum Tube Phono Stage
The Meixing MingDa MC-08PPA Vacuum Tube Phono Stage. Meixing
01
of 09

The Coolest Inexpensive Audio from China

Closeup of the Dared MP-6 Bluetooth Amplifier
Closeup of the Dared MP-6 Bluetooth Amplifier. Dared

The hottest trend in high-end audio isn't high-resolution downloads, the vinyl resurgence, or even single-driver speakers. It's Chi-Fi, a term that usually denotes inexpensive, tube-based audio electronics built in China. Where a typical vacuum tube amp from an American or European manufacturer might set you back thousands of dollars, a similar Chi-Fi model might cost only hundreds.

Is the build quality the same? Probably not – but in some cases, it might be. Is the styling the same? Seldom, because industrial design always seems to be the last thing that low-cost manufacturers learn to mimic. Are the features the same? Rarely – Chi-Fi integrated amps typically have just two inputs. Is the sound quality and performance the same? Stay tuned (we've also taken the opportunity to review the Music Angels Mengyue Mini integrated tube amp).

While there are some North American merchants who are importing Chi-Fi products and shipping them via UPS and FedEx – most notably under the Dared, GemTune, and Yaqin brands – many Chi-Fi products must be shipped directly from China. This is likely to feel like a combination of expensive, slow, and scary to some. Shipping can often cost as much as US$100 and/or take as long as a couple of months. And, of course, you're sending money from your PayPal account to someone halfway around the world – an experience that can be unquestionably unsettling. However, you can find quite a number of models on Amazon or Ebay, so it's worth checking those sites first.

02
of 09

Meixing MC5S 5-Channel Tube Amplifier

The Meixing MC5S 5-Channel Tube Amp
The Meixing MC5S 5-Channel Tube Amp. Meixing Audio

Not only is the Meixing MC5S notable for being named after a notorious Detroit proto-punk band, but it's also one of the first tube amps we've seen that's intended for home theater and surround sound applications. With two big KT90 tubes per channel, the Meixing MC5S is rated at 70 W per channel. It's hard to tell from the company website, but this amp apparently has its power supply within a separate enclosure.

Although difficult to speculate about the MC5S's performance, the 10 KT90s, five ECC83s, and five ECC82s can almost certainly create one of the hottest home theater amps ever. So to speak.

03
of 09

Matisse Fanmusic MTS-623 6N3 Audio Processor

Matisse Fanmusic MTS-623 6N3 Audio Processor
Matisse Fanmusic MTS-623 6N3 Audio Processor. Fanmusic

What is an "Audio Processor and Fanmusic"? After a quick read of the web page (and some semi-educated guessing) we gather that the MTS-623 is a tube buffer stage – basically a simple preamp with a couple of 6N3 tubes intended to "warm up" the sound of CD players and other solid-state source devices.

As much as an interesting product the MTS-623 is, the company's web page certainly draws more attention with a most spectacular display of "Chinglish" in the history of ever. It's hard to pick just one exemplary phrase, because each is more nonsensical than the last. Here's a couple just for fun:

"The bile is used before the famous horseshoe Andean original principle circuit."

"Inter-stage coupling capacitors with prominent industry of the United States ERSE burning ultra-low loss angle foot blister Promise capacitors."

Too good. Especially for a US$125 price, even though the appearance is a far cry from exotic.

04
of 09

Audioromy FU29 Integrated Amplifier

The Audioromy FU29 Integrated Amplifier
The Audioromy FU29 Integrated Amplifier. Audioromy

The mark of a seriously cool tube amp (and a really devoted audiophile) is the use of exotic output tubes beyond the usual KT88s, EL34s, and 300Bs. This model under the Audioromy brand sports the FU29 tube, which apparently was originally intended for use in broadcasting transmitters. Each tube is actually two tubes in one – a common arrangement in preamp tubes like the 12AX7 – but something that's extremely uncommon in an audio power tube. We've seen this tube (or one pretty similar) used in high-end amps before. But those types of amps can cost somewhere in the low five figures. The Audioromy model here is rated at 30 W per channel of pure Class A.

05
of 09

Dared MP-6 Bluetooth Amplifier

The Dared MP-6 Bluetooth Amplifier
The Dared MP-6 Bluetooth Amplifier. Dared

If this isn't the audio system for the next decade, we don't know what is. The Dared MP-6 is a tube/transistor hybrid, with a smattering of gratuitous small-signal 6N2P tubes feeding a 40-watt-per-channel solid-state amplifier. Just hook up a pair of speakers, and you can stream audio from your phone, tablet, or laptop via Bluetooth. You can also connect your computer directly through USB and/or drive a set of headphones from the front 3.5 mm audio jack. And all this can be done while watching the sexy power meter on the front panel.

06
of 09

Qinpu S-2 Horn Speakers

The Qinpu S-2 Horn Speakers
The Qinpu S-2 Horn Speakers. Qinpu

Sadly, for lovers of cool audio gear (but perhaps happily for lovers of good sound), there aren't a lot of Chi-Fi speakers. However, the Qinpu S-2 is one of few that are particularly interesting. Three words: vintage horn speakers.

Th Qinpu S-2 might not sound that bad to most either. From the photos, the 9-inch-high speaker appears to have a 1-inch dome tweeter mounted inside a horn, with a 2-inch high-excursion woofer below it. You can get it in your choice of military green (shown) or bright red. And we had the opportunity to check out the Qinpu's Q-2 hybrid tube/transistor amp, we were pretty impressed at the sound it mustered from a mere 2 W. And you can grab a pair for US$200.

07
of 09

Meixing MingDa MC-08PPA Vacuum Tube Phono Stage

The Meixing MingDa MC-08PPA Vacuum Tube Phono Stage
The Meixing MingDa MC-08PPA Vacuum Tube Phono Stage. Meixing

For reasons we don't fully understand, almost all Chi-Fi products are tube integrated amplifiers. You might think that such a retro-oriented field might embrace vinyl records more, but no. In fact, the only interesting Chi-Fi phono preamp we could find is the Meixing MingDa MC-08PPA – at almost US$600, it's a long way from affordable. To be fair, the MC-08PPA's build quality looks worlds better than that of most Chi-Fi products, even if the design is a little cheesy. OK, a lot cheesy. But it's definitely fun to look at.

08
of 09

Dared Imperial Series DL-2000 Preamp

The Dared Imperial Series DL-2000 Preamp
The Dared Imperial Series DL-2000 Preamp. Dared

For whatever reason, Chi-Fi manufacturers haven't much embraced the preamp, preferring to concentrate on integrated amps with both preamp and amp housed in one single chassis. But we did find the Dared Imperial Series DL-2000. This unit packs some classic preamp tubes – dual 12AX7s and a 12AT7 – and it even has a real 5Z4P tube rectifier instead of the solid-state rectifier bridge used in many modern tube products. The DL-2000 also has a winning design that would look right at home in any sci-fi movie. Sadly, though, it's priced more like a typical preamp from an American or European manufacturer.

09
of 09

Wistao Technology WVT2015 Hi-Fi Integrated Amplifier

The Wistao Technology WVT2015 Hi-Fi Integrated Amplifier
The Wistao Technology WVT2015 Hi-Fi Integrated Amplifier. Wistao Technology

We dare you to find an audio product with a more cheezy, jet-age vibe than the Wistao Technology WVT2015. This is a hybrid amp with two de rigueur 6N3 preamp tubes and a 60-watt-per-channel solid-state power amp. Not only does the Wistao WVT2015 have three stereo inputs – an extravagant luxury with Chi-Fi amps – it also features a USB port and SD card slot so you can play digital audio files.

If there is one thing you can certainly expect of the WVT2015 that you can't say of 99.9% of all audio gear, it's that people who don't care a whit about audio will ask you what it is.