It remains the single most requested piece of information at the beginning of a clients' consortation with a product; ”Where is it made?”
The manufacturing origin of a product is often treated as a dirty little secret hidden behind layers of repetitive advertising, and it is particularly relevant to consumer electronics these days.

NAD is possibly the first example of a brand that deliberately chose to remove its manufacturing from its design and engineering. It removed itself from Japanese production long before the manufacturing dragon of the PRC had been raised from the death of its Cultural Revolution era factories and in fact chose … Taiwan … as the progenitor of its manufacturing entity.

NAD was actually originally made in Japan under the brand New Acoustic Dimension as a tiny niche brand that barely raised its head above the turgid waters of brand marketing in the early seventies. It wasn’t until Malcolm Blockley of the UK franchise Hi Fi Markets picked up the brand name in the seventies, hired Erik Edvardsen as its designer and contracted with the Taiwanese National Electronics Group to manufacture his seminal NAD 3020 design that the brand acquired its own identity and kudos to survive.

In the early seventies of course things Japanese were treated with much of that disdain which occludes the perceived quality of PRC made devices nowadays. It didn’t matter that Japanese made Onkyo, Yamaha, and Pioneer Hi Fi products were built with fanatical care and attention to detail that remains a hallmark of quality, the innate prejudice of the European and American consumer was such that they always remained the poor mans choice in those markets. This was at a time when the high end of the UK was Peter Walker’s Quad and in the USA Bob Carver was touting Phase Linear as being the brand of choice for the discerning audiophile.

It took a while for the punters to realise that the good kit that was surviving in the Japanese home market was … actually very good indeed. The same phenomena was happening with first motorcycles and Soichiro Honda, and then moving firmly into the general Automotive manufacturing arena as the purchasers, slowly at first, and then in droves purchased innovative made-to-meet-demand products that were beautifully iterated and reliable. An original 1969 Honda CB750 is so far ahead of a BSA or Harley Davidson of the time that they could almost have been made on another planet.

In the same period Yamaha, Sansui, Onkyo, and Trio were making such good Hi-Fi in Japan that there was really no contest from the attempts of old world manufacturers to produce equivalent value. Brands that were truly awful such as Amstrad and HMV tried to fight back with electrically primitive products that typically blew up within the first week of ownership. Not for nothing can you no longer purchase Pye Audio products or Bush Televisions, they were at the bottom of the CE food chain in the seventies and deserved a slow death ... if they didn't that is either electrocute their owners or set fire to their homes first ...

Yet the wheel has turned full circle it seems. Now the entry point Japanese brands, if they exist at all, are manufactured in PRC or Indonesia and bear no qualitative relationship to their seventies forbears. When someone brings in a Sansui amp from the seventies or early eighties one is immediately struck by the quality feel of the operating components, and how careful attention has been taken with design and manufacture to make a device that is till running after thirty years plus. Now if you do the immediate feel test on an entry point Japanese brand component they nearly all fail utterly, the volume controls are left over from toy radios and the chassis are milk carton quality. The specifications are high but the sound quality and durability is rubbish.

Meanwhile there is the occasional rebirth of a quality brand that fell under the economically rationalist wheels of shareholder driven commerce, Luxman being the one of my most immediate experience that has been resurrected by the IAG Chinese manufacturing company and is being made deliberately in Japan. The Japanese Luxman amps try and emulate as much as possible the quality sound and no compromise sensory feel of the original eighties designs, not everybody is happy that they have succeeded as that is a tall poppy to chase.

Meanwhile the Hi Fi industry in the UK has been sold off by the pound in many instances (Genesis 1973) but it is worthwhile to note that those companies that have stuck to their privately owned guns are now doing very well and reaching further and further into export markets. I would witness two of our favourite brands being Rega and Cyrus that have seen exceptional growth in the last three years whilst sticking to local manufacture and all stages of R&D and design. No doubt helped by the slight catastrophe of the value of the pound sterling here in Australia …

Denon is one of the strongest brands that we at Carlton AV sell, they have worked very hard to maintain their now 100 year provenance of audio manufacturing quality. Their first surround amplifier that is still Japan made is the AVR4311 (AVR4520 coming late November) and it has been selling in Australia for $2999 list … actually made in the Fukishima Denon facility so it was hurt by first the Tsunami and then the Reactor meltdown.

The AVR4311 reeks quality like a Lexus or good Honda, it literally makes the offshore manufactured products from other brands feel cheap n' nasty. The sound conveys a smoothness and body that seems to have been bred out of lesser devices in the interests of speed to market and the quotation of higher and higher power numbers. This amp is destined to be a classic in the way of the early eighties Japanese made icons mentioned aforehand.

To mark the passage of the AVR4311 we may be discounting our remaining stocks ... although the new 4520 is going to be $500 more ...

Herwith an off the cuff list of our brands with the best historical and contemporary continuity of design culture and ownership, they are alphabetical rather than numerical ...

Ambience speakers, raw Australian product with the best performance ... ambiencespeakers.com.au
Bryston from Canada, a warranty longer than the life expectancy of the rest of the industry ... bryston.com
Cyrus, Iranian Naval Architect special ... cyrus.co.uk
Denon, the best of Japanese audio ... denon.com.au
Linn, products from Scotland ... Linn.co.uk
Loewe Televisions, they lost the war but won European market share .. loewe.tv
Michell Turntables, record players for the cognoscenti ... michell-engineering.co.uk
Monitor Audio, still true to Mo Ibqal's intent ... monitoraudio.co.uk
Morel HiFi, Israel's loudspeaker manufacturer that quietly supplies the rest of the world ... morelhifi.com
NAD, Erik Edvardsen made Hi Fi accessible to the lower classes ... nadelectronics.com
PMC the Studios Choice ... pmc-speakers.com
Rega, Mr Gandy is a very determined man ... rega.co.uk
Sonus faber, Italian craftmanship epitomised ... sonusfaber.com
Tannoy, the oldest loudspeaker company in the world ... tannoy.com