Nationalism in Audio Products?

In searching out quality products, I am finding that many folks review products, describe products, or even laud products for their being made in so-and-so country. Coming from a first generation household, my mom a Swiss immigrant, my dad, Russian, I can identify with these seemingly stereotypical associations between certain countries' craftspeople and their products. What I mean is, there is some truth to the sterotype that a speaker made in, say, England, might sound better than one made in another place. It even occurred to me the other morning, that since I am planning to upgrade my entire system in the coming years, to see if I could put together an All-Swiss-Made system, being a bit partial to their manufacturing standards (and their chocolate). I found several sets of speakers that didn't look very promising (of course I haven't actually HEARD them). Benz micro is pretty well known. I also know of a Swiss CD player whose price tag depressed me for days. I haven't found any Swiss tube amplifiers and I was starting to not care. Then I found a turntable built by a Swiss company called Holborne. I have since scoured the internet looking for information about it. There is nothing even on Audiogon (searching archives for keyword "Holborne") I would humbly ask any of you if you know anything about this turntable, if it is built to last, if it sounds good, in short, is it a good investment. If there I receive enough contrary advice, I would probably return to my original plan, a little thing built in the US of A called the Galibier Serac.....
As far as Swiss companies go, Goldmund comes to mind and they make literally everything, from source to speakers. They've made some pretty famous turntables in their time but they don't make them anymore. However they pop up used on here pretty frequently. Another speaker company is Piega, who makes very high quality speakers with ribbon tweeters. FM Acoustics is also Swiss, they make extremely expensive amplification products. Actually every Swiss hifi product seems to be quite expensive, I think that Switzerland itself is just expensive. I can't think of any Swiss tubed gear, but there must be something. Maybe someone else will know?

Very swiss and have tube amps and preamps.

Swiss tonearms, DaVinci, Breuer.
Philosophy is transcendant. In many cases, you can hear and see the way the designer is when you listen and look at his amplifier or speaker. I am French and American and the difference in philosophy between the two nationalities is very clearly reflected in their respective gear. My McIntoshes have a big sound, kind of laid back, care free and easy going with prodigious bass. My Koras are rather forward and fast with a particular affinity for details and clarity and an underlying impatience. It is as if I was describing the stereotypes of each country! So I agree with you in this way. I find this philosophical transcendance to be very interesting, to the extent that I ended up designing my system to be like me. The result is that I love it.

Swiss gear is like the county in how expensive it is. hahaha. Dartzeel, FM Acoustics, Nagra, Goldmund, Piega etc. all have high price tags but their quality is also top notch. Everything is well thought out and carefully made. Again, just like their homeland.

Some world class tube amps from Switzerland worth looking at are: the Nagra VPA mono's, they use two 845's per side and put out a strong 80 watts...There is usualy a pair or two for sale here.
Good Luck! is swiss-australian I guess, tube amps preamps phono...etc.
Forsell is also Swiss.

Mind me I do find this Nationalism in audio a bit ridiculous, coming from a country with no audio manufacturers, (well maybe a couple) I am all over the place French speakers, English amps, Swiss transport, US DAC...etc. Whatever sounds good.

One can make a mix to get better results, remember too much of a good thing... Pure bred Dogs turn out a bit retarded, and the nicest looking girls are mostly a mix of races.

I do have a bunch of non-audio friends with whole Kenwood racks! they swear by it, maybe you will like that too.
Anybody knows of a High End Turntable manufacturer in Jamaica?
There is better and worse equipment from Switzerland as from everywhere else. It is likely to be more expensive from Switzerland.

01-05-07: Jsadurni
Anybody knows of a High End Turntable manufacturer in Jamaica?
If there is one, the table almost certainly utilizes a hemp mat.
You mentioned a Russian father and if you're looking for a little of that influence, keep in mind Balanced Audio Technology.

BAT gear is built in the US and designed by Victor Khomenko. I use both a BAT tubed pre-amp and solid state power amp. While maybe not as "exquisitely" finished as much of the aforementioned Swiss gear, it is of the highest caliber of build quality and the sound they produce is simply fantastic. Not cheap, but will last a lifetime.
well...It sounds like it will be a very "neutral" system
Forsell is from Sweden, not that it matters.

I have had stereo equipment from: USA, Canada, Mexico, England, Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Yugoslavia (when it existed), Russia, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Czecha, Austria, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. I think in a global economy, there is little room for nationalism.
It is possible that through tradition, craftspeople congregate in certain areas. Then new craftspeople wishing to learn the trade travel to those same areas in order to learn the craft. It's a centuries old tradition in many areas for many different products. It then becomes a self perpetuating cycle. However, I don't think the world is that small anymore. People and capital are much more mobile now on a world wide basis. We still have pockets of excellence in certain fields in certain areas, but that doesn't mean that some other part of the world isn't doing just as good a job, only without the reputation of tradition. If you can put together a system from one place and you like it and it makes you feel good, that's great. But don't you think that you may be cheating yourself out of the opportunity to possibly discover something better if you widen your search criteria? I don't see the audio world as being limited on the basis of geography.
I prefer religious fundamentalism to nationalism in audio products. Knowing that a DK Designs amp will ensure my entry to the pearly gates or that some $2000 power cord will get me 72 virgins is powerful incentive to upgrade my system.
At one time, my system consisted of an American made transport, French DAC, Canadian preamp, American amp, British speakers and more American and Canadian cables. I guess that evidences a real WWII era Ally bias. When I build my next system it'll be Axis all the way! I know that'll make my Dad happy.
My power amp:
- designer was of mixed French/Japanese parentage
- was built in Switzerland
- was bought in Germany
- was modded in New Jersey
- currently uses USSR and USA tubes
- is regularly biased and balanced in Connecticut

Therefore, um...

This is a provocative thread. The topic has been on my mind for quite some time.

One point that needs to be made relates to barriers presented to exporters. I'm in the process of obtaining my first dealer who will be in the UK (Artisan Audio) and so this topic is very relevant to me.

Right off the top, we face 17% VAT, which affects a product's competitiveness against local products. If you add a distributor into the mix (which I'm not), you're adding another layer of profit and cost. These factors tend to give local products a home field advantage against imports. A Triplanar tonearm in the UK approaches the price we see a Breuer arm costing in this country.

I think that there is quite a bit of truth to the idea of organic growth in design schools by region, although the internet is virtualizing geography to some extent. Of course, the shortcoming of these virtualized cyber-regions is that you can't get together on a Saturday night to play show and tell.


There are most certainly predominant national tastes. I've been told that Focal tweeters are a reflection of the way the French like to listen - an etched sound. My friends tell me that the German sensibility leans toward a full range and balanced sound - music that can handle both Wagner and Techno with aplomb.

As far as the US tastes are concerned, I have never enjoyed the sound of American turntables. This is one reason why Peter, Chris and I began making turntables. The other reason is that we're nuts.

Exceptions I've found to expressions of the American design school are the Merrill and the AR.

American rigs in general remind me of the predominant taste Americans had in automobiles in the latter part of the previous century - lots of power, but an automobile which would slide into the ditch at the first curve or the first sign of rain. The metaphor here applies to the ability to convey nuance and microdynamics. The Merrill and the AR were the only exceptions I found to what I consider to be the fatal flaws I identified above.

Others will disagree with me, in the same way that people purchased GTO's, Camaros, etc. instead of Porsches, and BMWs. Ya pays yer money and ya makes yer choices.

Oh yeah ... don't laugh about the hemp mat (the post about Jamaican turntables). Hemp cone speakers rule! The same attributes that allow hemp to make strong rope, paper, etc. contribute to hemp cones being a "better" paper.

Thom @ Galibier
Perhaps have opened some kind of can of worms here, though the intention was merely to see if others out there identify with an interest in heritage, tradition and nationality. Some responses have been great, others a little jaded-sounding. Listen, in the end what I would like to put together is a "modest" system under 20 large, and if the cables come from Tibet, that's fine. What I wrote was just something that crossed my mind when sleep deprived, not some kind of Manifesto on nationality. Don't hurt others feelings.
Audio Consulting in Switzerland build tube amps and phono stages, whilst being better known as the source RAM use for some of the components fitted to their CD player upgrades.

I have two observationss to add to the debate on nationalism in audio products.

First, we are all influenced by the influence of consumer marketing. In the major markets, the home brands will have built a dominant position - prominence in dealers, share of advertising in the audio magazines, significant word of mouth presence on discussion boards, etc.

Most audio magazines understand their symbiotic relationship with dealers (who are significante advertisers) and will review (usually favorably) products launched by the home brands. Occasionally an importer of high end gear has sufficient advertising power to buy a seat at the top table. Often we don't have the opportunity to hear imported products and dealers can be skilled in guiding customers to the home brands.

Being in the UK, I use "brands" rather than "manufacturers" quite deliberately because many of the well known British brands e.g. Quad, are owned by the Chinese and made there.

Secondly, I think it's dangerous to generalizea about anything in audio - not all belt drives sound better than all direct drive tabls, not all SET amps sound great, not all CD players are harsh and bright, etc. Likewise, it's not true that all British turntables or speakers are best.

Speaking as a Brit, we have a rich history as merchant adventurers and have the ability to be decisive without being in full possession of all the facts. As a nation we are tenacious and don't know when to quit. In sporting endeavor we tend to over-estimate how good we are in relation to the competition and then be disappointed with our results - ask any Australian about cricket for confirmation! :(

I am sure the same holds true in audio! :) If you read some of the UK audio boards you will find these characteristics manifest as an inverted snobbery, in which posters take great delight in boasting how good their inexpensive equipment sounds (without ever hearing the kind of gear we here would regard as references). This behavior may well account for the inflated reputation enjoyed by the Linn Sondek LP12 and SME tonearms. :) Ymmv!
Thom, a thought...
The 17% VAT is not applied unequally to imported products. There may be other import duties I am unaware of but the VAT by itself is embedded in the price of the local products already, the way your products will have the VAT in the price when your new customers buy boatloads of them :^) There is no home field advantage there... There may be increased shipping costs, and because imported products tend to have distributor layers more often than do domestic products, one could generalize that this indeed adds a cost (in general; though because distributors in many cases cover light warranty work, it's like they take care of the 'insurance deductible', making those units more profitable for the home country manufacturer assuming similar cost to distributor as to dealer who wouldn't cover that 'deductible').

I agree with the idea of the possibility of cultural tilts. Some of these manifest themselves with style of listening, taste in sound reproduction colorations, and some even in taste in listening material. But I as I think about it, I realize that there may not be enough samples to actually determine whether those tilts are really there or not. An example: Jadis owners might disagree with the assertion that the French tend towards 'etched' sound.

And on the subject of GTOs and Camaros, look what's happening these days... A early high-spec GTOs and Camaros are going for ridiculous bucks these days and as more baby-boomers become affluent and yearn to relive their youth, the bubble could spread to their TTs. Get your US-made mid 60s TTs now while they're cheap (load up on wooden consoles and record-stackers?)!

Travis, you are right to point out that the 17.5% VAT is applied equally to imports and home production. However, some product/country combinations do attract additional import duties, levied in relation to "the tariff" at customs.

VAT is applied to the total landed cost - i.e. invoice total, plus freight charges, plus insurance, plus handling agent's charges. These are not trivial and it is fairly normal for UK retail prices for official imports from the US (including all taxes) to be 80-90% higher than the US price.
Hi Travis, Flyingred

Thanks for clarifying what I meant to say - that VAT is applied equally, but that there are added VAT charges for exporters - with VAT being applied to shipping, insurance, and handling.

More significant is the distribution layer, which taken in combination with this can come close to doubling a product's price on a foreign shore. This is not to debate the role that a good distributor plays, as they may well earn their money in support, etc. It still has an influence on price however.

Thom @ Galibier
I expect that a lot of the mark-up when moving across borders has to do with distributors, or of manufacturers doing the same job. I am not sure, and I am sure that there are many different ways of pricing to different avenues, but it could be that manufacturers may charge domestic dealers and international distributors the same price. This could lead to distortions in international pricing for a few reasons; 1) in the domestic market, the mfr may take care of routine servicing/warranty work, advertising & promotion (CES & equivalent), set-up in customers' homes for high-end items on his own dime whereas in international markets, the distributor usually takes care of all this, which certainly adds a cost. 2) foreign exchange volatility/drift means that prices may have to be set higher than 'normal' simply to avoid having to raise them 3% every time the dollar take a tumble, 2a) there is a mark-up based on cross-currency forwards when US mfrs sell in most overseas markets where short- to medium-term interest rates are lower than U.S. interest rates. In some countries this can turn into a decent mark-up when considered over the life-cycle of the product (discussed by me in a previous thread), 3) distributors may have to finance inventory (and shipping to get it there).

That said, there may be some mark-up simply because the market will bear it.
My Koras are fast with a particular affinity for details and clarity and an underlying impatience
:) Yup, that rings a bell: "precision & rigour". The invariable complaint of French professors in Engineering and Law schools when discussing their students' performance....
"Your (inadequately written) paper typically lacks precision and rigour, Mr X. Fail. Please resubmit."

I remember listening to an outrageously expensive and meticulously set-up system at a dealer in Paris. I was young and inexperienced and felt that music coming out of the system paled before all the detail emanating -- as if you couldn't hear the music for the amount of detail hitting the ears. I turned to a chap sitting next to me and commented on this. He answered s/thing like: "this is a precise and rigurous rendering of the medium being played (it was a LP). I you want music, go to a concert -- many free concerts every night you know!"
A question relevant to countries of origin is that of the ethics involved in the manufacturing. It is important to me to buy audio products I know to be made by people who are involved in their work and get treated fairly. I also want businesses to be good citizens, not to pollute, to use non-endangered products etc., particularly in a hobby I feel so close to. That applies to any country.
Travis, your point about financing inventory is important. It's pretty unusual for goods to be released for export with the vendor taking the credit risk. It's beholded to the buyer to fund his purchases without taking credit from the manufacturer.

Also, consider a product like the Triplanar in the UK. It's always going to be a niche product in relation to the home produced SMEs, Linns, Regas, Hadcocks, Origin Lives, Cartridge Man, etc. It's customary in retail for the slow moving lines to have a higher mark up.

I can't help thinking that it's a bit chicken and egg though. If the Triplanar was more competitively priced in the UK it would attract more interest and, no doubt more sales.