From $99 and up, audio component manufacturing is returning to the U.S.

There's a major shift of production from China to the U.S., which includes some truly affordable electronics and speakers.

A Bob Carver amplifier. Bob Carver, LLC

We don't manufacture TVs, computers, cameras, or phones in the U.S., and American audio companies have been outsourcing production for years, but it's starting to come back. Not just for ultra-high-end products -- Schiit Audio's $99 Magni headphone amp and $99 digital converter were designed and built here. Magnepan , Tekton , and Zu Audio are all making affordable high-end speakers in the U.S. And this past Wednesday, Dan Laufman, president of Jade Design, announced the acquisition of Bob Carver, LLC, a manufacturer of tube amplifiers.

I've interviewed Bob Carver a number of times -- he designed the world's first high-power, 350-watt-per-channel solid state amps in the early 1970s, the first high-power compact amps, then the first high-power compact subwoofers. But over the last few years Carver returned to designing tube electronics. The company designs and builds audiophile products the old fashioned way, by hand, with point-to-point wiring (no printed circuit boards), or surface mount components. Carver prices start at $1,690 for the Black Magic 20 tube amplifier, but it was $2,500 before the Jade Design acquisition. All Bob Carver amps enjoy similar price reductions.

Dan Laufman on the left, and Bob Carver Jade Designs

Jade Design moved Carver's production facilities from Kentucky to Nashville, Tenn. Jade also owns Emotiva, which manufactures some of my favorite electronics and powered speakers in China, so the biggest surprise of the press event was that Laufman will soon start building some Emotiva products in Tennessee. The factory will be open to the public (but please call ahead), so you can see for yourself that audio production is returning to the U.S. Carver electronics will be sold direct from the company's Web site and brick-and-mortar U.S. retailers, and distributed globally. Emotiva is sold direct on the company's Web site, prices start at $219 for the Mini-X A100 integrated amplifier, which is now on sale for $189.

Laufman was clear on this: he will start to move Emotiva production, for selected models, to the States. He's not going to just stuff an outsourced circuit board into a chassis and proclaim the product is made in the U.S.; no, Emotiva and Carver designs use major components sourced from U.S. suppliers. Laufman also promised a range of Emotiva and Carver digital converters that will be made domestically.

The Emotiva Mini-X A100 amplifier. Emotiva

I have fond memories of listening to Bob Carver's flat-panel ribbon speakers from the 1990s, and those speakers are being redesigned and will be back in production.

I will be reviewing Carver's Black Magic 20 tube amp in the near future, and I just received word that I'll be getting the $179, made-in-the-U.S. Orbit turntable soon.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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