Navigating 11.11: China’s Black Friday – A Beginner’s Guide to Buying ChiFi

Navigating 11.11: China’s Black Friday – A Beginner’s Guide to Buying ChiFi

Article written by @Fc-Construct


Believe it or not, China’s version of Black Friday is also known as Single’s Day as it falls on November 11. Apply a bit of abstract imagination and you’ll see how 11.11 refers to a special day for bachelors and bachelorettes. And what better way to celebrate a life of solitude than with an excess of retail therapy? No seriously, this unofficial Chinese holiday has now become the largest online shopping day in the world.

Naturally, this extends to Chinese audio products as well, or more colloquially known as ChiFi. This article is thus intended to help anyone new to buying ChiFi navigate the market, demystify buying things from China, and answer some common questions that I’ve seen arise from others trying to buy their first pieces of ChiFi.

Retailer vs. Brand

One of the most common misconceptions I’ve seen is the confusion around the brand or manufacturer of the product. For example, if you go on Amazon and look up IEMs, you might come across something like the Linsoul KZ ZS10 Pro. Confusingly enough, right besides that you might see the Yinyoo KZ ZSN Pro X. Or maybe it’s the NiceHCK KZ ZEX PRO What gives?

The important distinction here is that KZ is the brand, the manufacturer of the IEMs. Linsoul and Yinyoo are retailers, store fronts much like Amazon themselves. I’ll come back to them in the next section but the key is that oftentimes, Chinese retailers will put their store name right next to the products they are selling to try and gain market share. KZ is still the brand and manufacturer and if the model is the same, there won’t be any difference in the sound. ChiFi brands you are likely to come across are KZ, MoonDrop, SeeAudio, FiiO, Thieaudio, 7Hz, and Tin HiFi, to name a few.

One confusing twist to this is that in some cases, retailers themselves can have a house brand or exclusive collab products. For example, Linsoul has their Thieaudio line-up. Or the SeeAudio x Crinacle Yume Midnight sold exclusively by HiFiGo. In these cases however there should be less confusion as these retailers tend to be more protective of exclusive products and won’t try to sell it everywhere such as on Amazon or AliExpress.

A Retailer “Tier List”

At this point, you might be thinking Linsoul? Yinyoo? HiFiGo? AliExpress? I’ve never heard of them in my life! Well, let me break it down for you in a categorized tier list of sorts by popularity and reputation. Please note: the following tier list is NOT meant to promote or disparage any specific stores. It’s also not meant to be a comprehensive list by any means, just the ones that you’re most likely to come across.

Tier 0: Amazon and local online retailers

First, let me start with a “Tier 0”. Given that the readers of this article are very likely to be North Americans, I should give mention to retailers here. Generally speaking, if you can find the ChiFi you want from these retailers, it’s worth getting it from them even if it’s a little bit more expensive. Note however these retailers won’t have an 11.11 Single’s Day sale since that’s very much still a Chinese thing.

Amazon: Love them or hate them, Amazon is what most people default to when it comes to being the place to buy anything given their shipping speed, exceptional customer support, and return policy. When it comes to ChiFi specifically however, given Amazon’s massive catalogue it can be very, very confusing to navigate their store and sift through what’s good and not since everyone’s trying to list products there. But if you know exactly what you want and are well read on the reviews, Amazon just makes everything easy. Assuming you don’t have an ethical aversion to them that is.

Local online retailers: Outside of Amazon are dedicated retailers for audio such as Generally speaking, they’ll have a much smaller catalogue of ChiFi. The upside is that it means these products are often curated by passionate store owners so you don’t really have to worry about getting low quality goods. You’ll have to look into the policies for each store yourself but oftentimes the shipping speed, customer support, and return policy can rival Amazon since they know they’ll be competing against that giant.

Tier 1: Shenzhen Audio, Linsoul, and HiFiGo

Now I’ll get into the “big three” ChiFi stores: Shenzhen Audio, Linsoul, and HiFiGo. I consider them the big three as they’re currently the most popular stores for people looking to really delve into ChiFi. Each of them has a large catalogue of Chinese brands and sell everything from random little accessories to high end luxury sources. Each of these stores will have their own 11.11 sale and promotes them rather aggressively so you’ll want to check it out if you’re interested. But to be honest, don’t worry too much if you miss something this time around. 11.11 is the big sale day but these stores are constantly running promos all year round (such as spring and summer sales), so you’ll have plenty of chances to pick something up at a great price.

The other thing that makes these the “big three” of ChiFi stores is that they carry exclusives or collab products of their own. Shenzhen Audio is MoonDrop’s premier distributor and carries some higher end brands like Astell & Kern that the others don’t. I already mentioned Linsoul’s Thieaudio house brand earlier and HiFiGo’s SeeAudio X Crinacle Yume Midnight collab. While there’s a lot of product overlap between the three, sometimes you might have to look around if you can’t find what you’re looking for.

In terms of shipping, customer service, and returns, these three are around a ballpark of each other. Personally, I consider them very good for ChiFi standards. While they aren’t Amazon, these stores have put tremendous effort into improving their logistics. I remember back in the day when Linsoul and HiFiGo were just getting started as stores and waiting two weeks to a month with no tracking number for things to arrive, as is customary for small Chinese shops halfway across the globe. Now, they provide tracking numbers, improved their overseas inventory, and tightened up the shipping times. They even promote their warranty and return policies. And believe it or not, they’ve also put a lot of work into their customer service over the years, though more on that later.

Tier 1.5: Direct from Manufacturer or smaller ChiFi shops

Alternatively, you can buy directly from the manufacturer. Sometimes, a Chinese brand like DUNU might have their own store online you can order from. The reason they aren’t as good as the stores in Tier 1 is because they might not have the same level of support and customer service given their smaller size.

In this category would also be some of the smaller audio retailers. Penon Audio would be an old school example, having existed before Linsoul or HiFiGo. They’re a reputable vendor, just not to the scale and popularity that Shenzhen Audio, Linsoul, and HiFiGo have grown to.

Tier 2: AliExpress

Now we come to AliExpress. If you’re totally unfamiliar with AliExpress, think of it like the eBay of China where countless individual stores can set up shop and list their products. It’s not as easy to navigate and can feel daunting at times but you can find almost anything you need here when it comes to ChiFi.

Before I really get into explaining it, there’s a couple things to clarify.

  1. Yes, shopping on AliExpress is generally safe. Obviously, exercise due caution like not spending thousands of dollars at once and sticking with stores with high ratings and large order volumes. But everyone I know hasn’t had too much trouble shopping on AliExpress.
  2. Shipping times can take a very long time and you might not get a tracking number. Your package might take two weeks to two months to show up. And even if you do get a tracking number, it might be a useless one. I think this is where a lot of people get sketched out when buying ChiFi as the expectation in the West is for quick delivery and a tracked package. With AliExpress, sometimes there’s an element of blind faith that your items will arrive. You just have to wait and one day it’ll show up on your doorstep. To be fair, almost everything arrives within a month or so in my experience and AliExpress has some pretty good policies around managing shipping disputes.
  3. Customs, import fees, and taxes. Given that you’re importing from China, you might be hit with customs. There’s no hard rule about this because it really depends on where you live, the courier used, the cost of the goods, etc. I haven’t actually had to pay too many of these myself but is one that you should be aware of in case you see any strange additional fees.

Now back to the point of AliExpress being like eBay. Pretty much all Chinese brands have an official store that can be found on AliExpress. MoonDrop has a store. DUNU has a store. KZ has a store. These are individual stores run by those manufacturers.

But wait, retailers also have a store. For example, Yinyoo that I mentioned above that’s on Amazon? Their official store is actually on AliExpress. Penon Audio also has a store. Another one you might run across is NiceHCK who operates as both a retailer and brand and list their own products on other storefronts as well. Fun fact: before Linsoul was Linsoul, they were called DD-Audio and you can still find their main store on AliExpress to this day, selling the exact same products their official website does.

Practically speaking, this doesn’t affect anything when it comes to buying. Just know that each store is run separately from another and some are more reputable than others. But in general, I’ve rarely ever had anything go wrong. Those individual brand stores in Tier 1.5 are pretty much the same as their AliExpress version, but with a dedicated website.

Tier 2.5: AliExpress off-shoots

It’s not really fair to classify these stores as Tier 2.5 but I needed a way to distinguish them from AliExpress. Essentially, these stores function in the same way as individual AliExpress retail stores but are outside of its purview for a variety of reasons. For example, BangGood or GearBest or even would fall in this category. You likely won’t have any issues ordering from these stores. Same concept, different website.

Tier 3: Alibaba

If you thought AliExpress was confusing, try Alibaba. This is the real wild west. For those unaware, Alibaba actually owns AliExpress. Where AliExpress is meant to be a direct-to-consumer store and has a much nicer interface especially for those in the West, Alibaba is meant more for business-to-business ecommerce. There’s pretty much everything under the sun on Alibaba. Frankly speaking, I’ve never shopped there myself. It’s a lot more confusing to navigate their site and you’ll have to figure out the shipping yourself, often needing a forwarding service of some sort. The benefit of Alibaba is that you might be able to get some rare items that not even AliExpress has, such as specific adapter types, sold by individual audiophiles living in China looking to share their craftsmanship. You’re on your own for this one.

A Word of Caution

That was a lot. How are you feeling? Hopefully you now have a pretty good idea of what to expect if you want to go hunting for 11.11 deals. As you might have gathered, there really isn’t that much to be afraid of when it comes to buying ChiFi. The process is honestly very straightforward and not much different from buying any other store once you understand some of the nuances.

However, there are a couple things I think are important to point out when it comes to returns and warranty with ChiFi. There are two fundamental challenges when it comes to after sales support for ChiFi products. The first is the distance and the second is the language barrier.

Not only is the distance a problem when it comes to shipping times, you’ll have to consider the cost of return shipping if there’s anything wrong with your order and you need it fixed or returned. You might be able to get a return label made but I wouldn’t count on that. As such, depending on what you’re sending back the shipping costs might become quite substantial. Not to mention customs if that’s a factor as well. If at all possible, I’d personally avoid returning anything since the shipping time and cost could very well make the whole thing not worth it.

When it comes to speaking with customer support when trying to get warranty, the language barrier means some things can get lost in translation. To their credit, stores on AliExpress often do their best to respond to customer complaints because they take their store ratings very seriously. But the experience isn’t always the smoothest. Try not to use complex phrases and long sentences like you would a native speaker. Store owners or employees might just be using some translation app to respond to you.

Here’s an example of an ideal scenario when it comes to needing to handle a warranty through AliExpress. Back when I first bought the Tin Audio T2 during an AliExpress spring sale, the cable had an issue where it would intermittently cut out on the left side. A pretty standard problem. Instead of sending it back and dealing with all the associated hassle, I negotiated with the seller to give me $10 off for the broken cable which I used to buy another one after sending a video proving it was defective. Hopefully if you run into any issues it’ll be as simple as this. Dead drivers on the other hand… that’s more of a pickle.

Interesting Things to Buy

Before we finish this article, let me suggest a few things you might be interested in when trawling through AliExpress. Beyond headphones, IEMs, and sources, you can find lots of accessories that might complement your audio experience. In no particular order:

  • Cables – These are one of the most popular things to get from AliExpress or other ChiFi stores as there’s a huge variety to suit all price ranges and preferences. Honestly, I can write a whole piece on cables itself. If you’re looking for a specific store, XINHS on AliExpress is a very popular one for IEM cables.
  • Carrying cases – More for IEMs but you can find all sorts of different case styles to match what’s most convenient for you.
  • Headphone stands
  • Adapters
  • Ear tips – Once again, IEM orientated but it can be worth picking up a bunch of different types of tips and experiment with the ones that give you the best seal and comfort.


And that’s everything I have to say on the topic. If you’re still hesitant, the best way to dip your toes into buying ChiFi or shopping on AliExpress is to buy something small like a $20 IEM cable and see how that turns out. Despite what the length of this article might suggest, you should find it a very painless process. Or, if you’re anything like me, just have fun browsing all the crazy deals and promos that come with China’s Black Friday. Seriously, they can get pretty convoluted.

I’d be curious to see in the comments if any readers have their own experience with buying ChiFi. Maybe if you’ve shopped on any of the websites listed here you can share some insights as to how it went. I know there are some crazy AliExpress stores out there! Or perhaps you have a favourite little accessory you picked up somewhere that no one knows about. Let me know!


Excellent advice. China has a policy of subsidizing the shipping of exports. This is why you can get stuff from China cheaply. Going back, with tracking is pretty much DHL, and you can figure about $125 for a 1 pound box from the US.


Speaking of DHL, I should also mention that it really depends on the courier’s local policies. I get charged $25 every time I receive a ChiFi package from like Linsoul since they ship via DHL. On top of customs and import fees (which are often negligible to be honest), DHL has “processing fee” that costs $25. I’ve spent more in shipping fees than in ChiFi at this point lol. But my understanding is that my friends in the US don’t have this issue, it’s a Canadian specific problem with DHL.

I think at one point FedEx had something similar but it was like $10 instead.

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I’ve not bought any Audio stuff directly from China, but I have bought Photography equipment & Guitar parts for my son’s rebuilds. My experiences fall pretty much in line with @Fc-Construct 's, with as fast as a week to as long as 2 months for shipping. The quality of the items I’ve gotten were very good to excellent and I’ve had no real issues. I just adopt the idea that I may not get what I’ve ordered or it may be unaffordable to return it.

Mark Gosdin


With so much manufacturing in China these days, I do purchase directly in some product categories. This includes (1) stuff that is entirely made in China – either buy directly or pay a middleman importer 2x or 3x more for the same stuff, and (2) products that are not yet available outside of China.

I’ve purchased from AliExpress and GearBest, but GearBest shrank dramatically from what they once were. AliExpress remains the wild west of online shopping, and used to be a lot worse. There are some truly good stores, honest stores, reliable stores, and official vendor stores. There are also many many many fake “official” stores that are not remotely official or that sell Chinese public domain products that can never be official. There are also outright scammers who charge crazy prices relative to other stores (same on Ebay and to a limited extent Amazon). Some sellers don’t even ship products, and this requires a refund request 60 days later. However, AliExpress is quite good for package tracking and issuing refunds.

My direct-from-China track record is about 80% positive, with items as described and on time (30 days). About 10% either never arrived or were fraudulent vendors. About 10% of the items either did not match my expectations or were missing pieces, and not cost-effective to return.

I check US vendors (Amazon and Ebay with US warehouses) first. If available and in the same price ballpark I buy from the US. If not or if it’ll only ever be from China, I go international.


I have never been charged either an import fee or a customs fee on imports from China here in the US, regardless of shipper or carrier. I think generally those costs are levied by the government in the destination country, and the US doesnt levy these fees on consumers (for now). I think the $25 processing fee is what DHL charges for collection and remittance of government levied customs/import fees.

Thanks for this remarkable thread. I have been buying inexpensive IEMs and cables via AliExpress for about a year, but I didn’t truly understand “what was going on” in terms of business model or industrial organization - it just worked, well, mostly. Now I have a much better feel, thanks to this write up, and I’ll probably buy both more and less; more things of a certain type from certain storefronts, and less things of a certain type. AliExpress is certainly more dynamic than eBay in terms of UX and tolerance for vendors of different profiles; but their total global volume (and selling lack of individual sellers?) makes reputation seem somehow more meaningful. But I really think that eBay could stand to learn a thing or two; you really brush up against the dynamism & scale of the Chinese market and see why so many platforms seem likely to be China-based in the coming decades.

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Some vendors advertise free return shipping, but I’ve never tried those services myself. Case by case. There are many scammers online.

So far so good purchasing from AliExpress on my end. Typically they all come through regular mail (2-3 weeks for USPS in the east coast) but I received the FD7 and the FH9 within a week after shipped with DHL straight from the store in :cn:.

I find their logistics fascinating. E.g.: try purchasing a bunch of small priced stuff at free shipping. They’ll wait for more orders and group everything in a single shipment within a time window. Keep that in mind if one is in a hurry.

Moreover, now they’re giving me coupons to purchase more stuff, while making up for their shipping costs altogether. That is quite an organized workflow.

As far as returning policy, I never counted on it as I always considered my purchases with them final.

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I have been getting calls from someone at “US customs & border patrol” since I started buying from AliExpress, but I think that’s mostly a coincidence and a scam (see this) so I’ve never given them any information and eventually all my stuff has reached me. I’m voting for pure coincidence, but the timing seems kind of uncanny…it seems like every time an order reaches US shores I get a call purportedly from USCBP, I refuse to talk to them without knowing what it’s about, and then a week later I get my stuff.

I like doing business with Penon. They have some really nice cables and IEMs. They took care of me when the nozzle snapped off my ISN H30 when I was tip rolling. They will also pay for return shipping, which was @ $19 USD in my case.

I also want to mention MusicTeck Online Store. They serve as a dealer for lots of excellent Chinese electronics here in the U.S. (New Jersey). So if we feel uncomfortable with AliExpress ad overseas service, then those guys are the answer. Here’s the link:

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I bought a $150 NOS DAC made by ZeroZone off AliExpress. I wasn’t expecting much but for the cost it was worth a gamble. It arrived DHL Express in a few days and packed very well. Im totally blown away by the fit and finish on the thing. All metal, a nice hefty four pounds. Two AD1865 chips in it. Qualify inside too. I haven’t switched it out of headphone system since i bought it. I love it. Best $150 ive spent in audio in years and ive been an enthusiast for 50 years.

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I think you just described the allure of ChiFi - small little niche items that you don’t really know what you’re getting but sometimes you get to stumble upon something that really makes it worth it. Enjoy!

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Is this it?{"sku_id"%3A"12000029968888346"}&pdp_npi=2%40dis!USD!195.0!165.75!!!!!%402122457116681359738056844d0732!12000029968888346!sea&curPageLogUid=Ikaq1qmNp4uj

Coax-only input

Did they charge you $54 to ship it?

Not that one. With DHL Express it came to a bit under $200. Id say three days from China to Arizona.
I wasn’t expecting much, it was rolling the dice and this time i won.
They sell on ebay too and if you search NOS DAC youll see two for around $160. Plenty of pics inside and out. Im a Schiithead and ive owned plenty of budget DACs. $500 is the most ive spent. My little Modi multibit has been a favorite but i haven’t used it since this one was delivered. Yes, coax only. Im a CD spinner and use a transport so thats all i need.