For many audiophiles, buying overseas has become the norm, and most particularly where low-cost items are concerned. As for the question of whether it’s moral to import hi-fi gear from overseas, effectively avoiding paying local taxes—not to mention depriving local distributors and retailers of income—is one that I will leave for individual consciences. However, irrespective of your justifications for buying overseas, one question you need to ask yourself these days is whether you’re absolutely certain that the item you’re buying is actually ‘the real thing’, and not a counterfeit.

In many cases, when you buy overseas, you are certainly buying a genuine product. But there are many types of ‘genuine’ products. For example, if you purchase a Nikon lens from US mail-order supplier B&H, you will certainly be getting a lens made in a factory owned by Nikon. However, Nikon has factories in many different countries. B&H is a very good outfit, so it will tell you before you buy which factory the lens you’re buying was made in. Not surprisingly, if you want a lens that was made in Nikon’s factory in Japan, you’ll pay more than if the lens was made in Malaysia, or some other country in which Nikon manufactures its products. So, if you’re buying a Nikon lens from a company that doesn’t tell you where the lens is made, you can bet that it won’t be made in Japan! And if you don’t buy from a reputable source, your so-called ‘Nikon’ lens might not even be made by Nikon.

If you buy headphones, cables, phono cartridges, or other ‘small’ audio products overseas, you will find you have much the same problem as when buying a camera, except that in this case, there will be a very good chance that the product you buy was not made in a factory owned by the manufacturer. In other words, you will be buying a fake. I have lost track of the number of people who have contacted me to complain that the so-called ‘name brand’ headphones they purchased overseas not only didn’t sound anything like the ones they’d auditioned in Australia, but also fell apart after only a few months of use.

I have had similar complaints about overseas cable purchases. In a few cases, the cables didn’t even work! (You could put a signal in at one end, and it wouldn’t come out at the other. After investigation—which involved destroying the cable in the process—it turned out that the wires inside these cables had not been properly terminated to the connectors.) And, of course, when you buy such a ‘dud’ product from overseas, your chances of getting a refund are a big fat zero.

The reason I am writing about this now is that only a few years ago, my opinion was that although similar ‘scams’ were happening (and have been taking place since the beginning of civilisation), they weren’t all that common, so in most cases it was likely that audiophiles buying products overseas would get real ‘factory’ goods, albeit ones that had been remaindered, or discounted for some reason. Flash forward to 2013, however, and counterfeit products are so common that if you buy from anywhere outside Australia, there is an excellent chance that the product you purchase WILL be counterfeit!

Manufacturers are counterfeiting products on a scale that I personally find mind-boggling, to the point where I’ve been told that some counterfeiters own factories that are larger and more modern than those used by the manufacturers of the genuine article. Now you may be asking yourself why, if counterfeiters have such modern factories, they produce such poor-quality fakes? One reason: profit. If they manufactured their fakes to the same standard as the original product, they’d make less money, and the only reason they’re in business in the first place is to make money… from you! 

Greg Borrowman