Cheap doesn’t always mean nasty, but Justin Worthy’s tips will you help you tell when it does.

You can spend a whole heap of money building a great home entertainment system and, with consumer electronics, the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ often proves true. But not always. These days, a component designed and built in Japan can command a premium but 30 years ago Japan-built products didn’t carry quite the same cachet. Now, it’s China’s turn under the microscope in the consumer electronics industry, but the truth is that quality control in many Chinese operations can be second to none and, if we all live long enough, ‘Made in China’ will doubtless become a universal badge of prestige.

Such things are cyclical but unfortunately we’re not quite there yet. Electronics retailers report record profits each quarter but, in order to satisfy the relentless demands of us, the customer, or ‘consumer’ as they would have it, expecting the products to get better but prices to fall, electronics manufacturers often cut corners to bring the products to market. Parts that used to be metal become plastic, quality materials are switched for cheap substitutes, AV connections and ports are dropped and, sometimes, the gear just won’t do what it’s supposed to do very well at all.

So what are you paying for when you pick up some new gear? What are the most important parts of each piece of equipment and how do you tell if costs have been cut? That’s the purpose of this article and if you follow some of the guidelines here, you could save yourself a bit of time, money and grief.