Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mainland Chinese Rare Earth Monopoly: Bad for the Hi-Fi Industry?

Even though Beijing had resumed rare earth metal export to Japan, does the Mainland Chinese monopoly on rare earth metals bad for the hi-fi industry in the long run?

By: Ringo Bones

When it comes to the use of rare earth based ultra powerful permanent magnets, the hi-fi industry is probably without equal. From the relatively large samarium cobalt and neodymium boron iron magnets used in dynamic loudspeakers to the tiny magnets used in tape-based analog tape record / playback heads known for their glorious non-fatiguing warm analog sound. Not to mention the CD / DVD player and LP turntable motors that contain rare earth magnets, come to think of it, the hi-fi industry is probably the most rare earth dependent consumer electronic industry on the face of the planet.

Even though Mainland China’s quotas of rare earth metals being exported into the global market has more or less returned to the pre-conflict with Japan levels back November 24, 2010, Mainland China’s virtual monopoly of the global rare earth metal industry is not only detrimental to the world’s high-tech industry that’s very much dependent on rare earth metals but also its concept of “quality” – especially when it comes to hi-fidelity audio – is wholly different that of the Japanese obsession with Single Ended Triode amplifiers or of the Western concept of absolute sound quality in general. I mean had Mainland China ever produced its own version of a cost-no-object CD player set to rival the sound quality of a 7,000-euro German made Burmester CD player?

With Mainland China’s proposed 120 nuclear reactors it plans to operate to lower the country’s carbon footprint, rare earth metal export quotas might further be reduced. After all, they would probably be using their mined dysprosium and holmium as burnable poisons for their fission-type nuclear power plants. Not to mention the use of other rare earth metals for the magnetic relays, making the hi-fi industry yet again raise prices due to rare earth metal scarcity and pass on the expense to us hi-fi enthusiasts / capitalist consumers.

Add to the recent Wikileaks revelation that the Beijing government wants a North and South Korean reunification with the Seoul government in charge wold pose a rather significant geopolitical risk in the security of Mainland China's ability to maintain the commercial trading of rare earth metals. It would be sooner rather than later that Mainland China’s virtual monopoly on the rare earth metal industry won’t allow it anymore to keep up with global rare earth metal demand since all the rare earth metals it produces will only be enough for domestic consumption.