Marvin Bolden examines the Kinki Studio EX-M1 integrated amplifier – UPDATED 12/8/18
Today’s audio enthusiast is literally saturated with a plethora of high definition audio products in every part of the reproduction chain and at virtually every price point. Here at The Sound Advocate, it is our duty to search out some of the relatively smaller manufacturers who may not be as well known to the average consumer but have nevertheless brought to the market products that can truly influence the ‘high end’ audiophile scene while offering pricing that won’t make you take out a mortgage on your home!
Kinki Studios is one such manufacturer. Why the name Kinki, you may well ask? Although we all know what comes to mind when we hear this name kinky, out of simple curiosity, I decided to ask the manufacturer about it. Here is his reply: “Kinki is the English name of the designer’s soul partner.” Soul partner as in his wife…
Kinki Studio’s main designer – Liu – was born and grew up in the military district of Guangzhou. Liu, does not believe in exaggerated bass and yet this amplifier goes lower and tighter than many in or way above its price range.
The next step involved was to see what makes this integrated amplifier really tick while exploring all its subjective reproduction possibilities. Later on I would compare it with a few other product examples; both within the Kinki’s price range and above.
My package arrived via DHL and the funny thing was I was on crutches, and as my listening room is upstairs, the DHL guy would not do me a favor and set the heavy box at the top of the stairs for me. Imagine this, placing this heavy box on every other step and me moving up one step at a time!
The amplifier came well packaged, double boxed with foam inserts, owner’s manual, remote, and as the manual states, a cheap power cord. Hookup was straight forward and the unit had good, solid binding posts and pretty good quality RCA jacks. Upon turn on, the amp goes through a countdown sequence to allow the circuits to stabilize.
The gain switch on the rear comes in handy to tailor the volume settings to yours speakers. Ironically, the nice English manual does not mention or show the gain switch in its diagram.
The fit and finish of the Kinki is quite nice but is spartan in looks; if that’s your style. I felt like writing to them, explaining that from my listening seat I could not read the name logo on the front of the amp and suggested a back-litname or an automotive painted name to spruce up the front panel a little.
SOME FEATURES as LISTED BY THE MANUFACTURER
“Most amplifiers use a potentiometer for volume control. EX-M1 uses an advanced microprocessor-controlled, relay-based R2R steps attenuator. Ultra-precise 256 steps linear volume control allow you to fine adjust the volume for late-night-listening.The EX-M1 uses extremely high cost 0.2µm gold-plated printed circuit board (PCB). From the perspective of PCBs, it is clear that the designer is well aware of the limitations on the fine contact area of the general circuit board, specifically increasing the soldered area at each solder joint and adding as much shielding as possible. It uses two 300VA UK made AMPLIMO transformers, one each for Left and Right channel power supplies so that the power does not interfere with each other to improve the channel separation.”
Initial impressions right out the box brought forth a tight tuneful bass, good transient speed with a neutral tonal balance. I found the higher frequencies just a little recessed, which gives orchestral string sections an aura of smoothness and refinement, which with well recorded program material is quite natural, indeed.
The Kinki’s sound stage and imaging were quite good and the mid-range was better than many amplifiers I have heard. I know a lot of people like to let new equipment run a while before they even start to listen, but my thoughts on this was to listen and keep the unit on—taking into account any improvements as more program material was expanded upon. Below I have broken down the frequency areas as to how they sounded individually and as a whole.
THE HIGH FREQUENCIES
Listening to Kari Brennes’ “En Elisker I Berlin”, at the beginning highs were airy, the echoes fluttered in the air and her voice was very clear and distinct, with hardly a hint of harshness. At the two-minute mark there is a bell that is struck and the sound just floats in space. The trumpet at the beginning of “Lysbroen” is hauntingly surreal.
Switching from one language that I didn’t understand to another, oh well, I guess music is universal, I found this on you tube, Nina de Fuego’s “Buika“. On the first song ”La falsamoneda” which starts out with a nice piano intro and then a rich female voice where I could hear the breath rolling from her throat. What I noticed about the highs was the fact that they were crystal clear, extended, detailed with a real to life pace and no harshness or fatigue whatsoever.
For evaluating the amplifiers mid-range reproduction, I thought I’d stick with female vocalist Melody Gardot. On her CD The Absence, the song “Mira” had a wide range of guitar, flute, bass guitar and background vocals. All were easy to pick out with correct placement within the sound stage; some solid stereo imaging.
Melody’s voice was natural and tuneful with a sweetness that will bring you to tears. The piano in “Goodbye”, blends in seamlessly with Melody’s voice and if you have ever been anywhere near a band you know this is a clarinet when you hear it.
Not wanting to be sexist, I played one of my favorite male singers, Damien Rice. On his CD “O”, his unique voice is highlighted in the song “The Blower’s Daughter”, along with some fine guitar and violin work. The Kinki exhibits a well-balanced, even tonal structure here and his voice can be heard quite naturally and beautifully on “Amie”. The strings are very vibrant and you can hear them resonate throughout the guitar’s innards (makes you think of guts)?
For the bass I used The Michael Wollny Trio’s “Weltentraum”CD. This is another CD I found on YouTube listening to system demos. I find listening to equipment demos on YouTube, while not a good way of choosing equipment is a damn good way of finding new music.! The bass on “Nacht” and “Lasse !” is tight and bone shaking, so if it’s doing it on my system which was not designed to be chest thumping sledge hammers, but a naturally even reproduced bass response, I know that on speakers possessing a huge, profound bass impact, the results will excite everything in your room. The upright bass on “In Heaven” is eye (ear) opening and refreshing. Here the Kinki excelled quite well and sounded abundantly natural.
Kinki vs. Unison Research Unico Nuovo – $3000: From the beginning the Italian Nuovo yelled non piu (Italian) or no mas (Spanish) meaning no more– take your pick. The sound stage was smaller with the Nuovo and not as deep. However, the presentation from the Nuove was a bit more relaxed, though not as three dimensional as the Kinki and the highs became a little stringent at louder volume levels. This could be due the fact that I still have the stock tubes in the nuovo. The Nuovo bass response was nowhere near as controlled and tight. Next to the Kinki, the Nuovo sounded closer to mid-fi levels of definition.
Kinki vs. MastersounD Compact 845 – $8000: OK, I am a tube lover so this might give a tilt to my objectivity but the fact of the matter is, I call it as I hear it. As expected, the Kinki had better bass which had more impact and sounded tighter. The mid-range of the Mastersound was more silky and harmonically richer on most vocal and orchestral material. The higher frequencies of the Kinki seemed a bit more extended but not quite as extremely smooth and “musical”. Whats more, the Mastersound’s sound stage did have a bit more three dimensionality and gave a somewhat more forward presentation with instruments and singers, albeit with nicely formed images and clear clean outlines. In this comparison its truly a matter of the tube amplifier exhibiting that “euphonic” and greatly admired tube presentation that will ultimately depend on the listeners personal preferences.
Kinki vs. Ayre V-6xe amp/deHavilland Ultraverve 3 precombo – $10,500: There’s no sense in beating around the bush here. The Kinki was no match for the Ayre/deHavilland combo although in this case, you must look at the price point as well as the two components involved.
To start, one might presume the 200 watt Kinki would have held its own in the bass department against the 150 watt Ayre but, in fact, it was no contest. The Ayre had more power in the lower regions. Don’t get me wrong, the Kinki do have a good, solid and natural sounding bass response being tight and controlling the drivers very well.
The Kinki also holds a clear, fleshy and articulate mid-range response and while the combo contained a larger sense of being more ‘concrete’ in its overall soundstage, this might probably have been due to the deHavilland preamp. (To be fare, it might be interesting to see how Kinki’s P7 Preamp and B7 full monoblocks fare in comparison). The highs of the combo is not as extended as the Kinki, but boy do they float and tickle the hairs in your ears with delicacy.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
The Kinki EX-M1 is without doubt one of the best sounding integrated amps I have heard. While it sometimes comes up short against a few big boys I had on hand, given its price point, it’s a no-nonsense choice for those of us that don’t have the deep pockets of Bill Gates! (Unfortunately, in some of the high-end audio enthusiasts’ minds, one inevitably thinks this is something to be ashamed of!)
The Kinki EX-M1 highs, midrange and bass response combined put it on a level that a lot of audiophiles would think of as arguably, the last amplifier in their search for sound perfection. While the sound stage presented by the Kinki lays just behind the back of the speaker enclosure, appreciatively, this does not take away anything from its depth perception of a full orchestra with instruments towards the back of the hall ! The height and width of the sound stage is also there, in spades. The Kinki will deliver pinpoint stereo imaging.
Please use a good power cord; I use Cullen Cables and it does make a difference. This amp, particularly, lets you hear many of the subtle differences in sound quality when applying different interconnects and isolation devices.
All in all, I can without any hesitation, highly recommend The Kinki EX-M1 integrated amp to anyone looking for a great amplifier in this price range or above. As always, try to audition stereo equipment at home in your preferred system. It’s probably hard to listen to an EX-M1 without purchasing it, but you may in fact, be able to let your dealer give you a loaner to audition. Ultimately, I doubt you will be returning it!
Contact information: — North American distributor and service center/ Mike Powell – Https://www.mikepowellaudio.com
SPECIFICATIONS *** Frequency Response: 10-150kHz (±3dB)
THDN: 0.0232%; 0.006% (A-Weighted)*** S/N Ratio: >103dB Output Power: 215W (8Ω),Both channel driven (350w 4ohm
Damping Factor: 2000 Max Output Voltage:55VACA
Power: 110/240VAC, 50/60Hz (Factoryconfigure)) .Input Sensitivity: 2.25Vrms -3.6Vrms
Input Impedance: 50kΩ Input Connector: RCAx 3, XLR x 1 Output: Speaker Binding Post 4mm L/RChannel .Dimension: 430W x 125H x 370D
EQUIPMENT USED for REVIEW
Unison Research Nuovo hybrid integrated amp with Cullen Gold Series power cable.
Musical Paradise MP-D2 dac with Cullen Crossover power cable.
Cayin CD100 Venus cdp used as transport with Cullen Crossover power cable.
Rosso Fiorentino Volterra speakers.
Analysis Plus Copper Oval-In Micro interconnects.
Aural Symphonic Digital Standard coax cable.
Analysis Plus Black Mesh Oval Nine speaker cables
Music used for review: Damien Rice –O Melody Gardot – TheAbsence Michael Wollny Trio– Weltentraum Buika – Nina deFuego Kari Bremnes – Gate VedGate
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