CHoco Sound, a new subsidiary brand of Kinki Studio focused on artistically designed high-performance products . Mr Liu's expansion had been two years coming. That's how long his desktop integrated had been in R&D when August 22 , his website teased "new product launches , 1- the new mini integrated amplifier 2- the new ultimate preamplifier 3-the new ultimate power amplifier 4-the new Kinki Studio cables and power cords.
With the left/center board in stereo - we already saw how there's no room for two of them - the single push/pull transistor pair of Exicon lateral Mosfets peeking out through the spy glass duplicate what my Enleum AMP-23R runs. Did this suggest equivalent ~25wpc/8ohm power?
The back shows no digital inputs. This is a purely analog machine. Alas, the six-pin K-Link socket will power an expansion module of DAC or Bluetooth/DAC still under development. Hence we only pay for the functionality we want.
Muses resistor-ladder-on-a-chip volume controller also popular with Cen.Grand, Ferrum Audio and Pass Labs.
Emei includes a standard plastic wand very much like a Xiaomi remote. Customers can also purchase the optional 'designer' remote in full aluminum when available.
Standard Remote Control
An Upgraded Aluminum Remote Control (Available in Both option - Silver and Black)
The new name CHoco Sound is suggestive of both chocolate and CH for Confoederatio Helvetica so Switzerland. Be it CH Precision, darTZeel, Goldmund, Nagra or Soulution, Swiss hifi is pricey. Getting such sound in Sino currency - euros converted from PRC labor rates and parts costs - is a heady proposition. At the end of the day, in this not a dream world, CH is more realistically short for China. In my book that's an excellent thing which merely continues Kinki's tradition of "we proudly come from China".
If you wondered about the lack of output stage in the next breakdown image, remember that it mounts to the top plate beneath the green PCB. You can see its edge with five fat hex bolts peek out. If the black toroid seems too compact of Ø for its rating, scroll back up to the first inside picture. Note how tall the part is.
Kilowatt power mongers already raised prickly eyebrows. I'd simply remind their crew. This isn't class D but A/B, decidedly compact, dressed sharp then priced sub Euro 2K. Within those parameters Emei is a quite heavy-handed Shaolin assassin. Kinki Studio call it "a ferocious little monster". Even though it's far from twice the 8 ohm rating, a ~180wpc into 4 ohm spec is serious business. So is the expansion module promise; integrating an active linestage and remote; Muses attenuator also seen in Cen.Grand, Ferrum and Pass Labs kit; DC coupling for no signal-path capacitors; great bandwidth for faster rise times. Two finish options then polish up this proposition. Now all of this pixel posh had to deliver during my hands-on then ears-on inspections before it could matter fully. About which, I had a second compact 'desktop' comparator, the Simon Audio i5-integrated, a 45wpc/8 ohm proposition from Seoul which demands $2'500. On the price/power index, Emei had both Koreans beat before any listening commenced. With all my systems copasetic with Enleum's 25-watt output, the real decider of course would be current delivery, power headroom for gnarlier bass transients then general voicing/tonality and resolution. On features the AMP-23R adds superlative 6.3mm headfi, the i5 an RCA pre-out, Emei the expansion port. My ducks lined up ready to quack; and not just on the desktop. It's just because nothing bigger fits that Emei had to start there to assuage any fomo.
No quackery. The compact cardboard box felt unexpectedly heavy. Once sprung from its white inner box, my eyes called Emei's skins immaculate, their hue a greenish grey. The three-stage display- off, dim, max - controlled by a remote button with the universal icon for 'menu'. Full tilt showed quite pale, dim was nearly impossible to make out in the light of day. For another non-intuitive assignation probably from repurposing an existing OEM remote, the wand's home button triggered mute. Most other buttons remained unassigned. In display-off mode, two blue and one orange LED visible through the spyglass confirm 'on' status. Even when nothing plays and the display is off, status remains visible. Wakeup shows as a 'wait' bar progression, then a 'CH3' and 'KLink' check followed by a quick 0-100 sweep before sound springs to life on the prior input and volume. So blessedly Emei packs a memory function. As predicted her dimensions didn't fit my desktop's usual places so Mr. Liu's ferocious little monster had to squat unceremoniously in its middle. Four nice metal footers do unscrew but leave their bolts sticking out to not turn Emei into a lower rider. With my M1 speakers, standard nearfield SPL showed 050 on a 100 scale to leave plenty of voltage gain for what-if scenarios.
Even ear on transformer, I made out Zero mechanical noise. My initial inspection found equally zero gripes on build or finish. It only arched a minor brow for the dim light show. I'd still have to see how that translated at the 3-4 meters my racks in the two bigger systems put any amp. Regardless, the most apt term to sum up my first date before any sounds were even made was serious . Getting hands on had each push on the multi-function controller advance inputs from 1-3 then K-Link all at the presently set volume. A long press for standby killed the sound without a blip to show the 'CHoco Sound' name which gently faded, sprung back to life and repeated that cycle to never end in a blank screen. My $6'250 AMP-23R did muster a completely blank stare. On perceived build quality it had absolutely nothing on Emei. If anything, au contraire. As I said, serious. Damn. Fact checking Enleum's site for 100wpc, their new AMP-54R with optional DAC/phono cards gets Euro;25K. Even on the add-on score Emei's K-Link port pulls close if not even but now for a truly facetious fraction. Seriously damn !
Impressed silence continued with the volume control. It progressed click-less in either direction; and quite rapidly with the remote's button depressed for the duration. It also said sayonara to Kinki's 1/4 dB steps in their EX-M1's first iteration. There just 10dB of change meant we had to traverse 40 (!) steps. Since no piece of kit will ever satisfy all, it's fair to point out that Emei lacks a pre-out. For owners of deluxe preamps or elite variable sources who might want to run Emei as an amp, the voltage gain at full throttle is just 23.5dB. Unlike the AMP-23R which gets very toasty including its controller knob, Emei didn't even get luke warm. Clearly Mr. Liu's bank-vault casing books excess dissipation factor to break no sweat; at least not in my office use.
About which, Emei audibly improved upon my earlier bass power. This rendered the lower band more audible, forceful and far reaching. On raw resolution and just for the sake of easy visualization, I pegged hers a 95 to Enleum's 100 so unreasonably close if arguably not fully on par. Given the preceding setup, I considered that rather stupendous. To not cause my AMP-23R more blank stares and uncomfortable silences - and because my desktop couldn't properly host a machine of Emei's heigh - I decided rather quickly to take this show on the road. The first stop was upstairs to replace a Crayon CFA-1.2. That Austrian integrated belongs to the same sonic class as Bakoon/Enleum, Job/Goldmund and Kinki. It even uses the same output devices albeit in a current-feedback circuit with switch-mode power supply. It does 64/90wpc into 8/4Ohm; and when current sold for Euro;4'250. Speakers were my usual SuperMon Mini with Dynaudio S18 sub. Here's a parting glance at desktop hog mode ....
and magnified spyglass action around the central "gold" bullion with the not Fort Knox mint.
Having collected sufficient hardware across a lengthy reviewing career, I can usually regain or at least approach 'my' sound by compensating a newcomer with ancillary alternates. This also enables quick triangulations. Here the Crayon usually mates to Vinnie Rossi's L2 Signature DHT preamp. Its grounded-grid circuit shuns coupling caps and output transformers for 700kHz bandwidth. Fitted with Elrog ER50, it injects very mild textural enhancements. Those tame subtle presence-region forwardness of 4-inch Alpair widebanders in my micro aluminator standmounts from Korea. Emei didn't need the same valvular ministrations. Instead I could run an icOn 4Pro passive/magnetic autoformer volume control. That or a preamp is needed ahead of an 80Hz/4th order active analog filter. It inserts a speaker high pass and subwoofer low pass for perfect 2.1 integration when with insufficient boundary gain, these monitors only hit ~70Hz. Emei's own volume sat at max. Depending on median recorded level, the AVC worked between its usual 25-40dB attenuation. Not only did I have zero noise, bypassing Emei's attenuator created her best S/NR. I know exactly how the Crayon/Mon combo responds to this AVC. Hearing the Emei/Mon combo with it showed instantly how Emei was more relaxed and slightly warmer than the CFA-1.2 so possibly tuned for very fine 2nd harmonic THD. Having compared the Crayon to Kinki's original EX-M1 integrated, I know the latter to be fresher and energetically more adolescent. Now basic triangulations could easily extrapolate that compared to her bigger Kinki brother, Emei is tonally more mature and like her name, more feminine and refined. Without stepping outside family DNA, Emei felt more sophisticated or balanced than the first run of more masculine slightly macho speed-is-the-deed EX-M1. I can't know whether this reflects the designer's own aural evolution; or is a strategic course correction which anticipates price-commensurate systems to err more on the side of forwardness and leanness than fat sonority. To my ears, Emei wore less racetrack stickers on her sleeve but gave up no transparency in trade. That slipped her right into the ascending Goldmund/Job 225 -> Kinki EX-M1 -> Crayon CFA-1.2 -> Enleum AMP-23R hierarchy to set up shop between the latter two
Emath - Apart from a low-contrast small display already under revision, Emei sprang to life fully mature like an ancient goddess without puberty or adolescence. From exceptional build quality to stylish cosmetics in two color choices, unexpected size/power ratio, the designer's track record, attractive pricing and craftily styled sonics, it all adds up really big. Offboarding the upcoming BT/standard DACs means punters chasing just an integrated or amp won't spend on functionality they'll never use. Such smarts plus substance create serious stump when I'm not in the habit of handing out awards to the same brand time and again. Whilst CHoco Sound is technically new, Emei lives happily on the existing Kinki Studio site. That just weeks prior nabbed another award for their brilliant new cables. So I shall hide behind 'less is more', the original display and the spade-allergic right-channel terminal/s (?) of my sample. Let's call it supply-chain issues for Blue Moon awards. You place an order and six months later they've still not turned up. Publishing schedules can't wait forever.
Far more important is that unlike the AMP-23R, Emei packs the raw grunt to have burlier speakers like ours snap to attention. Shoppers can look well past her own price when it comes to transducers. Whilst chassis size falls somewhere between half and three quarters, power and sonics are fully grown up. Resolution is high not extreme, textures are mellow not sharp, tone is more single-ended than push/pull. Self noise is non-existent. If you fancy a bit more pentode in your triode, add the Kinki Earth cables. They're as high value in their category as Emei is in hers. Regardless, Emei is for listeners who in speakers prefer Zu to B&W, in headphones Meze's 109 Pro to Final's Sonorous VI, in D/A converters Denafrips to Chord. Without valve aging, noise, premature roll-off in the extremes, insufficient damping factor or phase shift caused by output transformers, Emei makes sophisticated subtly tube-inspired sound from pure transistors so with all their usual strengths. From emath to empath.
Reviewed by: Srajan Ebaen - 6moons