Kinki Studio EX-M1 Integrated Amplifier
From Kinki Studios
A couple of you might remember my name as I was a reviewer for the now defunct online magazine, StereoMojo, I am no longer attached to any stereo related publication but I still love to listen to stereo equipment. So now I am just in the business of knocking the cobwebs off, listening to great music and enjoying playing around with nice affordable equipment.
Kinki, well we all know what comes to mind when we hear this, kinky, so I decided to ask the manufacturer. Here is his reply: “Kinki is the English name of the designer's soul partner.” soul partner as in wife.
Well, the package arrived via DHL and the funny thing was I was on crutches, my listening room is upstairs, and 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 amp comes well packaged, double boxed with foam inserts, owners manual,remote, and as the manual states, a cheap power cord. The amp was enclosed in a plastic bag. Hookup was straight forward with the nice 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 your speakers. Of course the nice English manual does not mention or show the gain switch in it's diagram. (Kinki: Manual updated here). The fit and finish of the Kinki is quite nice but is spartan in looks. I write to them that from my listening seat I could not read the name logo on the front of the amp and suggested a back-lit name or am automotive painted name to spruce up the front panel a little.
Now on with the show.
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.”
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: 55VAC
AC Power: 110/240VAC, 50/60Hz (Factory configure)
Input Sensitivity: 2.25Vrms - 3.6Vrms
Input Impedance: 50kΩ
Input Connector: RCA x 3, XLR x 1
Output: Speaker Binding Post 4mm L/R Channel
Dimension: 430W x 125H x 370D
Warranty: 36 months
Equipment used for review:
Unison Research Nuovo hybrid integrated amp with Cullen Gold Series power cable.
Cayin CD100 Venus cdp used as transport with Cullen Crossover power cable.
Musical Paradise MP-D2 dac with Cullen Crossover power cable.
Rosso Fiorentino Volterra speakers.
Analysis Plus Copper Oval-In Micro interconnects.
Aural Symphonics Digital Standard coax cable.
Analysis Plus Black Mesh Oval Nine speaker cables.
Music used for review:
Damien Rice – O
Melody Gardot – The Absence
Michael Wollny Trio – Weltentraum
Buika - Nina de Fuego
Kari Bremnes – Gate Ved Gate
Initial impressions right out the box was tight tuneful bass, speed, good tone, nice highs but just a little recessed, sound stage and imaging good, mid range was better than a lot. I know a lot of people like to let new equipment run a while before they even start to listen.
Listening to Kari Brennes' “En Elisker I Berlin”, at the beginning highs were airy, the echos fluttered in the air, her voice was very clear and distinct, not 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”, where you can find a lot of music when listening to different systems. On the first song”La falsa moneda” which starts out with a nice piano intro and then a rich female voice where I could hear the breath rolling out of 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.
For mid range 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 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”, there is also some nice guitar and violin work.
Tones are balanced and with and natural, his can be heard on “Amie”. The strings are very vibrant and you can hear them resonate throughout the guitar's innards ( make you think of guts)?
For 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 You Tube, while not a good way of choosing equipment but 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, I know on speakers with big bass will excite everything in your room. The upright bass on “In Heaven” is eye (ear) opening and refreshing.
vs. Unison Research Unico Nuovo - $3000:
From the beginning the Italian Nuovo yelled non piu (Italian) or no mas (Spanish) or no more, take your pick.`
The sound stage was smaller with the Nuovo and not as deep. The presentation from the Nuove was more relaxed, not as three dimensional, and the highs became a little stringent with louder volume levels. This could be due the fact that I still have the stock tubes in the nuovo.
Highs with the Kinki are more extended and the mid range was cleaner.
The Nuovo bass was nowhere near as controlled and tight. Next to the Kinki, the Nuovo sounded closer to mid-fi.
vs. MastersounD Compact 845 - $8000:
OK, I am a tube lover so this might tilt my objectivity but I call it as I hear it. As expected the Kinki has better bass which has more impact and is tighter. The mid range of the Mastersound was more fleshed out and harmonically rich.
The highs of the kinki were more extended but not as smooth and musical. The sound stage of the Mastersound was more three dimensional and forward with instruments and singers outlined in clear clean lines.
In this comparison the Kinki said no mas or non piu in Italian
vs. Ayre V-6xe amp/deHavilland Ultraverve 3 pre combo - $10,500:
No sense in beating around the bush, the Kinki was no match for the Ayre/deHavilland combo. To start you would think the 200 watt Kinki would hold it's own in the bass department against the 150 watt Ayre but it was no contest. The Ayre had more power in the lower regions. Don't get me wrong, the Kinki does have good bass, it's tight and controls the drivers very well.
The Kinki has a clear articulate mid range but the combo was more three dimensional, which probably is due a lot to the deHavilland preamp.
The highs of the combo is not as extended as the Kinki, but boy do they float and tickle the hairs in your ears.
The Kinki ex-m1 is one of the best sounding integrated amps I have heard. While it sometimes comes up short against the big boys but given it's price it's a no nonsense choice for those of us that don't have the deep pockets of Bill Gates.
The highs, mids and bass put the Kinki on a level that a lot of audiophiles would think of it as their last amp.
The sound stage is located just behind the front of the speakers but does not take away from it's depth.
The height and width of sound stage is also there. The Kinki has pinpoint imaging.
The looks are a little spartan but wouldn't you trade some looks for better sound and less cost.
Please use a good power cord, I use Cullen Cables, it does make a difference. The amp lets you hear the differences in interconnects and isolation devices.
All in all I can without hesitation recommend to anyone looking in this price range and above. As always try to audition stereo equipment at home in your system. It's probably hard to listen to an ex-m1 without purchasing it, but I doubt you would be returning it.
China is on it's way, some people moan when they hear “made in china” , but remember there was a time when we said that about Japan.
North American distributor and service center