Updated: Jul 5, 2018
Kinki-Studio Integrated Amplifier EX-M1: the opposite of monotriodes
I listened to this great amplifier for a week, connected to a Denafrips Pontus and a Denafrips Terminator (both R2R Dacs driven by a Daphile system) using a JPS Superconductor 2 XLR interconnect, and feeding a pair of ProAc Studio100 bookshelf loudspeakers through Kimber 8TC cable. I am very familiar with the associated equipment. The amplifier is rated for 215W into an 8 Ohm load. It sounds great and is probably underpriced (S$2,898.00 Singapore $, more or less 2,160 US $ or 1.825€). It sports an R2R volume control that goes linear (not log) from 0 to 255, and since it is quite loud (D'OH!) I rarely pushed myself to listen at 60. I am told that probably Kinki-Studio will include soon a resistor kit to lower overall gain. The whole chassis acts as a heatsink (and has the same cooling tubes as the Dan D'Agostino amps), so the amp should have enough air around and above it.
The sound is, well, the opposite of monotriodes (D'OH! again): it is full and very well balanced, bass has full authority and treble has a slight but sweet sounding roll-off. Mid frequences are not brash; there is only a hint of hardness in the upper midrange, and the amplifier is never too aggressive. Given the amplifier category (high powered solid state amplifier), I think this is a striking performance. Soundstage is only a little narrower than my usual reference (a preamplifier and a power amp that cost three times this amp), but is very natural, and each instrument is clearly portraid as a realistic and, again, natural sounding musical instrument. Voices stand out beautifully, and pianos are reproduced as large instruments (when correctly recorded) while guitars and violins are comparatively smaller, just the way it should be. I really enjoyed playing every sort of music: orchestral music sounds full and powerful and you get the feeling of the full presence of an entire orchestra in a large theatre. More aggressive music sounds, well, aggressive but not more than the artist intended to.
I really enjoyed playing music for bigger groups and ensembles: drums, bass, guitars, keyboards and voice, or chamber orchestras. The music normally used for testing audiophile gear (generally a soft female voice accompanied by a few acoustic instruments) sounded good as well, but that kind of music would probably sound good anywhere. Bigger ensembles sound good only if the whole chain sounds good.
This is an amp that could satisfy probably a lot of audiophile guys. Only the most nit-picking audiophiles could find annoying the slight upper midrange hardness or the slightly narrower soundstage, but there is nothing that sounds better in its price range and has the same performances. With this amp you can really re-discover your music collection and play songs after songs.
Wishlist: I'd really like if Kinki-Studio included a kit for lowering overall gain, and I'd really appreciate if they did a little fine tuning on the upper midrange. If that was fixed, this amp could jump from "very good sounding" to "absolute bargain".
Credit: Stefano Giacovelli
EX-M1 now shipped with lowered gain and refined & smoother midrange and treble.