Updated: Jul 5, 2018
KINKI AUDIO THR-1 HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER
During these days I’ve had the opportunity to listen in my headphones setup this amplifier built in China, thanks to Mr. Alvin Chee’s kindness and willingness (he is the worldwide retailer of KINKI STUDIO, boss of the Vinshine Audio), who has authorized a listening tour in Italy for these products (an integrated amplifier, a preamplifier and, in fact, a headphone amplifier) .
As an old fan of headphones I could not miss this opportunity, even if, now, I have to write a review! I'm not a professional reviewer, I’m only a music lover and, in contrast to many people who populate social media in the audio field, I'm neither employed by any producer/distributor nor any magazine related to them. What you’ll read, if you want, is just what my old ears have to report on this object.
The device arrives from Vinshine Audio inside a double box in sturdy cardboard, a necessary condition to have reasonable assurance that electronics components will not suffer due to any usual transport damage (this is not the case, for example, for Denafrips products ...). In the package there are either the device or its user manual, unfortunately written only in Chinese language and useful only for the figures describing the connections. It would not be bad to have at least one copy in English. No power cord is enclosed
The amplifier is small (27 x 21 x 10 cm) but quite heavy (~6 kg) and immediately gives a sense of strength and concreteness that do not hurt. The front panel seems built in aluminum, about 1 cm thick, with a horizontal line design. You may like it or not, but on the whole, thanks to the large volume of its volume knob with a sunken front, it looks quite elegant. The cover, probably consisting of a painted aluminum sheet, appears aesthetically quite modest, as evidenced by the ease with which it maintains the fingerprints on the upper part, that then cannot be easily removed.
From a technical point of view, it is a balanced amplifier, equipped with a dual XLR / RCA input, capable to work also as a small line preamplifier, if needed. There is a small lever diverter on the front that let you decide whether to use the device as an amplifier or as a pre. The main output is balanced, with a XLR connection.
On the front panel there are: the power switch, the selector for the operating mode, the volume knob and three headphone connections: the first is made with a XLR 4-pin, to connect headphones with separate masses, the other two are 6.3 mm jack connections, the first of which is dedicated to impedance headphones between 400 and 800 Ohms, while the second is dedicated to impedance headphones between 10 and 400 Ohms. A push-button selector for input selection completes the front panel.
The tests I performed were done exclusively with the device in headset mode, connected in balanced to my DAC Denafrips Venus. Listening to my headphones park involved: HiFiMan HE1000 V1, Sennheiser HD600 Monster, 535, 545 and 565, Beyerdynamics Tesla T1 V1, Denon D7200, Spirit Labs Grado and Beyer Custom Studio. Time did not allow me to try any other!!! I’ve used Portento Audio headphone cables (for replaceable ones), DAC Denafrips Venus and Roon player with sOTM sMS-200 endpoint.
I must say, first of all, that I am a very passionate subject of high efficiency and high dynamics. I'm no longer a fan of hi-end detail. I need either to perceive involvement and dynamics or to be able to beat the rhythm of music with my feet. So, each of you has to keep in mind these considerations to understand better my words.
The first day I’ve tested two headphones placed at the extremes in terms of impedance: the Beyer T1, with its 600 Ohms, and the Denon D7200 with its 25 Ohms but, above all, with its 105 dB of sensitivity.
I underline how the Kinki amplifier is able to deliver a very high power, ranging from 28W on 8 Ohm to 1.3W on 600 Ohm, absolutely unknown to the vast majority of headphone amplifiers. This data allows practicing anything, even if, as we will see, it is not always a favorable characteristic.
The Beyer T1 appears immediately more present than I usually hear it. Though showing an elegant and well-sized soundstage, the voice appears closer. The timbre is beautiful, lacking in any harshness that the T1 can give when mishandled. Only the low range appears slightly backward, although this perception is probably due to the midrange approaching. Personally, to obtain a better range balance, I prefer the headphone output 10/400 to the 400/800. If we really want to stress the low range, a resistance of 200 Ohm in series to the connector is particularly helpful (I know it’s not an orthodox practice, but for me only the improvement of the sound counts...). I would say a performance of 8.
The Denon D7200, headphone that I personally consider to be the best closed headphone on the market, shows, however, some problems, due to the very high sensitivity. Given that, even with these impedances and sensitivity, the Kinki is completely silent (neither rustle or buzz, so easily perceived in many amplifications even with a big name), its volume potentiometer sensitive to some imbalance problems between the channels next to the 0 position. With the Denon you cannot overcome this first part of the potentiometer excursion and the sound appears unbalanced on the left channel. Perhaps a sensitivity selector could be useful in order to take advantage of these headphones as well. Nothing to say about the timbre, even though in this case the low range appears a bit 'back’. But I think the problem is only related to the volume position. For these reasons I would say a 6.5 performance.
A whole day was then dedicated to the HE1000, a headset that, personally, I love. This headset, which most of you probably know, is a headset that is hard to drive at its best. In fact, it can play using almost everything (listening with a 3W tube amplifier it gives great satisfaction), but in order to let it show all that it is capable of, it is necessary to supply it with high powers. This is the reason why I use it connected to the speaker terminals of an integrated amp Naim 5I ... I did not have very high expectations about the Kinki, even if the power data bode well. Quite the contrary ... Kinki can drive it in a fantastic way, as if it was connected to the Naim. I can find all the parameters of lateral spatiality, three-dimensionality, tonal balance, extension and grit in the low range, as if they were two identical amplifiers! Really excellent performance, I would say 9.5, because the perfection does not exist, but then we'll see ... 😊
The third day was dedicated to the Spirit Labs headphones. For those unfamiliar with the brand, Spirit Labs was born from the idea of a young engineer from Turin (Italy), Andrea Ricci, who wanted to give new life to the Grado and Beyer headphones, in his opinion unable to restore a sonority and musicality according to the characteristics of drivers. The brand does not exist anymore, having become the commercial brand Spirit Sound, recently presented at the Monaco Hi End. The headphones have a timbre strongly oriented towards the dynamics and the frequency extension, without however losing in sonic quality. They are headphones that I adore, the rock music they give is unequalled in terms of involvement. I’d perhaps say that they may appear a little "ignorant" to the lovers of perfection (but as you know rock is not related to perfection!) But I use it with great pleasure even with the great symphony orchestra ... The pleasure is absolutely in line with the expectations previously given by the HE1000. Overwhelming dynamics, sense of absolute rhythm and total involvement. With Kinki they sound better than with the Audio GD amplifications, amplifications used by the designer as a reference ... IMHO, of course. Never heard the Led Zeppelin like that, but neither the Metallica or the Dire Straits, rather than the Eagles ... Performance from 9 for the SL Grado and from 8.5 for the Beyer.
The fourth day was dedicated to the 4 Sennheiser. Personally, I love the headphones of this brand very much, which I own since the late '70s (HD424, the big yellow one!). These are headphones, those mentioned, that derive from an "ancient" musical conception, born to sound like headphones and not like speakers (even though the 565 was designed keeping the concept of spatiality very well in mind). Those who love today the sound of the HD800 for its artificial spatiality and three-dimensionality, can hardly adapt to this sound proposition. But being old, I love them very much!
The perceptions I report may not be, I admit, absolutely impartial; the qualitative increase of the Sennheiser sound, none excluded, compared to a listening with other amplifiers I have is so great that prevents me from being 100% correct. The headphones seem to be reborn to a new life, showing a completely unknown range of completeness. The low range, Achilles' heel especially of the three "older" ones, seems to magically disappear, giving an incredible and total involvement. I have listened to the 4 grandmothers for more than 8 hours and I have never had a problem of fatigue or tired listening. Only joy! Basically, it seems to listen to other headphones in the low range, with a high average of absolute quality ... Really incredible, if someone else wrote it I could not believe this improvement. Even the three-dimensional improves ... A 10 to all for the incredible leap forward given by Kinki. More objectively a vote of 8.75 for all.
I’ve then tried other headphones living in my house: Oppo PM-3, u-Jays, Bose Ae2 and others, mainly dedicated to the use with portable DAP, but the problem of their high sensitivity has re-proposed as for Denon.
After the joy of all these plays, inevitably, it is time to try to write my conclusions about the quality of this device. Inevitably, the final judgment is absolutely subjective and has no claim to be a truth. For my musical taste, my way of feeling and for my setup (I remind everyone how the good combination of the different components is practically all) I can say without fear that Kinki is one of the best 3 solid state headphones amplifiers that I’ve never heard in 45 years ... Able to give each headset an incredible energy, can do this without any artifice and without any effort. The sound is always perfectly balanced and detailed in every range, without generating any artificiality or fatigue of listening to all different piloted headset. And this is an absolute plus, in my opinion. Too often I have heard excellent amplifiers with only a headset and modest with others. The Kinki seems to give every headset (among those tested, of course) the same grace and the same musicality. If I need to find defects, the most obvious are those (connected to each other) related to the problems of volume potentiometer unbalancing in the initial part of its run and the gain, in my opinion, too high, which prevents you to take advantage of the right volume position. I would suggest the introduction of a selector that allows the choice of two levels of sensitivity and a better selection of the potentiometer. So, you can also use headphones with high sensitivity.
A heartfelt thanks to Mr. Alvin Chee of Vinshine Audio for the unaccustomed availability in this world, which allowed this Italian tour of Kinki Studio equipment.
P.S .: last-minute integration! I was able to find in the bottom of a drawer two Rothwell adapters, good to reduce the level of the input signal by -10 dB. I was also able to listen to the Denon D7200 outside the volume potentiometer unbalance sector. Even considering the inevitable quality degradation related to the adapters I must say that even the Denon sounds really good. It proposes an extremely balanced and airy sound, absolutely unusual for a closed headphone. Very positive result, 8.75 for the Denon too.
Credit: Giorgio Ferrari
THR-1 now shipped with lowered gain to address the volume pot channel imbalance issue for high sensitivity headphones.