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KingKo Audio KA-101 integrated amplifier Review

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What else separates this amplifier from some of the competition?

The KingKo KA-101, as has been noted, has more specified output power than competing integrated/headphone amplifiers. In addition, the KA-101 also boasts 3 inputs versus many competing products offering only one. With so many different sources being used today, having the extra inputs saves the user from always having to take the cables out to put in the next source cable.

The KA-101 has a fourth input labeled PREAMP IN. This allows the KA-101 to be used as a dedicated power amplifier. Since many integrated amplifiers’ weak spots almost always lay in their preamp section, this is a really nice feature for tube amplifiers and a rather pleasant surprise to find it on such an affordable design. For those unfamiliar with this PREAMP IN feature, it means that you can add an external preamplifier, a preferably higher grade unit, thus upgrading the performance.

Another nice feature is that the amplifier has auto-bias. This means that you do not have to buy a volt meter and measure and make adjustments when you change a tube. If this is a first tube amplifier for you and you just don’t want the hassle of using a screwdriver and voltmeter every time you change a tube in order to make amplifier run properly, then, this amplifier is definitely worth considering. To change a tube, just pull it out and put in another and you are done, making the KA-101 an easy amplifier to tube roll without wasting time continuously measuring and adjusting.

Yet another feature is the voltage switch on the side of the amplifier for Asia/Euro and North American voltage. If you are a traveler, this amplifier can be carted overseas and all you need is a travel adapter plug.

And what can you add to an amplifier to give it some pleasing style? Meters! Meters are not necessary on audio equipment nor are they particularly accurate, but they add a touch of pizzazz to otherwise pedestrian looking hi-fi.

Fit and finish is excellent and sturdier than competing headphone amplifiers mentioned earlier, and superior to some more expensive amplifiers. There is some prestige factor to owning audio equipment that is well built, although for this price you don’t always get prestige factor. While this is a relatively small amplifier, the KA-101 weighs a considerable 24 lbs.

The feet are made of solid aluminum as opposed to cheap rubber feet or aluminum painted plastic in virtually everything else at this price range. The volume control is not sloppy or loose feeling; indeed, it isn’t one of those frustrating, stepped control knobs that always seem either too loud or not loud enough.

KingKo has even thought to add an additional hole on the bottom of the amplifier in the front middle. You can take the front feet off and put one in the middle for the tripod style set-up.  Many audiophiles feel they make sonic gains from this three feet set-up versus four.

Lastly, all 8 tubes the KA-101 uses are of the long lasting, affordable types. Owning a big 211 or 845 or 300B amplifier is all well and good, until you have to replace the tubes. In those amplifiers, each tube can cost in excess of US$100. In contrast, the four EL84 in the KA101 often run many times longer than other tube types, and when the EL84 does eventually go dark, each can be purchased for under $20. There are no 211, 300B, or 845 for that price, they cost five times more to buy and last half to one fifth as long. Of course there are numerous EL84 options that can run into more serious money, but at least you have the option to spend less. Your mileage may vary.

KingKo KA-101 is a Knock Out

A good quality tube amplifier first avoids a thin sounding X-ray of the music, the pitfalls of most solid-state amplifiers, without falling too much to the side of overly veiled tube stereotypes (bloated, veiled, mushy). Ideally, the goal is to be able to listen to music and get the sense the amplifier is presenting the music accurately, capturing the essence of the musician’s intent, without throwing too much light on the recording so as to make the experience overly analytical and tiring. It’s a subjective balance somewhere on line of truth versus beauty.

The KA-101 leans more to the truth than the beauty side of the spectrum. The Audio Note OTO Phono SE (EL84 output tube) I reviewed  and the Line Magnetic 219IA SET both lean more to the beauty side of the spectrum.  Both of these amplifiers sound darker and thicker with more decay and weight.  The KA-101 is lighter and breezier and offers more attack than decay.

In some instance this can be an advantage with some recordings, such as Jackson Browne’s Acoustic Vol 1 disc. This is a live recording and in one track there is an audience member who shouts a comment to Jackson and the comment is more intelligible via the KA-101 over the other two amplifiers. This is certainly impressive. Furthermore, while the other two amplifiers have other strengths such as a superior sense of overall ambiance and weight, the KA-101 hangs in with these amplifiers better than you would expect at this price. That isn’t just impressive, it’s spectacular.

Beth Heart’s “Close to My Fire” from the album Seesaw has a big blues sound with rich smoky vocals. The 219IA and OTO with their richer tone make this track sound smokier and more full bodied. On the other hand the KingKo KA-101 is not far off and brought more to the upper registers, giving it a sense of more treble attack. Although at higher levels the upper notes of the horns could be slightly edgier as if running into trouble with larger dynamic swings. Soundstage was precise and drums were tight and had more than solid impact. The music got the toes tapping and the heart pounding. Once again factoring in price, the KA-101 has no right to not only just hang in, but make the comparison a real interesting battle.

Eva Cassidy’s “Fields of Gold”from the album Songbird is a simple, eloquent piece of music, and this is perhaps where the KA-101 shows more that it is a push-pull amplifier, seemingly to add emphasis on plucked strings pushing them out and being slightly hard at higher volume levels. This was not detrimental and the effect is far less pronounced than other more expensive push-pull amplifiers that I have come across over the years.

Many such push-pull amplifiers, especially those using the KT88 output tube, can often be downright abusive to the ears. Veteran push-pull tube amplifier owners reading this review will likely want to remind readers that tube amplifiers can sound substantially better via making tube upgrades. Tubes themselves can have problems with dynamics or treble, and through changing the tube to a different manufacturer these issues can vanish. For those unfamiliar with tubes it would be analogous to changing the lights in your home from cool to warm lights with several options in between. The KA-101 comes with stock tubes of the entry level variety. More on tubes will be discussed in the interview following the review.

Jerry Douglas playing his resonator guitar on “Choktaw Hayride” on the album Allison Kraus + Union Station is masterful and this fine recording is presented masterfully. The strings never become piercing or shrill and the power of this guitar has satisfying punch and twang. I played this track several times attempting to hear something that I could reasonably nitpick. There were no nits to pick.

The little amp doesn’t fall apart with classical music either with eloquence and the ability to hit the bigger dynamic demands of orchestra. The soundstage allows the listener to hear a greater sense of space front to back and left to right. Vivaldi: Eleven Concertos (Sony SK-62719) was particularly enjoyable revealing a very quiet background and a low noise floor. Violins and cellos maintained a realness of tone without becoming too steely. Timing and a tactile sense of space was retained throughout. Classical music is often where warts show up the most with budget stereo equipment, and a surprise once again, no warts in evidence.

Switching over to the Audio Technica ATH-M50x Professional Headphones and Sennheiser HD600 headphones lands a knockout to a lot of dedicated headphone amplifiers, as there is greater sense of air and space and “breath” here than is heard from many seemingly dead sounding headphone amplifiers. There is an open crisp and clean vibrancy in the midrange and treble that is difficult to ignore. Interestingly, the ATH M50x headphones which represent a solid value headphone at around US$150 at the time of this review, made very large strides to what was previously thought possible out of these headphones. The bass is markedly more tuneful and lighter, the noted treble sheen disappeared with some of the quality and demanding Tchaikovsky recordings.

Final Thoughts

The KingKo KA-101 has established itself as both an outstanding headphone amplifier and integrated amplifier. The icing on the cake is that it is also as user friendly as tube amplifiers get, and it is a space saver, cost effective, and uses inexpensive and long lasting tubes, making ownership in the long run inexpensive.

This is not only a great beginner amplifier for tube neophytes, but also a superb amplifier for budget conscious hard core audiophiles. Indeed, it is also a great choice for audiophile retirees who don’t want to lug 200lb amplifiers around and are looking to downsize. The KA-101 is good enough to slay some giants too, due to it being wholly engaging over long periods of time regardless of music employed.

Having Auditioned dozens and dozens of amplifiers in the $1,000 – $2,000 price range over the last 25 years, I find it difficult to point to a single one that betters the KingKo KA101 sonically. Further, most of those amplifiers don’t give you a top shelf headphone output on top.

It is wonderful to find great sound that can be had on a tight budget. The KingKo KA-101 integrated/headphone amplifier is very enthusiastically recommended and will find a home on this reviewer’s shelf.

Note: KingKo Audio is based in Hong Kong and is currently available only for purchase online at the present time.


Review system:

Speakers: Audio Note AN E/Spx Alnico Hemp (96dB sensitive, 6 ohm) & Audio Note AX Two (90dB Sensitive, 6 ohm)
Headphones: Sennheizer HD 600 headphones & Audio Technica ATH M50x-BL headphones
Cables: Audio Note SPe Silver Speaker Cables, Audio Note V Silver interconnects, Audio Note ISIS modified power bar
Sources: Line Magnetic 215 CD player & Line Magnetic 502CA Tube/SS DAC, Audio Note TT2/Arm 1(V2), IQ1 MM Cartridge


Editor: Constantine Soo

18 Responses to KingKo Audio KA-101 integrated amplifier Review

  1. Bill says:

    Very interesting product. Any thoughts on KingKo’s sister brand Aidi? Seems like more elaborate designs happening there.

  2. Hi Bill.

    Aidi is a brand that King carries in his shop as a dealer. I have not heard Aidi amplifiers and I do not believe he has a hand in their design. If I find out anything about them I may try to get a hold of something from them. They do seem to offer an array of amplifiers.


  3. Geoffrey says:


    Will this amp work in a small room with 87db speakers?

    Best regards


  4. Hi Geoff

    The best answer is that it may. It depends on the impedance curve of your loudspeakers more than the sensitivity numbers. The LS-3/5a which is typically around 83dB sensitive works fine because the speakers sit around 10+ ohms. But if your speakers, dip to 3 ohms this makes the amp work harder and thus the amplifier will distort as it tries to meet the load.

    Generally, I prefer speakers that are designed specifically with tube amps and SET amps in mind. I would not try to stuff square pegs down round holes. In my experience higher sensitivity speakers sound better than low/mid sensitivity speakers. Will it work in a small room at moderate volumes? Yes. Will it be an ideal match? Probably not.

  5. Tom says:

    One issue I have with both my Grade RS2 and Sennheiser HD600 headphones (impedance switch set appropriately for each model) is that I have no volume range; earsplitting at 8 o’clock. Is there something wrong with my unit?

  6. Rupert P says:

    Hi Geoff, I use the KA101 with Dali Fazon F5 speakers which are 87db and it drives them plenty loud enough in a 16 x 14 room which opens onto my kitchen. The Fazon’s have a nominal impedance of 6 ohms and don’t drop below 4.5.

  7. Gary Quinn says:

    Hi Richard, thanks for the great review on the KA-101 as I’m now considering ordering this amp thanks to your positive feedback. Are you back in Victoria anytime soon?


  8. Charlie says:

    Can it drive kef ls50?

  9. Charlie

    It is not suitable for the LS-50.

  10. Kyle McKenna says:

    This is the sort of product that has me more and more convinced that we are now living in the golden age of audio.

  11. vyuen says:

    wanna to give a try. But will it powerful enough for my mb quart 590 mcs, 4Ohm 120W?


  12. Marty says:

    I have speakers that are also 87db at 4 ohms and because I’m not sure that the amp can drive my speakers I was wondering if they can be bridged to using two amps at 24 watts per channel?
    Thanks in advance,


    • Richard Austen says:

      Regarding power requirements – this amplifier really is better suited to higher efficiency speakers that don’t dip under 4 ohms. It is still just 12 watts per channel and ideally a 90dB sensitive speaker nominally rated as 6-8 ohms will be best. King does have a new version that has 15 watts per channel but you would have to e-mail him to determine if this would be enough for your speakers.

  13. Felipe Satizabal says:

    I am very interested in test one of this. Would you guys recommend to use on horizontal amplification? I’d be using these on the HF of a pair of Tannoy Precision 6.2. The bass can drop to 3.2 omh, so I’d be ok to leave the LF with SS AMP + tube buffer and use this one on the HF section.

    Thoughts are very welcome.

  14. Luis says:

    it is still selling. the page has no prices and does not answer greetings

  15. Sunny says:

    Why do you think it is not good for LS50? I have this setup and it sounds great to me..

    • Richard Austen says:

      The LS-50 is a very difficult speaker to drive and is not designed for tube amplifiers – the Kingko and other low powered amps no designed for 3 ohms will be pushed into distortion earlier. So at higher levels the speakers compress and sound a little too bright (to a lot too bright) for some people. If you play at lower volume levels – it will be probably be fine. King Ip tried the LS-50 in his shop to use as a demonstration speaker but didn’t feel it was the best match.

  16. Wade Souza says:

    Looking for a lower cost lower power tube amp for my home office system. I was looking at the Musical Paradise 301 or 402 but this KingKo seems like it might be a better option? Are by any chance familiar with each of these brands and can comment? Looking to keep costs around $1000 max for amp then pair with a full range speaker possibly something from Omega Loudspeakers.

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