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Kinki Studio EX-M1+ integrated amplifier Review

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As an integrated

Though budget audiophiles may desire this integrated to dethrone the most formidable of its kind, that is wishful thinking. It is a very solid performer with no glaring missteps, but the EX-M1+ does not stomp other fine integrated amps. I still have in my possession the Redgum Audio Articulata Integrated Amplifier, and it gives no ground to the EX-M1+ in terms of refinement of sound. The Articulata drives the Kingsound King III Electrostatic Speakers with more fortitude than the EX-M1+. They both are capable of beguiling beauty and refinement. If my only speakers were the King III likely I would buy the Articulata.

That, however, is a limited scenario that plays to the strengths of the Articulata. When more efficient speakers are in play, the operational flexibility of the EX-M1+ begins to tip the scales in its favor. That is why a review of the EX-M1+ in my estimation must discuss the alternative operational modes. If the Kinki is merely compared to others as an integrated amp, it would be like comparing an Audi with three driving modes to other vehicles, but discussing only the standard driving mode.

Standard driving mode, that is, standard integrated operation of the EX-M1+ with an efficient speaker like the PureAudioProject Trio15 Horn 1 is on par with separates of perhaps twice the cost. State of the art is not attainable with this integrated in stock form, but very good sound without major shortcomings is achievable. Were I on a fairly low component budget I would consider the EX-M1+ a gift in terms of powering a system with finesse. This integrated avoids the thin, brittle, light-bottomed sound characteristic of a number of class D amplification. If the audiophile spends $3K on a Class D amp and preamp, they have shortchanged themselves by not pursuing the EX-M1+. Consider that this is in reference to the stock performance of the EX-M1+, before rolling in discrete opamps.

The standard integrated operation of the EX-M1+ is very well balanced in terms of detail, tonality and dynamics. The unit was absolutely quiet in a variety of setups, tended to tame potentially irritating vocals, and did not allow bass to get flabby. It has average illumination, that is, it does not sound either dark or bright —and that’s a good thing. It has enough current to allow speakers such as the Legacy Audio Whisper DSW Clarity Edition to carry low notes with authority nearly like a subwoofer. It is so well balanced that with appropriate cable selection the audiophile can use it to drive either a brighter speaker to a mellower sound, or vice versa.

I may disappoint some readers by admitting I did not use the OUT1+2 mode, wherein it combines the integrated operation with an additional preamplifier output. Why would I not use this mode? I have done many similar setups over the years with integrated amps, drawing the signal for the subwoofer either from the DAC or the integrated amp’s speaker level output. This setup would be the most similar to many I have done. Typically, as I add the Legacy Audio EXTREME XD Subwoofers to the system, they deepen the very low bass. The subs will not override the primary character of the integrated. I determined to spend my time exploring the opamp rolling, which was to me a far more important holistic influence upon the EX-M1+ operation and the character of systems I built. Some readers may disagree, and they are free to test this unit as they wish.


HT BYPASS: Using the EX-M1+ as a dedicated amplifier

As a System Builder the beauty I see in the EX-M1+ is its flexibility —that it can be used not only as an integrated amp but also as a dedicated preamplifier or dedicated amplifier. I first became aware of it through a recommendation on an audio site in responsetomy inquiry about components that were amenable to discrete opamp rolling. Since the EX-M1+ is sold direct from Singapore, I likely would not have reviewed it, but the promise of discrete opamp rolling drew me in. I am grateful that I pursued the review, as I find the EX-M1+ to be a highly desirable component that belies its price.

The ability of the Kinki integrated to play the role of separates is quite helpful for budding audiophiles. I have found that, typically, separates outperform integrated amplifiers. It takes a very good design and quality parts for an integrated to distance itself from a separates system of good quality. I believe the EX-M1+ falls into that category of integrated amp, one that combines excellent preamplifier and amplifier stages.

Still, it is possible to elevate the performance of each stage by seeking either an outboard complimentary component or an alternative system setup. What I am about to discuss is by no means applicable only to the EX-M1+ but is pertinent to all systems.

The build out of the system is critical to the performance outcome. In the past two or three years I have spent considerable time working with very streamlined rigs, namely ones that utilize only an integrated DAC and a power amplifier. These systems eschew a dedicated preamplifier altogether. The results have been uniformly good, with the chief characteristic being an overall improvement in terms of what might be called cleanness, resolution, or definition. There is usually no way to avoid the losses associated with the addition of another component and set of cables.

As I said, this in no way is a slam on the EX-M1+, for as we shall see, it excels when used as a dedicated preamplifier paired with very high quality amplification. I put up several streamlined systems with the EX-M1+, using only a DAC and the EX-M1+’s amplifier section. In addition to the three Output modes discussed above, an additional option, the operational mode called HT Bypass, requires an input, as it is for use of the EX-M1+ as a dedicated amplifier. I could not resist exploring that facet of operation.

To set up this super-streamlined system I used three DACs: Eastern Electric Minimax DAC Plus, EE Minimax Tube DAC Supreme, and the Exogal Comet. Setup varied only slightly, as I ran the Eastern Electric DACs directly into the HT Bypass input of the EX-M1+ without any attenuation. My volume control (attenuation) was done by the Roon playback software operating on a Samsung Galaxy S3 tablet. Never attempt to run a full signal into amplifiers without either hardware or software volume control! I preferred this to the standard operation of the integrated for the reasons stated above. Since the Exogal Comet DAC is itself integrated (DAC and preamplifier functions), I ran its outputs directly to the HT Bypass inputs on the EX-M!+, but adjusted the Roon software so that the Volume was set to “Hardware” control. Consequently, Roon’s own software attenuation feature was defeated and its output set to “Fixed,” or 100%.

My admiration of the DAC to EX-M1+ HT Bypass input (amplifier operation only) grew immensely when I began to roll discrete opamps from Burson Audio, Sparkos Labs and Sonic Imagery Lab into the EX-M1+. By using both homogenous sets as well as mixed sets of opamps I was able to vastly influence the sonic character of the Kinki. I had many variations to work with, such that I could adjust the weight, dynamics, tonal coloration, frequency balance, and definition. Imagine having the capability to contour a fine amplifier in perhaps a dozen different characteristics and you begin to see my excitement at the prospect of finding the optimum sound for each speaker system I used.

35 Responses to Kinki Studio EX-M1+ integrated amplifier Review

  1. Laith Hanna says:

    It is obvious you didn’t like the sound of the amplifier which is evident from your opamps rolling. The amplifier soundstage is recessed and large…the latter makes instruments lacks impact and notes footprint very large. This affects notes attack on the woofer and the tweeter. Having said that it is a very detailed and natural sounding unit.


  2. Laith,
    Thank you for your response!

    It seems you did not interpret my article correctly; I very much like the EX-M1+ in stock form. For years I have been rolling opamps and this unit afforded an opportunity to do so in a more unique component, an integrated amplifier. That fact does not mean I disliked it in stock form. However, I feel it is exciting that such a fine unit can be elevated so much by such a simple, cheap upgrade. So, neither you, nor other readers should conclude that I rolled opamps because I didn’t like the unit. That would be wrong. I determined to do opamp rolling before setting up the review.

    You seem to be saying that in your opinion the amp is recessed and lighter in impact than some other amps. I would anticipate that a possibility, depending upon the ancillary gear used. I did not find it to be recessed and light on dynamics. Did it improve with opamp rolling? Yes. Must you do that? No. Many amps such as Class D units I have used are more forward sounding, and most fine SS amps are more “recessed”, or reserved, but have more nuance. I find that to be the case with the EX-M1+, which is why it has a sound quality more like fine amps, even without opamp rolling. I can see where some would feel it is not forward enough or aggressive enough. Those qualities to me introduce the problem of listening fatigue, and I would rather avoid them.

    We are discussing subjective opinions, and there is room for disagreement. We do agree on the detailed and natural character of the amp.

    Douglas Schroeder

  3. Hi Douglas, very thorough review! I bought the Kinki monoblocs and preamp separates, and am very happy with it. But after reading your review of the integrated and the success of your op amp rolling, since the topology is very similar, how could I teach myself to do the same as you did? Are there video tutorials etc.? Is there a book you would recommend?

  4. Michael,
    The Lord’s Joy to you,

    I appreciate your kind remarks.
    I’m sure the separates are wonderful performers! When I looked into opamp rolling I studied images online to ensure the proper orientation of the opamps. I also spoke with companies about the process, including Kinki Studio. They were very helpful, and sent images with drawing showing the proper locations. I do not think it necessary to seek a book, as the process is fairly simple. Just look for an outline of some tips/instructions, make sure the opamps are in proper orientation and location, and be gentle with them.

    Douglas Schroeder

  5. Miguel Casellas says:

    Hello Douglas,

    Hope you are safe in this time

    Thank you for this report, i have a Kinki as well not the EX-M1+ but the regular… i was tempting to “upgrade” to the HEGEL H390, cause although i really like the Kinki it is sometimes to harsh on my old beloved records such as Van Halen and other rock bands, and because i used to have a HEGEL P20+H20 separates and now with the new breed of integrated units and one person commented me that gong for the H390 would be a set up over the Kinki specially on being smoother, well i was considering it, but now might hold on on that and could make this OP AMP rolls, so if i can take some of your suggestions:

    Are these Sparkos less bright than the ics that come standard on the Kinki, could i have your advice ?


  6. Miguel,
    God’s Joy to you,

    I appreciate your comments; thank you.

    All of the discrete opamps are superior to the stock opamps, however…

    My recommendation to you is the same as for everyone else. The cost of full sets of the opamps discussed in the article is so low, relatively, that you should buy all of them. That alone will ensure that you get a full suite of options to tune the integrated amp. Selecting only one brand will limit you and potentially not give enough change to satisfy. You will have far greater impact and options if you follow my advice in the article.

    Douglas Schroeder

  7. Miguel Casellas says:

    Thank you Douglas

    Have you heard the Hegel H390 ?



  8. Miguel,
    God’s Peace,

    No, I have not.


  9. Miguel Casellas says:

    Thank you !!

    Blessings to you and best wishes


  10. Nick says:

    Hi Douglas, great review! I just purchased the Kinki EX-M1+ and wanted to see if you could share the exact Sparkos Labs opamp used? Please forgive me if I missed it in your review or in the comments section. I see a couple models on the Sparkos website and I am new to rolling opamps. Thank you for any help you can provide.

  11. Nick,
    God’s peace,

    Huh, imagine that? Sparkos Labs SS3602 Dual Discrete and SS3601 Single Discrete.
    I believe Sparkos only has these domestic models. The others are for studio use.

    You are new to this, eh? Have fun! Watch placement carefully, fastidiously. Do more than one
    brand for ultimate fun.

    Douglas Schroeder

    • Nick Westmoreland says:

      Thanks Douglas! I will be ordering on Burson V6 Classic for the dual and then four Sparkos Labs singles for the remaining slots. Super cool to be able to customize the sound on such an amazing amp. Really appreciate your review here – it made me feel better about ordering the Kinki and turned me on to op amp rolling which will keep me having fun for the foreseeable future. Blessings to you as well!!!

  12. I have zero experience with kinki studio outside of a few YouTube videos. I am simply writing to say that I appreciated the article and your responses to to reader’s. I love hearing God and Lord!!. At some point I will try out some of Kinki Studio products.

  13. Shamir,
    God’s Joy to you,

    Thank you for the complement and affirmation of faith! I appreciate it!

  14. Thyewb says:

    Hi Douglas,

    I have a Kinki EX-M1 and keen to install the various brands of op amps in the way you do. Do you have a internal photo of amplifier after installing the op amps? It will be useful for me as a reference when I install it myself.

  15. Thyewb,
    God’s Peace,

    I think it best if you contact Kinki Studio. The photo they sent me has circled and labelled the spots where the particular Opamps go. I am not sure how much info Kinki Studio wishes me to disseminate, so I will leave it in their hands.

    Honestly, I also do not wish to have ongoing individual responses to anyone globally who wishes to try it and would request a photo. Perhaps Kinki Studio would post an image or two on the website, or a location that is accessible to the community.

    I am not trying to be difficult; I hope you understand. Come to think of it, there may already be images on the Internet of such opamp rolling already, if you do a search for them.

    Douglas Schroeder

  16. Hello
    Does this EX-M1 match with a pair of W8 Boenicke ?

  17. Dominique,
    God’s Peace,

    Looking at the specifications for impedance and sensitivity of the W8, I would hesitate to say the EX-M1+ would be a great match. The speakers seem quite inefficient, nearly like an electrostatic speaker. I would recommend an amp that could drive such speakers with more authority. You would probably be better off with separates; a not too expensive preamp with an amp with superior current to drive these less efficient speakers.

    An amp that I am reviewing would drive those speakers quite well, I believe. Stay tuned.

    Douglas Schroeder

  18. Vas Antoniou says:

    Douglas you article made me think again on what amp I should go for kinki studio and roll. Can you give me the model numbers of sonic imagery op amps you have used others sparko and vivid it’s quite straight forward but sonic imagery site is confusing.

  19. Vas,
    God’s Peace,

    I lifted the info from the “Return of the Discrete Opamp Roller” article I wrote here at

    Sonic Imagery Labs Model 992Enh Ticha Discrete Operational Amplifier (each): $49
    Sonic Imagery Labs Model 994Enh Ticha Dual Discrete Operational Amplifier (each): $94

    The prices may have changed slightly since publication.

    Douglas Schroeder

  20. Wolfgang Sasse says:

    Hi. My name is Wolfgang. I am impressed by this review…thank you. I would like to buy a Kinki M1… as far as I know there are 5 Places for an op-amp. One dual in the middle and 2 single for each channel.. is it neccessary …if I combine Sparkos and sonic imigery in a certain combination? So… Soarkos first, then s.i. and in the middle the burson? And did you also tryto put 4 Sparkos in and a dual Burson in the middle? Sorry for my bad english.. I hope you understand my questions and find time for an answer…kind regards wolfgang

  21. Wolfgang,
    God’s Peace,

    There are some physical limitations on size of the opamps which affect placement. Not all combinations of different brands will fit all locations. Perhaps refer to others who have done placement of opamps in their units for further ideas of what combinations will work physically in the unit. Do not simply buy brands and expect any to fit. Perhaps in some instances an adapter will allow certain opamps to be used vertically, etc. You will need to do research beyond my article.

    Douglas Schroeder

  22. donald says:

    Hi, I was monitoring the release of the first Kinki Studio’s amp in 2018 i think when it was announced in Audiogon threads. I passed due to missing the grace period of bypassing the import tax and later having only 1 individual in the US to handle repairs. Having said that i sold my PS audio M700’s (tear drops) and i am again looking at the Kinky EX M7 or EX M1+. Problem is i also have seen news about the unit shutting down due to a option of it going into safe mode if the speakers start to clip or something of that nature. I also read where Alvin Li sent one customer another board that offset or increased that safeguard. Have you experienced this or do you have any input about how to keep this from happening. PS, I have rolled chips and tubes but never op-amps, should be interesting so this is also why i am looking into the EX M7/EXM1+. Thanks, don

  23. Don,
    God’s Joy,

    I have not heard of this shut down protection feature being activated before your description. I do not attempt to play music at live/extreme levels, so even with the King’s Audio Kingsound King III electrostatic speakers the protection circuitry was never activated. I presume that upon startup the protection mode is reset. I would think that one must be listening to very inefficient speakers and at high levels to activate it. If speakers are clipping, they are being driven far too hard.

    Opamp rolling is fun and efficacious.

    Douglas Schroeder

  24. Vincent says:

    Hi Doug,

    Thank you for your article, it provides an in in-depth insight on a niche topic within Kinki’s.
    There are 1 dual and 4 single opamps; I have been wondering what are their circuit/ roles of each opamps that requires 5 opamps for a dual channel int. amp.

    For the 2 single on each channels, do they process in linear process that the signal is processed twice. Or they are responsible to handle different frequencies; one handles mids and the other handles the low ends?

    Thank you for reading and answering.


  25. Vincent,
    God’s Peace to you,

    You ask some interesting questions, ones that I cannot answer. I suggest you contact the manufacturer to learn more about the specific duties of the opamps.

    Douglas Schroeder

  26. Anjo says:

    Hi Douglas
    If I would choose one Sparkos and one Sonic Imagery labs for each channel what difference would it make choosing the Burson Vivid instead of the Classic.

  27. Anjo,
    God’s Peace,

    Your question is open-ended, not possible to accurately answer given the assumed mixing of opamps as you discuss, your system, and your preferences. As to the characteristics of all the opamps discussed in my articles, they retain those characteristics wherever they are placed. An ad hoc mixture of opamps will get you an unpredictable result, similar to mixing cables. Read my Audio Blast article about the Staccato opamps, which give the EX-M1+ the highest performance to date.

    Douglas Schroeder

  28. Duy Nguyen says:

    I got my EX-M1+, new version which is slightly different with yours.
    No gain sw anymore. the unit gain is pretty low, especially after upgrade opamp. I have to turn vol up to 45-60 to reach my average listening level. 10 to 20% more vol required vs my previous amps.
    My unit return to its last input and vol setting after turn on. Not 10% as your unit.
    The unit enter to in Operation mode instead of Standby mode as stated in user manual after plugged power in.
    Other thing is once press Mute on remote, there is no way to unmute from the unit itself.

  29. Duy,
    God’s Peace,

    Thank you for the informative summary of the operations of the new model!

    Those seem like some significant, but not critical, changes to the operation. I have often run the volume control at full out, 100% when paired with software attenuation that is controlling the listening level. So, apart from the potential for a bit more noise (not saying there will be), I suspect it will not be an issue to need the increase in the volume control.

    Douglas Schroeder

  30. Duy Nguyen says:

    Tks for sharing, Douglas!
    BTW, did you noted that it make a small click sound at speaker when you turn evey 9-10 volume step?
    Not very big issue but may be the manufacturer have to consider how to eliminate that on next version.
    The EX-M1+ is one of my most satisfying audio equipment purchased.

  31. Duy,
    God’s Peace,

    I don’t recall the click with the change to the volume control. Some attenuators are stepped and have clicks. The Cambridge Audio Azur 840E that I reviewed sounded like a little machine gun when changing the volume. Rat-tat-tat-tat…

    Yes, it is nice value and can be tweaked to be even better. A win-win.


  32. Anjo says:

    Hi Douglas can you give us any loudspeaker recommendations or guideline matching speakers with the kinki ex-m1

  33. Anjo,
    God’s Peace to you,

    The EX-M1+ (not sure if you abbreviated the model or have the prior version without the “+”) is a charmer because of its flexibility and adequate power to drive some less efficient speakers. It will not be at its best – few amps are – when driving a speaker with lower impedance and sensitivity. It has to be opened up to nearly full output to get the King Sound King III electrostatic to play at higher levels. I do not play music at live levels, i.e. rock. So, the integrated would be better for mid to higher efficiency speakers.

    You can read about the PureAudioProject Trio15 and Quintet15 in their various versions, and the EX-M1+ would drive them very well and sound good together. The EX-M1(+) would sound very good with a wide variety of dynamic speakers such as Tannoy, Legacy Audio, Salk Audio, and Wharfedale, all of which I have reviewed. I have reviewed and owned also Chapman Audio, Von Schweikert, and Vandersteen speakers as well, and they would all work.

    The key to it all is that once you have your speaker, you should obtain at least a couple sets of discrete opamps for the integrated and roll them in to tune the performance. It’s a wonderful and not very expensive way to match the EX-M1(+) to the speakers. Opamp makers are regularly bringing out new versions, and though I have not checked out the latest versions, every new generation from any of the manufacturers I have used have been better than the previous generation. I start with homogenous sets and then roll in a mix of brands or models, obviously keeping the left and right channels’ dual and single opamps mirror image/identical. I believe I outline the needed opamp types in my article.

    Douglas Schroeder

  34. Keith McAvoy says:

    Hi, I’ve had the EX-M1 version for about 3 years and have 4 of the Chinese SA-100 opamps. I’ve experimented with some different dual opamps in previous DACS; however using a SMSL VMV D1 SE, with really excellent results through balanced inputs. Last year and a half, listening in nearfeild so not really having to turn up very loud. The Kinki integrated has really shown itself to be really true to what ever source I use. Speed, tight imaging, timbre, lively sounding and sounds great with every pretty much everything I listen to through it.

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