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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.

8 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.

    Regards,
    h

  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.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder
    Dagogo.com

  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.

    Blessings,
    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 ?

    regards

  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.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  7. Miguel Casellas says:

    Thank you Douglas

    Have you heard the Hegel H390 ?

    Regards

    Miguel

  8. Miguel,
    God’s Peace,

    No, I have not.

    Blessings,
    Doug

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