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Kinki Studio EX-M1+ integrated amplifier Review

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Rolling Opamps into the EX-M1+

Not everyone will be enthused to roll discrete opamps into the EX-M1+, so those who are disinterested can skip down to the section entitled, “Using the EX-M1+ as a Dedicated Preamplifier.” The reader who is curious about this section of the review pertaining to rolling discrete opamps into the EX-M1+ is encouraged to also read my most recent Audio Blast article, “Return of the Opamp Roller,” in order to have a sweeping look at how this impacted the EX-M1+. I share a summary of that article here, and pertinent discussion in that article should be considered integral to this review.

I gave not much thought initially to precisely what circuitry inside the EX-M1+ was affected by the rolling of opamps, so I spent most of the time comparing opamps with the unit under review in HT Bypass operation. I did initially try a few opamps and observed the changes to the Kinki, but I was convinced that as a dedicated amplifier those changes would be more noticeable. They were, and the entire affair was most gratifying. With all of the aforementioned DACs the amplifier section of the Kinki responded brilliantly to opamp changes. I worked through several variations until I was satisfied that I had achieved one of the best possible results.

The discrete opamps all brought increased resolution as a first property, one that convinces me that I would be reluctant to use the EX-M1+ with stock opamps. The Burson Audio opamps brought robust warmth, the Sonic Imagery opamps brought penetrating detail, and the Sparkos Labs opamps split the difference. When such were combined in mixed sets the internal amplifier was putty in my hands, ready to be tuned to elicit optimum performance from the speakers in use. I strongly encourage competent owners of either the first version or the EX-M1+ to do some opamp rolling. But, heed my warnings in the “Return of the Opamp Roller” article seriously; both the location of Single and Dual opamps and the placement of Pin 1 relative to the socket are absolutely critical or else you can blow up your component. It is an activity that supersedes the stock performance of the EX-M1+, but you need to assess and educate yourself prior to rolling opamps.

 

Sonic variability of the EX-M1+ with discrete opamps

I have a wonderful collection of James Bond theme music spanning the decades on a CD entitled The Best of Bond. I use several of the tracks to assess how systems handle older recordings of different genres from symphonic to rock. I like Tina Turner’s husky, powerful voice on “Goldeneye.” The character of the EX-M1+ as an integrated was improved markedly by inserting a combination of Burson V6 Classic single opamps (4 required for the EX-M1+) and a Burson V6 Vivid dual opamp. The piece not only cleaned up but also warmed up tonally. I enjoyed the extra weight of the bass line and in Tina’s voice.

The stock form of the EX-M1+ is a touch tizzy with tracks such as Acoustic Alchemy’s “One for Shorty” on the Live in London disc. I decided to see what even more-revealing discrete opamps would do to this piece. I found that while the Sonic Imagery opamps did indeed open up the soundstage and retrieve much more information, it was still too hot on the upper end of the frequency spectrum. Knowing that Sparkos Labs opamps are less hot sounding, I rolled in a couple of them in order to make a hybrid pairing of one single Sonic Imagery opamp and one single Sparkos Labs opamp per channel, while keeping the Burson V6 dual opamp in place.

The result was glorious, a masterful combination of textured, highly detailed images, but also a most delicate touch on the treble; it was deliciously intimate and made the recording an homage to the deftness of Carmichael’s and Web’s playing. I raised the listening level because there was no sense of high frequency overweighting.

“Love TKO” as recorded by Fourplay and guest singer Ruben Studdard improved on immediacy and richness when these opamps were rolled into the unit. Just as I can tell in a moment how much warmth and low end weight will reveal itself in a system when I hear Gregory Porter’s spoken intro to “Real Good Man,” so also I can set my expectation of how sonorous and rich Studdard’s voice will be before he even opens his mouth due to the depth of the echo effect at the onset and the bass line starting 15 seconds into the piece. It is a thrill to hear a powerful, rounded, yet tight bass line, and rolling opamps into the EX-M1+ can deepen and enrich it holistically.

The brands and models of discrete opamps sonically extended the flexibility of the EX-M1+. Having procured full sets from three different manufacturers I had plenty of options, which made tailoring the sound to my precise desires achievable. This was a component and method that all but assured a great outcome. I made it a point to describe the influence of the opamps on the EX-M1+ as an integrated, but be assured that all of the positives that accrued due to the opamp upgrade were deepened, propelling the sound quality to even higher level, and more engaging listening sessions. Thus, the owner does well to roll discrete opamps into this integrated amp, but does even better to follow my outline for a more streamlined system also using the discrete opamps.

As an aside, the EX-M1+ is very sensitive to cabling changes, which is true of all superb components. I enjoyed tuning it with cables in all iterations. Should the reader elect to pursue discrete opamp rolling and work with the cabling I would think that nearly any perceived deficiency could be addressed, and a most gratifying sound found.

26 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

  9. Miguel Casellas says:

    Thank you !!

    Blessings to you and best wishes

    Miguel

  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.

    Blessings,
    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.

    Blessings,
    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.

    Blessings,
    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 Dagogo.com

    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.

    Blessings,
    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.

    Blessings,
    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.

    Blessings,
    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.

    Vincent

  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.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

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