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Kinki Studio EX-M1+ integrated amplifier Review

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Using the EX-M1+ as dedicated preamplifier

I had a surprise in store when I attempted to continue opamp rolling with the unit in dedicated preamplifier use (OUTPUT 2). Trying several combinations of opamps, I heard no significant difference. The experience reminded me of the testing I had done in regard to the phenomenon of burn in. I showed by comparison of two separate systems, one burned in and the other new, that burn in is negligible, in fact undetectable. Having to strain to hear a meaningful difference between sets of opamps as the EX-M1+ was in preamplifier mode seemingly answered my question; the opamps appear to influence the internal amp.

Did this mean that the EX-M1+ failed as a preamplifier only? Not in the least! In fact, I built my favorite system with it operating as a preamplifier. A technical point: though they seemed to be benign to the preamplifier, I left the most favored combination of discrete opamps in place in case I went back to using the EX-M1+ as an amplifier. I am currently working with the Pass Labs XA200.8 Monoblock Amplifiers —they are $44K MSRP. This certainly seemed a questionable tactic, to pair the preamp section of a sub-$3K integrated with these monolithic 157-pound extreme amps!

One of the reasons I try seemingly counter-intuitive system setups is that one never really knows what the outcome will be, and I have experienced surprises. Care to guess what happened with this setup? Yet another supreme combination was discovered! In this configuration it was not because of discrete opamps, but rather because of the high quality preamplifier function combined with these premium Pass Labs amplifiers. I will be candid; when I did the identical setup to both amplifiers (Pass Labs monos and EX-M1+ in HT Bypass operation) the behemoth monoblocks were dominantly superior, as one might expect since they cost 15 times the price. There would be something seriously wrong had they not conquered.

The reason I share this is not to harshly critique the EX-M1+ in HT Bypass mode, but to show that consistently the Pass Labs XA200.8 had a pervasively positive effect on systems. Just as the performance of the internal amp showed itself superior with a cleaner system setup, so also the performance of the internal preamp showed itself superior with a higher caliber amplifier(s). The resultant sound was as fine as any dedicated preamplifier and amp combo I have put up. Well, actually, better. If a screen were erected blocking the view of the system, I suspect a seasoned listener would have no problem believing that the preamp used was $5K+.

The Gain switch on the back of the unit seemed ineffectual when I tried it using the HT Bypass (amp only). However, it was quite helpful for both OUT1 (integrated) and OUT2 (preamplifier). When used as a full integrated, the Gain set to Low position was too insipid to drive the King III electrostatic speakers well. High Gain was necessary. I found that when cables such as interconnects were moved to alternative locations, it was beneficial to try both the Low and High Gain settings to see which accommodated the cabling change the best. There was no consistency in this matter, as I ended up using both the Low and High Gain settings with various speakers and cables. When the unit was running as an integrated amplifier with the humble Eastern Electric Minimax DAC Plus outfitted with a full complement of Sparkos Labs discrete opamps, the Low Gain position conferred a rich tonality to the system.

A clear outcome to all this is that in addition to being a surprisingly engaging integrated amplifier, the EX-M1+ is a mighty fine affordable pre/power solution. It has no glaring sonic weaknesses and offers expandability to a separates system. All of the ways in which I used this component in varied systems proved legitimate means to excellent sound. Which configuration would be most beneficial to you would depend on the complementary equipment being used in conjunction with it, and the particular system setup. My budget choice, or as a solution to a nebulously dissatisfying system, would be to use the EX-M1+ as a dedicated amplifier and roll opamps into it. My “reach for the sky” choice would be to use it as a dedicated preamp and pair it with the most formidable amp(s) possible. However, I would be tempted with each system change to revisit integrated operation just to be sure I wasn’t overlooking a hidden “home run” setup.

Three conclusions

I realize that I have not given much space here to the listening sessions involved in this review. I spent considerable time discussing the music and the influence of the discrete opamps in my previously referenced article on that topic, and those who benefit from such discussion can find additional input there. It will give interested parties a more thorough description of what to expect from the Kinki sonically. Due to opamp rolling I built many more systems with the EX-M1+, perhaps three times as many, than for most reviews. I have shared with you not much about particular songs and appealing moments, but about the incredible flexibility and validity of various configurations of operation, all of which proved not just valid but surprisingly robust.

Having the pleasure of seeing the different faces of the EX-M1+ leads me to three conclusions subject to possible reprioritization as additional systems are built.

Conclusion 1: It is a fine integrated at a very good price that thrives with more efficient transducers, such as the PureAudioProject Trio15 Horn 1 (discussed at length in the discrete opamp article).

Conclusion 2: It is even better as an amp fed directly from a DAC, such as the Exogal Comet (remember caveats about attenuation!).

Conclusion 3: It is best as a preamp with an extreme set of monoblocks like the Pass Labs XA200.8 Monos. This is an abnormal, highly imbalanced system monetarily that most owners will never have opportunity to try, so this conclusion is of limited value. Then why mention it? The EX-M1+ is an unusual integrated that offers exceptional flexibility and above average performance. Use it whichever way you wish. Even if your amplifier is of average pedigree, try it with the EX-M1+ in preamp mode.

With three modes the owner has an excellent chance of upending their current system in a configuration and at a performance level scarcely imagined. It is rare for a manufacturer to issue a component that offers so many distinct ways to win big in system building, and in so doing escalate enjoyment of music. It is very rare to find such a combination in a sub-$3K component. For these reasons I suspect you will very much enjoy owning the EX-M1+.

 

Associated Components:

Source: Small Green Computer sonicTransporter AP I7 4T and SONORE Signature Rendu SE and systemOptique; Salk Audio StreamPlayer Generation III with Roon interface

Streaming Music Service: Tidal premium

DAC:  COS D1 DAC + Pre; Exogal Comet DAC and Plus upgrade power supply; Eastern Electric Minimax DSD DAC Supreme with Burson, Sonic Imagery and Sparkos Labs Discrete Opamps

Preamp: TEO Audio Liquid Preamplifier; Cambridge Audio 840E

Amps: Pass Labs XA200.8 Monoblock Amps; Exogal Ion (PowerDAC, used exclusively with Exogal Comet DAC); Gold Note PA-1175 (two); Sanders Magtech Monos

Integrated: Redgum Audio Articulata

Speakers:  Kings Audio Kingsound King III; Legacy Audio DSW Clarity Edition; Kings Audio King Tower omnidirectional; Vapor Audio Joule White 3; PureAudioProject Trio15 Horn 1

Subwoofers: Legacy Audio XTREME HD (2)

IC’s: Schroeder Method (self-assembled) Clarity Cable RCA with Audio Sensibility Y Cables; Schroeder Method Audio Sensibility RCA; Schroeder Method Clarity Cable XLR with Audio Sensibility Y Cables; TEO Liquid Splash-Rs and Splash-Rc; TEO Liquid Standard MkII; Clarity Cable Organic RCA/XLR; Snake River Audio Signature Series Interconnects;

Speaker Cables: TEO Cable Standard Speaker; Clarity Cable Organic Speaker; Snake River Audio Signature Series Speaker Cables;

Digital Cables: Clarity Cable Organic Digital; Snake River Audio Boomslang; Silent Source “The Music Reference”

USB: Clarity Cable Supernatural 1m

Power Cables: Clarity Cable Vortex; MIT Oracle ZIII; Snake River Audio Signature Series; Anticables Level 3 Reference Series

Power Conditioning: Wireworld Matrix Power Cord Extender; Tice Audio Solo

 

Copy editor: Dan Rubin

22 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

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