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Kinki Studio EX-M1+ integrated amplifier Review

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There are several gushing reviews of the original Kinki Studio EX-M1, the precursor of the component on review. The EX-M1+ adds a few twists in terms of functionality, and that is what I will explore here.

It can be dangerous to make a presumption in regards to a follow up product when the introductory model has not been tested. I did not use the first version of this integrated, so with a certain degree of risk acknowledged I will presume Kinki Studio did not eviscerate the sound when moving from the first version to the “+” version. If the topology and population of the boards is largely unchanged, then the presumption that the sound has not worsened, but at a minimum remained the same might be accepted without a direct comparison. From the specifications of both units on the company’s website, which are identical, it seems a valid premise.

In this article once the expected discussion of the EX-M1+’s stock integrated performance has been covered, I will to move on to exploring the variant uses of the EX-M1+, including as a dedicated preamplifier, a dedicated amplifier via the “HT Bypass” function, an integrated amp with preamplifier output, and as a component amenable to rolling-in discrete opamps.

Two gentlemen assisted me in the procurement of the review sample. Alvin Chee owns Vinshine Audio, a Singapore dealer for Kinki Audio, which sells Kinki Audio direct to the United States, and Bernard Li is owner of Charisma Audio, Canadian Distributor of Kinki Audio. I wish to thank these men for their assistance. Alvin was especially helpful in answering all of my technical questions and providing the information necessary to confidently opamp roll this integrated amplifier.

A “sweet” component

This was one of the few “blind” international reviews I have conducted in audiophile land. I have been hesitant to buy a product from an overseas entity, though through reviewing I have worked with many products that originate overseas. Products I review typically have distributorships in the U.S. and often are on display at dealerships, so the lifeline for help is shorter. Persons who are considering an international purchase will likely wonder how this long distance, dealer direct review unfolded.

I was impressed by everything pertaining to the arrival of the unit, including the communication, shipping window, packaging and condition of the unit. It was as smooth as the best purchases I have made in the U.S.A. It appears that Vinshine Audio and Charisma Audio wish to cultivate a respected sales reputation. It was a bonus that the $2,898 price direct to the U.S.A. included FedEx shipping.

In terms of build quality, design, and performance for an integrated amplifier, the EX-M1+ is what I would call a “sweet” design. The apparent simplicity of it recalls products from Nagra or D’Agostino. The derogatory term “ChiFi” has been used to dismiss products made in China, but the Kinki Studio integrated is testament that Chinese build quality (I presume with Singapore quality control, as Kinki Studio is a Singapore company) can be world class. The case is thick brushed aluminum, very solid with high quality binding posts, a mercifully clear and large LED display, and two enormous polished dials to control INPUT selection (left) and VOLUME (right). A diminutive center button allows control of the selections for Power/Mode; “OUT1” integrated amp, “OUT2” preamplifier only, and “OUT1+2” integrated amp and preamp output activated (i.e. preamp output could be sent to active subwoofers, or an additional, external amplifier to bi-amp a pair of loudspeakers). All pertinent functions on the face of the unit are repeated on the remote control.

The remote, machined from a block of aluminum, and with a clever magnetic bottom cover, also includes controls for Mute, HT Bypass, and Display brightness. Operationally the large dials are very smooth, but not on heavy-duty posts. They are not wobbly, but have a slight give when operating them. Commands are usually, but not universally ergonomically efficient. When the HT Bypass button is used the EX-M1+ reverts to operating as a power amp only. A slight lack of ergonomics is found in the unit resetting to OUT1 (integrated amp) at turn on, and the HT Bypass must be selected every time the unit is powered up. The button layout of the remote is clean, however the printing identifying operations is small and not terribly distinct. The remote is not illuminated, however the larger buttons for Power, Vol + and Vol – help when using the remote in a dimly lit room. The display remained in its brightest setting and could not be dimmed in HT Bypass setting.

The unit reverts to very low volume, 10 on the digital display, with each power up. This is good for safety, and it does not bother me much, but could irritate some Dagogo readers. Often when I attempted to advance the volume by pressing the Volume button on the remote it would increase only 1 digit. I had to press the Volume button again to have it run up. This may have been an anomaly associated with the infrared signal transmission in my room, as it was inconsistent. I am not willing to assign blame to the unit for this particular anomaly as it has not undergone circuit testing. In my room it is not uncommon for products such as the Exogal Comet to not respond at the first touch of the Volume button. I sit far enough back from the system that distance may be a contributor to functionality. If you do not see references to this elsewhere, then I suggest it is likely a situational occurrence.

These are niggling issues that are idiosyncratic, and the unit’s operational flexibility more than makes up for these foibles. The nomenclature on not only the remote but also the unit’s backside is smaller than I would wish, but smartly laid out and explained simply in the Owner’s Manual. The back of the amp reveals a mirror image layout typical of good circuit board design. The binding posts are solid, the gold RCA jacks robust, the Gain switch firm in operation between High and Low (-4dB) settings.

Ordinarily I would not open such a component, however the promise of discrete opamp rolling with the review unit had me exploring its internals. I am happy I asked Alvin about how to open it up, for the rows of screws atop are not the means to access it. I had to remove three sets of screws, a pair each on the top, side, and bottom of the unit, to gain access from above. Inside, the dual mono design is apparent, along with overbuilt construction and meticulous finishing. It is a bling fest for the eyes. I liked having the top removed during opamp rolling simply to see the banks of lights flash when the unit starts up. It’s also a PITA to keep removing a cover when rolling opamps.

I give Kinki Studio high marks for aesthetics, build quality, and good footers with adequate clearance such that fingers are not pinched when picking up and placing the nearly 60 pound unit. Aside from the aforementioned infrared issue the EX-M1+ never faltered operationally during the review period.

9 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

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