Kinki Studio EX-M1 high fidelity
By Marc Philip, editor/reporter.
As a preliminary, before we get started let’s just forget right away any prejudices we may have about Chinese products. That’s what I did myself.
Which of us has never dreamed of a musical integrated amplifier, powerful enough to drive all kinds of speakers?
One single component, not too expensive, not too big, not too power-hungry, and nice to look at.
An integrated also means a minimum of cables, just one AC cord, and simple RCA and XLR connections, all of which which save a lot of money compared with separates, not to mention the need for only one shelf on the rack.
This reflection leads me to consider the Kinki Studio EX-M1, which has received high praise from some illustrious colleagues. My natural curiosity is sparked.
There is so much “bullroar” spread around on the Internet that I wanted to find out for myself.
Who’s behind Kinki Studio?
Kinki Studio’s main designer is Mr. Liu.
His aim is to create components in his country, China, with a high value in audio performance terms, and this without making any compromises. We take this to mean that cost is no object apart from one key element, that being the final cost to the customer.
Gradually Liu came to rely on his own minimalist solutions. For example, he uses the shortest possible signal paths, for the sake of signal integrity, instead of including unnecessary parts that might modify the signal. The point obviously being to avoid the risk of coloring the sound.
For Liu, tuning is not optional.
The user manual clearly indicates that a high-quality power cord is recommended to get the best out of the Kinki Studio EX-M1, even though the unit is supplied with an “el cheapo” (sic) cord.
The same manual says the amplifier should be placed on a stable shelf which is adequately capable of draining vibration.
This is not the kind of thing we usually hear from a manufacturer.
Special care has thus been taken with control of vibration within the amplifier enclosure.
The approach takes account of overall balance as well as the density of certain mechanical elements (of the chassis) which directly affect sound.
The higher the density, the more solid (or dense) the sonic texture. This turns out to be true in every case; I myself have tested many solutions before coming to the same conclusion.
The concept is applicable to acoustics as well.
When the interior of the St. Eustache church was repainted the acoustics of the building were altered. It took two years for the church to recover its original sound, much appreciated for recording by the OSM, among others.
All in all, we have to recognize that Mr. Liu is a long way from being an amateur. He knows his business.
What you need to know about the Kinki Studio EX-M1
The unit measures 430mm wide, 125mm high and 370mm deep and weighs 25 kilos. That’s 17 inches by 5 by 14.5, and just over 55 pounds. Its input sensitivity is 3.6V RMS, it runs in Class AB and produces 215 watts per channel at 8 ohms.
The horizontally grooved front panel is machined from a 10mm-thick massive aluminum billet.
Warranty period is three years.
Made in China.
The binding posts are WBT-style but the make is not marked on them. There are three RCA inputs and one XLR, all made by Neutrik. The gold-plated IEC input is a Furutech and has a built-in fuse holder.
There is a rear-panel gain switch. It provides a 4dB boost if switched to its high setting, otherwise 0dB. We tried both and settled on the lower setting as being best adapted to our Mytek DAC+ and the sensitivity of our open-baffle speakers.
We did try out the +4dB setting with our Totem Tribe Tower speakers.
The 4mm top plate with its 6mm braces is bolted to the chassis on both sides. Under it, there are quality parts: Vishay and WIMA capacitors, NEC relays and transformers by Amplimo and Talema.
The multiple-resistor volume control is set with a latest-generation Xilinx microprocessor relay. It has 125 incremental steps, each yielding a 0.5dB change.
To turn the amp on, you either press the left-side button on the front panel or use the handsome remote. The front-panel display comes to life, and after a brief period in which you can hear the relays activating, the amplifier is ready for use.
At startup the volume control is automatically set to 010 so as to limit the risk of damaging speakers.
We set the display dimmer to its minimum setting for our listening sessions.
For this test I connected the Mytek DAC+ to an RCA input and the Integris CD player to the XLR.
The Kinki Studio EX-M1 was placed on a specific shelf, supported on three cone points, one of which acted as a vibration drain. We used an inovaudio AC cord with Furutech F150 rhodium and carbon connectors.
Input electrical power is so fundamental that performance can change from good to exceptional if you choose your AC cord carefully.
On these two points, if you take some care over them you certainly won’t believe your ears, but the improvements and gain overall are astonishing.
The metal remote is nice to hold, its functions are intuitive. I only took the liberty of sticking three little felt pads to the bottom so as not to damage any surface we set it down on.
The more I look carefully at the amplifier, the more I see points of comparison with Aurum Acoustics, Boulder, Nagra, Plinius and CH Precision. The impeccable finishing details, the millimeter-precise placement of each element, certain parts choices, the internal layout… how on Earth can Mr. Liu produce such a degree of refinement at this price?
Don’t answer that question, it’s purely rhetorical.
Sonic performance of the Kinki Studio EX-M1
From the very first hours of play, this amplifier showed itself to be extremely energetic, able to bring out the whole range of dynamics in the music, with speed and without apparent effort. Most especially, it did this from a background of absolute silence.
Theoretically, the wider the dynamic range, the easier it becomes to perceive musical information and micro details, and this is exactly what we observed.
“Crystalline” is a word which came up often as we talked, but it would be better to say clear and transparent as crystal. I grant you this is semantics, but it perfectly sums up our feelings over our listening sessions.
The incoming signal is not denatured in the least, or changed in any way. There is zero coloration, zero artifact, and what you hear is the pure truth.
So, if you are a fan of the “romantic” sound, this will change things up for you.
The sonic signature of the EX-M1 in your system will come from your choice of cables and the design of your shelf. In this, we were fortunate to have found the perfect match for it.
Some people may object to hearing the sonic truth of badly ripped audio files, or a recording with defects on a CD, or a botched mastering job. Well, these things happen, but they are certainly not the Kinki Studio EX-M1’s fault. This amp is a high-resolution machine which only passes on the sounds we put into it.
So be forgiving with your audio files. What you will hear is what they have to give.
I have heard integrated amplifiers five or ten times more costly which didn’t come close to showing all these qualities.
In fact this time, I was agreeably surprised right out of the box, but it was a week later, after the EX-M1 had been running 24/24 non-stop, that its true potential appeared.
Tonal balance just about perfect, no humps or dips, it accelerates powerfully and stops just the same. The four 15-inch woofers in my PureAudioProjects really appreciated that.
The control in the bass was quite surprising to hear from such a “small” integrated amplifier. There’s enough headroom to make you think the power comes from a bigger block.
All the same I would be very curious indeed to hear the Kinki Studio EX-B7 monoblocks. Just reading the info sheet I get goosebumps, my imagination starts to whirl, I fantasize.
Even after several hours of listening at high volume, the enclosure is only lukewarm. It’s a sign that the heat dissipation, which is done via round openings placed opposite each other on bottom and top, works perfectly.
What I am trying to explain is that the integration of the preamplifier in the EX-M1 is a total success, given that its presence is transparent. This is a compliment for a preamplifier — try and find one that does this for under $4000 in today’s market. Good luck!
Who can brag of such a feat these days?
You know, normally when we deal with an integrated amplifier we expect compromises, which often, even too often, imprint their color on the sound, weaknesses especially. This is not the case here.
The test sessions took an unexpected turn after the first week. I found myself frenetically searching out different types of music to listen to, with the background fear that I might find the electronics at fault somewhere. There must be something… but the only result of these efforts was more pleasure.
I wound up going from critical listening to just going from track to track and letting myself enjoy all the subtle nuances of the music. This kind of thing had not happened to me since the test of the Reimyo 777, which is still my reference. However it’s power amp, not an integrated and it’s thirty thousand dollars and not three.
Our hi-fi system is made up of the following:
B&K Reference 2.0 amplifier, Kinki Studio EX-M1 integrated power amplifier, PureAudioProject Trio 15 Horn 1 open baffle speakers, Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ with HDPLEX 200W LPSU external regulated power supply, Junilabs Audio Player beta 122 & Juniwave 2, acoustics/tripod furniture/cables, cup-spikes/cables by inovaudio made in Canada, and a few acoustic panels from PYT Audio made in France.
Pierre G.’s Opinion:
After considering what I heard from the Kinki Studio EX-M1 amp and the open baffle PureAudioProject Trio 15 Horn 1 speakers, what more to say than WoW.
The sound was detailed and very precise. At the price it beats a number of amps over $6,000, I recommend it highly.
I also listened to the Kinki Studio amp with Totem Tribe Tower speakers on ISO Acoustics feet. The result was a marvel of balance, with the heart of it also being a rich, detailed and precise sound.
Samuel B.’s Opinion:
I found the Kinki Studio EX-M1 amp transparent, neutral, high-powered even at the minimum 001 volume setting.
It seems well built.
I loved this Kinki Studio EX-M1 integrated, you could say it is really a high end component at an affordable price. Any sonic color will come from the room acoustics and the cabling and support shelf you use.
The competition will have a problem…
The Kinki Studio EX-M1 integrated amp is very well constructed, in a way I have never seen at this price level. It works remarkably well, and its tonal balance combined with an extended dynamic range make it a remarkable precision tool at no matter what volume setting.
Ultra-short signal connections and quality electronic parts, along with a high-end chassis and connectors, certainly have something to do with this musicality.
On top of that it’s attractive visually. The almost-surgical machining make it a refined piece which I would have no hesitation in setting alongside components at 5-figure prices.
Kinki Studio EX-M1 high fidelity?
The Kinki Studio EX-M1 showed itself to be musical, dynamic, distortion-free and silent in all circumstances, end of story.
Price: US $ 2,398 delivered worldwide.
But we’re in luck, there’s a Canadian distributor. It’s Charisma Audio, whose owner, Bernard Li, is a true connoisseur.
Bernard has always shown great flair for finding products with an exceptional musical value for their cost. He’s not mistaken in choosing the Kinki Studio EX-M1.
Canadian price: $ 3,250 + taxes.
If you’re looking for an integrated amplifier which respects the integrity of music and knows how to communicate it without artificial embellishment, the Kinki Studio EX-M1 is made for you, at a very fair price considering its qualities. A 215 watts per channel well invested.
Cet article a été rédigé par Marc PHILIP rédacteur indépendant, tous droits réservés, copyright 2019, les textes et photos sont la propriété de l’auteur et du magazine.
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