Kinki Studio EX-M1+ Stereo Integrated Amplifier
I am a firm believer that sometimes, audio companies strike gold with an outstanding product. Whether it's a particular model in a line of speakers or the cherry in a line of amplifiers, some pieces of high-end audio just have magic. In my days of selling hi-fi, the cherry of the line always stood out amongst its peers. This is why I was very excited to hear that I would be reviewing a new EX-M1+ integrated amplifier by Kinki Studio. This is their flagship integrated, built off of the already well-received EX-M1 integrated amplifier.
The EX-M1 is an integrated amplifier that is intended to provide true high end, two-channel performance while offering a HT Bypass (home theater) to leverage its high fidelity pedigree for a home theatre (you would need a processor). The flexibility allows the preamp output to be active while still running as an integrated amplifier. This is nice for multiple loudspeakers as the user can use that to drive a subwoofer or external amplifiers - you could even bi-amp your speakers using the Kinki power amp and another external. All controlled by their redesigned remote control unit. All this flexibility paired with 215 Watts per channel into 8 Ohms.
The Kinki EX-M1+ was built for the discriminating audiophile while providing a ton of power and real-world flexibility for integration to an AV system. All at a price, while not cheap, could be a giant killer.
The Beauty Of An Integrated
Integrated amplifiers have a distinct advantage of perfectly matching the pre with the power. The amplifier designer gets to build an amplifier, ultimately adding another gain stage and switching, but keeps one consistent voice. A well designed Integrated has the capability of creating beauty. My mind wanders to the days of the Manley Stingray (review) with 20 Wpc of triode power, the magical Audio Note Ongaku (review) or the Jeff Rowland Design Group Continuum integrated for higher power solid state bliss.
Design And Build Of The Kinki EX-M1+
Where many preamplifiers use a potentiometer for volume control, the EX-M1+ uses an advanced microprocessor-controlled, JRC MUSES72320 two-channel electronic volume. Kinki claims their electronic volume is optimized for high-end audio and professional audio applications with advanced circuitry and layout.
Swapping From Seperates To Integrated
After A Few Weeks Of Getting Kinki
The biggest shock was the detailed and layered image. Superior to the ARC combo. In moving from tubes to solid-state I wasn't expecting a more layered and deep image from a solid-state integrated, but that's what I got. Within my review of the Sonus Faber Nova II speakers, I spoke quite a bit about rhythm. The rhythm seemed slightly off compared to the tube separates. Although I was moving to more power, and solid-state power at that, I was expecting more attack and slam — I was receiving the opposite. The bottom end was refined and accurate, not boomy at all. Overall, the Kinki was more laid back in its presentation.
The microdynamics, although outstanding at lower volumes, seemed slightly compressed when played at higher levels. Meaning, the Kinki performed at a higher level (surpassing the ARC separates in many areas) when playing at lower volumes but lost a little of its magic when cranking it up. This was consistently driving a variety of speakers including Sonus Faber, Vandersteen, Spendor, and Magnepans.
Even after never turning the Kinki off, I was shocked by the cool running of the chassis. Don't get me wrong, running cool is a good thing, but I couldn't feel any increase in temp.
The tube power was lusher and had more of a texture, but truthfully, the difference was less striking then you would expect. The bottom end was a little bigger and fatter with the separates, while the Kinki was more controlled and a little leaner. I could easily see many audiophiles choosing the Kinki over the ARC separates.
Music And The Kinki Sound
On the Kinki, horns came across smooth and dynamic. Tubas were a little light but controlled and fleshly. Bottom end when playing Galactic and Allen Toussant playing Baccus stayed under control but lacked a little impact. The guitar on Big Al Carson playing Take Your Drunk Ass Home was sharp and dynamic. When listening to Harry Conniclk JR.s She — the snare was a little more set back placing the drummer deeper in the music session. After over a month of playing everything from Tool to Tea for the Timmerman I'm pulling the Kinki out of the main system. I'm bringing the EX-M1+ to the local hi-fi shop for some direct comparisons to other similarly priced integrated amps.
Comparison To Rogue Cronus Magnum III Tube Integrated
We were putting the Kinki into a system that was the Rogue Cronus Magnum III driving a pair of Magneplanar 1.7i's here is a review on the older Maggie 1.7. This existing system is set up in a dedicated room and sounds wonderful. I expected that the extra power of the EX-M1+ was going to truly make the Maggies sing. Swapping out the Rogue to the Kinki was going to be fun.
Upon switching from the Cronus to the Kinki, I immediately noticed the higher frequencies had more air on the Kinki. The midrange and the higher registers were slightly more analytical than the tube integrated but still had a great sustain. I didn't notice the micro-dynamics differences in comparison to the Cronos as I did with the ARC separates. The fade of the symbols on Is you is or is you ain't my baby by Diana Krawl on the Cronos had more texture and was incrementally more defined.
The sound seemed to leap out at you more with the Kinki pushing the planar speakers. On the same track, when directly switching between the two integrated amplifiers, the saxophone was jumping out of the Maggie's with the Kinki driving them. Although I had matched volume prior to the switch... the Kinki seemed somehow louder — the macro-dynamics were substantially better.
Still, the bass was a little leaner on the Kinki EX-M1+. The drums on I have the world on a string by Diana Krall, had more depth on the Kinki, but less impact. The Kinki did a great job of creating layers of sound with tremendous depth falling well behind the speaker plane. The texture of the violin when playing Anne Sophe Mutter's Carmen Fantasie was slightly richer on the tubes but more vibrant and intense on the Kinki.
Summation Of The Kinki EX-M1+
It has a detailed presentation, with an outstanding harmonic presentation, especially at lower volumes. In a world in which you can spend $3000 plus on an AV receiver that gives inferior sonics, I think the Kinki EX-M1+ is a bargain. If you have $3000 to spend and are looking at an integrated, or even separates, the Kinki EX-M1+ solid-state stereo amplifier should be on your shortlist.