The Kinki Studio EX-M1 Integrated Amplifier Review.
By Steve Huff
This integrated fully exceeded…no…fully SHATTERED my expectations (for the $2400 USD this costs) in such a dramatic and profound way that I feel this will be a challenge to write about and describe. While I get a few products in on occasion that do not live up to the hype (I do not review or talk of these products) sometimes there is something that comes along that blows me away when it really shouldn’t.
The EX-M1 is a true high end integrated amp that delivers 215 class A/B watts into 8 ohms and the first few in Class A. If you have speakers that are 4 ohm, the EXM1 can pump 400 watts per channel.
My Video Review with a comparison against a Nagra Classic System!
At least that is what we should think if we go by todays absurd high end audio pricing where we must spend $10k or more on an integrated t0 get true high end quality, refinement and magic. Gone are the days (or so I thought) where we can buy a $3000 integrated amp and get that magical refined 3 dimensional sound we seek.
There are $40,000 integrated amps one can buy today so the $2400 price of this guy seems..well…”cheap” when it comes to high end audio.
This may lead some to believe that this piece is not truly a high end piece or that the amp itself is indeed “cheap”. I can state with confidence that the is not the case at all.
It seems that in HiFi we judge products on price rather than substance and performance, and that should never be the case. I was happy to give the EX-M1 a try, and I did not really expect much as I did just what I talked about above. I Pre-Judged it on the Price alone.
I am jaded. I have heard systems ranging in cost from $500 up to 1 million dollars and I assumed a made in China solid state integrated for $2400 would never get close to delivering high end magic.
The thing is, once you hear a correctly set up refined high end system, you will never forget it. It touches your heart and soul and is almost drug like. Going back to lower cost pieces still brings that musical enjoyment of course.
We can indeed enjoy music for lower cost but the magic is what many of us strive for in HiFi and we usually can not get that magic in low cost pieces. We can get enjoyable music, but not all out “swim inside the performance” magic.
This piece from Kinki breaks from that norm as this amplifier can bring a big heaping serving of that magic for much much less than the big time integrates from big name brands. As a bonus, it’s a truly stunning looking and well built piece with beautiful attention to detail in a hefty 60 lb package. I will say that the amp is no lesser in looks, sound and build than some of those $6-$10k integrated amps. If this sounds good to you, read on my friends.
The New Version for 2021/2022
This Kinki Studio EX-M1 Integrated Amplifier is the latest and greatest 2021/2022 improved version with the gold heatsinks visible on the top of the unit and improvements to the volume control and capacitance. It’s a stunning sight to behold in the flesh and I will be blunt here…
This is a piece of HiFi that has the build and style of a European $10,000 integrated with the looks of a fine Swiss instrument. It does one job and it does this job just as well as some of the big guns I have heard in my space that cost much more, though with it’s own bold, dynamic and hard hitting sound signature.
With its 215 WPC this amplifier can inject some serious life into most speakers with ease.
Keeping It Simple.
There is No DAC, No Streamer and No Phono Stage housed inside of this basic yet beautiful integrated so if you are looking for all of that in one box, this is not for you. This integrated has one job to do and that is to amplify your source and send that to your speakers.
Inside this box lies a dual mono amp that pumps out 215 Watts per channel in to 8 Ohms and 400 WPC into 4 ohms.
“The EX-M1 is fully modular, a dual mono design in a single chassis. Rich in tonal quality, details, dynamic, and high resolution. Silky smooth volume control thanks to the MUSES volume control, of which known for its precise and accurate volume adjustment with precision matched resistors.”
This is a piece that I have had in my reference system for a while now and I have been comparing it to a Pass Labs reference set of XP-12 preamp and XA60.8 monoblock amplifiers that costs around $19,000 more than the Kinki. Not fair, I know…but I always wonder just how close lower cost pieces can get to the primo stuff. So I will talk about this.
I also hooked it up in my office system, which run Klipsch Heresy IV speakers along with a Bluesound Node for streaming duties. The DAC in the office system at the time was a Denafrips Terminator II I had in for review. Sounds fantastic in this system as well.
Let me just get to the point.
This is probably the Best Buy in high end audio that I have come across in all of 2021/2022. In fact, if I was writing this review one month ago this piece most likely would have been my HiFi Product of the Year for 2021.
While the $22k+ Pass Labs separates certainly does edge out the EX-M1 in warmth, gentleness. 3D and layering (as it very well should), the massive 60lb Kinki EX-M1 delivers something else to my system that thrills me when I listen.
The EXM1 has more dynamics, slam and oomph than the Pass Labs gear and this can be exhilarating with some music. With the EXM1 we trade some of that sweetness and depth from the Pass for impact and dynamics in the Kinki.
Before I get into the details of the sound, let me talk about the build, design and some of the details.
As I stated up front, the build quality of this is pure class. It’s a heavy beast and has a nice large display that shows us the input and volume. My aging eyes have no trouble at all seeing it, and it can also be turned off with the push of a button on the full metal remote.
“Most amplifiers use a potentiometer for volume control. EX-M1 uses an advanced microprocessor-controlled, JRC MUSES72320 2-channel electronic volume, which is optimized for high-end audio and professional audio applications with advanced circuitry and layout. The MUSES72320 performs low noise and low distortion characteristics and with resistance ladder circuit.”
The input and volume dials are some of the smoothest and most luxurious I have ever felt in an integrated. This shows the attention to detail here, and this is a good thing. I am staring at my silver unit now and am in awe of how gorgeous it looks in the flesh. The black is more muted but also very nice.
There is one “Blanaced” input and three RCA inputs. The XLR input is not truly balanced but a “Quasi” balanced version, meaning you will not have any improvement in performance over the RCA inputs. They are there though, for those who have XLR cables. There is no real benefit when it comes to sound.
Did I mention this is made in China and sells for just under $2400 USD?
Yes it is, but it’s one of those Made in China brands that takes tremendous pride in their work. Much like Line Magnetic and Denafrips, Kinki Studios offers up a product that competes with some much bigger name brands.
This amp was built using premium parts and materials. While I have seen heftier and nicer speaker binding posts on integrated amps in the $10k and up range, the inside of this amplifier is absolutely gorgeous with an impeccable attention to detail.
I also have to mention two things. This ships without a power cord. The manual states they do not supply the “El Cheapo” power cord that most amplifiers ship with. Being such a quality piece it does indeed react to cable changes. I tried it out with a Nordost Blue Heaven, A Cardas Clear and Raven power cord. This one from RAVEN, which was also the lowest cost, sounded the best in my system. It’s an amazing power cord for the money (much less than most).
It also does not ship with a battery for the remote so you will need one of these.
I have the black unit in for review but I think I prefer the Silver. Either way, they are both very attractive. The earlier version of this amp (they did not change the name) was touted by at least one highly respected reviewer as something pretty special. It was compared to summit-fi brands such as Nagra and Goldmund. Whaaaaaaat?!?!?!
This Goldmund integrated is also 215 WPC and comes in at $30,000
A Dream Integrated for sure, the Nagra Classic INT comes in at $20,000.
Nagra’s lowest end integrated (the Classic) is a $20,000 piece. It also does not have any extras like a DAC or phono preamp. To be clear the Nagra is $17,600 more than the Kinki. That Goldmund which this Kinki is modeled after is $27,000 more expensive than the EX-M1.
Could the Goldmund possibly have $27,000 more of sound or build quality? Hmmm. My ears say NO WAY but I guess it depends on how much value you put on money, and how much of it you have. For me, money is an issue and if I can spend $2400 for $10k in performance in sound and looks, count me in.
I have never heard the Goldmund, so I can not say for sure what the differences are. I can only say that what I am hearing from the Kinki far exceeds what I expected.
I have heard a Nagra system at a dealer once and was crazy impressed with the looks and sound but there was no way I could afford a full on Nagra system. What I heard was well over $200,000 and that my friends is far out of my reach.
From memory there is a similarity to the sound character and tonality that emerges from the Kinki integrated in what I heard that day but the Kinki sounds a bit more energetic and powerful with a little more oomph and kick.
The Nagra system I heard was airier, sweeter, ore expansive, 3D and had more depth compared to the Kinki but it was also into the six figures..as in over $200k for the system. Nothing that ever should be compared to a $2400 piece. So I must keep things in perspective here.
I am not hoping the Kinki beats a $20k amp or a $200k system. If it can bring a similar flavor to the Swiss pieces then it will be an amazing buy for those without the will or desire to spend a fortune on HiFi.
Keep in mind, this is not a lower cost Class D amp here. This is a bonafide legitimate MOSFET Class A/B amplifier that can easily power almost ANY speaker. Not that Class D amps are bad, these days they are very good. But we will get more juice, more oomph, more body and warmth from a good Class A/B vs Class D.
That has been my experience though I do know that Class D has come a very long way over the last few years. I have not heard them all so take from that what you will.
This is crazy. A 2000 DF?
The sound is bold, big, deep, impactful and the bass is otherworldly deep and tight. With a damping factor of 2000, the bass is tightly controlled and subterranean at times. It’s tight, fast and if the music calls for it, explosive.
The higher the damping factor the tighter the grip the amp will have on your speaker drivers. In theory, this means your bass will be tighter, faster and deeper with a higher sampling factor.
The Kinki has a damping factor of 2000. To compare, the Pass Labs XA 60.8’s have a damping factor of 150. Yes, ONE HUNDRED FIFTY.
The midrange is very clean and more expansive than most. This does not have a big, meaty, sweaty midrange but rather a clean, smooth and sweet one that feels a wee bit warm. The voices sit just in front of the speakers but have a width and life to them that is unheard of at this price.
The treble is pretty sweet and extended, almost golden in hue. It has impact and bite but never crosses over to the hard, harsh or flat territory, even with a highly detailed Chord DAVE performing DAC duties (the Chord is very detailed). It is impressive, again, something I have never seen a this price point.
The more I listened the more I was truly enjoying the sound character of this amp and may I say…I don’t think there is a much of character here at all. At least no type of coloration. While many brands have a pretty recognizable house sound, the Kinki Studio sound is one of power, control, impact, sweetness, and wow. It’s just about as neutral as I have heard an integrated sound.
As for the usual audiophile tricks, the soundstage and imaging is superb but it took about a week before it opened up fully. The manual states it has a 300 hour burn in but after about 120 hours it truly started to open up and there was more body and warmth coming through.
What the EX-M1 does is paint a musical picture where every aspect of the sound is perfectly balanced and tonally pleasing. It does imaging and soundstage but is not quite as holographic, sweet or 3D as the Pass gear in my room, but holy wow, it is almost there and with more punch to boot.
What the Kinki excels at is bringing impact and energy along with a clean transparent painting of the musical picture. It’s top, middle and bottom is balanced as it should be. Nothing is exaggerated nor does anything stick out. It is clean, clear and musical with just a touch of body and warmth. I have to stress, it never gets hard sounding, nor does it get compressed when the volume goes high.
Listening to “Dirty Paws” from Of Monsters and Men was revelatory. I was hearing things I have never heard from a HiFi piece at this price range. It was bold, dynamic and detailed. It had power, grunt and nice transparency. The Bass was TIGHT, CLEAN and also had impact. It was exciting and made me move.
Never once while listening did I say “This is only a $2400 piece so it is not as good as this or that”. No, that didn’t happen. Rather I listened and enjoyed every second of it as it filled my space with music in a way I am used to.
I am used to much more expensive pieces. Catch my drift?
As the days and nights went on with the Kinki in my system I would sit in my room late night as I played track after track into the wee hours of the morning. As I watched the sun rise in my listening room I was flabbergasted at what I was experiencing here from a $2400 USD piece.
Listening to Low Roar’s “Fucked Up” from the Maybe Tomorrow Album had me sitting in disbelief. What I was hearing was power, energy, imaging that was up there with the best and a big wide 3D soundstage that sucked me in one night. It was jaw dropping good.
Compared to the Pass Labs INT-25 that comes in at $8000 these days the Kinki is more forceful. The Pass is sweeter…more smooth and open. The Kinki paints a larger image, the Pass is more intimate. I love the INT-25, one of the best integrated amps around if you have easier to drive speakers.
The Pass is made in the USA, with second to none service. It’s reliable as it gets and has magic for days. The Kinki is different as it has tighter more forceful bass along with a tad more upper midrange energy. With the pass one could sit in the dark with a glass of wine or warm flavored mint coffee and enjoy. With the Kinki you may want to sit down with a shot of Vodka or an Espresso.
Lean, Bright, Warm, Rich, Quiet, Loud…
I do not feel this Kinki amp is bright nor is it warm. It is not lean, nor is it bloated. It is dead silent, so no noise, even with my highly efficient Klipsch Heresy IV speakers. It is about as neutral as they come. No buzz, no hums.
Going back to some of the integrated amps I have owned and tested from Luxman, Vinnie Rossi, Pass Labs, Octave, Cary Audio and many others? I feel the Kinki is no lesser than any of them. Just different as all brands have a sound of their own.
Luxman is detailed, layered and sweet. Pass is organic, 3D and full. Vinnie Rossi is clean, rich and beautiful. Octave is tube but dynamic, clear and exciting. Cary Audio used to be my goto when I wanted that warm tube bloom.
Kinki, again, is big, bold, dynamic, and powerful. Almost as if it has some adrenaline pumping through its chips (or op-amps which you can swap out and change the sound further if you are one who likes to tweak).
Oh and this is not the + version of the amp as that version also has a pre-amp input (this one does not) and theater bypass but as for sound, they are the same.
I would agree with other reviewers who have hinted or said that this has the Swiss sound signature. Clean, smooth, big, bold, sweet and musical and with just the right amount of body to the music.
You will never be bored with the sound of this amp, nor will it ever sound dull or lacking in detail. If anything it is a more forward sounding amp (though not sharp or bright) but this is what brings that energy and power to the music. This integrated sounds as it is truly driving my warmer leaning Deville’s in a new exciting way.
Instead of romantic, softer, sweet and intimate the speakers are explosive and dynamic yet with a a slight hint of warmth with the Kinki. This to me is the secret to what this amp is doing. If it didn’t add that bit of humanity it would be sterile, but this is not a grey or sterile sounding amp. Keep in mind though that my speakers lean slightly warm.
With leaner or bright speakers this amp may not be a good synergistic match as it could bring too much energy and forwardness in the upper mids. It sounded big and bold with the Kispch Heresy IV but if I had to nitpick I would say it was a touch hot with them. The Heresy IV treble is not the most refined but that is what makes those speakers sound so alive. With the EXM1 they sounded big, forceful, dynamic and they hit hard, just a tad sharp.
The leading edge of notes with the Kinki have that addicting snap and kick. Acoustics are powerful and if you dare turn it up, they just remain clean. I do not hear distortions or compression, even when I turn it up as loud as I can bare.
The volume control goes from 0-100. With my 94DB speakers my normal listening level is between 44-50. I usually listen around 80-83db. At night I can go down to 35-36 and I still have a nice big fluid sound that is pleasing and remarkably detailed and powerful. So it does well at lower volumes as well, another thing the more costly amps do well. With the Klipsch I was listening at 28-35.
This amp without question deserves every bit of the praise it gets online and in reviews. At the price point there is not much that can touch it if you want big, bold, sharp, dynamic and powerful sound along with beautiful design and real high end build.
Compared to the Pass Labs gear I have in my system, in a direct comparison, the Kinki was not quite as smooth, 3D or transparent but I loved the Kinki Studios for the energy, oomph, drive and power it brought to my room. I adore the Pass gear for the humanity, warmth, spaciousness and beauty it brings. I also loved the energy from the Kinki.
This should and could be compared to integrated amps in the $5k-$10k range. Integrated amps from Hegel, Octave, Yamaha, Luxman, Mark Levinson, and the like. I do not feel this is a competitor to Nagra but if you want a taste of that fine Swiss look and sound but have a leaner budget I recommend this with as much excitement as I possibly can. It will give you that same “flavor” of sound for sure, which is remarkable.
If there ever was a definition for “punch above its weight” it is right here.
At $2400 it sounds better than it has a right to sound. It may make some of those big money competitors take notice as an amplifier like this has an ability to cause a stir in this industry. It’s powerful, beautiful and brings more than most need for $2400 USD.
It may indeed become a classic itself.
I suggest reading reviews of this amp from users and reviewers. Most say the same thing as I do about it.
Don’t forget about synergy. I feel I hit the synergy jackpot here as it just does things to these Fleetwood Speakers that I haven’t heard yet. This may be the perfect amp to place within a warm leaning system to “juice it up”. It also deserves a nice source in front of it!
Finally this is not a euphoric amp. It’s not mushy or rounded or romantic. It delivers lightning in a box but it’s also smooth at the same time. I enjoyed all music through the EXM1 and my favorite thing about it is the power, dynamics and kick it brings to music.
ELECTRONIC DANCE MUSIC
This amp is special when listening to EDM, TECHNO, or music of that nature. It has the attack and dynamics to make the music come alive. It has the bass power to deliver room shakes and window rattles if you dare to turn it up.
As I write this I am listening to “Mandrill” from Martin Gore and I have it turned up to 55 with the Deville’s. My couch is vibrating, yet the sound is big, beefy, uber clean and smooth yet it has the treble and energy to make me get up and move. It has that little bit of bite that makes you stand up and take notice.
The foundation to this music is bass, and with that 2000 Damping factor this amp can truly make the most of EDM.
The Pass combo also does justice to this track and with even more 3D and incredible detail but it doesn’t quite have the “kick you in the chest” kind of energy that the Kinki has.
I have no affiliation with them, nor do I get kickbacks or commission if you buy one. I make no money from my audio reviews as of Jan 2022, but I may one day accept sponsorships for my YouTube videos when they have nothing to do with what I review. But nope, I have no business affiliations with ANYONE in the audio world.
I do these reviews for my love of HiFi and to feature truly superb audio products. If your budget does not allow for a big money integrated or separates and you want something with balls, energy, drive, power, slam and dynamics WITH gorgeous looks, the 60LB Kinki Studios EX-M1 may be what you have been searching for.
The cons? Well, there is no dealer network that I am aware of so if it needs repair it will have to take a long trip back to China. Reliability? I can not say as I have not had this for a year or two, only a few weeks so far. I would hope this would last for many years but I can not say unless I had one for years.
I have had no issues during my time with it (something I can not say for some brands I have had in here). It doesn’t run hot. It sounds best after 45 minutes of being on. It has a standby mode. The remote is quality and it has tons of power on tap..and you can tell as it exudes power and impact.
Oh and while it may not look like there are any buttons on the unit, there is a power/standby button cleverly hidden under the front panel. Simply slip your finger under the front and you will feel the push button. It can be turned on and off from the unit itself or the remote.
MORE LISTENING NOTES
LAKOTA LUKLAY by Robert Tree Cody. This track is not your typical music experience. It’s an ethereal experience in the right system that is more of a mellow, relax and soak it in type of track. The Kinki Studios EX-M1 delivers the vocals, instruments and even space with accuracy and musicality. We hear the reverb in the recoding space, and the breaths into the flute. The soundstage is wide and tall. The Pass Gear brings a bit more transparency and realism but the Kinki is not very far behind at all. It’s pretty incredible just how close it gets.
Waking World by Youn Sun Nah is a vocal track but it has some of those magical ethereal qualities within. The Kinki Studios EX-M1 brought this track to life with body, warmth, and a layered and detailed presentation. The soundstage was three dimensional, and imaging was fantastic but not surgical. The body and power that comes from it is astonishing. This song is painted with a delicate brush and the Kinki proves it can do this as well. The Pass Labs set brought a deeper layer of detail and 3D but the Kinki was very convincing here with a song that requires a gentle stroke rather than brute force. Bravo.
Redemption by Christian Kiellvander is a stunner. Vey well recorded with big bold vocals that reside dead center in a good system. When done right it sounds big, wide, tall and the vocals are to die for. Haunting.
The Kinki piece brought this track to life with that big bold sound it is known for. But how did it do in regards to bringing forth details and soundstage? It did very well. The vocals were realistic and 3 dimensional and the music had a scale that is tough to get from anything in this price point or quite a bit above it. This song was painted with a smoothness and excitement that did remind me a bit of when I heard that amazing Nagra system.