Review: Kinki Studio EX-M1 Integrated Amplifier

You can’t argue with the numbers. Or so the saying goes.

The Kinki Studio EX-M1 Integrated Amplifier is a 215 Watt (8Ω) Class A/B integrated amplifier that offers, according the manufacturer’s spec sheet, greater than 103dB signal to noise ratio, total harmonic distortion and noise (THDN) of 0.0232%, a damping factor of 2000, and a claimed frequency response of 10Hz-150kHz (±3dB). Price? A cool $2398 USD.

You may be thinking, what with those numbers and those looks, that seems like a real steal! In today’s hifi number game, if you added a “1” in front of that “2”, no one would blink. What gives?

Kinki Studio was founded in 2007 and is located in Guangzhou, China a port city northwest of Hong Kong on the Pearl River. The company offers a number of products including integrated amplifiers, a dedicated headphone amp, preamps, and a DAC that share a common appearance which is on the flashy side, with gleaming silver control knobs and/or buttons, ribbed faceplates, and in the case of the integrated amps, a pair of exposed gold anodized heatsinks.

The EX-M1 Integrated Amplifier is filled with premium parts choices including a microprocessor-controlled JRC MUSES 72320 volume control, true dual mono design, EXICON MOSFETs, 0.2µm gold-plated printed circuit boards, and a pair of 400VA encapsulated transformers. In an interesting twist on form and function, those gold anodized holed heat sinks and matching binding post terminal mounts are also directly attached to each amplifier circuit, one for each channel.

The EX-M1 is a functionally straight-forward integrated amplifier, with three single-ended RCA inputs joined by one balanced XLR input and Ground and Earth posts with a corresponding toggle switch to engage/disengage chassis ground for other connected devices. The EX-M1 also offers optional DC Filtering to eliminate transformer hum if you encounter it. I didn’t.

The EX-M1s ribbed front panel houses two large control knobs for input selection (left) and volume and a centered display that shows the active input and volume level. There’s an included nice hefty aluminum remote for both functions as well as Mute and Display options, that move with silky precision. I will say, up front, that turning the EX-M1’s volume control knob was a tactile treat, and its fine tuned precision was a joy to use. A+ in my book. If you’re looking for the on/off switch, its hidden on the bottom, centered underneath and just behind the front panel.

All in, we are looking at over 55 lbs. of integrated amplifier. The included aluminum remote adds some additional heft.

The thing about numbers, at least when it comes to hifi and blind dates, is they don’t tell you the entire story. Numbers, in these cases, leave out the most important parts namely, how will you two get along. I don’t know about you but I look at my choice of integrated amplifier as a long-term commitment, Not some dalliance for difference sake.

The Kinki Studio EX-M1 saw real play time with the recently reviewed Qln Prestige Five floor standers (review), the review pair of Klipsch Cornwall IV (details), and the resident DeVore Fidelity O/96 a speaker whose voice(s) I know about as thoroughly as you can know such things. We are intimate. The totaldac d1-tube DAC/Streamer took care of converting digital music to analog waves, while cabling from AudioQuest wired everything up.

If clean superb control and dead silent operation coupled with a cool-headed harmonic palette are among your integrated amplifier wish list items, the Kinki EX-M1 is a winner. A champ. Regardless of the associated speaker, these traits came through loud and clear, letting the voice of each speaker shine through. On paper, and in some heads, this is the ideal and I wouldn’t argue the point in theory. In practice, I’ve found there isn’t one road leading to hifi heaven and its no exaggeration to suggest that there are, according to this theory, as many roads as listeners. People are people, after all.

My favorite in-house partner for the Kinki EX-M1 turned out to be the DeVore O/96 which was kind of surprising on some level because my hunch suggested the Qln Prestige Five pairing would have been the better love story. But it turned out that I preferred the Qln with a bit more richness, as offered by the much more costly and endlessly captivating Constellation Inspiration Integrated 1.0 (review) and for the budget-conscious system builder, the very wallet friendly LSA VT-70 Integrated Tube Amplifier (link). The Constellation gave the Qln a highly refined yet engrossing character, while the LSA turned this same speaker into a smile-inducing boogie machine. By comparison, the Kinki EX-M1 sat somewhere in between sounding less refined than the Constellation and more cool-headed than the LSA. I suppose I was more tempted by the extremes.

With the Klipsch Cornwall IV, which can be very happy when fed but a few Watts, the Kinki’s controlled, quiet, unadorned timbral quality made this combination sound a bit too restrained for my liking, a bit too buttoned up. After all, I would think that many to most Klipsch buyers are well aware of their easy to drive (102dB) nature, so a 215 Watt Class A/B amp wouldn’t be the logical partner to travel down this road together. However, this pairing helped me hear that the Kinki EX-M1 offers excellent bass control, dead silent operation, superb clarity, all without even a hint of hardness. I’d go as far as saying the Kinki sounds natural, albeit in a manicured Gardens of Versailles manner as opposed to an Amazonian heart of darkness vibe.

One thing I love about the DeVore O/96 is they are not obvious. They are not a one trick speaker with a single character trait that outshines the rest. They are, in my experience, exquisitely balanced musical machines capable of full-on kaleidoscopic sound. The stuff that music is made of. As such, they are not speakers made for a single kind of amplifier, a single kind of sound which goes against some of the more general impressions floating around based mostly on inexperience as far as I can tell. In any event, the Kinki/DeVore pairing brought out many fine and engaging qualities in both, as a system. Music of all stripes sounded rich, bold, and beautiful, if not the last word in bountiful when it comes to timbral saturation and dimensional physicality, something the much more expensive Riviera Levante (review) offers in the extreme.

Here, driving the DeVore O/96, the EX-M1 sounded at home no matter the music in play. I am still loving Tricky’s latest outing as Lonely Guest (review) for all of its different characters, sounds, styles and moods and the EX-M1 proved to be an expert excavator, leaving no stone unturned no matter how micro in scale while never sounding artificially detailed, never losing sight or grip on the macro. The sound image was expansive and superbly stable, feeling as rock solid as the real thing which made exploration into music effortless and limitless. Lonely Guest consists of a number of guest artists, including Lee “Scratch” Perry, Polish singer Marta Złakowska (Marta), and Idles front man Joe Talbot making for a very broad range of sounds, styles, and moods and the Kinki EX-M1 proved to be more than up to the task of keeping pace.

BIG|BRAVE’s Vital is heavy dense going, listening through its 38 minutes feeling like some sort of aerobic workout meant to exorcize blandness. Crushing guitars, smashing percussion, with Robin Wattie’s vocals searing every edge, Vital is the perfect cure for show tunes when in need of sanctuary anywhere but “here”. Volume is key to enjoyment when it comes to music like Vital, but so is a system’s ability to unfold denseness while stopping and starting on a thin dime—percussive blasts need real impact and even the crunchiest of distorted guitar sounds want real resolving detail to sound out the richness contained within and here the Kinki EX-M1 once again proved unflappable and in total control.

When I lived in NYC, o so many years ago, I spent years listening to contemporary classical music nearly exclusively. This meant I spent a lot of time, and cash, on the second floor of Tower Records picking out CDs according to criteria based on composer, performer, cover art, and of equal value, music I knew next to nothing about other than it resided in the contemporary classical bins on the second floor of Tower Records on Broadway. The San Francisco Symphony’s recent survey of the music of Alban Berg, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas, has been getting Barn time of late, streaming from Qobuz in high-res (I would listen to this even if it was regular-res). In some ways, you can think of Berg’s music, along with the other Second Viennese School composers, as the heavy metal of the day when compared to a Waltz for example, and just like BIG|BRAVE certain elements of reproduction need to fire on all cylinders to get this music right. Tempo, stops and starts, timberal rightness and the silence in between are main courses on this menu and the Kinki is very clearly a master of unvarnished clarity and control.

Over the course of the many weeks I spent listening to the EX-M1, I ran through many a test track, music I listen to on most review gear with some songs sitting on this list for more than a decade, and the Kinki shone with amazing clarity, superb grip, and a grainless uncolored sound that let the music speak on its own terms, unadorned. The fact the Kinki EX-M1 costs what it does, was never evident in terms of its performance, which strikes me as rather remarkable.

The Kinki Studio EX-M1 Integrated Amplifier offers performance that belies its price—in a big way. When taken as a whole,—build quality, power, and sound quality—the EX-M1 represents outstanding value, something I don’t come across every day. If you value an integrated amplifier that offers superb clarity, control, and a rich but not overly ripe sonic palette, the numbers for the Kinki Studio EX-M1 add up to an amplifier worth considering for a serious relationship.

Kinki Studio EX-M1 Integrated Amplifier
Price: $2398.00
Company Website: Kinki Studio


Frequency Response: 10-150kHz (±3dB)
THDN: 0.0232%; 0.006% (A-Weighted)
S/N Ratio: >103dB
Output Power: 215W RMS (8Ω) , 290W RMS (4Ω) – both channel driven
Damping Factor: 2000
Gain: Normal Gain 26 dB
Max Output Voltage: 55VAC
AC Power: 110/240VAC, 50/60Hz (Factory configure)
Input Sensitivity: 2.25Vrms – 3.6Vrms
Input Impedance: 50kΩ
Input Connector: RCA x 3, XLR x 1
Output: Speaker Binding Post 4mm L/R Channel
Dimension: 430W x 125H x 370D
Weight: 25KG