Kinki Studio EX-M1+ Integrated Amplifier REVIEW
This is a review summary written by Terry Ellis March 2022
For the full review please see my YouTube video linked here
In 2022, I think we can all agree that there are a LOT of solid-state integrated amplifiers on the market at pretty much all prices. Standing out from this crowd is always going to be difficult. I have been lucky to have spent time with some of the best from Gryphon, German Physiks, Luxman, McIntosh, Nagra, Mark Levinson, Musical Fidelity and many more and these are all brand names you know well. One you may not know so well is Kinki Studio. Not that a name matters when the amplifier is as good as their EX M1+. I have spent months with this amplifier, tested it with all manner of speakers and, whilst I can think of two or three reasons you may not want to buy it, I can also think of at least ten reasons why you would.
At the back end of 2021, when I started the review of the EX-M1+, it made a big impression on me straight away. Its clean, composed and smooth sound seemed exceptionally good for money especially when I compared it with the much more expensive Cary Audio 300.2D. Move forward to today, when I am finishing the review, and I still have the same mindset. I need to be careful here not to give the wrong impression to you because I really like this amplifier but my enduring impression of the EX-M1+ is that I would like a bigger one more!
The EX-M1+ is Kinki Studio’s current flagship integrated amplifier and it is just an integrated amplifier so no DAC, streamer, phono stage or anything else. Some may see this as a negative point depending on whether you like true separates or the all-in-one approach to HiFi. I personally see an amplifier being just an amplifier as a big positive as I liked the idea of isolating duties within a HiFi system. Kinki Studio also sell the EX M1 (without the “+”) model. I think it is a similar amplifier, but its missing some features that could be important to you such as, a dimmable display, and a home theatre bypass mode.
Possibly more interesting is the ability of the M1+ to disable the amplifier output and use it purely as a preamplifier. This is a nice feature as it will allow your system to grow using larger amplifiers, while reusing what you already own and enjoy the sound of. You can also select to use the pre-amplifier outputs for line level connection to subwoofers. There are three selectable modes accessed by pressing the power button that is hidden underneath the front panel. The EX-M1+ costs $2,898 dollars and is available directly from Kinki Studios and the ‘non-plus’ model is about $500 less.
The M1+ is a dual mono design integrated amplifier, with 215 watts of power per channel into 8 ohms and 290 into 4 ohms. It is solid, feels exceptionally well put together and is very heavy at 25kg. I wasn’t sure about the black and gold finish at first and thought I might prefer the silver. However, since I changed my room around it has grown on me. I also really like the display, it is clear, easy to see at a distance, and appears to be perfect for the job. I also really like the rear layout and quality of the connections used. The fact the Furutech power inlet is well separated from the analogue and speaker cable connections provides confidence in the design.
On the rear are the only two other options you will have to think about. You can switch in and out both a floating ground and decide to engage the DC or mains filtering circuit – or not. I preferred the ground floated, as the amp sounded cleaner. DC filtering was disabled in my review system, but it is nice to have the options. Removing the lid and looking inside I am really impressed by the clean layout of the amplifier and again you can see it’s very well put together inside and out. I even like the resistance of the knobs on the front and their size. Who doesn’t enjoy playing with err… a big control. And, if you don’t, the remote control is a well-made metal design which is simple and easy to use. I like the fact that the volume buttons are different so you can easily access them even after too much to drink, we have all been there. You must pay careful attention when installing the battery in the remote. I got it wrong at first and the remote wouldn’t work – doh!
But How Does It Sound!
There have been some consistent sound characteristics which I have been enjoying and which were evident with all the speakers I tested with the M1+; speakers ranging in price from £250 to around £20,000.
For me the big sonic trait I really like about this amplifier is its sound stage, the depth and openness are outstanding. This trait has been present for every set of speakers I have listened to, they have all sounded 3 dimensional, even the £250 speakers had a genuine depth, a sound that was perceived audibly as forming behind the speakers plane and coming out into the room. The sound this amplifier creates is what I call see-through, you see through the speakers onto the music to varying levels depending on how good the speakers are. There has also been excellent width to the sound stage, and it is always organised and well defined, you know where everything is. There is no blurring of the lines between instruments or musical elements, the background seems really dark because there is so much space in the sound stage.
The M1+ sounds extremely clean and composed, music has a fantastic sense of organisation and control, even when it becomes very complex. I found this characteristic made a huge variety of music very easy and enjoyable to sit and listen to thanks to the excellent clarity of transients and superb timing, you can track all the elements of the music without straining your concentration.
Treble is smooth and detailed, the vocals are rendered with a pleasing control, composure and tonality. Bass is tight and controlled in the main but is, perhaps, more on the reserved side. I have been wanting more bass authority with some speakers at times, but I am greedy in that regard and like a lot of bass in my music.
I found the M1+ to have a reserved and quite laid-back sound overall that is tensions free. It has a smooth, clean and graceful delivery, favouring sound stage clarity through control and composure over making music have more excitement, energy, boldness or tonality. I occasionally found myself turning the volume up to get more excitement out of the system, which worked to a point. I could turn the volume up a lot, but there was a ceiling. Some more tonality could have also been a good thing, but I could hear, and suspect, that the amplifier has been tuned to balance these attributes, while maintaining an open sound stage obviously at the amplifiers price point.
Not always wanting more.
Using the M1+ and the Dynaudio EMIT30 combination had loads of energy and excitement, together with a high degree of composure and control, plus a great and solid bass. I am sure the Dynaudio Evoke speaker range would provide similar results. Using the M1+ with both the TAD CE1 and Mission 770 speakers, the composure is there, the sound stage is there, great vocals, great treble, for both of these speakers, but I did find myself wanting some more authority, and control and some more grunt to the sound, especially in the bass.
I need to be careful here, because the best integrated amplifier I have reviewed so far is the German Physiks Emperor, which costs around £33k and so it is not a comparable amplifier. However, the M1+ reminds me quite a lot of the Emperors sound character and so I can really appreciate what the M1+ is doing well – the composure and control and trying to get out of the way of the music to allow for an awesome 3D sound stage to form. I also really enjoyed the TAD CE1’s sense of accuracy and precision being powered from the M1+ and the treble and sound stage from the Mission 770 was also brilliant, again when powered from the M1+. I think both speakers showed me the strengths of the amplifier but also the amplifiers limits and is totally to be expected given the price and quality of these speakers.
I also carried out a listening comparison with the excellent Leema Acoustics Tucana II Anniversary amplifier, which costs about double that of the M1+. The different sounds of these amplifiers, favoured by their designers, were as clear as day. The M1+ sounded more relaxed, easy going and with more perceived depth to, and space in, the soundstage, whilst the Leema sounded bigger, bolder, richer, more immediate and upfront, more authority in the bass, but not as open or as tension-free. I found myself liking and enjoying them both but for different reasons, both brought out different strengths in the Mission 770 speakers and made the music a different listening experience.
A Cracking Amplifier
Please remember with me being a reviewer for quite a few years now, I have been spoilt by spending time with loads of great amplifiers and so it takes a lot to blow me away. However, if you are building up to an amplifier at the price level of the M1+ then I think there is a good chance it will blow you away for all the reasons I have mentioned, especially if you partner it with the right speakers. Many speakers would pair well. I mentioned Dynaudio and I can also think of the KEF R series, also Dali’s and more.
I have been more than happy to spend many hours listening to the EX-M1+ in my review system over several months now because it does some things really well and I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to it. A HiFi with a great sound stage age is always enjoyable and impressive to listen to. Yes, it has its limits, most amplifiers do, and that is the only reason why I said I would like this amplifier only bigger. Such an amplifier could well be a perfect combination of that open dimensional sound stage with the muscle for more demanding speakers. On that note Kinki have some very good-looking mono amps and interesting designed pre-amps that I am wondering if they could offer this kind of sound, and they are very much of interest to me and I hope to get to look at them in the future, the cost does go up though obviously.
For many audiophiles, nearly $3,000 for an amplifier will be aspirational level HiFi, and it is impossible for me to judge what is good value for you. Given the overall market, the EX-M1+ offers excellent build and sound quality at a good price and, for me I think it represents excellent value, and it is an easy product for me to recommend. It is not perfect and it is only an amplifier, not a HiFi Swiss Army Knife, but it is a really cracking amplifier which I found a joy to listen to.
A Special Performer Award is Pursuit Perfect Systems highest accolade and is in recognition of exceptional product performance regardless of price
For the full Specification of the Kinki Studio EX-M1+
See the website here