NEW integrated amp from Kinki Studio: EX-M1 - Good enough to replace my Pass Stack?? YES!
Okay guys just for fun I made the thread title the same as my old one with an extra word added ;) sorry if I don’t get into the physical descriptions of my gear much, I don’t fetishize my gear like others might. I know some of you have been waiting to hear my detailed impressions for a while. :p
I’m going to sum up my impressions I’ve had with the Kinki, vs my reference amp. Gear used was: Harbeth 30.2 40th Anniversary standmount loudspeakers, JBL 4367 Studio Reference Monitors, Pass Labs XA30.5 power amplifier, Pass Labs XP-10 linestage, Schiit Yggdrasil digital to analog converter, Blue Jeans speaker cables, Dyson Audio Facemelter interconnects, and some DIY power cords. All electronics I run into a Cullen Cable 6 outlet power strip, into the (sadly) sole power outlet in my room.
The Kinki arrived safe and sound, only 5 days from placing the order. Packing was excellent, double boxed, plastic corner protectors on each edge of the inner box, and plenty of precisely foam. The unboxing experience was a delight for me, this was actually the first amplifier I had ever bought brand new. It was quite a rewarding experience, I think I shall buy all new components brand new from now on, if I can :)I did not have my JBL monitors at the time yet, so I was doing my initial tests on the Harbeth 30.2. I let the Kinki warm up for 2 hours after hooking it up, in the meantime I put on some reference tracks on my Pass. As always, I found the slightly relaxed presentation of the xa30.5 to be highly rewarding. I’ve never heard an amp handle bass as refined as the Pass combo.
Next, I unhooked the interconnects dangling from the Yggdrasil, to the XP-10, and to XA30.5, and simply hooked the Yggdrasil’s outputs straight up to the Kinki via balanced. I immediately thought to myself that having one set of interconnects seems like a much better way to do things. Anyway, what did I hear? Right away there was a sweetness to the midrange that I never noticed on the Pass. Soundstage was wider. Imaging more pinpoint. I felt right away that this was a vast improvement. I put on as many vocal songs I could and strained my ears, Buddy Holly, Sarah K., Diana Krall, they all had more inflection to their voice, weightyness, air, presence. It was a more enjoyable, relaxing experience than with the pass. "This class AB kinky is really good!," I thought.
I listened a lot more the next day and realized that though the Kinki has better defined bass, it lacks some of the texture and refined nature of the Pass. I think the best way to describe this was the characterization of the Pass, which I call ’round’. The best way I can describe it is, the Kinki is razor sharp, like a square, clearly defined, and THERE. You can hear what is there. The Pass on the other hand is a circle, and it rounds out everything, the midbass, bass, and the vocal range, and as such is a little less focused, but more refined. Talking more detailed specifics: I think the Pass had a slightly taller soundstage, and a little more depth in some tracks. It was interesting, because I remember reading Brian’s review of the XA30.5 in Stereophile, and he described a passage in Telegraph Road, where you hear a glass shatter. I actually found that the Kinki provided a more deep presentation of that sound. The glass felt like it was farther off in the distance! Interesting... it really seemed to depend on the track.
As far as strengths and weaknesses of the two amps, we’re talking VERY minor here, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like the Pass might be more suitable for Jazz music and the like. It’s certainly got a more ’hifi audiophile’ presentation than the Kinki.
In summation: I found the Kinki to offer extraordinary value, rock solid build quality and great performance. The fact that it outshone the Pass in almost all areas is a testament to it’s value, and performance. The Pass Labs stack had a msrp of about $11,000 plus taxes. The Kinki is $2200. When you consider that the Kinki comes close to, and perhaps even surpasses the Pass... well I think I’ve made my point.
I highly recommend the Kinki Studio EX-M1 at this price point.