Nouveau recette? Combining traditional not oscillating gain circuits with switch-mode power remains a newer trend. In Denmark Aavik do it for their class A models. In Germany there are LinnenberG's stunning Georg Friedrich Händel class A monos. For class AB with SMPS we have the UK's Chord, Austria's Crayon and Switzerland's Nagra. Even the tube heads at Manley contracted with Bruno Putzeys for a quiet switch-mode power supply for their noise-critical phono stage. There'll be more to show that the days of SMPS being exclusively associated with class D are behind us. So ought automatic connotations of 'cheap' as though all were throwaway wall warts or primitive subwoofer fare. Made-for-audio switching supplies are now a perfectly legitimate high-end thing. In Emei's half-size sector I know of Gold Note's €1'699 75wpc PA-10 which combines an SMPS with GaNFet class AB outputs then offers bridge mode for quad power and builds in a slow-moving fan.

But to be fair, this particular combo of oscillating power fronting class A or class AB not D still isn't common. Like lengthy reverb in a cathedral, the blur of old presumptions hangs over. It's likely that a good percentage of Emei's prospective audience must perform mental spring cleaning to catch up with the times. Now it helps knowing that early adopters of the recipe explain their reasons on pure performance not cost-savings grounds. As it was explained to me, a properly designed switching supply can offer lower output impedance, higher current and faster recovery times than a classic linear supply with big capacitance, hulking line transformers and rectifiers. Routinely the switching version will be measurably quieter because it avoids the 50/60Hz line noise and its harmonics. Now its far higher operating frequency is far easier filtered. For a given power rating it can also be more compact than an equivalent classic power transformer and its bigger filter caps. Many old-timey analog designers just aren't fluid in engineering a proper SMPS. It requires specialty know-how or outsourcing with experts like Taiwan's Meanwell. [At right a Meanwhile 600W supply of 25x9x4cm and 1.9kg.] In those terms Emei is ultra-modern. Unlike ultralinear that's just no formally recognized operational amplification mode. But it makes a valid point. We shouldn't consider Emei despite not running a linear power supply. We should seek out Emei because it runs a 21st-century smart SMPS.

No sooner said than undone when on May 22nd, Alvin Chee wrote, "we recently made significant changes. We moved away from the SMPS and instead use a 400VA toroidal transformer to enhance the linear power supply for both line and power stage. This was necessary to improve sound quality and longevity. Although it results in higher costs and ship weight, we strongly believe it's the right step to take." Considering whether to purge all SMPS mentions from what I'd already penned, I thought it more educational to show how Emei's R&D involved a serious conceptual change. Had this impacted the originally targeted retail? "If we could lower costs by any means, we'd very much like to maintain $1'699. However, the cost increase is higher than expected. We anticipate raising the sell price to $1'799 after the first batch to recoup our extra costs. We expect this to happen in Q4 2023. Until then Emei will sell at $1'699."

Asked about finish options if any, "gun metal and silver". By June 4th a formal launch shout made the rounds. Emei emerged on the Kinki not separate website ready for orders. Now we learnt that this remote control isn't IR but Bluetooth to require no line of sight but still cover a claimed 5-meter radius. Final specs are 96dB S/NR up from the early SMPS version's 88dB; 10kg; and 28x31x11cm WxDxH.

My tape measure saw that unless height included removable footers, Emei would fit neither below my desktop screen like Enleum's AMP-23; nor underneath its shelf like the COS H1 or its Auralic Vega stand-in. I'd have to sacrifice leathered-up real estate to install this integrated; or park only the rear footers on the monitor shelf, then elevate the front with a support to erect my little altar of desktop hifi. An Alvin email told me that he'd listened to his sample for over a week already and found it awesome. We'd expect no less. I simply had to hear for myself.

If you wondered about the lack of output stage in the next breakdown image, remember that it mounts to the top plate beneath the green PCB. You can see its edge with five fat hex bolts peek out. If the black toroid seems too compact of Ø for its rating, scroll back up to the first inside picture. Note how tall the part is. That's how/where Emei has my Enleum beat to generate more than six times its power. The AMP-23R's donut is nowhere near as stacked to conform to designer Soo-In Chae's low-rider ethos. It cues up the old amplifier adage that "power supply is 90%". Enleum's industrial design doesn't leave sufficient room for bigger iron so the same output transistors can't make remotely the same power. I reminded myself how power isn't all. Would my planned shootout stack finesse against brawns, beauty against the beast?

Kilowatt power mongers already raised prickly eyebrows. I'd simply remind their crew. This isn't class D but A/B, decidedly compact, dressed sharp then priced sub €2K. Within those parameters Emei is a quite heavy-handed Shaolin assassin. Kinki Studio call it "a ferocious little monster". Even though it's far from twice the 8Ω rating, a ~180wpc into 4Ω spec is serious business. So is the expansion module promise; integrating an active linestage and remote; Muses attenuator also seen in Cen.Grand, Ferrum and Pass Labs kit; DC coupling for no signal-path capacitors; great bandwidth for faster rise times. Two finish options then polish up this proposition. Now all of this pixel posh had to deliver during my hands-on then ears-on inspections before it could matter fully. About which, I had a second compact 'desktop' comparator, the Simon Audio i5 integrated, a 45wpc/8Ω proposition from Seoul which demands $2'500. On the price/power index, Emei had both Koreans beat before any listening commenced. With all my systems copasetic with Enleum's 25-watt output, the real decider of course would be current delivery, power headroom for gnarlier bass transients then general voicing/tonality and resolution. On features the AMP-23R adds superlative 6.3mm headfi, the i5 an RCA pre-out, Emei the expansion port. My ducks lined up ready to quack; and not just on the desktop. It's just because nothing bigger fits that Emei had to start there to assuage any fomo. By mid June, my gun-metal sample was finally en route and just two days later on the delivery van from Shannon airport.