1+1=2. The Nagra Classic Preamp combined the spatial avidity and intense resolution of the Wyred with slightly more of the richer half tones and warmth which the Kinki generated by itself. That trick came at x 10 the P7's ask. And it was quite the trick. Usually higher resolution and speed move us away from warmth, sweetness and density; and vice versa. We either pursue a heavy V8 family sedan with plush suspension and no cabin/road noise; or a light 4-cylinder twin-turbo 2-door with high-revving louder engine and road-feel suspension. A combination of the two like a Porsche Cayenne does redline the sticker. With Nagra, it means achieving a S/N ratio which exceeds that of most transistorized competitors yet manages with triodes and an advanced switch-mode power supply. It's a lot of technical extravagance to succeed this brilliantly. And it comes at an obvious cost of Swiss engineering, Swiss manufacture, iconic reputation and upscale global distribution channels. Like the Wyred, its fantastically ergonomic remote is still plastic where Kinki shroud theirs in the full metal jacket. And unlike the Kinki or Wyred, the Nagra is really a single-ended circuit which must use costly (optional) balancing transformers to generate its XLR i/o around a still 2-gang Alps pot.
So can you get better than the €1'350 Kinki or €3'495 Wyred? If you have €14'000 to allocate to the task, you could in the Nagra as a resident example which really does manage. But its lead is narrower than that between many amplifiers; and far narrower than between most speakers. The reason why—in a far more populous audiophile world—Kinki Studio's EX-P7 would be a disruptor is that it embodies a very modern Nagra-esque aesthetic at somewhat lower potency for a fraction of the Swiss sticker which only sacrifices extreme magnification power in trade. To move past it comes at disproportionate expense. Think of overtaking a car which already does 150km/h on the Autobahn up a long rise. Unless you're driving something truly monstrous, it won't be a quick pass by any stretch. And even then you'll only get home five minutes sooner. To justify the means, you'd have to really care about that and possess a deep wallet.
1:4=256. If you fretted over how many clicks it might take to advance through the P7's 0.25dB increments by any reasonable measure, about one second for 10 if you keep your finger on the wand. To increase/decrease gain by 10dB = 40 steps means 4 seconds. That's surprisingly fast. Doing it by manually rotating the massive knob involves nearly three full turns. Best keep the remote handy if you're a speed freak. Also, there's no display off, just bright and dim. In the absence of a power indicator—there's a single LED for standby—it's the display which confirms live status. Still, some listeners could want a full black-out option below dim. Those are the only nits I could cough up. Liu did his homework. That includes the new low-gain switch. It seems to have migrated over from the integrated after customers and my review noted its loaded gain. Listening to user feedback is the sign of a truly committed designer.
The neutrality factor. If the Wyred makes for a reasonable example of a virtual pass-through with attenuation, the Kinki would have to be considered a minor signal conditioner. Unlike an AC conditioner however where whatever 'more' you hear is a direct result of the striptease of lower noise, the P7's signal conditioning adds a bit of 'humanity' to the full frontal nudity of mythical neutral. It's subtly additive over passive preamplitude. The achievement is in the finely administered dosage and how, except in a direct comparison to a superior passive, it eludes identification. That's very different from the thick patina of vintage valve gear which left that tell-tale old-timey colouration. Or as a male friend once quipped a bit exasperated with audiophile posturing, "in public, they talk of the truth and nothing but. What they don't admit is how they prefer their ladies to wear some makeup. And many buy them fancy negligees." The best makeup is essentially invisible to the untrained eye. Kinki's is that unless the eye was momentarily sharpened in a direct A/B against a first-rate passive. Practically, this deck ought to have sufficient socketry and voltage gain for the vast majority of users whilst its mondo readout communicates loudly with even aged eyes from across the room.
Who the EX-P7 is for. A week before I wrote the above, reader Eric Philippet checked in. "… my last acquisition was an Accuphase A70 because I used the volume control from my 'old' Accuphase E470. So for the volume control I'm contemplating two alternatives (my budget is between €10-20K depending on options and resale). 1/ A new preamp to keep my source and DAC, probably an Accuphase C2450 or a used C3800. 2/ A new DAC with volume control because the Denafrips Terminator has none. The basis of my issue was an A/B of the volume control of the Accuphase E470 versus C2450. I heard that I could gain a lot in all aspects – dynamics, details, transparency, width and depth. So my road map is to increase the quality of the volume control. But there are two options: old-school like my Accuphase reseller who only considers the preamp; or new-school digital which considers preamps as just complications if I use only one source."
As someone who routinely enjoys listening at low levels, I rely on premium analog volume control. Despite promises to the contrary, I've not yet heard digital volume better it at high signal cuts. With the Wyred's unity gain fixed to 63, on dynamically compressed music—recorded to sound loud all over—I routinely listen at 15. That's at 2 metres from the speakers, with the speakers more than 3 metres from the front wall and 5 open metres behind the chair. At low levels, digital volume demonstrably throws away vitality, colour, depth and micro detail. Why be held hostage by your hifi because only playing loud sounds good? If that makes no sense to you, the Kinki preamp is for you. If digital attenuation has you covered, it is redundant. If you only run one source with top-quality analog volume like our €9'000 COS Engineering D1, it is redundant. But if you run a premium DAC like Eric's €3'600 Denafrips without volume… then such context calls out the €1'350 EX-P7 as a spectacularly cost-effective yet premium solution. If you're an informed shopper with a global view, life as a sound-appreciative music lover in 2018 is simply a many-splendoured thing. One needn't spend glossy front-cover coin to get high performance. One just needs to know where to look. That in just over three months this became my fifth Kinki Studio review might tell you that I consider looking in this particular direction to be a timely and splendid thing indeed.