Which leaves a question. Is the EX-P27 balanced or single-ended despite a quad of gain modules and XLR i/o? Twinned RCA/XLR per input without selector switch between them were indicative and Kinki Studio's global ambassador Ken Ng confirmed it. "All our amplifiers are single-ended. The EX-P27 uses two gain stages per channel. The first is an input buffer/preamp stage to match impedance with the source. This is followed by our precision attenuator. The second stage with a gain of 3 is mostly a current buffer with low 75Ω output impedance. The whole circuit is DC-coupled for low distortion, high dynamics, top resolution, speed and transient response. The main power supply is a 2nd gen Double Air electronic filter to reduce ripple voltage and maintain clean DC power which significantly improved overall tonal purity and density.". As you already saw, finish options are silver or black. The display is blue on black either way, the remote silver.

Where knob envy and compulsive fondling are a thing, Ivan's big controls with gleaming concave ends put most competitors to shame. Next we see an EX-P7 atop original EX-B7 from Dawid Grzyb's March 2019 review. This brand has made the press rounds for years already. Now it's simply building on established strengths. Those come from China.

For an interview with Kinki Studio's designer, click here.

In use, the remote held two nice surprises. One, its bottom cover affixes magnetically so involves no screwing to insert/replace a CR2032 coin battery. Two, its three bigger buttons for power, volume up and down finish deeply concave, the six smaller buttons around them lightly convex. With the layout memorized, you can operate this remote in the dark by feeling the surface textures. Very simple yeteffective. I'd not seen that before. Display options are bright, dim or off. The two brightness values feel spot on, 'off' leaves just a dot to visualize power status. 'Off' awakens the display when you hit another remote button then falls asleep again. The blue display doesn't at all match the mono's green power or orange standby lights. If you own this trio and watch it play in the dark, it'll be like seeing a watch with multi-color tritium tubes.

Pressing the mode or belly button in sequence confirms as 'out-1', 'out-2' or 'out-1+2'. 1=RCA, 2=XLR. Choosing outputs by remote not just manually is another nice convenience. Making the first 0 redundant, top volume is 095, 000 equals no sound. Pressing mute displays as 'mute'. This logarithmic volume taper begins quite audibly at 001 so doesn't waste steps 30-35 to overcome our room's ambient noise before we hear anything. In high-gain systems with very efficient speakers, Mr. Liu's chosen start volume could be just a bit high especially on maximally loud compressed recordings. Compared to the 256 x ¼dB steps of the original EX-M1 integrated which could be maddening to achieve quick reasonable changes, the bigger steps of the EX-P27 struck me as far more useful and practical. Its published warm-up time is 20-45 minutes, full break-in is 300 hours. Kinki Studio put 72 hours on each machine before shipping it out so I had some break-in to do. Setting a Denafrips Avatar CDP to endless repeat whilst the Kinki monos remained in standby took care of that without making any noise. Not that the EX-P27 was mechanically or electrically noisy. On that score it behaved as though in a morgue's drawer: cool and very dead. The only thing missing was the toe tag.

In our household, Pál Nagy's passive magnetic icOns with Dave Slagle autoformers are the apex predators of speed and lucidity; acinonyx jubatus or cheetah. In a hifi that still looks for its perfect balance as not some abstract absolute but your ideal, cheetah can turn cheater when its level of exposure shows up system flaws. But once the triptych of room, speakers and amplifier/s hits your personal bull's eye, subsequent upgrades can focus solely on magnification power. Now one strategically improves raw resolution. It could mean resonance attenuation, isolators, cable lifts, masterclocks, noise traps and better cables. Once one works backwards from such 'finished' setups which for us include Artesanía or Hifistay equipment supports, Furutech or Audioquest cable lifts, Furutech NCF, Franck Tchang resonators and clock-sync'd USB bridges, resolution losses manifest. By thickening up the musical fabric, minutiae of space, contrast and separation begin to obscure. Blue-sky airiness casts over with a few lighter or heavier clouds. Keenness mellows, jump factor becomes more gemütlich. Mass might increase and with it, a sense of heavier materialism. Calling the other pole one now slides down on spirituality is certainly overwrought. Its sense of otherness as a venue different from our own room simply holds. It's a greater sense of space. It intrudes into and overlays onto our own acoustic. This can even affect music energetics; what we might call emotional frisson or the sense of directness whereby musicians can shock us a bit like live-wire electricity.

With the icOn 4Pro SE as my central baseline for these qualities, the next step down was the Wyred4Sound. This was followed by the Vinnie Rossi in tube bypass. Each of these steps registered as a bit farther away from feeling above the clouds for the most uncut views whilst also seeming closest to the sun's energy as that more cutting directness. The final step down was the EX-P27. Though in the bigger scheme these steps were small, jumping straight from top to bottom was plain. Before this language suggests a strict value rating whereby top is best and bottom dead least, it's important to invoke personal taste and how that informs which sonic values a system is most tuned for. Whilst these Aurai Lieutenant speakers use bipole horn tweeters and open-baffle big midranges with hidden bandpass woofers, they're still no spherical Avantgarde horns. Having started my reviewer career with a pair of Duos in Taos New Mexico, I suspect that with them, the Kinki Studio would now invert my Mayan step pyramid to come out on top. The same might hold were I to replace the denser more organic Denafrips Terminator II with a leaner Chord DAC; or if I took out the Nepalese throw rug and opened the curtains onto the French doors for more hard reflective surfaces.

That's because of my four preamps, the Kinki played it darkest and most condensed to 'here' not expanded to 'there'. That's back at equating 'there' with 'spiritual' like a faraway space—most traditions call it heaven and imagine it up there somewhere—and 'here' with 'material' as this very familiar down-to-earth place. Language gets fanciful but the actual toggling between icOn and EX-P27 was very easy. The Kinki was slower, fatter, chunkier and denser, the passive quicker, leaner, lighter and more accelerated. It's still vital to add "relatively speaking" since I'd not characterize the Kinki as being any of those things per se. It only was true by contrast to the icOn. Two decades of reviewing currently call that the cheetah or sparkling table water of preamps. If its work is that of accelerator or away-stripper of cobwebs like an elephant-headed Ganesha god as the Hindus' remover of obstacles, Kinki Studio's EX-P27 filled things out, settled them down and made them more robust. This action was clear and demonstrable by direct contrast. Given the particular system context above, for my taste its addition of mass wasn't required. It registered as a minor foot on the brake which I wanted off again.

If however I pulled out our compact Albedo Aptica two-way floorstanders already packed up for a pending house move, my vote would go to the Kinki. That's because unlike the vintage Supravox-type paper-cone widebander of Alain Pratali's speaker, the Italians use older ceramic Accuton membranes. Those prefer a slight adjustment to the overall system tuning. Because they'd be just relatively speaking so only by a few clicks, the EX-P27's virtues would now dovetail better without overdoing a course correction into a radically warmer fatter sound. So the Kinki is an active preamp with the breed's additive action. That action is dosed ideally so that even a speed-über-alles driver can embrace it to perfect a system which is presently just slightly on the lean and wiry side of the fence.

So Mr. Ivan Liu of proudly-from-China Kinki Studio has designed another high-value contender which the smart money should know about. It's well featured, built like a minor tank, looks the bomb and performs flawlessly. If we zero in on its big knobs, we might paraphrase from them the matching sound: highly polished and perfectly smooth but also big and chunky.

Postscript: By late August, my review loaner made tracks to Paris where occasional contributor Joël Chevassus signed up to review it for his own magazine. If you read French or use a translator plug-in, check it out in due time for another opinion. Despite his upscale leanings, Joël is terribly fond of Ivan's affordable stereo amp so chances are, he'll review the EX-P27 also with its stable mate.