At this stage of the narrative, reader TP wrote in: "Your recent preview of the EX-M1 piqued my interest like you always do. Add in Terry London's quotes and the screen shots of the performance of the amp find me reaching around for my wallet; just when I've become accustomed to my present setup. Thanks. I listen in the nearfield due to room constraints. I'm eight feet from the front plane of the speakers and like what I hear. I'm getting an almost headphone-like retrieval of detail but wish it had a touch more density. Liu says it's necessary for texture; and I assume tone which I live for. My speakers are a pair of old-school JBL 4319 monitors and 92dB efficient so the Kinki would just idle. Having that 'Swiss' sound clarity, effortless power and presence is desirable but I fear might be too stark from what I've gleaned from Goldmund and Gato reviews. My present integrated is a Marantz PM-15S2b Reference doing yeoman's duty. After three years of it, I'm wondering if the Kinki would give me a cleaner dense sound with better tone. To make matters worse, Alvin at Vinshine is doing his level best to get me one. I wrote to ask if he's heard anything about pending tariffs raising prices and so far all there is well. I appreciate the way Liu goes about building his gear and the philosophy that drives him. If this Kinki had a Swiss name plate, I could see it going for 4-5 times the asking price; if it's as good as I think it is."


With Alvin having privately confessed to deliberately lean margins for a quasi factory-direct scheme, TP's price assumptions for Swiss origins seemed fair. Switzerland, on 2017's list of 20 costliest cities for expats to live in, had made the top 11 again with Geneva, Zurich and Bern. Costs of living and labour there are exorbitant. Meanwhile there's no longer a default position for Chinese goods being of cheap quality or cloned industrial design. This even goes for that most Swiss of industries, haute horology. Whilst not yet on cachet, today sees serious yet fresh competition from micro brands like Aragon's Wing Liang. He offers this lovely 48mm €250 model with Japanese quartz movement, K1 hardened mineral crystal, 200m water resistance, screw-down crown and mirror-polished stainless steel casing. A 2018 June special had it for €99 shipped from their Florida/US HQ. For €350, Aragon's automatic version runs on the reliable Seiko NH35 movement. At this level of execution, such pricing would be impossible for 100% Swiss manufacture. So much for Chinese product bashing.


So-called hommages are rampant in the watch industry—just think of the German Steinhart brand's virtual Rolex clones—but the only thing faintly déjà vu about Kinki's EX-M1 is its white dot display. That's because Gato's is similar. But with no further cues of the Danish designs, it's clearly no hommage. How many ways are there really to execute such displays if you want white, a dot matrix and big alphanumerics visible from across the room? So much for not crediting Chinese products with original industrial design; and why the amp's rear is proudly emblazoned 'we come from China'.


As to Terry's and TP's 'Swiss' sound, I too use this descriptor for the school of DC-coupled ultra-bandwidth amplifiers from CH Precision, Goldmund and Soulution. In our personal inventory, samples thereof are from Bakoon, Crayon and LinnenberG. Based on my review of it, Audiozen's integrated from Sicily belongs there as well.


As with all other sonic schools, there are various levels of refinement. A Job 225 isn't as suave as a LinnenberG which isn't as lit up across the bandwidth as a Bakoon. The king's pin in TP's letter really was the end: "if it's as good as I think it is". Where on the Swiss ladder did it sit, assuming it belonged there in the first place? By now DHL's daily tracking updates showed arrival in and on-truck status from Shannon as Ireland's airport on the West Coast and our nearest hub. Over five days including a weekend, Alvin's parcel had progressed from Guangzhou to Shenzhen to Hong Kong, then to Germany's Leipzig and the UK's East Midlands. "Well traveled" was the word. Obviously your country's customs assess their own fees. In Ireland today this is often based on proof of purchase. It won't accept declared value but demands a bank account or credit-card statement showing the actual transaction. Depending on where you live, buying a Kinki amp might thus add >20% in clearance fees over the list price. But that's the reality for all other direct purchases too which originate from outside particular trade unions like the EU's. It's why free trade is such a big deal.


A big deal if you love your knobs are Kinki's. Once unveiled from their stout double-boxed shipping carton, those chunky controls with their concave faces and deep profiles played unabashedly on male obsession with size and fondling. Given an equally stout display, none of it was disproportionate, just the audio equivalent of a hefty 50mm tool watch rather than ultra-thin Skagen dress job. Unlike class A amps with enormous power transformers and equally enormous heat sinks, this Kinki was reassuringly hefty but not silly heavy. No hernias for breakfast. For first proof of life, it slipped into a system already set up to review Kaiser Acoustic's Furioso Mini monitor. One push on the M1's left knob awoke its display and after a short turn-on protocol clearly signified, it was ready for action.


Fed balanced from the outputs of Aqua Hifi's Formula DAC, shifting volume from 000 to 001 moved from mute to faint signal. On many high-digit attenuators especially digital volume, 1 equals the first 0.5dB above zero. With most rooms' standing noise floor at >30dB, such schemes produce no audible output over the first third or more of their range. Though technically correct, it throws away useful steps. Liu's approach was far more practical. It wastes nothing and makes for a maximally wide window of super gradual changes. The display had two states—bright or dim—selectable with the remote's Lighting button. Only the close proximity of the IEC power inlet and RCA inputs around back will be less happy with thick barrels on a power cord like Allnic's ZL and fat audiophile RCAs. It's not only a space issue but puts utility power and signal paths very close together. Still on the back, whilst their knobs had them virtually look like WBTs without the branding, the actual terminal posts weren't black nylon but gold-plated metal sized to accommodate standard spades. The XLR input was numbered 4. Once selected, I was off to the races and the ponies began zipping around the track. Did I hold a winning ticket?


The first surprise was my pony's most keen temperament. Even as low as 004 on the dial, I could already enjoy cogent highly detailed tunes. Whilst whisper sessions aren't for everyone—some people must get drenched or drowned in sound before they're happy—I love them particularly late at night. Because the SPL are so low, my ears are forced to really focus. This in turn means my mind must be immobile and quiet unless thoughts be louder. That becomes a musical meditation of sorts. But not every system lends itself to such gossamer pursuits. Many only come awake much later on the dial. Despite its muscle-amp pedigree, the M1 was a very early riser. In accepted audiophile lingo, that's first-watt fitness. In automotive terms, it'd be high torque in 1st gear like a 4x4's special rock-crawling mode. It means that even at fractions of the first watt, a circuit is already fully alive to grip and render a persuasive performance. That's particularly vital for owners of 109dB speakers like contributors Marja & Henk with their 16Ω Avantgarde Duo Omega horns. Even when it gets very loud, they don't use more than a single watt. Whilst I can't speak to the Kinki's noise behaviour into such extreme loads, I can confirm that its first-watt credentials are superior; and that for nearfield listeners like TP where things grow louder quicker, the very finely stepped optical encoder—it's not motorized so won't turn via remote—guarantees the desired sweet spot each time because it won't skip from too quiet to too loud in one step. Brawn, brains and bravo? Quite so.


From this behaviour followed an immediate consequence or inescapable conclusion: high resolution. Whenever a system must get loud to hear everything, it's fake resolution. Real resolution relies on a very low noise floor so that even the lowest recorded sounds remain above it to be audible. The easiest proof of that pudding is to turn a volume control counter clockwise and see how soon stuff falls by the wayside. The later it does, the higher your overall resolution. Following that logic, Kinki Studio's EX-M1 acquitted itself right off as a thoroughly modern high-resolution machine.