In your work, how much about the final sound can you successfully predict from circuit simulations, measurements and parts selection; and how much still depends on fine-tuning by ear, perhaps even in a group setting for feedback from other trusted listeners?

Circuit simulation and measurements can only determine basic parameters. They are the first step. We then monitor the performance through listening and adjust it to obtain our ideal sound before pursuing feedback from other professionals. We repeat this process several times until we get the highest consensus. Then I use the collected feedback from professionals to judge and compare it to our previous records to insure that it all remains consistent. Good product must have its own characteristic which a design process then should fine-tune for ongoing improvements.

♦ Tell us something about your formal training as it relates to electronic circuit design and hifi manufacture.

I graduated in both telecommunications and business administration. One was my hobby, the other would make it easier for me to get a job after graduation.

♦ How many workers do you employ today? How big is your factory? Do you build or design equipment for other brands in an OEM/ODM capacity?

We now have a total of 7 people working together in a 280m² workshop. We ODM and OEM for one domestic high-end audio brand each.

♦ How long did it take Kinki Studio to be noticed abroad then accepted as a legitimate alternative to Western or Japanese brands? Do you still encounter preconceptions about coming from China? If so, what are they? How has the domestic market reacted to your growing visibility in the West?

We spent almost 12 years developing our product and did zero social media marketing. During that time many distributors contacted me but we were not ready so declined. It wasn't until the successful domestic launch of the EX-M1 that we felt it was time for everyone to get to know us. Preconceptions about products from China always existed because China's high-end hifi development started relatively late compared to Western countries and some older Chinese audiophiles still are into this behavioral inertia. Another reason is the sell price. Many audiophiles view us as low end because we are comparatively cheap. They simply never consider basic contributing factors like the exchange rate, operating and production costs. Due to the rapid development of China, the younger generation of users has become more open-minded so is more interested in domestic products. Hence the preconception of domestic product as being low-end product is gradually changing. The younger generation will commonly still think that as long as product comes from overseas, it will have higher quality assurance due to tighter QC controls. So they will focus on those locally made products which are already recognized in the overseas markets. They know that Chinese product isn't the greatest yet but keeps improving. 

♦ Are there any mainland China not Taiwanese speaker brands which you feel offer the same kind of quality as Kinki Studio does for electronics?

Actually, I am still doing research on this question so it is too early for me to comment. My principle is to test for myself before I give any opinion. I will share more in the future as I know more.

♦ If you have any, are there new models in the Kinki Studio pipeline you can tell us about? Will you ever enter the mobile or digital streaming market?

So far we haven't considered the mobile market yet but entering the digital streaming market is compulsory. There is a growing trend to integrate analog and digital circuits but for that we need to first enlarge our design team.   

♦ If you were a Western-based electronics manufacturer wanting to break into the Chinese hifi market, what is the most important domestic show they should attend? Is there a particular kind of music Chinese audiences enjoy the most? Are there common mistakes Western brands make relative to selling successfully in China?

Actually, the majority of Chinese audiophile still prefer Western brands. In my opinion that is an advantage. China has four important domestic exhibitions: the Guangzhou International Audio Show, Shanghai International Audio Show, Beijing Audio Show and Hong Kong International Audio Show. There are many ways to break into the Chinese hifi market and they are not limited to just participating in domestic exhibitions.   

Chinese audiences enjoy R&B, rock and jazz. To sell successfully in China, my personal opinions breaks it down as follows:

  1. Don't neglect the general user groups. They have the buying power which is willing to spend from 60'000-150'000 RMB for a complete system [€7'500 – 20'000]. This group represents the largest buying audience.
  2. Don't ignore user-friendly interfaces. This is our direction at Kinki Studio. If a hifi system gets too complicated, it becomes limited to a small group of advanced users. Now it becomes much harder to grow a product line rapidly.
  3. Please follow the manufacturer's setup recommendations for successful demos.
  4. Don't blindly expand your business when sales volumes increase rapidly. Find alternate ways such as outsourcing certain production or coordinating with others.
  5. Don't just focus on the high-end audiophile market. The general user or beginner too is a potential buyer and can contribute far more than you imagine.

♦ Are there any Western or Japanese hifi brands you are particular fond of today? If you can say, which ones might be the most similar to the Kinki Studio sound to be considered your most direct competitors? Finally, what is the product you're most proud of; and which one is your bestseller (perhaps those are one and the same)?

My favorite amplifier brands include CH Precision, Goldmund, Nagra and Spectral. There are far too many brands to list which can compete with us. If you are talking about direct competitors, so far I have no idea. In terms of very high-quality sound, those amplifiers I mentioned are far more expensive than our current line. If I compare us to similarly priced competitors, we have more confidence in our products' workmanship and performance. Since Kinki Studio has always insisted on creating only mature good products, we have limited ourselves to how many models we produce in each component category. In that sense all of them are main models. At this stage, I am most proud of the performance of the EX-P7/EX-B7 pre/power combo. But in terms of bestseller, it's the M1/M1+ integrated due to it having the very highest value for money.

With thanks to Ivan for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions; and Ken for translating them and the answers… this concludes our little interview.