KingKo Audio KA-101 & Listening Impressions

StevenZ

Pending Gold Star Member
So, after digging around a while and seeing RGA / @Richard Austen mentioning this amp on basically every forum known to man as well as reading a few other people's impressions I was ready to take the plunge. I wanted a small tube amp for the office. Key word, wanted. Not needed. I have a quite formidable stereo here already which consists of Gustard DAC-X22, Dave Slagle AVC (WIP) and an Anaview AMS 1000-2600 based amplifier. Speakers are DIY home brew front ported cabinets that house Mark Audio Alpair 7 Gen 3 drivers. Simple little stereo that blows my socks off for near-field listening.

The speakers have been with me for going on 8 years now and have been the gatekeeper for nearly every piece of serious gear I've bought while in this hobby. From Class D amplification (multiple brands), a massive slew of DACs, a few tube preamps, cables of all sorts and more amplifiers than I care to even admit, some very nice 300B amps (Electra-Print anyone?). So to say I'm familiar with their sound is a gross understatement. They've gone toe to toe with many other speakers, both store bought and DIY builds. Speakers with drivers that cost 10x and more, including TOTL Scanspeak (with BE tweeter), TOTL SB Acoustics and many more (with BE tweeter). I think the fact that these are still in my office as the "guardians of audio" speaks for itself and I trust what I hear from them.

In any case, curiosity got to me and I went ahead and contacted King Ip from KingKo Audio about current pricing for his little raved about amplifier. I ended up sending him $875 USD (6850 HKD) which included 1 amplifier and 1 optional "red" faceplate. This was on early Monday (Hong Kong time) 10/8/2018. The amplifier arrived in my hands on Friday morning, 10/12/2018. This was quite fast as the amp went through the infamous Chicago ISC which I've had nearly every single package get held up for a week long time before. So I expected the delivery time to be a bit longer than a mere 4 days. I'm not complaining though.

I've read that the stock tubes were cheap Shuguang so on the day I ordered the amplifier I also placed an order for a full lineup of "better" tubes that consisted of 1) Tung Sol 5AR4, 2) Tung Sol 12AU7, 1) Tung Sol 12AX7 and a quad of Bendix 6094 w/adapters to replace the stock EL84. Everything arrived but the Bendix tubes as they were ordered from out of the country in Canada, and the adapters were ordered and are coming in on a slow boat from China. I don't know why I chose Tung Sol, probably because I've had good experience with them. I know they're not the end-all but since I'll be using the amp 9hrs a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year I figured I'd get some daily beaters. Not wanting to waste the NOS tubes that I'm sure I'll be ordering soon (not wasting the Bendix either). A quad of Tung Sol or JJ EL84 or something else will be in my future for daily beaters.

So here we are, the amp arrived and sounded quite nice right out of the box. King suggests to run it in for 150hrs before changing to any of the NOS tubes that he suggests as an upgrade, particularly changing out the 5AR4 rectifier with a NOS RCA 5U4G or NOS 274B. At the time of writing this I've got about 11hrs on the amp and I've noticed a bit of change already. Mainly that when it arrived it was quite tilted in response. The top it was clear and bright but lacking quite a bit of bass. Now this morning after a couple hours of warm up the bass is finally starting to come in, even at low volume. However, now the top end is slightly rolled off. Similar to a seesaw happening here, which is fine and to be expected. Though new amp, new tubes, it's hard to say what is doing what.

Midrange is VERY good on the amp already though. Quite different than my Anaview amp in that the midrange has a bit more "body" to it, a bit fuller sounding and a little more realistic, though perhaps this is a little exaggerated by the tubes, TBD. Jazz is exceptional with the amp too which is my main music I listen to daily.

Bass, as I mentioned is just now coming in so I won't comment on that too much, though I'll give further impressions when the 150hr mark has passed in a few weeks. What i'm hearing currently though is quite good.

Soundstage on the amp so far is good. Nothing crazy or above normal. Better width than depth but still quite decent separation of instruments and their layout from left to right. In comparison, my Anaview amp casts quite a bit larger and more solidly placed sound stage / image. I'm sure improvement will come with more time and break in.

At the moment I don't think it's quite the giant beater that it has been made out to be, but it's very good for what it is and is working great for what I bought it for. If it IS the giant beater to some, that's fine too, however I hold the Anaview in a very high regard as it's the most "class A" sounding class D amp I've had the pleasure of listening to. Things might change drastically with full burn-in and some NOS tubes as well as higher efficiency speakers though.

I'm hopeful that the amp continues to improve as time goes on. At which time I'll update my findings. For now I'm enjoying a very good and relaxed sound that is about as non-fatiguing as you can get. Quite enjoyable for all-day listening.

Below are a couple photos with stock faceplate, red faceplate and included tube cage. If anyone orders the red faceplate it actually looks red in the photos. However, it's way more PINK than it is red. Probably wouldn't have ordered if I had seen a better more accurate photo of it beforehand.

20181012_091832.jpg 20181015_100714.jpg 20181015_100649.jpg
 
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rogerfederer

Junior Member
w the pink plate i can see a cartoony face! volume knob = nose, meters = eyes/eyebrows. cage is some funky hairdo/hat/fez?
 

StevenZ

Pending Gold Star Member
I didn't mention that this thing is built VERY well. It measures roughly 8" wide, 9" deep and 8" tall and weighs a hefty 24lbs. For something this small it's quite substantial. The tube sockets are ceramic but not gold plated. Channel tracking even at ridiculously low levels is perfect. RCA jacks are quality and the only place I can see where some expense was saved is the binding posts. While they aren't nearly as cheap as the Chinese T-amps I've bought they are a little smaller and shallower than I would have liked. BUT, they do work and seem to accept banana plugs and bare wire relatively well. I'm not sure the typical monstrous spades would work very well, but I may try some later.

Oh oh and the VU meters are pretty cool and aren't as washed out as the photos indicate. They're nicely lit with a very nice little bulb (not LED) in the front of the viewing panel.

Just thought I'd add this stuff in there for anyone interested. This thing is built like a tank and I do suspect that the output transformers are potted. However when I asked King he didn't understand my question due to it not translating well, I guess. When I knock on the transformer covers there's no TING like I'd get from just a simple metal cover. It's solid and has a nice "thud" to it.
 

StevenZ

Pending Gold Star Member
Email has now been dispatched to King. By the end of my work day today at the office I was noticing a buzzing sound from my chair. it seems the amplifier doesn't like to be on for long periods of time perhaps as the buzzing was quite prevalent when I put my ear near the speakers and can be heard from about 3 and 1/2 to 4 feet away which is about how far is it away from the speakers. I tried swapping the tubes from left to right but still the buzzing was there and equal amounts from each Channel.

I'm wondering if possibly this is considered normal operation or if something might be out of spec with the amplifier and it's not handling the heat stresses of being on for 9 hours a day.

I will keep this updated as king hopefully replies to my email. He has been very nice and responsive thus far so I'm sure he will write me back and offer a solution of some sorts.

It's a shame too as I was starting to really dig this little amplifier so hopefully it's something simple.
 

TubeHiFiNut

Administrator
Email has now been dispatched to King. By the end of my work day today at the office I was noticing a buzzing sound from my chair. it seems the amplifier doesn't like to be on for long periods of time perhaps as the buzzing was quite prevalent when I put my ear near the speakers and can be heard from about 3 and 1/2 to 4 feet away which is about how far is it away from the speakers. I tried swapping the tubes from left to right but still the buzzing was there and equal amounts from each Channel.

I'm wondering if possibly this is considered normal operation or if something might be out of spec with the amplifier and it's not handling the heat stresses of being on for 9 hours a day.

I will keep this updated as king hopefully replies to my email. He has been very nice and responsive thus far so I'm sure he will write me back and offer a solution of some sorts.

It's a shame too as I was starting to really dig this little amplifier so hopefully it's something simple.

Bummer.....a buzz of that magnitude is quite a "buzz kill". (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Hoping that King responds quickly and that the issue is quickly resolved.

Depending on your long term impressions, this amp either will, or will not be, on my radar. Good customer service would be a huge plus.

Please keep us posted with status on the resolution.
 

Richard Austen

Junior Member
This is one aspect I hate about being a reviewer - when somebody buys something that I have recommended and then it fails. Generally, most reviewers keep and item for 3-5 weeks before reviewing it and I usually keep things for 3 months or longer before reviewing it - especially stuff made in China.

All I can say is I use the KingKo amp a lot and have had 8-12 hour sessions without a hint of noise. Which could not be said for my $7,500 Line Magnetic 219ia. I have had the Kingko for awhile - The review came out July 2017 and I believe I had it in February 2017. So 20 months or so and it has been, "knock on wood," perfect.

Hopefully King can get this resolved because it's not fun to have stuff fail and in today's world with customer service going the way of the dodo. Indeed, I have contacted several companies requesting product reviews and I don't even get a reply saying not interested. God help you if you have to contact them if your unit has a problem.

PS - you should damn well be able to run ANY audio product all day long. I don't think it acceptable for any manufacturer to have an amp that needs a rest after a couple of hours. I have been to King's shop in Hong Kong and he has his amp on all day.

The only issue I can see this amp having is if the speaker load has a low impedance and the volume level is high. That would push the amp into high distortion for long periods. It is a 6ohm output - so the speakers really should not dip much below 4 ohms - which is probably why my KEF LS50 didn't sound very good with this amp. My Audio Note speakers are 96dB and 6ohm (3.9 ohm minimum) and has no problem.

Let us know what happens.
 

StevenZ

Pending Gold Star Member
King replied as I had expected. He really is a nice guy.

So here's what he suggests. Swapping the 5AR4 and 12AX7. As you guys recall I've already replaced these with Tung Sol so I'm going to replace one at a time today and see what happens. Also he suggests trying a cheater plug and lifting the ground. Not sure I'm comfortable with doing that but I will at least try to isolate it from the upstream gear on a different outlet and see how that goes.

I'm with you, @Richard Austen in that gear should be able to run all day long. It's what I expect.

Oh and I reworded my question and King understood what I was asking. The transformers are truly potted. So huge thumbs up for that.
 

Richard Austen

Junior Member
Hi Steven - I had a hum problem initially and he had me had do a cheater plug (to be clear I put it into an HK to USA converter then to a USA to HK converter then into the power bar - the hum was reduced to nearly nill. What worked better however was plugging in the amp to a wall socket that was not connected to the light switch and not having it share a line with the sources. That eliminated the noise completely. This noise was only through my headphone jack - it is now gone with playing with what is connected to the power bar and what isn't. I am not sure plugging the amp into two converters and then the power bar is particularly safe as I have never seen things done this way - but as a temporary method to find out where the problem is located it is probably ok.

I am planning for this to be my retirement amp of sorts - if I retire and buy a motor-home this thing is perfect.
 

StevenZ

Pending Gold Star Member
Moved the power cable to a different power strip that I've got as I don't have nearly a long enough IEC to reach a different circuit in the office. Installed the stock Shuguang 5AR4 and am in the process of letting it warm up. Hum is still there but it, for now, is low enough to where it's only heard if I'm putting my ear within a couple inches of the speaker driver. I'll wait until the end of the day to see if it increases with time.

I'm hoping to bring in some more efficient speakers soon to pair up with this amp if I can get the hum/buzz level down even further. It's really enjoyable so I hope I can figure all this stuff out and build something around it.
 

StevenZ

Pending Gold Star Member
Just a quick little update. This amp is crazy. Seriously crazy. I'm enjoying it tremendously and have been for the last week or so. King suggested 150hrs or so for burn in and I'm pretty much there already.

Current tubes are Tung Sol 5AR4, Quad of Bendix 6094 w/adapters, Amperex 12AX7, Tung Sol 12AU7.

The Bendix and Amperex have both made the most difference so far. And eventually I'll snag a NOS RCA 5U4G like King suggests.

I think it's safe to say that this might just be my favorite all around amp/integrated I've used so far. There's something just so charming about it's sound. It helps me really get into the groove with music. Soundstage has opened up significantly from stock and seems adequately deep and wide without being overblown and fake sounding like my old Class D Audio SDS amp. Instruments are locked in place and have a nice dimension to them. I tells ya, old timey Christmas music on this is a real treat and in fact is holding the top spot as my reference music to try out new gear on. Weird, I know, but some of these old recordings are plain out fantastic and capture the singer in a way most modern music doesn't.

Anyway, back to listening. At this point I can whole-heartedly suggest this amp.
 

airdronian

Radar Member
Just note the 5U4 is a weaker rectifier than the 5AR4...so expect to loose some bottom end oomph.
There is more voltage drop going to the 5U4 types. An amp I have can use either, and preference went to the 5U4 types. One a Raytheon 5U4GB and the other (sadly departed) a beautiful RCA 5U4G with the ST bottle. <sigh>

It's nice that the amp offers tube rectification.
 

Richard Austen

Junior Member
Just a quick little update. This amp is crazy. Seriously crazy. I'm enjoying it tremendously and have been for the last week or so. King suggested 150hrs or so for burn in and I'm pretty much there already.

Current tubes are Tung Sol 5AR4, Quad of Bendix 6094 w/adapters, Amperex 12AX7, Tung Sol 12AU7.

The Bendix and Amperex have both made the most difference so far. And eventually I'll snag a NOS RCA 5U4G like King suggests.

I think it's safe to say that this might just be my favorite all around amp/integrated I've used so far. There's something just so charming about it's sound. It helps me really get into the groove with music. Soundstage has opened up significantly from stock and seems adequately deep and wide without being overblown and fake sounding like my old Class D Audio SDS amp. Instruments are locked in place and have a nice dimension to them. I tells ya, old timey Christmas music on this is a real treat and in fact is holding the top spot as my reference music to try out new gear on. Weird, I know, but some of these old recordings are plain out fantastic and capture the singer in a way most modern music doesn't.

Anyway, back to listening. At this point I can whole-heartedly suggest this amp.
I'm happy it has worked out and you got the noise issue dealt with.

King is a really nice guy and I wish him the best in this en-devour as it's a very difficult and competitive market to crack.
 

StevenZ

Pending Gold Star Member
Also, for what it's worth, this is an Ultralinear Push Pull design.

And I do wish I could turn off the meters with the switch on the side that controls the VU lights. That's my one quibble with it. The meters just aren't accurate so I'd rather them not be there at all.
 
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