I am very pleased to write again of KingSound and its products. About two years ago, I wrote this first review on ReMusic relating to the KS-H2 headphones and the M-10 headphone amp, both made by the company from Hong Kong. In the same review, you can find some introductive notes on this serious Hi-Fi reality and some notions on the electrostatic headphones and headphone amps.
This time we will deal with the top range amplifier: the M-20, a tube electronic device with OTL circuitry, and the KS-H3 headphones. A match of absolute significance.
Let’s start with the KingSound M-20: the standard-bearer of the headphone amplifiers line of this company: a simply design but elegant in its “neoclassicism”. Tube amplification in circuitry mode OTL - Output Transformer Less -, therefore without output transformers that often force to small-big qualitative compromises, both under the aspect of the frequency response and the dynamics. The setup of the thermionic tubes counts seven unities: two ECC803S double pre-amplifying triodes by J.J.Electronic, four 6P15 pentodes of Chinese manufacture and a 6P6P J power pentode by the Chinese Shuguang. The topic about a possible tube rolling is not of my concern here. On my part, with the provided tubes the quality here is at the top.
Front side: in the low part there is the volume knob and on the right the jack for the electrostatic headphones. Back side: IEC socket, the protecting fuse, the on/off button and the RCAs for the signal input. That is all: simple, right? The black grid on the top is easily removable and when you do it, everything is scenographic and elegant. Be careful, though, it is easier to be burned when the tubes reach the functioning temperature.
I am quite sure: KingSound makes headphones that are fine, solid and pleasant to wear. This last feature is something important because uncomfortable and heavy headphones increase the listening fatigue independently from the goodness of the take and of the amplifier.
Specifically in the KS-H3: low weight – the 460 grams stated by the company include the long connection chord – with efficient adjustable headband and soft pads perfectly adherent to the listener’s head. The materials are not “esoteric” but anyway perfectly worked out and for sure they are the outcome of a long research of suitability.
Reluctantly some complains on the KS M-20. In ascending order: the possibility of a second headphone output is a great way to make an immediate comparison between two different but compatible models in order to make a kind of family tuned in reunification!
Even if it is possible operating at the source, it would be nice to have an adjustment of the balance between the channels: sometimes it is very useful. What is really missing here is a parallel on the RCA connectors so to send the source message to another user like an amplifier-loudspeakers system. You can solve it in other ways, with signal splitters or by using, if present, a rec or pre out from an integrated amplifier or preamplifier. It is strange that such option is implemented on the little brother solid state M10 and not on the flagship amp. Who knows? Maybe the purpose was a minimalist product, mostly in the signal path.
This time, maybe inspired by the peculiarity of the system, my attitude was holistic. Target: to forget the technical features of the single components of the audio chain and the thousand, sometime improbable ways, terms for comparison with what listened and analysed in the past. I must say that it worked! The relaxed listening session of the music that I wanted to listen to in that very moment, has produced an optimum and unhoped-for result. A pleasure-loving experience.
You know that the headphones require a run-in: hence, do not express a judgement before fifty hours of functioning. A tube amp requires half an hour of warm-up and the M-20 is no exception. The first good impression is the great response of the KS-H3 in low range with good depth and articulation, thing not so easy to get with the electrostatic headphones. The mid range, especially in the octaves occupied by the female voices, is in perfect balance between precision and pleasant euphony. In the high range, nothing is missing. No resonances or ungraceful granularity: thanks OTL!
The dynamics is very good in the “micro” component. More than good the macrodynamics if you do not exaggerate with the volume.
The virtual stage, where the recording have taken care of this aspect, is not very wide but enough wide to place the musical components exactly in the space.
In conclusion: the analytic research about one component can be a useless and dispersive exercise. The KS-H3 must be worn, connected to the M-20 after the run-in and enjoyed with the music you like most.
There are many considerations made and to be made about this system amp plus headphones, both technical and economic. What I can suggest is to make them after half hour of relaxed music experience. It is worthwhile!
Selection of listened music
Alt-J - This Is All Yours, CD-2014
Bryce Dessner - St. Carolyn By The Sea; Jonny Greenwood - Suite From There Will Be Blood, LP-2014
David Bowie - Blackstar, LP-2016
Chris Cornell - Higher Truth, LP-2015
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Orchestral Spectaculars, Erich Kunzel, Telarc CD-2002
Joe Jackson - Fast Forward, LP-2015
Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems, HD Tracks 24/96 - 2014
Mozart - Requiem & Ave verum corpus, Riccardo Muti, BPO, Hybrid Stereo SACD
Mumford & Sons - Wilder Mind, LP-2015
Puscifer - Money Shot, CD-2015
Erich Kunzel / Cincinnati Pops Orchestra Featuring King's Singers – Perform Music Of The Beatles, Telarc SACD-2001
top score ✳✳✳✳✳ ReMusic Sparks
Tone: ✳✳✳✳1/2 | Warm, pleasant but not coloured. You can get the respect of the original signal.
Dynamics: ✳✳✳✳ | With the due warm-up, there is no problem.
Detail: ✳✳✳✳ | At the right volume you can perceive everything.
Versatility: ✳✳✳ | The Achille’s heel is that the essential things are present but nothing else!
Image: ✳✳✳✳ | The space is not infinite but enough capacious to enjoy a good concert.
Rate: ✳✳✳✳1/2 | OTL in great form. The headphones respond well.
Aesthetic and functionality: ✳✳✳✳ | Minimal, elegant. No problem in whatever operation. Good and comfortable headphones.
Price/quality ratio: ✳✳✳✳ | This is not a “budget” product, but the overall result justifies the price.
N.B. The overall evaluation is referred to the match KS-H3 headphones with M-20 amp.
Official technical specifications
Headphone amplifier KingSound M-20
Frequency Response: 10Hz-20kHz, 40Vrms / output
Input Impedance: 47Kohm
Rated Input Level: 150mV, 100V / output
Max. Output Voltage: 2x160Vrms
Harmonic distortion: 0,01% a 100Vrms/1kHz output
Dimensions: 115x155x380mm WxHxD
Electrostatic headphones KingSound KS-H3
Frequency Response: 6Hz-46kHz
Electrostatic Capacity: 140pF
Impedance: 113Kohm a 10kHz
Sensitivity: 109dB a 100Vrms
Maximum output sound level: 116dB
Standard bias voltage: 550Vdc
Official Italian dealer: to Import Audio website
Official current price in Italy: electrostatic headphones KS-H3 745.00 EUR, amplifier OTL M-20 1,390.00 EUR, combo 2,135.00 EUR
Associated equipment: to Mauro Cittadini’s system