Audio Note Meishu Tonmeister Phono integrated amplifier

My first high-end component was an Audio Note M2 preamplifier, which I bought from former Audio Note distributor/current Stereophile contributor Michael Trei. (Senior Contributing Editor Herb Reichert was Michael's partner in that 1990s-era Audio Note venture.) Herb can regale you with tales of motoring across the Soviet Union in an unheated Mercedes, trunk full of Audio Note components and American dollars, but that's a story for another review (most likely to be written by Herb).

The Audio Note M2 preamplifier was one of the most transparent audio products I'd ever heard, its single 6SN7 tube extremely sensitive to tube rolling. I spent countless hours researching RCA 5692s, Mullard ECC32s, RCA VT231s, and Sylvania 6SN7s and trying them out in the M2, each new, used, or new-old-stock tube producing stark differences in resolution, tone, soundstage, bass extension, and immediacy.

NOS tubes were cheap in the 1990s. I had boxes of them, especially of versions of the 6SN7 triode used in the M2. One frigid night, I rescued boxes of ancient radio tubes from an abandoned building on the corner of Mott and Houston in Soho, now a fashionable district with exorbitant rents, barely a 10-minute walk from Fi, Don Garber's fabled shop at 30 Watts Street. How times and real estate values have changed.

I've covered Audio Note rooms at several recent hi-fi shows. After one recent show, Audio Note owner/CEO Peter Qvortrup asked me if I'd like to review one of their most recently introduced products, the Audio Note Meishu Phono 300B Tonmeister. After a quick consultation with Editor Jim Austin, I said yes.


Heavy-duty hi-fi
The Meishu Phono 300B Tonmeister ($19,300) is a class-A, zero negative feedback, single-ended-triode (SET) integrated amplifier. It weighs about 65lb and started shipping in late 2019. I brought it up the stairs to my sixth-floor walkup listening warren with help from Audio Note confrere Robert Lighton. The Meishu Phono's new pair of Psvane Standard Hifi Series 300B tubes required 1–200 hours to hit their stride, advised NYC Audio Note tech Ben Jacoby. Burn-in commenced.

Lighton also brought along an Audio Note S4 SUT so that I could use the Tonmeister, which has a phono stage that's MM-only, with my MC cartridges.

Generating just 8Wpc into 4 or 8 ohms, the aluminum-encased Meishu Phono 300B stands a stout 18.1" wide × 20.9" deep, and 8.7" tall. Its weight is mostly in its transformer-bearing rear, which makes hauling it up stairs and moving it on and off my equipment rack a challenging and noisy exercise (grunts, groans, and other emanations). The Meishu's back panel is made of 3mm acrylic; its fascia, 10mm acrylic.

The Meishu Tonmeister's volume control—no remote control here—is designed in-house at Audio Note and manufactured by an outside contractor based in the UK. The amp's snazzy gold knobs are "made for us in Taiwan to our design, as are the RCA jacks, which are plated with 50 microns of silver. XLRs are by Neutrik," Qvortrup said.

Made for us, or by us, was a common theme in my conversations with Audio Note folks. All Audio Note products are assembled by the company's 28 full-time employees in the West Sussex Audio Note factory. "We make many of our parts in-house, [including] all signal transformers, signal capacitors, the top-of-the-range Pallas low-capacitance cables for digital, [and] attenuators," Qvortrup told me. "We make or commission all sonically critical parts, from the way our wires are drawn and the materials in our cables, to the manufacturing technology in our nonmagnetic tantalum and niobium resistors." Audio Note–branded electrolytic capacitors are made to the company's specs by Japan's Rubycon Corporation. "We make our MC cartridges in house from scratch, as well. We have about 4000 processes in our document library."

Audio Note's careful selection and control of critical parts is said to play a major role in the hallowed Audio Note sound, including its unerring naturalism.


"The output transformer, interstage transformer, and coupling capacitors are all made in-house at our factory in the UK," Audio Note transformer expert Andy Grove wrote in an email. "We use whatever materials and techniques get the performance we require, which means some of our equipment is quite traditional and hands-on but other pieces are very modern and high-tech, such as our CNC winding machines. We have large stocks of Kraft paper, Nomex, Kapton, Mylar, etc., in multiple thicknesses and widths; a transformer will always have several of those materials used within it.

"It's a fine art, understanding differences of various transformer core materials and different winding designs/strategies, both on a scientific level and in [what we call] 'Kung Fu mastery,'" Audio Note engineer Darko Greguras told me by email.

"The phono, filament, power board, and the PSU board are all point-to-point wired in the Meishu Tonmeister," Greguras added. "This technique allows us to control the board material (FR4, Tufnol, Permali), the thickness of the board material—copper or silver—which can be from 0.5mm to 1.2mm. We achieve solid electrical connection by twisting a wire around resistor or capacitor leads and valve bases so a board can even work without a solder. Then the components are soldered in position. We use printed circuit boards in our amplifiers up to [but not including] level 3, because it is definitely much easier to populate them; but even then, we pay special attention to a copper thickness, FR4 board thickness, and the width of the traces." This Meishu Phono 300B Tonmeister is a level three component, with no printed circuit boards.

"The standard Meishu Tonmeister"—including this Phono version—"uses copper wire throughout," Grove continued, "but everything in the Meishu is balanced and aligned with exactly the same care as it is in our silver-wired uber-products. We select gauge, configuration (stranded or solid core), insulation (for example, PVC, PTFE, silicone, polyurethane, silk) and supplier to provide dimensional freedom in voicing a given product."

The Meishu Phono 300B Tonmeister uses several tubes to get its mojo working. Audio Note doesn't make those. The input/ driver stage utilizes a Psvane Hifi Series 12AU7/ECC82 and a NOS Philips ECG 5687WB, which drives an interstage transformer. The output stage is powered by two Psvane 300B tubes. An Electro-Harmonix 5U4GB takes care of rectification. The phono stage uses Psvane Hifi Series 12AX7/ECC83 and either Sovtek/Electro Harmonix 6922s or Russian ECC88s. Grove laid out the topology. These are common tube types, making tube-rolling easy and rewarding.


"In –> Volume control > Input valve –> RC coupling –> Driver valve –> Transformer –> Output valve –> Transformer –> Out," he wrote. "The input valve is to provide a bit more gain so that the input signal can be line-level. RC coupling is used here because we don't need a lot of voltage swing and because it allows some flexibility to shape the tone and bandwidth of the system and to avoid cascaded stages of similar nature—which is another advantage of using transformer coupling; it's kind of like amplifier-stage genetic diversity. Next is the transformer-coupled stage, then the output valve and output transformer, which is common to most amps of this type."

Greguras then described the Meishu Phono 300B's tube-rectified moving magnet phono stage, which I used extensively in my listening.

"We call our ECC83 and ECC88 phono stage a classic with good reason," Greguras wrote. "It's single-ended with no feedback. ... It has the best sonic blend of the ECC83 and ECC88, both in anode followers, with RIAA correction between the stages, optimally biased for a good dynamic transfer, yet sweet transients.

"In the M1 phono preamp, Oto and Soro integrated amplifiers," Greguras continued, "the [power supply] is based on solid state diodes. But ... the Meishu Phono 300B Tonmeister benefits from valve rectification and chokes." Those chokes, too, are made in-house. "This means less mechanical sound, closer to real life, and richer harmonics."

The parts in this model are upgraded, from metal-film Beyschlag resistors, standard electrolytic capacitors, and Audio Note tin caps to "a mix of 0.5 and 1W Audio Note tantalum film resistors, Audio Note Standard and KAISEI Electrolytic capacitors, [and] an Audio Note copper coupling capacitor. As we move up on the ladder of parts, there is less sound of its own."

I asked Qvortrup about the manufacturing philosophy behind Audio Note products.

"We strive for our equipment to have no sound at all but the sound of the recording itself," he continued. "We use an evaluation method we call 'comparison by contrast.' When we audition new equipment, we do not use known recordings. We pick five or ten recordings at random, listen to each of them, and then make a judgment as to whether one or the other piece of equipment individualizes the sound of each recording, and the one that does can then be considered to add/subtract the least from the recording."

Audio Note Ltd.
Viscount House, Units C, D & E, Star Rd.
Star Trading Estate, Partridge Green, West Sussex RH13 8RA
United Kingdom
+44 (0)1273 830 800

Matias's picture

Is fig.6 into 4 ohms or 8 ohms? The main text says one thing, but the image says another. Thanks.

John Atkinson's picture
Matias wrote:
Is fig.6 into 4 ohms or 8 ohms? The main text says one thing, but the image says another.

It's 4 ohms. Sorry for the error. I have corrected the fig.6 caption.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor Stereophile

Bonsai's picture

An embarrassing set of measurements. This is an effects box, nothing more. It’s audio alchemy, not audio engineering.

JHL's picture

...who's dabbled in things such as this component will immediately pick up at least half a dozen specific references in Ken's review as absolutely indicative of it's musical truthfulness. They connect and it connects.

We call this direct confirmation of the form and type and the very reason they exist.

How precious of you - commenting as Bonsai, ironically - to miss every last one of them. Back to your $499 cookie-cutter import.

Is this a free service you offer, this remarkable ignorance of not just that sonic form and style but somehow too its Japanese provenance, and is there a monthly newsletter? LOL.

Glotz's picture

The component is exactly like a bonsai tree in it's meticulous parts choice and placement, and it has been clearly 'trimmed' over time to produce beauty in several definitions of the word.

But nope, just the measurements matter. lol.

Bonsai's picture

I'm well qualified to comment on the Audio Note stuff - not this specific piece of equipment, but the certainly the Audio note sound. I wandered into their demonstration room at a show I was participating in and even met brand ambasadoe Vincent (I bought his record as well :) ). Its nicely made it that type of thing floats your boat, but I really failed to see what all the fuss was about.

In the other hand, I listened at length to a big Nelson Pass amplifier driving a pair of KEF's and that was stunning.

Both idiosyncratic designs (one zero global feedback, the other 'low' feedback), but only one hit the spot.

I have no problem with people selling expensive gear, but, I have a serious problem with people who diss equipment out of hand without having heard it, or who claim feedback is bad. That is fundamentally flawed in my book.

Glotz's picture

and qualify them more accurately.

Your two sentence remark comes off completely flip.

johnnythunder1's picture

Buy your astoundingly accurate, measurement perfect but ugly and dry sounding and oh so boring Benchmark or Topping crap. Enjoy using your radio shack lamp cord speaker wire with them too.

johnnythunder1's picture

piece of work, John A doesn't give this a thumbs down engineering wise. More importantly, you tone deaf musical genius know it all, this is all that matters: "It may not do air; instead it does flesh. As is surely clear if you read this far, I found the amplifier's rich, brawny, physical reproduction more than satisfying."

directdriver's picture

What's wrong with effects box? If that's the sound certain people want, that's what they will get. I treat audio like food, you get the flavor you want and you pay for it, however expensive if you can afford it. If you want flavorless food, that's okay too.

I like looking at measurements myself and think they are important but it is to find the kind of measurements I prefer so I don't even need to read the subject reviews with their pornographic flowery prose as they don't meant much to me. Noise would be one example the subjectivists and objectivists can agree on: the lower the better. Basically I want everything to measure well, except benign harmonic distortion as long as it's pleasing to the ears without being grossly noticeable.

jond's picture

Is a wonderful description for such a magical musical sounding amplifier. ;)

mieswall's picture

Fig 3: is it a square wave @1 Khz (text) or @10 Khz (graph)?
Curious: this is perhaps the worst ever measured integrated I have seen in Stereophile,... but at the same time the word's best integrated according Ken. Clearly there is something measurements are not capturing... are you listening... err.. reading, Amir?

Indydan's picture

Really, Amir? People still take that clown seriously after the Hegel debacle?

mieswall's picture

The thing is that clown has a horde of groupies, some of his followers making as aberrant and outrageous "tests" as the one done with Hegel, as the MQA case clearly demonstrates (which was as ignorant and evil-minded as it can possibly be), with even guys as Paul Gowan citing that clown act as a "engineering" proof of the alleged faults of the format... omg...
These ASR guys are dangerous (the damage they did to MQA is immense I think), and that's the whole point they do it I guess. What a deception that even Darko put one of them with his serious, phony voice on stage recently...
That aside, I can't find any possible justification for a 8 watt amp (or should I say a less than a watt amp?) to be priced at 20K US$. I hope Stereophile or TAS remind there is also normal people and not only Musks and Brins reading their wonderful magazines.

Glotz's picture

Thousands if not millions of Boomers retiring have copious funds for an end of life system.

Many high-sens speakers can run with this amp just fine. If it is music that this generates, then damn the specs.

There is not one poster in this review response that can tell Audio Note they are full of it or implement poor engineering.

teched58's picture

I'm not an Amir groupie myself (I prefer George and Ringo).

But since you raise the issue, the natural response, thought-experiment-wise is the question:

Do any of the Stereophile editors/writers/reviewers have groupies?

I need not provide an answer, since this question answers itself.

Former SP writers J Gordon Holt and Mikey Fremer both had groupies. (OK, I guess one has to distinguish between Fremer's groupies and his haters; that math is too complex for me.)

But no one currently associated with SP. (The one exception I would say is JA1. I don't think he has groupies, per se, decent bass player though he might be. But he is widely respected, not only here but at all the forums regularly denigrated here.)

Anyway, so one must ask oneself, why is this the case? Why are there no personalities at SP who inspire more than a "meh" level of excitement/interest/devotion?

directdriver's picture

That's a 10KHz square wave and for a tube amp it's quite decent. I would have a problem if that's 1KHz though. As long as the corners are rounding off smoothly the sound will be pleasing to the ears. Some like it and some don't. I think it's fine but I am not fine with the price tag though.

Strat56's picture

... it could replace my old Ibanez Screamer, probably my old strat would not feel the difference

Bonsai's picture

I see the faithful have rushed to defend this product. Clearly I seemed to have touched a nerve.

Glotz's picture

that was simple troll-ery.

kg's picture

This paragraph is quite confusing:

"The phono, filament, power board, and the PSU board are all point-to-point wired in the Meishu Tonmeister," Greguras added. [Point-to-point wired boards? What does that mean? And what do they mean by power board if they also mention PSU board?] "This technique [Which technique? If they refer to "point-to-point" wiring of PCBs, how is that a means to control board material, etc?] allows us to control the board material (FR4, Tufnol, Permali), the thickness of the board material—copper or silver— [Likely trace material, not board, right?] which can be from 0.5mm to 1.2mm. We achieve solid electrical connection by twisting a wire around resistor or capacitor leads and valve bases so a board can even work without a solder. [I actually understand this, I just can't really see the point of doing this. Probably there's an explanation, would have been nice to know.] Then the components are soldered in position. We use printed circuit boards in our amplifiers up to [but not including] level 3, because it is definitely much easier to populate them; but even then, we pay special attention to a copper thickness, FR4 board thickness, and the width of the traces." [It's been already described in this very same paragraph that they pay special attention to their PCB layout, build-up and material, so this is redundant. And frankly, there's nothing extraordinary in this, it's just standard, good engineering practice, true for all high quality/high reliability electronics.] This Meishu Phono 300B Tonmeister is a level three component, with no printed circuit boards. [And yet in the photos all components are mounted on PCBs with the exception of the transformers...]

As for the overall review: Since there is one single sentence describing listening experience other than MC vinyl, the title really should read Meishu with S4 SUT, especially since that little add-on at around 6k USD constitutes a significant portion of the cost of the amplification system.

hahax's picture

One of these days I'll see an SET review where the writer won't describe the amp as single ended class A as if there is such a thing as single ended class A or even single ended class AB. Those last two formats can not exist. Non class A SET is impossible. A single ended amp never turns off it's output device(s). If it did the amplifier would stop amplifying. An SET is class A inherently due to single ended topology.

David Harper's picture

Yes. As is much of the review. Imaginative descriptions of sound which seem to have no relationship with reality. One feels that the reviewer must have dropped acid before listening. But the component is very expensive. That must be the explanation.

JHL's picture

...Harper, paraphrased:


Why, your imaginative descriptions of flavor have, by the blazing lights of my infallible mind-reading, no relationship with reality. Surely the imaginary crowd in my pocket agrees that the reviewer must have dropped acid before dining. But the meal is very expensive, which to my jeenyus has to be the only conceivable explanation.

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, Little David.

Glotz's picture

Great paragraph!

And the man-splaining elsewhere is so refreshing!

jimmyt's picture

"On the outside, the Tonmeister's facade includes four gold-plated control knobs labeled function (tuner, aux, CD1, CD2), record (source, tape), volume, and balance" and what about more Your Throat?