Stereophile's Products of 2023 Amplification Component of the Year

Amplification Component of the Year

Audio Note Meishu 300B Tonmeister Phono Integrated Amplifier
($15,740; reviewed by Ken Micallef in Vol.46 No.2 review)

Finalists (in alphabetical order)
Ayre VX-8 Power Amplifier ($6800; reviewed by Ken Micallef in Vol.46 No.10 review)
Benchmark AHB2 Power Amplifier ($3499; reviewed by John Atkinson In Vol.46 No.1 review)
Dan D'Agostino Momentum M400 MxV Monoblock Amplifier ($79,500/Pair; reviewed by Jason Victor Serinus in Vol.46 No.6 review)
HiFi Rose RS520 Streaming Integrated Amplifier ($3695; reviewed by Rogier van Bakel In Vol.46 No.7 review)
Karan Acoustics POWERa Mono Monoblock Amplifier ($106,000/Pair; reviewed by Jason Victor Serinus In Vol.46 No.5 review)

The product lineup in this category echoed the dichotomy that is happening with amplification. Audiophiles are offered high-power, high-feedback, low-distortion solid state designs with low output impedances, and low-power tubed amplifiers that use little or no loop negative feedback, have a single-ended output stage and a correspondingly high output impedance, and produce high levels of (subjectively innocuous) second-harmonic distortion. Add to the mix the fact that an increasing number of integrated amplifiers stream digital audio, and it should come as no surprise that we ended up with a diverse mix of contenders for this award.

It was a low-power, single-ended tube amplifier that won this year's Amplification award. Audio Note's Meishu Phono 300B Tonmeister is specified as delivering just 8W into 4 or 8 ohms from each channel's Psvane Standard Hifi Series 300B output tube, with the measured distortion approaching 10%! However, Ken Micallef found that the Audio Note had no problem driving his high-sensitivity DeVore Orangutan O/96 speakers, "delivering smooth highs, a clear midrange that leaned toward lush, and a surprisingly taut yet rich low end." Listening to LPs through the Meishu's phono input, KM commented that "the amp's transparency, to tube-choice, sources, and recordings, rendered from every vinyl LP what sounded to me like original intent—what the musicians, producer, and mastering engineer conceived in the studio—though I realize that's impossible to know. What I'm sure of is that each recording I played through the Tonmeister had more depth, physicality, and flow than I've previously heard from any variation of my Greenwich Village rig."

KM concluded, "If there's a better integrated amplifier in the world than the Audio Note Meishu Phono 300B Tonmeister, I haven't heard it yet."

Notes on the vote
Despite the wide range of prices in this category, the voting was very close. It was only when the final couple of reviewers submitted their ballots that a clear winner emerged. Three solid state candidates—Ayre's VX-8, Benchmark's AHB2, and Dan D'Agostino's Momentum M400 MxV—were not far behind.