Model: Meishu Category: Integrated Amplifier (Tube) Suggested Retail Price: $$ Description: Single Ended Triode (300B) integrated amplifier Manufacturer URL: Audio Note Model Picture: View
Review by Joel_Waterman (A) on April 14, 2002 at 09:48:53
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For a week I have had the pleasure of being able to listen to the Audio Note "Meishu" integrated amplifier. Philippe Heitz, from Triode et compagnie at Blvrd de l'Yser in Paris (www.audio-note.com), once more was kind enough to lend it to me. This is the third Audio Note I have had in my system. Earlier I looked at the M-One pre-amplifier, my experience with which I wrote down in this forum's review section. I also auditioned the M-2 pre-amp and with that piece I ran into system synergy issues. That experience threw me into confusion as to what upgrade path to take since I always thought my pre-amp was the weakest link. Here I had a arguably better crafted piece of machinery than my Rotel RC-972 and it didn't work as well. Should I better spend money on new speakers perhaps? I discussed this with Mr. Heitz and as we were talking about the importance of system synergy and my musical and sound reproduction preferences he almost insisted I listen to the Meishu "you just have to experience a 300B SET". Well, who am I to argue with that :-) ?
"Meishu" stands for master craftsman I believe. Well it sure is. The amplifier has a Single Ended 300B Triode output stage, Pure Class A operation, Zero Negative Feedback, Valve rectification with choke smoothing, 5 inputs and a Pre-amp out facility and it delivers about 8.5 Watts. Audio Note insists on the benefits of single-ended technology because of the preservation of the "whole" audio signal as opposed to Push-Pull technology which demands that another signal be created in a perfect mirror image to that of the original signal waveform, which to some compromises sound quality in the process. The Meishu is a full pre-/power amplifier combination, complete with independent power supplies, in a single box, providing a shorter signal path and a natural amp/pre-amp matching. And a BIG and heavy box it is, finished with Audio Note's familiar acrylic black face plate and 4 gold colored knobs for Source, Volume, Balance and Record. If you want more technical background you can always check out Triode's website (See above).
So what does it sound like ?
I did not do a lot of critical A/B/A's and so forth, because frankly I did not feel like it. I just listened for about a week and then brought the amplifier back to Mr. Heitz on Saturday afternoon. The same evening and the following day I reconnected and listened to my solid state amp and I started thinking about the differences. This is not a 'review'. I mentioned this before in this venue. Why? Well, I am simply not qualified. And with so many variables at play I also don't think it's fair to the manufacturer or to you. So think about this as a 'written experience'.
When I first listened to the Meishu I immediately noticed a different sound coming from my system. Bigger soundstage, less defined, but with a seductive smoothness. The details you could hear with human voice and wood instruments were also something new. The 8.5 Watts (sic) at the 8Ohm tap were enough to fill my small listening room with good sound although I
needed to turn the volume to the 12 o'clock position to achieve that. But there was more than enough power for all sorts of different music, from Metal to Classical to Jazz. I liked what I heard. It was relaxing to listen to and because of the details one could hear, distinctly involving and interesting. Personally I would have liked a more defined instrument positioning in the soundstage. I experimented with different speaker placement but I was never able to achieve pinpoint imaging. Again, this could be 'system' rather than 'component' related. Perhaps my speaker cables are a better match with solid state than tube? Who knows... If my solid state does the imaging thing better (in my system), it does not sound as beautiful or natural on wood instruments in particular as the Meishu.
The Passion, Grace & Fire JSACD came in just in time from Japan to give it a listen before I returned the amp. And it was really nice to listen to the three different guitars. You could easily hear which one had steel strings and which ones had gut strings for example. The was lots of detail to be heard from the instrument and the player interacting with it. Really involving I thought and more than I was accustomed to. I also received the Pentatone SACD of the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra playing Mozart, Schubert and Mendelsohn. Great disc btw, and it sounded gorgeous with the Meishu. My quest into the sonics of Patricia Barber's "Touch of Trash' track continues and with the Meishu I almost lost all the hardness and ugly sibilance that seems to surround this particular track on the Companion CD. Best I have heard in my room to date !
Solid State vs Tube
This is a debate on many levels. There is the technical debate to which I referenced in my opening paragraphs, and there is the emotional debate. And within 'tubeland' there is the 300B vs The Rest debate. I have not heard many tube amps, and this AN is the first in my own system. (Very interesting 300B comparisons can be found on Stereophile's archives and
Upon switching, my first reaction was that the music suddenly sounded... let's say 'thinner' and more 'metallic'. For all of you tube connoisseurs this maybe old hat, but I have only read about tubes and this was my first experience with them in my system.
The difference between my solid state amp and the Meishu was very apparent. It is very interesting to me to experience this first hand. You have to 'settle' into a new sound. Just as I settled into the Meishu's 300B sound, I also had to 'settle back' into my solid state system. When the Allen Wright modified XB940 CD/SACD player returned I achieved 'my' pinnacle in music reproduction. I can honestly say that music never sounded so good in my room. And I have gone from Theta DAC to MSB 24/96 to MSB + DIP. Each bringing its own improvements on my digital front-end. The modified player trumped them all (See review elsewhere here) by a significant margin.
Enter 300B Single Ended Triode. Was it 'better'? Based on price and design pedigree I think the Meishu was the 'better' amplifier, compared my reference amp, built by my micro-electronics expert friend - a fully balanced design, DC coupled and only one opamp (not in the signal path). Look, the Meishu was different. As my ear became accustomed to my reference again, my appreciation for it returned. But I know now what people mean when they refer to 'tube warmth' and the mystical musicality that comes from the 300B or other tubes. There is a certain natural sound coming from the Meishu that is very appealing.
Did I find that it was lacking bass? I am not a bass freak. I don't crave full body impact bass response. I listen mostly to Jazz. But even with Metallica I don't need that impact. It is also not 'practical'. I live in an apartment and although it's large and I have a dedicated listening room, I still have neighbors and a wife to consider. So I want my system to deliver at moderate volume. For the full symphonic impact I go and listen to live music.
Was the treble rolled off? Another Tube characteristic you often hear people mention. Well, if it was it didn't bother me. The Patricia Barber track lost most of its harshness. I really liked the crisp and detailed treble coming from the Salvatore Accardo, Violins of Cremona SACD (Fone). A violin has a distinct body and timbre. Yes, it can sound harsh when played to you in your own room, even by a professional musician. I have heard a Stradivari sound like that in my late great-uncle's living room once. But because of that and other 'live' music experiences, I also know that a violin is capable of a full bodied sound, a sound which communicates the fact that it's a wooden instrument. This characteristic came through 'better' with the Meishu than with my reference amplifier. The Meishu also let me have a closer 'look' at the differences between the Guarneri, Amati and Stradivari violins played on this SACD. It sounded good on my reference but not as good as with the Meishu in my system, which was capable of exposing more of the soul of these magnificent instruments.
So there you have it. Have I become a tube fan? Yes and no. I am a fan of amplifiers that can render the music a natural as possible. Frankly I don't care if that is Tubed or not. I like the design philosophy behind the tube amp, the purity, flexibility, musical reproduction and the look. And I will further explore the 300B as far as planning my next upgrade is concerned.
Product Weakness: See above Product Strengths: See above
Associated Equipment for this Review: Amplifier: See Inmate Systems Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): See Inmate Systems Sources (CDP/Turntable): See Inmate Systems Speakers: See Inmate Systems Cables/Interconnects: See Inmate Systems Music Used (Genre/Selections): See Inmate Systems Room Size (LxWxH): x x Room Comments/Treatments: See Inmate Systems Time Period/Length of Audition: +/- 1 week Other (Power Conditioner etc.): See Inmate Systems Type of Audition/Review: Home Audition
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Topic - REVIEW: Audio Note Meishu Integrated Amplifier (Tube) - Joel_Waterman 09:48:53 04/14/02 (2)
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