Ambiosonics? No Thianks


Ambiosonics? No Thianks
Mike SIlverton
August 1999

Ralph Glasgal, the inventor of Ambiophonics, has found in a forum God sent. I know of no mag, print or Internet, where an author is allowed the luxury of reviewing his own book. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

In our small, audiophile world, egos requiring blinking red lights as a warning to passing aircraft prevail. In this, your reporter is surely as guilty as the next preening ass. I’ve mentioned God. Ralph, I should think, is about as rich. And yet, man to man, he is as accommodating, mild, affable, charming and courteous a gent as ever you’re likely to meet. If dedication be the measure, Mr. Glasgal’s already a saint.

As to heaven’s volume, we are in Ralph’s listening room. I apply the term lightly. This “room” could harbor a dirigible. Perhaps not the Graff Zeppelin, but a domestic blimp, absolutely. In the middle of our vastness stands a slab about the size of a roadside billboard. Beyond its leading edge, we’ve our principal speakers, electronics, and so on, including a lovely view of woods. At the end opposite, a chair not unlike the kind deep-sea fishing enthusiasts occupy. It’s the listener who reposes, nose to slab’s edge, awaiting not a marlin strike but sonic revelations. (For details, see any of several of Ralph Glasgal’s ST articles or Clem Perry’s reply, immediately following.)

Let’s skirt for now Ambiophonics’ effectiveness. Suffice to say, I heard and departed under whelmed. But then, as a board-certified Contrarian, that’s what I do. Maybe I’m hearing impaired. I’ll take the Fifth on that because one man’s mystification has little to do with the point. It’s a question, rather, of proportion. Granted, high-end audiophilia is the world’s most passionate hobby. Outside the Taliban, one rarely encounters such voluble zeal. Even so, somebody really ought to be hollering, Enough already! I volunteer.

Two-channel, high-end audio is an oddball pursuit. It’s loner’s game, for a start. I don’t care how widely or narrowly your speakers disperse their signals, the sweet spot is small and please don’t shoot the messenger. And, as we high-end audiophiles, most of us anyway, aspire to a holographic, I-could-almost-reach-out-and-touch-someone soundfield, there’s usually only room for one set of ears. Two clicks to the side and you’re out of the picture all this fine-honed effort and expense provide. I guess I react as I do to Ralph’s Rube Goldberg rig because it reminds me, as an exemplar ad absurdum, of where I’m already at. Even so, I’d be a whole lot less dismissive if I thought this gracious man were actually on to something of value.

Clement Perry replies:

With due respect to Mike Silverton, I feel obliged to tell of my experience at the home of Ralph Glasgal, since I was there more recently than Mike. Ambiophonics may indeed seem a strange and somewhat awkward idea to grasp for most — eight pairs of loudspeakers in a humongous listening room. For me, its effects are nothing short of breathtaking. Fellow contributor Marshall Nack and I paid a visit to the home of Ralph Glasgal, Mr. Ambiophonics. It’s been over a year since my last visit and I found the sound much improved, which then was quite impressive enough, allowing for some minor anomalies. Atop his listening room is a smaller listening area where Ralph shows off the merits of Ambiophonics through a much cheaper, yet still amazing, set up composed of a simple DVD player modified to allow the Ambiophonic chip. A pair of Radio Shack Optimus loudspeakers only about one foot apart (resting on a table top no less) showed us what could be had with very little money.

Upgrading doesn’t seem easy here in the House of Glasgal. One only has to glance at all the equipment this genius of a man deems necessary to fully exploit his visions of a multi-channel format. (You’ve got to be a genius just to figure how to put this stuff together!) As Ralph explains, in order to fully demonstrate the glories of Ambiophonics, his system employs eight pairs of Sound Lab electrostatic loudspeakers (the front pair consisting of modified reference U1’s which run about $30,000 each). Three pair of smaller electrostats for the sides and rear, a half-dozen mid-fi amplifiers and what appears to be all Radio Shack cabling. Oh, how could I ever forget one pair of coffin-sized Dunleavy’s flanking the U1’s but — get this — tilted on their sides as if about to topple. When asked how come, Ralph said, “To help recreate an incredibly huge and lifelike soundstage far greater than one could achieve using standard methods.” Well, possibly stranger than these is the huge divider (made by Echo Buster’s Mike Kochman) that measures about 4 inches thick, at least six and one half feet high and about twelve feet long. It damn near splits the room in half! Its purpose? To eliminate crosstalk occurring between each of the loudspeakers in front of the listener.

Once positioned in what looks like a cockpit, you’re to put your nose centered about a couple of inches from the divider. Once you’re seated correctly, Ralph readies three of what looks like the “Way Back Machines” I watched as a child on the TV cartoon show Sherman and Mr. Peabody. Actually, they’re surround-sound processors. On the very first note of “Grandma’s Hand” sung in splendid a capella by the group Take Six, I knew- strictly in terms of life-like and life-sized instruments in a room– that I was hearing something unlike anything I’ve heard anywhere before. When you have so many speakers in a room situated as Ralph has them arranged through a host of very rare JVC “Way Back Machine” processors, the images are no longer phantom in nature. Their presentation is life-like — as in real life — especially in terms of space. The believability quotient rose steeply due to speakers taking the place of phantom images. Done right, it just doesn’t get any better than that. The array of speakers in the room appeared to recreate individual voices and instruments on a level that took on dimension and size I simply wouldn’t have believed possible. You can think what you want, but two-channel stereo doesn’t yet achieve, and I doubt ever, this level of performance. Conceptually, this is a system only someone with the mind of Glasgal could create in the first place. But as a clear example of what possibilities exist in the here and now, Ambiophonicsserves as a portal into a sound that truly recreates the concert hall at home.

Now, imagine if he used all high end components!

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