Choosing your last loudspeaker.

One of the pleasures of working at Carlton Audio visual is getting to meet customers that are the ultimate end users. These are people who have often had a succession of good high fidelity kit in their lives, are approaching, or have retired, and are looking for those components of music reproduction that will see them out of this mortal coil.

This pharaonic approach to buying audio is the opposite of the Ruthless People sketch - “and when you die they can bury you in it” as the unthinking young hipster is led inexorably to the massive illuminated Dominator MX10.


 These clients are the most ultimately careful and discriminating of customers. They have the time and the money but they husband both those resources with exquisite care. The ones that end with us are often from professional and technical backgrounds and are extremely well read of all the critical and enthusiast audio publications. 

Their purchasing cycles are extreme … whereas a typical Bose client would have made one store visit and a couple of phone calls to check prices and availability over a week or so, these clients make take literally years to make a purchase.

There are two recent clients in particular that come to mind. Russell and Dave are both from highly technical backgrounds and had both been looking at loudspeakers for a long time. As a small business proprietor I found their knowledge and experiences of our competing business partners in the industry fascinating. They have visited every HiFi shop in our region that was willing to demonstrate product to them.

Their demonstration criteria are stringent… they both have a meticulous arrangement of music to trial systems with and have undertaken an in depth review of the available literature on assaying loudspeakers.

As clients, they are unprepared to tolerate inappropriate representations of product, their bullshit detectors are always set to max sensitivity. They are immune to any clever sales techniques or American psychological theories of influencing clients positively…

The only things that people like Russell and Dave respond to is honesty, hard work, and sincere friendliness. It’s easy for most of us to recall negative interactions we’ve had with sales people, of being treated like a nuisance for not fitting into a cookie cutter ideal of how a customer should interact. Or for having the audacity to ask for something to be demonstrated in a different manner to which the sales person is accustomed, or even to have a product demonstrated at all.

We’ve always found that the best way to interact with clients is to treat them as individuals. And to that end, we always attempt to accommodate any requests that are made in order to find the right product for them. It’s one of the reasons we stock such a large variety of eclectic products – it gives us a palette of options from which to try and make a perfect match.

 The speaker that Russell and Dave both ended up selecting after the most stringent of trial was the Australian made Ambience Ribbon. It is more than a minor coincidence that this is the loudspeaker that I myself have at home in the place where I expect to be eternally interred.

An ambience Ribbon loudspeakerOne of the major problems with any conventional loudspeaker design is that there are moving cone drive units mounted in a box. The box itself causes multifarious issues with regards to resonance, diffraction, refraction, pressurisation et al that the open frame transducer design of the Ribbon based panel simply bypasses.There are several reasons why these ultimately self-directed consumers at the top of the discernment food chain of discretionary procurement have ended up with Ambience loudspeakers.


The Ambience design is a five element metal ribbon hanging in space in a very strong magnetic field that naturally propagates the musical waveform without the obstruction of the box. Very high end moving coil loudspeakers have massively constructed enclosures to overcome the issues and are consequently very expensive.

The Ambience ribbon design, like many other of the best things of human technological endeavour, is overtly simple but has real craftmanship in iteration.

 The enclosures are manufactured to their designer Tony Moore’s exacting specification by John Woodhead here in Melbourne.  John Woodhead is famous, notorious even, for producing simply the best speaker cabinets. The excellent Osborne loudspeaker cabinets are also manufactured using his facility.

In comparison to other moving panel designs the Ambience speakers have particular advantages. They are durable and reliable unlike the electrostatic designs with their very high voltages and incredibly delicate mylar diaphragms. Also the Ambience have very benign load and sensitivity characteristics in comparison to designs such as Apogee or Martin Logan.

Upon first listen, some are unaccustomed to the sound that the ribbon produces. It’s interesting to note just how used to a moving coil speaker we are. Most of the time when we are listening to music it’s through a moving coil. Even when we see live music, we are generally listening to the sound reinforcement system with its conventional drivers and horns. It’s only when we listen to an unamplified acoustic performance that we are actually hearing the instrument rather than it being rendered through a moving coil.

The speakers offer a bespoke construction with Australian wood finishes on the side panels. Yet they are sold in Australia for a fraction of the price of the imported competition. For around $5000 you can have a pair of these that will last a lifetime without maintenance or degradation.

However, for Dave and Russell and myself price isn’t actually the issue. What matters is how the music makes us feel when we play it. The heart of the matter is that music is an emotional experience that the reproductive components must be able to communicate.

The Ambience have that uncanny knack of portraying the performance in space within the room and conveying the artist directly to one’s forebrain.  My family will happily recant my potentially unhealthy obsessions with particular artists that I am capable of playing beyond a reasonable level of repetition and volume. I still remember the first time I played Johnny Cash “One” on our own speakers … I may have cried. By the fortieth time I played it my family were in tears.

Meeting Dave and Russell in the store as they went through their purchasing experience was such a privilege on many levels.  As with many of that type of individual that visits a store like us to listen to music they are interesting and engaging personalities who dealing with is an education unto itself. Their particular dedication to finding the right system mirrors my own proclivities and indeed is an excellent synergy for our store’s culture and client process.

Dave is pictured herewith with his then newly delivered speakers as he plays them for the first time in his very special place looking towards the snowy mountains. At the time of writing Russell still waiting for his Ambience to be delivered.

In terms of partnering electronics we’ve sold them with a range of different amplifiers recently. From the superb Arcam A49, to the beastly Rotel RA-1592, to the… French… Devialet 120. The ambience are not a complicated load to drive and most amplifiers respond well to them. Part of the charm is that they are very responsive to the amplifier, letting more of the character shine through than you might be accustomed to. Personally I would be partnering them with the Denon PMA2500 and matching CD player (as pictured) as their exemplary build matches the ethos of being the last component one need ever purchase.

For the discerning customer that wants a speaker that makes them feel something new about their music collection, or wants a speaker that doesn’t leave you wondering what else is out there, then we truly encourage a demonstration.