This Priest’s Million-Dollar Audiophile Setup Is Open for Public Listening for FREE

It's time to add the William Ralston Listening Library to your bucket list.
It’s time to add the William Ralston Listening Library to your bucket list.

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You only need to arrange a schedule with them, and you’re good to go!

Imagine a room where everything, from the walls to the chair placement, has been made for one reason: to give you the best listening experience possible. Now imagine that this audio heaven, worth over a million dollars, is free for anyone who wants to try it out.

This isn’t some audiophile’s fever dream – it’s the William Ralston Listening Library at Sewanee’s University of the South.

Born from an audiophile priest’s lifelong devotion to music and generosity, this facility lets you hear music in a way that changes how you think.

Creation and Vision Behind the Library

In 2007, Professor Tam Carlson set out to build a listening library to offer students and the community a high-quality music experience. Inspired by the group listening sessions he cherished during the 1960s, Carlson wanted to bring back the joy of shared music appreciation.

And through private donations, Carlson’s dream materialized in 2010.

​​The library was named after Father William Ralston, an Episcopal priest and former Sewanee professor who gave about 80% of the initial record collection. Charles Harrison, another former English professor, gave the other 15%, making the library’s collection even better.

Prof. Tam Carlson handles a vinyl record from the Ralston collection. (From: John Marks/Future Audiophile)
Prof. Tam Carlson handles a vinyl record from the Ralston collection. (From: John Marks/Future Audiophile)

By then, over a million dollars had been spent transforming part of Sewanee’s Jessie Ball duPont Library’s second floor into a high-quality audiophile listening room. The upgrades included isolated electrical service, a soundproofed HVAC system, and acoustic doors.

This came to life with help from acoustic engineer Chris Huston and architect Albert Filoni. Together, they planned every part of the space, from the concrete base to the chairs’ placements, to make sure the listening experience was perfect.

Today, the library boasts a collection of over 15,000 LPs, 20,000 CDs, and millions of digital recordings through high-fidelity streaming services like Qobuz and TIDAL via Roon.

The library isn’t just a single room, but a suite of spaces designed to cater to various listening needs.

There’s a main listening room, an opera browsing room with thousands of recordings, a private headphone listening area, and a 3,000-square-foot reading room containing music books and scores, which has become a popular study space on campus.

Classes and film screenings are regularly hosted in this library. But, they also do some community live-streaming of the Metropolitan Opera performances throughout the season.

High-End Equipment and Acoustical Design

The library’s main listening room is equipped with the latest audio technology for an unmatched listening experience.

Initially outfitted with Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria IIs speakers, the room now features Alexandria XVXs, valued at $210,000 per pair. These speakers are said to deliver deep bass as low as 19.5Hz, comparable to a live symphony orchestra in air movement. Top-tier components from PBN Audio and PS Audio also enhance the acoustics.

Alexandria XVX speakers. (From: Wilson Audio)
Alexandria XVX speakers. (From: Wilson Audio)

The acoustical design of the room is equally impressive.

The room was built with isolated, balanced electrical service and a separate soundproof HVAC system. It features two-way acoustical isolation, utilizing 1⅜-inch QuietRock soundproof drywall and Kinetics Isomax clips, with Owens Corning 705 fiberglass for sound treatment.

These soundproofing and diffusion panels evenly spread high-frequency sounds and eliminate dead zones.

Behind the scenes, a storage room houses the Equi=Tech Balanced Power Supply and an extensive CD collection. This collection is uniquely organized by the history of music, starting with Western music and progressing through various national schools and time periods, offering a chronological journey through musical evolution.

The Ralston Listening Library uses two Wilson Audio Chronosonic XVX loudspeakers. (From: John Marks/Future Audiophile)
The Ralston Listening Library uses two Wilson Audio Chronosonic XVX loudspeakers. (From: John Marks/Future Audiophile)

Here’s the updated list of all the current equipment found in the library:

Public Access and Community Engagement

The William Ralston Listening Library. (From:
The William Ralston Listening Library. (From:

Tam Carlson notes that the library’s atmosphere is key in attracting prospective students, many of whom volunteer there. These student volunteers learn to operate the equipment and host weekly listening sessions, sharing their passion for music with peers.

Guests described the sound quality as “breathtaking” and “frighteningly life-like,” with some experiencing music in ways they had never done before. Because of this, the library has gained attention from audiophiles nationwide.

“We’ve had people do everything from laugh to cry hearing music here,” Carlson said in an interview with Future Audiophile.

“A visitor recently requested an album he said he’d listened to all of his life but had only heard when he listened to it in the room that day. That’s the sort of experience we hope people have here.”

The library sustains itself through community support and donations. It employs a full-time curator and covers unforeseen costs through benefactor contributions.

The Ralston Listening Library offers free access and is open during set listening hours on weekdays. You can set appointments outside these times through the head curator at [email protected].

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