Review: The Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar
An unvarnished and unbiased assessment of the merits and foibles of Sennheiser’s AMBEO Soundbar…spoiler, it’s pretty great!
By Ben Jacklin
If you have ever set up a full outboard surround sound system then you will know that it can be incredibly difficult to tweak and perfect. Sennheiser has set out to make a product that doesn’t require this complex setup. Instead, it is a “plug and play” system via a soundbar that leverages their AMBEO technology.
Prior to the launch of the soundbar, the AMBEO tech had been used in Sennheiser microphones and headphones, but now you can also experience it in a soundbar. The system is designed to create a 5.1.4 sound stage, but does it live up to expectations?
How Does It Work?
The AMBEO Soundbar has some incredible specifications, and uses state-of-the-art technology to create 3D sound from a soundbar: a positively groundbreaking endeavor.
Sennheiser utilizes virtualization tech from Fraunhofer, which in turn uses an inbuilt microphone to detect the acoustics of your room and then base the volume and directionality of the 13 independent drivers in response. This creates “virtual speakers” which give the effect of a 5.1.4 soundstage.
Does it truly replicate a 3D soundstage? Well, it does a pretty great job of doing so, but it is just a fraction away from being perfect. There are occasions when watching a film where you can feel like sound is coming from behind you, but usually, the sound is projected from a “270 degree” soundstage, with a little bit of a gap directly behind. That said, to be able to hear such a detailed soundstage is something many assumed a soundbar could never achieve.
This is a truly chunky piece of equipment. It’s huge. If you install this under a 32-inch television, it is going to look silly. You can see that the brand is going for the home cinema market, but this also doubles up as a full immersive audio system for listening to music without visuals, too.
There’s 500W of power within, and 13 drivers, so it was never going to be a tiny piece of equipment. If you want to, you can get this mounted on your wall. Alternatively, a large cabinet or television unit for a large TV can accommodate.
This department is a real frustration for a lot of music tech lovers and people who want to listen to music or watch movies with a 3D soundstage. There are multiple file formats and many speakers and receivers don’t support all of them. Laudably, no such problems persist with the AMBEO Soundbar. It is compatible with all Dolby Atmos systems, DTS:X and MPEG-H file types, and impressively also uses “Upmix Technology” to turn stereo sound into 3D audio. It isn’t perfect, but, as the first of its kind, perfection is not to be expected. It certainly does a good job.
The AMBEO Soundbar boasts a lot of the standard connectors, so whatever hardware you are using with it should have no trouble. There are RCA connections, Ethernet, a USB port for downloading firmware, and of course, HDMI connections. There are wireless options via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi as well, but unfortunately no aptX technology. You can connect this to your Google Chromecast, too.
Is It Worth The Money?
The cost is something that may put some people off. There’s no denying that it is aimed at the audiophiles out there, or home entertainment lovers who don’t mind investing in a great experience for their family. The tech is relatively new and exciting, so it is almost inevitable that the cost should be higher at the moment.
There is so much to like about this soundbar – it is huge, powerful, and easy to use. Truly a one-of-a-kind soundbar, at the moment, anyway. It will no doubt pave the way for similar technology to penetrate the market. If you don’t want the hassle of configuring a full surround sound setup in your home, but want to enjoy incredible, high-fidelity audio with a virtually 3D experience, the Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar could be a good choice.
For additional details, you can go to Sennheiser’s website and check it out here.
About the Author
Ben is a writer and musician from the UK with a background in music technology. He writes about engineering and production, musicianship and music equipment for a number of publications including his own site, subreel.com