As it turns out, when you’re good at audio, you’re good at audio. It doesn’t matter whether you specialize in headphones, or soundbars – if a company knows its way around getting the most from a set of drivers, then it can pretty much deal with any form-factor.
In this case, the company is Sennheiser, a brand that (on the consumer side at least) has historically pushed the limits of what headphones are capable of. These are the minds behind such audiophile monsters such as the $55,000 Orpheus and $1,600 HD 800 headphones.
But times are changing for the company, and its focus is expanding. The Ambeo 3D Soundbar feels like a bold step forward for the company. It’s the first consumer piece of home cinema tech the company has put out, and it offers a whopping 5.1.4 channel configuration.
Design and performance
What we saw of the soundbar had the appearance of a very early prototype. Its 13 drivers (six woofers, five tweeters, and two top-firing speakers) were completely exposed for the world to see, and its entire housing was a nondescript black box devoid of any aesthetic flourishes.
Turn it on though, and this thing absolutely roars. Sure, it might look early on in development, but it certainly doesn’t sound it.
We were treated to a variety of Dolby Atmos demos that we’ve seen dozens of times before, and each of them had a level of bass control that we’d normally expect from a set of speakers with a separate subwoofer.
Even a demo of a conifer seed floating down through some trees had a serious amount of audio weight to it.
The Ambeo 3D Soundbar has four height channels as opposed to the standard two found in most Atmos-equipped soundbars. Those extra two channels are put to work creating sound that appears to be coming from both above and behind you, and in our demos we could absolutely hear sound coming from those directions.
With such a complex array of channels, setting the soundbar up for the specifics of your room could be a challenge. Thankfully, Sennheiser is planning on including a microphone in with every soundbar that you’ll be able to use to calibrate it.
The plan is to have you place this microphone where you’d usually listen to your soundbar from, where it will then pick up a variety of test noises and use these to optimize the speaker for your unique listening environment.
Aside from this setup process, Sennheiser was mum about the rest of the specs of the soundbar. It doesn’t yet know whether it will support DTS:X in addition to Atmos, it wouldn’t tell us what connections the soundbar will support, and it wasn’t able to tell us if the soundbar would eventually receive support for voice assistants.
All we know for now is two things; it will support Dolby Atmos and MPEG-H (another 3D audio standard), it will up-mix surround sound content, and it already sounds excellent.
It’s unlikely to be cheap (a representative told us to expect that it to have the price of a premium soundbar), but the Sennheiser Ambeo 3D soundbar is an enormously promising first-effort from the premium headphone brand.
Its audio presentation is bold, expressive, and spacious, and the Atmos delivery is among the better ones that we’ve heard coming from a soundbar.
We just need more details before we can pass judgement fully, but with a release planned at some point in 2018, hopefully we’ll have answers to our questions sooner rather than later.
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