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When was the last time that you gave sound bars, a good, honest look. Because I know when they first came out they were kind of a joke, they were definitely worthy, but a ridicule among enthusiasts. They were seen as sort of a cute or convenient solution for people who simply didn’t know better. And that in no way could a soundbar ever compete with nor replace a dedicated home theatre.
But with time comes new technology and new technology leads to new ways of thinking and one could argue that soundbars have become a lot more forward thinking than most traditional home theatres, which is why we’re talking about one here today.
What makes the Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar so special ?
You obviously know Sennheiser is probably a very well known headphone brand but you may not be as familiar with their ambeo soundbar. And if you’re unfamiliar, the ambeo is a 5.1.4 soundbar and it uses beam steering and your rooms acoustics to sort of approximate a traditional home theatre experience, albeit from a bar at least, that is, well, the promise on paper.
Now beam steering technology is a way with which sound is directed to you as if there was a traditional or physical loudspeaker in that position in a home theatre, or traditional home theatre. With using say five speakers, we don’t need to rely on beam staring because if we want a sound to come from behind us, we simply put a speaker there.
If we wanted to come from above us well we put a speaker there, but a soundbar doesn’t have that flexibility so the ambeo or any speaker that uses beam steering technology uses all of the speakers it has in conjunction with one another in order to direct the sound around you so that when coupled with your room’s acoustics, it should be very difficult for your brain to discern the difference between a sound that has been steered towards you, or a sound that has emanated from an actual loudspeaker.
So the question I want to answer in this review is whether or not the ambeo can actually replace a dedicated home theatre, or is this just another example that enthusiasts will point to as having a gimmicky soundbar?
The ambeo is stylish, for me a little bit on the ugly side but it’s fit and finish, its build quality is exceptional and you figure that out the second you take it out of the box. This is not a plastic fantastic soundbar though it’s not as lifestyle friendly as say our LG or other sound bars from Samsung.
You should know that the ambeo means business, but you have to admit even though it is on the larger side, a little bit more bulky and well it’s hard to ignore, it does take up considerably less room than a dedicated home theatre speaker system. Before we get into the sound, you have to know that in order to get the absolute most out of the Sennheiser ambeo, you’re going to have to download an app.
Actually two apps; first you’re going to need to use the Google Home app just to connect the ambeo to your home network. This will enable you to get things like firmware updates, stuff like that because it needs to be connected to the internet. Once connected to the internet, you then can launch the Sennheiser app which is also free on Android and iOS.
This will enable you to not only help in the room calibration aspect of the ambeo but also fine tune it and make adjustments if you want to manually tune it. You really can’t do any of these things through the remote, so the app is an absolute must. Now I really like the app. I think that for the most part it is intuitive, visually it’s fantastic and the responsiveness is great.
So once you have it connected to your home network and you’ve downloaded the app, you need to first calibrate the ambeo and tune it to your room. And to do this you need to use the included microphone and let’s not mince words, it’s huge, especially if you’re coming from the world of AV receivers with their little like hockey puck type microphones.
There is no no getting past how big the ambient microphone is, but it works wonders and enables the ambeo to achieve its Sonic performance because I like to listen to a lot of the products bone stock out of the box to kind of give me an idea of where the baseline is and then after I perform calibrations I can see kind of just how far of a jump they make.
Bone stock out of the box, without calibration, there’s nothing about the ambeo’s performance that’s worth writing home about. After calibration, things changed dramatically. Now we relied on the ambeo soundbar as our daily driver using it to enjoy both movies and music and Sennheiser has gone to great lengths to tailor the sound of this soundbar based on the content you are listening to.
So for movies, you’re going to want to choose the movie preset and for music, you’re going to want to use music and yes, it matters and it makes a considerable and noticeable difference. Starting with movies in the movie preset with the 3d effect set to normal, it took less than two minutes of Michael bass six underground for me to turn to shout in joy straightaway.
I do not doubt sennheisers claims of 30 hertz worth of bass extension out of the ambeo for it has bass that you can really truly feel; it is incredibly deep and rich and in our room and in our test, I just never felt like an outboard subwoofer was required. Yes, yes, you can add a subwoofer to the ambeo if you want more bass, you can even create a preset inside the app for width, and without a subwoofer.
But like I said, in our test I just never felt like one was required because the bass coming out of the ambeo is so tight and well controlled. It’s not prone to resonance and rumbling notes which is good considering that the vast majority of people that are going to buy it, myself included, are likely going to place this thing on a resonant surface like a cabinet.
The mid range is incredibly articulate and clear and this is especially true for dialogue.I have been watching Lovecraft country on HBO, and as beautiful as I think that show is, from time to time it’s not the most clear with respect to dialogue, but the ambeo is among the better, if not the best loudspeaker we have in house with respect to dialogue rendering. Something some of you with some hearing loss may actually benefit from.
Now in terms of sound and dialogue, it’s not as constrained as what you’re going to hear through other lesser sound bars. There’s much more of a full bodied mid range here which lends a lot of grounding and dimension to go along with that added clarity. Highs are great. This is one of my favourite aspects of the ambeo’s performance because like the mid range, the high frequencies are not one dimensional. They have a lot of top end sparkle but they have weight as well, so they don’t come off as just being sharp and punctual, they actually feel very natural.
In terms of its overall timbre, the ambeo soundbar actually reminds me more of the formation duo’s from Bowers and Wilkins or a pair of powered monitors from the likes of genelec than it does a traditional soundbar. In terms of surround sound, the three dimensionality of the ambience performance cannot be overstated. Yes, it will be impacted by the type of room you have and where you place the soundbar in it.
In our L shaped room which is largely open off of my right side, it did have an impact. I wasn’t able to achieve a full 360 degree sound field but you know what? I didn’t mind because the near 360 degree field I was able to achieve was so immersive. The detail within this 360 degree sound field is incredible. And I especially loved the presence of the upward firing drivers which were on full effect with Dolby Atmos soundtracks. And they were incredibly effective.
One quick point about the ambeo surround sound performance, if you are the type of enthusiast that likes to test the surround sound prowess of your system using test discs, you know, the kind of things that say like, right front speaker left rear surround and do all of that stuff, know that that is not going to sound correct through this device. It’s not going to show off what it can do.
The Sennheiser ambeo is very much a soundbar that sounds best when playing back real world content and not test discs. Like most power loudspeakers, dynamics with this gadget are simply incredible lightning fast reflexes with loads of punch; this is how I would describe its dynamic prowess.
But the best part about it, the icing on the cake is that it scales.It manages to be involved at low volumes, as well as high. Let’s talk music, which is one area where a lot of sound bars typically fall short. You should know that I treated the ambeo soundbar the same way that I would any traditional two channel speaker system.
Now, in its music preset with the 3d effects set to boost with some minor tweaks to the EQ inside the app, the two channel playback capability was shocking. It was arguably my favourite aspect of the ambience performance during this review; the imaging was exceptional, the soundbar actually managed to sound more like moderately sized towers or large bookshelves than I was really prepared for.
And I’m not ashamed to admit this, but this is the type of soundbar that I could live with for both two channel music playback, as well as home theatre. A couple of quick notes with respect to the practicality and day to day livability. This is a soundbar that can totally replace a five dot one channel home theatre including your home theatre receiver as it has enough inputs to accommodate multiple source components.
If you’re into that smart home tech, I know we use google assistant in this house. The Google Assistant functionality of the ambeo is fantastic thoug, a little tip for you; you might want to go into the Google Home app and change the name “ambeo” because Google seems to have a problem with this name. It kept thinking that I was saying, “Ambien”, and then it would start playing ambient music on all of our Google Home speakers instead of the ambeo itself, but as soon as I went into the app and change the name from “ambeo” to just “soundbar”, we had zero hiccups.
Now I know there is a lot of AV furniture out there that advertises that it has space for a sound bar but the ambeo is not one of those that you’re going to want to tuck into a cabinet. First of all, it is huge. It’s heavy and the amplifiers inside can get very warm so you’re gonna want to have this thing out in the open in a well ventilated area.
You’re also not going to want to tuck it into a cabinet because it has upward firing loudspeakers and that sort of defeats the purpose. Now, with respect to its overall surround sound effectiveness, I will be the first to admit that this is largely room dependent. And it is simply going to be more effective or sound better in symmetrical rooms.
We live in an open concept house. Our main room is L shaped and I was able to achieve very very good results in terms of surround sound performance throughout most of our room but I will admit it was a little bit lacking off to the right side which is where the open area is. Do i hold this against the ambeo? Absolutely not as I still found its surround sound performance to be completely captivating. Just know that if you have an open concept room. Your mileage, like mine may vary, if you have a symmetrical room, you definitely want to check this soundbar out.
And lastly, and this might just be me, but at this price point and knowing Sennheisers ability to do good design, I kind of wish the ambeo looked just a little bit better at this price point. I think they could have dressed it up considerably at a minimum, offered it in maybe a different finish, or colour, or just give us replaceable grills with different colours, or textures in terms of comparable products.
SENNHEISER AMBEO VS LG SOUNDBAR
The LG in my opinion is better looking and in our room, it did do a better job of pulling off a 360 degree. surround sound field, but it should. It should because it has dedicated surround channels. But apart from those two things, I actually think I prefer the overall tonality and performance of the ambeo. And this is especially true for music.
Now, when building a dedicated home theatre with discrete channels and you know, receivers and whatnot at around 2000$ to 2500$, again it really depended on what receiver that we used. We built a home theatre around our Jamo S series speakers and we used the Sony, Yamaha and Denon receivers This is how the price can fluctuate just a little bit.
And in our room, again, much like the LG, the discrete home theatre did a better job of creating that surround sound experience. But apart from that, the ambeo more than held its own, in fact in certain respects, centre imaging and dialogue clarity especially, and maybe even dynamics to a small degree, the ambeo was better.
And to make things just a little bit sweeter in the ambeo camp, I really did appreciate not having to find home for five speakers in my room, two pairs of speaker stands, running cables and deciding which receiver went best with which speaker combination. All of those questions completely eliminated by the ambeo. So, if you have not yet built a home theatre, or maybe you are a home theatre enthusiast but you’re trying to decide what you can live with and what you can live without, this device raises some pretty interesting questions.
Is Sennheiser Ambeo worth it ?
At the start of this review I asked the question, Can the ambeo soundbar replace a dedicated home theatre? And for me the answer is Yes! Absolutely! Is it expensive? Well, yeah, but you get what you pay for. And in all honesty, the ambeo soundbar from Sennheiser is one of the most impressive pieces of audio tech that I have come across in a long time. Yes, I do think it can replace a dedicated home theatre and for the right person in the right room, it will even beat a lot of mid fi setups, heck I think it’s refined enough to enjoy proper two channel listening. Yeah, I said it. And while some of you watching this disagree with me think that this entire review is rubbish.
Absolutely. Of course you will, because the ambeo soundbar represents change and change is scary, but for the rest of you willing to give it a shot have an open mind, I would highly encourage you to demo it for yourself because you may find that it is the answer to a lot of questions you’ve been asking, because when it comes to home theatre and even some two channel playback, it doesn’t get any easier than this.
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