Price (RRP): $3,999.95
Soundbar, smoundbar, I thought when the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar turned up. Just another one of those. But I was soon to receive several surprises when I took a look at the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar. The first surprise was its weight.
The surprising Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
Ooof! I staggered a bit when I picked up the carton containing the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar. I guess I should have read our previous writeup. It turns out that the soundbar weighs 18.5 kilograms. A top-of-the-line soundbar from one of the electronics biggies is less than half that weight.
Another surprise, while the carton was large, it didn’t have the wider section at one end used to hold the subwoofer. That’s what most premium soundbars look like in their cartons. Opening it up revealed that there was no subwoofer. All that weight was in the soundbar.
Another surprise: 3D surround. Way back when, a lot of soundbars were released promising to deliver real surround sound from the front of the room. One famous early model had forty small drivers inside, each individually powered, to project sound around the room. While some soundbars still promise surround sound, most have given up. But Ambeo seems to be Sennheiser’s name for aural 3D surround. It was also applied to Sennheiser’s 3D smart headset, which we reviewed here. The review unit has a Dolby Atmos demo Blu-ray enclosed. So clearly Sennheiser reckons it can do surround sound.
Yet another surprise: the microphone. Most modern home theatre receivers and some high quality soundbars come with a microphone to allow the soundbar to be automatically set up. So it wasn’t a surprise that the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar includes one. But this one comes inset into the end of a long 7mm-wide rod which is mounted on a stylish metal base. No need to look for a stand. Remember, Sennheiser is known not only for headphones. It’s also one of the world’s leading makers of high quality microphones.
The final surprise, out of the box: $3,999.95.
Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar features
The Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar packs 13 drivers: six 100mm bass/midrange drivers, five 25mm aluminium dome tweeters and two 89mm “full range” driver. The latter two are on the right and left ends, firing upwards at a slight angle back into the room. That is, like Atmos Enabled speakers are supposed to. These, it seems, deliver the height channels for Dolby Atmos (or DTS:X also supported). Sennheiser doesn’t specify the output power of its amplifier. (But it does mention that the unit can consume up to 500 watts peak.)
The ends are angled and on each end is a tweeter, so those two fire out wide. On the front are two more tweeters near the end, plus one in the middle. Between the left-most and centre tweeters are three bass/midrange drivers. Likewise on the right side.
There are three HDMI inputs and one HDMI output. There is no on-screen display. The soundbar simply passes video – including UltraHD – through to the connected display. The output HDMI socket supports the Audio Return Channel from TVs.
There are also analogue and optical digital audio inputs. And, should you want it, a wired subwoofer output.
Networking is both Ethernet and Wi-Fi up to 802.11ac. Both DLNA and Chromecast are supported.
And, of course, it simply must have Bluetooth. It supports the AAC codec in addition to the standard SBC.
The auto-setup is fast and easy.
Soundbar surround background
The reason that most soundbars no longer purport to do surround sound is simple. Delivering effective surround sound from a bar of speakers at the front of the room is, well, hard. There are two ways of doing it – along with a continuum of balances between the two.
One is to carefully bounce beams of sound from the walls and ceiling to simulate where real surround speakers would be. The problem with that is … what if the walls and ceiling aren’t where they’re supposed to be? Also, beams of sound aren’t like laser beams. They spread and are far less controllable.