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Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Review

Is this the best soundbar ever made?

SRP: £2,199.00

What is the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar?

The Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar is the first speaker-based product from the manufacturer to incorporate its Ambeo immersive audio technology. Previously, Ambeo has been employed in the VR Mic and Smart Headset, but they were both essentially recording devices, the Soundbar is the first playback solution launched on the market. With that in mind, Sennheiser has pulled out all the stops to create what may very well be the best-specified single-box soundbar ever made.

That means you not only get Ambeo, but also support for Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and MPEG-H (another object-based audio format that has gained some traction in Asia). In order to deliver a compelling immersive audio experience the Ambeo Soundbar uses 13 high-end drivers to create a 5.1.4-channel system; and while it doesn't have a separate subwoofer, Sennheiser claims the Ambeo can go down to 30Hz. It also comes with a dedicated microphone for advanced room calibration, and there's a smart control app.

The Ambeo Soundbar is designed to be future proof thanks to an HDMI 2.1 output that supports eARC, along with the ability to pass Dolby Vision and HDR10+. There are also three HDMI inputs, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Chromecast, as well as the option to add a wired subwoofer if you feel you need a bit more low-end grunt. You're probably thinking that sounds amazing, but what's the catch? Well, the catch is that it costs £2,199 as at the time of writing (September 2019), so it's aimed at those with deep pockets.

The Ambeo Soundbar has launched to significant fanfare and a clutch of reviews that seem to suggest it isn't just the best soundbar ever, but also a possible cure for cancer. I'll try and sift through the hyperbole and find out just how good it is as a single-box soundbar, whether it's genuinely capable of delivering an immersive audio experience, and if the performance and features justify the not-inconsiderable price tag. It's time to strap on the back brace and test the biggest soundbar I've ever seen.

Design

Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
The Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar is big... I mean really big. The only soundbar I've seen that even comes close to it is the the Yamaha YSP-5600. This is a soundbar that's clearly aimed at larger TVs with screen sizes of 65 inches or bigger, and even projectors.

The Ambeo measures 1265 x 125 x 171mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 18.5kg. However, those statistics don't really prepare you for the sheer bulk of this soundbar, and they do present a number of installation challenges.

First of all, if you're planning on stand mounting, you'll obviously need something fairly wide. I have that, but the second problem is the height of the soundbar. At 125mm, or 135mm with the optional feet attached, the Ambeo is likely to block your TV's screen if placed in front of it (as it did with my LG 65C8).

Your best bet is to either use a dedicated stand that is both wide enough and low enough so as not to block your screen, or the optional wall mount (it retails for £50 but make sure your wall can take 18.5kg). It's also important to keep all the drivers clear of obstructions, so as not to impede the immersive effect.
Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
Aside from its size, the Ambeo Soundbar certainly looks the business, with a gorgeous brushed aluminium cabinet that's finished in matte black. The build quality is simply staggering, and when you remove the front fabric grille, you're faced with an impressive array of drivers that helps justify the hefty price tag.

The Ambeo curves to the sides, which is where you'll find the side-firing drivers, and there are two upward-firing drivers behind permanently attached metallic mesh grilles. At the front centre of the soundbar is a graphic OLED display and status LED, while on the far right is an illuminated Ambeo logo.

At the top centre of the unit, you'll find some basic controls for mute, volume up/down, Ambeo, media playback, source, Bluetooth pairing and power. There's also an NFC (near field communication) hot spot for fast connection to supporting devices. All the physical connections are in a recessed area at the rear.

The Ambeo Soundbar is built like a battleship, and about the same size!

Connections & Control

Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
The Sennheiser Ambeo boasts a comprehensive set of connections that, while not as extensive as an AV receiver, are still impressive for a soundbar. There are three HDMI 2.0b inputs and an HDMI 2.1 output that supports eARC (enhanced audio return channel). The HDMI connections can pass 4K/60p, 4:4:4, wide colour gamut (Rec.2020), and high dynamic range (HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision).

There's also an optical digital input, a stereo analogue input with RCA connectors, an Ethernet port, and a USB port for service and firmware updates. There's a subwoofer pre-out using a mono RCA connector, and on the front is a 2.5mm jack for connecting the set-up microphone. In terms of wireless connections you have a choice of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (v4.2 but no aptX), and Google Chromecast, but no AirPlay.
Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
The included remote control is small and simple but well-made, with buttons that mirror the controls on the soundbar itself, plus a few additions. There's a power on/off button, and one to activate Ambeo, along with mute and Bluetooth keys. There are also buttons for going through the sources and changing the volume, along with keys for various sound modes: Movie, Music, News, Sports, Neutral, and Night.

The Ambeo Soundbar is compatible with the Google Home App, and there's also Sennheiser's Smart Control App (compatible with iOS and Android). The latter provides all the controls found on the included remote, but adds more feedback, graphics, and the ability to adjust the acoustic settings and tailor the sound to your own personal taste.

There's a comprehensive set of connections, and a choice of remote or smart app

Features & Specs

Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
The Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar was designed from the outset to be state-of-the-art and offer a comprehensive set of features. The headline feature is obviously the inclusion of the company's Ambeo 3D sound technology, which it developed in conjunction with the latest virtualisation technology from Fraunhofer. Ambeo works in conjunction with the soundbar's speakers to produce a virtual recreation of a genuine surround sound system.

To achieve this, Sennheiser has crammed 13 independent drivers into the Ambeo Soundbar's formidable chassis. Firing forward and sideways are five dedicated 1-inch aluminium dome tweeters, and six 4-inch long-throw woofers that use a cellulose sandwich cone. For the overhead channels, there are two upward-firing 3.5-inch full-range drivers. The woofers not only deliver mid-range detail, but according to Sennheiser, the Ambeo has a frequency response of 30Hz-20kHz (-3dB).
Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
The 13 drivers are discretely powered by a total of 500W of amplification to create a 5.1.4-channel system. The soundbar then merges the drivers and the immersive audio technology by measuring the characteristics of your living room and the reflective surfaces. This is achieved using an included calibration microphone and advanced room correction software. Sennheiser also includes a high speed HDMI cable for connecting the soundbar to your TV via HDMI-ARC or eARC, if your display supports it.

This soundbar supports just about every audio format imaginable, starting with LPCM at 2.0, 5.1 and 7.1 channels. There's a full complement of Dolby formats: Digital, Digital Plus, TrueHD, and Atmos; along with extensive DTS support: DTS, DTS-ES Discrete 6.1, DTS-ES Matrix 6.1, DTS 96/24, DTS-HD Master Audio, and DTS:X. There's also support for DSD and MPEG-H. In fact, the only formats that seem to be missing are IMAX Enhanced DTS:X and Auro-3D, but in all honesty that's not much of a loss.

It's feature-packed, with support for just about every audio format imaginable

Setup & Operation

Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
The Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar might appear complicated on paper, but it's surprisingly easy to set-up in practice. For a start, it's a single unit, so there are no rear speakers or a separate subwoofer to worry about. There is the option to add a wired sub, but we'll assume you're going for the single unit option as that is one of the main advantages of this soundbar. All you need to do is make sure the Ambeo has some space to breathe, and find a way of installing it without blocking your TV screen.

You also need to make sure that all the drivers are clear of any obstructions, not only at the front but also at the sides and above. Much like Yamaha's sound projection technology, the Ambeo Soundbar works by bouncing sounds off the sidewalls, so it's best to avoid having anything absorbent like a sofa, comfy chair or thick curtains in the way. The same goes for the overhead channels, which are created by bouncing sounds off the ceiling – so for the best results, you need one that's low and reflective.

Once you've physically got the soundbar installed, the actual set-up is very user-friendly, thanks to an automated room calibration system. You simply plug the included microphone into the 2.5mm jack at the front of the Ambeo and place it at the sweet spot. The soundbar then goes into its calibration routine, providing audible feedback as it runs through a series of frequency sweeps that measure the reflections and acoustic properties of your room. It literally only takes a few minutes and you're good to go.
Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
Once set-up, I connected the Ambeo Soundbar to the HDMI-ARC port on my LG 65C8 using the provided high speed HDMI cable. If your TV doesn’t support ARC, you’ll need to use the optical digital connection instead. I then connected a Panasonic DP-UB820 UHD Blu-ray player, a Humax FVP-5000T Freeview set-top box, and a Sony PS4 directly to the Ambeo's three HDMI inputs.

For reviewing purposes, I primarily used the 4K disc player to test the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X capabilities of the soundbar, while two-channel and 5.1 content came from the Freeview box and the TV's internal tuner and apps (along with additional Atmos content from Netflix and Amazon). The ARC connection is made automatically and, for other sources, you simply cycle through them using the remote or app.

I connected the Ambeo to my home network using the wireless connection, and set up both the Google Home App and Sennheiser's Smart Control App. To create a Bluetooth connection, I simply selected the BT function and then paired the soundbar to my iPhone X, allowing me to test its capabilities with streamed music over both Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Chromecast.

The Ambeo Soundbar is easy to control, and while you'll probably just reach for the remote on a day-to-day basis, the Smart Control App can be useful for fine tuning the performance to your personal tastes. It provides a useful GUI, allows you to easily change the set-up parameters and even includes a 4-band equaliser. It also provides access to three different Ambeo mode settings: Light, Standard and Boost.

Despite its inherent complexity, this soundbar is surprisingly easy to set-up

Performance

Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
The Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar is a single-box solution, which means it works by combining the drivers built into its cabinet with reflected sounds and psychoacoustic processing to create the illusion of a 5.1.4 system. This approach can be very effective, and obviously, the appeal of a single unit is that you don't have to install speakers at the rear and above, or in this case even worry about a subwoofer.

However, given that there are no actual speakers behind and above you, this approach does have its limitations. The Ambeo Soundbar is never going to sound as truly immersive as a genuine 5.1.4-channel system, and its effectiveness is very dependant on the room it's in. That's because it uses acoustic reflections to create the illusion of sounds emanating from behind and above you.

All that being said, the Ambeo is the best-sounding single-box soundbar I've ever heard. The combination of 13 high-quality drivers, powerful amplification, sophisticated psychoacoustic processing and effective room calibration often delivers breathtaking results. The soundbar automatically detects if the signal is Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, and immediately gets to work decoding and processing the signal.

I started by putting on the Amaze trailer from the Dolby Atmos demo disc, and there's immediately a palpable sense of immersion. The sounds of insects buzz around you, a bird flutters across the room, deep thunder rolls overhead and rain falls all around you. The Ambeo's bass response certainly suggests it might actually go as deep as 30Hz, and the overall soundstage is big enough to use with a projector.

The immersive effect isn't as focused as it is with a genuine 5.1.4-channel system because sounds aren't emanating from a specific point. However, there is a sense of sound filling the room, not just at the front but at the sides and above. It's certainly impressive, and my main criticism would be that the surround effects never really sound as though they are behind you, but more to the side.

The illusion created by this soundbar is often very convincing, but play a set of 5.1.4 test tones and you can quickly see behind the curtain. The combination of reflected sound and psychoacoustic processing is given nowhere to hide, and while the front and front overhead channels are clearly defined, the rear and rear overhead channels are obviously emanating from the front of the room.

If it sounds as though I'm being overly critical that's not my intention, but I do want to manage expectations. As good as the Ambeo Soundbar is, it's not as immersive as a 5.1.4 AVR/speaker/sub package (and you can get a good one for £2,199). However, if you prefer a single-box solution and you've got the budget, you simply won't find better.
Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
If you want to fully test the capabilities of a system, nothing beats giant robots battling huge monsters. Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim is just such a film, and has a city-smashing Dolby Atmos soundtrack that can reduce lesser systems to rubble. However, the Ambeo Soundbar is more than up to the task, producing a soundstage so big that it matches the sheer scale of the Jaeger vs Kaiju visuals.

Thunder roars overhead and rain lashes down all around, as Gypsy Danger smashes its way through Hong Kong. The bass is deep enough to convince you a skyscraper high robot is battling an equally massive monster, while the latter's roar is suitably seismic. Each punch seems to physically move through the room, and the effects are accurately spread across the front and sides.

Sticking with Del Toro, his film Crimson Peak has an equally impressive, although rather more subtle DTS:X soundtrack. Once again, the Ambeo Soundbar detects the signal and immediately starts to weave a realistically immersive soundstage. The titular house seems almost alive as it surrounds you with effects like water travelling through pipes and wind blowing through holes in its haunted structure.

The soundbar's ability to steer effects is often seamless, although there is clearly an acoustical hole behind you that the drivers and processing can never really fill. However, the superior nature of the speakers ensures that the audio is wonderfully detailed, and the frequency response is exceptional for a single box soundbar. Most importantly, in amongst all the ghostly effects, dialogue remains crystal clear.

Ghost stories are ideal when it comes to testing sound systems because most of the scares are amplified by acoustical cues. The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix has a particularly effective Atmos soundtrack that makes full use of the format's potential to scare the life out of you. The episode that takes place entirely at night, in a funeral home during a thunderstorm, is the perfect example of what streaming can offer.

The soundbar picks up the Dolby Digital Plus feed via HDMI-ARC and decodes the Atmos mix, creating a believable sense of three dimensional space. A lot of the sounds are highly directional as the camera moves around the funeral home in long single takes. Once again the Ambeo is skilled at steering sounds around the screen, and drawing you into the world it's displaying.

When you consider how accomplished the Ambeo Soundbar is with object-based immersive audio, it can handle basic two-channel and 5.1 mixes in its sleep. Watching regular TV programmes, the sound is clear and spread across the front of the room, while newsreaders, voice overs, and commentators are all as clear as a bell. Watching Mindhunter on Netflix reveals a carefully mixed 5.1 soundtrack, with plenty of nuanced effects.

The quality of the soundbar's construction, the drivers, the frequency response, and the dynamic range all combine to make it a stellar performer with music. However you choose to actually source your music, the Ambeo is more than capable of delivering it with style. The level of clarity and detail is exceptional, and the stereo imaging is excellent thanks to the width of the cabinet.

If you fancy giving two-channel or 5.1 mixes a bit more presence, there are a number of sound modes: Movie, Music, News, Sports, and Neutral. The purpose of each is fairly self explanatory, and each is effective in its own way. You can also activate the Night mode, to compress the dynamic range so as not to disturb the rest of the house. With Dolby content, there's a similar function called DRC (dynamic range compression), as well as Dialogue Normaliser, and Dolby Virtualiser.

What really surprised me was how effective the Ambeo modes were, often enhancing Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks to give them an even more dynamic and immersive presence. There's a choice of Off, Light, Standard, and Boost, but I found Standard (which is the preset selection) works best. The Light mode was too subtle to really be apparent, and Boost makes the soundstage larger but loses much of its focus. However, the Standard mode is a great addition, and worth some experimentation.

It sounds fantastic and if you're looking for a single-box solution look no further

Verdict

Pros

  • Superb sound quality
  • Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, & MPEG-H
  • Advanced room calibration
  • State-of-the-art features
  • Staggering build quality

Cons

  • Immersive audio limited
  • It's really big
  • And it's really expensive

Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Review

Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Verdict

The Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar is an exceptional single-box solution that delivers a big, bold, and detailed immersive audio experience, despite the absence of actual rear speakers. It is capable of amazingly deep bass, despite the lack of a separate subwoofer, and the steering of effects and sense of envelopment are often remarkable. It can decode Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and the high-quality drivers ensure that everything from music to TV to movies all sound superb, while dialogue is delivered with crystal clarity.

Sennheiser hasn't just built a soundbar that sounds incredible, it's also made sure that it retains a degree of future-proofing. There's an HDMI 2.1 output that supports eARC, along with three more HDMI inputs that can pass Dolby Vision and HDR10+. There's a calibration mic included, and sophisticated room equalisation software, not to mention effective sound processing headlined by Sennheiser's own Ambeo mode. You can also connect to the soundbar using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Chromecast, with only AirPlay missing.

Aside from the fact that it's incredibly big, the main drawback with this soundbar is the price. It is very expensive, and you can buy a full 5.1.4-channel system for the same price. If you want genuine immersion then you should consider going the AVR/speaker/subwoofer route, because despite the processing wizardry in the Ambeo Soundbar, there's never really any sound behind you. However, if you have the budget and prefer a single-box solution, you won't find better than this.

What are my alternatives?

Assuming you're looking at a soundbar rather than an AVR and speaker package, the obvious single-box alternative is the Yamaha MusicCast YSP-5600 (£1,299). Aside from the price, there's the option to add a wireless subwoofer, plus it includes Yamaha's excellent MusicCast multi-room system. The company has been using sound projection technology for years, and the YSP-5600 can decode Dolby Atmos and DTS:X as a 7.1.2 system. The results are impressive although, like the Ambeo Soundbar, it struggles to really create any sounds behind you. While the Yamaha is cheaper, it's also getting a little long in the tooth and isn't as future-proof as the Sennheiser, but if you want to save £900 it's worth considering.

If you'd still prefer a soundbar and don't mind installing rear speakers, then the Samsung HW-Q90R is hard to beat. This superb soundbar actually delivers a genuine 7.1.4-channel system thanks to three forward-, two side-, and two upward-firing drivers, a separate wireless subwoofer, and two wireless rear speakers that also include upward-firing drivers. The Samsung can decode Atmos and DTS:X, and it passes Dolby Vision and HDR10+. It only has two HDMI inputs, but that should be enough for most people, and it's considerably less intrusive at the front of the room. Best of all, you can now pick the HW-Q90R up for just £1,299, which looks positively cheap compared to the Sennheiser.

MORE: Read All Soundbar Reviews

Highly Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Connectivity

.
9

Ease of use

.
9

Sound Quality

.
9

Features

10

Value for Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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