If you had asked us about what we think of Bluetooth for audio five years ago, we would have answered very loftily that this was a nonsensical question. After all, Bluetooth means compression in the data and thus, it can never sound right. Ahem. In recent years we have been testing Bluetooth headphones that, thanks to techniques such as Aptx, are so good that we can hardly hear the difference between wireless and wired. Digital sound processing is becoming so good that what seemed impossible is now possible.
The same can be said about sound bars. For us stereophiles on the editorial staff, it has been a long time taboo to listen to sound bars, let alone write about them. Soundbars are for film and television, for music playback it’s OK but also no more than that, according to the mantra. Until we heard the Yamaha YSP 5600. This one more than lives up to its name ‘sound projector’. We vividly remember what a demo movie of the Amazon forest sounded like. The rain clattered 4 meters to the left behind us. And if you stood there, you could actually hear the sound of the rain arriving. The speakers literally projected the sound into the room. Thanks to the DSP that makes this possible. And also for stereo playback, the quality was above average.
Sennheiser is now marketing its first soundbar under the name Ambeo. For the technology Sennheiser was looking for cooperation with the renowned Fraunhofer-Institut für Integrierte Schaltungen IIS. For those who do not know Fraunhofer, the institute developed the audio codecs MP3, AAC and recently the MPEG-H standard for Virtual Reality and other 3D audio experiences. The Ambeo technique combined with Fraunhofer’s “upHear Immersive Audio Virtualizer” forms the technological basis for Sennheiser’s soundbar.
For the introduction of the Ambeo, Sennheiser invites us to the Dutch headquarters in Almere. In a listening room about the size of an average living room we listen to the Ambeo soundbar. We watch film, animation, games, live registrations of concerts. In Dolby Atmos and other formats.
What impressed your editor the most was a recording of an orchestral piece by Ligeti, modern-classical music. Sennheiser recorded this two years ago in a concert hall in London. We just sit in the middle of the hall and hear the orchestra; the placement is audible and also how the sound of the orchestra ‘rolls’ across the hall is creepy real. Also the low pressure is impressive, especially when we realize that there is no subwoofer with the Ambeo.
Of course we are also impressed by the Dolby Atmos demos where we are in the middle of the action and everything around us whistles, thunders, breaks. And it’s also nice to hear a band play. It is special to have the most impressive sound experience of a sound bar (yes, a sound bar) with an acoustic recording of a symphony orchestra.
In order to have an immersive sound experience, the listening room must be measured. Sennheiser supplies a measuring microphone. The Ambeo has 13 drivers: 6 4-inch woofers (long throw woofers), 5 1-inch tweeters and 2 upward facing 3.5-inch drivers. This can achieve an impressive low, up to 26 Hz at -6 dB or 30 Hz at -3 dB. We also count four HDMI inputs (1 Arc), 1 optical and 1 RCA. There is also Bluetooth and a built-in Chromecast functionality. We are also happy with a fixed Ethernet connection and if you still need an external subwoofer then that is possible because there is a separate output for it. The Ambeo can be controlled with an infrared remote control and via the special app. During the demo both functions worked without any problems.
It was a pleasant first introduction to this first sound bar by Sennheiser, which has a recommended retail price of € 2,499. Soon we will test the Ambeo extensively; stay tuned.