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During the musical selections, I tried the different sound modes. The Music mode emphasized the bass more than the others and sounded a bit congested. Movie mode was richer than Neutral, and both were cleaner than Music mode. In addition, I tried listening with the Ambeo effect turned on and off. Turning it off greatly shrinks the soundstage and thins out the sound quite a bit.
Turning to movies, I watched several movie clips in DTS:X with the Movie mode selected. In all cases, the soundstage was wide and tall in the front of the room with some high-frequency sounds overhead, excellent bass, and a few moments with sounds from farther out to the sides than I’d heard before. In particular, in a clip from Despicable Me 3, Gru and Dru steal a large diamond from bad guy Balthazar Bratt. They are falling to their doom when Lucy snags them from a helicopter and then flies off across the left of the room. For that one moment, I heard the helicopter on the left side of the room.
My wife and I also watched some TV with the Ambeo Soundbar. In most cases, the News mode worked best to bring out dialog. This was especially important with Jeopardy!, one of our regular favorites. We could understand host Alex Trebek and the contestants much better in News mode than any of the others. I didn’t feel a need to boost the mid-range or high EQ in that mode, though I’m sure it would have helped in the Neutral mode.
Finally, I listened to some music via Bluetooth from Tidal’s Master library. My selections included “Falling Slowly” by Josh Groban and Idina Menzel, from Groban’s album Bridges Live: Madison Square Garden; “Everything’s Right,” from Phish’s album Sigma Oasis; “My Blue Heaven,” sung by James Taylor on his album American Standard; and Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, as recorded by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Guido Cantelli with horn soloist Dennis Brain, one of my favorite horn players of all time.
In all cases, Music mode sounded a bit thick with slightly muddy bass, while Movie mode sounded clearer, and Neutral mode was, well, neutral—cleaner and more transparent than the other modes. Once I settled on Neutral mode, the sound quality was excellent overall, with clear vocals, airy highs, clean mids, and well-balanced bass. When I turned off the Ambeo effect, the soundstage shrank dramatically, and the sound thinned out, so I turned it back on and left it there.
Is the Ambeo’s high price tag justified?
In some ways, the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar is a stunning achievement. It renders a wide and tall soundstage that extends well beyond the physical cabinet. The bass performance is far better than any other soundbar without a separate subwoofer I’ve ever heard, and it renders clean, clear mids and highs. Speaking of which, high frequencies in the overhead channels rained down on me quite effectively.
On the other hand, mids and lows in the overhead channels did not appear to come from overhead, and I rarely heard anything far into the sides of the room. I’m sure that was at least partly due to the open closet and equipment rack on the right and shelves of Blu-rays on the left, which undoubtedly interfered with the reflections. I imagine the effect would be more pronounced in a room without any breaks in the walls. But how many rooms have an unbroken, reflective, purely rectangular shape? Not many in real life, I suspect.
Then there’s the price: nearly $2,500! That makes the Ambeo the second most expensive soundbar I know of. The most expensive is the Creative Technology X-Fi Sonic Carrier at nearly $4,000, reviewed here, which includes a separate wireless subwoofer and claims to create an immersive soundfield like the Ambeo. As TechHive editor Michael Brown wrote in his review of that soundbar, “It never fooled my ears into believing sound was coming from anywhere other than the front of my home theater.”
I have to say the same thing about Sennheiser’s Ambeo Soundbar. The overall sound quality is superb—this is the best soundbar I’ve spent any time with—and it does a great job of expanding the soundfield well beyond its physical cabinet. But almost all of that soundfield is still in the front of the room. It might be more immersive in a perfect room, but for most real-world rooms, I don’t expect much more 3D sound than what I heard.
If you want a true surround or immersive audio system, and you can spend this kind of money on it, I recommend getting a set of speakers and an A/V receiver. To stay close to a total cost of $2,500, for example, you can assemble a 5.1.2 speaker system from SVS consisting of two Prime Bookshelf speakers for the front left and right, a Prime Center, two Prime Satellites for the surrounds, two Prime Elevation speakers (reviewed here) for the overhead channels, and a PB-1000 subwoofer, all for about $1,900. You also need a 7.2-channel Dolby Atmos-capable A/V receiver, such as the Denon AVR-X1600X ($600), which provides twice as many HDMI inputs as the Ambeo Soundbar. Granted, this system is 5.1.2, not 5.1.4, but I didn’t really hear four overhead channels with the Ambeo anyway.
Of course, such a system is a lot more complicated to set up, so if that’s an important factor for you, the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar is a good alternative. Just don’t expect a fully immersive soundfield.
Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
Superb sound for a princely sum, but it doesn't create a true immersive soundfield as it claims—at least, not in an imperfect room.
- Superb overall sound quality
- Expansive soundstage in front of room
- Exceptional bass without a separate subwoofer
- Built like a tank
- Didn't create a fully immersive soundfield in my room
- Supplied calibration mic failed, required replacement
- Input auto-switching doesn't work
- App disconnects from soundbar when phone falls asleep
- Super expensive