Sennheiser’s Ambeo Soundbar Plus review: a sonic marvel with compromises

Essentially, a $1,500 soundbar is all the time focused at a distinct segment viewers. You solely spend that a lot on a single piece of residence theater equipment if you’d like excellent sound however can’t be bothered (or don’t have the area) to construct out a full-on encompass system with devoted entrance, rear, and heart audio system. The humorous factor is, whereas Sennheiser’s $1,499.95 Ambeo Soundbar Plus would strike many as an extravagant buy, that is truly the cheaper possibility of the corporate’s two soundbars. The Ambeo Soundbar Max, originally released in 2019, continues to be the flagship — and nonetheless has an eye-popping value of $2,499.95.

By way of pumping out fascinating, immersive Dolby Atmos audio, the Max (which was renamed upon the introduction of the Plus bar) nonetheless ranks as maybe the very best standalone soundbar in the marketplace at present. Its 13-driver array outclasses a lot of the competitors from Sonos, Samsung, Sony, and others — and does so with out the assistance of a separate subwoofer. Vergecast lead producer Liam James says the Ambeo is among the many greatest lounge purchases he’s ever made, although he admits it’s “throwing cash at an issue” to provide you with the best-performing sound resolution for a New York Metropolis condominium. 

With the Plus, Sennheiser got down to make a smaller, sleeker, cheaper soundbar that also showcases the corporate’s knack for creating spacious sound by superior 3D audio processing. It helps Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, plus a spread of wi-fi audio add-ons, together with AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify Join, and customary Bluetooth playback. So it’s stuffed to the gills with software program compatibility, which is strictly what I’d hope for, contemplating the value. The Plus nonetheless prices a ton of cash, however a minimum of there’s other competition in the identical ballpark; you’ll be able to’t say that in regards to the Max.

Pulling again on the value required Sennheiser to train some restraint with the variety of drivers it might cram into this soundbar. The Ambeo Soundbar Plus contains seven full-range audio system that work at the side of twin 4-inch subwoofers. That’s clearly not as extreme because the Max, however mixed with virtualized phantom audio system, the corporate says this configuration is ready to ship a 7.1.4 encompass expertise from a single unit. It additionally resulted in a product that’s extra sensible and fewer colossal. For reference, the Max weighs over 40 kilos (!) and is so massive that it mainly requires your TV to be wall-mounted. 

However the Plus sat in entrance of my Hisense U8H with out obstructing my view of something on the backside of the display screen. It truly measures shorter in size than the Sonos Arc. And at 13.86 kilos, it was much less of a chore to unbox and place on my media stand. The Plus isn’t practically as imposing because the Max. It’s bought a trendy design that blends a tough plastic high (with capacitive controls) and cloth wrapping across the entrance and sides. The entire thing exudes high quality and feels past sturdy. On the entrance of the soundbar are two small LEDs: one lights up with “Ambeo” at any time when the 3D audio mode is engaged. The opposite shows Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, or MPEG-H if any of these codecs are in use.

Material wraps the entrance and sides of the Ambeo Soundbar Plus.

The highest is created from a really sturdy plastic.

Reminder: On desktop, you’ll be able to as soon as once more click on on our photographs to enlarge them.

Sennheiser features a distant management that permits you to toggle on the proprietary Ambeo 3D audio processing, swap between presets (film, music, adaptive, and so forth.), activate night time mode (which cuts down on deep bass) or enhanced dialog mode, and so forth. It’s straightforward sufficient to make use of, although bizarrely, the distant lacks a standard mute button. I don’t understand how you overlook that on a soundbar distant. As a substitute, there’s a complicated multi-function “o” button that juggles each mute and Amazon Alexa (in case you’ve enabled voice instructions).

Sennheiser additionally curbed the Ambeo Soundbar Plus’ long-term potential with one unlucky {hardware} resolution: whereas the gadget helps HDMI passthrough and has two inputs for this function, these passthrough ports are solely HDMI 2.0a — so the Plus can’t deal with 4K 120Hz gaming, VRR, and different options which are thought of musts for Xbox Sequence X and PlayStation 5 homeowners. It may well ship by HDR codecs completely nice, however I nonetheless take into account this a brutal compromise for such a premium product. It’s sufficient of a unfavourable that I hope Sennheiser refreshes the Soundbar Plus throughout the subsequent yr or two with full HDMI 2.1 passthrough. Proper now, you’ll have to preserve your gaming consoles plugged straight into the TV. However many TVs solely have two HDMI ports able to 4K 120Hz, and one in all them usually doubles as eARC, which you’d be occupying with the soundbar. We’re too far into the HDMI 2.1 period to excuse Sennheiser for lacking the boat — particularly when rivals are getting this proper. 

These two HDMI passthrough ports can be much more helpful in the event that they have been HDMI 2.1. And sure, the material can get soiled.

Should you can reside with the Ambeo Soundbar Plus being hamstrung within the passthrough division, it’s a standout performer in practically each different method. The audio it produces is splendidly clear and wealthy. You’d count on top-notch sound for the cash, however you’d be shocked what number of upper-tier soundbars can nonetheless have a whiff of artificialness of their tone. 

However I’ll say proper off the bat that I want Sennheiser would provide devoted rear audio system for its soundbars. Because it stands now, all you’ll be able to add to the Ambeo is the corporate’s $700 wi-fi subwoofer. (You can even wire third-party subs to the soundbar straight by way of an RCA socket, offering extra flexibility than you’d get from a Sonos system.) 

Because it stands, Sennheiser merely doesn’t provide rear surrounds, so whereas the Ambeo Soundbar Plus did an amazing job at blanketing my room with spatial audio, it felt extra like a 180-degree presentation as an alternative of placing me in a bubble of immersion. The peak results have been noticeable with Atmos content material that strongly utilized them, however I used to be by no means tricked into pondering something was taking place behind me. That is an space the place competing, multi-speaker methods objectively win out.

Sennheiser sells its personal wi-fi subwoofer, however you too can plug in subs from different manufactuers.

After plugging within the Ambeo Soundbar Plus, you’ll need to set up Sennheiser’s Sensible Management app in your iOS or Android gadget to finish setup, regulate settings, and run the sound optimization check. That course of takes a pair minutes, and the check tones concerned can get pretty loud. I don’t advise working it in the midst of the night time. When you’re completed, the soundbar may have a greater understanding of your room and might regulate its spatial output accordingly.

Sennheiser’s Sensible Management app features a ton of options and helpful knowledge.

Extra regularly than not, I activated the “Ambeo” characteristic when watching each motion pictures and TV. It really works it doesn’t matter what content material you’re enjoying, and the aim is to extend the encompass impact for a wider sound area and grander scale — or create a spacious combine for stereo content material. Sennheiser has put quite a lot of effort and time into its 3D processing, and it reveals: Ambeo principally avoids the disagreeable, reverb-y “enviornment” impact that’s so frequent when units virtualize encompass audio. You may actually hear a few of that in case you crank Ambeo to the “enhance” setting in Sennheiser’s app, however the regular stage was the fitting steadiness in my room. Nonetheless, there have been occasions after I most popular to depart it disengaged when watching native Atmos content material: voices can lower by cleaner with out the added processing. 

The distant is straightforward to make use of however lacks backlighting and a mute button.

Music is the place Ambeo’s spatialization methods could be hit-or-miss, and I largely saved it off until I used to be enjoying Atmos mixes on Apple Music. (And even then, as we’ve often mentioned, Atmos mixes are sometimes worse than stereo.) However music sounds full and like music, which isn’t all the time true of soundbars that prioritize visible leisure. Vocal response and mids are glorious on the Sennheiser, and there’s no sterility or tinniness to the sound.

I examined the Ambeo Soundbar Plus each with and with out Sennheiser’s wi-fi sub. By its lonesome, the soundbar continues to be lots succesful: it’s working with 400 watts of amplification energy, in any case. Should you’ve bought a small-sized condominium, that may be the suitable stopping level. I watched Dune and Black Adam on HBO Max, and the Soundbar Plus introduced each movies with fascinating, cinematic Atmos sound that genuinely felt prefer it was surrounding me — besides from behind, as I famous earlier. Every thing about The Final of Us has been crisp, from dialogue to the attractive underlying music rating. Maybe the most important spotlight thus far was streaming All Quiet On The Western Entrance from Netflix. Struggle motion pictures all the time make for good demo fodder, and this was no exception: the chaos on the battlefield whirred throughout me and appeared to defy the soundbar’s bodily dimension. 

You may customise any of the soundbar’s presets to your liking with a graphic EQ. If you wish to enhance the middle channel to convey voices much more ahead within the combine, you’ll be able to. Including the Sennheiser Sub into the equation introduces a complete new layer of low-end power. It hyperlinks to the soundbar wirelessly, and Sennheiser calibrates the sound profile between each units to divide frequencies for the very best efficiency. The Sennheiser app provides you full management over the sub’s energy, so in case you’re anxious about neighbor complaints, a minimum of that’s an possibility.

Night time mode additionally does the job and slices away all copy of growling bass, however I’d solely take into account it for late-night viewing. It has a method of robbing the Ambeo Plus of an excessive amount of punch. AirPlay 2, Google Chromecast (for audio), and Bluetooth all labored as anticipated. And although I not often hassle with voice controls from my gear, establishing Alexa and testing a number of instructions went easily. Sennheiser’s Sensible Management app is sort of good, and I like that you simply’re all the time in a position to verify what number of channels the soundbar is receiving from no matter content material is enjoying.

The Plus has a decrease profile than the Max and might truly match on TV stands with out obstructing your view.

As you’ve most likely concluded, I feel Sennheiser’s Ambeo Soundbar Plus is a terrific product by way of pure sonic efficiency. However there’s no getting round what a considerable funding it’s. Should you go for a Sonos Arc, you’ll save substantial cash and get multi-room audio integration that the Ambeo merely simply can’t match. In the meantime, one thing like Samsung’s Q990B Atmos soundbar offers you a superior encompass expertise because it comes with rear satellite tv for pc audio system. Sennheiser would actually do properly to convey its personal rear surrounds to market. 

For now, the Ambeo Soundbar Plus affords most of the similar positives as the unique Max. You’re getting a stage of readability and tonality that many soundbars don’t start to strategy. I believe that the Max, with its additional drivers and monstrous dimension, nonetheless outranks the Plus at producing spacious audio — particularly in bigger rooms. However for a single unit in the fitting setting, the Plus, at occasions, seems like a marvel.

I badly want Sennheiser had gone the gap and future-proofed this $1,500 soundbar with HDMI 2.1 passthrough. Should you’re not involved with that and have a whole rubbish bag value of disposable money, the Plus fulfills its promise of being a one-stop store for excellent residence theater sound. It’s a complete luxurious purchase, however a great one.

Images by Chris Welch / The Verge

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