Can a single bar with thirteen drivers give an immersive Dolby Atmos experience?

I’ve always said that a budget of Rs 30,000 to Rs 50,000 is a very good budget to get a soundbar that not only packs a punch in terms of sound quality, but also comes with multiple smart features and connectivity options. Thereby adding a level of convenience to users. A great example of this is the Sony HT-G700 (review). A budget of Rs 1,00,000 is also a great budget to get a soundbar for an immersive surround sound experience. In this budget, we also have some modular soundbars like the Bose Soundbar 700 (review) that let you add rear surround speakers at a later date. Another modular soundbar worth checking out is the Sony HT Z-9F (review). 

Soundbars today come with a host of convenient features as well, like the ability to control the soundbar with a smartphone app, HDMI pass-through with support for Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision, virtual surround sound, and room calibration. Today, we have with us the Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar priced at Rs 2,00,000. It not only boasts of a whopping 13 independent drivers, but also claims to create a room-filling surround sound experience without rear speakers. Is it the penultimate soundbar experience or are you better off investing in a home theatre?

Sennheiser Ambeo: What’s in the box?

In the box, you get the soundbar itself along with the remote control. There is no subwoofer with this soundbar, although you have the option to purchase one separately if you like. You also get an HDMI cable, power cable, and calibration mic along with the user manual. Overall, the packaging is minimal. 

The Sennheiser Ambeo supports Dolby Atmos.

Sennheiser Ambeo: Connectivity options

When it comes to connectivity options, the soundbar is pretty packed. You have one HDMI eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) port that connects to the TV. There are also three HDMI 2.0a passthrough ports to connect devices such as your Apple TV or Fire TV Stick (review). The passthrough port supports 4K HDR including Dolby Vision. There is also an optical port, an AUX port, one USB port (for service and updates), one ethernet port, subwoofer out, one mic input, Bluetooth 4.2, and Chromecast connectivity. It also supports Wi-Fi (2.4GHz and 5GHz bands). 

The Sennheiser Ambeo has 3 HDMI pass through ports.

While the connectivity options are plentiful, there is no smart assistant that comes built into the soundbar, which, today, can feel like a bummer, especially when budget bars like the Yamaha YAS-209 have implemented it so well. The lack of Bluetooth v5.0 is also missed, but nothing worth complaining about.

Setting up the Sennheiser Ambeo

Setting up the Ambeo soundbar can be done in less than 10 minutes. Since there is no subwoofer, or wireless surrounds to be added, all you need to do is connect the soundbar to your TV via the eARC port. We have an LG B9 OLED TV to test the soundbar with. This TV has an eARC port. However, the soundbar will work well even if you have an older TV with an ARC port. Once connected, you can connect your other devices like a Fire TV Stick or Fire TV Cube, or Blu-ray player directly to the soundbar if you like since it has three HDMI passthrough ports. However, for a device like a gaming console, we recommend connecting it directly to the TV, especially if you have a new TV with HDMI 2.1 to exploit features like ALLM, 4K at 120Hz, and VRR. 

The Sennheiser Ambeo has 13 drivers.

Once the soundbar is connected to the TV, you should download the Sennheiser Smart Control App. Follow the on-screen instructions to connect the app to the soundbar. You can also use the Google Home app to connect the soundbar to the Wi-Fi, although we wonder why you cannot connect the soundbar to the Wi-Fi via Sennheiser’s own app. A slight inconvenience, but nothing that detracts from the overall setup process. 

Once connected to the Wi-Fi, you should check for any firmware updates for the soundbar. At the time of review, there were no updates available for the bar. 

You should then connect the bundled mic to the soundbar via the mic port in front, place the mic in your listening position and press the Ambeo button on the soundbar. Follow the instructions on the display of the soundbar (you can use the app as well) to calibrate the sound output to the structure of the room. This process takes no more than five minutes, and it is recommended you step aside while the calibration sounds are playing. 

The Sennheiser Ambeo comes with a calibration mic in the box.

Once calibrated, all you need to do is power on your favourite movie and you are good to go. 

Sennheiser Ambeo: Build and design

Huge is the first thing that will come to mind when you see the Sennheiser Ambeo for the first time. It has quite a massive and commanding presence in your living room/entertainment room. In my case, I had to remove everything from the table that housed my gaming consoles and my soundbar. The Ambeo took up the entire space. If your TV is on a tabletop, you can rest assured that the soundbar will block a significant portion of the TV from view so it is recommended to wall mount your TV and place the soundbar below the TV. 

The Sennheiser Ambeo has 13 drivers – six 4-inch long-throw woofer (cellulose sandwich cone), five 1-inch tweeters (aluminium dome tweeter), and two 3.5-inch full-range drivers (top-firing). The front and side-firing speakers are covered in a hard fabric mesh with a slight convex design where the drivers are placed. The top firing speakers are hidden beneath a honeycomb grill which cannot be removed. The top of the soundbar has a premium metal finish with a brushed metal-like design making the complete soundbar feel very premium. The front also has a crisp display giving you information like sound mode and source, while the right front has the Ambeo logo which lights up when the soundbar’s surround sound mode is enabled. There is no way to make the display go completely black nor the Ambeo logo when in use and for some this may be a bit distracting for those pitch-dark movie nights. But honestly, I grew used to them pretty quickly. 

The Sennheiser Ambeo drivers are covered with a fabric mesh.

The back is where all the ports are hidden and you may want to consider cable management before setting up the soundbar as getting to the back of the soundbar isn’t very easy once it is placed. 

Overall, the Sennheiser soundbar oozes a premium build. It also has a commanding presence in your room to ensure those that are there notice it. However, its design blends into a home theatre setup especially when the lights go down for an entertaining movie-watching experience. The physical buttons on the soundbar are tactile enough to give you a satisfying subtle click when used. 

Performance

Before we get into the performance, I want to get one gripe out of the way. Unlike the Sony HT-Z9F that has a menu that pops up on the TV, you have to rely on the soundbars display or the app for some of the settings of the soundbar. While the use of the display on the TV is only important during the initial setup, I wish it were there to be able to conveniently tinker with the settings. But this is a small personal gripe, one that others may not face. 

Coming back to the core performance, sublime, room-filling with clear channel separation is the first thing that will come to mind when you start listening to the Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar. If you have content mastered in Dolby Atmos, be it via the Apple TV, a physical Blu-ray or simply streaming services, you are in for a treat. I was surprised as to how well the channel separation felt when consuming content from the soundbar. 

The Sennheiser logo is in the bottom left of the Ambeo soundbar.

Let’s get our expectations clear – since the soundbar relies on bouncing sound from the wall and ceiling to simulate Dolby Atmos, I did not expect the sound to come from behind me or above me very prominently. But considering the number of drivers and their position, I was expecting a very good 180-degree coverage around me from the front. In some cases, my expectations were met, in others they were surpassed, and seldom was I disappointed. 

As expected, the sound did not come from behind me. There were only a few instances in Ready Player One where it felt like some of the action was coming from a little behind my right ear. When the cars were flying all over the screen during the race at the 11-minute mark, the channel and height separation was fantastic. I could not only feel the cars whizzing from the left and right but the dynamic range made it feel as though some of the sound was coming from above. Not directly above me, but at an angle. It isn’t the best nor the perfect representation of Dolby Atmos, but it does give the best Dolby Atmos “feel” from a single bar. We played Ready Player One using an Apple TV 4K box where we purchased the movie. 

Even in a movie like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, when Tom Cruise is whizzing left and right on his motorcycle, there is clear channel separation. Even in Spider-Man Homecoming, when Spider-Man is scaling the Washington Monument, there is clear surround sound and channel shift when he is whizzing across the screen. Both movies are in 5.1 surround sound on Netflix and we left the Ambeo sound mode switched on for the best experience.

The Sennheiser Ambeo has a commanding presence.

We have a Dolby Atmos demo disc with the same content you’d experience in an Atmos theatre before a movie begins. From the leaf falling demo to the forest rain demo, all of them bring an immersive level of detail and range to the sound, with the only downside being that the rain wasn’t coming from above, but in the vicinity thereof. But once again, considering the projection of sound in different parts of the room, the experience was extremely immersive. 

There is one audio demo that truly shows the power of the soundbar on the demo disc and that is of an aeroplane taking off. It is one of the most immersive demos to experience on the Ambeo. Even watching TV shows like Young Sheldon, or Friends had depth and detail we haven’t heard before. The soundbar is truly impressive. 

When consuming content at low volume or using the soundbars “night mode” we thought there would be loss of clarity or details in the vocals, but once again this wasn’t the case. Dialogues were immensely clear even at low volumes and mixed audio with dialogues was easily distinguishable at low volumes.  

The soundbar has physical controls on the top.

Music

When it comes to music, the Sennheiser Ambeo is a good soundbar, but not for die-hard music lovers. To begin with, the lack of bass is immediately felt in a song like Over and Over by Hot Chip. While the lack of bass isn’t immediately felt when watching movies, as the built-in drivers are enough to get the job done, bass-heavy music genre lovers will miss it here. The average joe who wants to “cast” music from his/her smartphone to the soundbar will enjoy it. You get room-filling sound at higher volume and the details and definitions in instruments and vocals are very clear. 

The Sennheiser Ambeo has a display on the front.

Gaming

For gaming, we played Marvel Spider-Man Miles Morales (review), Dirt 5 (review), and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (review) using this soundbar and a PS5 (review). From the swishes in Spider-Man’s webs to the ‘zings and zhangs’ of swinging a lightsaber, the gaming audio is immersive. Even the grumble of the cars’ engines in Dirt 5 was fun to listen to and immersive when gaming. While the surround sound effects weren’t as effective as Sony 3D audio headphones technology, it was more than enough to immerse me with adequate channel separation in a game like Spider-man Miles Morales. This soundbar definitely provides a cinematic gaming experience. 

Remote control

The remote control that comes with the Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar is made of plastic, but it does not feel cheap at all. It also has a tapering design, being thick at the top and thin at the bottom. It does not have a textured back, but manages to give a very comfortable grip and feel. The remote control provides the basic controls like source selection, volume, sound mode, switch on/off Ambeo surround and power. To delve deep into the settings of the bar, you will have to resort to the smartphone app. 

The Sennheiser Ambeo comes with a premium remote control.

App

To delve deep into the settings of the Ambeo, you will need the Sennheiser Smart Connect app. For its part, it works quite well, giving you a simple UI to navigate and no setting is hidden too deep for comfort. It’s functional and easy to use and I have only two problems with it. One is that you cannot connect to the Wi-Fi directly and need to resort to a third-party app like Google Home and secondly, every time you navigate away from the app, and reopen it, it takes a couple of seconds to find the soundbar. There are times when I had to tap the reconnect button on the app a couple of times before the bar was found, which at this price, is a small dent in the otherwise convenient experience the app offers. 

You can control the Sennheiser Ambeo with the companion soundbar app.

Bottom line

The Sennheiser Ambeo overall is a great soundbar with what it brings to the table. It can produce room-filling immersive sound and packs a theatre-like punch with good channel separation. While the surround sound relies on bouncing sound off the walls, you don’t need a symmetric room to have a great experience thanks to the calibration mic. While sound-absorbing elements like a curtain can hamper the surround sound experience, the overall experience from the bar for watching movies and gaming is superior to a lot of soundbars we’ve tested simply because of the quality of sound output. The music output is good too. It also comes with ample connectivity options. While the companion app may have some niggles, and the bar may be too bulky for some entertainment setups, the sound output is definitely impressive. And if you want, you can always add a subwoofer for added bass. While it isn’t fair to compare the Sennheiser Ambeo to cheaper soundbars we’ve tested, the only alternative we can think of is the Sony HT-ST5000. While we haven’t reviewed the soundbar, on paper, it looks like one that can give the Sennheiser a run for its money in terms of features. If you are in the market for a premium plug-and-play home theatre solution to compliment your brand new 65-inch OLED TV, then you can definitely consider the Sennheiser Ambeo.

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