Meet the Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset. It’s a pair of binaural microphone-equipped earphones that plug into any iPhone’s or iPad’s Lightning connector and records 360-degree ambient sound with your videos. Use this with your iPhone camera, and later relive those memories like travelling back in time!
It records using a pair of microphones in the left and right earbuds, and the audio is processed to deliver accurate spatial positioning of the audio around you. Think of it as a 360-degree ‘camera’ for sound.
360-degree cameras are all the rage now offering a level of immersion like never before. If your recordings are viewed through VR headsets, even better! Have you ever wished that recorded audio could be just as immersive? Let’s have a look at a pre-production unit of the AMBEO Smart headset that Sennheiser passed to us.
Build Quality and Design
The AMBEO Smart Headset could be mistaken for an ordinary headset if not for the broad rectangular grills on the sides that hide the microphones.
Further down the cord you’ll see a flat rectangular candy bar housing the controls for switching the processors on, the volume and music controls, and Transparency mode toggles. While the buttons feels sturdy and responsive, the bar felt a little ‘cheap’ due to the plastic material that was used, and we aren’t sure if this will carry on in the production versions. Simply connect the AMBEO Smart Headset to your iPhone using the Lightning connector and off you go – there’s no need to pair it with an app and it will draw power from your iPhone.
Performance and Features
The AMBEO Headset’s goal is to record immersive sound that surrounds you, just like in real life! You can activate this feature on the control bar by flicking a switch. A red indicator lights up and you can begin recording through your phone. When you play back your recording, you will notice that the ambient sounds are in their correct positions. If you’re playing back a concert that you’ve recorded earlier, the stage performance will be in front and the audience will be singing along behind you – just like in real life! The feeling of space and immersion is absolutely mind-blowing.
What’s even better is you can send your new concert video to your friends through any app, and they will experience the same immersive sound – even if they’re not using an AMBEO headset!
Transparency mode is activated by a rocker on the bar – a useful feature in case you need to hear important sounds outside the earbuds, like train announcements. You can even adjust how much sound you want to let through. Nice!
These are in-ear buds that use a stiffer, smoother type of silicon tip. The earbuds have stability stems that hook around your ears. They fit quite tightly around the back of my ears with little give, but were overall fairly comfortable as the stems were made of rubber.
I would have preferred stabilisers that fit within my ear cartilage like some popular sports buds. I find those types far more comfy!
Playing back videos that I’ve recorded on these headphones is insane! Everything is where it should be, like in my videos. The AMBEO headset reproduced exactly how everything sounds – the ambient noises, the cars swooshing past, and people chatting as they walked by. It’s as if I was teleported to where I was earlier in the day!
For music and videos, these earbuds are clearly designed to be enjoyed with the processor switched on. The AMBEO can actually up-mix all of your audio content so that they sound more immersive, and more 3-dimensional! Mid-range tracks are neatly placed front-of center while ambient instruments seem to surround me on the sides and the back of my head!
With the processor off, the AMBEO’s soundstage retreats to the front and sounds thin, constrained and unimpressive by comparison.
It is important to note that the AMBEO is not designed for bassheads in mind, but for anyone who wants a more immersive experience regardless of the content they’re playing. Also, to get the best results, you will need to turn your head with the camera’s direction.
The very portable Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset will transport you to another level of immersion. Sennheiser had stated that eventually we may see AMBEO products for 360-degree video, Virtual and Augmented reality applications. And why not? If there’s an Alien game in VR, just seeing a Xenomorph isn’t enough… For the ultimate terror you’ll want to hear it breathe down your neck! As Dr. Andreas Sennheiser, Co-CEO of Sennheiser said,
“Watch a movie without sound and you get visual information, listen to the sound without images and you’ll still get emotion.”
And Sennheiser’s AMBEO technology might just be that missing link. Sennheiser already has an AMBEO VR Mic microphone for professional use and over the coming year we should see more AMBEO-powered products roll out for both consumers and professionals, so check back with VR Zone for more reviews!
Sennheiser have yet to reveal the retail price of the AMBEO Smart Headset but they should be available by July in the US, Europe and China, followed by the rest of the world.