Sennheiser Ambeo aThe theory: Soundbars with virtual surround bounce soundwaves off the sidewalls to the back walls so it sounds like sound is coming from behind you. With virtual Dolby Atmos they bounce sound off the ceiling so it sounds like it’s coming from above. Is it just me or are there are other people who are yet to hear one that does either thing effectively?

That’s why I wanted to try Sennheiser’s Ambeo soundbar. Firstly, it’s supplied with a microphone and a set-up routine much like many surround-sound amplifiers. Place the microphone where you sit, run the test tones (it’s easy) and you have an instant sweet spot. Secondly Sennheiser is best known for headphones and it makes some beauties. Its engineers know how to make small speakers sound good.

Okay, my listening room is challenging for reflected sound. The sidewalls are a long way off at unequal distances and very busy with shelves, books, stretched canvasses and cedar blinds. At least the ceiling is good – not too high, flat, clean and very reflective. I started with the Atmos test disc that includes a jet taking off. Dolby says it’s a 747. If so it’s the only 747 I’ve seen with just two engines.

Sennheiser Ambeo dOff it took and over my head it flew, yet acoustically it was still in front of me. There was a bit of fill coming from overhead, but not enough to do the job properly. So even with a set-up algorithm the Ambeo still doesn’t nail it like genuine ceiling speakers.

Sennheiser Ambeo eWhere it excels, however, is in creating atmosphere. The same test disc carries a couple of tracks with Atmos turned on and off. With it on, the solid rain from the thunderstorm is deliciously accurate. If you want immersive movies and you’ve only got room for one speaker this is the one. Mind you, it’s a very large soundbar; 127 cm long, 13.5 cm high and 17 cm deep and it weighs almost 19 kilograms. It’s also awkward and best handled with a person at each end. If your telly is stand-mounted rather than on the wall you may have to stick a few books under the stand. The two-volume Shorter Oxford Dictionary is ideal.

The sound from Blu-rays is fabulous, but don’t use movie mode, use music – it widens the soundstage markedly; clear and sharp, beautifully defined and totally involving, just don’t expect surround sound. The post office robbery from Baby Driver, backed by Hocus Pocus by Focus, is tremendously exciting and the first ten minutes of Prometheus, the waterfall scene and then the cave discovery, is engrossing. Makes you wonder why people go to cinemas.

Sennheiser Ambeo cMusically it’s the best soundbar I’ve heard. I’ve never been a great fan of Copland’s Old American Songs (apart from the cat that says fiddle-i-fee) but I listened to them in full when they followed Appalachian Spring simply because they sounded so good.

There were some vicissitudes. The Bluetooth refused to pair with either of my Walkmans but happily paired with the computer (who cares, it’s only basic SBC). And there were times the Ambeo refused to acknowledge the Blu-ray player or the television (sometimes individually, sometimes both). The cables were fine as were the connections. Once it co-operated it kept on doing so for the rest of the session. Weird. I simply exercised patience and persisted, it was character building. Tip: Let it run through its 15-second boot-up before turning any connected equipment on.

The Ambeo is $4000 – clearly a lot for a soundbar but it’s a helluva soundbar. The wall mounting kit is $100.

First published by July 2019.


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