Sound and Vision: Sennheiser’s latest soundbar ticks the right boxes
OPINION: It was the tale of two soundbar launches in Berlin. There was the extravagantly designed and extravagantly expensive Beosound Theatre from Bang & Olufsen, and the more sensibly designed and much less expensive Ambeo Plus bar from Sennheiser.
I can see where Bang & Olufsen is going with the Beosound Theatre. I’ve not seen or heard it in action myself, but another journalist reported the Theatre was seen as a long-term investment in a product, something that would last ten years or more, its modular nature allowing it to be upgraded to last even longer and keep up the latest technology.
But I don’t think that people, especially home theatre fans, quite care about that. I think people keep things for as long as they want, and the home cinema market has always had a sense of upgrading and scaling to your needs but buying a £5000+ soundbar locks you in. Buying the Beosound Theatre feels like a commitment, and for what is essentially an audio upgrade, it’s a very big commitment. You’re not buying this soundbar to boost your Toshiba-branded TV.
The Ambeo Plus is, at least for me, more my vibe. It’s compact, sleek, supports all the major audio formats out of the box, can stream from pretty much any wireless source available and (hallelujah) has HDMI inputs to plug in other physical sources. It’s a soundbar that, from a feature side, has all you’ll ever really need.
And like its bigger sibling, it sounds much larger than its size would suggest, thanks to Ambeo processing combined with bespoke upfiring drivers that produced a taller, bigger sound. In the brief demo I had, switching between having the Ambeo on and off resulted in a drastically different performance. With it off, the effects gripped tightly to the screen whereas with the Ambeo processing, the height, space and width was expansive. You could genuinely hear the rain drops from the Dolby Atmos demo high above.
However, the issue with compact immersive soundbars is that they’re not truly immersive enough. The Sennheiser doesn’t support any rear speakers that I know off to fill in the spaces behind you, so they are always front-heavy.
Unlike the bigger and renamed Ambeo Max soundbar, it can’t produce that sense of effects just behind you or to your side. It can support up to four subwoofers, which sounds like overkill, but the three connected to the Ambeo Plus provided plenty of fun and power with the low-end frequency performance. What I would have liked is to have heard the bass performance without the subwoofers connected as that would really confirm whether this is an ‘all-in-one’.
So there’s an aspect of compromise with compact immersive soundbars – they are compromised from the get-go because they’re smaller – but from what I’ve heard the Ambeo Plus does a pretty good job of getting around those issues at a price that won’t scare as many people away.