Turning the surround sound industry on its head a few years ago, Sennheiser saw great success with the original Ambeo soundbar. It wasn’t exactly affordable, but it also wasn’t your average tin can with 4 micro drivers. Designed from the ground up to substitute a room full of speakers with a sleek but solidly constructed soundbar with some clever electronics and processing and an optional subwoofer, it beat Yamaha at its own game. Fast forward to 2023, the original Ambeo soundbar has been rechristened the Ambeo Max and this, the Ambeo Plus is a model that sits just below that flagship.
Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Plus review
The all-in-one soundbar
With a new design that is sleeker and more decor-friendly, the Ambeo Plus looks like a substantial piece of kit even though it weighs only 6 kilos. A total of nine drivers aim at recreating the immersive experience that Sennheiser calls “Ambeo”. It has been co-developed with the world’s leading engineering and research institute in Germany, the Fraunhofer IIS Institute and that means, there is a lot of complex DSP at play here. But in the 4 years since the original Ambeo, Sennheiser has made a lot of progress when it comes to inclusivity. The Ambeo Plus supports both the popular immersive formats, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and also throws in Sony 360 Reality Audio and MPEG-H for added measure. Even incoming stereo signals can be upmixed and processed via its Ambeo sound engine.
With a suite of nine drivers on board, the Ambeo Plus also includes two 4in woofers besides the usual mix of up firing, side firing and front firing drivers that aim to spray your room with precise beams of sound. This is done via seven 2in aluminium cone drivers powered by a total of 400 watts, which seems substantial enough. But an optional subwoofer is a must for a full-range home-theatre experience and the matching Ambeo Sub can be hooked up to the soundbar either wirelessly or wired. Connectivity in terms of I/O is generous too with three HDMI ports, but only which is 2.1 compatible and that also happens to be the e-ARC port. So assuming that will be hooked up to the TV, the Ambeo Plus won’t be friends with 4K/120Hz gaming consoles. But you still have two HDMI 2.0 ports for other sources and even a USB socket to power a streaming stick if you must. RCA, optical and ethernet make an appearance too.
There’s no on-screen display to set up the Ambeo Plus, but instead, it’s all made even more handy with the Sennheiser Smart Control app. It’s one of the slickest apps ever designed for an audio component with clear and logical controls, showing you a crisp graphic of the Sennheiser products it finds on the network. Needless to say, it’s a cinch to be on your way once you log in to your home WiFi network. You can calibrate the Ambeo Plus to your room using the app and it’s a one-touch affair. No microphones or crawling around the room is required like on other systems. It takes about 2-3 minutes and keeps you in sync with how it’s plotting the room and is beautifully synced with the tones coming from the soundbar and the visuals on your smartphone. Four built-in far-field mics get the job done in a non-fussy manner that is even tolerant to ambient noise, unlike most other calibration software. There are preset modes like Music, Movies, Neutral, News and Sports but after calibration, the Adaptive mode really did sound the best in our listening room, proving the importance of this step before settling down for some serious fun.
If you’re old-school and still like to watch TV with the remote glued to your hand, the Ambeo Plus does come with a hefty unit with basic features that are well-marked and easy to find in the dark, even if it isn’t backlit. For any advanced setting though, you will have to revert to the app and its many layers.
Positioning the Ambeo Plus is fairly straightforward, either wall mount it above the TV or place it below it on a table/stand. The dimensions make it ideal for a 55in TV in terms of width, but of course, there is no such compulsion. We used it with our reference 77in Sonly OLED TV, placed directly ahead of and under it, while the subwoofer was kept a couple of feet away. Quick word on the subwoofer though, it may not sound the best, even with calibration at the first spot you plonk it. So listen to your favourite piece of music or movie clip while keeping the levels at the 0 position and move it around the soundbar. In our situation, the best place was just a foot away from the soundbar and not tucked away in a corner. Keeping the sub too far from the soundbar will reveal its location, making it audible and it won’t integrate well with the mid/bass from the soundbar.
With everything set up just right, we sank into our recliners with Made in Heaven, Prime Video’s latest series on dysfunctional Delhi families. The e-Arc port worked seamlessly, delivering a Dolby TrueHD bitstream from the TV to the Ambeo Plus. The presentation was impressively full scaled, large and easily sounded like a pair of floorstanding speakers on either side of the room instead of emanating from a single chassis speaker! The rich mix of foley sounds, sync sound and a great original soundtrack all come together to make this for a fetching watch and listen. Even though its just a 5.1 mix, the Ambeo Plus placed sounds around the room in a way that far exceeded expectations. The Smart Control app also has a variety of demo material that makes for a great party trick to impress unassuming friends. The carefully recorded soundscapes are designed to highlight the efficacy of the Ambeo Plus’ phantom surround effect created by reflecting sound off the ceiling and walls. Nestled between our usual Focal speakers, the Ambeo Plus projected a soundstage wide and deep enough to fool most into thinking that the larger floorstanding speakers were playing! It does phenomenally well at creating the illusion of front height channels and if the material has an aggressive surround mix, it does a decent job at creating phantom side surrounds too. You will be convinced that your room has speakers at various locations and that itself is a victory for Sennheiser. The only area it really struggles with is creating the illusion of having back surrounds and top height channels, which our reference 7.2.4 system did better. Phew!
Tonally, the Ambeo can tend to sound a bit bright and thin in the midrange, especially with dialogue or vocals. But the app offers lots of control over centre and subwoofer levels and dynamic range; taking some time out to tweak the settings will definitely reap rewards. A backlit “Ambeo” logo lights up too, informing you of the mode you’re in and the app also lets you know the codec of the incoming signal so you know exactly what the source is outputting. Toggling between the Ambeo mode on and off, there is a stark difference between the two presentations and while one may prefer the more focused nature of Ambeo off for music and news, there is no doubt that for sports and movies, keeping Ambeo on will get you your money’s worth.
Musically speaking, the Ambeo Plus does well with a wide stereo spread and a well-blended bass provided you don’t get carried away with the level control. Daft Punk’s GLBTM sounds rhythmic, defined and thoroughly entertaining and it may even make for a perfect party speaker with its ability to stream from iOS or Android, Tidal, Spotify or plain old Bluetooth. It goes plenty loud without ever getting into overload or distortion, but it can’t quite conjure the depth perception and holographic imaging that an equally priced pair of bookshelf speakers can. The upside though is the simplicity of use and set-up, without horsing around with placement, amplifier selection, cables, stands and the additional footprint.
Keeping with the tradition, the Ambeo Plus ensures Sennheiser still stays ahead of the game when it comes to single-chassis soundbars. Sony’s equivalent model does offer physical surround speakers that add another dimension but also add complexity. Devialet does offer a more dynamic sound overall but is much more expensive and none of the traditional hi-fi brands have a solution that is so well tied in with a smartphone app. That means the Ambeo Plus is the best of the breed and definitely should be high on your list of soundbars while shopping. Highly recommended.
A brilliant package made even more accessible thanks to a well-designed app and generous connectivity.
|Woofers:||2 x 4in cellulose cone|
|Full range drivers:||7 x 2in aluminium|
|Frequency Response:||38Hz - 20kHz (soundbar)|
|Connectivity:||1 x HDMI e-ARC (2.1), 2 x HDMI 2.0, optical, ethernet, RCA, USB, sub pre-out|
|Wireless:||Chromecast built-in, uPnP, AirPlay 2, Spotify connect, Tidal connect|
|Dimensions (HWD):||105.1 x 7.5 x 12.1 cm|