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Sennheiser packed its Ambeo 3D audio tech in a soundbar

Sennheiser packed its Ambeo 3D audio tech in a soundbar
From Engadget - January 11, 2018

The device Sennheiser is showing off at CES this year is a prototype, but the company says the audio is final. The Ambeo 3D Soundbar packs 13 speakers total with nine across the front, two angled out from the sides and two angled on the top. While there will be a subwoofer option, you really do not need it because the soundbar has a low-end range of 30Hz -- and it's pretty damn impressive coming from a device like this. Usually you need a separate sub to complement a soundbar for a solid dose of bass. In terms of connectivity, the company says the device will have a trio of HDMI inputs, one HDMI output and inputs for both analog and optical. It's also fully wireless with Bluetooth and WiFi and there will be voice control onboard. The prototype was also quite large, especially when compared to other soundbars, thanks to its 4-inch speakers. Chances are the final version will be pretty large as well. Not a deal breaker, but it's certainly something to consider.

Of course, not everyone has access to 3D audio recordings, but that wo not be a huge issue for a few reasons. One of those is that the soundbar is compatible with Dolby Atmos, so there's a library of compatible content you can tap into there. Sennheiser says it will also upscale, or as the company calls it "upmix," non-3D audio to sound better on the speaker. As you might expect, it wo not sound as good as a recording captured in true 9.1, but it beats having to re-buy your music collection. The company says it is working with music labels on content and other audio companies are enlisting its help for 3D audio capture at live sporting events and more. You can also opt to use the Ambeo soundbar in normal stereo mode as well, in which case you wo not have to worry about any tweaks. I did not get a demo of that mode though, so I ca not speak to whether or not it's equally as stunning.

During a 15-minute demo, I heard a range of audio samples ranging from a Mad Max clip to a performance from Imogen Heap captured in true 9.1. I am not going to mince words here: to say this thing is impressive is an understatement. I have heard Ambeo recordings before, so I know the level of detail and clarity they offer, but to put all of that inside a soundbar is a feat. This piece of gear takes spatial audio like Dolby Atmos to a whole other level, and it's miles above what Sony and others offer as part of their home theater lineup. I currently have a Sonos Playbar and sub in my living room and this Sennheiser speaker blows that out of the water, too.

Perhaps the most impressive audio sample during the demo came from a German Bundesliga soccer match. During the clip, you could hear the roar of the crowd change as the players moved from end to end. It very much sounded like I was sitting inside Niedersachsenstadion watching Hanover 96 in person. The music stuff is great, but as a sports fan, this might be more exciting. Of course, the effectiveness relies on a 3D audio capture, but Sennheiser says a number of broadcasters have already started doing so. And thanks to MPEG-H support, you can focus in on the home supporters section, decrease the volume of the commentary or apply other tweaks to the audio stream to enhance the viewing experience.

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