AMBEO Soundbar | Plus: Is This Unit From Sennheiser Overkill?

Diminishing returns in the high end of any market is an issue, but not here

The gap continues to narrow between the experience in the movie theater and the experience available in the home. Way back in the day, movie theaters enticed ticket buyers with the promise of a bigger screen, air conditioning, and better sound. At the time that also came with a very large smoking section. In the intervening days, the movie theaters have gotten rid of smoking (as has most everywhere else) and generally improved the visual and audio delivery systems available. Seating has also improved.

The consumer electronics industry has not sat by idly, once flat screen TVs gave away to plummeting prices in flat panel TVs, the gap narrowed further. Getting great sound to accompany your home theater experience was always dodgy, as it generally meant putting your entire A/V system in the same place as your television. Plus, you also had the somewhat derogatory but relevant issue the industry called WAF – the wife approval factor. It was generally guys who led the charge in upgrading the home entertainment equipment, and the prospect of wiring the TV room with an array of speakers to accommodate surround sound met with understandable resistance, whether from a spouse or budget limitations.

The sound bar became a logical solution. Theoretically, this one item relatively discreet in size and shape would be placed in front of the TV screen and deliver far better sound than what was offered from the flat panel TV alone. If you were able to squeeze in a subwoofer nearby, so much the better.

But how could one rectangular component attempt to deliver a reasonable facsimile of surround sound? Many companies have tried, but the brilliant engineers at Sennheiser have continued to push the edge of the envelope by delivering the Sound Bar Plus.

Pushing past the once state of the art 5.1 standard, this unit delivers immersive sound in 7.4.1 format. I found the set-up process intriguing, enjoyable and relatively simple. With the system’s automated self calibration technology, the unit explores the acoustics specific to your room and calibrates its multi speaker array accordingly. With a plethora of connectivity options (Bluetooth®, Spotify® Connect, Apple AirPlay 2®, TIDAL Connect with Dolby Atmos® and Google Chromecast), rare is the user who will be flummoxed in getting quickly underway. Most of the set-up process is accomplished via the proprietary Smart Control app. If you’re inclined, you can geek out with an equalizer, but I generally went with the flat setting.

I tested the unit with and without the optional subwoofer. If you live in an apartment setting you’ll probably not be well liked by your neighbors if you pump up the volume using the subwoofer, but in other settings, it is a fantastic addition.

The result in our house was fantastic. Smooth and transparent movie viewing was especially enjoyable. Dialogue remained generally crisp and focused at the center, with appropriate positioning of sound effects and score. The old adage of ‘garbage in garbage out’ is inevitable, but even when sourcing old TV shows, for example, the apparent up-res of the audio improved the overall experience.

The weight of the unit (under 15 pounds) is more than other sound bars on the market, but it is simple physics that an increase in magnet weight of speakers brings better audio range.

The unit is remarkably thin and is able to sit in front of our flat panel without blocking any of the screen. There is a bit of arm raising needed to let the TV remote find its receiver as a result of the sound bar’s placement, but life could be a lot worse.

The rounded edges of the unit are aesthetically pleasing, as is the overall unobtrusive design. The traditional mute button found on remotes is missing on the Sennheiser remote, a minor annoyance. I have found that my desire for the classic stereo experience in listening to music has slowly been replaced with using the Sound Bar Plus instead.

Sennheiser has a an impressive history of being the aspirational brand in audio. They have established and maintained the high ground in headphones, and it looks like they will move from the sound bar beachhead to similar high ground with the Sound Bar Plus.




Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.