With an eight-decade legacy as a key player in the world of pro-audio, Sennheiser is a brand with the confidence to do things a bit differently regarding its consumer goods. No product exemplifies this more than the company's sole domestic speaker, the immense Ambeo Soundbar (pictured above), which caused quite an impact when it was unleashed onto an unsuspecting public three years ago.
Sennheiser's Ambeo processing has been around for six years, delivering the brand's proprietary 3D audio technology in products as diverse as headphones, car speaker systems and ambisonic microphones, but it's primarily synonymous with the beast of a soundbar that bears its name.
The Sennheiser Ambeo has acquired an almost mythical status thanks to its considerable size and price, both of which make it unattainable for many consumers. However, it also has a dedicated cult following of users who claim that it really is the only soundbar that can come close to delivering the immersion and power of a complete surround system.
Earlier this year, Sennheiser let slip that a follow-up to the Ambeo was in development, but since the original's release, the company has sold its consumer audio division to a Swiss-based medical hearing company called Sonova Holding AG, which specialises in hearing aids and cochlear implants.
The two firms continue to work together to make consumer devices under the Sennheiser brand, but what might this mean for the new Ambeo? Will it be more practically sized? Will it be more accessibly priced? Will it still play relaxing spa music during set-up? Few details are available currently, but we've rounded up all the very latest hints, tips and predictions in the build-up to the launch of the Sennheiser Ambeo.
Release date rumours
At its virtual Consumer Innovation briefing in March, Sennheiser teased a couple of new products, including at least one new version of the Ambeo soundbar.
The company was hesitant to provide too many details on the future launch but did indicate that the products in development were part of its plans for 2022.
Sennheiser has been known to take its time honing a product before release though. The original Ambeo Soundbar was unveiled at CES 2018, and despite the intention to release it later that year, customers had to wait until May 2019 to hear it for themselves.
But we're glass-half-full types here at What Hi-Fi? and considering a smaller, more affordable Ambeo made our list of 16 audio and AV products we want to see in 2022, we're optimistic that we'll see a new Ambeo before the end of the year.
Launched initially at £2200 / $2500 / AU$4000 (though it can sometimes be found discounted by about 10%), the cost of the Ambeo veers into 'you may as well buy full-sized speakers' territory, putting it out of reach for many.
When Sennheiser teased a new version of the Ambeo, the company's director of portfolio management Stefan Krämer explained that the company planned to "expand the entire portfolio to bring it to lower price points", offering customers "a similar experience" within "normal price ranges in the competition".
Reading between the lines, we'd expect that a new version/versions of the Ambeo would go head to head with the current Dolby Atmos class-leader Sonos, with its flagship Arc priced at £899 / $899 / AU$1499 and mid-range virtual Atmos soundbar the Sonos Beam Gen 2 at £449 / $450 / AU$699.
A cheaper Ambeo undoubtedly means a smaller Ambeo, which, for anyone who's ever had to lift one, will be a relief. Measuring 127cm wide and 14cm tall, it’s a massive slab of sound, and we salute those who have been brave enough to wall mount this 18.5kg beast.
There's no official confirmation of designs for any new Ambeo products, but at the start of the year, the company reportedly sent out a product concept survey to customers that included images of two smaller potential models lined up next to the existing Ambeo for size comparison, which have been described as having dimensions resembling those of the Sonos Arc and Sonos Beam Gen 2.
Whether both these possible soundbars have upward-firing drivers is unknown, but given Sennheiser's experience developing technology that can deliver immersive virtual sound, it's feasible that the company could follow Sonos' lead with the Beam Gen 2 and ditch the height drivers in favour of DSP.
The Ambeo has endured partly because it appeals to the specific needs of those who would like to have, and can afford, an entire surround system with height channels but simply don't have the requisite space to house it. It occupies such a niche space in the market that it has very little direct competition from other manufacturers. Smaller models simply won't be able to deliver the same colossal level of power and immersion, so what can the company add to give them an edge?
We'll certainly be curious to see if Sennheiser sticks with its single speaker philosophy for its new soundbars. The current Ambeo has an optical output for users to connect a third-party subwoofer (though it's not particularly necessary) but for surround sound, it relies entirely on a frontloaded soundfield that bounces sound off walls and the ceiling to envelop the listener (there's an included microphone to calibrate the system with). For more affordable soundbars with more compact drivers, the option to upgrade with additional surrounds and a sub from within Sennheiser's ecosystem may bolster the product's capabilities as well as add welcome flexibility for some users.
The company's desire to continue offering customers "a similar experience" with its new products hopefully means that any new Ambeo models will still have the capacity to deliver a decent level of robust low-end without necessitating an additional sub – aka the holy grail of soundbar manufacturing. However, given the ultra-comprehensive feature set of the original, it will be interesting to see where Sennheiser decides to cut back for its more affordable models.
With support for Dolby Atmos in its True HD format as well as rival DTS:X and even Sony 360 audio, the Ambeo is the Switzerland of the soundbar world when it comes to immersive formats, and its closest competition in this regard is Sony's A7000 priced at £1199 / $1300 / AU$1699. While we'd like to see more affordable models with wide-ranging decoding options, it's possible that new Ambeo models may take the approach of other manufacturers and focus instead on just the most popular 3D format, Dolby Atmos.
In the short term, at least, it certainly seems likely that any new Ambeo models will be smaller versions that exist alongside the current model as opposed to a straight-up successor or 'Ambeo 2'. The continuance of the original Ambeo wouldn't be surprising as it received a significant update to its operating system at the start of this year, adding Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect to its already exhaustive connectivity options that include Chromecast, three HDMI 2.0 inputs and one HDMI 2.1 port with eARC.
Although these ports can pass through 4K Dolby Vision HDR, they aren't capable of delivering next-gen gaming features such as VRR and ALLM. We'd anticipate that any new Ambeo soundbars, particularly desktop-sized ones, retain passthrough ports but are updated to full-fat HDMI 2.1.
Elsewhere, Sennheiser's latest product launch may hold further clues to possible future features. Its new wireless earbuds, TV Clear, are made for watching TV at home and give headphone users the option of independent volume control so they can hear the action loud and clear while others watch at a volume that they find comfortable. We've seen soundbars such as the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 and Creative SXFI Carrier include similar Bluetooth transmission support for their branded headphones. Given Sennheiser's significant expertise in this area and the commercial branch's new owner, could headphone/headset symbiosis be on the cards for the new Ambeo?
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