Reviews

Capturing audio with Sennheiser’s AMBEO: A review

Arith Sudhakaran is a Dubai-based Director and cinematographer.

In the exacting world of capturing audio, Dubai-based filmmaker Arith Sudhakaran puts the Sennheiser AMBEO headset through its paces.

The Sennheiser AMBEO headset is no regular set of earphones. Geared towards content creators and vloggers, these earphones are capable of immersive binaural 3D sound. Fitted with omnidirectional microphones on either ear, they capture the world around you, creating an immersive 3D soundscape accurate to the environment the user inhabits. It’s as good as being there.

Capturing a few videos in and around busier parts of Dubai made for pretty fantastic soundscapes. Hearing 3D audio is pretty incredible; reliving a moment out in the Satwa market around prayer time made for a spellbinding experience – whirring traffic, bustling crowds and the sound of prayers off in the distance, all accurate to what it was really like. Coupled with video, the experience is both compelling and immersive.

The AMBEO headset is a fantastic new tool to aid any vlogger or content creator looking to create more immersive content, and the results are pretty spectacular. The utility of the device is specific. The headset currently works only with iOS devices and runs off the device’s battery. The headset is meant to capture ambient sound and isn’t as effective for an interview or any dialogue-heavy content, but for the enthused travel vlogger and generalist, this is a discreet way to extend the audio capabilities of an iOS device.

Though it may seem limited by its current ecosystem, which does not enable it to be used on any other video recording device, its performance paired with Apple devices is flawless. And if you’re creating content using your mobile device, then the AMBEO is a tool that should not be ignored – everyone else will just have to wait. There has never been an easier way to record binaural sound with this level of quality for any level of user.

The AMBEO headset is capable of capturing sound in motion, an aural equivalent to the 360° camera. This has never been an easy task, and the headset simplifies it and brings it to the iOS ecosystem. It is capable of creating a natural soundstage with stereo separation only otherwise experienced in real life.

Binaural audio relates to the way our ears hear and we experience the world around us. The AMBEO headset mimics the soundstage of our environment by capturing the sounds entering each ear individually and bringing them together, creating a 3D sound experience that’s close to real life. Experiencing the captured 3D audio requires nothing more than a pair of regular headphones, and the results are exceptional.

A sporty loop around the ear design keeps the earpiece snug in your ears, and a metallic grille on the outside of the earpiece houses the microphones that capture the sound entering each ear individually. The earpieces come with an interchangeable set of silicone plugs in S/M/L variations, ensuring a fairly snug fit.

A slightly bulky in-line remote control provides access to standard volume and play/pause controls, and a rocker to choose between various levels of noise cancellation and transparent hearing. A switch on the remote provides a two-step volume/ gain control over the recordings between low and normal levels, for using the headset at a louder venue, like a music festival or live event.

The transparent hearing feature is a way for the wearer to be able to hear the surrounding sounds with their music, the opposite of noise cancelling if you will. This feature is called situational awareness and is meant to act as a safety feature to help the user to not get too immersed in the listening experience and miss any real-life environmental threats, and also as a way to monitor recordings.

“The AMBEO headset mimics the soundstage of our environment by capturing the sounds entering each ear individually and bringing them together” Arith Sudhakaran, Director and cinematographer

Using the headset couldn’t be simpler. What would otherwise require bulky hardware and complex set-up now just requires the user to simply plug in the headphones. The AMBEO headset pairs with any up-to-date iOS device using a lightning connector. The 3D recordings start seamlessly as you press record on your iOS video app, and a red light on the in-line remote confirms the capture.

The results are rather stunning. The recording clarity is pretty good, and the capture is clean, with no noticeable hiss or noise. The proximity of the microphones to the sources of sound makes the sound clearer or fainter. The AMBEO headset is powered by Apogee’s Soft Limit, which stitches both the left and right channels captured by either earpiece to create the 360° sound field. The AMBEO actively replaces the built-in microphones on your iOS device with its binaural headset, expanding the iOS device’s audio capabilities to create cleaner and higher quality recordings.

The AMBEO works best for ambient recordings and didn’t prove to be great at recording speech. The microphones are attached to your ears and every movement of your head alters the way the sound is recorded, so it helps to remember to turn your head with the camera while recording.

The headset is reasonably comfortable and works pretty well as a good pair of earphones, with an in-line microphone that lets you answer phone calls and also has the ability to conjure up Siri if the need arises. The sound quality is on a par with most midrange Sennheiser headsets; the AMBEO is pining to be your go-to headset to use with your iPhone.

To truly appreciate the sound captured by the device, consuming the resulting video with a pair of earphones is necessary – listening to videos recorded with the AMBEO headset on speakers does not yield as dramatic an experience. Bringing the videos captured into any editing software will show you a single stereo channel of audio containing the 3D stereo capture, which integrates flawlessly with any editing workflow.

Good quality audio is an incredibly important part of good quality video content. The resulting recordings from the AMBEO are exemplary and for the large part one of a kind, and if you’re a video enthusiast or content creator who relies on your phone to capture video, the Sennheiser AMBEO headset will surely find a place in your arsenal. Despite the current limitations of its dependency on the iOS ecosystem, it is a tool that makes content all the more immersive and exciting. As with any audio kit, hearing is believing, and I urge you to experience for yourself what the Sennheiser AMBEO headset can accomplish.

 

Verdict

The Good: Ease of use and probably the most simplified binaural recording device on the market. Sound quality and the final recording are pretty breathtaking.

The Bad: Currently available for iOS only with an Android version sometime in the future. Inability to work with more advanced camera systems. Chunky inline remote control.

Wishlist: Hoping to see more products that incorporate binaural audio, perhaps with a few more options when it comes to physical appearance.