The Headphone That Records 3D Audio – Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset Review

Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset Binaural 3D Microphone

So far this year Sennheiser has released some great high quality consumer headphones that were well received by music lovers looking for a good yet affordable headphone. The next product release however is more of a ground breaking audiophile and all-around tech saavy headphone. The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart In-Ear Headphone made the audio show circuit in early 2017 but not many people know what it’s all about. The Ambeo Smart Headset is actually the first of it’s kind and MajorHiFi has one of the first pairs and so I’m about to see just what this cool new headphone can do.

Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset Review

ABOUT THE AMBEO SMART HEADSET

The Ambeo Smart Headset is a new in-ear headphone that enables you to record binaural (3 dimensional) audio with your smartphone using built in microphones embedded in each earphone. Binaural audio is a unique style of recording because it only uses two channels to create the 3D sound. The reason it works so well is because you’re literally recording audio as your ears would hear it. The way sound approaches your head and enters your ears lets your brain know what direction it’s coming from and how far. Mixing this process with an accompanying video can create a very cool “first person” experience. The Ambeo Smart Headset also functions as an everyday music listening earphone making it an incredibly versatile piece of audio gear.

Although the Ambeo Smart Headset was introduced to show goers in early 2017 it’s still not on the market but an official release date is quickly approching as the finishing touches are being finalized. Currently the Ambeo Smart Headset is designed only for iPhones with Lightning connector but an Android version is in development for a later release. Sennheiser is also working on a smartphone app that will give this headphone increased functionality. The best way to get the Ambeo Smart Headset going right now however is to plug it in to your iPhone’s Lightning port and open up the video record function.

Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset In-Ear Headphone
The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset records binaural 3D audio directly to iPhone via the Apple Lightning port

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: Lightning
Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
Ear Coupling: In-Ear
Cable Length: 1.16m

FEATURES

Drivers and Design

I’m told by Sennheiser insiders that the Ambeo Smart Headset uses the same drivers as the popular HD1 (formerly Momentum) in-ear headphone. The big difference here is the Ambeo headset uses an over-ear hook design to keep these earphones firmly in place. It’s a smart and ergonomic design that really works well. You get 3 different size tips with the Ambeo Smart Headset and a nice compact carrying case.

Powered by Apogee

The mic preamp, D/A, A/D and Soft Limit function are all powered by Apogee technology. In conjunction with the Apple MFi-certified Lightning connector the Ambeo headset delivers clean digital signal to and from the iPhone. Apogee is a company well known for their high quality preamps and digital audio converters so it’s no secret why Sennheiser opted for Apogee on the Ambeo Smart Headset. The Ambeo Headset is currently only designed for iPhone but an Android version is in the works.

Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset Apogee Converter
Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset Apogee analog to digital and digital to analog audio converter

Binaural 3D Recording

The most attractive feature of the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset is the binaural microphone. This opens up new possibilities in audio as well audio for video. Ambient electronic artists that formerly used high-end hand held stereo recorders may opt for the Ambeo Smart Headset for a very real surround feel. Movie makers will love the Ambeo Smart Headset because it gives a unique “first person audio” perspective that can accompany video shot directly from the iPhone or synced later to a higher quality video. Even everyday YouTubers and Facebook video creators can use the Ambeo Smart Headset. Needless to say this is an incredible new dimension for the headphone world and the possibilities are nearly endless. Imagination is the only limit on what you can do with this incredible new tool.

Ambient Monitoring

Ambient monitoring is a novel idea for headphones and probably not even the original intention of this particular headphone. You can actually monitor your surroundings using the built in microphones while you listen to music. This means if you’re in an environment where you need to be sonically aware of the outside world… just mix it in. You can even adjust the levels between music and ambient monitoring for the perfect blend.

And it doesn’t stop there. Imagine being in a loud club watching your favorite band. I usually bring earplugs to live shows. Now imagine using the Ambient Monitoring feature in your Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset. You’ve got noise blocking with your ear tips and now you can control the volume of the show.

Controls and Phone Calls

The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset also features all the controls you need for your iPhone. You have play, pause, volume and an additional microphone for phone calls. This deluxe in-ear headphone is ready for anything. In addition to the standard controls you have a on/off switch (for the powered 3D mics) and a mix control for mixing the levels between your music and the built in microphones.

Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset Inline Controls
Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset inline controls

iPhone App

The app is still in development but it’s rumored to have incredible features to make the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset including recording and monitor mixing. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to try an early version before the official headphone release.

Observations

When first trying the Ambeo Smart Headset I tried all three sizes of ear tips. To my dismay none of them held “a perfect seal”. I solved this problem with foam tips. Comply or Dekoni are a couple of the most common brands. The foam tips offered excellent isolation and they stayed in place perfectly. With better tips in place I got excellent sound from the Ambeo Headset. The bass that the HD1 in-ear is known for hit hard and the clarity was excellent all the way up to the 20kHz top-end. Recording 3D audio became easier too because I could only hear what was coming into the microphones.

Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset Foam Ear Tips Modification
Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset foam ear tips modification

Recording sound was interesting. When you combine this with video from your iPhone hear people, vehicles and anything else moving around you as you see them. It’s a lot like surround sound using only two audio channels.

The Apogee digital audio converter and controls take up a bit of space and are a little bulky. I don’t mind the size but it could use a clip to keep it from swinging around. Otherwise it’s very well designed.

The Apple Lightning connector was a good idea. Clean digital signal is what you want when recording or listening to audio from your smartphone. But there’s really nothing keeping it in place. The Lightning cable doesn’t really “lock in” the way a headphone jack does which makes it a precarious connection for such an important application. I had a few instances where audio just stopped because my phone moved too suddenly. Listening to music had the same result because I keep the phone in my pocket which is guaranteed to jostle the plug loose. For now however, the Lightning connection is still the best connection option.

The application is really the missing link right now. I’m loving this in-ear headphone so far but I want those additional features and the ability to record only audio without using up gigabytes of space with video. My fingers are crossed for this app to be ready soon because I have a few great ideas for this headphone that records 3D audio.

Final Review

Being an audio guy I can say the Ambeo Smart Headset is one of the coolest things I’ve ever had the chance to test. Of course I love listening to music and getting the best sound quality possible but I also have a hobby of recording the ambient sounds from different environments. The ambient recordings add an interesting element to music that invoke memories and imagination. Plus the audio recording possibilities for video are astounding. Previously it would take multiple microphone setups to do something like this but Ambeo Smart Headset has it all inside an in-ear headphone in just two channels. With only a few complaints I have a feeling this will still be my favorite headphone of the year and I look forward to testing it’s limits. The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset is rumored to hit the streets in October or November and I know it won’t be a day sooner until it’s perfect. The final MSRP is still under wraps but I do know it will be quite affordable considering what this headphone can do. If you’re a professional or semi-pro audio / video creator I highly recommend getting one of these headsets. It’s easily the one of the coolest new things in headphones as well as audio recording to date.

Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset Portable Binaural Microphone
Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset featuring inset binaural 3D audio microphones
Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset Carry Case
Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset with carry case