Yes, 2019’s Sennheiser Ambeo is a very capable Dolby Atmos soundbar indeed. It’s also massive, both physically and in terms of price. So the company’s done the sensible thing and scaled back a bit. ‘Ambeo’ has become ‘Ambeo Max’ - and here’s the smaller, more affordable Ambeo Plus.
Immediately, the fundamental problem is obvious. Ambeo Max had the ‘huge and hugely expensive’ soundbar field to itself until the likes of Devialet and Bang & Olufsen (with its frankly ludicrous Theatre soundbar, yours for £5.5K before options) decided to get involved. The Ambeo Plus, by way of contrast, faces competition from all sides, most notably from companies as serious as LG, Samsung, Sonos and Sony.
If specification that includes a) seven 5cm full-range drivers arranged to deliver two overhead channels, front left, right and centre channels, and left and right width channels, b) two 10cm woofers racing upwards too, and c) 400 watts of Class D power to drive them all, doesn’t sound business-like, well - we don’t know what does. And sure enough, the Sennheiser Ambeo Plus is all business.
When given a native Dolby Atmos soundtrack to deal with, the Ambeo Plus is never less than convincing. At the bottom of the frequency range it digs deep enough, and hits hard enough, and controls its bass output with such assurance, that the optional £599 Ambeo Sub subwoofer seems a bit pointless. At the opposite end of the scale it has more bite and brilliance of treble than any speaker with no actual tweeters has any right to. And in between, it projects dialogue well ahead of any competing sonic events, freights voices with a whole stack of detail, and offers the sort of dynamic variation that’s the mark of a confident and properly sorted loudspeaker.
The soundstage it generates from that same Atmos soundtrack is wide and deep, plenty big enough to fill even immodest listening rooms with sound - and the all-important sensation of sonic height is in evidence too. No, it’s not a match for actual overhead loudspeakers, of course not - but by all prevailing standards the Ambeo Plus is a taller listen than pretty much any price-comparable rival. There’s great focus to the soundstage, too, proper definition and more than enough elbow-room for each competing element to express itself.
It’s possible to spoil all this neatness somewhat by engaging the ‘Ambeo’ algorithm - there’s a control in the app and a corresponding light on the soundbar itself. ‘Ambeo’ is designed to offer some height and width to non-spatial audio soundtracks, and in that respect it’s pretty successful - but at the same time it renders the sound just a little vague and ill-focused by comparison. A suggestion of ‘processing’ intrudes on what was previously a nice natural sound - so whether or not it’s an essential feature or just a party-trick is very much up to the individual.
What’s not quite so subjective is what an effective speaker this is for listening to music. Rhythmic expression is good, thanks to the low-end control and variation, and detail levels remain high no matter if you’re watching a music-centric movie or wirelessly streaming some music. There are a lot of speaker drivers involved here, and it’s by no means easy to get them to sound as unified as this when dealing with stereo information.
Unlike its battleship-sized big brother, the Ambeo Plus is of manageable proportions - at 75 x 1051 x 121mm (HxWxD) it’s a comfortable fit for TVs as small as 48in. It has an absolute stack of physical and wireless connectivity options, including an eARC-enabled HDMI 2.1 socket, a couple of HDMI 2.0 inputs, Bluetooth and numerous integrated streaming and casting services. And it’s expertly built and finished, with tactility and discretion in equal measure. Not many soundbar designs are as coherent as this one.
Sennheiser’s gone to town where control is concerned, too. If you like the sound of your own voice, Amazon Alexa is available - the soundbar’s four far-field mics take care of this interaction, as well as dealing with the room-calibration routine. There are capacitive touch controls on the Ambeo Plus itself, and Sennheiser also includes a remote control handset. It feels quite nice and wieldy, unlike the credit card-style membrane clicker quite a few rivals ship with and, although it could do with some backlighting, it’s useful and usable.
The Sennheiser Smart Control app is really where the action is, though. It’s stable, logical and thorough - the control app Holy Trinity, in other words. From calibrating the soundbar to your space to checking for firmware updates, from fiddling with custom EQ settings to adjusting the intensity of the little LED-lit areas of the Ambeo Plus, this app makes it accessible and easy.
‘Affordable’ is in the eye (and the wallet) of the beholder, of course - but what’s not up for question is whether or not the Sennheiser Ambeo Plus represents value for money. It’s decently compact where all its rivals are bloaters, and it delivers a really strong flavour of spatial audio without dominating a listening space or demanding you reposition your television. It’s well made, its control options are excellent, and it doesn’t fall to pieces when asked to play music. On a pound-for-pound basis, it’s as good as single-unit Dolby Atmos speaker systems currently get.
Black Widow Disney+
All the action, all the time - but an unMarvel-like degree of light and shade behind the endless off-kickery. The Ambeo Plus has no problem digging deep, hitting hard and generally controlling at that low-end stuff, all while allowing the midrange to shine through.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Netflix
Worth watching for its own sake - but thanks to an Atmos soundtrack that’s packed with spatial audio clues, it’s worth listening to as well. And it allows the Sennheiser to spotlight its sure-footed way with music, too.
The Menu Disney+
Starts volcanically and builds to a climax - but in a considered, dialogue-heavy and remarkably unshowy way. Weirdly, this makes it an extremely effective showcase for Dolby Atmos in general and the Sennheiser Ambeo Plus in particular - when the effects are so sparingly deployed, their impact is disproportionately enhanced.
Because you want more than a taste of Dolby Atmos spatial audio without any upheaval in your decorating and with only reasonable upheaval in your bank account.