3D sound On-the-Go: Sennheiser Ambeo In-Ear Smart Headset

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Updated: May 06, 2018
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3D sound On-the-Go: Sennheiser Ambeo In-Ear Smart Headset

Smartphone videos are a great thing, but their sound compared to the picture quality is most noticeable. The reason: In the frequency spectrum quite limited and also only monophonic, integrated smartphone microphones allow at most one-dimensional Doku character. The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset now wants to close this gap: It uses all the basic principles on which people's spatial hearing is based - and thus wants to be even superior in terms of spatial imaging to special stereo microphones for smartphones.


With its binaural mode of operation, the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset promises impressive three-dimensional, acoustic experience worlds. Just think about the live atmosphere in the stadium at a football or ice hockey match, car or motorcycle races, the extravagant pool party, the live concert in the factory hall or other exciting urban sounds such as the approaching subway, the foghorn in the harbor or the virtuoso handpan player in the pedestrian zone. All of this comes across even more authentically with a three-dimensional impression of space - the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset has no limits to the imagination for impressive, acoustic snapshots.


This is indeed very tempting for any smartphone user, but Android users have to exercise a bit of patience at this point: Currently, the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset is only available in the iPad / iPhone version - the Android Version is already in progress.


The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset integrates the microphone capsules absolutely inconspicuously into the two ear hooks


However, the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset is not just a microphone, but also an in-ear handset - both functions can even be used simultaneously. Practical: When the in-ear transducers are optimally placed in the auditory canal, the microphones automatically take their proper place.


With the iPhone, the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset connects via Lightning connector via a single cable. The trick: The bidirectional Lightning interface can receive the microphone signals while at the same time playing the headphones signals (duplex mode).


Operation and configuration of the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset are on two levels: The most important functions such as call acceptance, title jump or the volume level setting for the in-ear listener are handled by the compact wired remote control. The setup for the not constantly required options, however, is done via the free app Sennheiser Smart Headset.


Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset: Technology

Even if the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset comes conceptually spontaneously plausible - behind his smart appearance hides a lot of know-how. This already starts with the acoustic concept, with which Sennheiser, however, does not enter the new entrepreneurial territory. Already in the fading 70s of the last century, the Hanoverians presented an unusual microphone called MKE 2002 - a clever bracket construction, which brought two high-quality electret capsules in exactly defined positions when hooked into the ear cups. In fact, the battery-powered Sennheiser MKE 2002 was the first binaural microphone for mobile, non-commercial use.


Excerpt from the user manual of the Sennheiser MKE 2002 - an optional dummy head was also available, in the ears of which the MKE 2002 could be mounted


The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset now picks up on this concept again to interpret it in an equally clever and smart way, almost four decades later. Like the time-honored MKE 2002, the Ambeo Smart Headset is a so-called true-head microphone that uses the acoustic effect of its own earpieces to record. However, for "de-personalization" it makes some cleverly implemented acoustic generalizations. For example, the microphone capsules are not located at the entrance to the ear canal, as they were at MKE 2002, but are pointing outwards in the transducer housings. These almost completely fill out the ear cavum (cavum conchae), which noticeably counteracts their typical, powerful resonance hump between 2 and 4 kilohertz - and thus the otherwise required


Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset Ear Hook with Micro and Transducer

The elastic ear hooks of the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset combine microphone capsule and in-ear transducers in confined spaces.

Although the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset does not achieve the spatial resolution of professional artificial head microphones with such acoustic tricks, the images taken with it can be listened to by anyone without noticeable quality losses in terms of spatial imaging.


Since the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset combines in-ear headphones and microphone in the same housing, its developers could elegantly integrate two other features. The first thing to mention is certainly the switchable noise-canceling function. As usual, this microphone receives the externally acting sound to give it as a phase opposition to the in-ear listener - exactly that it compensates for the acoustically penetrating background noise.


Less popular, however, is the second facility, which on the bumpy term "situational awareness" listens. This, in turn, does exactly the opposite of noise canceling: situational awareness makes it possible to mix the external noise background received by the microphone in three-step selectable dosing with the current headphone signal. This "transparent hearing" baptized mode helps to keep the acoustic contact to the outside world - which in the urban jungle of the city can certainly be a kind of life insurance.


Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset cable dongle with controls

The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset cable dongle accommodates all electronics - including all controls. The so-called function button (right) can be assigned various functions via the Sennheiser Headset App.

From an electrical point of view, the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset is also a remarkable device. Finally, it incorporates microphone and headphone amplifiers, A / D and D / A converters, signal processors, and an MFi-certified Lightning interface in its fairly compact cable dongle. Of course, such highly complex electronics require a competent partner in this respect: Sennheiser has made exactly the right choice with American digital audio specialist Apogee Electronics.


The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset in practice

My first recordings with the Sennheiser MKE 2002 I did on compact cassette with an Uher CR 240; later than with the more robust Sony TC-D5M. The (not a few) money for a good recording medium can save you nowadays - this task is now also the smartphone.


Of course, this requires good apps, which is especially true for recording with the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset. My clear recommendations are Filmic Pro for video including sound and the Apogee Meta recorder for sound-only recording - the latter even supports the Broadcast Wave Format (BWF) and is also free for Smart Headset owners as a single-full version. Of course, the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset also works without restrictions with the iOS internal camera app. However, in terms of individual settings, this is much more modest than Filmic Pro.



Ready to use and uncomplicated in handling, the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset lets you make irretrievable, ad hoc recordings. Nevertheless or just for that reason, before pressing the Record button, you should be aware of some important "rules of the game" that it does not mean afterward: Had, would have - bicycle chain.


Probably the most important rule of the game applies to recording with the app Filmic Pro. Here you have to select the desired microphone in the audio menu. However, after an app update, the selected option may fall victim to a reset - with the result that the new recording will not be done with the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset, but with the iPhone's internal microphone. Therefore, before recording with Filmic Pro, always check the audio menu.


Filmic setup for Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset

Before recording with the app Filmic Pro you should always look in the audio menu, whether the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset is selected as an active microphone.

For the camera when recording with the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset is the rule: Always nose. Namely, the orientation of the three-dimensional, acoustic image before. The optical image must, of course, correspond to this, otherwise, it's unnatural. It is therefore advisable to always turn the camera to the same extent when moving the head.




The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset is intended to authentically capture acoustic environments - but it is not a microphone for interviews. If necessary, you can record this as a scene with a moderator and interviewee - but definitely not as an announcer: self-talk while recording is suitable at best as a dramaturgical stylistic device because it creates an unpleasant oppressive in-head feeling in the listener.


When working with the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset once again reveals an important fact - namely, that microphones "hear" differently than the human ear. However, this does not only affect the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset but microphones of any kind.



The different "perception" of microphones manifests itself in many ways - but at this point, especially the subjectively perceived volume of the recordings. The human ear has a kind of volume normalization: normal sounds or normal speech are perceived as a pleasant, well-understood volume. For example, when you are chatting with your neighbor on the street, and you are suddenly surprised by one of those horribly loud clattering car transporter trucks, the human ear responds to this with a brief, quite powerful level compression.


Microphones, on the other hand, do not have this auditory physiological feature: If the car transporter clatters on the road by 40 decibels louder than the neighbor speaks on the sidewalk, then the microphone delivers 40 decibels (factor 100) more in its passage. In order not to distort, this level peak during digital recording must not exceed the 0dBFS genre - correspondingly low one must select the recording level.


When listening to the recording shows that the passing car transporter is actually recorded undistorted - the conversation with the neighbors on the sidewalk, however, can only be heard very quietly. First of all, this is not a problem, because after turning up the volume control the conversation is again perfectly understood.


However, it becomes problematic if you want to put such recordings with high program dynamics (40 dB in the example) unprocessed on portals such as YouTube or Facebook. Most of the clips launched here are trimmed with maximum average volume for maximum assertiveness - if only to get across on mobile devices as well as possible. The audio sample described here will therefore rather "go under" in the context of other YouTube clips in terms of volume - apart from the part with the passing car transporter. The music business even has a name for this phenomenon: Loudness War.


This brings us back to the smart headset. In order to cover a larger level range, the recording level can be switched in two stages: "Natural Recording Level" is intended for normal-loud environments, while "Reduced Recording Level" is recommended for recording at high levels, such as rock concerts.


However, the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset uses the given dynamic range even with "Natural Recording Level" rather cautious, so that still plenty of headroom for possible level peaks remains. From a technical point of view, this is perfectly correct - rather a quieter, undistorted recording than a louder with cracking dynamic peaks. (For professionals: At an effective volume level of 73 dBspl at the recording location, the test pattern generated a digital peak level of -26dBFS in the "Natural Recording Level" position, achieving digital full control (0 dBFS) at an effective SPL of 99 dB SPL. Reduced Recording Level "reduces the sensitivity by 10 dB, which means that the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset now reaches the 0dBFS mark at an effective volume level of 109 dB SPL.)


The flip side of the coin: The native, average volume of the recordings taken with the Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset is more restrained compared to current clips. If you need it loud and loud for YouTube & Co, you have to help - in the audio or video editor with the dynamics limiter, to increase loudness: Pump up the volume.


Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset: hearing test

Unlike "passive", because reproducing hi-fi components, in microphone recordings, the sound results depend largely on the "hands" of the user regarding the placement of the microphones. Of course, this also applies to the Ambeo Smart Headset. Nevertheless, it has typical traits - probably the most important is the account "Convenience": To save the user wearing a windshield (Who wants that with an action-capable micro?), Shows the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset to avoid Disturbing wind noise in the lower positions below about 120 Hertz rather slim. In addition, there is a slight emphasis in the frequency range of about 800 Hz to 2 kilohertz (upper formant range for female vocals), so that recording with the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset tends to be a present, convey a lively sound image. This tuning is of course just right for capturing lively soundscapes, but usually too superficial for demanding hi-fi recordings.


As can hardly be expected, the pictures taken with the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset are characterized by a very good spatial impression. This applies both to outdoor soundscapes of a large extent as well as for normal, closed rooms: Always surprising is the acoustic self-evident, for example, driving outside a car over: only when stopping the recording, it is noted that this sound recorded and no current event is.


On the Sennheiser homepage for the Ambeo smart headset, you will find a whole series of sound examples from different areas of life - but I guess because of their high loudness, many of them are reworked in terms of dynamics. However, the acoustic still lifes "Morning Coffee", "Exploring Portsmouth", "Dubai" and "Walk Down Vegas" are very authentic and absolutely congruent with my experiences.


With its clever and also elastic ear hook construction, the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset wears extremely pleasantly and is also used in a jiffy fit. For that reason alone, you could consider it as an in-ear listener, even if you do not need the microphone. That would not be quite cheap, but definitely not a bad buy, as confirmed by the comparison with the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear: Of course, there was a kind of family sound - you could almost think, both Sennheiser’s are equipped with the same transducers. However, the momentum played in-ear at the bottom almost a trace too full and a bit more resonant in the range of 10 kilohertz. After several hours of playtime and several hearing comparisons, I would now prefer the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset - especially if you gently with the quite sensitive working equalizer of the Sennheiser headset app helps (at 800Hz = -3dB, at 3.6 kHz = - 2dB).


On the other hand, no miracle should be expected from the integrated noise-canceling system: its external noise attenuation is rather low at an estimated 6 decibels. However, this is not a broken leg, suppresses the Ambeo Smart Headset with the matching ear cuffs from the outside coming noise from the house relatively well.


Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset: Conclusion

In times of 3D and virtual reality, Sennheiser succeeds with the Ambeo Smart Headset an absolutely contemporary product, with which the microphone and headphone specialist from Hannover virtually "reinvents" themselves. Easy to use and smart in appearance, it is miles away from the institutional habitus that still attaches specifically to microphones.


Unlike its 40-year-old predecessor, MKE, in 2002, the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset now addresses multimedia-oriented users who expect an easily manageable yet convincing technique. The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset achieves surprisingly well the required compromise: as expected, it can’t shine with professional results - there are more suitable features in the Sennheiser / Neumann program, for example, the Sennheiser Ambeo VR Mic. However, overall, it offers a very decent recording quality, which is cleverly oriented to the imaginary area of application.


Judging by all that is needed, the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset attracts not least with a very attractive price. Thus, it has the potential to open up the topic of outdoor and field recording as a creative hobby to a large circle of users.