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Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset: record and listen to the sound in binaural, with or without pictures!

Sennheiser is not only specialized in headphones but also in recording microphones. Thus its Ambeo Smart Headset in-ear earphones model integrates microphones that allows you to record in stereo while you have the earphones in your ears, enabling a sound recording type called binaural.

By Philippe Daussin | Testing Ground | June 18, 2018
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Qobuz

The idea to place microphones in the same position as the human ears is nothing new. Sennheiser themselves even made in 1974 the MKE2002 artificial head equipped with triaxial microphones and the KU100 model in 1992 by using rubber replicas of the human ears with its auricles, the microphones being located at the eardrums.

This author even remembers the JVS HM-200E binaural headset, dating from the end of the 1970s (1978?) and combining stereo headphones with two electret microphones located on a very stylized head, that he had purchased at the time and that he still has in his possession. The advantage of binaural sound recording is that listening to a recording made this way on headphones allows you to recreate the original sound environment.

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Sennheiser has therefore brought this principle up to date by adapting it to in-ear earphones meant to be used with an Apple smartphone or tablet equipped with a Lightning connector, and handled by a software that we will talked about later. A model for Android devices will be released later on. Before going further, here are the technical characteristics of this Ambeo Smart Headset, which is also equipped with a noise-cancellation function.


These in-ear earphones with microphones look like traditional models whose external side is provided with a small metal grille protecting the microphone hiding behind it. Their support system closely fitting the upper curve of the ear seems efficient, keeping a low profile and not getting in your way if you wear glasses. A good point.


The wire of the right ear bud is equipped with a small box containing the microphone used for phone calls and joins the wire of the left ear bud at the level of the control and electronic processing box, which is continued by the wire ending with the Lightning connector.


The control box possesses a series of key whose functions differ depending on the mode you have chosen (phone calls or music playback), as well as a LED indicating that you are in recording mode with, on its right, a small rectangular slider-type button allowing you (among other things) to reduce the recording level, all of this being explained and illustrated in the Quick Guide.



To be able to use all the functionalities of the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset binaural microphone headset, you have to install on your Apple smartphone or tablet the Apogee Smart Headset application, developed by the thirty year old company Apogee Electronics, the leader in digital audio recording technologies that has been bestowed with 19 TEC Awards for its innovations in this area.

- Once launched, the software asks you to connect the Lightning plug of the Ambeo earphones.


- Updating the earphones’ firmware.


- The firmware is up-to-date.


- The menu is automatically displayed after the firmware update.


- Choosing the setting of the recording level.


- The graphic equalizer, that we left on Flat in order to get a neutral restitution.


- Starting the noise cancellation function.



To gauge the sound quality of these headphones, we have decided to listen to the first movement from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Michael Tilson Thomas, available in Hi-Res 24-Bit/96 kHz, and whose sound restitution is much superior to its 16-Bit/44.1 kHz version.

On the other hand, this Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset is MFI-certified, and this certification limits the playback in Hi-Res to 24-Bit/48 kHz, which won’t cause a problem with the chosen track since the 24-Bit/96 kHz will be downgraded to 24-Bit/48 kHz but will however still allow us to clearly perceive the difference with the CD-quality version.

And this was indeed the case, the dynamics are expressed in a much more explosive manner and this headset doesn’t have any difficulty providing good volume in the bass if you take care to ensure a good coupling with your ear’s auditory canals, which was somewhat problematic for us, and we had to push the earphones all the way in to manage it. Maybe our ears are crooked, or maybe the small square-shaped box containing the microphone is ill-adapted and too big?

The fact remains that this headset offers a large bandwidth and that we noticed good staccatos in the treble, but as we had already noticed in the few testing grounds of products that are MFI-certified (DACs and other amplified headphones), the power is somewhat limited and doesn’t really allow you to have fun with works like Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, in which the level gap is quite important.

It is also worth noting that these earphones also easily handled the telluric and almost uninterrupted bass of the titles North Star and Silent Space from the album Tale Of Us, even if we had to crank the volume up to really enjoy them.

To conclude, we have decided to bestow our Qobuzism award to these Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset earphones as they are equipped with microphones allowing you to make binaural sound recordings, which can only improve the sound recording quality of an Apple smartphone or tablet coupled with the Apogee Smart Headset application, and also because of their really good sound performances.


Ambeo Smart Headset on Sennheiser’s Website
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R.R.P.: €299

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