Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset: Australian Review

Earbuds which record the world around you, Sennheiser’s Ambeo Smart Headset adds immersive sound to your cinematic smartphone masterpieces.

The $469.95 Ambeo earbuds work like normal Lightning earbuds, connecting to an Apple iGadget so you can listen to music or make hands-free calls. An Android version is coming “at a later date”.

Thanks to a microphone on the back of each earbud, they can act as noise-cancelling headphones to dull the sounds of the outside world while you listen to your favourite tunes, although they might sound a little light on bass for some tastes. Alternatively “transparent hearing” mode lets the outside through, or enhances voices when you’re conversing in a noisy environment.

The earbuds’ inline controls let you adjust the microphone and launch apps as well as control music playback and answer calls. Moviemakers will love that they can act as your microphone when recording audio or video with any app, assuming you’re running iOS 10.3.1 or higher.

The result is impressive “binaural” 360-degree audio, creating an immersive soundscape which captures every little detail – although the sense of height is limited. Listen to recordings of people talking around the house, close your eyes and you’d swear the voices were really coming from the other rooms. Shoot video while sitting in the park and you’ll hear the birds calling around you, or walk through the city and you’ll hear the traffic flowing past along with the sounds of the buskers as you walk on by.

While it sounds amazing, binaural audio should be used sparingly to capture atmosphere – it’s great for nature or travel videos, but it won’t suit every home movie.

The main shortcoming is that you need to be wearing headphones for binaural playback, otherwise you lose the effect. Any headphones will do, it doesn’t have to be these expensive Sennheisers.

When you watch a binaural video on your smartphone or television without headphones, the volume is soft and voices are harder to pick out – especially if people are off to the side of the camera. If you want to clearly hear everyone sitting around a table, without wearing headphones when watching the video, then you’re better off recording with your iPhone’s built-in microphone.

You’ll find plenty of binaural content on YouTube, often related to Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), that tingling sensation down the back of your neck when someone whispers in your ear.

The Ambeo earbuds let you create your own ASMR content. It might seem kinky but ASMR triggers are intended to be relaxing and they’re different to the “frisson” chills or goosebumps which some people experience when listening to music.

They’re overkill for your average smartphone owner but, if you want your atmospheric videos to sound as good as they look, Sennheiser’s Ambeo Smart Headset offers a handy way to dive into binaural audio.

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