There are so many varieties of headphones, earphones, headsets available in the market that they barely manage to grab your attention. Unless they come with a feature that really stands out. Case in point: Sennheiser’s latest offering, the AMBEO Smart Headset. The AMBEO Smart headset comes with binaural recording feature (more about it in later) and is only compatible with Apple devices (the iPhone and iPad). At just under Rs 20,000, these are an expensive pair of headphones that are targeted at a specific set of users. Has Sennheiser taken a risky gamble? Are these headsets worth the expensive price tag they carry? To find out the answers to these questions and more, here’s our review of the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart headset:
Design: Ear hook design, plastic
The AMBEO headset comes with in-ear headphones and features this ear design . Now, there might be some who really enjoy this particular design, it’s something that we aren’t too fond of. Having said that, the hooks are made of rubber but it takes some effort to put them on. Let’s make it clear that this isn’t a pair of headphones that can be used for long hours at a stretch. There is a sense of fatigue that creeps in after you’ve plugged them for a couple of hours. Sennheiser has provided larger sized earbuds as an alternative along with a neat carry pouch.
The microphones help in capturing 3D audio – a feature that comes in really handy when you’re recording anything.
The AMBEO headset comes with a control unit that finds a place just where the wires split. It’s a slightly bulky looking unit – but doesn’t make the headset heavier – where buttons for playback and active noise cancellation are placed. The cable’s length is adequate at 1.16m of length. The headset comes in white colour and is made entirely of plastic. As it works just with iOS devices, there's a lightning plug rather than the usual 3.5-mm jack.
Recording Performance: Binaural recording
It’s a bit odd to talk about the video/recording performance of a headset but the biggest USP of the AMBEO lies in voice recording. While currently, the AMBEO is just available for iOS devices, there are reports that an Android variant will be launched soon. The AMBEO headset works best with the iOS camera app. As soon as you switch to the video mode, there’s a red light on the control which is automatically turned on. However, one doesn’t have to record videos as the mics function equally well with Apple’s Voice Memos. Do keep in mind though that apps such as WhatsApp aren’t supported.
Binaural recording is the highlight of the headset and it works beautifully. Generally, in most other devices recording takes place through a single microphone. That’s where binaural is different as it uses both the microphones and the result is just extraordinary. We tried recording a colleague typing on her keyboard in quite a busy and loud newsroom and the AMBEO delivered sharp and clear audio – just of the keyboard clicks. Or if you’re walking in the neighbourhood park, the headset catches the chirping of birds and surrounding sounds extremely clearly. While binaural recording and too many buttons on a headset might sound a bit confusing, in reality, it’s extremely easy to use. And even more easy to get used to.
You can use the control unit to switch between natural recording levels and reduced recording levels. We tried both modes and they work equally well but in different surroundings. Use them depending on where and what you want to record.
While for videos, the AMBEO is a delight to use, it performs admirably while performing the job of a ‘normal’ headset. It offers noise cancellation – and it works quite well. A lot of other headsets we have seen offer noise cancellation but don’t really live up to the promise. Except for Bose, that is. Sennheiser AMBEO’s noise cancellation isn’t at the level of Bose but it does a fairly commendable job.
The audio output is extremely good depending on what you prefer. If you are high on bass and low on treble, then you might feel a bit short-changed with this pair of headset. As for us, we enjoyed listening to a variety of genres of music on the AMBEO headset.
The AMBEO headset works with an app also though we didn’t use the app too much. With the app, you can change settings including Noise Cancellation and Transparent Hearing among other things. The control unit, however, does all this with consummate ease. So the app is a nice touch but one can do without it also.
The Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset clearly is a unique device and has a lot going for it. However, as of now, it’s compatible with just iOS devices which makes it a very niche offering. At Rs 19,990, it’s not a budget product either and you might wonder that if features like binaural recording are really needed or not. Sennheiser’s latest offering is an excellent pair of headsets when looked at in totality. The audio performance is very good and while as we mentioned the binaural recording is a great addition to the headset. Add to it the active noise cancellation feature and you’re staring at a winner in your hands. Though it must be said that ear hook design is a bit cumbersome and could’ve been better.