Sennheiser AMBEO PlusReviewed at $1,399.00
Inputs and Features9.0/10
Price / Quality8.8/10
- Very good front soundstage
- Convincing 3D sound
- Plenty of features
- Nice design
- Not actually a 7.1.4 channels system
- No 4K@120Hz pass-through
- No real surround activity
- Expensive for a single unit design
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Recently we had the opportunity to test the Sennheiser AMBEO MAX which was a really interesting and very impressive soundbar from a brand that is not very popular in this market. But it seems that it found its own audience that led Sennheiser in expanding their series with a new member that was released in 2022. As such in our Sennheiser AMBEO Plus review we will be testing their latest release and how it stacks up against their top AMBEO MAX offering.
While with AMBEO MAX, Sennheiser seemed to hold nothing back with its impressive 13 drivers configuration, with the AMBEO Plus they decided to go with a more conservative design in order to create a product that would be more affordable and thus more popular to a wider range of consumers. The AMBEO Plus seems to retain a lot of the same features the MAX version has but there are some differences that we will point out in the appropriate sections.
So, as always before we begin let’s see real quick what do we get this time. The AMBEO soundbar Plus is a single, 7.1.4 channels soundbar with 400 watts of RMS power. It supports not only Dolby Atmos and DTS:X but also 360 Reality Audio and MPEG-H audio and comes with plenty of features like an audio calibration system, High Resolution Audio support, Bluetooth and WiFi capabilities, voice control and support for many streaming platforms.
The AMBEO Plus has a price tag that is $600 less than the AMBEO MAX but in terms of capabilities and features it doesn’t seem to lose much of what made its bigger brother such a hit of a soundbar. Is the AMBEO Plus as good as it looks or it fails to reach the same heights the AMBEO MAX managed to achieve some time ago? Let’s start our analysis to find out.
Design, Inputs and Features
First we will look upon its design as the AMBEO Plus goes for a completely different look than the AMBEO MAX. Not that the MAX looked bad but it was created a few years ago and design styles have certainly changed from back then.
In terms of size the AMBEO Plus is definitely smaller measured at 105,1 x 7,7 x 12,1 cm with the feet included (7,5 cm if you exclude the feet) and weights 6,3 kg which is almost one third of the weight of the AMBEO MAX. Just by this you understand that the Plus surely belongs in a different category than the MAX that went for an extreme design.
Keep in mind that if you plan on placing it in front of your TV the soundbar doesn’t have any IR repeaters, so if your TV’s IR sensor is extremely low then it may obstruct the signal, so you better measure first just to be on the safe side. With most TVs having a stand clearance of about 2.5″ means that the AMBEO Plus will not fit in most cases. So you will have to make your homework when it comes to placing this beast under your TV. This was the same problem we saw with the MAX and the Plus is no different.
When it comes to its design the AMBEO Plus is a lovely looking soundbar. As usual, plastic is the main material while a tight fabric cloth is wrapped all around the unit. As was the case with the AMBEO MAX, the Plus will not astonish you with its design. For its price tag we would expect something a bit more premium looking but it’s not bad either.
Unlike the MAX the fabric grille cannot be removed in this one while the top includes various design elements. Here we find the built-in microphones array which consists of four microphones in a triangular placement, not commonly seen in soundbars, with a microphone mute button between them.
Below them we find some built-in control buttons including source selection, Bluetooth, volume controls and a multi-purpose button for various uses.
Lastly we should mention the display the AMBEO Plus is using and to be honest this is a mixed bag. First of all we get a LED status bar that we absolutely hate. This LED, depending its color and sequence of lights indicate what the soundbar is doing. And we hate this kind of displays because all the time we have to open the manual and look on what the specific lights mean.
At least this is not the only display we get. On the right side of the control buttons there is another small display which is the active codec LED. This actually shows the kind of sound the soundbar is getting in its input. For example if you playback Dolby Atmos content it will show DOLBY ATMOS. The same for DTS:X or MPEG-H audio.
With this at least you get some extra information because the LED status bar is totally useless. The only downside with the active codec LED is that this is small and is placed on the top side meaning that from a certain distance this is almost non visible.
Not much else is found at the top other than the grilles for the up-firing drivers, with one on each side of the soundbar.
At the back we find a single inset, right in the center, that houses all the available connection ports along with the power connector. We will talk more about these in the appropriate section.
Overall the AMBEO Plus is a nice looking unit. It may not look very premium for its price and its display scheme is dubious at best but everything else has the Sennheiser quality on it.
The AMBEO MAX was a really unique soundbar utilizing an impressive 13 drivers design which is seen only in the most premium of soundbars. So with the AMBEO Plus, Sennheiser decided to go for a more standard configuration that would allow them to bring the cost down and make it a more affordable proposition.
The unit comes with a total of 9 different drivers and is being classified as a 7.1.4 channels system.
At the front face we find three 2″ (5 cm) aluminum cone full range drivers for the two main channels along with the center. Two more drivers of the same type are used for the side firing channels with two more for the up-firing Dolby Atmos channels. These are complimented by two up-firing 4″ (10 cm) cellulose cone drivers that help boost the bass of the unit.
Sennheiser is using 9 class D amplifiers, one for each driver, while all the audio processing is handled by a single quad core processor with a clock speed of 1,8 GHz which is an upgrade over the AMBEO MAX’s SoC.
The unit is rated at 400 watts power output (RMS) with Sennheiser claiming a frequency response of 38 Hz – 20kHz.
The AMBEO Plus is still an impressive soundbar even if not on the same league as the AMBEO MAX. But here we have to be a bit critical on Sennheiser concerning how they advertise their new release.
They claim this to be a 7.1.4 channels unit but if you count the drivers and channels available you will see that this is far from the truth. This happens because the rating Sennheiser gave to the AMBEO Plus is adding the virtual channels the unit creates also. In reality the unit should be considered a 5.1.2 channels system as these are the actual channels it has and the rest are being created only with virtual technology.
We don’t like when manufacturers advertise their soundbars with channels that are only created with virtual tech and not the actual ones a unit has. Because this creates a bit of a misconception of what a soundbar can really output and this way every manufacturer can claim anything they want concerning the channels a soundbar has.
Next we will be looking at all the connectivity options we get in this one. And from the looks of it the AMBEO Plus is not all that different from its bigger brother.
From left to right we find the power connector, a dedicated subwoofer pre-out which seems to be common in Sennheiser soundbars, a analog stereo input, a USB-A port, a digital optical audio input, two HDMI inputs and one output and an RJ-45 Ethernet port for wired connection to your local network.
A few notes we need to make here and we will start from the HDMI ports. The inputs are all HDMI 2.0a which means they can pass-through 4K@60Hz at best. So you can forget about high frame rate gaming through this. At least the ports support both HDR and Dolby Vision so in essence you can connect all your sources through the soundbar itself.
As for the output, Sennheiser claims this to be HDMI 2.1 but here we have to be very careful as there are a few things you should know. First of all since both HDMI inputs are HDMI 2.0a there would be no reason for the output to be true HDMI 2.1.
The second thing to note is that there is a huge debacle concerning what is HDMI 2.1 and what is not. Basically any new device that has HDMI ports, if it supports even a single HDMI 2.1 feature then the manufacturer can claim it to be HDMI 2.1. And since the AMBEO Plus supports eARC in its HDMI output we have a strong feeling that this is the reason why Sennheiser claims this to be HDMI 2.1. Basically if it is HDMI 2.0 with eARC they can say it is HDMI 2.1. You see the huge debacle here?
Obviously we don’t know if the AMBEO Plus falls into this category and the HDMI output is just a rebranded HDMI 2.0 or it really features a fully capable HDMI 2.1 port but we strongly believe that the former applies here since there is no other explanation to be given. If we get clarification on the matter we will update our article accordingly.
Also this is one of the few soundbars that feature a dedicated subwoofer port that you can connect a 3rd party unit on it in case you find the bass lacking. And lastly the USB-A port is only for power distribution or software updates since the soundbar does not support USB playback at all, which is a bit disappointing for this price.
The AMBEO Plus also supports wireless as it uses both WiFi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax) and Bluetooth 5.0 (AAC, SBC). Here the unit seems to have been upgraded in comparison to the AMBEO MAX.
Overall the AMBEO Plus offers plenty of flexibility both with wired and wireless connections. We reserve our judgement regarding the claimed HDMI 2.1 output but other than that the new AMBEO unit only loses one HDMI input compared to the bigger and more expensive MAX.
Next we will be looking at the ways you can control the soundbar.
The built-in buttons are the first and most basic form of controlling it but as usual their usability is rather limited as for many of the unit’s functions you will need either the remote or the available mobile app.
In terms of the remote this is a very simple one, especially considering the price of the soundbar itself. It’s a simple dark plastic dongle with 14 round buttons that include most of the soundbar’s functions, but not all of them. The remote is exactly the same one we saw in the AMBEO MAX with only a couple of buttons being repurposed.
At the top we find the power button with the AMBEO function right below it. After these we get the night and voice sound mode buttons, source selection and volume control and lastly an array of six buttons for different sound profiles including Movie, Music, News, Sports, Neutral and Adaptive.
The soundbar supports HDMI-CEC which means that if you connect the unit to the TV with a HDMI cable you can use the TV’s remote to handle some basic controls like volume. This may not give you the complete range of supported functions but it may help in certain situations.
Also due to the inclusion of the built-in WiFi module you can use voice commands to control the unit. The AMBEO Plus has been improved here as there is Amazon Alexa built-in while it works with Google Assistance if you use a third party device. The AMBEO MAX had no built-in voice control.
Lastly there is the Sennheiser Smart Control app which is available in both Google Play and App Store and with it you can have complete control over the soundbar that no other means of control can offer. The app is very nicely designed and has a very pleasant user interface. Its menus and icons are easy to understand and you can find everything you are looking for relatively fast.
Sennheiser has updated the app and included many new functions that were absent when it was first released. Right now the app is very functional and practical and does offer a lot of settings so you can adjust the unit the way you want it.
Overall the AMBEO MAX offers plenty of flexibility here as any premium soundbar should.
Extra Features and Services
Now let’s talk about all the extra features that are included and we will start with the audio formats supported.
The soundbar can playback content containing Dolby 5.1ch, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True-HD, Dolby Atmos, DTS 5.1ch, DTS-HD, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS:X, LPCM 8Ch and many other less used formats. As was the case with the AMBEO MAX, the AMBEO Plus does not support IMAX Enhanced or Auro-3D but on the other hand Sennheiser added support for 360 Reality audio and MPEG-H with these two becoming very popular lately.
The unit also comes with a few sound profiles, or modes if you prefer, you can select from as per usual with most soundbars. The ones available are Movie, Music, News, Sports, Neutral and Adaptive. This last one is new as it was not present in the AMBEO MAX and what this does is adapting the sound profile continuously to the content being played back.
Once again, with all the above modes you have the option to enable the AMBEO 3D sound which will add more three dimensionality to the whole performance. The AMBEO feature has three presets with Light, Regular and Boost available.
With all the above we also get a Night mode which can be ideal for night time viewing and a Voice mode for boosting the dialog. These can be used in combination with any of the above sound profiles and the AMBEO mode.
The unit also comes with a few Dolby and DTS technologies including Dolby/DTS DRC (Dynamic Range Compression). This function compresses the dynamics of the audio signal, thus changing differences from soft to loud passages.
There is also Dolby Loudness Management which makes dialogue easier to understand by reducing loud music/background noise and amplifying softer dialogue audio while Dolby Virtualizer plays back Dolby audio content unchanged. Keep in mind that with this last one activated you will not be able to use any of the sound profiles, AMBEO mode, equalizer or room calibration data.
On the DTS front there is a Dialog Control feature that does exactly what Dolby Loudness Managements does while we also get Neural:X which is an up-mixing feature that can create immersive audio even from legacy stereo signals.
The unit also comes with Bluetooth connectivity and with it you have the ability to stream audio from any mobile device through a Bluetooth connection.
As for audio decoding we get the usual MP3, WMA, AAC and OGG when it comes to low quality ones but we also get High Resolution Audio support for FLAC, ALAC, AIFF and DSD files along with Dolby Atmos Music and Sony 360 Reality Audio. Once again on a Sennheiser soundbar there is no USB playback to be found. This means you have to rely on an external source like a media player that supports these or through Bluetooth or WiFi but in this case the quality will certainly be much lower than it could be otherwise.
There are also plenty of multi-room and online streaming features including Google Chromecast which is built-in and Airplay 2 which is not built-in, in case you are more into Apple’s devices while there is also Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect for some high quality music.
The AMBEO Plus may be missing a subwoofer but Sennheiser gives you the option to add one if you want. And here you have two options, either go for the AMBEO Sub that is specially calibrated or use a third party one if you prefer that. The choice is really yours.
One feature that seems to be missing in comparison to the MAX is NFC functionality but we guess that this was not a very important feature so Sennheiser decided to take it out and save some costs.
Looking at the complete feature set the AMBEO Plus has almost everything its bigger brother had and then some. So we can admit that here the AMBEO Plus wins compared to the MAX and this certainly adds more value to the unit.
One of the fundamental principles of a soundbar is to provide you with a simple and straightforward user experience. And Sennheiser made things very simple here and actually the whole process is even easier than what we had to go through with the AMBEO MAX.
In terms of setup the steps you have to follow are fairly simple and easy to comprehend. First of all you have to decide how to connect the soundbar to your TV and system. Here you have multiple options including HDMI pass-through, eARC, through the digital optical port or even the analog stereo input.
After you connect the power you have to download the Sennheiser Smart Control app. And here is where things got simpler. With the AMBEO MAX you had to download Google Home first in order to connect the MAX to the network and after use Sennheiser’s app for all the rest. Now only the dedicated app is needed as it will connect to the soundbar through Bluetooth for the initial connection. When everything is said and done you are ready to go through the audio calibration process.
It is strongly advisable you run the audio calibration system first before use as this way the unit will calibrate its output to correspond to your room’s design and acoustics. Keep in mind that the AMBEO Plus relies a lot on virtual 3D sound meaning it needs to be as precise as possible if you are to get the illusion of surround sound to the best of its ability.
Here we find another difference compared to the AMBEO MAX. While the MAX is using a separate microphone, the AMBEO Plus has everything built-in which may not be as accurate but definitely is far more practical, which is a key element in this new soundbar.
When calibration is done and you have the Sennheiser app in your phone you can select certain audio features including the sound profile and if you are going to use the AMBEO feature in order for the soundbar to create a more immersive surround output.
The kind of output you will get greatly depends on the room you have. So try to place the soundbar in a symmetric room with equal distances between the walls on both sides and with a low straight ceiling for the Atmos effects to have the most impact.
And while the audio calibration system will surely try to compensate for the irregularities of your room this is not perfect and surely any room configuration will give different results in terms of virtual surround output.
When you are done with all settings the soundbar is ready for use. Overall it shouldn’t take you a lot of time to finish initial setup and all steps are easy to follow even if you are not very much experienced with such devices.
For this review we decided to use our copy of Saving Private Ryan in 4K UHD that uses an amazing Dolby Atmos track. As for our setup we used our media player that we connected to one of the HDMI inputs of the AMBEO Plus and from the HDMI output to our test TV.
With the AMBEO Plus’s more standard drivers configuration we had a small idea of what to expect in terms of sound output and to be honest we were pretty close in the end.
The soundbar surprises pleasantly with its bold front soundstage which had good depth and nice extension although not on the same level as the MAX had. The front channels had very good clarity and satisfying resolution considering the size of the drivers used. Dialog was distinct and had good separation from the other front channels while we never felt the need to use the Voice mode.
On the Atmos front the AMBEO Plus behaved more or less the same as many Atmos enabled soundbars. You get certain elevation in sound and you can hear various overhead effects to a certain degree. Like the German artillery pounding Omaha beach on the opening sequence or the tank destroyer as it passed over the camera decimating the Tiger tank in the final battle of Ramelle.
But the Atmos effects were not as accurate or had the clarity of a fully capable Atmos surround system. Also with up-firing channels you have to make sure you have a straight and low enough ceiling (9 feet height at the most) in order for the Atmos effects to be noticeable. Lastly the sweet spot was a bit narrow as if you sit too close or too far from it these effects diminish a lot.
When it comes to surround sound the AMBEO Plus is not doing all that great. Yes, the soundbar fares better than many other single unit soundbars but you are not going to get any behind the shoulder action. With the AMBEO feature enabled you do get more depth and volume and you can feel the action closer to you and to your sides but we never felt audio really coming from behind.
When it comes to 3D virtual sound your room will play a major role on how this soundbar will behave. If you have side and back walls close to your viewing position then you are definitely going to get a much better surround experience. On the other hand if you sit in a wide open room these effects will loose much of their clarity and composition.
And then there is the bass and here the AMBEO Plus did really good as the dual 4″ cones did a great job at boosting the unit’s low end output. Obviously if you want a deep and engaging cinematic experience we strongly suggest you buy the optional AMBEO subwoofer but even without it what we heard was really impressive for such a small device.
Explosions had good weight and nice articulation, you are going to get plenty of vibrations during the most busy scenes and in general the sound never felt flat and uninspiring. Obviously it will not going to shake your walls but you should never expect as such.
Overall Sennheiser had to make certain cuts in order to bring the cost down and create a soundbar that would be more affordable for the masses. But surprisingly its performance was not as much affected as we were expecting. The AMBEO MAX is still the better performer here, no question about it, but considering that the AMBEO Plus costs about $600 less then you are not missing much and you save major buck.
The AMBEO Plus lacks USB playback, which is inexcusable even for this price, so what we did instead was to use our media player that was connected to the HDMI port and stream some high resolution audio to the soundbar this way. For all our reviews we use a Zidoo Z9X to playback a selection of FLAC files we have at hand for these situations.
Most of the times when we review a soundbar, music feels a bit like an afterthought and not without reason. Soundbars are primarily created as simpler and more streamlined home theater systems and are not meant to replace a dedicated HiFi system for music. So while many of them perform good, most of the times their abilities with movies are far better than with music.
The AMBEO Plus, once again, falls right into this category. What you are going to hear is exactly what you should expect from a unit like this. This means you are going to get satisfying clarity and good resolution and a lot of details across the entire frequency range.
The unit knows how to handle music pretty well and at no point did we hear any irregularities or misbalance. Tonality was accurate enough while sound imaging was a notch better than most other similar soundbar setups. Panning stereo sounds were distinguishable and had good accuracy with no delays while the center channel had nice vibrance and would transfer the vocals to our room with excessive energy and vigor.
At the low end what we heard was equally satisfying. Not the most bombastic of performances of course but for casual use you get plenty of rumble to keep you on your toes. If you want more the AMBEO sub of a third party subwoofer can boost the bass considerably.
As always we tested a few different genres and the soundbar performed equally across the board. We didn’t notice any abnormalities and our session with it went by without any problems at all. Everything sounded equally good, all things considered.
Again, the AMBEO Plus felt just a notch inferior to the AMBEO MAX and this is a big achievement considering the big price difference of the two units. The Plus will satisfy you with its music performance, maybe not on the same level as it can do with films, but again this was to be expected. As a result the unit is an excellent offering for mixed use.
As we always say, a soundbar should not only be judged by its performance but also by its price. Only then you can really compare it to other soundbars out there. If we take into consideration the $2,000 price tag of the AMBEO MAX then the AMBEO Plus seems like a real value for money proposition. But if you consider the competition in this price range then thing gets a bit tougher for the AMBEO Plus.
From our testing we can say that the AMBEO Plus offers very good performance, especially for a single unit design. Good front stage, satisfying Atmos and bass and convincing 3D virtual sound. It has plenty of features and a lot of connectivity options that add a lot of value and its setup and everyday use could not be easier.
On the downsides we can say that the price is a bit high for its performance. At this price range you can get some pretty premium competing models that include at least a subwoofer while some of them also come with rear speakers. And this is where the AMBEO Plus mainly fails. Also we reserve judgement concerning the acclaimed HDMI 2.1 output while we are going to be critical to Sennheiser for claiming a 7.1.4 channels design when in reality this is a standard 5.1.2 channels unit. Because when it comes to virtual channels you can claim whatever you want.
We have reached the end of our review and what we can say about the Sennheiser AMBEO soundbar Plus is that it is a great release with very good sound and quality output that is hindered only by it high price. Competition is fierce and Sennheiser should consider what else is available in this price range if they really want the AMBEO Plus to succeed. Because they have created a really respectable unit with good immersive audio. If you can find it at a good discounted price then it surely is worth your consideration.
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