Opinion: It was the story of launching loudspeakers in Berlin. There was the extravagant and expensive Beosound theater from Bang & Olufsen, and the reasonably designed and less expensive Ambeo Plus bar from Sennheiser.
I can see where Bang & Olufsen is heading with Beosound Theatre. I didn’t see or hear it in action myself, but another journalist reported that theater was seen as a long-term investment in a product, something that might last ten years or more, and its modular nature allows it to be upgraded to last even longer and keep up with the latest technology.
But I don’t think people, especially home theater fans, fully care about that. I think people keep things for as long as they want and the home cinema market has always had a sense of upgrading and scaling according to your needs but buying a £5000+ speaker locks you in. Buying a Beosound theater sounds like a commitment, and for what is essentially an audio upgrade, it’s a pretty big commitment. You don’t buy this amplifier to boost your Toshiba brand TV.
Ambeo Plus, at least for me, is more than I am. It’s compact and elegant, supports all major audio formats out of the box, can stream from pretty much any available wireless source and has (hallelujah) HDMI inputs for connecting other physical sources. It’s a speaker that, on the feature side, has everything you really need.
And like its bigger brother, it sounds a lot bigger than its size suggests, thanks to Ambeo processing combined with custom bass drivers that produce a longer, bigger sound. In my brief demo, toggling Ambeo on and off performed completely differently. With it off, the effects held tight to the screen while with the Ambeo processing, the height, area, and width were expansive. You can honestly hear raindrops from the Dolby Atmos demo out loud.
However, the problem with the built-in immersive speakers is that they aren’t immersive enough. Sennheiser doesn’t support any rear speakers that I know of to fill in the blanks behind you, so it’s always heavy up front.
Unlike the larger, renamed Ambeo Max speaker, it can’t produce that sense of effects behind or next to you. It could support up to four sub-woofers, which sounds like overkill, but the three connected to the Ambeo Plus offered plenty of fun and power with low-frequency performance. What I was hoping for was to hear the bass performance without plugging in the sub woofers because that would really confirm if this was an ‘all in one’.
So there’s an aspect of compromise with the immersive built-in speakers – it’s hacked from the start because it’s smaller – but from what I’ve heard, the Ambeo Plus does a pretty good job of getting around these issues at a profit price that terrifies as many people as possible.