Hello everyone. I'm here today with my review in progress of the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart headset. I've been wanting to get my hands on this for quite a while, as I like recording and my imagination was captured a few years ago by the discussions of the Hook Verse. I got that product last year and used it, and I think the reviewers on this site who have already reviewed it have done an excellent job talking about it. With that said, I do want to talk about the Ambeo Smart, as there are some things about it that really make it stand out as a binaural recording headset. One thing I noticed about the Hook Verse was that you couldn't move around too much from place to place. When I had it paired to my phone, often times throwing the phone into a pocket and walking a few feet broke my Bluetooth signal and either degraded the quality of the audio or stopped the recording altogether. Also, and this is just me--I don't think the space in front of or behind myself was picked up as well. Too far in front or behind and the mics just couldn't hear the audio. With the Ambeo Smart however, these issues are no longer issues. The Ambeo Smart headset connects to the lightning port on your iPhone for a wired connection, and I can say from personal experience, that walking around doesn't cause any problems whatsoever. Since I am still playing with this headset I will make updates here and there discussing my experiences, but let's just get right into it.
I had only heard this headset discussed, I'd never seen it. I didn't know what to expect in the packing at all. I was prepared for a bulky, giant thing that made me stick out like a sore thumb at a local restaurant or store. No dice, the box the delivery man handed me was quite small. On opening it and the actual headset package inside, I was surprised and amazed to discover that not only was the headset not large and cumbersome, but it would not cause me to stick out at all. I could look normal when wearing it.
I connected it to my iPhone and went into the iPhone's Voice Memos app to do a recording test. My first one I had the earpieces on backwards. As soon as I played the test over a different headset and figured that out, I turned them around and my wife and I performed another test, with much better results. Now when she said she was coming from the left, it was in fact from the left. When I got up and turned so her voice was behind me, it sounded like she was in fact, behind me.
But enough with the anecdotes. You want to hear about the Ambeo Smart, so let's do that. It is a pair of earbuds with mics on each of the earpieces. The lightning cable is connected to it, so there's unfortunately no way to disconnect it and just replace the lightning cable if, God forbid the wires get a short in them. . I suppose we could view this as a con, but I am hopeful that Sennheiser's build quality is just as good as their audio and recording, high-quality and no fear of breaking for a long long time. You are spending $300 on this headset though, so I have very high hopes that they respect that and made a product that won't have any issues for quite a while.
There is a voice mic on the right earpiece cable used for capturing your vocals and taking phone calls, so you can orient the headset to know which is left and which is right. On the cable of the headset there is also a small control box. ON this small control box are a toggle button, (called the smart slider in the app), which can be used by default to reduce the mic levels from natural to reduced--this has not been tested yet so I can't report back on what recording in that mode would sound like. This can be changed in the Ambeo Smart app, which by the way, other then the headset user guide, is completely accessible.
You can set the toggle to launch a certain app, to mute the telephone or voice mic, to toggle interact, and that brings up the transparent hearing, which is one of the best features of the headset. I've played around with the Aware mode, for example, on the Bose QC-20's and 30's and in my view, that doesn't hold a candle to the feature on the Ambeo Smart headset.
When using it, I can hear everything around me. This would also, in my opinion, make a good headset for travel out and about with Microsoft Soundscape and another GPS ap. The rest of the buttons on the small control box don't require much explanation. There is a button to control transparent hearing or to turn on the noise cancellation, which is also executed pretty well. Press down on the right side of this elongated button for noise cancellation, and the left side for transparent hearing. You can tell when entering these different modes because a very soothing female voice tells you. Voice prompts also can be disabled from within the app. Other than that, you have standard media controls, a play/pause, skip track, answer and end phone calls button, and a volume up and down. Now to discuss the recording quality. I did a couple of tests, and if anyone is interested in hearing those tests I can upload them somewhere so you can. My wife walked around our apartment wearing them and talking, and then we talked for a few minutes together about the headset. I played our keyboard a little bit just to add some ambiance to an otherwise empty sound and threw the package the Ambeo Smart came in across the room. The binaural effect doesn't come out as much in this test, but the good stereo image is shown off and the general high recording quality. By coincidence I had to run some trash out to our dumpster, so I recorded myself doing that. This test is where the binaural quality comes out. You can hear the sounds of light traffic around me and when I go back into the apartment complex you can hear the door shut behind me as I walk up the stairs. Over the next few weeks I do plan to do some environment capture recordings to really test out the Ambeo, but I believe these tests are good for a start.
This headset is also good as just a headset for listening to audio. As with the recording, stereo image is really excellent. If there are songs where some of the instruments or vocals tend to get lost somewhere in the mix, this headset seems to correct that. Background vocals are brought out just a little bit and the instruments sound better overall. As I said I will continue to make updates here and there as I get used to wearing this headset, but at first glance I'd say buy it if you can afford it. Whether you're a big audio recording enthusiast and recording audio in the field is part of your career, or you just record things with the family for your family memories, this headset is a good buy. Wouldn't you like to be in the auditorium when your son or daughter sings in the choir, or at the gym or field when they hit that home run for the school baseball team or score the winning goal in that basketball game, or anywhere for that matter? As both a pair of mics to record audio or to listen to your music and audiobooks, even at the $299 price point, you can't go wrong.
Update; well, it's my second week owning this headset, and if possible I've fallen more in love with this headset than I was when I wrote this. Everything works so well. I've done a few more recordings and I need to see about getting those uploaded. I recorded some footage in a local restaurant in late evening, traffic and very light birdsong outside on my apartment balcony, and a beauty shop. I wanted to remake the Virtual Barbershop, only this time it'd be an actual haircut, but unfortunately that wasn't able to happen. Still though, if I seemed to be on the fence at all during my initial review, any lingering doubts I have had are now gone. If you can afford it, buy this headset if you're looking for an excellent solution to record and listen to your music. It's a great buy and this is now my favorite headset, hands-down.
My only real wish is that some kind of adapter could have been made to be able to plug the headset into a 3.5 cable on say, a laptop. It's awesome having a dedicated lightning headset that doesn't need battery power for it's noise cancellation features, but at the same time it's a bit silly to spend this kind of money and not be able to use it on anything else.