Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar Mini Review
Justin Choo samples this compact, premium quality soundbar from the famous German headphone specialist…
AMBEO Mini Soundbar
StereoNET's initial experience of Sennheiser's Ambeo mini with a subwoofer left quite an impression. The room wasn't the biggest, and yet it sounded so strong that it was almost boomy. That encounter teased us that this little setup could punch above its weight. So is the Ambeo mini, sans sub, good enough for small rooms?
As the name suggests, this is a compact and well-packaged design. Measuring 700x65x100mm [WxHxD], it fits perfectly beside a 55” or 65” television. As far as looks go, it is utilitarian and hard to pick out of a lineup of similar-looking soundbars – but maybe its subtle styling is a good thing? Around the back, you'll see provision for one HDMI ARC and a USB port, and that's your lot as far as inputs are concerned. But surely that's fine for this Apple-esque approach to a soundbar, as wireless is where it's at these days.
I set up the Ambeo mini using the Smart Control app on my iPhone, and it couldn't have been slicker. The fact that I didn't have to key in my Wi-Fi password – which is many characters of incoherent gibberish, by the way – to link the speaker to my router, is the kind of thoughtfulness that elevates the user experience. Sennheiser certainly didn't skimp on software development here. Before long, this soundbar was set up and ready to go. Mac users will award it bonus points for appearing on your list of speakers as an option. I honestly wasn't expecting this thing to be so user-friendly.
In my view, a key determinant of a high-end product is its software. The layout of the Smart Control app is easy to figure out; indeed, I cannot emphasise enough how simple it is to use. It also made me realise that the Ambeo, with all its digital wizardry, was designed primarily for mainstream users who may or may not have audiophile leanings. The fact that it supports the major standards – Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, MPEG-H, and Sony's 360 Reality Audio – is a big plus point. Most users won't know the difference, but it doesn't matter one jot as it's all taken care of.
Ambeo virtualisation is probably the one setting that I can't imagine anyone wanting to turn off, especially when you need the soundbar to be a little less 'mini'. Yet even when off, the Sennheiser comes across as competent for its size, and has a balanced sound signature. On this notion alone, the Ambeo mini is a considerable upgrade over regular TV speakers, and the tech gives the speakers an added presence. If left to play at an appropriate volume, you'll be surprised by how much this speaker can punch above its weight.
So, let's get straight to the elephant in the room, shall we? Does this soundbar need a sub, or doesn't it? Without the optional subwoofer, which costs almost as much as the soundbar, the Ambeo mini is far from the sonic monster that first greeted us at its red carpet gala launch. So you do need a subwoofer for ground-shaking lows, and Sennheiser – despite all its cleverness with the Ambeo – can't provide a cheat code for that. Think of it like this – you can't substitute a wall of Marshall 4x12 cabinets for a shelf full of portable Bluetooth speakers, and expect the same sound…
This will not be a problem for every prospective purchaser; it might even be a plus point. Not having a subwoofer can be a blessing for those living in close confines or with noise restrictions in their neighbourhood. Indeed, the Ambeo mini actually works very well in smaller rooms – it doesn't announce its presence, yet still gets the job done. It's a baritone, sitting comfortably in the middle and perfect for bedroom-sized spaces; it delivers an authoritative and full-bodied sound at bedroom volumes. Dialogue is a particular strength, and there's even a voice enhancement mode so you can keep the sound level down and still enjoy your late-night movies.
Also, because you're not pushing into sonic extremes, you rarely encounter situations where the lack of low bass mars the experience. Classic Hans Zimmer soundtracks may not carry the gravitas that only a true subwoofer can deliver, yet it doesn't take you out of the moment. Be warned, however, that the Ambeo mini has no upfiring drive units, so ultimately the sense of space and positional accuracy is pretty much a close enough affair. The sense of immersion is undeniable and even astounding, considering how compact this soundbar is.
The Ambeo mini is surprisingly good for muzak, and – I'm not trying to be cheeky with this – is great for playing music in the background. In the context of the bedroom, it's perfect for creating a relaxed environment instead of one set up for critical listening. Its virtualisation may inherently sound digital, but it is an excellent presentation nonetheless. I certainly enjoyed its interpretation of live tracks with a modern sense of space, especially with sparser tracks like the classic Blue Bossa remastered with spatial support. Again, so long as you've dropped any desire to listen critically, it is surprisingly acceptable and even pleasant to hear.
It's great for starting the day or setting the mood at night. Theolonious Monk's Monk's Dream revels in the intimate setting as he drifts in and out of your consciousness. And while it's not the best showcase for the Ambeo mini, you can flip the script if your spouse is away and indulge in a little guilty pleasure with a Scott Stapp singalong. You are encouraged to do it with arms wide open.
Trying out the Ambeo mini in a large living room ultimately showed limitations, as the bass gets snuffed into nothingness. The clarity is still there, and it's certainly better than what TV speakers can deliver, but the sound just doesn't scale up enough. So a subwoofer is a must here, but that, in turn, doubles the cost – so can you get better soundbars with the same outlay? The answer is yes because at this package price, you can certainly find something more suited to your needs. If you keep the Ambeo mini to smaller rooms, you'll get the best out of it, but if you want bigger, then consider Sennheiser's own Ambeo Plus.
Think of the Ambeo mini as being like a Bluetooth speaker. I love the upsides, such as setting up and controlling the speaker, which is a breeze. But the limited options force you to experience the speaker rather than try to tweak it to oblivion. It gets native Alexa support and works as a conduit for Google Assistant – which needs another device – so that's another convenience. Yet, some limitations go beyond the scope of a typical wireless speaker. For example, the Source button cycles between HDMI, Bluetooth and Network streams, but only Spotify Connect works natively as a network stream option.
Other streaming sources like Tidal Connect and AirPlay 2 will not show up when you toggle through sources, so you'll need to select the speaker through the app. It's an odd thing to grumble about since selecting your speaker within Tidal seems more intuitive. Still, it reflects some rough edges and the limitations in trying to touch all bases. For example, when cycling between AirPlay 2 and HDMI, sometimes the speaker doesn't revert to the HDMI source, and I've had to reconnect the HDMI cable for the soundbar to detect the TV again. Granted, this may not necessarily happen to everyone, but it's worth pointing out that it might happen.
Sennheiser's Ambeo mini is one-third of the price of the company's own Ambeo Max and half the Ambeo Plus – so you have three options across price tiers, ensuring that the company can offer something to fit most budgets. The mini is still slightly pricier than most of the soundbar competition in this class, but not so much that it feels unreasonable. It's certainly worth stretching for, even without the subwoofer, and you can always make that upgrade further down the road for that little cherry on top.
Kicking off his musical journey as a child with a dubious entreé of Rick Astley and Ozzy Osbourne, his musical tastes have only gotten ‘worse’ since then. Quick to embrace both traditional and modern worldviews in the field of audio, but that could also be down to his eclectic array of interests, ranging from fine spirits (not the ghostly kind), billiards to consumer tech; all topics he has contributed to PC Magazine, T3, Stuff and The Robb Report, among others.
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