It has been ten months since the Sennheiser Ambeo smart headset was announced at CES 2017, but the wait is over: You can now buy these incredibly high-tech earphones for $300, or $400 Canadian dollars.
What’s so special about the Ambeo headset? In addition to offering up Sennheiser’s renowned high-quality audio, these earbuds are designed to record the world around them in binaural 3D, using built-in mics located in each earpiece. The location of these mics lets them pick up sounds the same way our ears do, which means the information can be processed, recorded, and then played back over conventional stereo headphones yet still retain the sense of 3D, immersive space we get when listening to sounds all around us.
The Ambeo headset channels audio to and from its earpieces via its dedicated Lightning connector. This means they’re only compatible with Lightning-equipped iOS devices, but it also means you don’t need Apple’s Lightning-to-mini-jack dongle if you’ve got an iPhone 7, 8, or X.
Another benefit to using the Lightning port is that Sennheiser uses its own digital-to-analog, and analog-to-digital converters, ensuring that you hear exactly what the company intends you to hear. The Ambeo’s mics are treated natively when using the iOS camera app, so there’s no need to run an additional app in order to capture 3D sound as part of your videos. Sennheiser thinks vloggers and other content creators are going to love this. There’s even a physical slide switch built into the cord-mounted controls, which lets you adjust the mics’ sensitivity according to your surroundings, such as normal for everyday use, and loud for places like concerts.
Of course, what’s the point of having high-tech 3D-capable microphones on your earbuds if you don’t maximize their potential? In addition to the usual ability to take calls (no word yet on what a binaural phone conversation sounds like), the Ambeo can do smart noise cancellation. Sennheiser calls this “situational awareness,” and lets you decide how much of the outside world you want to intrude on your listening activities. Using another dedicated rocker switch, you can choose between a “transparent” mode, which gently meshes outside sounds with your audio — a good idea if cycling through an urban streetscape, for instance — or full-on active noise cancellation for when you’re jetting between New York and L.A.
As for Android users, yes you too will be able to join in on the Ambeo smart headset party — at least according to Sennheiser’s April IFA announcement — but no word yet on when that will happen.