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Hands-on with Sennheiser’s seriously impressive Ambeo virtual surround soundbar

At the start of the year, Sennheiser wowed us at CES with the reveal of a prototype its Ambeo soundbar, a mammoth offering capable of providing powerful audio with virtualization technology that made it sound like an entire home theater surround sound system instead of just a soundbar. Half a year later the company brought the soundbar — no longer just a prototype — to IFA 2018, impressing us just as much as the first time, if not more.

In terms of the guts of the unit, it doesn’t seem that much, if anything, has changed. The Ambeo soundbar is still packed with 13 Neumann-designed drivers, providing up to 5.1.4-channel sound, all without the need to fill your living room with speakers. This array of drivers includes upward-firing drivers and side-firing drivers for object-based surround sound, which we’ll talk more about in a moment. While many soundbars come with a subwoofer in the box, you won’t find one here, and that’s because it isn’t necessary, with the soundbar itself providing impressive bass all the way down to 30Hz.

The Ambeo in the soundbar’s name is Sennheiser’s trademark for 3D immersive audio. In the case of the soundbar, this means that the company’s virtualization technology is used to take sound in either Dolby Atmos or DTS:X format, and make it seem like the sound is coming from all around the room and even above you to make your movie viewing experience as immersive as possible. Listening to it in person, we found ourselves seriously impressed by  the Ambeo soundbar, which could very well end up kicking the Yamaha YSP-5600 off of our best soundbars list and taking its place as the best virtual surround soundbar.

Where the changes are most evident is in the design of the speaker. While the prototype very much looked like a prototype, this version actually looks like something you would want to put in your living room. That said, it is on the chunky side — it has to be in order to fit all those drivers — so you’ll need to make some space for it.

While there is no official release date, Sennheiser tells us that the Ambeo soundbar will ship sometime in early 2019. Pricing is similar, with no price point set in stone, but we’ve been told to expect the soundbar to retail for somewhere between $2,000 and $2,500.

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