Best of CES: Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Surround 3D Audio Experience

Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Surround Demo at CES 2017

On the final day of CES I took a trip to Sennheiser’s booth to check out what’s new. The company showed off its Ambeo Smart Surround headphones, which include built-in mics to capture binaural recordings that have a “you are there” feel to them. I quickly realized Ambeo Smart Surround headphones will change the way I report on audio demos.

Binaural recording and research into the technique have been going on for decades, and Sennheiser has participated in research on the topic as well as produced professional microphones to capture this type of sound for just as long. Ambeo Smart Surround is the first consumer product that focuses on binaural recording, with spectacular results.

The 3D Audio Experience took place in a dark room. Attendees filmed infrared graphics projected on the walls while capturing 9.1 surround-sound audio in a dark room. Ostensibly, the experience draws on the Marvel character Daredevil, who is blind and relies on infrared vision, as well as hyper-sensitized hearing. You can check out the video I shot of the demo here, but you must wear headphones to fully experience the immersive effect of the binaural recording.

Please note that the video file is highly compressed and you can hear some artifacts. That’s because it was shot on an iPhone provided by Sennheiser and the video was emailed to me after the fact, and the file is tiny. In reality, sound I heard at the show was crystal clear. The system’s fidelity is very high. Despite the compression and some noise leaking in from the busy CES show floor, the spatial characteristics captured by the Ambeo headphones come through in this clip.

I made this recording with an iPhone and Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Surround headphones.

Thanks to Sennheiser’s expertise in building high-performance headphones as well as microphones, Ambeo Smart Surround captures audio that is remarkably like what I hear with my ears. At the show, I quickly realized that if I wear a pair to an audio demo and record it, the result comes remarkably close to conveying what I actually hear—far more so than using a stereo X/Y mic with a portable recorder. I can’t wait for Sennheiser to release this product to the public; I plan to get a pair and wear them to future audio show demos. Even after one short experience, I’m confident that they convey the soundfield a stereo or surround system creates with sufficient verisimilitude to make the exercise worthwhile.