The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset are decent, wired in-ears for mixed usage, with a unique feature for recording 3D audio using binaural mics. They have a fairly common in-ear design, with ear-hooks that makes them stable enough for sports. They're also noise-canceling headphones that isolate sufficiently well for commuting. Unfortunately, they do not have the most comfortable fit and you can only use them with iOS devices since they have a lightning connector and do not come with an adapter.
The Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset are a wired in-ear headset with an ear-hook design that makes them stable enough for most use cases. They have an easy-to-use and efficient control scheme and they're decently well-built. They're also fairly portable despite being larger than most typical in-ears due to their control module. They have a fairly typical in-ear fit that won't be as comfortable for everyone and unfortunately, the ear-hooks tend to dig into the back of your ears which may get a bit uncomfortable after a while.
The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart headset has a wired ear-hook design and a typical in-ear fit. These headphones are a bit bulkier than most in-ears due to their control module and ear-hook design. The ear buds are decently dense with a grill covering the binaural microphones, and their hook design is thicker than most of the other in-ears with hooks that we've tested. This makes them look somewhat more premium and high-end although the thin audio cables connected to the earbuds do not quite reflect their price range. They come in two color schemes; black or white and overall, their understated design will work for most.
The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart headset has a fairly typical in-ear fit with an ear-hook design. These headphones are very lightweight and easy to carry around on your person but compared to more straightforward in-ears, they are a bit heavier due to their control module. The ear hooks are also quite thick and bend at sharp angles that might dig into the back of your ears, unlike some of the more comfortable ear-hook designs we've tested like the Westone W40.
The Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset has a good button layout that delivers a lot of control and functionality. They provide the basics, call/music, track skipping and volume controls, as well as a rocker that lets you adjust the level of talk through (transparency) on the control module. They also have a mappable switch that you can set to the enable or disable noise canceling via their app. The buttons are fairly easy to use and provide decent feedback, although some buttons can be a bit mushy.
These headphones, like most in-ears, are very breathable. They have an ear hook design, so they have more points of contact with your ears than simple in-ear headphones. However, the overall difference in temperature to your ear is negligible since they do not obstruct airflow like the closed back over-ears. They are breathable enough for sports.
The Sennheiser AMBEO are a bit bulkier than most straightforward in-ears due to their control module and ear-hook design. They're still fairly easy to carry on your person and will easily fit into most jacket pockets, but unfortunately, they may be a bit too bulky to fit into your jeans. They also come with a simple pouch instead of a hard case which is not ideal considering their price range.
The Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset has a decent build quality but does not feel as durable as some of the other in-ears we've reviewed like the Shure SE425 or the Westone W40. The ear buds and control module are decently dense but the audio cables leading to the ear buds are not as thick as that of the Bose QC20. The cables are also not replaceable like the Shures or the Westones and you can see the machine finish on the control module which makes them look and feel a bit cheaper than their price would suggest.
The Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset is an average sounding pair of closed-back in-ear headphones. These headphones have a deep, powerful and consistent bass, a well-balanced mid-range, and an even treble. This makes them suitable for a variety of genres, from bass-heavy EDM and Hip-hop, to audiobooks and podcasts. However, their bass sounds noticeably boomy and muddy, and their mid-range sounds a bit thick and cluttered, especially on vocals. Also, their treble lacks a bit of detail, and could be noticeably sharp and piercing on S and T sounds. Additionally, they have a great imaging performance, but like most in-ears, don't have a large and speaker-like soundstage.
The bass is very good. Their LFE (low-frequency extension) is at 24Hz, which is great. Low-bass, responsible for the thump and rumble common to bass-heavy genres is within 1dB of our neutral target. However, mid-bass, responsible for punch, and high-bass, responsible for warmth, are overemphasized by 2dB and 5dB respectively. This makes the overall bass of the Sennheiser deep, but noticeably boomy.
The mid-range performance is very good. The overemphasis in low-mid is actually the continuation of the high-bass overemphasis. This thickens vocals a bit, and makes the overall mix a little cluttered and muddy. Conversely, mid-mid and high-mid are under our target by about 1.5dB, which nudges vocals and lead instruments towards the back of the mix by giving more emphasis to the lower frequencies.
The Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset has an average treble. Low-treble is lacking by around 4dB which reduces the detail and presence of vocals and lead instruments a little. The 15dB peak around 10KHz means that this headphone could sound noticeably sharp and piercing on sibilances (S and Ts common to vocals and cymbals), especially on overly bright tracks.
The Sennheiser AMBEO have excellent frequency response consistency. If the user is able to achieve a proper fit and an air-tight seal using the assortment of tips that come with the headphones, they should be able to get consistent bass and treble delivery every time they use the headphones. But, if the user fails to achieved a proper and air-tight seal, they could experience a drop in bass.
The imaging performance is great. Weighted group delay is at 0.66, which is above-average. The GD graph also shows that the group delay response crosses the audibility threshold in the bass range, but not by much. So although in theory this results in a bass that is slightly loose and late, it'll be so subtle that the majority of users won't be able to notice it. Additionally, the L/R drivers of our test unit were very well-matched. This is important for the accurate localization and placement of objects (voices, instruments, video game effects) in the stereo image.
Like most other in-ears, the soundstage of the AMBEO is poor. This is because in-ears bypass the pinna (outer ear) and don't interact with it, while activating the resonances of the pinna is one of the key factors in creating a speaker-like and out-of-head soundstage. Also, due to the closed-back and ANC design of these in-ears, their soundstage won't be perceived as open sounding as that of open-back earbuds like the Apple EarPods, AirPods, or the Bose SoundSport Free, or SoundSport In-Ear.
The harmonic distortion performance of the AMBEO Smart Headset is great. The overall amount of harmonic distortion is very low, throughout the range, even at 100dB SPL. This means that these headphones could handle a good amount of EQ bass boost without distorting the sound. The sharp peak around 1KHz though, could make the sound of that region a bit harsh and brittle.
The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset blocks enough noise to be a decent option for commuting. These headphones actively cancel an above-average amount of low-frequency noise, and their passive in-ear fit does fairly well with high frequencies. They struggle a bit more in upper bass/lower mid-range so you may hear the chatter in a lively office and overall they do not isolate as well as the similarly designed the Bose QuietComfort 20. However, they barely leak, even at high volumes, so you can always mask some of the ambient noise by playing your audio at higher levels without bothering the people around you.
The isolation performance is above-average. With ANC (active noise cancellation) enabled, these in-ears achieve about 10dB of isolation in the bass range, which is decent. This means they will be able to cancel out the rumble of airplane and bus engines to a useful degree. In the mid-range, important for blocking out speech, they achieve 18dB of isolation, which is good. In the treble range, occupied by sharp sounds like S and Ts, they isolate by more than 33dB, which is also good.
The leakage performance of the AMBEO Smart Headset is excellent. The significant portion of the leakage is concentrated in the treble range, meaning the leakage will sound quite thin and mostly consist of S and Ts. The overall level of the leakage is very quiet too. With the music at 100dB SPL, the leakage at foot away averages at about 26dB SPL and peaks at around 36dB SPL, which is way below the noise floor of most offices.
The binaural microphone of the Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset is decent for making calls and recording speech. In quiet environments, speech recorded with this mic will sound a bit thin and lacking some brightness, but it will be easily understandable. In noisy situations, they will struggle to fully separate speech from background noise even in moderately loud places, like a busy street.
However, the binaural mics perform quite well for recording binaural ambient sounds, which is what they are made for. The headphones also come with an in-line microphone for making calls, but we could not connect to it using our test software.
The speech recording quality of the AMBEO's binaural microphone is above-average. The bumps in the bass range indicates that these microphones are prone to pops and rumbling noises, and the dip around 150Hz, means that speech recorded with these mics could sound a bit thin. The roll-off in the treble range means that speech recorded with these mics will lack a bit of brightness and airiness, but it will still be easily understandable. This is because speech intelligibility is mostly dependent on the 500Hz-4KHz range.
It should be noted that the binaural microphones are not meant for making phone calls, and the headphones come with an in-line mic that is activated when making calls. However, since we could not connect to the in-line mic using our test software, we performed the tests on the binaural mic. In our listening tests, the binaural mics, when used for recording binaural ambient sounds, actually perform quite well.
The recorded speech example was also done with the binaural mics and is in stereo.
The noise handling of the binaural microphone is mediocre. In our SpNR test, they achieved a speech-to-noise ratio of about 13dB, indicating that these headphones are not good at fully separating speech from background noise in loud or even moderately loud environments.
However, it should be noted that the AMBEO Smart Headset does come with an in-line microphone for making calls, but since we were not able to connect to the in-line mic with our test software, we performed the test on the binaural mics. Chances are that the in-line mic would perform slightly better, since it is positioned closer to the mouth.
The recording examples were also done with the binaural mics, and therefore, are in stereo.
The Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset has app support on iOS and does not require a battery for their active features. These headphones connect via the lightning port of your iOS device for power so as long as your iPhone or iPad is on then, you will be able to use the noise cancellation and added features from the Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset app on iOS. The app is not as full-featured as the Sennheiser Captune app paired with headsets like the PXC 550 Wireless. However, it does provide a good equalizer and button mapping options which are not typical for wired, in-ear headphones.
The Sennheiser Ambeo headphones do not have a battery. They connect to iOS devices via their lightning port which provides enough power for their active features and noise cancellation.
These headphones have a dedicated app that gives them a lot more options than typical wired headsets. The app has a graphic equalizer with presets, hear through modes and button mapping for the switch on the control module. You can also change the level of noise-canceling. Overall, it's a useful app that adds customization options not common for most wired headphones.
The Sennheiser AMBEO only connect via their lightning connector to iOS devices. This means they are restricted to iOS use and since they are wired they will not have the range and convenience of wireless models. On the upside, they have practically no latency which makes them a good choice for watching videos or gaming on your iPad or iPhone.
These are wired headsets with no Bluetooth capabilities. If you want a good and versatile Bluetooth headset, check out the Sennheiser PXC 550 wireless or the HD 4.50.
Update 06/13/2019: We previously had listed the AMBEO to have analog audio, but since it is a lightning port, we consider it more to be audio over USB. The review and score have been updated. The AMBEO Smart Headset has a lightning port connector for iOS devices. It will not work with your PS4, Xbox One or PC/Mac.
These headphones do not have a base station or a dock. If you want a noise canceling headphone with a dock, then try the Turtle Beach Elite 800.
The Sennheiser Ambeo headphones have practically no latency since they are wired. They connect via a lightning port for data and power which adds a bit of latency but it's very negligible and won't be noticeable when watching movies or gaming.
The Sennheiser AMBEO are a fairly average performing in-ears with a unique 3D feature thanks to their binaural mics. They have a decent design and build quality, with ear hooks that make them stable enough for most activities. They're also noise-canceling headphones that block sufficient noise for commuting. Unfortunately, they have a lightning connector which severely limits their use if you do not have a fairly recent iOS device. Overall, they're an okay choice for most use cases if you have an iPhone or iPad but unless you fully utilize their 3D feature, their price to performance ratio is not as good as some of the in-ears compared below. See our recommendations for the best noise cancelling earbuds.