CES 2017: Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Surround Personal VR Mic

Sennheiser previewed a working prototype of a new binaural microphone intended to enhance the audio of consumer produced content. The device can be used like normal IEMs, but will be connected to a smartphone via a digital connector, either Lightning for iOS devices or USB for Androids. It can also act as a binaural microphone having a mic mounted behind a screen in each earpiece. The in-line electronics module is being developed by Apogee.

Typically, binaural microphones will have the mics mounted at the entrance of the ear canal in order to record pinna reflections properly. The AMBEO Smart Surround mics are mounted in a position that is somewhat removed from the ear canal entrance. I asked if this would hamper the realization of the proper pinna reflections to produce realistic HRTF features in the recorded audio. Lorenz Adler, the Sennheiser rep demoing the product, said it was a good question but one he could not answer at this early time. He did however point to some ports down near the ear tip stem and said there were things being done to address that issue.

A couple of years ago I was able to have a conversation with Stefanie Reichert, Director Trade Marketing Consumer Electronics, Sennheiser Americas, about how Sennheiser would be able to gain strength in the face of stiff competition in the headphone world. She said Sennheiser believed that the future of mid-priced consumer products (say between $150 and $500) would be driven by amateur producers creating content for social media. I had my doubts at the time, but have more and more come to realize the genius behind this strategy.

GoPro is a perfect example of a hardware product that has skyrocketed on to the scene to fill that niche. Likewise the popularity of drones. Sennheiser has recently be previewing a GoPro mic that is water and wind resistant that you can read about in this Slashgear article.

I heard an audio/video demo of the AMBEO Smart Surround comparing it to the internal mic of a smartphone and both the sound and spatial quality of the new binaural mic were markedly superior to that of the phone. I couldn't find a demo video on-line, but I did find this video recorded with Sennheiser's AMBEO VR mic, which is similar.

Release date of the AMBEO Smart Surround is expected in the second half of this year; pricing is not yet established.

halcyon's picture

Headphone makers have not realized fully the smartphone revolution although it is already more than 10 years old.

We need good variety of great headphones not with crappy mics.

Even the best $2000 IEMs can come with NO mic or a POS chinese $1 microphone.

Just for calls alone it would be nice to send to the other end a nice pristine audio.

I hope Tyll could venture a bit into this area and perhaps make a category of headsets for mobile use, incl. some microphone measurements (hint-hint) :-D

I hope Ambeo Smart VR IEMs will deliver, and not just for VR use.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
"I hope Tyll could venture a bit into this area and perhaps make a category of headsets for mobile use, incl. some microphone measurements (hint-hint) :-D"

I've been thinking about this quite a bit. InnerFidelity is an enthusiast publication, but I don't think that limits it to audio fidelity alone. There will certainly be enthusiastic use of products like this and others. Will comment more in the CES 2017 Wrap-Up.

halcyon's picture

Wonderful! Your work is an inspiration for me - for both quality and following your own source of enjoyment. Keep up the great "work".

prometheus's picture

Can these earphones do direct monitoring during binaural recording, or are recording and playback strictly separate functions? I imagine acoustic isolation/feedback would be a problem for monitoring given the proximity of the microphone and the driver.