In the Field with the Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset

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Audio in the age of iOS has its ups and downs. You have all the pros of a competent music capture and playback device that fits in your pocket. Generally speaking, iPhones are powerful enough to let you track and edit audio and video destined for YouTube, and, thanks to the processing power of the iPad Pro and a host of excellent iOS-centric DAWs and video editors, you can get into laptop-level processing power.

Just like any tech, there are going to be drawbacks. Significantly, iOS devices are getting (at least in terms of audio), high-quality A/D D/A conversion. Ultimately, you are going to need a higher-quality peripheral, and after spending a few weeks with Sennheiser’s AMBEO Smart Headset, I found it has the potential to be one of the most powerful audio tool kits for iOS devices, and one you will have on you comfortably at all times.

Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset In-Ear Headphones with Three Built-In Microphones, Inline Remote, and Lightning Connector

For those playing along with Sennheiser trivia at home, the company has branded these headphones the same as its high-end 3D VR microphone, released earlier last year. Taking application inspiration from that design, the AMBEO Smart Headset can provide the same kind of 3D audio as its pricier microphone cousin, albeit via a different method.

Sennheiser AMBEO VR 3D Microphone

Dual Earbud Microphones

Sporting an omnidirectional microphone on the outside of each earbud, the headset captures binaural recording. What this means is that the stereo signal recorded by the headset will play back the audio to the listener from the exact perspective of who was wearing the headset during recording. If a sound moves from right to left, farther away or closer to the wearer, the listener will have that same experience. The great thing about binaural recording is it requires no processing on the back end—our brains do all the heavy lifting in interpreting the audio as it was recorded. This means the AMBEO Smart Headset works with any iOS app that accepts audio.

While somewhat clunky do describe, it’s effortless to experience. Check out this video with B&H’s own AB, as we call him, and put yourself in the center of a great Doo Wop group—remember to listen on headphones of your own.

Conversion Courtesy of Apogee

Once that sound is captured by the AMBEO Smart Headset's microphones, it must be converted into a digital signal for your iOS device to record. Here, Sennheiser has continued its partnership with Apogee, known for high-end and studio-grade converters and interfaces. The headset’s mic preamp was designed by Apogee, who also tuned the conversion and provides its famous Soft Limit technology. The headset terminates in an Apple MFi-certified Lightning connector, for those of us still reeling from the death of the headphone jack on our iPhones.

Naturally, the in-line converter handles the digital-to-analog conversion, as well, giving you high-quality playback from your iPhone or iPad, making the AMBEO Smart Headset well optimized for monitoring your projects and just enjoying your music.

The Earbuds Themselves

Since the AMBEO Smart Headset is, first and foremost, a device to record with, the quality earbuds themselves might be overlooked. They’re based on Sennheiser’s HD-1 headset, and, sonically, offer a very balanced playback that gives present but not over-hyped bass response. Sennheiser designed the AMBEO Smart Headset to be a pair of headphones you are going to have on you for listening, so you can be ready to record at a moment’s notice.

Rounding out the AMBEO Smart Headset are some typical headphone features; you get an in-line mic for making calls, along with controls for volume, as well as a toggle switch that can be adjusted to control several different user features via the companion app for the device. The AMBEO Smart Headset also features active noise cancellation, the performance of which is unremarkable, and feels like it was included as an afterthought.

Use Cases

While binaural recording has a home with 360 video and video gaming, its applications are well beyond that. Podcasters and field recorders can appreciate the quick ability to record on-the-spot interviews, ambience, and dialog. As a guitarist, the AMBEO Smart Headset improved the quality of my scratch idea recordings, tracked in the perspective I experienced while playing acoustically.

The AMBEO Smart Headset can easily be used to track a roundtable segment for a podcast, with the added benefit of presenting the host’s listening perspective. Recording a live music performance is another application for which the AMBEO Smart Headset could be just right, or as an inexpensive method to record band rehearsals.

The Grab-and-Go

The AMBEO Smart Headset presents a recording solution capable of handling many duties, from audio for 360 video to simple vocal memos, packaged in a device you’d be inclined to make your daily commute headphones. As Apple has moved away from equipping their iPhones with an analog audio output for headphones, the headset also offers an alternative to Bluetooth headphones, with conversion powered by Apogee.

Is the AMBEO Smart Headset on your wish list? Tell us how you intend to use it, in the Comments section.

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