It is a truth universally acknowledged that someone with a single soundbar is in want of a good surround sound solution.
While I can’t deny the cost-saving, space-saving aspects to an all-in-one soundbar (something like the Sonos Arc) it’s hard to recreate that cinematic feeling of being blasted by sound on all sides unless you're totally swamped in sound.
A high-end home theater may have up to four subwoofers, placed in each corner of the room, in order to get that ground-shaking immersion even across the whole space – partly to remove directionality, and partly because low-frequency sound fades over distance more quickly than higher frequencies.
This has only been for rarefied setups, though – most people who aren't satisfied with sound from their TV are happy with one of the best soundbars with or without a subwoofer. But what if it wasn't only for the home screening rooms of celebrities? What if we could all enjoy it?
I recently got my hands on the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Plus – a pricey, if accomplished all-in-one soundbar that plugs directly into a TV. However, it can also connect with the compact Sennheiser Ambeo Sub to add more low-end power… actually, it can connect with up to four Ambeo Subs wirelessly. I took it upon myself to put this idea to the test with three of them, considering that I don't live in a mansion.
Firstly, some bookkeeping. The Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Plus retails for $1,499 / £1,299 / AU$2,399, so it costs a pretty penny. Each Sennheiser Ambeo Sub is an additional $699 / £599 (around AU$1,000).
We’ve got you surrounded
The Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Plus packs a punch of bass by itself – but its built-in, four-inch subwoofers can’t match the eight-inch drivers in the Ambeo Sub.
With one or two Ambeo Sub units, the subtle thrum of bass in the Soundbar Plus starts to expand. For some spatial consistency, I placed them roughly together by the television, and was struck by the sudden bursts of power emanating in my direction.
With the Ambeo Subs, a quiet scene can turn on a dime into an explosive action sequence, and the controlled power of the woofers means they’re never more prominent than they should be, while knowing how to announce themselves at crucial moments.
Connecting all three Ambeo Subs, however, is another experience entirely. Using three or four units means you can more broadly triangulate the viewer, and get that sense of all-sides immersion from your content.
With three units set up in this way, the sound ceased being directional, reverberating across the room. What previously seemed like brief bursts of bass, now seemed to linger and hang in the air, as the output of each sub propped the others up before fading out.
I put this new setup to the ultimate test with the Oscar-nominated All Quiet on the Western Front. Early into the film, a deployment of young soldiers are caught in a barrage of projectiles, as their bunker gradually collapses over them. The trio of Ambeo Subs managed to spread the ominous impacts of overhead weapons, the thud and shake of dirt and wood shaking across the room before the house truly came down. Despite a brief moment of pity for my neighbor in the apartment below, I knew I was hooked.
I’m no stranger to watching films ‘as intended’, in a decked-out movie theater with hundreds of strangers coughing into the back of my head. I watched Sam Mendes’ similarly WWI war flick 1917 in a purpose-built Dolby Cinema, as we wrote about here, which rightly pummels the viewer from all sides with cascading, multi-directional, three-dimensional sound.
But this is the first time I’ve been sold on the promise of a substantially geared-up home theater speaker system, rather than simply a standalone multi-channel soundbar that virtually hits most of the same beats. Getting to experience that kind of cinematic immersion in my own living room was truly thrilling, and makes going back to even the best Dolby Atmos soundbars that make do with a single subwoofer feel like I'm missing something.