The Sennheiser show is always one that you want to attend at CES. Like last year, this year had a variety of items to awe, inspire, and impress attendees with. While there were many products that fit the bill on those terms, the topic of discussion here will revolve around three new tentpoles, wireless, binaural earphones and the mighty Orpheus Electrostat.
First up is the upcoming binaural recording IEMs codenamed AMBEO. Still in the prototype phase, the IEMs are intended to give content creators the opportunity to capture sound “in the most natural way possible” through microphones located on the outward facing side of the earphone. The design is intended to correspond with a phone facing the same direction, which then provides a more realistic A/V experience as both devices pan around a scene in synchronization. Its a little different interpretation of the VR world than a typical 360 video, but definitely provides some interesting effects to a run-and-gun method of capturing recorded life. More so, the setup for making a video with this method is massively simple, and the main tools are already located in everyone’s pocket.
At CES the prototype AMBEO was paired with a APOGEE recording device and run straight into a lighting connector. Sennheiser Project Manager Lorenz Adler believes the partnership will offer a significant upgrade to the recording quality over what consumers typically receive from the in-house electronics in their phones. You can see our video interview with Lorenz below, it includes an actual working demostration with the AMBEO prototype from the show. The binaural audio starts at the 2:25 mark, so strap on your headphones and experience the new product for yourself. The price for the AMBEO Smart Surround is still TBD, but expect something to hit the streets between 6-12 months from now.
As with many of the big headphones companies, Sennheiser is also giving their wireless offerings a quick facelift in the wake of the recent Apple (sans jack) updates. The newest additions to the lineup include the HD-1 In-Ears which feature a collar-based design to extend battery life to 10 hours of playback time. Expect a price of $199 with a January launch date.
Over ear wireless now includes the HD 4.50BTNC and HD 4.40BT, which will be priced at $199 and $149 respectively. The 4.40BT claims a whopping 25 hours of playback time with aptX and Bluetooth 4.0 capabilities. The HD4.5oBTNC includes Sennheisser’s NoiseGard active noise cancellation technology and both headphones can playback music through a wired connection that doesn’t require a draw from the battery. The 4.40 will be available later this month, while the 4.50 launches in February 2017. More the video embed below.
My visitation to the Sennheiser booth marks only the second time I was able to lair ears on the € 50,000 flagship Orpheus electrostatic system. Last year the line was shockingly long to get a listen and sessions were limited to a single song. This year I was fortunate enough to get a longer sample with tracks of my selection.
While still not a full A/B comparison to similar offerings, the experience is something markedly different from typical headphone listening. With trace amounts electrostatic elements, the playback was still unique from my memories of Stax and Kingsound’s recreations. Energy is conveyed a few ticks more up the dial and spaciousness from the flagship system was very impressive and distinctive. Mid tone texture from vocal-centric tracks was as sharp as I can ever remember hearing from any headphone. Sure, the Orpheus is a luxury piece that doesn’t play in the same area as the general population, but its very interesting to see where things can go in personal audio without being hamstrung by R&D or production restrictions.
Tucked away in the corner of the Orpheus booth was a little bonus listen in the form of a pair of Sennheiser branded studio monitors with no name and no pricing as of yet. The custom stands not only held a nice throwback design, but provided a efficient cable management system. The 2-way 50W bookshelf runs its connections through the rear leg of the tripod and exits in a single piece for connecting to any source. The early prototype was a fun listen and nice exit to a serious session of product drops and acoustic treats from Sennheiser.