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Sennheiser’s new earbuds record 3D audio using just an iPhone

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Binaural on the go

You could use Sennheiser’s newest pair of earbuds to listening to music. But what the wired Ambeo Smart Surround earbuds are really about is recording binaural, or three-dimensional, audio — the kind of thing that typically required big, weird, ear-shaped rigs. Sennheiser hasn’t yet set a price for these new earbuds, but they’ll be available in the second half of 2017.

The Ambeo Smart Surround earbuds wrap around your ears and use the Lightning port to connect to your iPhone. Microphones on the outside of the earbuds sit behind a mesh of metal and handle that 3D audio capture.

Since binaural audio is all about recording sound the way your ears actually hear it, these earbuds will need to be capable of capturing those subtle reflections and changes in timbre that are caused by the shape of a person’s ear. That means they’ll likely have to sit relatively deep in the ear, and it’s probably one of the main reasons behind the around-the-ear design.

Sennheiser is pushing these earbuds (and 3D audio in general) as a companion to 360-degree cameras, but to be fair, binaural audio is impressive even when you’re watching traditional two-dimensional video. It’s also unclear if the Ambeo Smart Surround earbuds are capable of head tracking, which is crucial for 3D audio on 360-degree videos.

We haven’t had a chance to check these out ourselves yet, so we can’t testify to the quality of Ambeo Smart Surround’s binaural recordings. But there’s reason for hope, in that these earbuds are the latest product in Sennheiser’s lineup of Ambeo-branded pro hardware and software efforts, all of which are centered around 3D audio. If anyone can pull off consumer-grade binaural recording in a form factor like this, it’s a company like Sennheiser.