Netflix is arguably the king of video streaming despite ups and downs in its business and subscriber counts. The platform is probably enjoyed most on smartphones, but the number of devices it supports has grown to almost any screen you might have in the house. While those screens take care of the streaming service’s visuals, the audio experience can vary more widely depending on the equipment you have. Most Netflix users, unfortunately, have to settle for the speakers on their phones, headphones, or TVs, few of which offer immersive surround sound. In order to level the playing field a bit, Netflix and Sennheiser have teamed up to bring a new form of spatial audio to all devices with stereo speakers, with no additional hardware required.
Spatial audio has been one of the recent buzzwords in entertainment, though it is more formally associated with an Apple technology of the same name. In essence, this is a form of 360-degree surround sound that mimics the experience in cinemas that have sound coming from different directions. This is considered a more immersive and cinematic experience since it is able to reproduce more realistically the behavior of sounds in the real world, which don’t really come from just one or two points of origin.
Of course, this kind of audio experience also requires additional hardware, which is why surround sound systems often involve several speakers placed around a room. There have been recent developments that allowed replicating that same effect with only headphones, like Apple’s Spatial Audio, but that only works with very specific devices. This Sennheiser technology, in contrast, works almost like magic to turn any device with stereo speakers into a personal cinema.
Sennheiser AMBEO-2 audio tech explained
When you read the press release, you may be inclined to view this innovation as high-tech magic. Sennheiser’s AMBEO-2 Channel Spatial Audio is able to transform existing immersive mixes into a two-channel rendering that works with any stereo equipment. In a nutshell, this simply means that phones (with stereo speakers), regular earbuds, and even laptop speakers can enable users to enjoy spatial audio instantly without having to do anything on their end, much less buy new hardware or accessories.
Content creators don’t have to do anything on their end either, as AMBEO-2 works with existing mixes and audio configurations. There’s special remixing software that Netflix does have to use to fine-tune the audio, but the goal is to preserve the original intent of the creators. It remains to be seen — or rather heard — whether it will be able to deliver that promise or if it will be hampered by underwhelming speakers on devices. Nonetheless, it’s bound to offer a significant upgrade for those without a surround sound system. Those with the proper hardware or accessories will be able to continue enjoying their 5.1 surround sound or Dolby Atmos content as before.
That said, AMBEO-2 doesn’t happen automagically for all content on Netflix since it does involve some work from the streaming giant behind the scenes. At the moment, the list of supported titles is extremely small, with only the likes of “Stranger Things 4” and “The Witcher” in that very exclusive club. Netflix hasn’t released a complete list yet, and subscribers will have to do their own search to see which shows have the Spatial Audio label.