Binaural Microphone Recording for The Rest of Us
Posted on February 20 2018
A comparative review of Roland CS-10EM vs Sennheiser Ambeo in-ear binaural microphones.
Use your head
We love the idea of not having to carry a second head with us when we want to record audio. After all, we all already carry one with us, right?
We also really appreciate the idea of being able to record unnoticed. In some situations, going undercover is vital to keep the recording natural. The sight of a conventional microphone can make people overly interested, uncomfortable or even suspicious. Recording with an in-ear device will make you blend in the crowd; people think you’re just listening to music.
We’ve already owned a trusty pair of Roland CS-10EM’s for a while. We know that they do a super job and they’re just unbeatable for the price. Really happy with our purchase. Then we were lucky enough to get our hands on a brand new shiny pair of Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset only a few weeks after they came out. So… how do they compare?
To make an accurate comparison, we had to make simultaneous recordings from the same spacial placement. We matched recording levels as close as possible, while disabling all processing and limiting to hear how they capture sound on an equal playing field… but first(!) let’s talk about their respective designs.
The Roland CS-10EM is basically a pair of microphone-equipped earphones. This clever design allows simultaneous monitoring of your recordings, using the earphone jack of the recorder.
Being powered by the recorder, the CS-10EM needs 2 to 10 volts of plugin power from the microphone jack. For our test we used the auxiliary input of our Sound Devices MixPre 3. Our old Zoom H6 could’ve done the trick as well. If you want to try the CS-10EM, make sure your recorder provides plugin power.
The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset also works like a [futuristic] pair of microphone-equipped earphones… but it’s more than that.
No special recorder is required to use this headset; it’s made to be used with an IOS device running version 10.3 or later, using the lightning connector. The device uses high quality Apogee’s microphone preamps and takes care of the A/D and D/A conversion.
It also includes a Situational Awareness function, which is an active noise cancellation system that can easily be switched on and off.
Both headsets use a pair of omnidirectional microphones - one in each earpiece. The Sennheiser also uses an inline microphone in its remote for call and chat functionality.
The frequency response from the Sennheiser range from 30 Hz to 20 kHz while the CS-10EM goes from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. The Sennheiser can record up to 24 bits 48 kHz, while the CS-10EM is limited only by the unit you record with.
We spent a lot of time testing both devices in a variety of recordings. They both performed beautifully in capturing rich and immersive 3D binaural audio, with a surprisingly low noise floor.
The Sennheiser has a very pleasant and balanced sound throughout the whole audio spectrum, while the Roland CS-10EM had a slight boost in the lower end and was missing some of the Sennheiser’s “air”. That said, by employing some slight EQ adjustments we were able to make the recordings sound similar in our studio.
And the winner is…
Although our tests revealed that both microphones sound excellent and are quite close overall, we have a slight preference for the…. Sennheiser Ambeo. For the sound of course, but for the design as well. They’re built for convenient and at-your-fingertip stealth recording. You can constantly wear them as a high quality pair of earphones, and be seconds away from the record button should you need to capture your surroundings. Brilliant.
However, at $99.99, the Roland CS-10EM is not a big risk. It performs surprisingly good, and if you own an Android phone you won’t be able to use the Sennheiser anyway - although they claim that an Android version is on the way.
If you’re on a tight budget, the Roland CS-10EM will do the job beautifully. If you have an IOS device and can afford the additional $200, the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset might be the better choice.
All tests and results by Philippe Charron
Feb 05, 2018