Denon HEOS Featured

Denon HEOS Review

Denon is the latest player in the wireless home audio market with their HEOS system. Featuring three speakers of varying sizes, the HEOS 3, 5, and 7, Denon’s lineup has something for the most common room sizes. It also offers two more models for use with an existing system or with passive speakers. With pricing from $299 for the HEOS 3, $399 for the 5 and up to $599 for the 7, there is something for every budget.

Specs
Manufacturer: Denon
Model: HEOS
Drivers: 2x Tweeter, 2x Mid/Bass, 1x Passive Radiator
Amplifier: 4x ? Watts, Class D
AirPlay: No
Bluetooth: No
Streaming Services: Spotify, TuneIn, Pandora, Rhapsody
Dimensions: 8.2" x 11.6" x 6.5"
Weight: 6.6 lbs.
Review Date: January 14, 2015
Price: $199.00
Company Website

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In the past, multi-room audio consisted of in-ceiling speakers, a source, such as a multi-disc CD changer, a multi-channel amp, and wires running throughout the walls and ceilings. Complicated and expensive to run if your house isn’t pre-wired for it. What wireless networks allow is the ability to do away with all the clutter and complexity. Small and efficient Class-D amps now allow the speakers to be self-powered and have an easy to setup audio system that plays music throughout the house. Walk from room-to-room and continue to enjoy your tunes, or isolate one zone for playback of a specific song. It’s easy to use, simple to setup and adaptable to any household.

The HEOS 7 utilizes two custom tweeters, two mid-range drivers, a woofer along with two passive radiators. Powering it is a five-channel Class-D amplifier. The HEOS 5 includes the same tweeters and midrange, but only one passive radiator and no woofer. A four-channel Class-D amp powers the HEOS 5. The HEOS 3, smallest of the bunch, gets its sound from two wide range drivers. The HEOS 3 is also the only one of the bunch that can be configured with two units in stereo: one for the left channel and one for the right.

How Easy is it to Setup?

There are a couple of steps involved with getting the HEOS up and running. First is simply plugging the speaker in. It might be wireless, but that doesn’t apply to the power source. Then you will need to download the free HEOS app for iOS or Android. Next up is getting the HEOS connected to your network. There are two options: 1) connect via an ethernet cable to the port on the back of the HEOS, 2) connect to a wireless network. I went with option two and that requires the supplied mini-plug cable.

With either option you will launch the HEOS app, select Add Speaker and follow the steps. It is just a matter of connecting the mini-plug cable to the back of the HEOS and into the headphone out of your Apple or Android device and then entering your wireless password. I had no trouble setting up each HEOS speaker, although it took a bit longer than usual before I was up and running. The app reported an available device update which needed to be downloaded and installed on each of the HEOS. The HEOS app took care of all of this without a hiccup.

Placement of the HEOS speakers is entirely up to you. The only requirement is a power source. I decided to place the HEOS 3 in the kitchen in the vertical position. The 3 can also be laid on its side and the software will adapt the sound output accordingly. The 5 went in a den and the 7 I tried in both our living room and master bedroom. Once the speakers are set up, they can be moved around as much as you want, unplugging them won’t mess up the wireless configuration settings. The HEOS 5 is actually the easiest to move around, thanks to the inset handle in the back.

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How Easy is it to Use?

The HEOS app laid out into three sections: Rooms, Music, and Now Playing. While the interface is straightforward, there are a couple issues I ran into. First and foremost, is the settings menu which I went looking for when wanting to alter the EQ of the HEOS 7. The menu is accessible via the root menu of the Music section and is not present when viewing child views of the Music section, such as browsing music on your phone. If the user is currently browsing music, there is no intuitive way to find the EQ settings for their HEOS device. Either the HEOS settings menu should be moved to the Rooms section, or better yet, there should be a fourth tab section in the bottom menu for all settings.

My other issue involved the Rooms section. In order to playback music in one or more rooms, the HEOS speakers are labeled as the room they are setup in and then grouped together. To do this, drag room labels on top of other room labels, this groups them together, or pull one out to ungroup it. When multiple devices are grouped together they all play the same song simultaneously in party mode. Ungrouping allows different tunes to be played in different locations. The app is a tad buggy when assigning music to each group. I had to fully shut down the HEOS app and launch it again to get music to play. Fortunately, these are just software issues and future updates to the HEOS app will hopefully fix them all.

For music playback, the HEOS has a variety of options to choose from. It can playback local music from your iOS or Android device, stream music from a set of providers which is currently Rhapsody, Pandora, Spotify, and TuneIn, from a NAS, or via the USB input and thumbdrives. For the streaming services, a subscription is required and, at least for Spotify, a premium subscription may be required as well. The USB drive feature is an excellent way for friends to bring a selection of music to a party and although the HEOS does not support high-res audio, it does handle lossless FLAC, AAC, MP3, WMA, and WAV up to 48kHz. For added convenience, each HEOS features button controls for volume and mute.

Overall Performance

The sound quality on each HEOS unit is full and room filling, especially for their size. With the HEOS 3 setup on the kitchen counter, there was more than enough sound to fill the entire cooking area. Streaming of Daft Punk “Get Lucky” has enough low end to get you in the groove while cooking, but at the same time isn’t distracting or overbearing. Those looking for more bass will definitely want to go with the HEOS 5 or 7. The larger unit’s are capable of more low-end output. For a large room, the HEOS 7 does the best job at filling it with music, but the HEOS 5 performs almost as well.

Keep in mind that the real point of the Denon HEOS is not to bring down the house during a rockin New Year’s Eve party. The HEOS is not the best option for ear-bleedingly loud music with chest thumping bass, but if you do intend to playback party music, the HEOS 7 is the best option with the extra low range driver. Think of the multi-room system as a way to enjoy background music throughout the house, with the key term being background. This is not a system for audiophiles to sit down in front of and analyze the texture of the stringed instruments during Beethoven’s 5th. For that you would want the HEOS Link to integrate it into your main system.

Enjoy some jazz while entertaining some friends, cooking dinner, or reading a book in a comfy chair. Playback of a few Diana Krall tracks reveals the HEOS’s ability to create some depth to the music, an impressive task for a single speaker. Acoustic guitar strums sound detailed and natural. On M83’s Before the Dawn Heals Us, the HEOS 7 shows a bit of congestion in the upper bass to low mid range, primarily affecting bass lines and not vocals. I prefer the HEOS 7 with the bass knocked down a few notches on the app’s EQ as this adds a bit more clarity to the sound.

Which to Choose?

Now the real question, which Denon HEOS speakers to get. I will break it down given a budget of $1,000 which results in several combinations. In this case I will focus on either a HEOS 7 and HEOS 5 ($599 + $399), or a HEOS 5 and two HEOS 3 ($399 + $299 + $299). Unless you only need music in two larger rooms, I would choose the HEOS 5 and two HEOS 3 setup. The HEOS 5 has enough output for most kitchen/living room setups and that then allows for a couple bedrooms or the master bedroom and an office to have a HEOS 3 in them. For background music, I prefer the sound of the HEOS 3. The HEOS 5, and more so the 7, can sound too muddy and congested in the low frequencies and this can be distracting. The HEOS 3 may not have as large of a sound, but for this application, it does the job well. On top of that, it is also the smallest, fitting nicely on any shelf, counter, or nightstand and it is the lowest priced of the three HEOS speakers. Heck, you could even save $100 and just go with three HEOS 3 speakers.

Building the Ecosystem

The main failing of the Denon HEOS system now are the streaming services it supports. Spotify and Pandora are probably the two most popular out there, but that doesn’t cover everything. Amazon Music, Google Play, Tidal and others are not supported currently. Without Bluetooth or AirPlay it also isn’t easy to get these services to the HEOS other than using the 3.5mm input. As this review is going up Denon has announced support for GoogleCast for Audio inside of the HEOS speaker. This will add support for Google Play Music, iHeart Radio, Rdio, and more but still not the support that Sonos has today.

The speaker selection is also a bit limited compared to Sonos, but a sound bar and subwoofer are expected to come from Denon in the future to bring them equal in this regard.

Measurements

Measurements for the HEOS 7 speaker were taken in room at 6 locations and then averaged to remove room effects as much as possible. RoomEQ Wizard is used with a calibrated UMIK-1. More details on this measurement approach can be found in an article from Brent Butterworth here.

denon heos in-room response

Overall the frequency response is within a +/- 3dB window from 200Hz to almost 20kHz. Below 200Hz we see more room modes come into play and a bass boost compared to the rest of the output. At 55Hz the bass response begins to fall off drastically with no bass below 40Hz. A future wireless sub to pair with the HEOS 7 would certainly improve upon this frequency response, but for a smaller wireless speaker this performance isn’t surprising. The flat midrange and treble is good to see and the measurements on the HEOS 7 indicates good overall design.

Conclusions

Denon has created a flexible lineup with it’s HEOS brand of multi-room audio speakers. From the small, easy to place HEOS 3 to the room filling HEOS 7 there is a solution for each area of the house. Placing a speaker in every room can get expensive, but for $1,000 you can get a HEOS 5 for a large room and two HEOS 3’s for a bedroom and an office. This is much cheaper than having in-ceiling speakers installed throughout the house, powered by a large amplifier at a central location. With a few tweaks to the interface of the HEOS app, I believe it will be an easy and accessible solution for most.

Review Summary
Product: Denon HEOS
Reviewer:
Pros: Quick step-by-step setup, perfectly synchronized playback across HEOS devices, and solid performance make the Denon HEOS a good option for multi-room audio.
Cons: The HEOS app has a few playback bugs and the interface could use some tweaking. Fewer streaming services supported than competitors.
Summary: Quality entry into the multi-room audio universe by Denon. Good sound quality and volume for compact size and a HEOS product to fit just about every room.
Value: 3.5/5
Performance: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

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  • Chris, I think you have done very deep analysis about the HEOS wireless speakers, their functionality, sound quality, and App because I haven’t found such a detailed information about HEOS system on any review site and even on HEOS website http://usa.denon.com/us/heos . The way you presented this review it is really very helpful to users like me to select a wireless home speaker. Thanks, it helped me lot….

    • Thanks for the kind words, but Stephen Hornbrook did the review. I didn’t have him listed as the author correctly but I fixed that now. Glad it was useful to you!

  • Turbojugend

    I still won’t get this product until we see more of what develops with the Sonos lawsuit. Don’t want to get a bunch of gear that may not work in a year or two. It does sound good though, they did a good job with it.