posted on Saturday, 31st January 2015 by Steve May
One of the fastest areas of growth in home audio is the multiroom market, and it’s one which offers installers plenty of scope, particularly when there’s an opportunity to integrate a solution as part of a larger control project.
The latest brand to weigh in is audio veteran Denon. Its HEOS ecosystem is positioned as a direct competitor to SONOS, offering a comparable speaker spread and system functionality. But just how effective is it, and does Denon’s long revered expertise in home audio give HEOS a foot-tapping edge?
HEOS by Denon wireless multiroom audio system: Product range
HEOS by Denon (to give the system its full name) has launched with three active speakers, plus a system Link module and standalone amplifier. The HEOS 3, which retails for £249, is the entry-level, play everywhere speaker, albeit one with enough of a design twist to set it apart from the herd. When two are grouped together, using the HEOS app, they can function as a stereo pair.
Hitting a sweet middle-ground is the HEOS 5 (£349), while the HEOS 7 claims flagship status (£499). The latter generates enough welly to fill larger rooms and entertainment spaces. All speakers are available in black and white. Both the HEOS 7 and 5 embrace a trapezoid aesthetic; the larger model topped with metal trim. The diminutive HEOS 3 can orientate vertically or horizontally, or can be wall-mounted.
The HEOS Link module (£299) is a handy way to integrate an existing home cinema set-up into the system. It features analogue and digital audio connectivity, plus USB and Ethernet. Sources connected to the Link can also be routed to other rooms. The Heos amp (£399) allows you to install a more conventional two channel sound system as part of the system, using regular loudspeakers and source components; the resulting rig then also forms part of the HEOS multiroom install.
Heos by Denon wireless multiroom audio system: Installation and Features
While Denon is not publishing any technical specifications, much like SONOS, this is probably not a system you’ll need to sell on spec. Ease of use and functionality are the main draws. It takes just a few minutes to get a HEOS speaker live on the network. Simply connect the HEOS device to a smartphone (via 3.5mm minijack) logged onto the appropriate wireless network, and hit the Connect button. Then password the speaker onto the network via the app. The system uses a standard Wi-Fi 2.4GHz network, there's no MESH infrastructure. Online, the system can see any DLNA source. Just navigate to it using the app, available for iOS or Android, and browse.
Connectivity is standard across the range. For those that prefer to hardwire the system there’s Ethernet, as well as a 3.5mm minijack and a USB port for local devices. The only on-body controls are volume and mute. There’s no Power Off button. Integrated music services comprise Spotify, Deezer, Tunein radio and Napster. Coming soon is Google Cast, which allows compatible content to be streamed directly to a HEOS device.
File support embraces MP3, FLAC, AAC and ALAC, from both local USB and home network devices. The system doesn't support 24-bit high-res files. Try and stream them and you'll get an Unsupported Playback error. Naturally HEOS offers all the usual multiroom tricks, allowing multiple sources to be played simultaneously in different zones.
The HEOS API is compatible with a wide variety of 3rd party control and home automation platforms. The brand is actively developing its CI infrastructure, working closely with home automation manufacturers to deliver drivers and modules able to integrate the HEOS lineup into their larger systems. These will include music service browsing, zone management and operational control.
RTI is the first to make a HEOS driver available, allowing RTI-based integrators to integrate HEOS into their smart home projects. Drivers from URC, Crestron, Control4, AMX, Elan and Roomie Remote are all expected to be released in the coming months.
HEOS by Denon wireless multiroom audio system: Performance
Vocal quality on both the HEOS 5 and 7 models is terrific. Not only does this mean they serve tunes well, it also means they sound great with speech radio and podcasts alike. The HEOS 3 understandably lacks the distinction of its siblings. The output may be largely monophonic, but with a form factor designed for home offices, kitchens and the like, it’ll clearly find buyers. The ability for two to be grouped as a stereo pair is useful and certainly allows for pronounced stereophony. However, integrators should note that paired 3s can’t be used as external speakers for a TV display. There is simply too much of lag (caused by buffering), meaning the audio will always be significantly out of sync with the video.
The hero of the range is the 7. It may be the largest of the three speakers, but it still surprises with the weight and power of its delivery. With a large centralised woofer, flanked by mids and tweeter, it's a lively, entertaining performer with a curvaceous mid-range and the ability to drop truly subterranean beats. Denon has revised the performance of the HEOS speakers through firmware updates, and the latest DSP mix utilising MaxxAudio processing is genuinely impressive.
HEOS by Denon wireless multiroom audio system: Verdict
The HEOS by Denon range is a versatile multiroom audio system that offers considerable expansion possibilities. Of the three active speakers, the 5 and 7 impress with their musicality and presence, while the Link provides a simple way to merge an existing theatre room or environment into the mix.
While the HEOS app (pictured above) offers some powerful functionality, it’s the commitment to offer a wide range of control system drivers, and the support of AWE, which will really install confidence in the system. With more HEOS enabled products due this year (what’s the betting on HEOS enabled AVRs and soundbars before the year is out?), we rate this the multiroom audio system to listen out for during 2015.
Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics
industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.