(Pocket-lint) - Denon has been toying with networked streaming devices for a while – the Airplay-touting Ceol family being the pick of the bunch – but with the Heos system the company has set its sights on the one-box, house-party-loving, multiroom domain currently ruled by Sonos and valiantly fought over by the likes of LG, Samsung and Bluesound.
We've been living with three of Denon's new speakers for the past two months: the portable Heos 1 with Go Pack, the mid-sized Heos 5, and flagship Heos 7. Ideal for throwing wild house parties.
Also available within the line-up (but sadly not at the time of testing) is the Heos 3, Heos Soundbar, Heos Link Pre-amp and, finally, the Heos Amp (which is designed to help turn any speaker or hi-fi into a wireless zone). All products work on the same amp and connect in the same way.
Ok, so we didn't really have any wild parties, but we've listened to an awful lot of music to help us decide whether the Heos line-up is the perfect speaker setup, deserved of a spot in your living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, or anywhere around the house. Read on for the full ins and outs.
Available in both black and white the Heos 5 and Heos 7, priced £250 and £500 respectively, both share the same horizontal teardrop design. Both are built extremely well with nice attention to detail, well-finished edges and premium quality materials.
The top-of-the-line Heos 7 is wider, boasts a sleek metal strip along the top and has smooth curves in contrast to the Heos 5's angular body. But side-by-side, both look great and catch the eye without being especially ostentatious.
The smallest speaker in the Family, Heos 1, priced £199, still features the angled body design but a robust metal grille replaces the cloth cover of its larger cousins. Squint and you might mistake it for a squished Sonos Play 1 – colours, trim and button detailing are remarkably alike – but the optional Go Pack battery does help the Denon stand out for true portability.
Comparatively the Heos 7 is big and designed to be placed prominently to turn heads, but we found the mid-sized Heos 5 just seemed to get in the way a bit. The latter model lacks the Sonos Play 3's ability to stand vertically or horizontally – and therefore hide away easily – leaving it with no choice but to sit proud. If you've got the space and love the look you're in luck, but we like the option of having our multiroom speakers heard and not seen.
There's a lot to love about the Heos design, which is a relief if you plan to have them dotted around the house, but the teardrop shape isn't necessarily all that convenient when it comes to positioning.
Unlike the Samsung M series there's no hub required for the Denon Heos range which helps reduce router clutter and keeps everything refreshingly simple. Sonos used to require the Bridge hub, but following an update it's only a recommended addition.
Connecting the Heos speakers to the network couldn't be easier either. Once the speaker is plugged in and Heos app downloaded to your phone or tablet (iOS or Android) it's simply a case of going to the settings and adding a device.
The onscreen instructions are mercifully straightforward and getting connected to the Heos 7 took a little under three minutes. Without NFC on board the easiest way to connect is using the supplied 3.5mm cable between iPhone and speaker. You can pair everything wirelessly via a network, but it will just take a little longer.
Once one speaker is connected (and you've assigned it a room in the house) adding multiples or additional Heos products is even more straightforward as they talk to each other, sharing their vital settings.
There's no Bluetooth, though, with the exception of the Heos 1 with additional Go Pack battery pack, priced £79. This seamless twist-on battery pack gives up to six hours go-anywhere power and Bluetooth connectivity which is handy. It certainly bumps up the total price, but given it comes with a rubber cover to turn it into a IPX4 splashproof speaker we think it's more than worth the money. Buy a Heos 1 and the Go Pack will cost just £40 which we think is a bargain given the added flexibility.
Once all three of our review sample speakers were connected – and the thin blue LED glowed happily on each unit – creating zones was, again, extremely simple. From the Rooms tab in the app it's simply a case of sliding one virtual room onto another.
We experimented with various configurations but found having two zones – "kitchen and living room" and "bedroom" – worked the best for our personal use. If we did decide to throw caution to the wind and play the same song around the house we just needed to slide the Bedroom speaker onto the existing group.
It would be nice to have the option to save favourite zones, but that's hardly a big deal. If we had 15 speakers dotted around our mansion and wanted to pair Parlour 2 and Billiard Room 1 we'd probably get the butler to do it anyway.
Connectivity & the Heos App
With Spotify, Tunein, Deezer, Napster, Soundcloud, Tidal and Rdio, plus phone, USB, remote music servers and any inputs via the 3.5mm socket, Denon has been more than generous with most major services accounted for.
And making the most of them is pretty straightforward once you learn your way around the app. Along the bottom of the app's main screen there are three tabs: Rooms, Music and Now Playing. Pick a room, then choose your music source and off you go. The Now Playing tab gives basic controls over tracks and individual speaker volume.
We like the ability to play different songs from individual sources on different speakers and from separate devices. You can only do so if you've got multiple music streams yourself – stored music on your phone and a Spotify account for instance – but the flexibility is appreciated.
As with many new wireless speakers the ability to use Spotify Connect will be a big selling point. Once you're signed in the only reason you'll need the Heos app again is to tinker with the speaker zones or tweak the bass/treble. The rest of the time you can just use Spotify as usual.
Unlike some Denon apps of old the Heos is a lesson in simplicity. We're not saying the app wouldn't benefit from a few shorter menu options and button presses here and there, but it's a step up compared to the Sonos app, which feels badly in need of an update.
So how does the Heos system stack up?
The flagship Heos 7 is perfect for larger rooms thanks to the five custom drivers, two passive radiators and five class D amplifiers (as ever Denon doesn't like to disclose size or power). It's relatively big for a wireless speaker but the payoff is a big, bold and lovely sound.
Playing something intricate like The High Road by Riley Walker and the Heos 7 picked out a huge amount of detail in the upright bass and strings while keeping the vocals central to the mix. Pushed a little harder (and louder) with Nas's N.Y. State of Mind it continued to impress and while slightly over emphasising the bass it sounded even better than we'd expected.
The Heos 5 is certainly a step down in quality compared to its big brother, but it's still a super little speaker in its own right. It features two mid-woofers, two tweeters and passive bass radiator, while the active drivers are powered by individual class D amplifiers. How does it compare to the Sonos Play 3? It's a close call, but we found the Heos was more fun and offered a brighter, less boxed-in sound. It couldn't quite handle volume as well, though, but few things that small sound special at full volume.
As for the Heos 1 you get a bi-amped two-way system with custom active EQ and crossover, a custom woofer and tweeter powered by a single two-channel Class D amplifier. The result is another high quality wireless speaker with few rough edges to speak of. Sound is obviously limited by size, but at what we're calling "breakfast volume" it still managed to fill the kitchen with nicely balanced sound as well as irritate the neighbours when played loud and late in the garden. Compared to the Sonos Play 1 the Heos 1 has a more youthful sound, but it still can't quite complete. Whatever magic Sonos has going on in that box it remains extremely difficult to beat.
Individually all three Heos speakers have a lot to offer, but it's as a multiroom setup they really shine. With almost perfect stereo synchronisation we found having the Heos 7 on in the dining room and Heos 1 in the kitchen created a thoroughly enjoyable all-encompassing sound.
Experimenting with stereo pairing you wouldn't be disappointed with just two Heos 5 speakers in the living room and we look forward to testing out the surround sound capabilities soon with the Heos Soundbar.
If you're in the market for an accomplished multiroom audio system that supports the vast majority of current streaming services, is easy to set-up and sounds great, the Denon Heos system could certainly be for you.
The £500 the Heos 7 is a beautiful one-box solution in its own right. Combine that with the flexibility of battery power in the Heos 1 (with Go Pack) and the impressive selection of compatible products capable of transforming your existing stereo into a multiroom zone and few current systems can match it.
With LG, Samsung, Sonos and Denon all coming in with systems at round the same price making a purchase decision won't be easy. But given the Heos is more adventurous than the Sonos in almost every department if you can cope with the less-than-practical teardrop design then you won't be disappointed.