This week we tested the Denon Heos Bar soundbar, the Denon Heos Sub subwoofer, and the Denon Heos AVR home theater receiver, a series a brand new Denon products designed to offer multichannel surround sound with the Denon Heos multiroom ecosystem. Dolby and DTS files are supported and the Denon Heos system ensures multiroom playback of Internet radio stations, online music streaming services, and audio files shared via the home network. The configuration and control are carried out tablet or smartphone in hand and are particularly simple and fast thanks to a well-designed control app.
Denon Heos Bar
The Denon Heos Bar was designed to deliver the three front channels of film and TV series soundtracks separately. To do so, it adopts a 3.0 configuration with six drivers (two for each channel) powered by a high-efficiency digital amplifier. Dolby Digital and DTS formats are handled, including Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio via the soundbar’s HDMI inputs. The goal is to offer a surround listening experience based on three channels if the soundbar is used by itself, or 5.0 and 5.1 channels when adding a pair of Denon Heos speakers and a Denon Heos Sub subwoofer.
The Denon Heos Bar soundbar features a comprehensive range of connectors, including 4 HDMI inputs and one HDMI output, all compatible with 4K UHD (passthrough) and HDMI ARC technologies. It is also fitted with two digital S/PDIF audio inputs (optical/coaxial), one auxiliary audio input (3.5mm mini-jack connector), a USB audio port, and an RJ-45 network connector. Enough connectors to enjoy a wide array of sources (Blu-ray player, UHD Blu-ray player, gaming console, TV and Internet set-top box, multimedia player …) and a television via the HDMI ARC port. In addition, the Wi-Fi network connexion and Bluetooth receiver allow for direct audio streaming from a smartphone, tablet or compatible computer.
Denon has been very generous in equipping the Denon Heos Bar with a compact IR remote control, an HDMI cable, an optical audio cable, an Ethernet network cable, and a mini-jack audio cable -which can also be used to configure the system using the app and a smartphone or tablet. The Denon Heos Bar also comes with a pair of clip-on supports which can be used to raise the soundbar and decouple it from the furniture. A pattern is also included to ensure precise and accurate anchor placement when drilling a wall to mount the soundbar.
Denon Heos Sub
This subwoofer is compatible with all the products from the Denon Heos family. It can be wirelessly paired with any of these devices once connected to the local network. Designed to complement the Denon Heos Bar and to provide extra oompf in the lows, the Denon Heos Sub can also be used alongside one or several Denon Heos wireless speakers for a more substantial listening experience. It is also possible to pair the subwoofer with the Denon Heos AVR home theater receiver in addition to a set of compact home theater speakers or surround speakers.
In order to design a relatively discrete subwoofer, Denon’s engineering team chose an acoustic formula consisting of using two smaller drivers instead of one large driver. The Denon Heos Sub’s front panel features two 5” drivers loaded in a bass-reflex enclosure fitted with a rear-firing circular port. Measuring a little more than 17cm in width for less than 45cm in height and depth, this compact subwoofer can be placed horizontally or vertically without altering the sound.
In addition to the power cable and feet allowing the subwoofer to be installed horizontally, the included accessories are an Ethernet cable and a “configuration cable” (3.5mm mini-jack).
Denon Heos AVR
With the Denon Heos AVR receiver, the Japanese manufacturer has released a connected 5.1 home theater receiver with a multiroom function. A departure from the brand’s classic range of multichannel receivers. The usual button-heavy front panel has been replaced with a stripped-down design featuring a diagonal line running from one side to the other which catches the light nicely and attractively showcases the volume dial.
The range of connectors was also stripped down but still offers more than enough options to enjoy multiple audio and video sources. On the back panel are four HDMI inputs and one output (UHD 4K HDR compatible up to 60 fps, 1080p/3D passthrough, ARC-compatible HDMI output), two digital audio inputs (optical and coaxial), a line in (RCA), an auxiliary input (3.5mm mini-jack) and a subwoofer output.
Inside the beast, a Class D amplifier delivers 5 x 20 Watts in multichannel configuration (up to 2 x 500 W in stereo). Although this may seem limited, it is absolutely enough to enjoy a convincing 5.1 listening experience in Dolby Digital or DTS with a set of home theater speakers in a living room measuring up to 30 m².
The particularity of this receiver is that it is compatible with the Denon Heos multiroom ecosystem. It is thus possible to connect it to two Denon Heos speakers for surround sound. By doing so, the receiver can direct more power toward the front speakers -the Denon Heos wireless speakers are already amplified- while doing away with cables connecting the receiver and the surround speakers.
Like the soundbar, the Denon Heos AVR receiver comes with a remote control, an HDMI cable, an optical audio cable, an Ethernet cable, and a mini-jack audio cable to use during the initial setup.
The Denon Heos multiroom system
With Heos, Denon offers a simple and efficient multiroom audio system which ensures wireless music playback throughout the house from multiple sources. The control app for smartphones and tablets can be downloaded for free and offers access to streaming services such as Spotify, Deezer, and Tidal, Internet radio stations (TuneIn), and even music stored on a computer or NAS if shared via the local network. The most common file formats (MP3, WMA, AAC) and HD audio files up to 24-bits/192kHz (FLAC, ALAC, WAV) are all handled. Music stored in the internal memory of a smartphone or tablet can also be read wirelessly and sent to a selection of Denon devices within a multiroom system or to the whole system. When connecting an external source to the USB port or to an input (analog / digital) of a Denon Heos device, music can be played by the device and by a selection of elements within the Denon Heos system simultaneously. Even music sent to a Denon Heos device via Bluetooth can be directed simultaneously toward one or more Heos speakers via the local network.
The Denon Heos app
The conductor of the Denon Heos multiroom system, the app is necessary to install and configure the system, and is also an ideal way to control the Denon Heos Bar, Denon Heos Sub, and Denon Heos Heos AVR receiver. The app is available for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, and it can be downloaded for free via the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
The interface is intuitive and clear. It allows the user to rename the elements of the Denon Heos system so these may be easily located. The app also grants access to online music services and music shared on the local network, and it lets the user control playback as well as sound volume in the different listening zones -which can easily be grouped together or separated. The Denon Heos App can even be used by several individuals over the same network to create or complete a playlist.
Above all, the Denon Heos App features clear settings menus which allow the user to fine-tune the Denon Heos Bar, Denon Heos Sub and Denon Heos AVR in a fast, simple, and efficient way.
Installation and configuration
In order to install and configure the various elements of the Denon Heos system, we downloaded the iOS version of the Denon Heos App on an iPhone 6 and on an iPad Air 2. When launched for the first time, the app requests access to the smartphone or tablet’s microphone. What’s the reason for this? It’s because the Heos element will connect to your handheld device via its mini-jack input, notably to transfer your login details and password to connect to the network. The first step of the installation process is to plug the mini-jack audio cable into the iPhone’s input and connect the other end to the back of your Heos device. Once this is done, you’ll need to keep an eye on the LED light next to the connect button.
When the light turned yellow, we pressed the connect button and waited for the LED to turn green and blink before going on to the next step. The app then started scanning for available WiFi networks (note that the iPhone and Heos devices need to be connected to the same network). Once the network was selected, we only had to type the password and the Denon Heos device connected to our home network in a matter of seconds. It couldn’t have been any simpler.
It is also possible to connect any Denon Heos device to the local network using an Ethernet cable, in which case there is no need to scan for networks or type the password.
The strength of the Denon Heos app is that it lets the user adjust the audio settings of the Heos Bar, Heos Sub, and Heos AVR via a simple and intuitive interface. The settings menu can be accessed by clicking on the cog icon in the upper left hand corner of the main screen under the music tab (visible at the bottom of the screen).
To enjoy 5.1 surround sound with the Denon Heos Bar, we used a pair of Denon Heos 1 as surround speakers along with the Denon Heos Subwoofer.
Since the installation and network connection process is the same for all the elements of the Denon Heos system, we had to connect the iPhone to each device using the included mini-jack cable. Once installed, we connected all the devices to the soundbar and assigned each Heos 1 speaker to a surround channel using the app’s settings menu. We were then able to manually adjust the distance between each Heos element and the listening zone as well as use a pink noise test to adjust the volume of each channel.
The optional low-pass filter can be used to adjust the frequency range covered by the subwoofer. We left the option on the “optimized” setting, which corresponds to the factory settings, specially adapted to the Heos soundbar specs.
The app features 6 customizable shortcuts which can be assigned to just as many sources in order to switch from one to the other using the remote control or the app. For example, the Quick Select 1 shortcut may be assigned to a Blu-ray player and the Quick Select 2 shortcut to a gaming console, and so on …
The process to install and configure the audio settings is the nearly the same as for the Denon Heos AVR home theater receiver, with the exception of the user being able to choose between using Denon Heos speakers and a subwoofer or a set of classic wired speakers and a subwoofer.
The Denon Heos app was an easy and convenient way to access our Deezer Premium+ account, along with our playlists and the online music service’s recommendations. SD files (MP3/AAC) and HD files (FLAC) stored on our set-top box’s hard drive were also handled smoothly and without a single issue. Direct Bluetooth playback from an iPhone was just as easy, and it also granted access to platforms which are not included in the Denon Heos app, including Youtube and Mixcloud.
Multiroom audio playback is particularly intuitive with the Denon Heos app, especially if each device has been properly labeled during the installation process. The app features a list of labels to choose from, but it is still possible to rename each Denon Heos device during installation or afterward via the settings menu.
To start playback, we just had to select the desired Heos device and the playback source in the Music tab (Deezer, local server, USB device …). To stream music to additional listening areas, we simply selected the tab with the house logo in the bottom left-hand corner to pull up a list of available devices. We then dragged and dropped another zone to add it to the current playback zone, which immediately connected the two and synced music playback. Syncing was instantaneous and we noticed absolutely no delay between the two systems. The syncing process is flawless.
To remove a device/zone from a group, all that is required is to drag and drop it away from the group in the app. Once the device/zone is removed from the group, it is possible to listen to a different track.
The sound level can be adjusted in one of two ways. First, by adjusting the master level, which changes the volume of all associated listening areas proportionally, or secondly, independently to adjust the level of each zone separately.
Difficult to be be any simpler.
Denon Heos BAR
We used the Denon Heos Bar with a pair of Denon Heos 1 speakers and a Denon Heos Sub in a large living room measuring approximately 45m² as well as in a room measuring approximately 20m². In both situations, we placed the soundbar between a TV and a Blu-ray player (Freebox player in the first room, Panasonic DMP-UB900 in the second) and used one of the four HDMI inputs to connect the player and the HDMI ARC output to send the signal to the TV. We tested the soundbar by itself first, then in a 5.1 configuration with two Heos 1 speakers and a Heos subwoofer.
When watching DTV and movies, the Denon Heos Bar by itself is enough to boost the TV’s sound and optimize the restitution of voices. The dialogue enhancement mode is a real feat as it manages to extract conversations from an abundance of surround effects and explosions. The restitution of dialogue is natural and effective, without any excessive projection of voices when leaving the default settings in place. The front stage may seem to suffer from a slight lack of width, which is not uncommon with soundbars, but the right and left surround channels are well delivered and the sound stage gains in magnitude as soon as the Movie Surround mode is activated. The sound is dynamic and very clean, and the soundbar manages to keep up when things start picking up the pace on screen without sounding muddy, even at high volume.
The full 5.1 audio system, which is comprised of the the Denon Heos soundbar along with two Heos 1 speakers and a Heos sub, undeniably optimizes the sound by exploiting all the channels of 5.1 Dolby and DTS soundtracks and placing effects all around the listener. The distance setting between the listening zone and the various elements of the system, as well as the adjustment of each speaker’s volume via the app, provided a quick and intuitive experience.
The wireless connection between the surround speakers and the subwoofer kept its promises: the installation process was much simpler and we noticed no delay in the sound delivery during our listening sessions. The sound placement is efficient and the restitution of lows is convincing.
One slight drawback, the soundbar and the Denon Heos 1 speakers may seem a bit underpowered to those who like to turn up the volume to create a “realistic” experience in a large living room. On the other hand, this set of speakers had no trouble reaching an adequate volume in a 20m² room. We do recommend using this system in a room measuring up to 25m² as it would quickly show its limits when it comes to competing with a home theater receiver with speakers.
Denon Heos AVR
For our test, we paired up the Denon Heos AVR to a 5.1 Tangent Spectrum speaker pack comprised of a Tangent Spectrum XC center speaker, a pair of Tangent Spectrum X5 compact speakers (FL and FR channels), a pair of Tangent Spectrum X4 compact speakers (surround channels), and of a Tangent Spectrum XSW-8 subwoofer. We used a Panasonic DMP-UB900 UHD Blu-ray player as a source and an LG OLED65B6V OLED TV, which we connected to the receiver’s HDMI ports.
Once the speakers and subwoofer were connected to the receiver, we were once again able to enjoy the simplicity of the Denon Heos app’s settings menu. Everything can be adjusted simply and quickly, from the low-pass filter to the subwoofer’s phase, and from the speaker’s level to their distance from the listening area. The app’s graphic interface allows the user to adjust the settings by simply moving a cursor while offering a precise indication of the selected settings. Using the app is so simple that even someone who is unfamiliar with setting up a home theater receiver will have no problem finding his or her marks.
If we wanted to be picky, we could ask for an auto-calibration mode using a microphone for novices, or even an in-app auto-calibration function which would use a smartphone or tablet’s microphone to proceed with the measurements, not unlike the SONOS TruePlay app…
Although it sets itself apart in many ways, the Denon Heos AVR is a true multichannel receiver, just like the more classic models from the Japanese manufacturer. On paper, its power is far from being gargantuan (2 x 50 Watts into 8 Ohms, in other words 5 x 20 Watts when all channels are used), but this is more than enough to drive the “small” Spectrum Tangent speakers in a room measuring up to 30m², maybe even a little more, or any compact speaker with a similar or superior sensibility rating (88 dB for the Spectrum X5), as long as an active subwoofer is added to the system.
Right from the opening scene of Mad Max Fury Road, the Heos AVR immediately showed what it was capable of with a great display of precision and dynamics, along with a wide soundstage. Tom Hardy’s low voice is well placed, right in the center and in front of the audience, while the reports of journalists announcing the nuclear catastrophe and the sound effects depicting the chaotic aftermaths fill the space and echo each other. The silence which follows is quickly interrupted by voices haunting the hero as he sits in front of us, facing the desert. Ensues the sound of a two-headed lizard stopped in its tracks by a quick snap of a heel. The roaring of Max’s Falcon XB V8 engine brings the subwoofer to life with a docile purr before turning into a mechanical frenzy which peaks with a chaotic crash caused by the harpooning of Max’s Ford. The crescendo in the surround effects is perfectly orchestrated, with a lot of energy and a perfect sense of timing. The audience immediately travels to the heart of the action, so much so that we let the film carry us away and forgot that we had to keep working on this test!
If the Heos AVR is clearly comfortable with action films, it is just as proficient with musical tracks. Whether this be digital tracks stored on a hard drive connected to its USB port or a Deezer playlist, the multiroom integrated amplifier offers a balanced and nuanced stereo delivery. On Other People, LP’s voice is well placed in the center and surrounded with natural-sounding guitars and drums. The artist’s whistling is convincing and brings additional breadth to the track which fills up the room with a delightful energy. The subwoofer effectively underlines the rhythm without overstepping its boundaries and brings additional life to the bass drum. The impression persisted with Katy Parry’s Chained to the Rhythm as we were carried away by the irresistible tempo of a disco-pop tornado. We caught ourselves tapping our foot to the rhythm of the bass and hand claps which were delivered with a nice energy. At the 2:50 mark, Skip Marley’s voice takes control of the center stage with great fervor right before the song takes us for another spin.
While the multichannel stereo mode fills up more space, it is the stereo mode that truly convinced us with its effective layering of sound layers, its outstanding breadth, and its persistent dynamism.
What we liked
- The Denon Heos app. Very intuitive, it grants access to a wide array of functions (online music services, customizable sources, multiroom function, audio settings …).
- The installation process. Easy and fast, it allows the user to quickly set up a 5.1 home theater system comprised of a Denon Heos Bar, Denon Heos Sub, and Denon Heos 1 speakers, using only a smartphone.
- The dialogue enhancement mode, very efficient with the soundbar.
- The breadth and dynamism of the Heos AVR. Its outstanding precision and energy with the soundtracks of blockbusters and its musicality when used for stereo listening.
- The compactness of the receiver, which makes it easy to integrate into most AV furniture.
What we would have liked
- A wider front stage with the soundbar.
- An auto-calibration function with the Heos AVR receiver
- An additional USB port on the front panel or on the side of the soundbar and receiver to occasionally connect a flash drive or an external hard drive without having to reach behind the device.
- Easier access to the Bluetooth pairing button.