Denon recently added several new products to the HEOS range, including a soundbar and a subwoofer. In this review we look at the Denon HEOS Bar and Denon Heos Subwoofer.
Denon HEOS Bar and Subwoofer
HEOS is one of Sonos’ main challengers in the multiroom market. The recipe is similar, although HEOS – a sister brand of Denon – increasingly puts his own accents. For example, more Denon receivers with HEOS are built in, so you can build a nice multiroom system consisting of wireless speakers (for example in the kitchen and dining room) and high-quality audio solutions in the living room. You can not find that with Sonos, but with Yamaha. AV receivers, however, remain free niche and therefore HEOS also has classic soundbar solutions for TV sound.
First there was the HEOS HomeCinema, a sleek soundbar that was bundled with a wireless subwoofer. The HomeCinema is a great device for its price, but offers a relatively simple 2.1 experience. The film lover wants more, of course, and then we talk about the brand new HEOS Bar, which costs 999 euros. The Bar is more advanced in all areas, with more HDMI inputs and a 3.0 sound.
Moreover, you can expand it with the brand new and 699 euro HEOS Subwoofer and with two wireless HEOS speakers. If you do that, you will achieve a true 5.1 set-up. You also have the option to work for the surround back channels with a HEOS Amp with two passive speakers. This is useful if you have a set of speakers that you want to use. A certain price tag is of course attached to a HEOS Amp. In this review we review the HEOS Bar, with and without HEOS Subwoofer. We also received two HEOS 3 speakers from Denon that we use as rear-speakers.
The HEOS Bar is a larger soundbar of 110 cm wide and almost 15 cm deep. It fits nicely with a 55-inch television, with a smaller TV model the difference will be visually large. The height of 7.2 cm is also not min and can in some cases just cover the bottom of the TV. But Denon has thought of a number of installation scenarios. In the box, for example, small feet that raise the sound bar, so you can place it over a flat TV stand. The HEOS Bar also has an IR learning function, in case the soundbar covers the IR sensor of your television.
You can also hang this HEOS soundbar on the wall. The drivers – which you do not see because of speaker cloth – are mounted at an angle so that they always emit sound to your seating position. The large dimensions on paper do not translate into a large or log machine in practice. The HEOS Bar does retain that more angular design that Denon likes, but it has a line pattern that makes it appear more compact and slimmer from the sofa. We experienced the same optical illusion recently in the test of the Q Acoustics M3.
Perhaps a point of attention is the placement of the HEOS Bar. The soundbar has two bass ports at the back. We did not have the chance to test this, but we suspect that if you really put it in a TV cabinet, the basses will go up a lot. Best then the low what reduce through the settings in the app.
When it comes to connections, the contrast between major competitor Sonos Playbar and the HEOS Bar can not be greater. Sonos believes that you should only connect a TV with an optical cable and that peripheral equipment should hang on the TV set. The HEOS Bar has four HDMI inputs and can be connected to the TV via an HDMI cable. There are also two digital inputs (one coaxial, one optical), a USB port for USB storage and an analog auxiliary input. Even without the many HEOS streaming options (see below), this soundbar is well equipped. The many inputs make it possible to connect all sources, such as consoles and TV decoders, to the HEOS Bar and to your television with just one cable. An asset with wall mounting is that.
All connections are located at the back of the HEOS Bar, which allows a neat installation. To use all streaming options, you must connect the soundbar to the network. This is done in a special way that is specific to HEOS. First install the HEOS app on your mobile device (Android or iOS) and then connect this device via the headphone output to the aux input of the HEOS Bar. You do this with the included cable. In the HEOS app you go through only a few steps, with the password of your WiFi network being sent over the cable. It may sound crazy, but it is very fast and very user-friendly. The app clearly shows you what to do. It is said that Denon will drop this cable method in the future in favor of a wireless configuration, such as Sonos and Samsung Multiroom. But that has not yet been confirmed and should not, in our opinion, be. It works. You use the same method to get all HEOS products on the network, including the HEOS Subwoofer.
Installing the Subwoofer is therefore the same procedure as with the HEOS Bar: plug in the cable, press the button and transfer the WiFi password. In many cases, the subwoofer will be used with the HEOS Bar, but it is not limited to that one application. Just like the Sonos Sub, the HEOS Subwoofer can be used with the entire HEOS range, for example to give a pair of HEOS 1 speakers a better bass foundation. In fact, HEOS is more flexible here than the competition, because the Subwoofer can be combined with its own speakers attached to a HEOS AVR or HEOS Amp. You can even combine it with the HEOS Link, so with its own amplifier and its own loudspeakers. A pat on the back for Denon that they immediately provide a low pass filter setting that can be adjusted in steps of ten between 40 and 250 Hz. This allows you to seamlessly connect the HEOS Subwoofer to the frequency range of your own loudspeakers, which is especially important when using bookshelf speakers.
The Subwoofer itself is a pretty heavy and heavier thing that you can safely place in the back of the room. He does not emit too high frequencies that can localize our hearing, as many sound-bar subwoofers do. There is a bass port in the back, so do not place it with this opening to the wall (or just, if you want some extra strong bass).
Operation via the HEOS app
The clear installation instructions set the tone for the entire HEOS experience. It is just very intuitive and easy. You can operate the HEOS Bar in different ways. If you hang the soundbar via HDMI on your television, you can adjust the volume with the TV remote. Denon also has a mini remote control with six adjustable presets and media controls. The buttons on the side of the soundbar itself are more of an emergency, because in practice you will rarely use them.
You have the most control via the HEOS app. This app is cleverly put together. There are three large parts that you select via icons at the bottom of the screen: Rooms, Music and Current audio. In ‘Rooms’ you choose the device you want to operate and connect your HEOS devices. For example, if you want to pair the HEOS Subwoofer with the HEOS Bar, you can drag one on the other. At ‘Music’ you get an overview of all sources, both streaming and physical connections. The term ‘Music’ does not cover the charge at all, because you will also find the button to make the TV sound heard. ‘Current’ used to show – when HEOS was just a music solution – only the cover of the song that was played. Now it has become somewhat confusing, because sometimes you see an album cover here, but when activating an HDMI input, a panel with six presets and buttons to adjust sound modes.
A downside is that some options are more difficult to detect. These are often things you do not often need, such as the settings that belong to specific devices. The light intensity of the blue LED on the HEOS Bar for example. We would like you to be able to hit institutions very quickly, with the HEOS app it is a bit of searching.
An important element of the app is of course access to streaming. Compared to the big competitor Sonos – a comparison that every consumer will and must make – HEOS has some disadvantages, but also benefits. The streaming options of the Bar are similar to those of the other HEOS devices. In summary, we can say that although the HEOS Bar supports much less streaming services than Sonos, they do offer Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, Soundcloud and Internet radio through TuneIn. With this, HEOS has the most important names. We personally miss Qobuz and Google Play Music. A trump of HEOS is that the system works well with its own files, both over the network and from USB storage. Virtually every HEOS device – including the Subwoofer! – has a USB port where you can insert a USB stick with files. Support for file formats is just fine (MP3, AAC, FLAC, Apple Lossless or ALAC, WMA and WAV). The HEOS Bar is a second generation HEOS device (sometimes referred to as HS2) and therefore also plays hi-res FLAC, ALAC and WAV up to 192 kHz / 24 bit. Even DSD playback is possible. If you select a file with a higher resolution, they will still play (downsampled). As stated, the HEOS Bar also has a large number of physical inputs. These are also divisible to other HEOS speakers. In the HEOS app there is a setting to buffer the stream so that all speakers play synchronously.
Setting the home theater system
The HEOS Bar positions itself as a device that is suitable for both music and film. First let’s look at his credentials in home cinema. Criticism that you could have on the HEOS HomeCinema and the Sonos Playbar is that they did not actually process surround formats. The HEOS Bar does, up to DTS HD Master and Dolby TrueHD. You should therefore make sure that your TV and connected Blu-ray players send audio via bitstream over HDMI. Of course you have relatively few decoden if you use the HEOS Bar without extras. After all, it only shows 3.0 display. If you connect the HEOS Subwoofer and two rear speakers, it will be interesting again. You then have a real 5.1 system, but without cables through the room.
A plus point for HEOS is that connecting speakers to the HEOS Bar is so fast that you can also do it ad hoc. It is very feasible, for example, to use two HEOS 1 speakers in the kitchen during the day and then bring them to the living room for a movie night in the evening. You miss that flexibility at Sonos, where the (dis) linking of a Sub and Sonos speakers with the Playbar requires more work and time. Specifically, the linking of speakers to the HEOS Bar takes place in the same way as grouping HEOS products: in the app you drag the speaker to the HEOS Bar, after which you get the question whether you want to create a surround setup or just a group. In the latter case, the speakers play the same as the soundbar.
Connecting the Subwoofer to the HEOS Bar goes smoothly. He simply appears in the overview of devices under ‘Rooms’. Tap on it and you get a list of HEOS devices to which you can link the subwoofer. As said, the HEOS app allows you to set a low pass filter, but for certain HEOS devices (such as the Bar) you can simply go for an optimized setting. If you have already added surround speakers, you also get the question whether the subwoofer should take over the production of their low frequencies (the alternative is ‘Full Range’). The advantage of this is that both the Bar and the two rear-speakers do not try to produce basses, so that their drivers can more optimally represent the middle area. Unless you really have a large room, definitely enable this option.
Listen to music
A device that is so packed with streaming options, we first have to test with music. We do not make the HEOS Bar too difficult at first, and play Gregory Porter’s ‘Liquid Spirit’ album. It is him or Dianne Krall on most shop demos nowadays, but nevertheless: the man has a voice of golden honey. For a soundbar the Bar performs very nicely at this point. The full, warm timbre of Porter’s voice is beautifully transmitted in the room. We switch the Subwoofer on and off, and although the contribution of sub is noticeable, it does not feel so necessary. The HEOS Bar can easily transfer these tracks without problems. We switch over to Daft Punk and ‘Random Access Memories’. With the song ‘Contact’ – fast and in the second part marked with a deep, messy bass that reminds more of a ship’s engine – the HEOS Bar keeps coming out of the corner. The center channel is somewhat dominant, which makes it sound a bit less open than we like to have. The ultra-low tones of this track are not entirely served, but that is not surprising. Surprisingly, however, there is sufficient lowness to deliver a fuller sound. You do not feel that much is missing – until you turn on the HEOS Subwoofer. The combination of the Bar and Subwoofer sounds so much better with this type of music. If you add the rear speakers, music will play in ‘Multichannel stereo’, not in any surround mode. A good case.
At this point we notice that the rear-speakers predominate quite strongly. If we briefly dive into the settings, it is possible to control both the individual volume levels and the distance of each speaker in relation to the listening position. This is pretty powerful and useful to get the sound really optimal for your home, but you have to know where these settings are located. For the record: tap on ‘My music’ and then on the settings icon, choose ‘My devices’, then ‘HEOS Bar’, then ‘Speakers’, and finally ‘Distances’ or ‘Levels’ (sic).
The HEOS home cinema experience
When switching on a TV that is connected to HDMI, the HEOS Bar will automatically activate this input. In the ‘Play Now’ screen you will see a screen with the Quick Select shortcuts and some useful options, including ‘Sound Mode’. For TV viewing we would recommend ‘Movie Surround’, for music really ‘Music Surround’. The only problem is that you can only switch this mode if the HDMI input is active, not when you are streaming.
For our test we get our loyal test discs above, played from a Samsung UBD-K8500. We start with the opening scene of ‘Gravity’ from Blu-ray (DTS-HD Master Audio), a piece of film filled with rapidly changing positional audio. First you have NASA astronauts flying around the space shuttle while exchanging jokes with Houston, followed by the dramatic impact of hundreds of satellite components. Of course the surround feeling is much more present when you add the two rear channels to the set-up, without having a big sound, but still with 3.0 stitches. There is a good left-center separation. The ‘Mission Abort’ of Houston really comes from the right. Dialogues are currently well distinguished from sound effects in the other channels. If we add the subwoofer then it becomes already powerful. Even a little too much, because if the astronauts land against the space shuttle, the impact sound is too much. However, just adjust the Subwoofer down – we had a bit of a boost to be more present at music. For the moment the debris touches the space shuttle and Sandra Bullock tumbles through the room, we switch on the rear speakers again. What we hear now is really pretty good, a step above what the Sonos Playbar with Sub and two Play: 1’s performs. We also look at ‘Captain America: Civil War’ via Netflix (Dolby Digital Plus 5.1), and see our conclusion confirmed. The sound image with effects that move through the space is quite right, you can see that there is proper processing here. This is a great soundbar, especially with the rears and Subwoofer. One comment is that we experience the HEOS Subwoofer as a bit more woolly than the Sonos Sub. However, it is not always well-adjusted in terms of low pass filter.
A first observation is that Denon has thought very carefully about the HEOS Bar. All kinds of small things prove that, like the presence of the IR sensor, the spacious technical settings for a multiroom system (such as the low pass filter for the subwoofer) and the shortcuts in the app. It seems as if any criticism that we could think of has already been parried by the design team. That is neat, because very often we get products on the floor that are in good shape but that fail in the details somewhere.
As part of the wider HEOS platform, which also includes very diverse HT and soon hi-fi devices in addition to wireless speakers, the HEOS Bar enjoys excellent streaming and hi-res support. There are a few things missing, but nothing crucial. The HEOS Bar is a really good soundbar, which could only be slightly more spacious. The good center view is then a plus. Combine it with the HEOS Subwoofer, then you end up with something that you can call really excellent. The addition of additional speakers will take it to an even higher level – but you will then speak of a total package with a high price.