HEOS by Denon
Unlike some rivals, the HEOS system hasn’t changed fundamentally since our previous review, but new models and expanded music services have made this Sound+Image award-winning system even more attractive.
HEOS was one of the first of the new wave of wireless multiroom systems, reassuringly backed by the audio heritage of Denon and the D&M stable, and developed in part here in Australia from the ‘Avega’ system of wireless speakers going back almost a decade.
The HEOS ecosystem originally launched with three wireless speakers of rising size (numbered HEOS 3, HEOS 5 and HEOS 7; the middle unit is pictured above), plus two receiver units, one with amplification so you just add speakers (called the Amp) and one without amplification so you plug it into an input on any existing sound system (the Link). Since then the range has expanded with a soundbar and sub solution, a smaller speaker to which a portable battery pack can be added, and something unique so far among these consumer systems — the HEOS Drive, which incorporates four full zones of amplification in a single box, something which makes the HEOS system attractive to custom installers and those designing a properly cabled distributed music system.
All these units are available in a white or black finish, and all of them have useful auxiliary inputs which can be shared with all other HEOS units in the home — one analogue minijack input, and one USB slot into which sticks or hard drives of music can be plugged, and which are then shared to other HEOS players. There is one last family member — the HEOS Extend, a unit that can usefully boost your Wi-Fi network if and where required.
HEOS – the app
HEOS is thoroughly modern in focusing primarily on streaming music sources and app control. Where some systems provide physical remote controls or PC/Mac control software, the HEOS system assumes a smartphone or tablet device will always be present and available to control the system — you can’t get any music out of your HEOS system without it. This is important to understand — everyone must control it with the app; if anyone is home alone without a smart device, they simply won’t be able to use the music system.
But assuming you tick the modern family smartphone-savvy box, the app is very easy to use with large button sizes friendly to smartphone operation.
Of particular handiness are the three bottom buttons which take you to essential screens. Nearly always present, they assist in getting around the app faster than some rivals where you need to back up several layers.
On the HEOS app the ‘Rooms’ tab quickly accesses the section for selecting your player; ‘Music’ gets you straight to your music sources; and ‘Now playing’ takes you straight to the current track so you can control music, make playlists and enjoy large album artwork where it is available.
There are usefully extensive settings a little hidden away in the top left of the Music screen. These include the ability to adjust bass and treble for each of your wireless speaker units, and we were delighted to find we could adjust the brightness of the tasteful glowing blue-purple lights under each unit.
Set up of the various available music sources is also under these settings. These have expanded to include Tidal, Spotify Connect, Pandora, Soundcloud and TuneIn, and properly regionalised for Australia too. There is neither Apple AirPlay nor Bluetooth here, so you can’t throw other apps or use the richer interfaces of those that are offered, but you can add Bluetooth by putting a suitable dongle in the USB slot. Remember this USB slot can also be used to add hard drives or sticks of media to your system, and these are shared across all HEOS units.
File support includes MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC and WAV files up to CD quality (16-bit/48kHz). There’s no support for AIFF, DSD/DXD or files above 48kHz — but we’ve heard that high-res support might be coming soon.
Overall then, the HEOS app works well, its simplicity a virtue in general, and with landscape operation usefully added since last year. We’d still like to see a control program made available for Mac or PC computers.