Last year, I reviewed the Marantz AV7703 AV processor, which has HEOS functionality built in. I decided to do a separate article on the HEOS platform, as it is so much more than just another of many functions on a full-featured AV processor. Denon first introduced the HEOS wireless, multi-room platform in 2014; its obvious competition was Sonos, but the HEOS lineup and capabilities were extremely limited by comparison.
The second generation of HEOS expands on both the product offerings and the format's capabilities. The line now includes four standalone speakers that range in price from $199 to $599 (the HEOS 1, 3, 5, and 7), as well as a couple of soundbar options, a subwoofer, amplified and non-amplified wireless receivers, and a range extender. HEOS recently introduced a couple of products aimed at the custom installation market: the HEOS Drive and HEOS SuperLink are both four-zone, single-chassis playback systems. The Drive comes with built-in amplification, and the SuperLink is line-level only. But one of the distinguishing aspects of HEOS compared with Sonos is its direct integration into AV electronics from sister companies Denon and Marantz, which allows you to easily stream a variety of audio sources to compatible HEOS products.
Second-generation HEOS devices utilize both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity and support high-resolution audio playback. The HEOS system can play MP3, WMA, ALAC, WAV, FLAC, and AAC files, and it supports resolutions up to 24-bit/192-kHz, as well as DSD 2.8 and 5.6 MHz. Support for AIFF files is said to be coming. HEOS is compatible with most major streaming services, including Spotify, Pandora, TIDAL, Amazon Music, TuneIn, Napster, Deezer, and more.
As part of my Marantz review, I received the HEOS 7 tabletop speaker, plus a pair of the smaller HEOS 3 speakers. The HEOS 7 retails for $599 and is the largest (non-soundbar) speaker in the lineup, measuring approximately 19 inches across by eight inches high by six inches deep. The modern design features acoustically transparent cloth across most of the front, with a metallic accent strip across the top. The front and rear panels slope to form a point at the top. The right panel has volume up/down and mute buttons, and the rear panel sports all of the connections: power, auxiliary input, USB, Ethernet, and buttons for setting up the wireless connections. Unique to the HEOS 7 is a headphone jack, which can be found on the left side panel. Five Class D amplifiers drive a pair of tweeters, a pair of mid-woofers, and one subwoofer, and there are two passive radiators.
The smaller HEOS 3 retails for $299 and measures 10.6 inches high by five inches wide by 6.5 inches deep. You can configure the HEOS 3 horizontally or vertically, and it has the same connection options as the HEOS 7, minus the headphone jack. The HEOS 3's back panel also features a threaded insert to wall- or ceiling-mount the speaker. The HEOS 3 uses two full-range drivers driven by a two-channel Class D amplifier. Notably, you can pair two HEOS 3s together to make a stereo pair, or you can configure them as surround channels when mated with a HEOS Bar or HEOS AVR.
The HEOS 7 had no problem filling my 500-square-foot living room with sound. I streamed Camila Cabello's "Havana" from TIDAL, and the HEOS 7 played loud enough to be easily heard over a talkative group of guests. The HEOS 7 obviously cannot reproduce the low bass notes of a pipe organ or the impact of electronic bass notes with the authority of a floorstanding speaker, but it extended low into the mid-bass range without distortion or obvious distress. The vocals and strings were solid and reasonably well detailed, and they occupied a soundstage that extended beyond the speaker.
When configured as a stereo pair, the HEOS 3 speakers provided a wider and deeper soundstage, but I preferred the sound of a single HEOS 7 for more critical music listening. The HEOS 3 speakers were better suited to provide background music in a larger room or perhaps as a main system in a small bedroom or office.
• High-resolution capability is a big plus, even if the speakers cannot take full advantage of it, performance-wise. It is nice that the same audio files that play through your audiophile system can also be played through the HEOS system.
• The sound quality of the HEOS 7 speaker is quite good.
• Direct integration of HEOS into a processor like the Marantz AV7703 makes for easy setup of a whole-house audio system.
• The lack of Roon capability prevents the HEOS from being the audiophile's choice for a multi-room wireless platform. Roon is very popular with audiophile enthusiasts.
• The HEOS literature has stated that AIFF is "coming soon" for about a year. It's a bummer to select an AIFF track from your library (not realizing it is AIFF), only to receive a message that it is not a compatible format.
Comparison and Competition
The most obvious competitor is Sonos. The PLAY:5 ($499) is the largest tabletop speaker in the Sonos line and would be the closest competitor to the HEOS 7, while the PLAY:3 ($249) lines up against the HEOS 3. Having used a Sonos system for several years, I am more comfortable with the Sonos app. I'm not sure if this is just due to familiarity or if the Sonos app is really more intuitive.
Yamaha's MusicCAST platform is another competitor that's integrated directly into many of the company's own AV receivers and processors, and Yamaha offers a similar line of speakers, soundbars, etc.
You can find DTS Play-Fi in a lot of AV receivers and processors, as well as in compatible tabletop speakers from a variety of manufacturers.
Over the past few months, I've become a fan of the HEOS system. During my review of the Marantz AV7703, I came to appreciate not only the high-quality streaming but also the ease of having the HEOS speakers play what was streaming to my main system. The HEOS speakers synchronized well, with no audible delays. The HEOS system has matured into a full-featured, high-quality system that provides a wide variety of options to fit the needs of just about any multi-room setup.
• Visit the HEOS website for more product information.
• Check out our Wireless Speaker Reviews category page to read similar reviews.
• Denon Announces New HEOS Soundbar and Subwoofer at HomeTheaterReview.com.