I have a weird confession to make. Over the past few years, I've reviewed a handful of receivers with HEOS multiroom audio streaming capabilities built in; and, although I've always done my due diligence and configured the streaming ecosystem so that I could poke it and make sure it ticked, I've never really dug too deeply into the platform. Satisfied that it was easy enough to configure and that the app was reasonably competent, I pretty much ignored it otherwise. Shame on me, I know, but I was reviewing receivers, not multiroom audio ecosystems.
No such omission is possible, though, when reviewing the HEOS Bar, a three-channel soundbar that serves triple duty as a TV speaker upgrade, a wireless music system, and the centerpiece of a speaker-cable-free 5.1-channel surround sound system complete with the latest in digital AV connectivity. HEOS isn't merely a feature here; it's at least half the point. Everything about the HEOS Bar, from setup to day-to-day use, so deeply revolves around the connected, wireless media-streaming experience that to ignore it would be to ignore all but the HEOS Bar's most basic functionality.
Let's talk about that basic functionality for a bit, though, because it's impressive in its own right. Ignore all of the streaming capabilities, the wireless speaker pairing, and the app-based control, and the HEOS Bar is still a very formidable three-channel active speaker system (with a pair of 2x5-inch oval woofers and a 1.5-inch tweeter for each channel), complete with four HDMI inputs (all UHD/HDR and HDCP 2.2 compatible), one HDMI output (with ARC), and extensive audio format support, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio for video content and pretty much the entire gamut of music file formats: FLAC, WAV, and ALAC up to 192/24; MP3; WMA; AAC; and DSD 2.4 and 5.6 MHz.
As is becoming pretty standard for high-end soundbars, the HEOS Bar's drivers are configured at 45 degrees, to accommodate flat placement on a credenza or wall-mounting under or over a TV. The package also comes with a pair of tootsies for the former, as well as a wall-mount template for the latter. No additional mounting hardware is necessary if you opt to use the keyholes on the back of the unit, but there are threaded mount holes, should you choose to use them. Hardware for that is sold separately.
If you do opt for the table-mount option, the HEOS Bar also has another neat little design element that you'll surely appreciate if you have a low-sitting TV: built-in IR repeaters in a strip along the back panel that pass through any incoming signal. This isn't a real concern with either of the displays in my house, especially given how low the HEOS Bar sits to begin with, but it's still a super nice touch. Perhaps more universally handy is its ability to learn control commands from your TV remote, which--combined with its HDMI-CEC capabilities--do simplify control a bit.
Of course, one of the HEOS Bar's neatest tricks it its ability to pair wirelessly with the HEOS Subwoofer, along with a pair of HEOS wireless speakers or even the HEOS Amp, to create a full 5.1-channel sound system. Not a cheap one, mind you, since the Bar itself costs $899, the Sub runs $599, and wireless speakers start at $199 for the HEOS 1 HS2. For the purposes of this review, I relied on the HEOS 5 HS2, which at $399 each brings the total price of a 5.1 system up to $2,296. That's steep, no doubt, but not out of line with other soundbar-based wireless surround sound systems.
If you're unfamiliar with HEOS, or a little confused about what relation a wireless music streaming speaker system has with a soundbar, perhaps a bit of explanation is in order. HEOS is Denon's alternative to Sonos and other such systems. Rather than merely relying on Bluetooth or AirPlay or other such streaming methods, HEOS forms a network between any compatible speakers in its ecosystem, allowing you to create a true multiroom music experience.
In many respects, the HEOS Bar works like any other speaker in the HEOS lineup: once connected to your home network, it's operated largely via the HEOS app (although there is a hard-button remote included, too), which gives you direct access to all manner of streaming audio services (Pandora, TuneIn, Amazon Music, Deezer, Napster, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM, TIDAL, Soundcloud, and Rhapsody), along with Spotify Connect and music stored on your phone or a USB/network-connected storage device.
The HEOS Bar takes this one step further by adding all of the AV connectivity mentioned above, along with surround sound capabilities. And setting up such a system proved to be a delightfully non-linear process, by which I mean that you're not going to run into a situation in which you've configured a speaker or a connection out of order and have to start over from scratch. In my case, I set up the HEOS Bar first in order to test it on its own for a bit, without the benefit of sub or surrounds, then I added the HEOS Subwoofer and HEOS 5 surround speakers--and I found it just as easy and intuitive to add them manually as it would have been to add them by way of the soundbar setup wizard included in the HEOS app. Thankfully, if you do add speakers to an existing system, the app also pops up an offer to run the system setup wizard again.
As I said in the intro, my experience with HEOS to date amounts to tinkering with the feature briefly when reviewing Denon and Marantz receivers, so this was my first opportunity to set up a dedicated HEOS speaker. For the soundbar, I relied on a wired Ethernet connection, which effectively meant that the thing set itself up in terms of network connectivity and appeared in the app immediately. However, adding the HEOS Subwoofer and wireless surrounds required a wireless connection because the HEOS Bar actually establishes its own 5GHz wireless network instead of using your existing home network. For the record, all of the HEOS components reviewed here have Ethernet connections and can be added to the wired network individually, if you're not using them as part of a surround sound setup.
There are a few different ways to go about the initial wireless setup of the HEOS Subwoofer and HEOS 5. If your router supports WPS, that's probably the quickest route. My enterprise-grade Cisco/Ruckus system doesn't do WPS, which left me taking an only slightly more complicated approach that involved connecting the Lightning-to-3.5mm dongle that came with my iPhone 8 Plus to a cable and running it into the back of the speaker, pressing a button, and waiting for a light to flash. That's that. The app is even smart enough to detect which sort of phone you have and whether you'll need such a dongle, which is another nice touch.
If, like me, you have an enterprise-grade network, you'll likely also need to take the additional step of turning off your zone director's Rogue Access Point Detection, so as not to conflict with the HEOS Bar's own wireless network. But if you have such a system, that likely goes without saying.
Other than that, setup is mostly what you'd expect. The HEOS app gives you pretty intuitive access to channel level and delay settings, as well as lip-sync delays, which--if your experience is anything like mine--you'll definitely need. Crossover settings between the soundbar, sub, and surrounds can also be configured, with options ranging from 40 Hz to 120 Hz in 10Hz increments, as well as 150-, 200-, and 250Hz settings. Most people will likely aim straight for the "Optimized" setting, though.
There's also a two-band EQ that you can tinker with to dial in the performance a little to match the particulars of your room, a feature that we'll dig into in just a bit. And there's one setting in particular that you'll definitely want to pay attention to if you're using the HEOS Bar in a surround sound setup. Right under the EQ, you'll find a setting labeled "Quality," which features two options: Normal and High. There's no real explanation in the app of what these do, though. In short, this selects between two transcoding options for streaming audio to all of your multi-room speakers. High, as you might expect, transcodes losslessly, whereas Normal applies lossy compression.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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