We were amazed to discover that Denon’s new multiroom system, HEOS, was developed here in Australia from an office in North Sydney.
The 'HEOS by Denon' system mirrors the multiroom streaming of Sonos, but claims several key differentiators:
- Easy set-up with access to streaming sources and ‘legacy’ media with a very simple user experience;
- Multiroom operation with industry-leading synchronisation;
- Sound quality based on Denon’s “100 years of great sound”.
Available from early September, the HEOS range will initially offer three compact wireless speakers (above) in the HEOS 7 ($899), HEOS 5 ($599), and HEOS 3 ($449), plus the ‘Link’ ($549, a simple receiver to feed an existing hi-fi, like the Sonos Connect:), and the Amp ($799) as a just-add-speakers receiver and amp.
A smaller HEOS 1, a soundbar, soundbase and subwoofer are expected to follow in 2015, shadowing the Sonos range almost exactly.
Unlike the Sonos wireless mesh, however, HEOS works through an existing Wi-Fi network (the units have dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi), with a HEOS Extend Wi-Fi Extender available to overcome any weak signal spots.
Also unlike Sonos, the units have USB inputs into which hard drives, thumb drives and DLNA-serving smart devices can be plugged for music playback. There is FLAC and WAV support up to 48kHz, plus MP3, AAC and WMA. Each unit also has an auxiliary input minijack.
Seen as a streaming solution first and foremost, HEOS promises access to “the most popular cloud music services”, which currently in Australia include Pandora, Spotify (with Connect), TuneIn internet radio and Deezer, with the following “coming soon” (but not necessarily in Australia): iHeartradio, SiriusXM, beatsmusic, rdio and songza. All these are accessed through a single app (shown on the right rather larger than most will experience it) which will offer whole-home music control from iPhone and Android devices. A dedicated iPad-sized app is to follow.
The $449 HEOS 3 uses a two-channel digital amplifier to drive a pair of full-range drivers; it can be played vertically or horizontally or wall-mounted.
The $599 HEOS 5 has four amplifiers to drive stereo tweeters and midrange drivers plus a passive radiator, while the larger $899 HEOS 7 has one further amp, an active sub and twin passive radiators. All these units are available in a white or black finish, and all units have the USB inputs for sticks or hard drives which are then shared across the network to other HEOS players.
There is also multiple-zone playback available with an innovative “pinch to party” action on the touchscreen, and two HEOS 3 units can be paired to operate in stereo, with what Denon calls “audiophile-level synchronisation”, though we had to push them hard for a latency figure in microseconds — “single sample accuracy” was their quote, an engineer later confirming this as around 25 microseconds, which is indeed industry-leading stuff — the same figure quoted by Pure and Imagination Technologies. As noted at the launch, such fine synchronisation is most important when pairing HEOS 3s in stereo.
THE AUSTRALIAN CONNECTION
Most of this we had already reported on, but the big reveal at the launch came when we were walked up the road in North Sydney to discover a D&M Innovation Centre hiding away in Berry Street.
It turns out that the technology behind HEOS was born here in Australia as the Avega system of wireless speakers going back almost a decade. The founders include Peter Celinski, now at D&M in the US [shown centre below right, with Anders Brogestam (R) and Nick Murrells of D&M Sydney (L)] and his brother Tom who has worked for Linn in Scotland, along with two other ex-Linn founders, Max Ramsey and Stuart Bryce.
Avega funding came from Professor Neil Weste and David Skellern, both formerly of Radiata Communications and Skellern of NICTA – Radiata it was that took up the CSIRO’s Wi-Fi patent and made the world’s first Wi-Fi chips. With Radiata subsequently bought by CISCO, it was perhaps no surprise that CISCO launched the first Avega-based products at CES in 2009, while the Avega tech was also licensed to CISCO, Dell and other audio brands. Then Altec Lansing acquired Avega in 2010 – but Altec Lansing itself was sold in the USA 18 months later and D&M “quietly made an offer” and acquired Avega in 2012.
Since then the Australian team has developed the technology and the applications while using Denon’s expertise in cabinet design and audio tuning. Ongoing development will continue in North Sydney with the original core ‘Avega’ team, along with a second HEOS R&D Centre in California, and of course Denon in Japan.
HEOS is distributed in Australia by QualiFi, starting in 20 AV specialists currently carrying Denon equipment. For more information, visit QualiFi’s HEOS microsite via www.qualifi.com.au.