HEOS by Denon is a full wireless multiroom system, and a fine one — two HEOS units won Sound+Image’s first ever awards for multiroom products in the 2015 awards.
In addition to three sizes of speaker unit, an amp and a receiver unit, the range has recently expanded with the introduction of the HEOS 1 speaker unit, the HEOS Drive (a four-zone HEOS amp and controller), and this soundbar and subwoofer solution, the HEOS HomeCinema. And this has a headstart in our affections, since were we betting folk, we’d put money on this unit deriving a chunk of its audio prowess from another Denon soundbar, the award-winning DHT-S514.
But this soundbar has full HEOS abilities, so will not only handle your TV and movie sound, it also has access to all the streaming music sources which come under control of the HEOS app for iOS and Android. HEOS is closely tied to its app — on the whole, you need a smart device to even turn on a HEOS system. But understanding that a soundbar might require more general use, HEOS has here included the ability to have your existing TV remote control some of its functions, which turned out to be a very good idea indeed.
Despite the potential complexity of a network-streaming app-controlled soundbar, HEOS has achieved wonderful simplicity of set-up with the HomeCinema. It is usefully compact, at just 7cm deep and 10cm high (with the smaller of its two sets of feet), and a template is included for wall-mounting. And on the back of the bar there are very well-marked (white on black) inputs split across two separate rear patch bays, rather than one. The extra space successfully removes much of the fiddliness common round the back of soundbars.
The connection options are straightforward enough — a minijack auxiliary analogue input, one each of optical and coaxial digital inputs, a USB slot (which can be used for a Bluetooth receiver dongle), and two HDMI sockets, one in and one out to your TV. The HDMI output is ARC-enabled, so if your TV input is similarly equipped, you can use this connection to play other audio from your TV back to the soundbar. If you don’t have ARC (or if it doesn’t prove compatible), you can use the optical or analogue inputs for your TV sound. In the app, during set-up, you can indicate which input you’ll be using for TV, and thenceforth selecting ‘TV’ will default to your chosen path.
The subwoofer, meanwhile, is equally compact, with a narrow front just 30cm high by 17cm wide, and 32cm deep. It ports to the rear (and the mains lead sticks out), so it’ll need a little space behind it. It connects wirelessly to the soundbar (and did so flawlessly), so it needs only the power connection.
Denon has been very generous with the cables — HDMI, optical, Ethernet, minijack for auxiliary analogue stereo, even an adaptor cable to turn RCA stereo phono plugs into the minijack required; they’re all in the box.
We connected our Blu-ray player to the soundbar’s HDMI input, and ran the optical connection for sound from our TV. For all the smart stuff, you connect to your home network by Wi-Fi or Ethernet. For Wi-Fi there is the usual HEOS procedure of connecting your smart device to the unit physically, using a supplied minijack audio cable. It’s a good system which works reliably. But on this occasion we gave the HomeCinema a hard Ethernet cable, which skips even that process. When we opened our HEOS app (installed during previous reviews) it was already connected and prompting us to install an update on our device.
We do like the HEOS app user interface. It’s now rather busier than when first launched a little over a year ago, with new services added (see the screen image above), and also now a horizontal layout, so you can prop up your iPad as a desktop controller.
Alongside the various music sources are listed the different inputs available to the soundbar, and you can tidy things up by hiding any unused inputs or services.
The set-up also invites you to teach the soundbar commands for volume up, down and mute from your normal TV remote — without which you’d be scrambling for the app at every turn. We were poised to become irate that input selection was not among these learned options, especially after the missus woke us up in the middle of the night hissing ‘no sound!,’ the soundbar being stuck on TV input and requiring app intervention to switch to Blu-ray. We later found in the full manual (online) that you can choose to assign input selection to other learning buttons. Problem solved, and missus happy.
When you select ‘TV’ you are offered several sound options — ‘Dialogue’ to emphasise speech, ‘Night Mode’ to limit dynamics and bass, and a choice of ‘Music’ or ‘Movie’ mode. One oddity is that these are available only under the ‘TV’ input, not for, say, the HDMI input we used for Blu-ray. But we gather the settings ‘stick’ across all inputs, so select ‘TV’, press something, then leave again.
More useful, and applied across the board, are the EQ controls, which are rather hidden away among the app settings. Where most HEOS units have bass and treble sliders, the Home Cinema has three — treble, bass, and subwoofer. So ‘bass’ here is really more a midrange control, and we were soon able to significantly improve the sound of the HomeCinema in our room, for music in particular, by nudging up both the sub and the middle slider just a couple of notches. This rounded out response without overpushing the subwoofer (we were impressed how well the sub integrated, despite it being a relatively small unit).
The width of the bar also allows an effective stereo presentation, as we noted when Pandora served up ‘Hotel California’. The bass guitar here was delivered with fullness across its range, the vocal well projected, and none of the spittiness on vocal sibilants that often comes from soundbars when trying to do music.
If any lower midrange congestion or bloat appeared, it could be notched out with the ‘bass slider’ (we did think the EQ could be more usefully accessed from the ‘Now Playing’ screen, rather than having to go through several layers of settings to adjust things on the fly). And Neil Finn’s ‘Twisty Bass’ showed just how much low-end the bar/sub combo could push into a room when requested. While we’re not saying it delivers the clarity of good stereo speakers, the HomeCinema is definitely a much more musical soundbar than most.
That bass also serves movie fare, of course, and here the default EQ seemed well chosen — as the bass pumped out impressively on ‘The Lego Movie’ Blu-ray’s ‘Everything is Awesome’ we notched the subwoofer level back to its central point. There was clarity and atmosphere delivered for the industrial soundscapes of ‘Peaky Blinders’ via Netflix (served by an Oppo Blu-ray player through HDMI). And there’s a good level available — the HomeCinema doesn’t quite envelop a room like a full surround system, and the layers were prone to break down at very high volumes, but it provided an effective and suitably dramatic performance for movies, while not getting too in-yer-face with casual TV viewing.
Big movie sound, effective TV sound, no duffer at music and with all the multiroom abilities of HEOS, the HomeCinema is quite the little giant, and only increases the attractions of the overall HEOS wireless multiroom system.
HEOS HomeCinema soundbar + subwoofer
+ Good with movies and music, Full multiroom wireless abilities, All the HEOS streaming services
- App control essential
Drivers: 2 x 20mm soft-dome tweeters, 2 x 5x12cm racetrack midwoofers,2 x 13cm woofers (subwoofer)
Inputs: minijack auxiliary analogue, optical digital, coaxial digital, USB, HDMI, HDMI out+ARC
Outputs: HDMI, IR blaster
Networking: Ethernet or Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
Music services: Spotify, Deezer, TuneIn internet radio, Napster, SoundCloud, Rdio, Tidal
Streaming support: MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, WAV to 44.1/48kHz
Surround support: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital+, DTS
Dimensions (hwd): 82 x 1017 x 94mm (bar); 313 x 172 x 332mm (sub)
Weight: 2.8kg (bar); 6.6kg (sub)
Product page: au.denon.com/au/heos