Hands-on: Sonos should be very worried
- Flexible positioning
- Cool design
- Connections: 4x HDMI, 3.5mm, optical, coaxial, USB, Ethernet, Bluetooth
- Multiroom support
- Can add subwoofer and surrounds for 5.1 audio
- Manufacturer: Denon
- Review Price: £799.00
WHAT IS THE HEOS BAR?
HEOS started life as Denon’s wireless multiroom audio system and a direct competitor to Sonos. These days, it’s a little more than that.
Now HEOS exists as a brand in its own right, with products separate from Denon’s range. This is HEOS’s crack at an all-singing, all-dancing soundbar. It will have to be rather special, as there’s no getting away from the fact that there’s only one other real competitor on the market: the Sonos Playbar.
I got to have a play and a listen to the HEOS Bar at a launch event – here are my initial impressions while I wait for my review sample.
HEOS BAR – DESIGN AND FEATURES
Take one look at the design and it’s clear HEOS is trying to distance itself, aesthetically at least, from Denon. While Denon tends to go for simple straight lines with a slightly retro look, HEOS goes futuristic with a bunch of angles that wouldn’t look out of place on the back end of a Lamborghini. I like it.
It’s not all for show, either. The HEOS Bar’s drivers sit at 45 degrees instead of firing directly forwards, which helps with positioning flexibility. The idea is that you can sit it under your TV and it will fire slightly upwards towards your sofa. Or you can wall mount it, either under or above your TV.
The HEOS logo attached by magnets, so you can rip it off and flip it around. The idea is that it will look upright whichever way you place it. That’s lovely, and scores points against the more conventional box shape of the Sonos Playbar.
The speaker grille is fixed on, but if you were inclined to rip it off you’ll find three channels, each with two mid-bass drivers and one tweeter. On the back you’ll find four HDMI 2.0a inputs, with HDCP 2.2 support. It will pass through HDR with 4:4:4 colour.
There’s HDMI ARC support for feeding sound back from your TV, but if that’s not your thing there are also digital optical and coaxial inputs. Then there’s a 3.5mm input, a USB port for connecting to external hard drives, plus an Ethernet socket.
On the inside? The HEOS Bar supports Bluetooth, plus a bunch of online streaming services: Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, Deezer, Pandora, Napster and TuneIn Radio. There is also support for Hi-Res Audio up to 24-bit/192kHz.
Soundbars are known for blocking off the IR signal to TVs, but the HEOS Bar gets past this by including four IR repeaters at the back. Your TV remote’s signal will get through just fine.
If the HEOS Bar isn’t enough for you, you can also add extra components – pair with the HEOS Subwoofer (£599) for a 3.1 setup, or add the sub plus a pair of HEOS speakers and go 5.1. The components connect directly to the bar with a 5GHz wireless signal, rather than going through your home’s Wi-Fi. I’m told the system has a 10m range and minimal latency. All of the components can be controlled by the HEOS app, so you can listen to the HEOS Bar on its own for music, then add the other bits for movie night.
Speaking of control, there are a few methods you can use to play with the HEOS Bar. Besides the app, there’s a bundled remote control. It’s a palm-sized thing, a little plasticky but a lot nicer than the bubble-button rubbish that you usually get with soundbars. You can also use your TV remote, as well as the few buttons built into the soundbar’s side.
Bottom line: as far as features are concerned, the HEOS Bar gives you a lot more than Sonos.
HEOS BAR – PERFORMANCE
How does the HEOS Bar sound? Pretty darn good, both on its own and also in full 5.1 configuration with the HEOS Subwoofer and a pair of HEOS 1s. And that’s in a massive trade show hall with plenty of background noise – I expect to be even more impressed when I get a review sample for proper testing.
The first thing that struck me was the size of the sound. The HEOS Bar isn’t the biggest soundbar I’ve seen, but its presentation is very spacious. I was in a hall five times the size of your average living room, but the bar had no problem filling it.
It’s not just got a big sound, either – it’s precise too. The stereo image is nicely defined. Listen to Pink Floyd’s Money and the cash-register sound effects in the intro are presented on the left and right, while the main riff was locked to the centre.
Then there’s the power and energy. Even in this early demonstration I felt the HEOS Bar offers more attack and excitement than the Sonos Playbar, which has a smoother, laidback demeanour. Tonal balance is spot on as well – I always felt the Sonos Playbar was a little too warm.
This wasn’t a particularly in-depth demonstration, but I came away very impressed. I think Denon is really onto something here, and it looks like the company has achieved its goal of an all-singing, all-dancing sound system. I’ll get into it more in my final review, but for now I think Sonos should be very, very worried.