Can your soundbar do multi-room? Soundbars with Bluetooth have become standard, but sound quality is often lacking, which is where Denon’s new HEOS Bar comes in. This $899 / £799 / AU$1,299 soundbar is aimed squarely at the Sonos Playbar – but do its claims of audiophile quality stack up? We got the chance to try it out at a press demo.
Like the Sonos Playbar, the Denon HEOS Bar can act alone, with an optional (and at $599 / £599 / AU$999 slightly more affordable) subwoofer, but also with wireless rears. Although Denon’s HEOS hi-res audio-capable multi-room speakers, such as the Denon Heos 5 HS2, are getting rave reviews, there is actually already a soundbar in its line-up: the Denon HEOS Home Cinema, which sells for less than half the price of this one.
So what’s the point of the HEOS Bar? While the HEOS Home Cinema is a 2.0 two-piece that needs a subwoofer, and claims only virtual surround sound, the HEOS Bar is not only a 3.0 system with left, centre and right channels built-in, but it’s designed to work alone – and it does that really, really well.
The HEOS Bar is 110cm long – it's slightly wider at the front than at the back, and it’s got a small curve to it, too. It can perch on your TV table on its two (removable) L-shaped feet, or you can wall-mount it either above or below a TV; do the latter and you can manually rotate the logo. Nice.
Although we didn’t try the HEOS Bar wall-mounted, its low but deep profile suggests that it's been designed with this option in mind; slung below a TV it looks a tad too dominating. If it is used in front of a TV, it'll work best with a newer TV that has feet rather than a desktop stand.
While the HEOS Bar can work with a TV’s remote, a small remote is supplied. The soundbar can also be operated via the impressive-looking HEOS App, which allows streaming of music from Spotify Connect, Deezer, Rhapsody, Pandora, TuneIn, SoundCloud, Tidal and web radio. Consequently, there's no front panel display.
Soundbars often make massive compromises when it comes to connectivity. Not so the Denon HEOS Bar, which has four HDMI inputs (4K-compatible HDMI 2.0a HDCP 2.2 inputs, as well as one ARC-compatible output) alongside optical and coaxial audio inputs, a 3.5mm stereo jack, a USB slot and an Ethernet LAN slot.
Wi-Fi is also here, as well as aptX Bluetooth for high-quality streaming from a phone or tablet, but the HEOS Bar uses the 5GHz band, not Wi-Fi, to connect to any HEOS speakers that might be used as wireless rears. For our demo, it was a pair of HEOS 1 speakers that were connected about five metres away, but that can stretch to 10 metres.
Behind the baffle are nine high-performance drivers in a 45-degree configuration. The HEOS Bar also has DTS Master Audio, Dolby True HD decoding and support for Hi-Res audio. It’s also got four IR repeaters, so it can act as a no-fail repeater for TV remote controls.
Also previewed by Denon was a compact, wireless AV receiver, the HEOS AVR ($999 / £799 / AU$1,299), which seems to be for people who have some speakers they don't want to swap-out for wireless versions.
Though the main selling point is certainly its compatibility with Denon’s HEOS wireless multi-room tech, this is a versatile AV receiver; it's a five-channel machine, and it’s possible to wire-in any existing speakers and a subwoofer, or use Denon’s multi-room HEOS speakers to go completely wireless, or go for a mix of both.
It also works with the same Denon HEOS subwoofer as the HEOS Bar. You can even attach the HEOS AVR to the HEOS Bar and let it drive two wired rear speakers. Like the HEOS Bar, it has no front panel display.
Denon's HEOS Bar is hugely impressive; musical and muscular, even without the subwoofer in tow. Listening to Pink Floyd’s Money, with a pair of HEOS 1 multiform speakers attached as wireless rears, the soundbar hugely impressed, delivering plenty of power and some very effective surround sound effects. However, even without the rears, the soundstage was impressively wide; the shakes of coins in the song were stretched far beyond the physical footprint of the soundbar.
When the sound effects cease, the vocals begin and the instruments fully kick in, the HEOS Bar spits out impressively coherent guitar and bass, with plenty of both detail and low-frequency action. But what really blew us away was when the subwoofer was deactivated; the drop in bass performance was surprisingly slight.
Is it a better all-in-one than the Sonos Playbar? We’ll have to wait for a proper review to answer that, but if there’s room for an audiophile, home cinema-quality soundbar with wireless options, Denon’s HEOS Bar might just fill it.