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Denon HEOS wireless audio system review

Play your music in any and every room

Heads up!

Welcome to this article from the Crutchfield archives. Have fun reading it, but be aware that the information may be outdated and links may be broken.

Editor's note: This is a review of the original version of the Denon HEOS system. Click here to see the latest HEOS products, which adds Bluetooth® and support for high-resolution audio files.

All your music, anywhere you want. That's how Denon introduces their new HEOS wireless music system. The slogan is apt, but it barely hints at how easy to use and how much fun HEOS is, compared with old-school wired hi-fi systems.

Building a multi-room music system used to mean running wires through walls and ceilings. Now, anyone with a Wi-Fi® network and a smartphone or tablet can create a whole-home music system just by placing wireless speakers throughout their house.

To do this, you need powered speakers that allow you to play multiple songs in different rooms, or play the same song in every room. That’s what Denon’s HEOS speakers offer – not to mention, they’re backed by Denon’s decades of audio expertise. I took them home to try them out.

The HEOS Lineup

Denon HEOS powered wireless speakers

Denon launched HEOS (Home Entertainment Operating System) with three sizes of powered wireless speaker. Each speaker has built-in Wi-Fi, so you don’t need a wired network connection to any speaker or component. Just plug them into a wall outlet or power protection device.

Denon HEOS 7 wireless powered speaker

The HEOS 7 is the largest speaker, with two tweeters, two midrange drivers, and one bass driver powered by five Class D amplifiers. There are also two passive radiators to enhance bass response.

Denon HEOS 5 wireless powered speaker

The mid-sized HEOS 5 has two tweeters, two midrange drivers, four Class D amplifiers and a passive radiator. A rear carry handle makes it easy to pick up and move to another room.

Denon HEOS 3 wireless powered speaker

The HEOS 3 is the smallest speaker and features two full-range drivers, dual amplifiers, and a rear port for added bass response. It can rest vertically or horizontally, or be mounted on a wall. You can pair two HEOS 3 speakers for stereo listening.

Volume and mute buttons on the Denon HEOS 5

HEOS speakers feature unique curved and angular designs to minimize internal standing waves which can degrade sound quality. Side-panel buttons offer on-board volume and mute control (HEOS 5 shown).

Rear-panel connections for the Denon HEOS speakers

The rear panel of each HEOS speaker features a 3.5mm AUX input, a USB port for playing files on a memory stick, and an Ethernet port for a wired network connection (not required).

If you want to use HEOS with your existing equipment, you can connect the HEOS Amp to any pair of stereo speakers. Or, add the non-amplified HEOS Link to your stereo or home theater system.

Denon HEOS setup with the free app
Setup so simple, a child can do it

Setting up a HEOS speaker is very simple. If you can operate a smartphone, you’ve got all the technical savvy required. Download the free HEOS app on your Apple® or Android™ device.  Then, just plug in your speaker, open the app, and follow the instructions.

A special cable is included with every speaker and is required for setup. It allows the speaker to automatically load your network info from your smartphone or tablet. It looks like a standard audio cable, but it’s not; use the one that’s in the box. You’ll only use it once to set up each speaker – the only cable you need for operation is the power cable.

I asked my nine-year-old daughter to set up the HEOS 7. All I did was download the app on her iPod touch®, take the speaker out of the box, and hand her the included instructions. In less than five minutes, she was blasting Selena Gomez and feeling pretty proud of herself.

Lots of ways to listen

With HEOS, you can listen to music stored on your smartphone, a networked computer via DLNA (Windows Media Player works great for PCs, JRiver or Plex for Mac®), or a USB thumb drive connected to any HEOS speaker’s rear-panel port. You can also connect any device with an analog output to the 3.5mm AUX input – I used it to send tunes playing on my iPod Classic to all three HEOS speakers.

There's also support for online music services, including Spotify®, Pandora®, SiriusXM, as well as free Internet radio stations. Denon expects to add more services in the coming months.

Denon HEOS app

The free HEOS app for Apple and Android lets you play music from your smartphone or tablet, online music services, a USB memory device, and networked computers.

Controlling HEOS is a snap with the app

Once you’ve set up your HEOS speakers, the app becomes your control center. I found it very intuitive and pretty easy to navigate.

Denon Heos app

Tabs at the bottom of the HEOS app provide a quick method to move from music selection to speaker control (rooms) and to view the current song.

The “Rooms” tab is the hub of HEOS’s multi-room capability, and features a pretty smart design. It shows which speakers are in your system and which songs they are playing. 

Denon HEOS app

In the Rooms tab, tap to highlight which speaker you want to control. To play a song through multiple speakers, drag and drop one room onto another.

Denon HEOS app

You can pinch the screen to group all speakers for “party mode” and play the same song everywhere. To ungroup a speaker, just drag it out of the group. Very cool, and very easy.

Each music service is accessed and controlled within the HEOS app with the exception of Spotify. Tapping the Spotify logo in the HEOS app opens the Spotify app (or prompts you to download it). Spotify is moving control out of the equipment manufacturers’ apps and into their own with Spotify Connect.

I listened to Spotify a lot with the HEOS speakers. It’s sometimes frustrating to navigate back and forth between the Spotify and HEOS apps. However, each app does offer limited integration with the other:

Spotify Connect playback with Denon HEOS

The Spotify app lets you select a HEOS speaker and control the volume for that speaker.

Denon HEOS app

Once you load music into your queue in Spotify, you can play, pause, and skip ahead within the HEOS app, which can also reduce the back and forth.

My only other issue with the app is the Settings menu. It’s only accessible through the home screen of the “Music” tab. I’d like to see the settings icon on every screen, so it’s easily accessible from anywhere. I suspect we’ll see Denon continue to improve upon what is already a very user-friendly app.

What about the sound?

When evaluating each of these speakers, I listened to music just about every way HEOS allows: from my iPod touch and iPad, my computer, a USB stick, an iPod Classic, as well as from Spotify and Pandora. My home network is not exactly robust (DSL that pulls down 3mbps on a good day), yet I had no problem streaming music to all three speakers at once.

First, I tried the HEOS 3, the smallest of the group. Immediately, I was very impressed with both the quantity and quality of sound this little speaker put out. I set it up in my kitchen and was nearly blown away by the amount of bass coming from this thing – not at all what I was expecting from something so compact.

I quickly discovered that placement has a lot to do with the bass performance of each HEOS speaker, particularly the HEOS 3. By pushing it back on the kitchen counter near the backsplash and under a cabinet, I was essentially placing it into a low-frequency echo chamber. I had to dial the bass way down in the app’s EQ setting (a valuable feature), which smoothed it out a bit. Moving it onto the bar and away from the wall had a similar effect, allowing me to restore the bass to its default setting.

Tone controls in the Denon HEOS app

The app offers tone controls for each speaker, so you can dial in the bass and treble levels to your liking.

For a speaker of its size, the HEOS 3 has impressive bass response and high-frequency extension. It sacrifices a little midrange response for more bass kick and treble sizzle. That’s a good trade-off in a speaker this small, in my opinion, making it sound bigger and livelier than I expected.

The HEOS 5 is a definite step up from the HEOS 3. The bass goes quite a bit deeper, the midrange is more present, and the highs are tamed a bit. Its sound is more balanced overall than the HEOS 3. The difference was stark with D’Angelo’s “Lady” from Live at the Jazz Café. The HEOS 5 was better able to settle into a deep groove for this tune’s slow-burn soul intro, with the bass line taking center stage without dominating the entire performance.

Switching to the HEOS 7 was a real treat. Suddenly, the sound opened up in a big way. Vocals sounded more natural. Bass extension went even deeper, delivering some serious impact. More high-frequency detail emerged.

I was pleasantly surprised at how the HEOS 7 offered a sense of stereo imaging when listening on axis from relatively close range. “Birth in Reverse” by St. Vincent is a texturally busy song, and I could hear different sounds emanating from the left and right drivers – it really brought the song to life more than the HEOS 3 or 5 could.

The HEOS 7’s slightly convex front panel allows the drivers to be angled for more dispersion than with a flat design. This speaker provided by far the best off-axis listening experience. I could imagine it performing quite well as a main music source in a large living room.

But the real magic of HEOS speakers is when they’re all playing at the same time. I could move from my kitchen, to the living room, to my bedroom as my music followed me. It’s a very cool experience if you’re a music lover who dreams of having your personal soundtrack playing in the background all the time. The ability to give every member of the family their own speaker for their own bedroom is equally valuable. And the only installation required is plugging them into a power outlet.

The Bottom Line

Denon’s HEOS powered wireless speakers are an excellent entry point to a whole-home system. They’re easy to set up, easy to control, and there’s a nice variety of great-sounding speakers to choose from. As impressive as they are, future expansion of the HEOS ecosystem has the possibility to be a real game-changer. For now, there’s plenty here to start filling your home with music.

  • Jerry from Buffalo, NY

    Posted on 11/29/2020

    I love my Marantz Heos enabled AV receiver on its own. I put Heos speakers in 4 other rooms. WHEN it works it's wonderful. However, the Heos "controller", wherever that lives, always looses the configuration that you painstakingly set up. Thus, requiring 20 minutes to get music playing on almost every occasion. So dissapointing. With software that is almost unusable, one would expect some updates to come along to improve the situation. Nope.

  • Brad Tutunjian from Minneapolis

    Posted on 11/7/2020

    Bought a Denon receiver looking forward to the HEOS system. Such a waste. Paid a lot of money for a clunke hard to use system that just doesn't play my music. Was hoping to connect to Bluetooth and stream. I was better to add a Bluetooth device and bypass it all together. Don't buy!!!!!!!!

  • Rene from Atlanta

    Posted on 1/13/2020

    I had a very frustrating time getting HEOS sandbar to work with my TV via HDMI ARC. Called Crutchfield who recommended trying the optical connection. Now everything works perfectly and there is not a noticeable change in sound quality.

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 1/20/2020

    Thanks, Rene...I'm glad it is working out for you!
  • Michael from San Antonio

    Posted on 3/14/2019

    Looking at the Denon AVR-X1400H IN-Command to control speakers throughout the house that I am building and create zones. Is there an ability to connect wired speakers and use Heos? If not, what are the other options? I am planning to house the Denon AVR in the multi-media room. Thank you.

  • Joe from Vancouver, Wa

    Posted on 5/12/2018

    I agree with Bill. They sound great when and if they work. If you want to spend 20 minutes trying to listen music then might be ok. Very frustrating. One call to them led me to buy a heos wireless extender for my 2000 sf two story house. Still has many problems. After 20 minute of trying connect my sound bar that worked a week I give up.

  • Bill from Bethesda

    Posted on 2/11/2017

    Sorry to say... the HEOS speakers suck. The sound may be great, but that's only if you can get them to work. I can't. 3 networks and no luck. The connection issues are significant. If you are looking for simple, look to SONOS. Avoid this system if you don't have a PhD.

  • Commenter image

    David Brown from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/2/2016

    Hi Dan, Currently you are not able to use HEOS speakers as part of a 5.1-channel home theater system. However, Denon has added HEOS to some of their home theater receivers. In fact, we've been testing out the AVR-X6300H powering a full Dolby Atmos system while streaming a music playlist to several wirelessly connected HEOS speakers. It's fantastic!

  • Dan from Italy

    Posted on 11/2/2016

    Hi David, Can you tell me if the HEOS system can be used for home theater i.e. a 5.1 setup? If so did you test this capability and what was your experience? Thanks.

  • Commenter image

    David Brown from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/12/2016

    Hi Will, Yes, you can use the sound bar to play music with the HEOS app. It works just like the other speakers in the lineup. So think of it as both a sound bar for TV as well as a music player.

  • Will from Enfield, CT

    Posted on 4/11/2016

    Hi David. Nice write up on these. Will these work with the sound bar and bass set up for a TV? In other words if I buy a few of these and have them in a few rooms let's say kitchen and bedroom and dining room, and I then buy a Denon HEOS soundbar for the TV. Can I then use that sound bar with the app and add it to the rest for whole home sound? Or is the Sound bar exclusively used for TV?