In the world of multiroom wireless audio, Heos by Denon was the first convincing audio alternative to market leader Sonos. It was just as easy to set-up as its better known rival, and offered comparable product choice and performance.
Choosing between them was as much a decision based on aesthetics and brand loyalty, as anything else. But Denon clearly isn’t content to be a me-too multiroom brand. It’s second generation Heos line, dubbed HS2, expands compatibility beyond active speakers and improves sonic performance.
The $689 (£349/AU$689) Heos 5 HS2 featured here is the everyday workhorse of the range. It sits above the compact Heos 1 and desktop Heos 3, but under the Heos 7, which is a bigger, beefier proposition. It’s interoperable with other HEOS compatible components, including the Heos HomeCinema soundbar and select Denon AV receivers, namely the nine-channel AVR-X4300H and the eleven-channel AVR-X6300H.
Measuring just 294 x 166 x 209mm, it has a form factor that’s easy to accommodate, with a suffix that denotes compatibility with en vogue High Res Audio files, something Sonos doesn’t offer.
Build quality and system set-up
The Heos 5 HS2 is relatively compact, but comes across as a well-balanced mid-ranger. The triangular design may prove a little divisive, but we rather liked it. Curiously it comes with a carry handle on the rear, but it isn’t battery powered.
At 3kg Heos 5 HS2 is reassuringly weighty, and undeniably well built.
Connectivity comprises a USB port, 3.5mm audio jack and Ethernet. The only on-body controls are volume and mute.
In terms of placement, the Heos 5’s natural habitat is shelving, tables, office nooks and kitchen surfaces – everyday locales that might equally suit a vase of Petunias. You do need to accommodate an external power brick though, not typically a consideration with floral displays.
System set-up and control is via the Heos app, available for iOS and Android. The process of getting multiroom components online can sometimes be frustrating (we're looking at you, Yamaha MusicCast), but Heos seems reasonably obliging.
First link the speaker to your smartphone by the supplied 3.5mm cable. Then update the Heos with your network password. Disconnect and the speaker should be networked. All Heos speakers are dual band Wi-Fi compatible. There's no mesh infrastructure.
Streaming is straightforward. Whether you have music on your smartphone, networked on a DLNA NAS or in an iTunes library, the app will discover it all. That USB input also allows you to play content locally from a thumbdrive.
App services include Tidal, Soundcloud, Napster, Deezer and Tunein radio (dependant on region). Spotify is via Spotify Connect.
When it comes to functionality, you can play multiple sources in multiple rooms simultaneously – Spotify to your office, MP3s from a NAS to the living room, and local radio to the garage. The choice is dictated simply by how many HEOS speakers you have and how great your Wi-Fi range is.
Performance and musicality
The Heos 5 HS2 proves an entertaining listen. It’s a two-way speaker design, with dual tweeters and woofers, powered by four Class D amp modules. There’s a passive radiator for pronounced bass.
While it makes a valiant attempt at sounding stereophonic, the end result can be a bit funnelled. You can always pair it with a second Heos 5 to create genuine stereo, but the cost will most likely be prohibitive.
Perhaps unhelpfully, Denon doesn’t publish technical specifications, but we can confirm this compact table-topper has admirable grunt.
It may not drop as low as the more expensive Heos 7, but it still knows how to party. Double Barrel (Celebration: 25 years of Trojan), has the volume and extension to warrant honorary sound system status, while club classic How Do You Do, by Cascada, thumps like a Jägerbomb hangover.
Need a little more metal to your music? The little Heos 5 has a good stab at Can I Play With Madness (Iron Maiden OST, Flight 666), although the guitar work ends up sounding a bit stodgy, like it’s mired in a mosh pit.
As a second gen Heos model, this Heos 5 has more processing power under the hood than its predecessor, which doubtless helps with Hi-Res Audio playback.
Synchronicity between Heos units is excellent. I paired the Heos 5 in my living room with a Heos 1 in the kitchen and music flowed seamlessly between them. There’s no timing echo. Different zones play out without any discernible delay.
File support is class-leading. In addition to MP3, AAC, ALAC and 16-bit FLAC, the speaker will also play uncompressed WAV, ALAC, AIFF and FLAC up to 24-bit 192kHz plus DSD 2.8Mhz and 5.6Mhz. With these 24-bit sources, the system finds extra nuance and snap. Although, the real win here is the ability to have a High Res Audio music library accessible on both audiophile and multiroom systems.
The addition of Bluetooth to the Heos spec is obviously welcome. It certainly improves the convenience of the speaker. However, there’s no higher-quality aptX support. I quizzed Denon about this and they confided that it was simply a limitation of the chipset used in the HS2 range.
Overall, the Heos 5 is a solid standalone active speaker, and stands as a tempting gateway into the Heos ecosystem. It’s a tad quirky, but works well with most musical genres.
This second generation HEOS active speaker boasts a distinct advantage over rivals thanks to its High-Res Audio support. If you’re building a music collection of 24-bit 192/24 audio files, buying one is a no-brainer.
Given its High Res Audio status, it’s unfortunate that Bluetooth lacks aptX. The soundstage can sound a little monophonic, and the unconventional design is likely to divide opinion.
With its new HS2 line, Denon has taken the performance high ground when it comes to wireless multiroom audio systems. The Heos 5 may not quite have the chops to really take sonic advantage of higher-fi files, but there’s volume and musicality which serves most tracks well - although if you consider Bach more classic than Blue Oyster Cult, it’s probably going to struggle to satisfy. Build quality and functionality can be considered excellent. Overall the Heos 5 HS2 is well worth auditioning.