Product review: Denon Heos Bar & Sub

One of the few downsides of choosing a soundbar set up as opposed to a traditional home cinema system is that you inevitably lose performance in order to gain practicality and aesthetics.

The SONOS PLAYBAR, whilst being one of the most well known and well performing multiroom soundbars, has its limitations in that it won’t play any DTS or any HD audio formats. The benefits of Sonos far outweigh any of the negative aspects however and this has been shown through its massive popularity. But what if you could combine the ease of use of soundbars with the high quality audio available on most HD formats? You’d end up with something along the lines of the Denon HEOS Bar.

All of the HEOS range has now entered its second generation of products with the new “Bar” being preceded by the HEOS “Home Cinema Bar” (a soundbar and wireless sub package). Whilst being more than a reasonably sounding bit of kit, the HC bar was hampered by its lack of facility to attach rear speakers to complete the 5.1 wireless surround set up that Sonos did so well. Denon have now followed the lead of Sonos (and more recently Samsung) by releasing a separate bar that has an option to attach wireless rear speakers and optional wireless subwoofer. It’s not just this feature that HEOS have added though, the whole product has been redesigned from the ground up. There are optical, coaxial and 3.5mm analogue jack inputs but surprisingly there are four HDMI inputs (Four!! – and all of them are HDCP2.2 compatible for 4K sources). This means that you can literally use the bar like an AV receiver and plug every source into it. There are now nine drivers using class D amplification meaning that the HEOS Bar has a dedicated centre channel for making dialogue as clear as possible. On its own it will give you left, centre and right hand channels of a surround sound track and expanding to 3.1 with the HEOS sub and 5.1 with 2 additional HEOS speakers. The speakers are internally mounted at 45 degrees to ensure that the bar gives the same impressive sound when wall mounted or placed flat.

The HEOS Bar is larger than its predecessor and it sounds it. The inclusion of the extra centre speakers focuses dialogue and allows the right and left hand side channels to concentrate on the soundtrack. Spinning a Blu-ray of Thor: The Dark World lets you hear all the frenzy of the battle scenes unfolding around Asgard’s hero whilst maintaining the sense of panning and scale. The HEOS bar does an admirable job of separating out the whooshes of spaceships and the clash of weapon against weapon whilst the characters dish out snappy repartee. Music is equally as compelling, as is demonstrated when listening to “Black Mambo” by Glass Animals. You really feel the air reverberating around the recording studio from the drums and plucked string section. The bar is a naturally bassy device so you’ll find an extra depth and punch when compared to other similar products. Adding your choice of HEOS speakers as surrounds only serves to fill out the sound more and immerse you further whether it’s film or music that you’ve put on.

Adding the HEOS Sub into the mix is something very exciting. Not only do the twin 5 and a quarter inch drivers punch like Anthony Joshua, but the set up goes further than previous wireless subs have done in the past. Naturally you have a gain control to adjust the subs volume when being used with different HEOS units, but you also get a crossover selector (to select the frequency that the sub will start to kick in at) and phase selector for if you place the unit at the back of the room. The sub also adjusts itself to settings that you might change on the device the sub is paired with. For example, if you decide to use the dialogue enhancer or night mode on the Bar the sub will know about it and perform accordingly. Finished with HEOS’ trademark stylish front grill contours and matt finish, you can place the sub horizontally or vertically too as the drivers face out of one end rather than the side or bottom.

As soon as the first bass notes kick in, you’ll be hard pressed to stop a grin spreading across your face. The Bar on its own was fairly punchy on low frequencies but adding in the sub takes things to a whole new level.  The added weight to explosions and music mean that you feel everything deep in your gut whether it’s explosions or a driving rhythm on a song. The scene from the Blu-ray of The Wolverine where the atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki will prove beyond any doubt that having a sub next to your sofa is a sure-fire way to get your blood pumping in excitement. Likewise with the tune Runaway Baby by Bruno Mars as the drum track pulsates around the room.

Any wireless speaker kit is inevitably going to be compared to Sonos and while the HEOS Bar is slightly more than the Sonos Playbar, the HEOS Sub is slightly less than the Sonos Sub so financially it all evens out. However, the soundstage and scale of the HEOS is just as good as the Sonos if not a little better for certain films. You may find as we did that a little tweaking of the bass/treble might be in order as the HEOS Bar can be a little too boomy, but once you find a sweet spot the richness of Denon’s pedigree sure shines through. We strongly advise you to visit your local store and give the HEOS a try for yourself. One thing’s for sure, the wireless home cinema market just got a lot more competitive!

Click to find out more about the Denon HEOS Bar and Sub.

Author: Steve, Bristol store