Denon HEOS AVR AV Receiver Review
Surround yourself with sound rather than wires
What is the HEOS AVR?The HEOS AVR is an attempt by Denon to create an AV Receiver that is less intimidating and will thus appeal to a broader demographic of consumers. The almost exponential growth in the soundbar market shows that consumers do want better quality sound than can be provided by their TV but, outside of AV enthusiasts, most people rarely consider a multi-channel AV Receiver. The reasons are many but primarily they are reticent to put speakers around their lounge and often find the excessive connections, rows of front panel controls, the myriad of setup options and overall complexity of an AVR off-putting. We have long proposed that for an AVR to truly achieve mass market appeal a manufacturer needs to approach the design from an entirely different direction, creating a product that uses the popularity of lifestyle products as its starting point.
This is exactly what Denon have done with the HEOS AVR, a product that immediately stands out as different as soon as you look at it. The design is simplified, the finish more attractive and the connections at the rear reduced to the ones most people will actually use. There are no rows of buttons on the front panel, no complicated display and even no on-screen menus. You set up and control the HEOS AVR using the HEOS App and it's this multiroom capability that is the ace up its sleeve. The HEOS AVR doesn't just support Denon's multiroom system, it also supports a wireless subwoofer and wireless rear speakers. Although there are five channels of built-in amplification for those who would rather take a more traditional route, you also have the option of using the HEOS Subwoofer and a pair of HEOS Speakers to eliminate the majority of cabling.
The HEOS AVR supports Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio but it's limited to 5.1-channels which means no 7.1 or immersive audio setups but that is rather the point. The HEOS AVR has a suggested price of £799 as at the time of writing (August 2017), which means you could buy a full 9-channel immersive audio AV Receiver with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X for the same money, but it offers something unique instead, making it a very interesting product. Let's see just how easy the HEOS AVR is to set up and use and, more importantly, whether it sounds any good.
DesignAs soon as see the HEOS AVR you realise that this isn't a normal AV Receiver. It's designed to be less intimidating, so there are absolutely no front panel controls at all, no confusing display and no drop down flap with yet more buttons behind it. There isn't even the traditional input selector dial, all you'll find on the front of the HEOS AVR is a volume dial, an indicator light under the front panel and an IR receiver concealed in the front foot. This immediately makes Denon's new receiver less intimidating and much more of a lifestyle product.This lifestyle approach is also reflected in the minimalist design, with clean lines and extruded aluminium construction, along with a gun metal finish and a decent level of build quality. The HEOS AVR will certainly be more attractive and unobtrusive in the average living room than a traditional big black AV Receiver. The HEOS AVR also feels well made and the chassis itself measures 434 x 90 x 277mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at a solid 6kg.
The design is very minimalist with only a volume control and a light on the front
Connections & ControlDenon have taken the same approach to the rear of the HEOS AVR as they have to the front, with a stripped down and minimalist approach that is designed to be user friendly and less intimidating than a traditional AV Receiver. We have often mentioned in our AVR reviews that we don't understand why manufacturers include so many legacy connections that will never be used and it appears that Denon have taken our advice to heart.
So the HEOS AVR has almost no legacy connections, instead opting mainly for HDMI ports, with four inputs and one output. Whilst we approve of this approach, we've been predominantly using HDMI for a decade, if we were being churlish we might say that we'd like one or two more inputs as these days it's easy to exceed four HDMI sources. However all the inputs and the output support 4K/60p, 4:4:4, Wide Colour Gamut (WCG), High Dynamic Range (HDR) and HDCP 2.2, whilst the HDMI output also supports Audio Return Channel (ARC) and CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). The HDMI inputs and output will also be able to support Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) and Dolby Vision following a firmware update in September.
In terms of other connections there is an optical digital input, a coaxial digital input, a stereo analogue input using RCA connectors, an analogue input using a 3.5mm jack and a USB port. There is an output for using a wired subwoofer (although you also have the option of a wireless sub), an IR in connector and a button for connecting the HEOS AVR to your home network. The receiver also includes an Ethernet port along with built-in WiFi and Bluetooth. Finally there are easy to access and colour coded binding posts for the five built-in channels of amplification, although you do have the option of using wireless surrounds instead.
The provided remote control takes Denon's pared down and simplistic approach to the extreme and we do feel in this area they may have gone slightly too far. The remote uses styling that matches the receiver itself but it's small, fiddly to use and easily lost down the back of a sofa. There are very few buttons on the remote, just on/off, mute, numbered input selectors, volume up/down and play/pause and skip forwards/backwards. This is a shame because we really like the remotes that Denon provide with their budget AV Receivers which, whilst simplified to a degree, also offer plenty of control options. However the reality is that the provided remote was never intended to be used as a long term controller for the HEOS AVR, instead you can use your TV controller via ARC or, as is more likely, you can use the HEOS App which we will discuss later in this review.
The stripped down connections should be enough for most but the remote is very basic
Features & SpecsAside from its design and deliberate simplicity, the main feature of the HEOS AVR is right there in its name. By developing an AV Receiver that is first and foremost part of Denon's HEOS multiroom system, they can offer greater flexibility in terms of setup. The HEOS AVR does include five built-in channels of amplification which can deliver 50W per a channel into 8 ohms but the unique selling point is its ability to deliver a 5.1-channel experience using wireless surrounds and a wireless subwoofer.
This means you can set up the HEOS AVR in a number of configurations including 2.0 (using wired speakers for the built-in front right and left channels), 2.1 (which adds a wired or wireless subwoofer), 3.1 (which adds a wired centre speaker) and 5.1 (which adds wired or wireless surrounds). In terms of the sub you can use any active wired subwoofer of your choice or the wireless HEOS Subwoofer and in terms of the surround speakers you can choose something to match the front left, right and centre speakers or use either the HS1 or H2 HEOS Speakers.The HEOS AVR supports Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio at up to 5.1-channels but it doesn't support 7.1-channels or any of the immersive audio formats and nor does it have any pre-outs. Aside from the ability to run a semi-wireless 5.1-channel setup, the HEOS AVR can also be added to Denon's HEOS multiroom system, which allows you to listen to other HEOS devices connected to the network on the HEOS AVR and vice versa. We have already reviewed the HEOS multiroom system in detail and were very impressed by it. The HEOS App, which is freely available for both iOS and Android, allows you to setup and control the HEOS AVR whilst also controlling other HEOS devices in the system. The HEOS App also gives you access to a number of music streaming services including Mood: Mix, SoundCloud, Spotify, TuneIn, Tidal, Napster and Deezer.
The HEOS AVR not only supports a wireless subwoofer but also wireless surrounds
Setup & TestingIn keeping with the overall theme of simplicity, the HEOS AVR is very easy to setup, however before we go into more detail we need to make a few observations. First of all, as mentioned previously, the included remote is very simple and there's no display on the AVR but there is also no display on the screen, which is a shame because Denon's on-screen display and menu system is very good. So you'll be doing all the setup and control via the HEOS App but thankfully it's highly effective. The second observation is that although there is a Setup Assistant in the app, there is no auto EQ with a dedicated microphone. So you will need to measure the distances from the sweet spot to the speakers and subwoofer and ideally use a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter to check the levels. However the latter can be picked up as free app for your smartphone or tablet these days, so it's still fairly easy to set up the HEOS AVR properly.
For the purposes of this review we tested the HEOS AVR first using a wired 5.1-channel setup that included floor standing front left and right speakers, a full range centre speaker, two full range surround speakers and an active subwoofer. We then created a 5.1 system composed of three front-wired JBL Control Ones, a wireless HEOS Subwoofer and two wireless HEOS HS1 Wireless Speakers for the surrounds – we thought the Control Ons and the HS1s would make a decent tonal match. We also had a HEOS H1 Wireless Speaker in another room in order to test the HEOS multiroom system and the TV Sound Grouping feature. We then tested the HEOS AVR using a combination of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks from Blu-rays and Ultra HD Blu-rays, along with various music sources including CD, Spotify and Tidal.
We have already reviewed the HEOS HS1 Wireless Speaker as part of the HEOS Multiroom System and we first experienced the original version of the HEOS Subwoofer along with the HEOS HomeCinema soundbar. The new version of the HEOS Subwoofer also uses dual 5.25" long-excursion woofers with Class D amplification and can be installed vertically or horizontally. The optimal crossover frequency is set automatically based on its application and the level and phase can be controlled via the HEOS App. The HEOS Subwoofer and the HEOS Surrounds are not networked, they connect directly to the HEOS AVR using a 5GHz band, which has a 10m range and no possibility of latency. It's worth pointing out that although there are no cables connecting the HEOS AVR to the HEOS Subwoofer or the HEOS HS1 Wireless speakers, you will still need convenient wall sockets in which to plug them.
The app itself is excellent and under My Devices you'll see all the HEOS speakers that are connected to the multiroom system. You start by adding the AVR, Sub and other Speakers to your Network and then you can see and control them via the app. You also use the app to pair the subwoofer and surround speakers directly to the AVR rather than using a wired option and you can name them (Subwoofer, Surround Left and Surround Right for example). This is all very intuitive and easy to do, just like the rest of the app. There is a Now Playing screen which shows the Sound Mode (Auto, Direct, Stereo and various Dolby and DTS modes) and the current Input Source, as well as allowing you to quickly select another source or mode and control the volume.
Useful setup features include the ability to set distances in feet or metres and set the levels using an SPL meter. There are menu options for the HEOS AVR and these include the Setup Assistant (which is very helpful), along with some basic EQ (bass and treble), the ability to control the Status Light, select the TV Input, customise the remote control, setup TV Sound Grouping, configure the speakers (distance, levels and impedance), set the audio delay, name Quick Select options and also access some Advanced features that relate to optimising the networking capabilities of the HEOS AVR.
Setup, selection and control is entirely based on the highly effective HEOS remote app
PerformanceThe HEOS AVR certainly proved to be an excellent receiver in terms of its general 5.1-channel wired setup with a spacious and rounded performance. The built-in amplification isn't huge but it's more than enough for the average living room and it managed to handle the floorstanders and full-range speakers in our home cinema without any issues. It can go loud without running out of steam, as long as you don't push it too far, and there was enough headroom to give content a degree of head room. The setup is simple but effective and as a result we found that energetic sound mixes like Pacific Rim, Interstellar and our favourite test disc Dawn of the Planet of the Apes all sounded great.
The HEOS AVR managed to deliver nicely integrated bass, although since there is little in the way of EQ features you will need to do as much as possible to ensure even low frequencies by carefully positioning your subwoofer. The surrounds were lively and the effects steered around the room with a reasonable amount of precision. It isn't the best surround performance we've heard but when you consider the HEOS AVR's target audience, the receiver delivers exactly what it has been designed to do. The same was true when it came to music and in the 2.0 direct mode we found the AVR was a very capable performer with music, which is good news considering it will form part of a HEOS multiroom system.Since the HEOS AVR has been designed and built by Denon we would expect a decent performance in a wired 5.1-channel surround sound system but the big selling point of this receiver is its wireless capabilities. We were pleased to discover that setting up and optimising the system with three wired speakers at the front, two wireless speakers at the rear and a wireless subwoofer was very straightforward. We were even happier to discover that the system actually worked very well, with a nice tonal balance between our chosen speakers, an engaging surround soundfield and no latency. The direct connection not only ensured there was zero delay but was also optimised by the HEOS app to ensure a coherent experience. As a result all the elements – the front three wired speakers, the two wireless rear speakers and the wireless sub – worked in unison and the experience was essentially the same as it was when using all wired speakers (allowing for the difference in speaker size). The HOES Subwoofer in particular did a splendid job of adding bass depth to the smaller speakers that composed the rest of the system and as a solution for someone who is adverse to running wires around their lounge it is certainly a viable option.
Of course the HEOS AVR is also part of the HEOS multiroom system and the receiver also worked extremely well within the HEOS network. We were able to listen to music from other sources connected to another part of the network and listen to sources connected to the AVR on other speakers in another part of the house. Multiroom systems are growing in popularity and in general we have found HEOS to be a very good performer with an excellent remote app. There is also TV Sound Grouping, which is separate from HEOS music and is designed for TV sound from ARC or HDMI inputs as well as optical or coaxial where the AV sync in the main room needs to be maintained. The normal HEOS delay with TV sound is around 2 seconds, so without the TV sound grouping feature you will have an echo between different devices in different other rooms. TV Sound Group allows you to bring this down to 40ms if the network is excellent, although even a delay 100ms allows playback without any noticeable echo in the house. However, you will be able to hear the 100ms delay when you put all speakers in the same room but of course that isn't how the system was intended to be used. For the best results you will need an excellent network connection for the master device and therefore Denon strongly strongly recommend using a cabled connection for TV Sound Group.
Denon HEOS AVR Video ReviewThe simplified design and setup still delivered an excellent 5.1-channel experience
- Great sounding receiver
- Can use wireless rear speakers and subwoofer
- Multiroom capabilities
- Attractive minimalist design
- Simplified setup and connections
- Effective remote app
- No automated setup and EQ
- No display on receiver or on the screen
- Very basic remote
Denon HEOS AVR AV Receiver Review
Should I buy one?The HEOS AVR has a very specific brief and we think that overall it hits that brief thanks to a combination of clever design, useful features and performance. It certainly has the looks of a lifestyle product and its simplified appearance won't frighten less tech-savvy consumers. We understand the logic behind dropping all the front panel controls, along with the display, but the loss of any onscreen display is a shame and the remote has been simplified a bit too much. However both of these points are largely academic because the HEOS AVR has been designed to be set up and controlled using the highly effective HEOS App. This simplified approach also applies to the rear connections which eschew most legacy inputs in favour of HDMI but, whilst we completely agree with this approach, we would have liked to see a couple more HDMI inputs.
We found setting up and controlling the HEOS AVR very easy thanks to the remote app and we tested it both as a wired 5.1-channel system and as a system that was composed of wired front channels and wireless surround channels and subwoofer. The wired configuration was very good and although not the best we've heard it did deliver an enjoyable experience with both movies and music. For the best results a bit of careful setup is required but even a complete novice should have the HEOS AVR up and running in minutes – which is rather the point. The wireless configuration was equally as easy to set up and we were pleased to discover the experience was essentially the same and there was no perceivable latency between the wired and wireless speakers. We also found that the receiver was equally as effective as part of the HEOS multiroom system making it a great all-rounder.
For those who are either looking for a less intimidating AVR or like the idea of having wireless rear speakers, then this is undoubtedly a product that is worth considering. In fact even a knowledgeable AV enthusiast would be happy with this receiver, as long as they don't want a system with more than five channels. As a result, thanks to its combination of design, features and performance, we're happy to award the HEOS AVR a Recommended badge.
What are my alternatives?In terms of possible alternatives, it will very much depend on your point of view. For those who are attracted by the lifestyle aspects of the design, the simplicity and the wireless rear speakers of the HEOS AVR, then the HEOS Bar is also a possibility. This excellent soundbar has largely the same features as the AVR, plus it can run a wireless HEOS subwoofer and a pair of wireless HEOS rear speakers. You don't get quite the same level of performance at the front as the HEOS AVR but it's compatible with the HEOS multichannel system, along with the HEOS app, has the same number of HDMI inputs and also costs £799.
However if you're comfortable with the idea of an AV Receiver, don't mind something a bit more complex and are happy to put speakers all over your lounge, then the Denon AVR-X4300H has to be top of your list. This superb AVR includes nine channels of built-in amplification, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, 8 HDMI inputs and 3 HDMI outputs, along with HEOS multiroom support. It's also fully 4K compliant, has a set up microphone and an automated EQ system, an onscreen display, a nice remote control and greater amplification power. It can't run wireless rear speakers and a wireless subwoofer but apart from that the X4300 offers all the features found on the HEOS AVR plus many others and all for just £799. That's remarkable value for money when you consider everything the X4300H does, making it an obvious Best Buy.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £799.00
Value For Money8
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