What is the HEOS AVR?
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.
Connections & Control
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.
Features & Specs
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.
Setup & Testing
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.
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.
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.
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 Review
- 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.
Value For Money
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