Denon HEOS 1 review: Wireless multiroom speaker with outdoor options

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Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury\CNET

The main apps on offer are Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn (Internet radio), SiriusXM, SoundCloud, Tidal and Rdio.

I did encounter some strange behavior when streaming from a local PC. The app keeps a playlist of all the music you play unless you manually delete it. Clicking on old items could sometimes play the wrong song.

Setup

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For a wireless device I find it is kind of ridiculous that the Denon HEOS 1 needs a wire -- and a proprietary one at that -- to set up. It uses a three-pole 3.5mm connector to attach to your phone and the aux input of the speaker. It then asks you to press the connect button and input your wireless password. Lose the cable and you won't be able to set up your speaker. Other companies, and especially Sonos, do this in a much slicker way. Be aware that if you connect your speaker to your buddy's wi-fi then take it home again you'll need the cable to connect once more -- annoyingly it doesn't remember the connection.

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Setting up Bluetooth is a little easier -- insert the Bluetooth dongle into the USB port and hold down the setup button. Your phone should then find the speaker, and you're connected.

Performance

If you were comparing the Denon's performance against its biggest competitor, Sonos, you would say that the HEOS 1 is to Simon and Garfunkel what the Sonos Play:1 is to Steely Dan. Neither rocks terribly hard but the Sonos Play:1 opts for more polish and drive while the Denon HEOS 1 is a little more folksy and open-sounding.

In other words, if you want to set your toes a-tappin', the Denon HEOS 1 isn't the first speaker we'd go to. Fed a diet of "This Is Why We Fight" by The Decemberists and stacked against both the Play:1 and the Raumfeld One S, the Denon lacked the drama of its competitors, with the weakest bass response of the three.

Though there's more bass on the Sonos, it lacks the midrange warmth of the Denon, which means that Sonos' male voices sound a little cupped. Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" sounded a little more natural on the HEOS though it wasn't as danceable.

On the same track via HEOS' Bluetooth connection, Pharell lost even more of his mojo, with some graininess on the chorused voices, while bass was even more muted than before.

With jazz the Denon came into its own. Though we listened to the Sonos Play:1 Blue Note Edition, ironically the Denon HEOS 1 is the better swinger. Miles Davis' "So What" had more space around the instruments and they all sat naturally together, whereas the Sonos piled them all on top of each other.

Given the HEOS' more open nature I thought it would be a good match for confessional acoustic folk, but The Mountain Goats proved me wrong. The guitar of "Pale Green Things" sounded too boomy coming out of the Denon, whereas the Sonos had a nice balance between the vocals and the guitar.

Conclusion

If you're buying this device, it's well worth paying the extra 100 bucks for the Go Pack as it makes the device so much more flexible than before. In a pure sound quality battle, the Sonos and the Denon duked it out point for point, but with the Sonos slightly on top for its better handling of rock tracks. Sonos is also the winner for its universal search and for the overwhelming number of services it supports.

While this device is intriguing in its own right it might be worth waiting to see further innovation in the HEOS range -- not just aping the Sonos format as its competitors have done -- before committing to the ecosystem.