After a decade in the industry Sonos is still the king of multiroom music systems, but companies like Denon are finally putting forth products that try to dethrone it. The HEOS HomeCinema sound bar makes a valiant effort, but ultimately falls short.
Sonos excels with its slick interface, universal search capability and generally high sound quality. The HEOS Home Cinema is solid but it lacks pizzazz, and the app is a little unwieldy for home cinema use, especially when you want to do simple things like change inputs.
Denon's multiroom sound bar is also expensive, ringing up at $799 in the US, AU$1,499 in Australia and £599 in the UK. In this price range, there is plenty of competition, not only from the Sonos PlayBar but also from the Sony HT-ST5 and the Klipsch R20-B. While the Denon offers decent sound quality, there are some foibles in the product's execution that can make it not so pleasurable to use. This is a shame, especially when there are sound bars available for half the money that might offer less features (and no multiroom functionality) but also sound great.
The HEOS looks like many other sound bars: a black cloth-covered rectangle with a logo on the front, and yet there are a couple of design flourishes that keep it interesting. There is a small glowing LED "power" strip at the bottom of the device, which is defeatable if you wish. It's 40 inches wide and should suit TVs 42 inches and up.
The wireless subwoofer that accompanies the sound bar is relatively small by industry standards at 12.3 inches high by 6.8 inches wide by 14.37 inches deep.
Unlike most competing sound bars, the Denon HEOS lacks an actual remote control along with any sort of onscreen menu. All of the control is conducted on your smartphone, but the 'bar does offer the option of programming your TV remote.
The main feature is Denon's HEOS multi-room music service. Like Sonos and other systems, it can allow you to control audio throughout your home from a smartphone app, for example piping the same song everywhere simultaneously ("party mode"). You'll need a HEOS-compatible device, for example the HEOS 1 or HEOS 3 speaker, in every room where you want to hear music.
The HomeCinema speaker itself features stereo 5-inch oval drivers in addition to twin 20mm dome tweeters, while the subwoofer features dual 5.25-inch woofers working in tandem.
While most sound bars only include optical inputs, the HEOS includes an HDMI input and output (with TV audio return channel) as well as Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS decoders. The company hasn't forgotten other digital connectivity though, with both optical and coaxial digital audio inputs included.
What it did forget, however, is Bluetooth, and while there is an optional USB adapter (available as part of the HEOS Go Pack for $100) it seems like a misstep, even on a sound bar designed for Wi-Fi music. Most competitors include Bluetooth options these days.
Unusually, the speaker can also distribute your TV audio around the house, which could be useful for bathroom breaks during the big game.