Denon Heos 7 HS2: Our first take

Like a big dog, Denon's hefty Heos 7 multiroom speaker needs space to play

Give it some space, and the Denon Heos 7 — newly equipped with hi-res audio playback and Bluetooth — is the only speaker you’ll need

When Denon decided to update its Heos multiroom speaker range, the company chose mainly to leave the designs alone, and focus on improving the feature set, audio quality, and app. The Heos 7 is Denon’s largest, most capable member of the family, and viewed from the side, looks like a massive, solitary teardrop. Or the biggest bit of Toblerone you’ve ever seen, depending on which way your mind goes. We tried out the original Heos 7, known as the HS1, in 2014, and have now been listening to the Heos 7 HS2, the updated model.

It’s a bit of a monster, and you certainly won’t miss it in the corner of the room, a fact that remains when you turn it on and crank the volume. The model we listened to came in white with a brushed-metal bar running along the top, complete with buttons for volume on the side, finished in the same color. Under the Heos logo, just on the curve of the body is a status light, which glows blue when everything is working correctly.

Setting up the Heos 7 involves connecting it to your smartphone with a 3.5mm patch lead, so iPhone 7 owners, you’ll need your Lightning connector dongle handy. Using the Denon Heos app, you sync them together, add your Wi-Fi information, and you’re done in less than five minutes. Not painful, but a little low-tech, and we’d really rather not have to mess around with the cable. As per usual, Sonos’ one-button setup makes this process seem a bit old-fashioned, but it only needs to be done once, regardless of whether you unplug the speaker system later on. Connecting any further multiroom speakers to the system requires the same setup for each one. The setup was even more of a pain — and less reliable — for the Heos 1 HS1 a year ago, so it’s nice to see the process is improving.

A more versatile app

The app itself has been given a significant overhaul, and contains several features which weren’t available last time we checked it out. The music player is now more complete with shuffle, scrub, and repeat options. It may sound odd, but one or more of these weren’t available in older versions.

Music from your phone can be queued up in the app, or played directly from a playlist. Alternatively, the Heos app menu screen provides direct access to Spotify, Deezer, Napster, TuneIn, SoundCloud, and Tidal. Additionally, it will play directly from a music server — Windows only — or a USB drive plugged into the speaker. Bluetooth is built into the HS2 Heos range, and is activated by pressing a button on the rear of the speaker. It’s a bit inconvenient, especially if the speaker isn’t quickly accessible, and also needed a few tries before the speaker finally showed up as an option on our Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.

Audio performance

Is all this setup worth it? There are five active drivers inside the Heos 7 — two tweeters, two mid woofers, and a subwoofer — joined by two passive radiators, and a five-channel Class D amplifier. Denon’s not lying when it says the Heos 7 is, “ideal for large rooms and open areas.” It’s wasted in a small space, and actually sounds considerably better when it has air to breathe. In an office space, the sound excels at low to mid volumes, but put it in an open plan living room, and the treble register loses the harshness evident in the smaller room. The Heos 7 is like a big dog: It needs lots of space to be happy.

It’s wasted in a small space, and actually sounds considerably better when it has air to breathe.

The real joy, and biggest benefit over the earlier HS1 model, is the HS2’s ability to play hi-res audio files. Oh, how it sings. We chose to stream 24bit/48khz FLAC files from a USB stick of BiSH’s Killer Bish album, reveling in the detail, dynamic bass, and glorious channel separation. The manic drums in Hontouhonki are always a challenge, but the hi-res version played over the Heos 7 is beautifully controlled, maintaining composure throughout, and crucially not overpowering the vocals.

Out of the box, the Heos 7 is rather bright. Tweaking the treble down a notch, and raising the bass slightly — the only two adjustments available in the Heos app — improves the sound. It was very noticeable during a WAV version of Osanzi’s Feel You, which not only exploits Hatsune Miku’s upper vocal range, but adds a tremendously strong baseline. It had the same effect on Boris Blank’s Electrified, boosting the varied bass line, without trying to make my ears bleed at other times.

Conclusion

The Heos 7 can be purchased for $400, or around 350 British pounds, which is less than its closest Sonos competitor, the Play:5. This is worth considering, as it potentially leaves enough cash left over to pick up a small Heos 1 to start a multiroom setup. Even the older HS1 version works fine paired with new models, if you don’t need hi-res and Bluetooth in each room.

However, while the sound quality is great with hi-res file playback, there are still unaddressed problems from the Heos 7 HS1. There’s no Airplay for Mac computers, connectivity (whether it’s initial setup or Bluetooth) isn’t always intuitive or reliable, and although the app has improved, it still has a mind of its own, refusing to play some tracks then playing them without a problem later on. It’s frustrating these issues remain, but it’s hard not to warm to the big, playful speaker that is the Heos 7.

Highs:

  • Hi-res audio playback
  • Integrated Bluetooth
  • Strong bass response
  • Easy and intuitive multiroom controls

Lows:

  • Sound is too bright out of the box
  • Connectivity isn’t comprehensive
  • App can frustrate
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