Sonos vs. Denon HEOS: Which wireless speaker system stands supreme?

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Sonos must be feeling pretty flattered right about now. Either that or pretty pissed off. Ever since Denon decided to throw its hat into the wireless audio ring, it has been ripping pages from Sonos’s playbook with the kind of unapologetic swagger you’d expect from Donald Trump. Its first HEOS product line up included the HEOS 3, HEOS 5, and HEOS 7, which not only mirrored Sonos’s strategy of offering different sizes of speaker for different applications, it blatantly matched Sonos’s naming convention of using the number of speaker drivers to identify the products (Play:3, Play:5).

Sonos responded to this flattery with a lawsuit (which Denon then tried to quash) but just like Trump, Denon doubled down rather than back down. Its HEOS product line has ballooned over the last 24 months and now includes four stand-alone speakers, a soundbar/subwoofer combo, two wireless receivers (one that’s amplified and one that isn’t), a wireless range extender, and a rack-mountable four-zone amplifier and audio distribution unit. Two months ago, the company revamped almost every product to include Bluetooth and hi-res audio support under a designation it calls HS2 (look for this to know you’re buying the latest version).

During the same period, Sonos has taken a much more conservative approach to growth — possibly due to Denon’s competitive pressure — introducing only one new product (a refreshed Play:5 speaker) and one new feature: The very clever Trueplay system which tweaks EQ settings using your smartphone’s mic.

So does this mean that Sonos has ceded its pole position to Denon? No, not yet. But the race has gotten a lot closer.

It’s a whole new low

First, let’s take a look at the entry-level speaker line-up. When Denon entered the space, its HEOS 3 was the least expensive model and the only one that could be configured as a stereo pair. It was tempting to compare it to the Sonos Play:1, but neither the price point nor the tech specs were a match — the HEOS 3 was in fact a mirror of the Play:3. Now, there’s a HEOS 1, which is a suitable match for the Play:1 with a similar driver configuration and an identical price point ($199). Just like its stablemates, the HEOS 1 severely outclasses the Play:1 when it comes to features. With ethernet, USB, and 3.5mm line-in ports on the back, the HEOS 1 is much more than a wireless speaker. But what really sets it apart from the Play:1 is its built-in Bluetooth receiver and optional $99 Go Pack rechargeable battery, a combination which makes the HEOS 1 a portable, self-contained music solution, no Wi-Fi needed. It might just be the most versatile speaker on the planet. The only baffling design feature is the configuration of the top-mounted volume and mute buttons. Though they share the same placement as the Play:1, the volume-up button faces toward you and the volume-down faces away — creating a bit of cognitive dissonance versus the Play:1’s more intuitive arrangement.

But it really doesn’t matter how many features a speaker packs if it can’t deliver great sound. And while the HEOS 1 sounds decent enough for a pint-sized speaker, it never lets you forget that it’s a pint-sized speaker. The Play:1, on the other hand, sounds far better than its size suggests, emitting a well balanced mix of clear highs and deep (if not quite thumping) lows. The difference between the HEOS 1 and Play:1 is apparent even at low volume levels and with bass/treble sliders set to the midway point, but crank these adjustments to their limits and the contrast becomes stark. Starting a track playing on the HEOS 1 and then switching to the Play:1 is like going from 2D to 3D – there’s just way more depth.

My guess is that sonic performance was the price Denon had to pay to make the HEOS 1 battery-powered as an option. Whether that’s an acceptable trade-off is ultimately up to the listener, but it’s worth noting that there is already an amazing array of portable, battery-powered Bluetooth speakers if that’s what you want.

Winner: Draw – Sonos has the edge when it comes to overall sound, but Denon HEOS kills it for versatility.

Home Theater

SoundCloud hopes to add listeners with 50 percent discount for students

SoundCloud launched a student discount for it's top-tier SoundCloud Go+ membership, dropping the price to just $5 a month. It's a good deal for students, but will it be enough to keep the music platform from going under?
Home Theater

Hulu vs. Amazon Prime Video: Which streaming service is best for you?

It's hard to dispute Netflix's leadership in on-demand streaming video, it's not alone. Two great alternatives are Amazon Prime Video and Hulu; each with its strengths and weaknesses. Which one is better? We pick the winner.
Deals

From Air to Pro, here are the best MacBook deals for March 2019

If you’re in the market for a new Apple laptop, let us make your work a little easier: We hunted down the best up-to-date MacBook deals available online right now from various retailers.
Home Theater

The best Dolby Atmos movies for your home theater sound as good as they look

If you've got your hands on some sweet Dolby Atmos gear, the next step is to find films that take advantage of it. These are our picks in several genres for the best Dolby Atmos movies currently available on Blu-ray and streaming services.
Deals

Need a new tablet? Here are the best iPad deals for March 2019

In the wide world of tablets, Apple is still the king. If you're on team Apple and just can't live without iOS, we've curated an up-to-date list of all of the best iPad deals currently available for March 2018.
Computing

Don't spend hundreds on Pro Tools or Logic. Try one of these free alternatives

Believe it or not, Pro Tools isn't the only digital audio workstation worth your time. Check out our picks for the best free recording software, whether you're looking for a lightweight app or a full-blown audio workstation.
Home Theater

iPhone owners can finally hear the highest-quality streaming music on Tidal

If you're an iPhone owner who is after the highest possible audio quality from your streaming library, you now have the best option out there: Tidal's Masters Quality Audio (MQA) is now available on iOS.
Home Theater

Get loud with the best outdoor speakers to rock your party in any weather

From rugged, solar-powered backwoods listening companions to floating pool party jam boxes, the best outdoor speakers partner with your lifestyle to let you listen to your favorite tunes wherever you go.
Music

Apple Music offers a few subscription options. We break them down here

Competition for music streaming apps is quickly dwindling with giants like Apple Music and Spotify dominating most of the market? But how much does Apple Music cost and what does a subscription to the music-streaming platform entail?
Home Theater

If you’re a Spotify Premium subscriber, you now get Hulu for free

Spotify Premium subscribers have yet another reason to love the Swedish streaming service, with the company now offering ad-free Hulu accounts to all premium users at no additional cost.
Music

The best free music download sites that are totally legal

Finding music that is both free and legal to download can be difficult. We've handpicked a selection of the best free music download sites for you to legally download your next favorite album.
Music

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Which service is the streaming king?

Apple Music is giving Spotify a run for its money, but which service is best for you? In our Apple Music vs. Spotify showdown, we compare and contrast all we know about the two streaming music services.
Home Theater

Apple Music completes its Amazon migration, is now available on Fire TV

Amazon's popular Fire TV devices are now compatible with the most popular on-demand music streaming service in the United States, thanks to a new integration with Apple Music that has finally hit Fire TV devices.
Emerging Tech

This streaming music service pays artists in Bitcoin, plants trees if you listen

Feedbands is an environmentally friendly subscription streaming music service that pays its artists in Bitcoin, and plants trees in exchange for authenticated listens from customers.
1 of 3