Denon Home Review

Denon’s new trio of wireless speakers use the well-proven HEOS wireless streaming platform, and share a clear and laudable focus on delivering high-quality music. Read our Denon Home Review.

Denon Home Review

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If you’ve heard of the HEOS wireless multiroom platform, well, this is its latest evolution in terms of standalone wireless speakers — a new three-strong range from Denon. The HEOS platform allows music streaming to multiple rooms under a single app control (see app images opposite), for both your own music collection and streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal. So these speakers can work together with the whole HEOS ecosystem — which includes soundbars, AV receivers, hi-fi systems and components. These new speaker units take over from the longstanding HEOS-branded range, and move the focus away from the HEOS brand back to the company which created it, Denon.

Meet the family

The new three-strong wireless speaker range includes, in rising size order, the Home 150, Home 250 and Home 350. The original HEOS speaker designs were quirkily angular; these are far more straightforward, each one a rectangular box with curved edges and a sturdy fabric wrap in a choice of black or white — or more accurately a choice of light grey with white trimmings or dark charcoal grey with black trimmings (pictured).

The smallest, the Home 150, is a mono speaker, with its treble and bass drivers in a vertical 38cm-high case. The Home 250 (on the right above) is stereo with four active drivers and a passive bass radiator in a cabinet 30cm wide and a surprising 21.5cm high. The largest of the three is the Home 350, a substantial unit 38cm wide, 23cm high and 18cm deep.

They are all HEOS-equipped, so each speaker can access online music services and network streaming from shared music files up to high-res audio quality, and each has the ability to function in a multiroom system with other HEOS-equipped products.

The inclusion of AirPlay 2 means that they can also do all this easily in an Apple home with other AirPlay 2 products under Siri voice control, while the Home units are also addressable from Google Voice Assistant and Amazon Alexa devices — it’s good to see voice control being universally covered in this way, rather than choosing one camp or another.

All three Denon Home speakers have the same connectivity — dual-band Wi-Fi, but also a physical Ethernet socket if preferred, plus a USB-A slot for playing files from a stick or hard drive, and a minijack analogue input; there are no digital inputs except for streaming, either by Wi-Fi or using the Bluetooth on each unit.

Set-up of each device requires plugging it in, then connecting to it from the HEOS app, for which various methods are available, so that if network issues preclude one from working (which isn’t unusual with wireless systems) then the app walks you through the next. With best results connection can take as little as a minute — ‘Add Device’, identify the speaker, press the ‘Connect’ button on the back, and you’re done. If a firmware update is available, accept it, then get ready to play.

The HEOS app

We’re longstanding fans of the HEOS app for streaming and multiroom; it’s comprehensive and marvellously simple to use. Indeed in its earliest days we recall suggesting it was ‘oversimplified’, but given the complexities and changes we’ve since seen on some rivals, we happily withdraw that remark! It’s quick to navigate and rapid access to the ‘Now playing’ screen makes transport and volume control easy, even in a multiroom context.

It’s properly localised, too (some rivals frustratingly list services not available to Australia), so you can get quickly to Spotify Connect, Tidal, Deezer, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and Soundcloud as its default services.

Below these services you can select ‘This iPhone’ (or whatever your device is), ‘Music Servers’, ‘Playlists’ (made within the HEOS app; you can also queue music from different sources), ‘History’ (very useful), and then physical inputs. In the case of the Home units these last are USB and the analogue input. And with these inputs, the Denon Home range delivers an understated but potentially huge advantage over many competitors — they can broadcast these inputs to other Denon Home speakers. When using the Home 250, say, the HEOS app shows not only its own inputs but those of any other Home speakers on the same network. So you could, for example, have a hard drive of music files attached to one unit and access them from all. Or even have a turntable attached (via a phono stage) to an input anywhere in the home and broadcast your vinyl to a different speaker, or all of them. This advantage of input forwarding can deliver much more music around the home.

Joining rooms for multiroom playback is simple — in the ‘Rooms’ page of the app you

These three strong, musical and versatile smart speakers, together with a heap of existing HEOS family members, continue to demonstrate the strength of the HEOS platform…

Denon Home Review

just drag device names together to form a group. You can rename a group, and when playing music you can access either a group volume control or individual sliders for each.

An extended family

Thanks to their use of the HEOS platform, the Denon Home speakers can also group and communicate natively with a long list of HEOS-equipped Denon and Marantz products, ranging from the massive market-leading multichannel AV receivers made by both companies down through high-quality stereo amplifiers to neat little smart amps and, of course, any of the original HEOS range, which includes the HEOS Amp and the streaming add-on, the HEOS Link, both still available.

Denon also has two soundbars with HEOS inside: the DHT-S716H (a revised version of the former HEOS Bar) and the DHT-S516H (formerly the HEOS HS2), as well as the wireless active DSW-1H subwoofer (formerly the HEOS SUB). To enjoy a genuine surround package on special movie nights, you can pair a couple of Home 150s to one of those soundbars (or a soundbar and subwoofer), then you can resituate the Home 150s for the rest of the time as speakers in other rooms.

As noted, the inclusion of AirPlay 2 will allows Mac or Apple device owners to address the Denon Homes via that connection, as well as providing an endpoint for those who invest in Roon software. And if you’re keen to use voice control, Denon’s Home speakers are able to be addressed via all three main methods —

Google Assistant, Alexa or, via AirPlay 2, Siri. Alexa takes the most setting up, but they all worked well enough within their abilities.

Performance

Denon Home 150

The Denon Home 150 is the smallest of the three wireless speakers, but still a solid and substantial object, with a 12cm-square footprint and 19 cm height. The sturdy fabric wrap covers three sides to meet at the back, where there’s a screw-threaded mounting hole should you wish to hang the 150 on a wall, and below that an indented connections panel offering the minijack auxiliary input, a USB-A slot and Ethernet networking. There are two buttons down there, one to launch Bluetooth pairing, and the other a ‘Connect’ button to connect the Home 150 with your HEOS app during set-up.

The reflective top surface illuminates as you approach to show more controls: three ‘input selection’ touch buttons, play/pause and volume control. Again, simple and intuitive.

Sonically it instantly impressed us with scale and weight beyond the expectations of its size. Although a mono speaker, boasting a single 25mm tweeter and an 89mm woofer, it leverages these for a remarkably rich sound, even out in free space on a sturdy stand or table. It was unexpectedly powerful as it kicked out a rowdy Neil Finn version of Crowded House’s Locked Out, yet it was equally

Denon Home Review

impressive rendering a delicate acoustic version of Message to My Girl. This sounds like the presentation from a speaker substantially larger, and it has an energised excitement in a punchy presentation. Ultimately its size and power have their limits at a point beyond which congestion and distortion become evident, with a sibilance to vocal consonants, but that point is impressively loud for a speaker so small. Positioning near a wall or a corner can enlarge the sound still more, at the cost of less predictable frequency response.

While there’s not the battery option of small speakers in some rival ranges, the Denon 150 can be paired with another 150 to play in stereo. Such a pair can also be paired with a soundbar and subwoofer to create a 5.1-channel surround sound set-up.

Denon Home 250

We thought the tallness of the Home 250 made it a slightly odd looker, but sonically it proved the Goldilocks player of the three units, just as we always considered the middle HEOS 5 of the original range to be the sweet spot among those HEOS-branded speakers.

This is a proper stereo speaker, having a pair of 19mm tweeters firing at angles from the top corners of the front, supported by a pair of 10cm woofers firing forward. It has a secret bass weapon too, in a 133mm passive bass radiator which moves under the pressure within the cabinet to deliver additional bass. This passive driver faces backwards.

Even in free space the 250 can achieve a solid thump, and a favourable bass note can veritably boom forth, even in free space, while nearer a wall the rear passive radiator comes more into play, facilitating a smooth and solid sound. The jazz band opening to Beyonce’s

Daddy Lessons showed how at close range the true stereo is well spread, and what the 250 gets so right is the confident way it rides the line between keeping things engaging in the treble and pushing too far into overbrightness, something it never did, even when pressed to pumping levels, and even with our Dion torture test, where the overbright recorded vocal was nicely tamed. Play a well-produced classic like the Alan Parson Project’s The Raven and the 250 delivered a fine combination of nice warm bass-line together with an excellent portrayal of the acoustic around the minimal drums of the second verse. Come up to date with Tyler, The Creator’s EARFQUAKE and the 250 managed all three descending bass notes in quantity, just dropping away for the lowest F#. Crucially, vocal tones weren’t thinned out in their lower regions, as we sometimes noted from the larger Home 350.

All in all we spent a happy week sending tunes through the Home 250. It gains enormously from the HEOS platform’s easy and extensive access to music, it multiroomed impeccably with the other Home speakers (and with a visiting Marantz smart amp), and should prove a fine fit in any small/medium room, where it can go to a high proportion of its volume without fear of break-up.

One warning: our unit arrived with its EQ set (either by default or by a previous user) to bump up the bass and heavily push up the treble. Zero both sliders to achieve the sound quality we enjoyed in this review.

Denon Home 350

The Home 350 continues the straightforward geometry of the two smaller units

but goes bigger, indeed presenting a larger face to the world than either Naim’s Mu-so

Denon Home Review

Qb or even B&W’s expansive Wedge. It significantly ups the driver count over the Home 250, with six fully active drivers — in addition to the two 19mm tweeters it has a pair of 50mm midrange drivers, with the tweeters and midrange speakers firing at two different and no doubt carefully-calculated levels of angularity from the front baffle. In the middle of these on the front is one of its large 165mm woofers, firing forward, while an identical bass driver fires backwards.

As with the other two units, the Home 350 was first-class operationally, and we were immediately impressed by the sheer size of its presentation — the impact of the taut bass pedal on Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain, the pounding of drums and clack of sticks during Philip Glass’s Attack and Fall from Akhenaten’. Much of the power comes from a low bass of prodigious output, projecting so distinctly it sometimes felt an additional component of sound. Because of that rear-firing woofer, positioning greatly affects the balance — you can potentially tune the sound this way. Some vocals were not entirely natural, with a slight thinness in the lower part of the vocal, yet the speaker complement created an impressive sense of space. Overall — while the Home 250 had our favourite balance of these three — the Home 350 is impressive for its sheer size of sound, especially if you like it loud.

Conclusion

With these three strong, musical and versatile smart speakers, together with a heap of existing HEOS family members, Denon’s Home series continues the strength of the HEOS platform and should be true contenders for anyone’s multiroom system.

DENON HOME WIRELESS MULTIROOM SPEAKERS

•  Excellent sound from all three units

•  HEOS platform one of the best

•  Large extended ecosystem available

• Voice control available from Google, Alexa or Siri

• Voice control requires separate device

Contact: QualiFi

Telephone: 03 8542 1111

Web: www.denon.com.au

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