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Denon HEOS Drive Multi-Room Audio System Preview

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Denon HEOS Drive

Denon HEOS Drive

Summary

  • Product Name: HEOS Drive
  • Manufacturer: Denon
  • Review Date: June 12, 2015 08:00
  • MSRP: $2499
  • First Impression: Gotta Have It!
  • Buy Now
  • Four HEOS zones
  • Eight-channel Class-D Amplifier
  • 60WPC (20Hz-20kHz, .05% THD)
  • Dedicated preamplifier output for each zone (selectable as stereo zone or subwoofer)
  • Third-party control compatible
  • 4 x 12V trigger outputs
  • Two fiber optic inputs, two digital coax inputs, and four analog inputs (matrix switching)
  • Four USB inputs
  • Amplifier bridge capability
  • Selectable stereo / mixed mono output
  • Selectable high pass / low pass filters
  • Four-way binding posts
  • Two Ethernet inputs
  • Actively cooled
  • Rack ears Included
  • 2U (3.5-inch) rack height (with feet removed)
  • Multi-voltage power supply
  • Dolby Digital decoding (downmix to 2.0 ch)

Executive Overview

Over the past few years, multi-room audio has been rapidly moving away from the traditional mess of keypads or volume controls, IR repeaters, “dumb” multi-channel amps, and FM tuners. It has been moving towards streaming sources, IP control, and wireless single-zone amps. For the most part, I think this has been great for consumers, but has left many manufacturers playing catch up to the likes of, well, Sonos. With the launch of the HEOS Drive, however, it’s clear that Denon is no longer playing catchup and is now an innovator in the new reality of multi-room audio.

HEOS Primer

In case you’re not familiar with HEOS, know that it’s a wireless multi-room audio system. Currently, the product lineup consists of seven wireless products: four speakers (HEOS 1 - $199; HEOS 3 - $299; HEOS 5 - $399; HEOS 7 - $599), an amplifier (HEOS AMP - $499),  a pre-amp/source (HEOS LINK - $349), and an extender (HEOS Extend - $99). Forthcoming is a wireless soundbar, the HEOS HomeCinema ($799). Each component works together to create a whole home audio system that’s controlled with a phone, tablet, or computer. Users can explore, browse, and play music from an existing music library, online streaming music services, and Internet radio stations. More information can be found on Denon’s website and by watching this HEOS introductory video.

HEOS Drive Overview

The HEOS Drive retails for $2,499 and is an eight-channel multi-room amplifier (Class-D, 60WPC) with four HEOS zones. In addition to speaker outputs, each zone features a stereo analog input, stereo analog pre-out, USB port, and 12v trigger output. The analog inputs and USB ports, a total of four each, are zone agnostic. This means that it doesn’t matter which analog or USB input you use, as any of them can be shared across the entire HEOS system. The USB ports allow users to take a basic external hard drive or thumb drive and play its contents in any room.

Deon HEOS Drive Back Panel

Drive Rear Panel

The analog pre-outs can be configured as  stereo outputs to drive an external amplifier, or the left pre-out can be configured as a subwoofer out. In either situation, both the speaker level and pre-outs for each zone are enabled. This is great for situations where you have more than two speakers in a zone, as you can use the internal HEOS amps for two of the speakers and then hook up as many external amps as you need to drive the rest of the speakers in the zone. The four 12v trigger outputs are also configured per zone and can be used for any number of applications, though powering on external amplifiers or subwoofers are the most likely use cases.

Deon HEOS Drive Front Panel

Drive Front Panel

In addition to the above mentioned inputs and outputs, the Drive features two optical and two digital coax inputs. Again, these are zone agnostic and serve to set the Drive apart from other solutions on the market. Most other solutions only have analog inputs. The inclusion of four digital inputs shows that Denon is really trying to make the Drive as flexible as possible, hoping that it become the go-to choice for installers.

Why use the Drive instead of multiple Links or Amps?

Up to this point, you may be wondering why someone would choose the Drive instead of purchasing a few HEOS Amps or Links. The reason is simple, it’s about logistics and flexibility. As a custom installer, I can tell you that it’s not fun to install five, ten, twenty individual components like the Amps or Links. There is a giant mess or power cords, speaker wire, and Ethernet cables that need to be managed. Proper ventilation is a chore, and it’s difficult to even find space to fit all of the components. One thing is certain; they don’t fit well in AV racks. That’s really where the need for the Drive is at.

The Drive fits four zones of audio into a single 2U enclosure and includes rack mount ears. Two Ethernet jacks on the back allow you to take a single Ethernet connection and loop it through each Drive. And, it’s actively cooled to help dissipate heat. These three features make it easy to fit the Drive in a rack, manage cables, and ensure the components stay cool.

Deon HEOS Drive Back Panel Close Up

Drive Back Panel Close Up

Additionally, because each zone on the Drive integrates much of the functionality of the Link (USB, analog, and digital inputs, 12v trigger, plus analog outputs) and the Amp (speaker level outputs), it’s a potentially more flexible solution than purchasing individual components. If the installation needs change, you might be able to simply adjust the Drive to fit the news needs, as opposed to buying new components.

But wait, just like a true performer, there’s more. The amps are bridgeable, so you don’t have to worry about running out of power. The speaker level and line level outputs have mono summed capabilities, so you can use a single speaker in a zone. And, both the pre-outs and speaker outputs have adjustable high-pass filters, and when set as a subwoofer out, the pre-outs have  adjustable low-pass filters. It’s all of these features that set apart the Drive from the rest of the HEOS lineup and from the competition.

Conclusion

It’s no secret that Sonos has defined this product category for years, but for as long as they have been in business they have also largely ignored the requests of the custom install community. Focusing on consumer level products may have been a fine business decision, but it has left an opening in the market that Denon seems determined to fill. The Drive is a great step towards filling that gap. The competition better take notice because installers and consumer are sure to.

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About the author:

Cliff, like many of us, has always loved home theater equipment. In high school he landed a job at Best Buy that started his path towards actual high quality audio. His first surround sound was a Klipsch 5.1 system. After that he was hooked, moving from Klipsch to Polk to Definitive Technology, and so on. Eventually, Cliff ended up doing custom installation work for Best Buy and then for a "Ma & Pa" shop in Mankato, MN.

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Recent Forum Posts:

Montucky posts on June 23, 2015 16:46
Can't wait to get some hands-on time with the Denon. I like the Sonos amps a lot actually, but they're not the best solution for a rack. I am NOT a huge fan of their wireless speakers though, so it'll be interesting to see how Denon's compare. Either way, The 4-Zone Denon seems like a far better choice for my own house than having 4 separate Sonos Amps. We'll see how well Denon implements everything!
Cliff_is posts on June 22, 2015 21:38
mmulhern, post: 1086179, member: 69777
The major down-side with Sonos is that the system does not play ‘nice’ with existing A/V receivers. Modern A/V receivers introduce a delay for processing surround sound. Similarly, Sonos introduces approx 70ms delay between it's components.

Whether content comes from the Sonos Connect or the A/V Receiver it is impossible the get Sonos speakers in sync with a A/V Receiver driven system.

In an ideal world both Sonos and the A/V Receiver would have manual delay options to allow for syncing of speakers.

Currently neither do.

Can HEOS be attached with any A/V system and stay in sync? Does it have a way to manage delay? Can the user increase or decrease delay on the system?

I checked with Denon, and they said that there is no way to change the delay. That said, I've never had an issue with Sonos, or other multi-room systems, and audio staying in sync. As long as you don' have any DSP engaged, the AVR shouldn't introduce an extra delay.

The only issue I've ran into with delays and multi-room systems is when customers want the multi-room audio to sync with the picture on the TV.
mmulhern posts on June 12, 2015 15:11
The major down-side with Sonos is that the system does not play ‘nice’ with existing A/V receivers. Modern A/V receivers introduce a delay for processing surround sound. Similarly, Sonos introduces approx 70ms delay between it's components.

Whether content comes from the Sonos Connect or the A/V Receiver it is impossible the get Sonos speakers in sync with a A/V Receiver driven system.

In an ideal world both Sonos and the A/V Receiver would have manual delay options to allow for syncing of speakers.

Currently neither do.

Can HEOS be attached with any A/V system and stay in sync? Does it have a way to manage delay? Can the user increase or decrease delay on the system?
BoredSysAdmin posts on June 12, 2015 12:24
Even if ALL custom A/V installers will choose HEOS system, it would still would a tiny niche compared to consumer direct sales of Sonos. They have made bulletproof system, which easy for consumer to install and use. Not mentioned cheaper. I think folks at D&M are pretty smart and they know it. Gearing it towards installed setup and pricing it accordingly is surefire sign they aiming to that specific market.

I have at least two custom installs using RTI and Extron (one in each) with Sonon - so it's not impossible to integrate Sonos with multiroom custom installs.
gene posts on June 12, 2015 12:07
The Denon HEOS Drive fills a gap in the multi-room audio market that has been ignored for years. A great balance between the ease of set up and operation consumers demand, and the flexibility custom installers need, the Drive hits a sweet spot. At $2,499, this 4-zone amplifier sports a host of features that makes it a flexible solution. As the multi-room audio market moves from volume controls, IR repeaters, and FM tuners towards streaming sources and IP control, Denon seems poised to be a market leader.



Denon HEOS Drive Multi-Room Audio System Preview

Do you think Denon has what it takes to dethrone Sonos as the multi-room audio King?
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