Multiroom Speaker Face-Off: Denon's New Heos vs. Sonos

Are Denon's flexible and great-sounding models really an alternative to Sonos?

Denon HEOS and Sonos multi-room speakers

Many music lovers, when shopping for a multiroom speaker system, start and stop their search with Sonos. There’s some justification for that. In addition to the brand’s established cachet, the models tested by Consumer Reports have received high sound-quality scores and earned overall recommendations. 

But smart shoppers would be wise to also consider Denon’s updated Heos models. Like the Sonos speakers, the Denons feature a flexible platform in which speakers in different rooms can play the same track, or different ones, controlled primarily by a dedicated smartphone app. The latest Denon HS2 versions also include several new features that increase their versatility.

In our most recent wireless speaker ratings, the top-of-the-line Denon Heos 7 HS2 was our top-scoring multiroom speaker, edging out the previously top-rated Sonos Play:5 by a single point.

"The Heos 7 HS2 shines more for its versatility than its very good sound quality when compared to the Sonos Play:5, whose sound quality edges ahead," says Elias Arias, who leads Consumer Reports’ wireless-speaker testing. 

The other Heos speakers that we’ve tested have also earned scores that put them close to their Sonos counterparts. Here's how they line up—and how to choose the best multiroom wireless speakers for your needs.

Denon Heos 7 HS2 vs. Sonos Play:5

Featuring angular styling that makes it look a bit like a designer handbag from Milan, the Heos 7 HS2 is a worthy competitor to the well-regarded Sonos Play:5.

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Our testers liked the way the Denon handles treble, reproducing the sound from cymbals and other high-pitched instruments, as well as a midrange that sounded somewhat true to life. They also complimented its deep bass, although they noted that the lows might be a little too prominent.

The Sonos has a similar, slightly bass-heavy sound, although it does gain an edge when another Play:5 is added for a stereo pair. In that configuration, the speakers earned our highest rating for sound quality. The Heos 7 can also be paired in stereo.

Where the latest HS2 version of the Heos 7 truly shines is in versatility. It features analog inputs, a headphone jack, a USB charging port, and a USB audio playback.

And while Heos was primarily designed to be connected to a dedicated WiFi-enabled multiroom network like the Sonos, it also provides the option of Bluetooth pairing.

If a friend comes over and says, “You’ve got to hear this Spotify playlist with all the songs from 'Springsteen on Broadway' ” you can connect his or her phone and be listening to “Growin’ Up” in just a few seconds. That’s a useful option that the Sonos Play:5 doesn’t offer.

In addition to its superior versatility, the Denon also has the edge in street price. Its list price is $599, but it can easily be found for $399. That makes it significantly less expensive than the Sonos Play:5, which is rarely discounted from its $499 price.

Denon Heos 5 HS2 vs. Sonos Play:3

The Heos 5 HS2 is best thought of as a scaled-down version of the Heos 7, and includes many of its best qualities, from its good looks to its easy setup. Our testers liked the sound quality, though the bass was a bit boomy, meaning that the lowest notes tended to blend together. The trebles reached the highest registers but weren't quite as rich and full as on some speakers.

When used in single-speaker mode, the Heos 5 edged out the Sonos Play:3. Although it's a stereo speaker, its treble tended to sound mono, with little ability to make instruments feel like they're placed in different positions around the room. When paired in stereo, however, that stereo imaging improves and the Sonos comes out ahead of the Denon.

But the latest version of the Heos 5 shares the Bluetooth flexibility of its big brother, something the Sonos lacks. So you have to decide what's most important to you. 

The Heos 5 has a list price of $399 but can be easily found for $299. The Sonos Play:3 lists for $249 and generally sells for that price.

Denon Heos 1 HS2 vs. Sonos Play:1

In designing their entry-level models, Denon and Sonos took almost opposite approaches. Except for its smaller size and shape, the Sonos Play:1 is quite similar to its Sonos brethren; it's an indoor-only, WiFi multiroom speaker that you must plug in. 

The Denon Heos 1 HS2, on the other hand, is decidedly different from the other speakers in the line. Like its siblings, the Heos 1 HS2 features Bluetooth in addition to WiFi, but the smallest Heos also includes the option of going fully wireless—no power cord needed.

Add the optional $99 Go Pack battery and the Heos 1 can be played far from any electrical outlet, which lets you bring Dan Zanes' awesome kids' tunes to the backyard playset or stream Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" from your phone while sharing a bowl of pasta primavera at a summertime picnic in the park.  

The silicone splash guard that comes with the Go Pack makes the speaker water-resistant, though not dunkproof, according to the manufacturer. 

However, all this versatility does come at a cost. Our testers found the Heos 1’s sound quality to be worse than the Play:1's—not to mention the pricier speakers from both companies.

For this reason, the Heos 1 just missed the cut for CR's recommended status; the Play:1 makes the list. The Heos 1 lists for $199 but is routinely discounted to $179, while the Play:1’s price has been cut to $150.

Which Speaker to Buy?

It's really a question of priorities.

The Bluetooth-capable Denons are more versatile and are discounted more frequently than the corresponding Sonos speakers, though the price gap varies from model to model.

On the other hand, the Sonos models we tested did sound a bit better than their Heos counterparts, a gap that widens when they're paired in stereo.

In the end, our testers concluded that the recommended Heos and Sonos speakers would all be smart choices for a music lover looking for a high-quality multiroom system that doesn't compromise on sound quality. 

"It really comes down to price and features, because the recommended models from both companies sound great," Arias says.

For test results on our top 10 wireless speakers, including some of the models already mentioned, keep reading.

1. Edifier S1000DB

Overall Score: 74
CR's take: The Edifier S1000DB is a stereo pair of powered bookshelf speakers that delivers sound quality we rated as Excellent. It's quite easy to use—although not as flexible as some other speakers. The S1000DB has a Bluetooth connection, but it doesn't have WiFi to configure the speaker for multiroom use. Given its modest price and superb sound, the S1000DB would be a good choice for a music lover on a budget. 

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