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Wireless speakers stream audio from web and WLAN

Jul 25, 2014  |  LinuxGizmos
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Denon debuted a line of Sonos-like wireless multi-room HiFi speakers that stream audio from both Internet and local sources, and run on embedded Linux.

Like the similarly Linux-powered devices available from Sonos, Denon’s “Heos” wireless streaming speakers offer multi-room (multi-speaker) synchronized audio, and can deliver multiple audio streams from disparate sources to individual speakers or stereo-configured speaker pairs distributed around the home. Subscription streaming sources initially offered by Denon include Rhapsody, Pandora, Spotify, and TuneIn, with additional services offering DRM-free tracks “coming soon,” says the company.



Denon Heos wireless streaming speaker family

Denon’s Heos line initially includes four devices: the Heos 3, 5, and 7 wireless speakers, plus a “Heos Extend” wireless range extender. Unlike Sonos, there’s no dedicated remote control available. Instead, as with Sonos, you can download free Heos Control apps for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets.

Like Sonos, the Heos speakers include buttons for manual volume up/down/mute control, and LEDs for status, but unlike Sonos, Denon’s speakers offer reset and WiFi connection buttons. Another interesting difference from Sonos is the inclusion of USB ports for playing music directly from USB-connected flash media.
 

Close-ups: Heos 3 (upper); Heos 5 (middle); Heos 7 (lower)
(click images to enlarge)

The low-end Heos 3 uses a dual-driver design, with two Class D amp channels. The mid-sized Heos 5 is implemented with a five-driver design, with four active drivers (two mid-woofers, two tweeters) powered by four Class D amp channels, along with a passive radiator. The high-end Heos 7 contains seven drivers, including dual mid-woofers, dual tweeters, and an active sub-woofer; it’s powered by five Class D amp channels and has dual passive radiators.

Streaming features, USB, and aux inputs are common to all three models, while the Heos 7 adds a headphone output. The table below summarizes the key differences among the three Heos speaker models.


Heos speaker models vs. features

Heos 3 Heos 5 Heos 7
Drive Units 2x full range 2x tweeters,
2x woofers
2x tweeters,
2x mid-woofers,
1x woofer
Enclosure design Ported 1x passive radiator 2x passive radiators
Amplifier channels 2 4 5
Audio line-in
(3.5mm jack)
Yes Yes Yes
Headphone out
(3.5mm jack)
No No Yes
Dual-band WiFi
(802.11a/b/g/n)
Yes Yes Yes
Wired Ethernet Yes Yes Yes
USB port Yes Yes Yes
Threaded mtg. hole Yes No No
Placement Vertical or horizontal Horizontal Horizontal
Dimensions 272 x 165 x 130mm
(10.7 x 6.5 x 5.1 in.)
294 x 209 x 166mm
(11.6 x 8.2 x 6.5 in.)
479 x 203 x 164mm
(18.9 x 8.0 x 6.5 in.)


 


Heos Extend
(click to enlarge)

In addition to the three Heos speaker models, there’s also a Heos Extend device (pictured at right), which you can use for expanding the range of your home WLAN if needed. It’s not clear whether the Heos Extend functions any differently from your typical commodity WiFi repeater, nor does Denon say whether its Heos wireless sound system implements a private mesh network along the lines of Sonos’s unique “SonosNet.”



Heos wireless network architecture
(click image to enlarge)

 
Heos vs. Sonos

Here’s a list of a few key differences between the Heos and Sonos wireless streaming speakers, pieced together from what we’ve gleaned from Denon’s product pages and datasheets. It’s far from comprehensive, and doesn’t even begin to pit the two systems’ audio guts against one another.

    Some Sonos advantages:
    • Way ahead in terms of streaming music source support
    • Can play media located on the user’s Android device
    • Creates a dedicated, private mesh network, said to ensure smoother streaming with optimal synchronization
    • Lower cost entry level: $199 Sonos Play:1 vs. $299 Denon Helios 3
    • In addition to small/medium/large general-purpose speakers, also offers soundbar, dedicated subwoofer, and wireless amps for driving your own favorite speakers

    Some Heos advantages:

    • USB enables playing media located on USB flash
    • Built-in Bluetooth enables playing media from BT-audio-enabled devices
    • Supports Apple AirPlay (!)

Bear in mind that the above comparison is based on a review of Denon’s Heos product listings and datasheets, not on an actual product test.



Sonos streaming audio product family
(click image to enlarge)

Linux within

Although Denon doesn’t disclose any hardware details regarding the computing resources embedded within its Heos streaming speakers and wireless extender in their product listings or datasheets, the company actually does a great job detailing the devices’ open source software in the products’ user manuals. From there, we know the Heos software stack is built atop a Linux 2.6 kernel, and includes the u-boot bootloader and busybox, among other popular open source components.

 
Further information

Denon’s Heos product line is currently listed as “available now” through Best Buy’s Magnolia home theater departments. The Heos devices are priced at $300 (Heos 3), $400 (Heos 5), and $600 (Heos 7) respectively, and $100 for the Heos Extend. More details may be found at Denon’s Heos by Denon site.
 

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