Definitive Technology W9 Wireless Speaker Review

01
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Finally, Something to Compete With Sonos

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Definitive Technology

The Definitive Technology W9 wireless speaker is one of a whole slew of new models using the nascent Play-Fi WiFi multiroom wireless audio technology. I'm reviewing it in tandem with the Omni S2R, a new portable speaker made by Definitive Technology sister company Polk Audio. Since I explained a lot of the pros and cons of Play-Fi in the Omni S2R review, I'll just touch on those in this review, and link to the Omni S2R review where appropriate.

The W9 is billed as an "audiophile-grade wireless speaker," and there's some merit to that claim. It has dual 5.25-inch woofers and dual 1-inch tweeters, so it's like a desktop audio system in a single box. Each woofer gets 70 watts of power, and each tweeter gets 10 watts. There are also a couple of side-mounted 2-inch full-range drivers, each driven by a 10-watt amp. Compared to the best wireless speaker Sonos offers, the ​Play:5, it's obviously a big step up.

(Before you dig into this, it might be a good idea for you to bone up on the pros and cons of the available wireless audio systems, which I've detailed in "Which Wireless Audio Technology is Right for You?")

02
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Definitive Technology W9: Features and Specs

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Brent Butterworth

• Two 5.25-inch woofers
• Two side-mounted 2-inch full-range drivers
• Two 1-inch aluminum dome tweeters
• Internal Class D amps with 70 watts per woofer and 10 watts per tweeter and full-range driiver
• Optical digital input
• 3.5mm analog input
• USB jack for service and mobile device recharging
• Ethernet jack for wired network connection
• 7.5 x 21.2 x 11.1 in / 318 x 539 x 185 mm (hwd)

Like the Polk Omni S2R, the W9 is easy to set up and connect to your WiFi network. Here's something really cool, though: I didn't bother using Definitive Technology's supplied Android app. I didn't have to, because I was reviewing the Omni S2R at the same time, and its app worked perfectly for the W9, too. While manufacturers can offer proprietary features like EQ adjustment in their Play-Fi apps, it seems a little silly that you'd want to use a bunch of different apps to access all your Play-Fi speakers. Fortunately, you don't have to.

The W9 has an unusual control panel on the lower right. It looks like it might break off, but it seems quite sturdy and this speaker isn't made to be moved around, anyway.

The pros and cons of Play-Fi are spelled out in detail in my Omni S2R review, but in short: It works well, but there aren't a lot of streaming services -- just Pandora, Songza and Deezer for the U.S. market, plus an Internet radio client.

03
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Definitive Technology W9: Performance

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Brent Butterworth

The Polk Omni S2R makes the case for Play-Fi in that Sonos doesn't offer a portable speaker with a water-resistant design or a rechargeable battery. The W9 makes the case for Play-Fi in that it simply sounds better than anything Sonos makes. In fact, it's one of the best-sounding wireless speakers I've ever encountered.

"God, is this thing robust!" I noted when listening to Toto's "Rosanna" at full crank though the W9. The bass struck a perfect balance between powerful output and tightness; it rocked my big listening room while sounding tight and tuneful and never exhibiting any annoying boom. Thanks, I guess, to the side-firing full-range speakers, the W9 sounded huge; it didn't have the boxy, monophonic sound that so many one-box wireless speakers have. Flaws? Sure: The mid-treble seemed a little buzzy and unclear. But still, it was obvious that the W9 is one of the best wireless speakers I've ever heard, and perhaps even good enough to replace a conventional stereo system -- if you're not super-serious about your stereo system.

James Taylor's live recording of "Shower the People" helped me clarify a couple of my impressions. This tough-to-reproduce tune also sounded great, with excellent high-frequency detail (noticed especially in the cymbals and acoustic guitar) and very tuneful bass. It even had enough power to shake my chair a little. I did hear that coloration in the treble, and this tune allowed me to figure out that it's probably an artifact of the side-firing speakers, or whatever type of virtualizer technology Definitive might be using to feed those speakers.

I rarely play the lovely recordings of Hawaiian slack-key guitarist Dennis Kamakahi though wireless speakers because they tend to mess up his voice, either making it sound bloated, thin or distorted. Yet through the W9, Kamakahi's voice sounded nearly perfect, better even than I've heard from many high-end conventional speakers. His beautiful baritone sounded deep, but not bloated at all.

Holly Cole's fantastic recording of "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues" overwhelms most one-box audio systems with the deep bass notes at the beginning, but the W9 handled it easily, with not even a hint of distortion in the bass. I also loved how huge and ambient the piano sounded -- that's something very, very few one-box wireless speakers can do.

I measured the maximum output of the W9 at 1 meter, and it delivered the same results as the awesome Marshall Stanmore Bluetooth speaker: 105 dB, loud enough to easily fill even a large living room with sound, and loud enough to get people dancing at a party. And like the Stanmore, it actually sounds good at full crank.

04
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Definitive Technology W9: Final Take

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Brent Butterworth

With the W9, I found myself loving the speaker, but feeling a little trepidatious about Play-Fi. I sure wish Play-Fi would add Spotify, and I wish I had a choice of Internet radio clients instead of having to use the one Play-Fi offers. Still, if you want world-class audio quality in a one-box audio system, the W9 has it, and Sonos doesn't.