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TechnologyTell Review: Definitive Technology W9 speaker

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So I just finished listening to and reviewing the Definitive Technology W7 speaker. Why stop there, right?? At a little more than two times the size of the W7, the W9 delivers some serious decibels at the cost of size and weight. But considering the huge sound output, it’s still an easily-moved speaker.

Design & Connectivity

The Definitive Technology W9 speaker doesn’t look like much. I mean, it’s a rectangle wrapped in black fabric, topped with shiny plastic, and set upon a satiny aluminum base. This is the kind of speaker that easily blends in with many a furniture set. People may not give it much notice at all, but I assure you it’s part of the charm. Who needs flash when you have the big bang, right?

Definitive Technology W9 wireless speaker

The body is big and bold, like the audio.

Although the metal ‘base’ appears to be separate, it’s part of the W9 speaker’s illusion of symmetry. It makes it look like a squared rectangle from the side. But the aluminum serves to give it a little bit of chic as well as a place to harbor sparse controls embedded in the little ‘shelf’. You get volume control, play/pause, and the button to cycle through the inputs. Everything else is handled by the free (Android and iOS) Play-Fi app.

Whatever you do, don’t set anything that isn’t silicone or fuzzy on top of the W9 speaker. Keep your fingers off, too, unless you love fingerprints. But that glossy top is super sensitive to collecting scratches – the kind you can see yet can’t feel. I made the mistake of setting my Galaxy Note 4 on top of the W7. Lesson learned.

There isn’t much interesting in the rear of the W9 speaker, but it’s important anyway. The auxiliary and optical connections are back there, next to the ethernet and USB ports. Unlike other speakers that provide a USB port for charging external devices, this one is for firmware updates only. Then you also have the WPS setup button and the power port. That’s it for formalities, since all the business is on the inside: a pair of tweeters and woofers each on the front, and one fullrange driver on either side.

The Definitive Technology W9 speaker uses this speaker layout to completely envelop rooms (and beyond) with full sound. So before you start listening, be sure to put some socks on so the W9 can handily ‘rock them off.’ That sounds kind of naughty. But I like it.

Definitive Technology Play-Fi app

Wireless and media server audio playback requires the Definitive Technology Play-Fi app. Although the app interface is somewhat vanilla, it provides the basic navigation by artist, album, genre, song, podcasts, and playlists. More importantly, the app connects and organizes multiple speakers together.

If the WPS button for instant-setup doesn’t work for you, don’t worry. It didn’t work for me either. But the fault lies with my home’s wireless router, since it’s yet to properly assist with the promise of one-touch WPS. Oh well. I was hoping for a different setup experience from the Definitive Technology W7 speaker. But set-up is a cinch either way.

Definitive Technology W9 wireless speaker top

Fingers and objects off the shiny top!

One thing that is nice about using the Play-Fi app with wireless streaming is how the speaker volume directly ties in with the app. It’s completely separate from the volume levels on your connected device, which also means that system notification noises or sounds from games being played won’t go through the W9 speaker (like it would with Bluetooth connectivity).

Multiple Definitive Technology speakers can be set in similar groups and/or zones within the Play-Fi app. While it’s not really difficult to do, it’s not particularly intuitive either. The app really needs an overhaul to make it smoother for handling multiple speakers. I wouldn’t mind being able to jump the cursor to some point within a track and have the Play-Fi app follow through. And the option to resume where I was last at in a playlist would be keen too. Right now, if your mobile device happens to disconnect from wireless (even a mere hiccup), you’ll have to search and start all over again.

But if you’re planning to pair two Definitive Technology speakers together for left and right stereo, it’s a piece of cake. Arguably the best-ever feature of the app. Not only does the wireless streaming provide the best that your audio files can deliver, the Play-Fi app perfectly syncs multiple speakers in the same group or zone. Depending on where the listener is with respect to each speaker by distance, individual volume levels may have to be adjusted for proper balance. Other than that, the music plays wonderfully.

One thing I realized from using the Play-Fi app with the W9 (and not the W7) is that the app doesn’t provide a remote means of switching the input. So if I wanted to play music through the optical or auxiliary inputs, I’d have to march over and use my finger. Yeah, maybe it feels a bit lazy. But considering how the W9 can push music over great distances, I’m usually at the other end of the backyard or house. I figured this out while testing a Bluetooth music receiver with the W9. I wanted to listen via SoundCloud and Spotify. But at least I can use the Play-Fi app to adjust the speaker volume on its end.

Audio Quality

The W9 speaker definitely packs way more power than its smaller counterpart, the W7. This Definitive Technology W9 speaker can get seriously, seriously loud, considering the size. You only need to push the volume up halfway to produce thunderous sound. It fills up the entire bottom level of my two-story home: kitchen, sunroom, living room, bedrooms, bathroom. It even leaks into the garage and upstairs rooms with notable clarity.

I don’t even need to bring the W9 outside to add music to the backyard. A simple reorientation and volume adjustment is necessary. Needless to say, the Definitive Technology W9 speaker can bring about a painful level of sound, so distance is key. With the volume at the 50 percent mark, sitting 10 meters away is close to perfect for full sound (before it starts to become too much).

Full blast at the same distance? Holy cow. Listening to the W9 at that level feels like being at a live show at Harlow’s here in Sacramento. Without a decent set of filters, you’ll leave the room with your ears ringing. Of course you can set the volume low for nearby listening, but that’s like using a longsword to mince onions. This speaker is definitely meant for projection and theatrics.

Definitive Technology W9 wireless speaker ports

Cleanly laid out ports in the rear.

If there is any real deterrent to excessive volume levels with the W9, it’s the added graininess to mids, along with blending (losing definition) and blanching of highs. Vocals can and will start to sound sharp to the ear.

Adding distance between the speaker and listener does help a bit, but it’s easier and more effective to just tone the volume down. I’d recommend such levels only for vast rooms (vaulted ceilings couldn’t hurt either) or for outdoor areas. That way, the sound can expand properly at a distance and not crunch down on craniums.

Now if you really must have max volume every day, all day, this speaker can dish it out. Unlike the W7, which activates compressors to recede music at excessively intense moments, the W9 doesn’t flinch. It’s kind of exciting to have the music thunder out as it was meant to be (ignoring any added distortion due to extreme volumes, of course). I assume the W9 also has compressors, but I have yet to hear them activate. Maybe if an amp was tossed in the mix.

If you happen to listen to variable bitrate MP3s, like you might purchase and download from Amazon, don’t get your hopes up too high. There’s the highest chance they’ll sound like crap. Only a select few of my variable bitrate MP3 albums sounded ok, and it doesn’t matter if the music streams wirelessly or via auxiliary cable. The rest made me instantly regret not opting to buy the CD with bonus digital downloads. Yup, I’ll be the first to admit it.

Unlike a lot of the (portable) speakers and headphones under the $400 mark, the Definitive Technology W9 showcases the constant peaks and dips throughout the entire track. It happens all in the same places in each song, too. In and out, back and forth, as if the artist and instruments are being shoved back and forth in a hallway. That’s right, variable bitrate MP3s can be the musical equivalent of bathroom turtle heads.

When I compared the downloaded variable bitrate MP3s to ones I created from the physical CD (MP3s at 256kbps), the difference was immediate. And you don’t need to be an audiophile to hear how the variable bitrate MP3s sound terrible by comparison – my nine-year-old daughters can point it out true. The level of precision and detail from the W9 highlights terrible encoding jobs. It doesn’t matter the speaker – the source files play a huge part, too.

Just to be clear, I have nothing against variable bitrate MP3s. Only the ones that sound good situationally instead of universally.

Definitive Technology W9 wireless speaker buttons

Aside from these buttons, all control comes through the Play-Fi app.

he soundstage imaged by the Definitive Technology W9 speaker is pleasingly wide and deep. You can get a pretty good sense of the edges and instrument location. To my ears, the depth of the stage is clearer than the width.

Individual instruments have their own space to breathe with crisp, well-defined edges. When listening to Glenn Morgan’s Southwind album, the hammered dulcimer, fiddle, and mandolin play together with such grace and liveliness. The W9 practically creates an Irish pub right there in front of you!

My favorite aspect of the highs that come out of the Definitive Technology W9 speaker is the vibrance. There is no passivity within the upper registers, even in the face of muscular lows thumping out. Notes play out with equal parts energy and precision – it also helps that the W9 is quite balanced with the highs, mids, and lows. If you’re a fan of Lindsey Stirling, this counts a lot.

As I listen to the violin strings dance up and down octaves, I can practically imagine Lindsey with her instrument right in front of me. The W9 delivers such silky smoothness, even when notes come out in a flurry or turn a sharp crescendo. And it doesn’t matter whether the music being played is bold or delicate (or both); the W9 ensures that each little bit is showcased and heard. This adds a lot to energy and the whole listening experience.

Gotta love the cymbal crashes, with that metallic timbre and soft ‘shushing’ as it fades on out. Even with mids chock full of throaty vocals and steadfast guitar, cymbals and hi-hats maintain a crisp presence. The mids delivered by the Definitive Technology W9 speaker are excellent. Guitars are well-placed on the stage, with respect to the vocals. The vocals and instruments in the mids are separated by space without sounding detached from each other. They’re forward enough to grab your attention, but not so much to shove against your face.

At times, guitars sound slightly warmer in tone, possibly due to the lows coloring just a touch. If this is the case, I don’t mind. It sounds good. But what I pick up on even more is the incredible detailing of vocals in the mids. Listen to albums by The White Buffalo, and you’ll come to appreciate how Jake Smith’s voice transitions from husky to tender and everywhere between the two. And the W9 speaker captures the subtle vocal inflections, making sure you don’t miss out on a single bit of soul. Even the parts that come as a breathy whisper.

Totally serious about The White Buffalo. He’s great with the ladies, but also with everyone. This guy is the kind of man a man needs when a man needs a man. Catch one of his local performances and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Definitive Technology W9 wireless speaker table

Why, yes, I do happen to like this particular spot.

Bass guitar comes out big and bold, delivered with throaty mid- and sub-bass texture. Even at 10 or so meters away (at 50 percent volume), I can feel the drive through my chest as I listen to A Perfect Circle’s song, “The Package”, off the Thirteenth Step album. Despite the power, the Definitive Technology W9 is precise enough to keep the drums separate and distinguishable. And when the vocals and guitar pick up in the mids, they stand up alongside the lows.

And let’s not forget the drums. I can hear that satisfying, open ‘thump’ from sticks striking taut drum surfaces. The quick attack is matched only by the decay. The song, “Awaken”, off of Metalocalypse’s Dethalbum, showcases fast, thunderous drums that the W9 articulates with dexterous ease. Forceful drums hits, as heard during “Sail” by Awolnation, come out big and balanced without any flab or boominess. The smooth decay of notes in the lows are matched only by the fast attack up front.

Despite the lack of a separate subwoofer unit, this speaker totally opens up the basement and lights it up like an underground party. The deep low end is very impressive, handling “Electric Pow Wow Drum” by A Tribe Called Red and “International (Skrillex Remix)” by Chase and Status like a pro.  Even as I push the volume toward the extreme, the lows hold their own without losing much, if anything, to distortion.

Just like with Definitive Technology’s W7 speaker, the W9 exhibits excellent control and balance of the lows. It’s all too easy to beef up lows for that added boom, even with just a simple equalizer. But if you’re the kind that wants purity, maybe to tweak values later on, the W9 provides that clean definition from the beginning. The lows are quite impressive as they are. I don’t think any kind of boost is needed, given the size and poise of the W9. But anyone who wanted to bring in ground-shaking woofers into the mix – I’m not going to disagree with that either!

Verdict

You can get a serious rush just from listening to the Definitive Technology W9 speaker for a period of time. It’s any wonder that the W9 is the company’s flagship product for audio enthusiasts and audiophiles. The energy carries on through to the ears, and if you’re not moving your body a bit while listening then you might want to check for a pulse.

The only ‘weak link’ with the entire W9 speaker experience is the Play-Fi app. It’s good, but there is a lot of room for improvement to make the UI smoother with less actions to perform for configuring speaker setup. If you only have the single W9, it’s fine. But those who want to set up additional Definitive Technology speakers in different zones or groups will have to suffer a bit more poking around. It would be nice for the app to include a means to switch the speaker’s audio input, too.

The decibels and area of projection delivered by the W9 speaker betrays the relatively diminutive size. For something roughly the size of boombox, the output is incredible. The W9 is definitely not portable, but it’s also not hard to move either. Although not as compact as the W7, the W9 still has a pretty small footprint.

Although the Definitive Technology W9 and W7 share similar sound signatures, they are still very different speakers in terms of delivery. The W7 is more of a mono speaker, and the W9 boasts much more muscle for bolder projection. Personally, if I had to choose, I think I would spend the extra and go with a pair of W7s over a single W9. What I would lose out in overall power would be made up by stereo pairing for bigger left and right imaging.

Again, personal choice. And who knows, I could decide to change my mind tomorrow. If you love music and feel you deserve quality in construction and performance, you can’t go wrong with Definitive Technology’s W9 or W7 speakers.

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