Definitive Technology, part of the DEI holdings group, is well known for innovative speaker designs with award-winning sound quality. Founded by Sandy Gross and later sold, Definitive Technology has continued the legacy of designing and manufacturing high-quality speaker systems that are held in high regard. Recently, Definitive Technology entered the wireless speaker market, with its Wireless Collection of products that includes the W Studio (a soundbar and subwoofer combo), the W Amp (which converts any standard speaker to a wireless speaker), the W Adapt (which allows existing audio systems to stream audio wirelessly), and finally the W9 ($699) and W7 ($399) powered, self-contained wireless speakers. The Wireless Collection promises lossless wireless audio streaming from smartphones, tablets, and PC computers to any product in the line. I put the W9 and W7 through a variety of situations in my home, and the results surprised me.
Definitive Technology made the decision to implement DTS Play-Fi in the Wireless Collection, which is an open-architecture wireless system that can stream full-resolution music files over WiFi using your existing local area network (LAN) to multiple Play-Fi products, individually or at the same time. Different sources can be played simultaneously on different devices within the Play-Fi network, and various Play-Fi products from different manufacturers will play well together. More information about Play-Fi can be found here.
All that is needed to make the system work is to download the free Definitive Technology app to your desired devices: the iOS app is available through the App Store, the Android app through Google Play, the Kindle Fire app through Amazon, and lastly the Windows app for your PC, located on the Play-Fi website. (I used Definitive's own Play-Fi app, but a generic DTS app is also available.) Play-Fi is technically AirPlay-compatible for use with Mac-based systems; however, Definitive Technology made the executive decision not to include this functionality, so the Wireless Collection will not work with OS X Mac computers.
Streamed sources from your phone or tablet can include the music stored on it and one of the streaming services available through the iOS app. At the time of this writing, there are four music services available for the iOS app: Deezer, KKBOX, Pandora, and Songza. I must be out of touch here because I'm familiar with only one of those services. Can you guess which one? I felt better when I started researching the other streaming services. Deezer has not launched yet, so I will give myself a pass on that one. KKBOX is Asia's leading streaming service, and Songza is a free service with no audio ads. Its business model is to pick the right music for you depending on the occasion or mood. At this time, these are the only streaming services that will work with a smartphone or tablet, since support is required within the Play-Fi app to make a particular streaming service operate. I suspect additional streaming services will appear over time. [Editor's note: After the completion of this review, Definitive added support for Spotify Connect. Also, the Android app adds SiriusXM and QQMusic, which are not available through the iOS app.]
Conversely, PC-based computers can stream any service you subscribe to. Since audio operates at the device level, no special application is required for you to log on to your streaming service (for example, TIDAL) and start playing music. From there, it's up to your computer to direct that music to your Play-Fi device through the Play-Fi application.
Both the W9 and W7 are active speakers that share a similar look, which includes a solid aluminum base that houses four buttons for source selection, volume up, volume down, and play/pause functionality. Acoustically transparent fabric surrounds the speaker's four sides, and a glossy black top panel rounds out the exterior. I installed the W9, the flagship model of this duo, in my home office. Its design includes two forward-firing, one-inch aluminum dome tweeters and 5.25-inch woofers, along with two side-firing two-inch full-range drivers. Each driver has its own dedicated amplifier; each of the two woofers gets a 70-watt amplifier, while the tweeters and full-range drivers get a 10-watt amplifier. Singularly, that may not seem like much, but its sum is a respectable amount of power. The W9 is 7.5 inches high, 16.6 inches wide, and 7.3 inches deep.
The W7 has four one-inch aluminum dome tweeters (two front-firing and one on each side), one four-inch front-firing mid-bass woofer, and two side-mounted four-inch passive bass radiators. As with the W9, each driver in the W7 has its own amplifier; each mid-bass driver has a 30-watt amplifier, and each tweeter has a 15-watt amplifier. At 6.9 inches high, 5.9 inches wide, and 6.6 inches deep, the W7 is small enough to fit on your bedroom nightstand, which is where I put my review sample.
A Digital Signal Processor (DSP) brings it all together by dividing the appropriate frequencies to specific amplifiers that are powering specific drivers, while performing some equalization and a loudness contour, all in the digital domain. If you read my review on the Genelec G Four active speakers, you know my affection for and the benefits of an active speaker design.
As an owner of a Wireless Collection product, you become a member of the Aficionado Service Program, which entitles you to dedicated Hotline support, extended customer care support hours, personal consultations, and exclusive rewards. It is all spelled out in a small black tri-fold card, which clearly displays a toll-free number. At a time when most companies are directing you to a website or manual for customer support, Definitive Technology puts that toll-free number front and center. That's commitment. I did call the customer service line, and they were very helpful.
Connectivity is the same for both the W9 and W7, which is in large part wireless. However, some wired connections are available and can be found in the back of the speaker--including a digital optical input, an analog auxiliary input, Ethernet for a wired Internet connection, and USB for firmware updates and phone charging. There's also a WiFi setup button and AC cable connector, allowing for alternate power cables to be used in lieu of the one provided. I used the system exclusively in the wireless mode simply because that is the main premise of this speaker.
To get this show on the road, with both the W7 and W9 already plugged in and booted up (indicated by a steady single LED light), I downloaded the Definitive Technology Play-Fi application to my iPhone 6 from the App Store. I'm in the iPhone camp and do not own any Android devices; so, for my smartphone testing, I was limited to the iOS app, which apparently doesn't support as many features as the Android app. Once the app was installed, I had to perform a clunky initial setup: I had to start the Definitive Technology Play-Fi application, go through a few steps, exit out of the Play-Fi application, and open the settings menu on the iPhone, to WiFi settings, and choose the Play-Fi device, which appeared as an available network. I then had to go back to the Definitive/Play-Fi App to name the devices (W9 and W7 speakers). Then, I tapped Next on the phone display to go to some source choices. Tapping on Music will open up music stored in iTunes. After choosing my first track, I received an error message that the system could play this file type. Ah yes, all my music on my iPhone is ripped as a WAV file. I had to stop there, sync my phone with my computer, and change the copy setting to reduce the resolution of the music files stored on the iPhone. [Editor's note: the Android app supports playback of FLAC and WAV files.] Once completed, I was back in business.
Connecting my PC was more straightforward. I downloaded the Windows Play-Fi application and opened it. The application searched for speakers and found them. From there, I could play a CD on my computer, stream music from any website, or play stored files using an array of applications--like JRiver, for example.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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