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Definitive Technology W Studio Micro review: Sharp design meets great sound in a high-end bar

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So why buy a sound bar this expensive? The first reason is improved styling. Models like the Definitive Technology W Studio Micro use metals and wood instead of the plastics found on cheaper sound bars. And compared to separate systems, which combine an AV receiver and multiple speakers, a sound bar is sleeker and takes up less space.

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7.6

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The Definitive Technology W Studio Micro's adjustable center channel makes it easy to raise or lower dialogue volume; The W Studio Micro offers a dedicated center channel which helps with dialogue intelligibility. Music playback is surprisingly good for a sound bar.

The Bad

No Bluetooth or HDMI, fairly costly, and early versions are sharp enough to scratch yourself.

The Bottom Line

Albeit expensive, Definitive Technology W Studio Micro sounds great and packs a wealth of features into a stylish sound bar and wireless sub system.

The relatively high price of the W Studio Micro also gets you more features, including a multiroom music system from DTS called Play-Fi, which is interoperable with other brands including Polk and Paradigm. Much like Sonos, it allows whole-home audio controlled from an app on your phone or tablet, but of course you'll need compatible Play-Fi gear to take advantage.

Though the W Studio Micro sounds superb for a sound bar, its value proposition isn't straightforward. For this price you would inevitably get better sound and functionality from a separate 2.1 system, for example ELAC speakers (Debut B6 and a S10 subwoofer) and a Yamaha receiver (RSX-V479).

One of the Definitive Technology's competitors, the Denon HEOS HomeCinema, defines itself as a music streamer which can also do AV duties, but the W Studio Micro is aiming to be a sound bar first and streamer second. It's a small distinction, but one that the DefTech mostly succeeds at. If you don't mind paying extra for a stylish system that sounds good , the W Studio Micro is worth considering.

Design

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The W Studio Micro is a great-looking, low-slung sound bar -- less than two inches tall -- with futuristic angled lines. There's a "military-grade aluminum" top over a plastic speaker housing. On the unit we received, the edges were a little on the sharp side, though, and the rear corners hadn't been rounded at all. Once when reaching over it to plug in cables, I managed to leave a deep scratch on my arm. Definitive Technology advises us that this was a problem with early units, and it's since been fixed.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The wireless subwoofer that comes bundled in the package is a little brutish compared to the bar, but certainly attractive enough to keep in plain sight with its crosshatched vinyl wrap and large "D" logo.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote is quite swanky, and takes a few cues from Bose remotes of late. It is a candy-bar remote with a black, rubberized finish. Although logically laid out for the most part, it's hard to find some buttons -- like volume! -- especially in the dark. The remote is not backlit.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Features

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The W Studio Micro is a 3.1 sound bar which offers four 1-inch midrange drivers (two for the center, and one each for left and right) plus three 1-inch aluminum tweeters for each of the front channels. The wireless subwoofer features a ported design with an 8-inch driver.

It's compatible with surround sound formats including Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS (DTS-HD), and includes SRS TruSurround processing. It will also decode most music formats (MP3, WAV, FLAC, Apple Lossless, etc.) including hi-res 24-bit/192kHz via the Play-Fi platform.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The W Studio Micro lacks some of the connectivity we expect at this price. The first and most obvious is Bluetooth -- sure you're better off using Wi-Fi, but some people want quick and easy connectivity without worrying about learning another app -- and the second is HDMI. A distant third is Ethernet, and while you can use the USB port for connecting an Ethernet adapter, it's worth mentioning that rivals like the Denon HomeCinema already include the port.

What the does have however is a couple of optical inputs, a 3.5mm auxiliary input, a wired subwoofer and an IR input and output (for remote flashers).

DTS Play-Fi

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Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The W Studio Micro is part of DTS' expanding empire of Play-Fi products, which includes devices from Polk, HP, Paradigm, McIntosh and Wren. Streaming service support is competitive with Sonos too, and includes competitive, and includes Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody and Tidal. You can also play music files from your phone and a network device (DLNA), in addition to audio from your PC.

Unlike its main competitor Sonos, the Play-Fi architecture supports greater-than-CD quality audio (24-bit/192kHz) which is great for compatibility. However, audiophiles should be aware that the system pares it down to 44.1/48kHz for better networking performance.

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Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury/CNET

While navigable, the Play-Fi interface has always looked a little dated, not to mention a little too "tech." The hardest thing for newbies to find is accessing your many speakers -- to do that, you need to press the Play-Fi triangle on the volume bar. DTS has announced a new interface is coming soon, but as of time of publication, it's still unavailable.

Performance

After you hook up the Definitive Technology W Studio Micro, there are no setup or calibration requirements -- you're good to go. If you need to you can easily adjust not only the bass level, but also the center channel (dialogue) volume from the remote. The adjustment range is fairly wide, so you could turn dialogue way down or have it much louder than normal. That flexibility might come in handy for densely mixed action films, or for folks with hearing loss.

Like the more expensive Definitive Technology W Studio we tested last year, the W Studio Micro features tweeters on the left-, center- and right-channel arrays. That stands in contrast to a lot of sound bars that don't have any tweeters! Heck, most sound bars are 2.1-channel systems; the W Studio Micro is a 3.1-channel design.

You don't have to be an audiophile to notice the W Studio Micro's outstanding sound quality. The sheer clarity of the sound is immediately obvious. When we played "American Sniper" the mayhem of the battle scenes in the Iraq war were all taken in its stride. Dialogue, even in the midst of intense gunfire was unusually clear, so we didn't feel a need to turn it up to understand what the actors were saying.

Thanks to the W Studio Micro's onboard Dolby and DTS processors, we were able to send bitstream audio rather than PCM from our Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player; which means it can take advantage of better sounding mixes.

A face-off between the W Studio Micro and the Polk SB1 sound bar system quickly demonstrated the W Studio Micro's superiority with the Rolling Stones "Sweet Summer Sun - Hyde Park Live" 2013 concert Blu-ray. The SB1 sounded smaller in every way. Its soundstage width and depth collapsed, its dynamic impact went south, and bass fullness withered. When we returned to the W Studio Micro, the sound was significantly more transparent and powerful, much closer to what you'd experience with a bona-fide 5.1-channel home-theater system.

With "Gravity" we noted an even larger performance gap between the two sound bars. The SB1 shrunk the "space" between the astronauts during the film's early action sequences, while the W Studio Micro was the clear winner.

Many a sound bar has fumbled when we played music, but the W Studio Micro sounded very decent with Aphex Twin's "Syro" album. The clarity and transparency were a cut above the competition. It sounded best played medium loud, but when pushed louder even the W Studio Micro showed its limitations. It is a sound bar after all.

Compared against the $799 Denon HEOS HomeCinema the gap shrank even further, and ultimately the two high-end bars showed similar levels of performance. Only the Denon's lack of a remote and slightly convoluted setup separates it from the easier-to-use Def Tech. Is it worth paying $100 more for convenience? It's ultimately your call.

Conclusion

Granted, the Definitive Technology W Studio Micro ain't cheap, but it delivers exceptional sound quality, looks slick, and has most of the features sound bar buyers crave. We could nitpick about the bar's sharp edges, and the all-black buttonless remote that's next to impossible to use in the dark, but if you prioritize sound quality and style, and the price is within your budget, the W Studio Micro deserves a spot on your short list.

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7.6

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 8Value 7