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

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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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