About five years ago there was a well-founded fuss about a new loudspeaker from UK maker KEF. Called the LS50, it celebrated KEF’s 50th anniversary with the company’s top-of-the-line version of its coaxial Uni-Q tweeter and woofer combination, putting them in a newly designed, extremely well-built compact enclosure.
What happens when you take those speakers, build in generous amplification and add wireless connectivity? That’s what we’re about to find out, with the KEF LS50 Wireless.
From the front, these may as well be the original LS50 speakers. They have the same curved fronts, the same dimensions of the baffle, and the same exposed drivers. These are the concentric Uni-Q 25mm aluminium-dome tweeter set in the middle of the 130mm aluminium-cone woofer. One other change: the white enclosures have the drivers with a copper-looking finish, while the black ones have the drivers in blue. The LS50 speakers were the other way around.
Both speakers are individually powered, but the right-hand speaker has the electronics and the inputs. Optical and analogue audio inputs are provided, along with a USB Type-B socket so you can use the speakers as audio devices with computers (a driver is required for Windows... at least until the April 2017 Windows 10 update). There’s Bluetooth (with aptX for Android phones that support it, but not AAC for better sound from Apple devices), and networking via Ethernet and dual-band Wi-Fi.
Five illuminated touch-sensitive controls are on top of the right speaker, with indicators for various functions. There’s also a slim remote control.
Included with the speakers was an interconnect to carry the signal from right speaker to left. This is terminated in RJ45 plugs like a network cable, but it’s Cat6 shielded. However the supplied one was a lousy metre long; I used my own.
The wireless setting up was very straightforward, with the KEF Wireless app talking me through it (I used the iOS version, but there’s one for Android as well). Naturally it involved departing the app to connect the iPad Mini 4 to the speaker as a wireless access point, but since there was only one of them this was less confusing and quicker than for some. On returning to the app, it quickly asked for my network log-on details and passed them to the speaker, and that was it. All connected. All done.
The app is a kind of combo controller for the speaker and for DLNA playback. Its layout appealed to me, being far more intuitive than most such apps. I’m not quite sure if it was acting as a DLNA server or DNLA controller. Either way, it did not support gapless playback, at least with FLAC music from my server. Neither, for that matter, did the speakers when I fed them audio using Bubble UPnP on Android as a controller. I guess they just can’t manage it.
As for controlling the speaker, drill down into Expert Settings and you can change the size of the room (this affects the DSP processing of the speaker), indicate distance from the walls, and similar kinds of tuning.
One of the most generally praised aspects of the KEF LS50 speakers was their imaging, thanks to both the enclosure design and their concentric drivers. Well, take that and consider the game stepped up even higher here. The imaging from these speakers was astonishing — jaw dropping. They easily matched and perhaps exceeded the best speakers I’ve ever heard in terms of dimensionality and presence — and in size of the sweet spot. One has much wider latitude in choosing a listening position with these speakers.
But whereas the passive LS50 speakers were also great on imaging, they simply didn’t deliver very extended bass. KEF has clearly addressed that in processing. The grunt and grind of these speakers was extremely impressive, with a clear thump of the kick drum and the bass in Bela Fleck and the Flecktones’ ‘The Hidden Land’ beautifully clear, powerful and absolutely even in level regardless of string or note.
I’d been playing Rage Against the Machine on another set of speakers when I switched over to these, and again the impact and power was extremely impressive. Dynamic compression was minimal, if there was any at all. And I found myself able to turn up these loudspeakers to ridiculously loud levels without any apparent distortion. There was something magical going on in there, letting all this happen from these compact drivers. KEF says that the speakers are good for 106dB. I didn’t quite manage that, but few would be dissatisfied with what they could do.
The only thing to detract in any way from the listening experience was those gaps between tracks.
The LS50 Wireless shows that wireless speakers are not just for the mid-range market. Here you get neatness, modern streaming abilities and superb sound all rolled into one. Or rather two.
KEF LS50 Wireless
+ Imaging as good as it gets
+ Very solid bass performance
+ Overall great sound
- No gapless playback
Connectivity: Ethernet, dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optical digital audio, analogue stereo audio, USB-B (computer)
Dimensions: 300 x 200 x 308mm
Internal power: 200 watts (woofer) + 30 watts (tweeter) each
Frequency response: 43Hz-47,000Hz (-6dB)
RESPONSE GRAPHS FOR ALL WIRELESS SPEAKERS HERE...
SPECS & GROUP TEST COMPARISON - click here or below: