KEF LS 50 Wireless Speaker Review. My Speaker of the Year…so far.
By Steve Huff
My Video Review and thoughts on the LS50 Wireless Speakers
Wow. Just Wow. Audio tech just continues to move forward, and here we are in 2017 with a myriad of new tech waiting for us audio nuts to try. Me, I am now a huge believer in the “wireless” speakers…well, more so “Active” speakers for 2016/2017. With the Devialet Phantom Golds blowing my mind (and wallet) last year, so far this year I have tested the modest $799 Klipsch Sixes which are also a set of powered active speakers. I really enjoyed them and for the money, the Klipsch’s are tough to beat but at the end of the day, the build or sound of those Klipsch are not nearly up to the levels of Devialet Phantoms, Dynaudio or KEF Active speakers. The Sixes, I consider “Mid Fi” as they just do not deliver the Audiophile experience with soundstage, air and imaging yet they are very good for playing good old fashioned party music, and they sound damn good and fill a room. But what we have here in the KEF LS50 Actives is something entirely different and on a different level. IN A GOOD WAY.
Let’s back up a tad…
About a year or two ago I owned a pair of standard passive KEF LS 50’s and had them set up and stand mounted in my listening room, which is SMALL. 12X13 and most speakers in this room sound like magic somehow..almost all, but not all. Normally a room like this would be a nightmare, or so I am told but anyone who has heard my audio systems in this room has told me how amazing it sounded. Rich, full yet with all of the audiophile tricks included. ; ) I truly love my room, as what I hear inside of these walls has beaten demos of high end speakers in shops and others I have heard that cost much more than what I normally have in here.
When I had the standard passive LS50’s in this room though, which are notoriously hard to match an amp to, I ran them with three integrated amps. One was a $10,000 McIntosh Ma8000, one was a McIntosh Headphone amp and the other was an Audio research 75WPC amp. None really drove those original LS50’s to my satisfaction, or..what I should be saying is, the LS50’s while being amazing with layering and detail fell flat for the lower end. They had almost no real solid room filling bass, and while they were as open as can be, had a nice wide soundstage and had gobs of detail, the high end irritated me too much so I got rid of them and sold them at a $300 loss after a few months. They never grew on me and yet I tried, and I did love them for what THEY COULD DO, just not what they could not do. This is why I never reviewed them as well. I do not review what I do not like ; )
After they were sold I somehow missed that layering and detail they gave with some vocals. In some situations, they did deliver amazing spooky real vocals. When I saw KEF was releasing “wireless” active versions of the LS50’s with four amps inside of two speakers that matched the drivers perfectly (200 WPC for the mid/bass and 30WPC Class A/B for the tweeter) as well as its own 24/192 dacs and all the inputs I would need…I knew I had to give them a test. The word on the street was that these new Active versions upped the game and brought these speakers to life and the bass now extended lower, into the 40’s. WHAT?!?! If so, I would be getting that sweet detail of the KEF’s and some of the bass that was missing from the passive versions! Hmmmm.
I ordered Black with Blue drivers but you can also get these in White with Copper Drivers or a Grey with Red Driver (would have been my 2nd choice)
I ordered a set from Amazon at $2200 in Black with Blue drivers as that color combo matched my listening room perfectly. When they arrived I moved out the Klipsch Sixes and was ready to be BLOWN AWAY! All of the reviews of these speakers praised them as amazing. When I put them in, I was a little let down as they sounded thin and flat. The $799 Klipsch Sixes I reviewed recently were pumping out LOUD, LIVE sounding music with an effortless ease and these were..well..NOT. Now, due to the power cords and cables needing to be plugged into the each speaker, I could not fit them on my stands (same with the Sixes) so I set them where I had placed the Klipsch speakers.
As the music played I notice the same thing as I had with the passive LS50’s. They seemed thin and a tad bright. Hmmmm. Something had to be off..it had to be. I soon found out that yes indeed, something was off.
I have a Sonos going into these with an audioquest Diamond optical cable. I also have my Marantz TT15 Turntable going into a Tube phone stage (Vincent) and then into the analog ins of the speakers. As they played I decided to read the instructions, lol.
When I set them up I set the controls on the back to them being on a desk and away from the wall. When I changed the settings to being close to the wall, they came to life in the bass dept. THERE IT WAS. BASS. It was rich, never boomy, and solid/tight and fast. Wow. What a difference. While no where near as plentiful as the Phantom Golds with the Bass, they were delivering better imaging and resolution and were more open. The bass was plenty good enough, and much better than the previous passive LS50’s.
On the back of the right speaker you can set up the speakers for your listening room and placement. Also, all inputs reside here. Analog, Optical, PC, Subwoofer, USB, Network and an output to the left speaker. The cable that connects the speakers comes with the set and is around 3 meters long.
I then set up a pair of suedo sands, the ISO Acoustics Aperta stands. They are aluminum and fit these speakers like they were made for them. Amazing fit and finish and look. When the speakers were placed on these, same spot, they were lifted up a tad and BOOM, now I had even better bass and focus. I had a little warmth going on but it was … magical. I then set the settings to these being on stands and close to the wall. ONG, OMG, OMG. THIS WAS IT! On the Aperta stands, with these settings I was hearing magic.
I had to get serious and get in my spot, and make sure they were set up perfectly for my “sweet spot”. Once I did this, I dimmed the lights, chilled out and sat in my chair listening to my demo playlist.
I was … well…BLOWN AWAY. These do NOT have the all out gusto and power or bass output and in your face sound of the Phantom Golds but dare I say, they sound more delicate, more focused, more complete, more cohesive, more open when compared side by side. No chest thumping shaking bass and no warm sound but it was just right. A shade or hair to the right of neutral into warm and with the detail and imaging I was hoping for, the same imaging and depth I heard from the passive versions but now they came to life with the extra bass extension and power. The way these speakers deliver music is quite special and spellbinding. Put on some acoustic guitar, piano, vocals or a mic of all and you will be shocked at the realism of the vocals and midrange. Best I have heard since my old Guarneri Evolutions and these may even be better in many ways (Guarneri can be very warm depending on amp or room and this can hinder the details and open-ness of the speaker) . The KEF’s are More accurate but also throaty and husky when needed.
These speakers ship with all cables you need and a basic plastic remote, with matching colors to your speaker. So my remote is blue and black.
You can use the remote of the touch panel on top of the right speaker to power them on, change inputs, go to bluetooth or adjust volume.
The remote could have been better. For example, I am using two inputs. Optical and Analog. There should be buttons on the remote to pick whatever input you want but instead there is just one button to scroll through the inputs but you never know which one you are on, so it is hit or miss. The remote is also plastic, and kind of cheap. I would have loved to see a nice backlit metal remote as these seekers are pure high end in looks, build and sound but the remote was an afterthought. But back to listening…
For kicks I started to turn them up to see how loud they can go, as this is usually a test of how good a speaker really is…and as I kept going they would get louder and louder yet the volume steps are like baby steps, so I kept pushing and pushing and they became so loud my wall shelving units were shaking yet the speakers never sounded congested, they never lost focus and they never sounded harsh. They kept that same sound at every volume level I tested them at but would get louder and louder. When my shelves were shaking I decided to not go any further with the volume so I never maxed them out, but they retained clarity and focus when pushed which was pretty impressive. When loud, they can fill my room but they sound much different than the Phantom Gold’s do. The Phantoms have a warmth and just overall sense of ease and power about them, and they can blow you out of the room, but they sound much warmer and not as open as these. With the KEF’s I hear amazing things with acoustic instruments, piano and vocals. For metal and rock, the Phantoms rule the day but these are not bad at all, even with old 70’s rock. All I miss is a tad bit of mid bass thump. But the pros far outweigh that one con with these.
For my small room, these are just about PERFECT. Not too much, not too little.
As I sat in my sweet spot, I realized it was now four hours later and I was still grinning and smiling at the amazing sound coming from these. When I listened to all of my demo music not once, but twice I knew I had something very special here. No hype, no BS. No fatigue, no shrill sounds, just exactly what I had hoped for. When I had the original LS50’s I did not even want to write a review, as if I do not really love something I do not review it or write about it. So they were sold at a loss and I never spoke of them. THESE on the other hand, these are up there with some of the best I have had in my house, and I have owned systems up to $45,000 and some a little more. The funny thing is, my worst sounding system here was that crazy expensive one that neared $50,000. That showed me that the cost does not mean all out performance. Some speakers and amps are just over rated and go by name recognition, and I have learned this the hard way (by buying and selling and losing). After having these LS 50 Active Speakers in this space for a while now, I can not imagine taking them out, even for the Phantom Golds. THEY ARE THAT GOOD. They offer something that is hard to pin down, and hard to get from larger speakers as well. They are so lifelike, yet do not shout of of the speakers like the Klipsch do. They are not direct, but when you listen you feel an expansion of a soundwall that stretches out beyond the speakers. You hear precise layering of instruments and voices and damn good imaging.
KEF has a future classic here.
But remember, they did not get this good until I set up the DSP on the back and put the stands in place. Now they are locked in, and just give me a wide soundstage, precise imaging, amazing layering of music (you hear each instrument clearly) and vocals to die for with some artists. Bass is tight, snappy and amazing, and I do not need a sub here..in fact, I would not want to muddle things up by adding one. I do not feel these are lacking bass and unless you are addicted to Hip Hop and beats headphones you would not find them lacking either, unless you had them in a huge room. What is truly awesome is the bass never ever gets boomy or muddled, nor does it ever interfere with the delicate mids and treble. It is tight, and called upon the needed. Amazing integration here and KEF really has created a speaker that truly blew me away, and for much less than all of my old setups. CRAZY!!!
Listening to Only by RY X had his voice floating in the middle of my room with a scary realism that blew my mind. I had this effect with a couple of other speakers ($25k and $16k) but never with $2200 self powered speakers. As the guitar and piano were behind this voice, it was almost like VR audio, lol. At that point I knew, I KNEW these were staying no matter what I had to do. Now, the old lS50’s suffered with rock or metal music, and some electronic as they did not have the balls and gusto to reproduce that music properly. THESE CAN to some extent but if you like hard driving rock and metal, I’d say there are better options. These excel with voices, acoustic, electronic, jazz, and even modern pop and country. With Rock and Metal they sound great but you may miss the driving thump of larger speakers with more mid bass. I am listening to KISS ALIVE II on vinyl as I write this and while some mid bass thump is missing the soundstage and realness of the voices and instruments make me feel like I am there. The old LS50’s could not do this. So these are much more versatile than the old ones that were raved about everywhere.
Now, with the good there has to be a bad right? YES THERE IS.
The App that you use to set these up? WORTHELESS GARBAGE. I never use it, and do not need to. read below on my thoughts on the app, and how I use these to guarantee I never need to load that app up ever again 😉
I have used countless HiFi setups in my days, over the last 20 years or so and I have had opportunities to use systems ranging from $500 to $50,000 and this right here, these KEF Powered Active Wireless speakers? In my top 3 easily yet they come in at $2200 and include all you need from amps, dac and inputs. All in one, the future of HiFi. Set these up right, use a good source and cable (I use a fancy Audioquest Diamond Optical and yes, there is a marked improvement over a generic optical) and they will reward you with some amazing organic beautiful sound. This is what 2 Channel is meant to sound like, and the fact that these come in at this price point makes me wonder what other high end manufactures will be doing for the near future.
Of course there is another con to these. With all electronics being INSIDE the speakers, if an amp goes out you are sort of screwed. If a DAC goes out, screwed. With separate components we can fix of swap what is broken easily. With these, not so much. So while we do not know about the longevity of these, they seem to be built to a very high standard, and so far, so good.
My advice if you buy these?
USE Dedicated stands and set them up correctly. If like me you are limited with this due to the cables needing to be attached, get some ISO Acoustics Aperta stands, that were actually made just for LS50’s and set them up like I did. Take your time and angle them in to your sweet spot. I have some toe in. Set them up as on stands but far from the wall if going the ISO Acoustics route and you will have rich sound with plenty of tight, never boomy bass. Of course, room size and dimensions come into play so work with it. When set up just right these will be incredible.
KEF makes dedicated stands JUST for these LS50’s. They come in black, white or silver to match the color of the speaker you choose.
So far this is my speaker of the year. No contest. For the cost, and what you get, nothing on earth beats these at this time and I do not see anything coming up soon that will at this cost/price point for what these offer in looks, design, build and most importanty, SOUND quality. if you like accurate sound with a wide soundstage, precise imaging, amazing layering of details and a natural non bloated sound, these are it. If you are used to artificial booming bass, or have a very large room these would probably not make you happy. But for me, in my 12X13 space, with the Aperta stands and using Sonos and Analog (which gets converted to digital just like the phantoms) I have never heard a better speaker anywhere near this price point, again, in my space.
OH, one last thing. After about 5o hours these open up DRAMATICALLY over what you hear out of the box. At around the 50 hour mark I noticed a more effortless sound, more room filling with a soundstage expansion in width and height and I also noticed the bass performance get better and better. Break in is true with these babies, so do not judge them out of the gate. Right now mine have about 100 hours on them and they are sounding jaw droopingly amazing. I still can not believe what is coming from these speakers. KEF could have charged more and gotten away with it. ; )
linn series 3 wireless better sound ? than kef LS50 wireless ?
Great review Steve, thanks. But do you know if transmitting Bluetooth aptX HD (Bluetooth 5)will yield any additional listening benefits?
What speakers you’re presently using? Thx
How LS50 compare to new KEF Q350 ?
Went to a local HIFI location that had the Kef LS50w on hand, they set them up & we played around with various positions, inputs & settings on them, To me no matter what was done they remained to bright for my taste, they have very good image, clarity , detail & sound stage.
They offered to demo them in my home but listing fatigue set in rather quickly in a treated room so i did not take them up on the offer.
Am hoping the Elac ARM51 sound warmer & silky smooth, now if i can just find some place that has them close to me.
I am a full-range guy and I need good response down to 26hz. I love that these are DSP bi amped, Really make the top end destinct, but no stereo sub out. Do you know Steve if you spilt a preamp out to two subs for stereo if there will be timing issues or can those sub controls help me tweak the timing. I know your not a sub fan, but I am a Audiophile musician and would miss lower organ piano in stereo.
I had a chance to try the LS50W at home and loved them. While I was still in the return period the Elac Navis ARB51 were released and I A/B tested the Navis and LS50W. Amazingly to me, because the LS60W are so good, I actually liked the Navis better which says a lot about the Navis. Navis had a bigger and fuller sound to my ears. I actually returned the LS50W as much as I liked them. Secondarily I also liked that I could connect a turntable to the Navis speakers and keep the signal analog as well as connect my own DAC directly and not have LS50Ws internal DAC then process what my DAC was feeding it. That said if Navis hadn’t sounded better to my ears I would have kept the LS50W.
I also tried both Navis 51 and LS50w in my home. The navis to me is hands down better than the LS50w.
Are the aperta stands the 200 version or the aperta ?
The LS50W has some real competition. Elac Navis ARB-51 and Dynaudio Xeo 20. It is great to see this segment gaining popularity.
XEO 20 is instantly superior.
Thanks for the great review. I just picked up a gently used pair for a great price.
Listening to them now, and I’d say they are as good or better than my Devialet 120 Expert with Atohm GT1 speakers.
Using a Mac mini music server over USB (Ultra-Violet USB cable), also have a Pro-Ject turntable as well as optical streaming from an Airport Express. The built in wi-fi took a while to set up, but seems stable now.
Hi Steve, thanks for your great revivew. I plan to buy this KEF 50 wireless together with TT Marantz tt15s1. Are you happy with this combination ? Thanks a mil. Khiem
Hi Steve, thanks for the great review. As a musician playing in symphony orchestra for 30 years I just love the sound. Will there be a great difference in sound if I upgrade with Audioquest Diamond optical (running between the speakers?) and the PS Audio Directstream Junior Dac?
Thanks for the great review. I would like to hook up turntable, sonos connect , AND a cd player. Is that possible? If so how? Do I need to get a pre-amplifier?
I have the passive LS50 with a Schiit dac and Vincent hybrid tube/ss amp. I think the combo sounds fantastic. I understand the bass being fuller on the wireless but the bass on the passive LS50 get the job done in a small room. Beyond the better bass response I can’t imagine significantly better resolution or imaging. If a add an external DSP that does room EQ like MiniDSP would I be at the same level?
With your setup you may have a better sound than the active versions. Those who pai the passive LS50 with a cheap receiver or amp will get thin, sharp sound. But you sound like you have paired them up with some nice equipment so my guess is yours sound better than the active.
Thank you for your review and it’s very helpful. Knowing that you have paired your ls50w with sonos connect, may I know how do they work? I’m sorry for asking you a silly question, I have auditioned the ls50w couple days ago and the salesman are not helpful enough as they could not answer my question.
It would be super helpful if you can snap a picture at the back of the ports for me or to send it via email?
Sorry for my English , Thank you very very much and I hope you have a great day Steve
I no longer use these but using a songs connect is easy. Just set u your connect, take the optical out and plug it to the optical in of the LS50. Then you are done ; )
Steve, I’ve never been able to tell the difference between 320 kbps and FLAC quality files. Spotify streams at 320 kbps maximum, and Tidal is FLAC maximum. Seeing as you actually prefer Spotify over Tidal, I take it you can’t hear the difference either? Would you elaborate on why you prefer Spotify? Thanks!
With my current system I can now hear the difference between Spotify Premium and Tidal HiFi. Different sound for sure. But what I have bene really liking is MQA from Tidal HiFi. Some of the MQA stuff blows me away with the sound. WAY more analog sounding IMO. I now use Roon/Tidal into a Directstream Jr DAC, which is one of the best upgrades I have ever made to a system (the dac). Before this DAC it was tough to tell any difference between spotify and tidal, now it’s very easy to do so. I still have spotify as they have some music not on Tidal (Spotify has more choice for music) but when I switch I can clearly hear the difference with Spotify being a little more closed in and dull (though still sounding amazing, not saying it sounds dull, but in comparison to a good Tidal HiFi MQA file, its easy to hear the improvement in the Tidal file).
Hi Steve. Are you saying that you’re using the Jr DAC over the built in DAC on the LS50Ws now then? I figured with such a glowing review on these speakers you wouldn’t be looking to do this. Is there something wrong with the built in DACs and could they not resolve a difference between MP3 and FLAC?
No, I have moved on from the LS50. As for the differences in resolution of files, it all depends on the systems capability to show you the difference. This comes from speakers, cables, source, etc.
I had the Phantom Golds as well as the new Elevates on a 45 day trial, and returned them. Beautiful aesthetics and design, and amazing bass from their size, but I felt they were bloated and boomy and far too recessed in the mids and highs. And have zero ability to adjust tone/tilt/dial back bass. Even the Golds who were more forward with the titanium tweeter were overwhelmed by the bass theatrics. And I had connectivity issues. My 20year old MeridianDSP’s were far better. But they are being put to the test by a pair of Martin Logan LX16’s sitting on top of them at the moment. The AMT tweeter is that good. Fast transients, detailed, and realistic voices. They are supplemented by a Velodyne Optimum sub. Anyway, I can’t help but think that these LS50 actives would do everything that the Phantoms didn’t and with the Velodyne supplementing them (and would allow relative balancing) could dethrone both the Martin Logan’s and Meridians. And I happen to like the new Nocturne design.
Follow Up: I have a pair of LS50W’s on trial. Simply amazing. Cohesive, effortless, transparent. In a very large open concept lively urban condo flat. And not broken in (20 hours). Using with my velodyne sub below 60Hz. Which takes a load off the mid woof – which still a remarkable job with a remarkably small radiating surface area. App is probably improved from what you reviewed. I need the latest Nov 2017 firmware update as my manufacture date is 09/2017. Have some issues with dropping out by WiFi but again I’m in a crowded urban environment. App also allows some expert sound adjustments change sub crossover freq and level, high pass freq, treble +/- 2 dB but keep it flat. This tweeter is wonderful much better than the Phantom Gold. More forward and spooky imaging from broad sweet spot.
Hi Steve, thanks for the great review. As a musician playing in symphony orchestra for 30 years I just love the sound. Will there be a great difference in sound if I upgrade with Audioquest Diamond optical (running between the speakers?) and the PS Audio Directstream Junior Dac?
Would love to hear your thoughts if you can check LS50W, Navis 51, and Xeo 20 at the same time. Navis is more open and cohesive than LS50W and the Xeos beat them both in warmth and presentation.
Your review is intriguing. I have passive LS50s. I also have the Heresy IIIs you recently reviewed. Since you like the KEFs and Heresys this much, I think you would like some of the Spendor Classic models. When set up properly, their presentation is unmatched in my experience.
In case some are wondering why the Wireless versions have such a different sonic signature, the answer is simple: DSP. The reason the bass is deeper and more full has to do with the applied equalization. In other words, the driver is simply undergoing greater excursion to accomplish this feat. It’s simple speaker physics, no magic involved. Maybe KEF compensated for this by beefing up the driver, but if not, the driver in the Wireless version is simply under greater stress. The same results can be accomplished with the passives and a parametric EQ, given one is also using a fairly powerful and high quality amplifier. The midrange and treble differences are also attainable. Think of the Devialet Phantoms and their extraordinary bass extension. Visually, with those speakers, the excursion is obvious because it borders on absurd.
This is not to take away from the excellent value proposition of the ls50 Wireless, as there’s obvious advantages in total system cost and user ease.
I only mention it because owners of the passives might be ready to take a huge hit in selling their passives to move up to the wireless. Instead, they might consider a device like the DSPeaker AntiMode 2.0, which would likely yield similar performance gains.
I was recently in my local dealer (before I had even read your article or a single review) looking for a pair of bookshelf speakers – I use Klipsch RF7II’s as part of my home theater hifi.
My dealer setup up a number of samples for me to listen to with a mix of Beethoven, Metallica, Eva Cassidy and Radiohead – a fairly diverse mix! I checked out the KEF LS50 passive speakers connected to both a NAD388 amp and also connected to a musical fidelity amp. I also compared with the Devialet phantom silver, phantom gold, dynaudio Xeo 4 (connected to the same amps mentioned) and finally the KEF LS50 wireless.
My take away was that the Devialet had the punchiest base, but I didn’t find the mid’s and highs as clear, detailed and effortless as the Kef LS50 which had a more natural clear sound particularly when paired with the musical fidelity amp. The Dynaudio Xeo 4’s were lovely too and I thought performed really nice with the NAD388, but not really my cup of tea for orchestral or rock music. Finally my dealer suggested that I try the KEF LS50 wireless – I really wasn’t expecting an internally amplified speaker to be as good as a separates setup. How wrong I was! The sound from the KEF LS50 wireless is exactly as reviewers state – simply effortless and quite different to the passive variants in that there is a much fuller base. I’d go so far as to say that for most music I’d prefer the more detailed based over the punchy base of the Devialet’s for my tastes. Anyway, I put my order in and cannot wait for a pair of white Kef wireless LF50’s to arrive 🙂
One thing I was wondering steve if you were ever tempted to add a separate sub to your LS50 to cater for those times when you want walls rumbling base! My dealer also demoed a pairing of KEF LS50 paired with a Martin Logan sub and the combo (for Metallica anyway and my tastes was incredible!)
The Dynaudio Xeo 4 is an internally Powered speaker. Were they really connected to NAD 388 ?!?! how was it done ? and why?
I bought the LS50W back in march of this year and have been struggling ever since to experience what most happy owners of these speakers have been experiencing: FABULOUS SOUND. Cause frankly I am not a happy owner and I am not impressed at all by the sound except for the openness. I’ve tried everything but in vain. The last thing I did was to move my LS50W from a pair of sandfilled Kudos S50 speaker stands to a furniture which looks a bit like yours in your listening room. My question is: how high are your LS50W sitting on Isoacoustics Aperta from the floor to the center of the tweeter? ( would be nice if you could give me an answer in centimeters. Thank you). Mine are not standing right on the furniture but on 4 solid, dense and sharp metal cones. What I achieved with that was the loss of the openness I had when the speakers where standing on the Kudos. So I am sure by now everybody is saying : “so move them back on the stands” which is quite logical but I don’t want to give up this route yet. I am proceeding by elimination, one thing at the time. The next parameter to check is the height of the center of the tweeter compared to my listening position. Since you’re clearly satisfied with your own set up, I thought I could try to reproduce what you have hence my question about the height of the tweeter. Mine are at 93 cm (from floor to center of tweeter). I have of course dialed in the right values in the KEF app. My furniture have feet about 10cm high that can be removed if too high. Next thing to consider is the ISOACOUSTICS Aperta if the the height issue won’t bring any improvement.
Thanks for a very informative review.
Hi Steve. You mention your room dimensions but I’m not sure if you’re using the metric system? Perhaps you can clarify this?
I have a NAD C275BEE and I’ve heard this with the B&W PM1 which sounded quite excellent (to my ears).
Do you think it’s actually worth selling whatever amp you might have and spend the money on the LS50 wireless instead? Is it that good?
I guess what ultimately leaves me somewhat reluctant to purchase the LS50 Wireless is that’s it is all-in-one, fairly expensive to get, upgrade, repair and replace.
Wouldn’t be possible to bi-amp the LS50 passive to achieve the exact same performance (more or less)?
I hate it when it happens, but I need to correct myself 😉
Obviously I made a mistake because as it turns out, LS50 only provide a single pair of terminals.
Well, that does change the whole upgradability argument a bit and it really makes it more difficult to do anything remotely close to what they’ve achieved with the LS50 Wireless.
Ah, well… I guess I need to give them a listen to determine what all the fuss is about 😉
The Wireless have a different sound signature. I powered the LS 50 passive with a 10K McIntosh MA8000 yet they were still harsh to me and thin sounding. They had detail but I could never understand the hype for them, at all. Kept them a few weeks and had to dup them after trying them with a few amps, etc. The wireless are not perfect, and now WOW speakers in the sense that they will beat a $10k system. They are amazing for the cost, without question. They offer a clean sound with no exaggeration of any frequency. Set ups correctly, on stands, which is a MUST (or the ISO acoustics stands) they will bring you sound that is not attainable in that price range. After extended use, there are some cons. I always preferred the big volume dials of pre amps and integrated. The remote for the LS50 Wireless is awful. Cheap, flimsy and not enjoyable to up the volume. But again, for the money, tough to beat these from what I have heard. I have not heard it all, but have used so many speakers, systems, and these are solid. The passives will not deliver the same sound character of these. Not sure why, but they do not.
Thanks so much for your review. My Wife and I are on he search for a set up under $10K and after auditioning we’ve chosen the LS50W over other more expensive speakers. Reading your review afterwards simply confirmed our choice.
I would like to ask about your Sonos set up. From what I understand you run a Sonos Connect into your speakers via Toslink, presumably streaming audio from the likes of Tidal/Deezer? And your turntable connected directly to the speakers via RCA? My questions pertain to the Connect.
1. Surprised your high end setup isn’t fed an “audiophile” source like Bluesound or Roon. Did you notice a drop in audio quality from streaming via Sonos Connect?
2. Any concerns with jitter from the Connect?
3. Any difference in SQ between the RCA outputs of the Connect vs Toslink?
Thanks for taking the time to read this!
I use my Connect with Spotify premium (to me, sounded better than Tidal and Deezer) and couldn’t be happier. Even when using much higher end setups with separate tube amps, pre amps, speakers…I preferred the sound of Spotify Premium through my Sonos connect over even Hugh end CD players ($6k). I use a $1000 Toslink though, and believe it or not, it made all the difference. It’s an Audioquest Diamond cable. As for the turntable, you will need a phono stage, can’t just plug in a TT direct as there is no phono pre amp. So I use a Vincent phone pre amp into the RCA of the speakers using higher end cables again. Thank you.
Thanks for that. That’s what I like about your reviews… real world experience withOut the hyperbole and audiophile speak found elsewhere. Most “audiophiles” would have pooed pooed Sonos Connect’s SQ. In your opinion do you think jitter is a problem with the Sonos Connect? There are a few reclocking tools on the market which I’ve heard good things about but am unsure about the efficacy.
Steve – Glad you enjoyed the speakers ….. we have been mighty busy – the app and the firmware have been updated hugely since your video – now with Spotify Connect , Tidal built in , better connectivity over wifi and a host more. you can download your new updated LS50W app either from iTunes store or google home for android. And firmware update available at http://us.kef.com/product-support – it’s super easy with huge benefits
Thank you for the information Johan!
Thank you for your review. I own passive LS50 as a result of searching for the right balance of forward/laid-back, clarity and lack of coloration for my budget and accessibility of options. (I tried B&W 685, Monitor Audio bronze and silver, B&W PM-1, Cambridge Audio, Sonus Faber…)
My priorities in the sound are right, natural and musical
balance with most of the records (tolerance for mp3s and not so well recorded pieces), neutral foward/laid-back, perfect reproduction of piano (full-bodied lower order harmonics, no thin, projected pianos on some older records) and lack of coloration (especially the honkyness of many cone midranges, most notably B&W). The LS50 are quite good on most of the above, and almost there for the coloration. In general, I am very satisfied with them and if I would ask for more, that would be just a slight midbass thump, (I prefer just a bit warmer/looser bass rather than ruler-flat taut bass), more “air” in the highs (a bit more tilt straight or up rather than downwards) and surely, convenience by eliminating amplifier, streamer and DAC from the equations (I’m far from satisfying in these areas)
My two question for Steve (or others that have tried both the passive and active versions):
1. I couldn’t live with a more forward speaker. Are LS50w more forward than the passives or are they in the same ballpark?
2. My second important question is in the bass department. The passives start to roll-down from the 100Hz region. Are these better, is the bass subjectively louder in the midbass region and are the actives chromatically richer for acoustic instruments?
I found the passive to be very forward and leaning bright and thin. These are in no way forward or bright or thin. To me, they were much better than the passives and I ran those passives with a high dollar $10k amp with massive power. The bass is much better with these though will never get to something like a Phantom Gold or Sonus Faber. These are neutral, and deliver bass that is more deep than in the mid region. There is mid bass but it’s neutral, so you almost do not notice it. They are very balanced, clean, and with a sound where no frequency sticks out. To me, so much nicer than the passives.
Can the volume of these be controlled through an audio interface (knob) if they are connected via optical cable to the interface – or does one still need to use the remote / buttons on the top of the speaker? Thanks – looking to potentially play my guitar modeling amplifier through these, I am wondering whether I can connect to an interface for the purposes of recording… Love your reviews my man!
Thanks for the review Steve. I was looking to replace my B&W 685s with a Peachtree Deco 65 integrated for some time and had my eyes set on some passive LS50s. I then heard they were making them active and decided to wait and boy am I glad I did! I use them for my home office and I can’t imagine a better system for my near-field setup. I also put them on Aperta stands and toyed with the DSP settings and came to the same conclusion you did with regards to bass.
I am still using stock cords so am interested in what cords you are using for power and connectivity. Any experiments in swapping out the cat6 cable? I have a great shop near me in eastern PA that lets you demo cables for a few weeks at at time and has a huge library. Just want to know some good options as a starting point.
I have heard that swapping cables with these does not do much, but I can not say as I have not tried. If you can borrow for free, worth a try for sure! Not sure what brands your shop has but there are so many to choose from. I have loved and used Nordost and Audioquest in the past, though they are pricey.
Very exciting review.
Quick question: how narrow is the sweet spot? I heard the Boenicke W5 at the Tokyo Audio Show and was amazed by the sound. I was enveloped, anywhere I stood. Are the KEFs more “directional” in their sound?
Sit in the sweet spot of a few inches to the right or left and you will be rewarded with a nice soundstage and precise imaging. But these do not give you an enveloping type of soundstage if you are not in the or near the sweet spot.
Great post! Have nice day ! 🙂 dlpyv
Sorry Steve, I posted this question in the wrong section by mistake. Do you know where the KEF LS50 Wireless are manufactured?
Steve, have you tried installing the firmware update? Any difference?
Here’s my take on the LS50 Wireless. I had been waiting for a while for the LS50 Wireless speakers to be released and I got in queue at my dealer. I was hoping to replace my passive LS50 and all the clutter they came with (mounted on on isoaccustic aperta isolanation stands on my desk, powered by a Decware ZMA tube amp, a velodyne Minivee 8″ sub all fed from a Chord Hugo DAC out of an iMac – spotify, tidal, hdtracks, etc sources in a ~12×16 room). I really just wanted to get rid of all the clutter and wires. I tried the exercise with the Devialet phantom silver, but the Devialet tweeter just left much to be desired. So the search went on.
Upon setup of the LS50 Wireless, it was clear that this was an improved speaker over the passive version. I was really excited. The bass was actually real! They were very accurate sounding and got quite loud, although not in the league of the Devialet if you wanted to rock the house. However, I found the mid/highs on the KEF’s to be much more pleasant to listen to. I suppose if you wanted to a speaker than you can throw a party with, the Devialet’s will rock the house. If you want to relax listening to whatever music you enjoy, the LS50’s provide a more pleasant experience. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but the Devaliet’s were much more “powerful” and the KEF’s more “delicate.” I do wish I had the chance to try the Devialet gold, but they had not been out then yet and my “try devialet for 45 days experience” took twice as long to advertised to resolve. It was very frustrating to say the least but resolved satisfactorily.
I chose to stick with the passive powered LS50 by the tube amp and subwoofer. While I acknowledge that the subwoofer is a negative, the overall midrange/highs of the passive LS50 and a tube amp are magical and were worth the sacrifice. If I could have the low end of the Wireless LS50 and my tube midrange/highs of the passives, that’s what I’d take. I tested the system on several of my non-audiophile friends and they all chose the passive version powered by the tube amp with the sub. Not the best judges, but at least confirmed something I liked.
I actually enjoy this setup as much as the KEF Blade 2’s I have in my living room (no sub) with McIntosh 275. Previously I had the Ref 1’s but they were just too big to use as “computer speakers” and lacked the low end for my living room. The Blade 2’s turned out to be a perfect solution that didn’t need a sub.
In the end, my passive setup still costs 3x what the new active speakers cost. Is it worth the difference? Probably not. It reminds me when I got my first BMW 330 fifteen years ago. I didn’t understand why an M3 was 2x the cost as it looked almost the same until I drove one (not that I could afford to buy one then anyway). Eventually I wound up owning one and have owned several M cars since. Both were excellent cars and I’m not sure if one is 2x better based on cost alone. To me it was. If I only had ~2k to spend, I’d definitely own the wireless LS50’s… if I could spend morea, then probably the Blades or something else.
I tried these speakers out and reached an entirely different conclusion. I hated them.
First of all, I loved the idea of matched electronics in a handsome well designed box. The LS50 passives have always sounded good to me. So I ordered one of the first pairs to arrive in in Chicago–and needed up returning them within days of getting them. I was told they needed breaking in, but the fundamental sound of the speaker was off. There was no way breaking was going to fix it. This was especially notice when listening to the spoken word (TV, NPR). I heard a demo at AXPONA 2017. Lots of talk from the hype from the KEF rep, but while they sounded better than in my home, they didn’t sound goo. I surveyed a couple of other listeners who had a similar impression.
I think there’s a reason none of the major publications have reviewed them in spite of KEF spending lots to advertise them in their pages. Who wants to say something negative about a major advertiser’s product? Anyway, if you like them, you like them. Everybody should listen with their own ears. This is when a good dealer makes all the difference. Borrow them and audition them at home. Buying a $2000 speaker over the internet based on reviews just doesn’t make sense to me.
Well, stands, placement and all of that good stuff MATTERS greatly with any speaker like this. Mine are still in my listening room leaving me nothing to be desired. I had Phantom Golds in here previous and a $30k system before that. I am left wanting for nothing with these little KEF’s but again, room, placement, stands you use, source..all matter. Unless you set them up on stands, correctly and in a room that is not huge you may not be happy with them. Then again, $40k speakers not set up properly will sound awful.
You’re kidding, right? There are a number of acoustic parameters that can be tweaked to any room via the app. Mine are broken in and they sound simply amazing.
Listening to the spoken word is what most audio enthusiasts will not do. They are designed for music. I listened with my own ears that have 40 plus years of experience. They are very good speakers for the money – no question.
would you recommend these speakers for a bigger room (19×22) as well ?
Saw your video on You tube I used the Kef LS 50 passive with a Peachtree Nova 150 on stands in My home Office since 2015 they were good enjoyed the realism, about a couple of days ago decided to give the LS50W a try Set them correctly on Pangea 24″ stands WOW ! right of the bat they sounded amazing ! and so they are keepers , I have the audioengine HD6 in my bedroom connectedto my TV have heard the phantoms and also a Kef X300W. my only concern is that I had an issue with the Kef X300W and had to ship them back to east coast for repairs , I wonder if I would have the same issue with these .cheers !
Steve, have your considered pairing it with a sub? like REL T7i?
I personally am not a fan of external subs, and I do not need a sub in my room with these. Plenty of bass for my tastes as they are. They put out MUCH more (quality) bass than the non powered version.
Thanks for the review!
Steve, fascinating read.
I had the original LS50 coupled with decent dacs and amps. But liked the Phantom Silver more overall though I also found the Silver lacking in resolution.
But the Phantom Gold, for me, was leagues better than the Silver and passive LS50. Better everything including resolution.
You state that the Wireless LS50 actually has substantially better resolution (micro details?) than the Gold Phantoms? Can you confirm this? If so, that would be quite stunning and I’ll have to find a pair to test. My listening room is almost identical in size to yours.
The Phantom Golds are better sounding speakers. Bigger, fuller, more “there”. BUT I find the resolution to be better with the LS50’s, without question. They will sound smaller than the golds, and not as powerful or big but for details they are quite amazing. They beat the passive by a mile IMO.
Surprise that this has got no comment! As a Phantom Gold user I like it a lot but still find some instruments (especially piano and violin) less realistic, so looks like I should give LS50 Wireless a try. Thanks Steve for a very detailed review!
BTW is there a chance that you might also review the Kii Three? It was much hyped to be the best around 10k price, and some said it’s much better than Devialet.
I’d also be interested in what Steve has to say about Kii Three, but I think I know the answer since I have them myself.
Compared to Gold they are much more balanced and articulate, especially in the lower end. Where Gold sounds somewhat boomy and one-note bass-like, the Kii Three is just crystal clear, refined and remarkably detailed in the bass department.
So while the Gold can sometimes feel boomy and sluggish, the Kii sounds fast and punchy but it also sounds more relaxed and natural- possibly due to superior time-domain (phase) behaviour. It’s also quite astonishing how big they sound, taking the Phantoms advantage over ls50w another step.
In all fairness to the Kef ls50w and Gold, the Kii is in a totally different league overall. But so it should be considering the prize, technology, size and number of elements. Therefore it’s not fair to compare especially the Kef to Kii.
If the prize is worth the upgrade is entirely a different question, though. 🙂