Here I take a serious listen to the unique Kef LS50 speaker.
Kef LS50 – a bit of history
Here we have what has become something of a legend in the world of modern loudspeakers, the KEF LS50. These have sold like hotcakes and are widely regarded as one of the best standmounters that money can buy. They have won hi-fi awards left, right and centre. Many hi-fi shops will proudly display these in the front window. With justification.
Kef claim that the LS50 are inspired by the LS3/5a, a professional studio monitor which was widely used eons ago by the BBC. I don’t know about that – they don’t look or sound anything like that dinosaur! Its a nice story anyway – but I do not think it goes much beyond inspiration. The LS50 is also said to include trickle-down technology from their high-end Blade speakers.
Kef have recently released an active version of the LS50, the LS50 wireless. Here I test with the passive version and see how it sounds. I think reviewing it at this point in time is relevant given the amount of these on the second hand market (hello fleaBay).
Setup the LS50s
The Kef LS50 has one set of speaker binding posts on the back, so no bi-wiring or bi-amping here. I like that as it stops me wondering / worrying about such things!
Also on the back, there is a rubbery / bendy bass reflex port which Kef claim helps reduce the so called “chuffing” sound. You get additional foam inserts that you can place into the port to help tune the speakers to your room. Around the front is Kef’s famous Uni-Q design speaker driver. This has the treble unit mounted in the centre of the mid-bass driver which is supposed to give a single source of sound. The cabinet has a gloss finish and is very inert – try knocking with your knuckles and you get a reassuring dead thud!
Like all stand mount speakers – they must go on stands! Please don’t buy these if you intend to put on a table / shelf / bed / wardrobe – or anything that is not a good quality heavy stand. I used a pair of Partington Super Dreadnoughts hooked up to a Naim Supernait.
Once these are setup, there is something very satisfying about looking at those orange cones! Pride of ownership is high.
Listening to the LS50s
Once fired up and broken in for a week they are ready for a serious listen. The first thing to strike me is how impressive the soundstage is through the LS50s. These little speakers fill the room with sound in an almost holographic way. They really do disappear (cliche alert!). If you close your eyes you can easily imagine the singers and musicians right there in the room. The sound is wide, tall AND deep – it is really quite impressive!
However, there are some limitations, the bass output on the Kefs is quite poor. Depending on the type of music you listen to this may or may not be a big problem – for me, I listen to a lot of electronic music with plenty of sub bass and this was notably absent. I also found that the treble was slightly rounded off – not too much but it was noticeable.
The only other problem you may encounter with the LS50 is whether or not your amplifier is up to the job of driving them. You do need a fair bit of grunt to get the best out of them. At £800 for a new pair the Kefs are good value – the problem is you probably need an amplifier worth twice that to hear them at their best. This is why the wireless version of the LS50 can actually end up being good value.
Despite the negatives I outlined above, I still love the LS50s! The midrange performance is to die for. The way they throw music out into the room is highly impressive and this is something I have not been able to reproduce with any other speakers since. They dig out oodles of detail in music; you find yourself hearing sounds that you have not heard before. I could easily live with these for ever more and have been very tempted to get them back. Buy with confidence.