KEF LS50 Wireless review & DAR’s Product of the Year 2016

How transportable is your hifi system? My latest rig flew as a single piece of checked baggage from Hong Kong to Australia and then to the UK before being couriered to Germany. Landing at my door in Berlin however was not a pallet but a single cardboard box. Inside, a pair of standmount loudspeakers, dual mono amplifiers, a D/A converter and wifi/Ethernet streamer.

We’ve seen this kind of thing before from KEF but not even their superb X300A and X300A Wireless models can compete with what we have here.

This is the loudspeaker system that I’ve been hankering for. This is the loudspeaker system that I first caught sight of during a visit to GP Acoustics’ Hong Kong HQ in August (and was asked not to film). This is the loudspeaker system formally introduced by KEF on the coattails of RMAF in October; that’s your primer.

This is the LS50 but not as we know it. Jack Ocklee-Brown and his team of Kent-based engineers have activated this super-popular standmount with bespoke fit amplification, DAC and network streamer and installed the whole lot inside the speaker enclosures.

Inside each speaker sit two amplifiers and two DACs. Digital inputs arrive at the right hand unit with incoming digital signal upsampled to 24bit/192kHz and handed off to the left channel via Ethernet cable.

Cast a casual eye over any audio show coverage: how many rooms full of racked-up separates do we see? And how many rooms feature active loudspeakers? Yup – thought so. “They’ll have to pry my ten box system, cabling and rack from my cold, dead hand!” says the audiophile world nervously.

Another question: how quickly can you unbox your hifi system, piece it together and have it play music? If it’s the LS50 Wireless system, it goes like this: place each speaker on a speaker stand (or credenza), tie ‘em together with the (supplied) Ethernet cable, connect each speaker to a mains power socket and tap the power button on the righthand speaker’s OLED touchscreen. This 21st Century hifi system comes to life with a four-note start-up sound and we are ready to play music in under five minutes.

The fastest and easiest way to get tunes to spill from the LS50 Wireless is from its Bluetooth (4.0) input. Pair and play – anyone can do it, even your Mom. aptX-capable sources like Macbooks, (some) Windows phones and selected Android phones will deliver slightly better sound quality than those that fall back to Bluetooth audio’s more vanilla SBC: iPhones and iPads. Presumably KEF specified this input for convenience and inclusivity. Audiophiles will demand better source quality. Let’s move on up the food chain…

A TOSLINK input means the LS50 Wireless make an ideal choice for elevating a TV’s sound quality; not just to the next level but all the way to the top floor. Rubber feet will keep them secure. Spotify too – many modern Smart TVs have the streaming service baked into their operating system.

If your TV is more Plain Jane – of if you prefer Tidal or Qobuz – consider Apple’s Airplay by setting aside the TOSLINK input for an Apple TV (3rd Gen) or an Airport Express.

Alternatively, go for the best of both worlds: connect a 4th Gen Apple TV to the TV with HDMI and then the TV’s digital audio output to the LS50 Wireless’ TOSLINK socket. Easy.

Computer audiophiles or those with more sophisticated digital audio streamers will likely peg the LS50 Wireless’ USB input (that KEF have labelled ‘PC’) as their preferred hookup point.

Turntablists should feed their phono stage’s output into the LS50’s auxiliary input. Purists should be made aware that all incoming analogue signals are instantly digitised to 24bit/192kHz PCM; how else would the signal be split and the left channel handed over to the other loudspeaker via Ethernet?

Don’t trust the transparency of an ADC? I’d invite you to hear for yourself how even the most basic converter easily captures the differences between cartridges, surface noise and more.

Whatever your source preference, the KEF LS50 Wireless is a complete high-end audio system-in-a-box; one that thumbs its nose at the trial and error of separates compilation. Experience tells us that hooking up different amplifiers to the passive LS50 is a lottery that many audiophiles enjoy in all but expense: assuming we hit the jackpot from the first hand dealt, amplification satisfaction will invariably take our credit cards a long way north of ~US$700 – the delta between the original passive LS50 and its new active cousin.

Designing an amplifier for a passive loudspeaker where impedance swings and sensitivity vary wildly from model to model means a one size fits all approach must account for all manner of downstream unknowns.

By activating the LS50, each internal amplifier’s output has been tailored to precisely fit the driver’s impedance curve.

The KEF LS50 Wireless gives us the equivalent of a dual mono configuration but with a separate amplifier applied to each driver in KEF’s 5.25” concentric (Uni-Q) array: 200wpc of Class D for the mid/bass and 30wpc Class A/B for the tweeter.

Piling on another active advantage, the LS50’s Wireless crossover is stitched together via digital signal processing (DSP), thus side-stepping the potential for phase shift and/or distortion introduced by capacitors and resistors found in passive networks – like that of the standard LS50. This DSP coding has reportedly allowed KEF to juice every last drop of performance from the LS50’s drivers, their elliptical reflex port, the curved front baffle as well as the constrained-layer damped braced cabinet in which the whole shooting match comes together.

In my listening tests, comparing the LS50 Wireless to its passive forerunner dressed in red and juiced by a Peachtree nova300 (with internal DAC) over AudioQuest Rocket 88 loudspeaker cable, the active LS50 takes Jah Wobble’s bass notes lower with more abundant textural information and renders the cymbal work found parked at the back Bowie’s Blackstar as altogether smoother. Voices pop with a little more clarity. Furthermore, the LS50 Wireless give us a cleaner window from which to ‘view’ inner detail and layer separation.

This Peachtree powerhouse is a superb amplifier but it’s an off the shelf solution designed to meets the needs of many varied loudspeaker designs: electrostats, planars, high efficiency widebanders, low efficiency sealed boxes – the list goes on. Those tucked away inside the KEF cabinets aren’t so much ‘better’ as they are a better (read: precise) fit for the each driver’s load impedance.

The LS50 Wireless are for listeners who are happy to surrender amplification flexibility in the name of better sound…

…and to wipe away the expense of loudspeaker cable. As point of reference, this reviewer’s 6m pair of AudioQuest’s Rocket 88 sell for around a thousand bucks.

Also erased from the LS50 Wireless scene is the hifi rack – more effective and more handsome models often sell for as much as the LS50 Wireless themselves – US$2199 (+ sales tax) in the USA, €2298 inclusive of VAT in Europe, £2000 inclusive of VAT in the UK.

The LS50 Wireless are therefore for listeners who demand lower physical intrusion from their hi-fi system.

From the outset, the only additional purchase required by those of a more audiophile bent is a pair of loudspeaker stands. I use Atacama’s Nexus 6i. If I were to place them on a sideboard or IKEA Kallax, I’d opt for something from Canada’s ISOAcoustics – yes, they’ll make a big difference.

For even greater placement flexibility, a pair of switches on the master speaker’s rear panel allows us to DSP-tailor the LS50 Wireless’ output according to room placement: desktop or stands, free space or close to a wall. Such audible customisation recalls Dynaudio’s Xeo 2 but the KEFs are a far bigger sounding, more dynamic loudspeaker.

KEF’s Kent-based engineering team have also taken room tuning to the next level – much, much further than the Danes – with a corresponding smartphone app, available for iOS and Android.

Basic mode applies DSP customisation according to a real world multiple choice Q&A: about the LS50’s location (desk or stands); about the room size; about its acoustic make-up. Expert mode takes this DSP tweaking a step further and talks to audiophiles in terms of adding or subtracting decibel amounts to and from treble and lower frequencies.

Don’t worry about stuffing it up. A single button press returns us to factory default settings.

In my tests, I found different DSP settings preferable depending on placement: atop Atacama Nexus 6i stands or flanking a Samsung TV atop an IKEA Kallax unit. That makes the LS50 Wireless one of the few standmounts for which front wall proximity isn’t so much of an issue and for which proper stands are rendered less essential.

The smartphone app is also where we configure the crossover point/s and gain for a subwoofer attached to the back of the right hand speaker (should we have one) and where we turn off/on the DSP crossover phase correction (should we wish to).

The KEF LS50 Wireless are for people who live in the real world where listening rooms are often lounge rooms shared with others (and the TV); where loudspeakers can’t always be positioned well clear of front or side walls; where a parquet floor adds a zippy liveliness to sound; where heavy furnishings might over damp the vibe; where bass traps and acoustic panels would be an unwelcome visual intrusion (and expense).

Sat on the couch, a slim line remote control, colour matched to the speaker’s own two-tone scheme, takes the OLED touchscreen’s functionality – input selection, volume up/down – and adds play/pause and forward/next for UPnP LAN streaming.

Those who choose to translate KEF’s ‘Wireless’ nomenclature literally will be disappointed to learn that electricity still requires cables. Friendly jibe aside, KEF’s chosen name is confusing and perhaps runs the risk of customers misperceiving their new baby as some do Devialet’s Phantom: a fancy pair of Bluetooth speakers. These active LS50 are more front foot with vocals, better extended up top and less low slung and heavy in the bass than their more costly French rival. Not to mention a whole lot less expensive.

The ‘W’ word here refers to the aptX Bluetooth input but also to the WiFi LAN streaming input which, upon first use, requires the aforementioned smartphone app to hook the speakers into your wireless network. KEF call this process ‘onboarding’: essentially, your smartphone (or tablet) temporarily connects directly over WiFi to the LS50 Wireless in order to feed the speakers details of your home or office’s WiFi network, specifically SSID and password.

If that all sounds like too much hard work – or if your wifi network lacks the robustness, stability or bandwidth called for by lossless Redbook or hi-res LAN streaming – the option to hardwire the LS50 Wireless into a network over Ethernet also presents. Got drop-outs? Go Ethernet.

At time of writing, LAN streaming is UPnP only. Use the KEF app, or one of your choice, to control playback.

Let’s exemplify: I have my music stored on a hard-drive which is USB-connected to an Intel NUC. The Intel NUC is connected to my LAN via Ethernet. Plex is my UPnP server app of choice. The NUC’s role is to serve content from its kitchen location, over the network, to the KEF LS50 Wireless’ internal streamer. The LS50 Wireless sit in the lounge room. In case it is not already obvious, there is no direct connection between the UPnP server (the Intel NUC) and the UPnP endpoint (the LS50 Wireless). Completing this digital audio streaming triangle is the smartphone app – it tells the server what to send to the speakers and when.

Alas – black mark incoming – KEF have done little to elevate my enthusiasm for UPnP streaming despite its application to less conventional servers/sources. Like several other UPnP devices out in the wild, network streaming on the LS50 Wireless isn’t gapless. It bears repeating for the less technically minded that this affects not the KEFs’ other inputs – only the internal network streamer lacks gapless playback.

End users will either find workarounds (try Bubble UPnP for Android or JRiver) or do as I did and just move to Roon. Sometimes, it makes more sense to spend money more than it does time.

The triangular nature of our network audio configuration still applies to Roon: Roon runs on the Intel NUC as the Core (server) and sends audio over the network to a third party Roon Ready endpoint – one that’s connected directly to one of the LS50 Wireless’ digital inputs – as is instructed by the Roon smartphone/desktop app.

Roon Ready endpoints are available at different price points. Sonore microRendu (US$640) will feed the KEFs over USB. Others will prefer the financial prudence of the SonicOrbiter SE at US$299. For frugalphiles, a Gen 3 Apple TV or Airport Express provides Redbook-limited Roon Readiness but via TOSLINK for under US$100. In terms of sound quality, you get what you pay for – if you can afford it, get the microRendu. Add a linear power supply (to it) as funds allow.

Is the passive LS50’s amplifier lottery not why we hear some complain that they are too eager in the upper mids? Or too laid back? Or that you need to spend US$x000 on an amplifier to really make them sing. If nothing else, and to borrow from modern marketing parlance, this new active version allows us to the hear the LS50 as its engineers intended; and for a price that sits well below the cost of many amplifiers juicing the passive version out in the field.

Professional musicians and bedroom bangers cottoned onto active speakers years ago. You’d have to hunt seriously hard to locate a passive loudspeaker and an amplifier in your local DJ store.

That we also get smartphone app-based DSP customisation, Bluetooth, a network streamer and D/A conversion thrown into the bargain makes the LS50 Wireless a contender for bargain of the decade.

Hardware upgrades are limited to cables and loudspeaker stands. If you simply must have the flexibility to mix n’ match amplifiers and DACs at will, nothing stands in your way but your bank account.

Sure, the network streaming could be better (i.e. gapless) but even once the additional cost of a third party streamer is factored into the total cost of LS50 Wireless ownership, we’re still a long way ahead: no speaker cables or hifi rack required.

If we’ve learnt anything from companies like AURALiC, OPPO Digital and Devialet, we know that the software evolves over time. I’d urge KEF to talk to the guys at Roon at the earliest possible opportunity – the LS50 Wireless are screaming out to be Roon Readied. For more casual listeners, the addition of Spotify Connect would also be a terrific bonus.

Something for audiophiles, something for mainstreamers – after all, it’s in the LS50 Wireless’ DNA. As a straddler of worlds, the KEFs walk away not only with a Knockout Award but also DAR’s Product of the Year award for 2016. If this product doesn’t convince audiophiles of the legitimacy of active loudspeakers, nothing will.

Further information: KEF Audio

Written by John H. Darko

John is the editor/publisher of DAR from which he derives an income from its ad revenues. John is also an occasional contributor to 6moons and AudioStream and lives in Berlin, Germany.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR

167 Comments

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  1. Awesome review John! Now what to do with the 7 pairs of speakers and numerous amps, preamps and DAC’s I have? These speakers will make a new best friend out of my wife. I know these area a fraction of the cost of the Kii Audio and some of the other powered all-in-one speakers. Did you ever have the opportunity to compare any besides the Dynaudio your review mentions?

  2. As an X300 wireless owner I’m very excited to get my hands on these. Thanks, John, for the excellent review. I agree that the LS50 wireless scream out for RoonReady, but to me they scream even louder for AirPlay. That way, the user can choose his/her favorite streaming app in quality that should in most cases beat out bluetooth handily. Either AirPlay or RoonReady would make these a must-buy.

  3. Nice! As an extra low budget option: it’s also possible to hook up a Playstation 4 and use it’s spotify connect capabilities. When you do this you can use the normal spotify as a remote.
    Open the Spotify app on your mobile device.
    Tap the Now Playing bar at the bottom of the screen.
    Tap Devices Available at the bottom of the screen.
    Choose your PlayStation® from the list of devices.

  4. Thanks for the review Darko.
    Could you comment on the sound signature of the LS50 wireless. Are we talking about neutral sound (best for analyzing/mastering the music) or would you describe these as musically?

    For a lot of years I have been too concerned about sound quality, transparency and an analytical sound. Growing older I’m more interested in enjoying the music 🙂

    • To me “musical” means very little. Perhaps a weasel word for “coloured”. If so, the KEF play away from this: clean and detailed with plenty of punch. And yes, I reckon they’d be suitable for mastering studios.

  5. What formats can the LS50 Wireless play over the ethernet connection marked “network”? I can’t seem to find this in the documentation.

    Or am I completely misunderstanding that port?

  6. wow
    these sound better than I expected, even after reading your prior thoughts John
    for me — getting real hifi into my office, when I spend more time listening than I do at home over the ‘big rig’ at home, just became really simple

    consider moving these babies around to a variety of locations & updating us on how well you can tweet them via DSP. and try to find a few more flaws….we are audiophiles, right?

    thanks & happy new year. david

  7. Great review. Re missing the Roon ready component, perhaps in the interest of longevity they expect the user to use their own end point and keep up with the changing RAAT protocol via their own end points. Same applies to the streaming world, ( Apple, Spotify, Tidal). Still a little new and changing. In the world of real consumers how many would you guess will stream via bluetooth from a handheld device VS USB connected? 80% bluetooth ?
    I think the TV to Toslink will be huge. Wires / racks / components / 5+ speakers set ups …… be gone.

  8. I have been waiting for an affordable active speaker for years (ATC and PMC are out of my budget). Maybe, finally…, the industry will get smart and start making active audiophile speakers in the $2000-5000 USD range. Harbeth, B&W, ELAC, Spendor, etc….

    Seriously, how many audiophiles are switching out amps daily, weekly or monthly? I have my CJ gear parked on the rack and it does not move. I would love to trade it all in for active speakers, a preamp and a streamer, but KEF has taken it to the next level.

    Thanks for the review

  9. I personally found the LS50 to have excess of detail, I am not sure it is something I can withstand for longer listening sessions. That said, if I were to go for the speaker, I wouldn’t bother with the amplifier guessing game, and go active

  10. Thanks for a great review. I had been waiting for this review pretty long time. Can you compare ls50w with pair of Devialet Phantoms? Are ls50 really better than Phantoms as your review suggested?

    • I didn’t say better – I simply described the most notable audible differences between the two and did so briefly as I don’t have the Phantoms here.

  11. With the original LS-50 being so much of a known quantity to so many people (a baseline, if you will) I will keep my fingers crossed for some comparisons between the new active model and the passive model in some of the familiar setups you’ve previously written about.

    For example, How does the microRendu + Active LS-50 compare to microRendu + Lio + LS-50 or microRendu + Devialet Expert + LS-50

  12. Thank you John for the insightful review!

    Two questions came to mind:

    1. Did you try to run the LS50w with a subwoofer? If yes how did that work?

    2. You did a brief comparison with the small Dynaudio Xeos. I also understand that you favoured the traits of the LS50w vs. the Phantoms despite their relative lack of bass extension. How do see the KEF compared to other active speakers for example from Adam or Genelec that you have sampled. I am also asking as a few months back I compared a number of active speakers in the 600-1200€ range including the KEF x300a. Even though I did not end up with the x300a I really liked them. They were kind of 2nd place behind my eventual new speakers. Having that mind, it would be interesting to know how you see the much more advanced LS50w against traditional speakers that are around their price point? I understand that the LS50w offer also a DAC and network player included, but if these already in place, one would also have to compare the LS50w to other actives with audio performance as the primary measuring stick (I agree that reducing box count is always good though ).

    Thanks
    Mark

  13. I live in a small apartment and being an audiophile it’s full of black boxes. These speakers would really fit me better. I could sell of my current gear and buy the Kef’s and even get some money to Roonyfi my music collection.
    So now to my questions. What size is your TV? The reason for me wondering is that I’m considering the Kallax just as you picture. The the Ethernet and power cables are Audioquest, but which models?

  14. Hi John!

    Nice review!

    I’m looking at my options to take my 1st serious plunge into the Hi-Fi world and those LS50Wireless might me the answer…
    So far, only had Blueroom minipod speakers with TEAC DR-H300.

    But I have some concerns….about low-end and space filling.
    I’m mostly listening to Rock, 90’s punk rock, heavy metal and techno minimal. Occasionnaly 60-70s rock, Jazz and Blues.
    With the bass extension ajusted to 40Hz at -6dB (lowest setting possible),how do you reckon those speakers will do with those kinds of music?

    I have a pretty huge room around 600 sq/f with 9f ceiling. So how those LS50W do with large room…?

    Also you talked about the micro-rendu…but I’d be interested to know if you still have your Auralic Aries-mini? If yes…is it working with the USB input of the LS50W? Could be a good solution for streaming gaplessly and have a tidal integration!

    I was pretty settled on a pair of Tannoy XT-8F + a peachtree nova 150 but the WAF come into account and she does not like the look of the XT8F. In fact she’s pretty much against floorstanders.
    She would like me to buy a pair of Devialet Phantoms Silvers but they are out of my budget…

    Thanks for your help, the more I look into options, the more I’m confused about what to choose!

  15. Thanks for the very informative review. Quick question – How do you think these speakers would sound in a desktop environment (on small isoAccoustics stands)? They would be about 1.2 meters apart on my desk.

    On a similar note, have you heard any rumors regarding the release date for the ELAC active UB5s?

    Good luck in your new home.

    • Yes – a desktop config is absolutely part of their MO, especially with DSP setting tweaking their output for optimum performance / preferred flavour. The coax driver config also means that imaging at close proximity will likely be better than a more standard 2-way.

  16. John — This is the review I’ve been waiting for for months. Congrats on the scoop! Did you have a chance to try out these babies in a nearfield setting? I’m looking to upgrade my nearfield setup and am drooling over these. I might haul my IsoAcoustics stands to the KEF dealer in my area and see what we can work out.

    Did you ever feel the need for a sub?

    • Not at all – but if for those who absolutely must have the lowest registers a subwoofer could be added easily and – crucially – a crossover applied by the LS50 so that neither speaker nor sub work frequencies they don’t have to.

  17. I thoroughly enjoyed your review, and would love to test these out. It might take a little getting used to the concept of the speakers being tied to each other by ethernet, but not speaker cable. Still, very intriguing.

  18. I’ve got a pair of these on pre-order, should be here in the next 2-3 weeks so I was really excited to read this review! Will be pairing mine with a new Shinola Runwell Turntable & REL subwoofer I just got for Christmas too.

  19. Hi. Long-time listener, first-time caller.

    I spent many audiophile years cobbling together amps, speakers, cables – you know. Save and spend, upgrade, mix and match: and never satisfied; always convinced that happiness might lie over the next cost and complexity threshold. I gave up, kept a minimal system, and spent my money elsewhere.

    Years later a friend played me his Adam A7X’s and I didn’t even get what I was hearing. “They sound like that, and they cost that much… and there’s no amp?”

    For me the refinement, correctness, capability and value proposition of the Adams, or the Focal CMS65 or Solo6 are so far beyond my experience in the (mid) high-end world that I just look back at my old gear and laugh. I’m happily driving these via PC/JRMC > Mytek DSD 192.

    I’m thrilled that KEF have gone active – the benefits to be accrued now with mature DSP are enormous. (The X300s were a tantalizing step in the right direction but too compromised for me.) I’m happy to see Dynaudio have had a go, although it feels half-hearted. And AudioEngine are a sort of crossover wildcard.

    When will high-end audio manufacturers figure this out?

    • I don’t think I’d call the Dynaudio Focus XD series half-hearted; it was certainly good enough to earn a Class A win from Stereophile.

      And if you’re used to studio monitors, the new LYD series is all active with DSP crossovers, although with fewer bells and whistles than the Focus series.

  20. Awesome, forget the price the passive ls50 with a good (not ultra-expensive) amp 100 rms per channel… is better in sound quality?

  21. Thanks for the great review!!!

    I can only confirm what you are saying about the sound quality of these fantastic speakers. These have to be one of the best value for money components ever made.
    I compared them with the passive LS50 combined with the Musical Fidelity Encore 225 and found the active LS50 speakers better in all areas.

    Did you compare the optical and usb input on the LS50? Did you test/use the optical input? I am thinking of adding an external streamer and don’t know which way to go for the moment. The Sonore is not available where i live.

  22. Just wondering though, will the built in streamer work with TIDAL or will I need another device like the Apple TV? the MicroRendu looks like a nice solution but unfortunately it requires an Ethernet cable unlike my Aries Mini which works just fine over wi-fi

  23. Very nice review! You are the only one covering this new product, cheers!

    I would love to see a follow up with some measurements comparing the passive and active KEF’s, to tell apart the limitations of the passive LS50 from the signature intentionally designed by people at KEF.

  24. If I didn’t already own expensive speakers, I’d get these and a sub. Seems like the perfect system for a small to medium sized room.

    Will be interested to hear from anyone who’s used them with a sub.

  25. Not sure but you could possibly sync a SB Touch with these and use a universal remote or smartphone to control everything. That’s what I did with my sMS-200. Worked like a charm.
    What’s holding me back is:
    a) unloading all my current gear without losing too much
    b) deciding which color scheme would be the least offensive after the novelty wore off

  26. Fab review John – thank you. I have a passive LS50 setup with a Brooklyn DAC fed from a microrendu. I’m using a Cambridge Audio amp.

    I have wondered about the active LS50 and did go and listen to them at the recent U.K. High-End hifi show. As you say, KEF need to pay some royalties and get their engineers integrating them actively with Sonos connect and Roon.

    Interesting you said you could feed them from a Rendu. Of course the part that cannot be upgraded is the DAC.

    If I were doing it again, then I would just get these and for all those asking, a REL sub works nicely with them, but isn’t essential. The LS50 is room filling easily.

    Best Simon

  27. Great review John! What a great product from KEF! I love my LS50s… yes, it took me a couple of “tries” to achieve a perfect amp combination but well worth it.

    I believe the LS50 Wireless have huge potential with a very large, varying type of buyer!

  28. Great review. Affirms my decision to place an order with my local dealer a couple of weeks after they were announced. Can’t wait to hook them up. Any idea when they’ll be reaching customers listening rooms?

    RoonReady (or AirPlay)would be swell, for sure. Have you talked with KEF about firmware updates. I’m getting it for what it is, but sounds like the potential may be there to make it even better.

  29. Dang that sucks about needing another device just to get TIDAL, any mention from KEF about building that in at a later date?

    As for the MicroRendu option that will only work with Ethernet input correct? No wifi? I guess my only option would be an Apple TV or another Aries Mini to get TIDAL up and running ? Thanks for the help and great review as always!

  30. Thanks for the review, John! I have a pair on order to try and so any advanced preview of what to expect was greatly appreciated.

    Question: Does it make sense to set up a 5.1 home theater and using a pre-pro (or even maybe straight from my OPPO BDP-105) to drive five of these speakers via the analog ins? Saves me a rack full of amps and possibly an expensive pre-pro and DAC (if the analog signal is going to be converted to digital via the LS50W’s DACs, maybe I CAN go straight from my OPPO into them instead of using my Bryston SP3). Does not using the digital ins defeat the purpose (or intended purpose?) of the LS50 Wireless?

    Just trying to get great sound while reducing the amount of gear I got! These seem to be the ticket to do that…

  31. Speaking of subwoofer output, the LS50 Wireless mobile app offers crossover frequency control, but does it offer time alignment control? As the DSP crossover for the coaxial driver has been time aligned, I would hope that can be extended to the subwoofer output.

    Secondly, does the subwoofer output have an unfiltered option? That would be useful for bench testing the DAC implementation in the LS50 Wireless.

    Unfortunately, KEF seems yet to have posted a full users manual that could answer these questions, and the mobile app features are not accessible for browsing without an actual LS50 Wireless setup on hand.

    AJ

  32. John,

    1) Do you find these speakers to be fatiguing?
    2) Will advances in DAC technology cause this KEF LS50W system to become obsolete from a sound quality standpoint for redbook CD music?

    • Not fatiguing at all. What you’ve gotta keep in mind is what we gain from a digital crossover and tailored amp fit will be far greater than the DAC being “inferior” or outmoded.

  33. John, I am so excited about this review I am very tempted to replace my passive floor standers.

    2 things make me pause; is my room too big? My room is 4m by 5m with 4m ceilings.
    How can I neatly listen with headphones if I sell my amp/dac?

    Would love to hear anyone’s thoughts.

  34. John,
    Your enthusiasm for the KEF wireless speakers is intriguing, to say the least. I’ve got my eye (ear) on a pair of Spatial M3s in the next year or so and your review of them helped solidify my opinion. That, and I heard them as well at the Newport Audio Show and almost immediately fell for them. So….

    How does this version of the KEF LS50 compare to the Spatial M4? I know you felt the Spatial fared better against the passive version of the KEF in several areas but with the built in amps tailored to a tee in the KEF, do they pull even or surpass the Spatial in the areas where they didn’t do so well? I know audio memory can be tricky and that this can be another apples vs oranges comparo but hopefully the previous mini shootout can serve as a basis.

    Best regards,
    Tim P.

  35. The lack of gapless playback led to my canceling my order for the LS50 Wireless. I did not want to spend another $640 to add to the already steep cost to get another device to make gapless possible, or spend less for a different device with a drop in sound quality.

    Instead, I ordered the active Dynaudio Excite 14A from Amazon for $1,600 and got them in a day and a half. I plugged them in to the back of my SVS sealed subwoofer’s out connections. No separate preamp, amp, receiver, or streamer. Just my iMac and a DAC. After a 24 hour break in with mostly mild acoustic and folk, I listened to Jimi Hendrix’s Blues, Electric Ladyland, Valley of Neptune, and Live at the Filmore albums and I’m pleased with the Dynaudios’ sound. At just 36-50 percent volume they are loud. Vocals and acoustic guitar with milder stuff sound great, too.

    I had read that the passive LS50s, while impressive with most music, are not that great with hard rock. Some folks have said the Dynaudios aren’t, either, while others reported they are, but I am happy with them.

  36. Great review, I concur with your view that these speakers are awesome. I have had mine now for just under 2 weeks and they need a bit of breaking in. As for the sound, I am not an expert of any thing in particular, but with my budget these speakers sound so crisp, so powerful and separate with such clarity I don’t think there will be anything to match these in this price range. Anyone who is considering getting a pair and waiting for more reviews are wasting there time, just dive in because these speakers are simply the best active speakers…..fact!

  37. I have the active ls50. I want to use them for HT with a maranta sr7011 HT receiver and the R200c as center speaker.

    I plugged the ls50 analogue input to the pre-out of the front speakers. I didn’t figured yet how to just control the volume from my receiver, without unbalancing the volume compared to the center speaker. Can I just use the power amp and ignore the pre amp of the ls50?

    Otherwise I have to volume controls, one of ls50 and one of the receiver. If I use the volume from the ls50, I unbalance the sound of the center speaker.:-(

  38. Seriously considering swapping my B&W N805 and McIntosh MA6300 combo for a pair of these. I loved the passive version with the McIntosh and do miss their magic. After your glowing review I’m tempted to put them up for sale but I do wonder if the wireless LS50 can punch THAT high above their asking $. Might have to wait for more reviews.

  39. Has anyone tried using BubbleUPnP to control these directly. Is the speaker recognised as a renderer in the app? Does this app playback gapless on the KEF’s or is it a limitation of the built in streamer? BubbleUPnP has solved the gapless problem on all the devices I have tested and provided Tidal support.

    Failing this, KEF needs to update their firmware with DLNA software that supports gapless playback.

    • I am from Hong Kong. I tried BubbleUpnP with my Qobuz Sublime account and KEF LS50 Wireless. The app works flawlessly. However, if you would like to play DSD files, try Neutron Music Player. I don’t know about gapless playback. Hope someone can help you.

      P.S. the best music playback quality should be using usb DAC ( I use iMac as music source). I don’t really care about wireless playback because music quality matters.

      P.S.2 See my unboxing: http://www.head-fi.org/t/829504/unboxing-kef-ls50-wireless#post_13106768

      P.S.3 I have this stunning speaker for more than 2 weeks. I am happy with it. However, I would like to buy a tube amp/pre-amp. Any suggestions for me?

          • Thanks for the clarification, I understood that from your detailed review.

            Having to add an external streamer defeats the all inclusive beauty of this speaker if I have to hang external boxes, power supplies and cables to the rig.

            With so many gapless renderers that have been around for years it should be simple for KEF to resolve.

  40. As always, thanks for your great review, John. Do you happen to know more details about the type of (hypex, ICE, etc) class D amplification employed by these active speakers?

      • I would bet good money it’s a Texas Instruments module.

        It’s definitely not ICEPower or nCore – people who pay the extra money for those will tout it as being inside (as NAD does).

    • From Jack Ocklee-Brown himself: “Both amplifiers have been developed in house by our electronics team, so not based on off-the-shelf modules such as Hypex or ICE.”

  41. OK, I’m going to wade in without trying to keep up with the chatter in what I suspect will be a mammoth ‘thread’ – apologies if you’ve already covered my *observations* and I understand that you dont have to respond to anything in my rant. I was mostly sober when the following occurred to me.

    – Amazon tells us they’ll be available to US customers from Jan 15 – great stuff.
    https://www.amazon.com/KEF-LS50-Wireless-Speaker-Copper/dp/B01M65KZ5Q

    – the ink was barely dry on your wrapup for 6Moons where you lauded the manufacturers of the ‘super’ integrated amplifiers – everything from phono stages to onboard streamer componentry – and KEF appear to have written a line through almost all of that. Choice is good, and your observation remains valid for those who still prefer passive speakers, but it would appear that you’ve bought at least one pair of passive LS50s too many 😉

    – I dont see the fascination with dedicated DACs disappearing anytime soon and you made it clear that KEF will still let you hook up your 2K+ box-o-wonder. Again, choice is good.

    – I believe you also deemed one of your other speaker purchases in 2016 to be superior to the (passive) LS50 in some areas, but thats showbiz – they’re passive and the LS50W isnt. Again, hindsight is 50/50 – crystal balls are considerably less accurate, and I wont add to the crescendo of calls for comparisons with every speaker you’ve ever heard : predictable but nonetheless banal. Let them eat cake, I say.

    – having used Roon with a Raspberry Pi3 endpoint from my $300 (!) laptop, I know how cheaply it can be to set it up *initially* – the fun starts when your mate Hans B. promises to investigate cheaper PSU’s for the Digi+ only to leave us dangling in mid air 😉

    – the hairshirt brigade will *never* abandon their rack-full-o-gear : n-e-v-e-r. The whole point of system matching is that its a challenge to those who believe they can do better than any engineer working 9-5 or whatever. Throw in endless experimentation with $$$ power supply upgrades (Linn and Naim, among others), cables for power, speakers, digital and analog interconnects and – the holy grail – having your home *completely rewired* to meet the needs of your audio system. Towering above all this is the fact that anyone who has invested that kind of money into a hobby wants a physical manifestation of that investment – and that extends to Fremer’s apartment full of vinyl. Replacing that tower of power with a source and a pair of ‘bookshelf’ speakers just aint gonna happen short of the threat of divorce or complete fiscal ruin.

    OK – that’s the extreme end of this hobby, but I dont believe they can be ignored. For newbies, active speakers from KEF / Dali / Dynaudio / Focal and others make sense, but I’m willing to bet that you’d never personally consider a pair of Genelecs in your lounge room because of their aesthetics. I dont have a problem with that – its YOUR lounge room – but some of us dont feel the need to be quite so attuned to color-coding and the Genelec / Mackie / Adam form-over-function approach has its own appeal.

    Thanks for the review, and I hope you’ll ignore the grammar nazis chiding you on your use of ‘palette’ when ‘pallet’ is almost certainly what you meant to type. Damn those European spell chockers, er, checkers ! Toodles.

    • I have a pair of Genelecs – and they’ll soon be going in my bedroom. I’ve zero issue with them doing lounge room time either. Previously I’ve owned two pairs of Adams.

      Oh – and thanks for the typo pick-up.

    • I believe hooking up an external DAC to the KEF LS50W is pointless, as all analog inputs are router through an ADC, and then to KEF’s on-board DAC.

      I am disappointed by this somewhat, because DAC technology is a moving target. Also, What if you have more devices than what the KEF can handle?

      • But are you not assuming that KEF’s inbuilt ADC homogenises all inputs? My experience with ADCs elsewhere says otherwise.

  42. John, did you get good results with the Auralic Aries Mini connected via USB?
    I am thinking of using one with an internal SSD.

  43. Great and timely review as I am about to upgrade (side grade maybe) from XEO 3 to XEO 2 for some stupid reason. Anyway I have been enjoying XEO 3 for many months as it is so convenient to use. One of the features that I really like is sleeping/waking of the speakers. They just wake up as soon as I send some audio signal, in other words, I don’t have to power on and off each time when I listen to music. Is LS50 wireless also wakes up as soon as any audio signal goes in? One thing I really hate about Chord Mojo is powering up as I am probably super lazy…

      • John, can you disable auto sleep on the speaker so that it is awake 24/7? Also how long does it take to cold book up the speaker (power on from the sleep as well)?

        • Apparently European law doesn’t allow disabling of the auto sleep. There’s a trick to extend the wake time to an hour though. Lemme find out…

        • I use my speakers for listening to music and watching videos and sports with my iMac. I could not tolerate having to grab the remote to wake up the speakers when I want to hear audio.

          I read a comment on another website that KEF has drivers it can send that will block the auto sleep. I don’t know whether this is accurate.

          Apparently KEF’s Egg speakers also have this problem with auto sleep/wake.

          The Dynaudio Excite 14A speakers I bought do not have this auto sleep/wake problem. They do auto sleep, but they wake up automatically without delay.

          • Agree with you, I got speakers today and I was worrying regarding this auto wake up feature. All my fears came true. The speakers do not auto wake up if a signal coming into Optical input. My setup is Apple TV 4 -> TV -> Optical -> KEF.

            I had a little hope that speakers will wake up if you send IR Remote signal for Volume Up/Down as you can teach Apple TV Remote to control volume of these KEF speakers. But not, doesn’t work, you need to walk to speakers and press the Turn On button or always keep a second remote around your primary one, just to press that stupid On button.

            This is ridiculously silly for such a class of a product. Especially assuming that this feature worked perfectly with KEF X300A Wireless. Those would auto wake up if any of the input (AUX, AirPlay, USB) would get a signal.

  44. Gapless works, according to Kef. Here is what they said in an email to me:

    “Using a USB or Bluetooth connection you should have no problems playing gapless on the LS50 Wireless speakers.”

    This was in response to my question about whether my wired set up would play gapless:

    JRiver MC music software set to play gapless on iMac> these new Kef LS50 speakers > SVS subwoofer.

    So, this would be a wired set up with the music stored on an iMac, not a streaming network, and the speakers plugged in to the iMac.

  45. I just encountered again a problem during DLNA streaming. This time the speakers stopped playing and rebooted automatically. The LS50 Android app on my tablet showed the following error:
    “Connection problems

    Application is encountering problems communicating with the speaker.
    This may be caused by internal speaker error and you can attempt to reboot this speaker to solve this.

    Anybody else has seen this?

    • I had to restart the speakers in order to play music from my NAS again.

      For me the internal DLNA streamer is not usable. I have not yet been able to play a complete CD via DLNA streaming without problems. The problems i have are:
      – LS50 tries to play the next song indefinitely. A reboot of the speaker is needed to solve this.
      – LS50 play the same song again and again after it tried to play the next song without success. Reboot solves this.
      – LS50 reboots during DLNA playback. See above error message.

      It is my conclusion that if you want to use DLNA streaming with this speaker at this moment it is required to use an external streamer.

  46. Is there anybody else using the DLNA streaming in the speakers controlled by the KEF LS50 wireless app on Android?
    Is it working properly for you?

  47. It seems i found the solution for my problem.

    I tried BubbleUPnP as control app for DLNA streaming before but it had the same problem as the LS50 wireless control app. In many cases track advance did not work. The LS50 tried to go to the next track indefinitely or played the same track again.

    I have recently found a setting in BubbleUPnP “Settings > Control > UPnP Tweaks > Enable gapless control”. This setting is for controlling external (buggy) renderers. This setting should be disabled if gapless playback does not work or track advance fails. This track advance problem occurs when the renderer (LS50) takes a long time to respond to the SetNextAVTransportURI, giving a timeout and messing up track advance.

    Either way, since i disabled this setting it seems i have no problems anymore with track advance during DLNA streaming.

    But this means i cannot use the LS50 wireless control app for DLNA streaming.

    • It seems that setting “Settings>UPnP Tweaks>UPnP Action Timeout>” to a higher value (40) should solve the track advance problem, but i have not yet tested this.

    • I don’t understand why this affects the KEF app if you clear the playlist and exit BubbleUPnP.

      Are the DSP and subwoofer settings retained when you switch to BubbleUPnP and other third party controls?

      • This does not affect the KEF app, it only works when using BubbleUPnP.
        All KEF LS50 settings are retained when using another control app.

  48. John do you still have your Silver Phantoms?

    And did you ever get the Gold Phantoms? For me, the Golds are flat out better than the Silver and addresses almost all my concerns with the Silver that I privately articulated to Devialet. Better in transients and resolution which makes everything finally come together. Personally, would never consider the Silver with the Gold out – subjectively, easily twice as good.

    And how does the Wireless LS50 compare to whichever Phantom you have? My guess is that the Wireless LS50 would have better transients/resolution than the Silver, but that the Golds would be better overall – but then, Golds are about 3 times the cost of a Wireless LS50.

  49. To quote from a Naim forum where some people had EXACTLY the same problems with their Naim streamers as me with the KEF LS50 wireless:

    “- It gets stuck on certain tracks – some tracks get repeated endlessly.
    – It’s not consistent either, sometimes playback just stops completely.
    – The “Now Playing” and “Playlist” displays don’t update correctly.

    The workaround seems to be to turn off gapless playback (on BubbleUPnP) which solves all of the above issues.”

    The workaround in my case is also the same.

  50. Where are all of these people getting their LS50 Wireless speakers from? They don’t hit the streets here for over another week!

    • Hong Kong. I’m cheating, though, because I live here. They were trying to flog them last month with an upmarket power cable at normal price, but I was successful in seeing through this scam and waited until this month to buy.
      We poked around amp/tt/speaker combos, but already had a surround system, and were stuck in the dmz between audio lust and budget.
      I’m still getting my head around them….there is so much happening in my lounge since we got them. I’m not a certified audiophile but these things are teasing and teasing all the way. I haven’t even bothered poking the sub in. Scintillating.

  51. My LS50 are still playing without any problems since i use BubbleUPnP with gapless disabled. I can finally enjoy their fantastic sound. 🙂

  52. The Kef Ls50 Wireless looks interesting and I have certainly enjoyed the pair of passive Kef ls50’s but I have a few issues with the design. John maybe you could chime in on my beefs.
    First off, there is no xlr input and even if there was there is no way to use separate dacs that may be better than the dac inside the speaker as even the analog rca inputs digitize the signal and end up using the Kef dac.
    I want flexibility from a dac standpoint because I happen to believe multibit dacs sound better than other dacs I have listened to.
    Even if the rca analog inputs were pass through I would probably buy a pair because that would give me great flexibility to use multiple dacs with the Kefs.
    I realize this may not be the purpose of the Kef Wireless but a lot of us have invested heavily in
    external dacs and who know maybe something better will come up years from now.

  53. I took a quick look back at your Spatial M4 review, and the comparison to the passive LS50. You wrote:

    “Spatial’s Hologram M4 is a loudspeaker that matches the striking visual appeal, imaging and detail dig of the (red) KEF LS50 but then piles on the high efficiency pop-and-shove dynamics and more natural tone of Zu Audio before adding the midrange eloquence and soundstage height of the Magnepan MMG. A bigger sound that’ll work in smaller rooms but without the need to pull on megawatts.”

    1. Putting aside the connectivity and convenience upgrades, do the sonics of these new active LS50 change that comparison with the M4?

    2. And for tricky rooms in particular — think open industrial loft — is the M4 open baffle stronger medicine than the LS50 room DSP?

    • 1. Not really. The active LS50 merely maximises its performance and changes not its fundamental personality.

      2. Alas, I can’t say what will work in other people’s rooms. The taut punch of the LS50 might be a good fit for the room. So too might the Spatial’s lower sensitivity to sidewall placement.

  54. So my Kef LS50 wireless arrive on Monday
    I’m currently in love with MQA on Tidal and want to play it though these speakers.
    It seems like the best way right now to to play MQA through them is by usb connection form my MacBook Pro and I ordered a USB to USB-C cable for that connection.
    For streaming MQA say from Roon what device could I put inline to the Refs to play MQA through its MQA decoding and does that use the devices DAC totally bypassing the Kef dac? For example a Dragonfly Red or meridian explorer connected to the Kef usb port. I only want the MQA hardware decoding from this device and use the Ked dac.

  55. i am using Audioengine HD6 and love them. i think they can compete with separates up to $3000, compared to the KEF’s you can run analog from a DAC and without it being up sampled. this is a great advantage. also the Audioengines incorporate pretty decent A/B amplifiers. cost less. wonder how they would compare?

  56. Hi John ;
    Can I hook up KEF LS50 wireless with QNAP NAS(Twonky Media server Inside) , In the same LAN Loop – to serve KEF internal DAC with the HI-RES Audio file?

    Atipong

      • Thanks John – Now my system is QNAP TS251(With Kazoo Server)> Apple Airport Extreme > Linn Akurate DS (Streamer & DAC) > Integrate Amp > Speaker.

        I want to simplify my system by using DAC inside KEF LS50 as this configuration – QNAP TS251(With Kazoo Server , acting as streamer) > Apple Airport Extreme > KEF LS50 Wireless (DAC , Amplifier , Speaker )

        Any comment on this set up?

  57. OK, I got my Kef wireless 🙂 I’m in southern California.
    Right now I’m connecting my MacBook Pro direct playing Tidal/MQA 🙂 Astonishing!
    I can see why you would not need a sub but I’ll connect my SVS at some point to try it out. It’s a $500 SVS sub and I’m wondering if getting a Kef sub would be a better match or does it really matter?
    I also have the optical connected to my Samsung JS9000 by optical. TheTV has the full one connect box which I have an Apple TV connected to by HDMI. I can airplay to the Apple TV and sound from the Apple TV works,. Sound from the built in TV apps does not work even though I changed the tv setting to optical.
    Bluetooth sounds decent but I’ll be using Airplay.
    The app shows my iTunes and Apple Music but won’t play any of it.
    I had hard the connecting the speakers to my wireless network until I did several hard resets of the speakers. The app keeps not seeing the speakers and I have to reconnect.
    Looks like an update is needed for both wifi and the app.
    The remote is just ok. Hard to tell how much volume through the buttons.
    You have to use either the remote or the speakers buttons to switch between sources. No auto switching it seems. I’d like to see what I can figure out for voice control like with an echo dot.
    I have Vanatoo’s with a subwoofer in the bedroom that I stream music to and I’ll probably get another set of these to replace them but I’d like to see an update on app and speaker firmware first.
    You gotta hear Tidal/MQ through these…:-)

    • Oh and in Tidal it let me choose these speakers as a source though direct connect via USB. I’m using the supplied usb cable with an Apple USBC-C adapter to my MacBook Pro.

    • Hi Terry, glad you are loving the KEFs.. Just a comment on the MQA.. it needs a specific decoder and not sure you have one in that chain of MCP USB into the LS50 Wireless. The KEF’s DAC is not certified for MQA. I bought a Mytek Brooklyn for that very purpose and one of the reasons I already invested in a passive LS50 setup. Happy listening ! Simon

      • Tidal is decoding the MQA in software up to 24/96. See the related article on this site.

        Basically, in order to get better market penetration and not be DOA like Pono and DSD Meridian decided to allow partial decoding or, unfolding as they call it, so that people could still get the HR benefit of MQA streaming.

        • Thats what I thought thanks. I have a Meridian Explorer 2 coming for the full unfold on both laptop and headphones at work and will try it out with the Refs as well. What I need is a device that is a full MQA decoder that can also act as a Room endpoint as well in one device that can connect to the Kefs.

      • I connected my MacBook Pro to the speakers and played MQA for the Tidal desktop app to the speakers by direct connect. I assumed I was getting MQA this way? if not it sure sounded great.
        I’ve played just about everything through these Refs now and the only problem is they make everything else sound muddy and indistinct like my bedroom Vanatoo 1’s. The Audioengines would be the same in comparison.
        If you get the Keys make sure you read the FAQ they just posted on their web site. It explains a lot of things not in the “manual” which is basically a collection of pictures.

  58. i attend the Symphony often and other musical events having lived in L.A. i think the HD6 are great all rounders with all music genres. they are true to the recording warts and all which i respect. have you audition the HD6’s with say with any of Ralph Von Williams works for strings for instance or a good orchestral recording? what would one have to spend on “separates” including a DAC, Amp, and speakers to rival or best the Kef’s?

  59. Is there a setting to play back Mono recordings correctly – the equivalent of a MONO button on a preamp?

    Also – is there a way to reverse which speaker is placed where? Put the RIGHT speaker on the left and vice-versa? Since the preamp is in the RIGHT speaker I’d like to get it 5-6FT closer to where my equipment is without reversing the recording’s stereo field.

  60. I had a conversation with support at Kef this morning. They were kind enough to offer a phone call in response to my e-mailed questions.
    He said both MQA and Roon are definitely coming to these speakers. :-). I also asked about the ability to use another remote like a universal remote and he said others have asked for that and it is coming too. 🙂
    I also asked why I can play DLNA Plex FLAC files on the Kef app but not my Apple Music which shows up but won’t play. He said you have to download the Apple Music to your device to play it through the Kef app. Of course you could bypass the app entirely for all sorts of things.

  61. John:
    Were your speakers broken in when you got them or did you break them in? Do you know how long break in takes and whether it changes the character of the sound substantially?

  62. I’m in the dark concerning some of this discussion. Where could I learn the basics concerning implementation of digital audio with this product?

    • I’m not sure what you are asking but you can send pretty much anything to it through Bluetooth, Airplay if there is such a device somewhere in the chain, direct USB connect for example to a laptop, or via the Kef app which uses wifi direct to the speaker. The Kef app can do DLNA or Apple iTunes music.

  63. Hi John
    What power cables do you recommend for them?
    Does different ethernet cable make a difference?
    Thanks

    Jason Hsu

    • I would be interested in power cables too. My guess is that ethernet cable won’t matter and the one that comes with it is more than fine.

  64. Which color version do you guys prefer. I have not seen the actual speakers as of yet but am very interested in buying one of those without seeing them.

  65. Pretty annoying they ran the offer on the Hong Kong site that you got a free pair of Isotek mains cables but no similar offer in the UK or anywhere else as far as I can see

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