The KEF LS50 ($1,300/pair) has been regarded as some of the best desktop monitors (or hi-fi speakers, for their size) that you could buy since their release in 2012, but the British audio manufacturer has since released the KEF LS50 Wireless ($2,200/pair). Despite the likeness in name, the LS50 Wireless speakers are more than just Bluetooth- and wifi-enabled versions of the LS50. They are active powered speakers, unlike the passive KEF LS50, meaning each speaker has its own power amplifier built-in. But each LS50 Wireless speakers has two amplifiers, one for its tweeter and one for its woofer, and a dedicated DAC (up to 24-bit/192kHz) and DSP for each.
The Good: The KEF LS50 Wireless speakers offer the best of both worlds: a bonafide audiophile-grade stereo speaker system that can play up to 24-bit/192kHz audio files and can also be used as a traditional Bluetooth (aptX) speaker. Each speaker is built around KEF’s signature Uni-Q driver (comprised of a tweeter and woofer) and a hefty cabinet, which, in tandem, and with 230-watts per channel, are able to produce powerful, detail-rich audio that has virtually zero distortion — these speakers sound tremendous. The app is primed for Tidal and Spotify subscribers, and you can stream to the speakers directly through their respective apps. And there are numerous other wired connection options, including optical, USB-A and analog RCA inputs.
Who They’re For: If you want an all-in-one hi-fi system that sounds truly incredible, and doesn’t make you deal with separate stereo components, the KEF LS50 Wireless speakers are a great value for right around $2,200. The speakers also give you the option to connect a separate subwoofer, in case its natural bass isn’t enough (it probably is).
Watch Out For: The KEF LS50 Wireless speakers are a one-stop-shop hi-fi system, so if you have a separate stereo receiver, these aren’t the type of speakers for your setup. They’re not designed to be integrated into a home theater system, either. Both of the speakers are powered, so you’ll want to make sure they there’s open outlet space wherever you place them.
Alternatives: The KEF LS50 Wireless are a step above any other powered bookshelf speakers. Period. And there’s nothing really out there, in this price point, that’s like-for-like.
Review: Prior to testing the KEF LS50 Wireless, I was testing Audioengine’s new A5+ Wireless speakers, which are terrific-sounding, powered bookshelf speakers in their own right — especially for $500 — but it shouldn’t come as much of surprise that the KEF LS50 Wireless speakers are an entirely different animal. The level of detail you get from tracks just from Bluetooth streaming is, again, incredible. And then when you use the app and connect them to wi-fi, these speakers reach their true potential (if you’re streaming Tidal).
We spent most of the time streaming over wi-fi, from Spotify and Tidal, and the separation between the treble and mid-range is exceptional. In songs like “Downtown” by Majical Cloudz and “Gravity” by John Mayer, you can hear the vocals and individual instruments, especially percussion and strings, and it sounds like each is coming from their own separate place — it creates a soundstage that’s special, especially among stereo speakers.
The magic of the KEF LS50 Wireless, other than those unique drivers, is that there are two custom amplifiers and two built-in DACs in each speaker. This, along with an intuitive app that lets you adjust the DSP and other settings, means that the KEF LS50 Wireless is capable of producing an accurate audio experience that’s all their own. If the speakers are up against a wall or in a large room, or if you want more bass or treble, you can adjust the audio easily all in the app.
There are several features, not specifically related to audio quality, that are charming. Similar to the original KEF LS50, these new wireless speakers sort of look like the Death Star. And on the right speaker is an OLED touchscreen — plus a fantastic “click” noise when you turn the speaker on — and allows you to toggle through things like Bluetooth and wi-fi, along with allowing you to adjust the volume levels without breaking out your smartphone.
Verdict: $2,000 might seem like a lot to spend on a pair of bookshelf speakers — and it is — but the KEF LS50 Wireless offers so much more than your average high-end bookshelf speakers. They’re an engineering feat all in themselves, fitting individual amps, DACs and other electronics inside a cabinet that’s essentially the same size as the older LS50 speakers. They can be used as desktop monitors or an all-in-one hi-fi speaker system. And, best of all, anybody can use them: the app and a wi-fi connection allow Tidal tracks to play in all their high-resolution glory, or with the tap of the Bluetooth button anyone can play whatever they like — no instructions needed.
What Others Are Saying:
• “While I’ve been visited by no little birds, I will venture to say that this approach — fully active, with digital controls, integrated streaming, and the like — can and probably will be found in future KEF products. It really is just too simple to pass up. Simple — not in construction or execution — but in life. The lack of wires and extra bits means that the LS50W can go just about anywhere. Like the living room. An office. A bedroom. A dorm room! Though, maybe not the latter without some optional anti-theft deterrents, because these will draw not just eyes but outright lust..” — Scot Hull, Part-Time Audiophile
• “Put simply, for the £2000 you’ll pay for this ‘all-in-one’ setup, you’ll only get better by spending the same on hi-fi separates. The electronics and circuitry [are] so tailored to work perfectly with one another that the sound is spot-on – even pairing the LS50 passive speakers with a talented amplifier up to the same price can’t top it.” — Verity Burns, Trusted Reviews
• “We liked the speakers best, though, when rendering acoustic instruments — especially percussion. You know when the pop of a conga pulls you back into the room for its sheer presence, something is going right. One of our favorite moments came in the LS50 Wireless’ rendition of Ripple by the Grateful Dead. We’ve heard this song dozens of times over the years, but the speakers bring something really special to the table. The acoustic guitar at the intro sounds almost visible in space on the left side, while the rest of the instruments curl around in their own distinct locations within the stereo image. At the chorus, the dual mandolins are near magical in their precision — you can actually hear the room echo flutter between each click of the frenzied strumming.” — Ryan Waniata, Digital Trends
Speakers: Fully active speakers with built-in streaming preamp
Drivers: Uni-Q driver combo: 5.25-inch woofer, 1-inch aluminum tweeter
Frequency Range: 40Hz – 47kHz
Frequency Response: 45Hz – 28kHz
Max Volume: 106dB
Streaming: Tidal, Spotify, Bluetooth aptX support
Connectivity: wi-fi, Bluetooth 4.0 aptX, RCA, subwoofer
Weight: 22.5 pounds (each)
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