Ask tech fanatics about the greatest wireless speakers, and possibilities are you’ll get the similar set of solutions: the Sonos Play:5, Google House Max, and, Apple HomePod. These are the tech business stalwarts, strong speakers, however ones designed with comfort at an equal precedence as sound high quality.
Ask the audio lovers and one reply that may probably reign: KEF’s LS50W. Launched in 2016 as a wireless improve to the LS50 – already an audiophile favourite – it has turn out to be the defacto normal amongst high-end wireless speakers. It’s not as intuitive as, say, Sonos, however virtually a yr after I reviewed them, no wireless speaker I’ve examined has actually come shut.
That’s, till KEF launched the LSX.
See, the LS50W had two huge issues. First, it value $2,200 a pair. Many audiophiles thought-about it a relative discount, however that’s nonetheless an unreasonable worth for most individuals.
Second, the speakers weren’t fairly as wireless as their identify implied. Unavoidable energy cables apart, additionally they required an Ethernet cable between the two speakers for stereo to work. They have been solely “wireless” of their inclusion of Bluetooth and WiFi playback.
The LSX fixes each of these points. For $1,100 it will get remarkably shut to the LS50W, it’s really wireless, and it handily outperforms any of the aforementioned ‘techy’ speakers. It prices just a bit greater than a pair of Sonos Play:5’s, however to my ear, it’s an apparent enchancment. Surprisingly, it even surpasses its greater sibling in some listening situations – however extra on that later.
Thoughts you, it does all this whereas being a 3rd the measurement of the LS50W, or about half the measurement of a Sonos Play:5.
It additionally is available in a bunch of fairly colours: pink, inexperienced, blue, charcoal, and white. I’m notably keen on the blue, as a result of there ought to be extra blue devices in the world.
Most of the colours are coated in a cloth materials that appears oh so aesthetic, however you can go for the shiny white if you’d want one thing extra conventional. I used to be a bit nervous about the textile sturdiness, however I didn’t discover it degrade over a month of use and a good bit of shifting the speakers round. You may simply need to hold them away from scratch-happy cats.
I appreciated the LS50W’s wealth of enter choices, and the LSX principally follows go well with. The place the Sonos and Residence Max solely have a three.5mm aux port and Wi-Fi, the LSX has Aux, Optical, and Bluetooth AptX as well as to WiFi playback by way of Spotify Join, Tidal, or Apple AirPlay 2.
Extra ports than most speakers, though I miss the USB Audio out from the LS50W
I’m a bit disenchanted by the lack of Google Forged, particularly contemplating each Spotify and Tidal help forged anyway. It additionally would’ve made it straightforward to use the LSX in a multi-room setup. However KEF partly makes up for it by together with a USB-A charging port. Meaning you can connect a Chomecast Audio, Amazon Echo Dot, or different dongle without having one other energy brick. That stated, I additionally miss the inclusion of a USB audio port for connecting to your PC, given the LSX are the good measurement for desktop use.
One other frustration: in contrast to the LS50W, the LSX has no buttons for adjusting quantity, altering inputs, and even turning the speakers on and off. Persevering with an terrible design development, you are pressured to use both KEF’s app or the included distant management you will inevitably lose.
As soon as I by chance created an terrible floor loop with the speakers close to 90 % quantity, blasting an ungodly buzz loud sufficient my entire constructing to hear. With my telephone nowhere close by, I frantically looked for the distant to kill the demonic sound till I noticed my best choice was to simply unplug the speakers. You realize what would have saved my eardrums? Buttons.
Talking of KEF’s app, it’s one thing of a combined bag. On the one hand, I actually recognize the way it lets you tune the speaker to your room’s acoustics. You’ll be able to set whether or not the speakers are on a desk, close to a wall, or properties of your room like its measurement or liveliness. These changes could make a dramatic enchancment.
However the app is sometimes buggy, and you’re pressured to use a separate app to management the speakers than you do to stream music. This is senseless.
On the plus aspect, I skilled no connection dropouts when utilizing the LSX in wireless mode, however I usually most popular utilizing the included Ethernet cable to hyperlink the Left and Proper speakers. Except for a tiny increase in sound high quality, it additionally kills any latency.
The LSX’s wireless latency is often negligible, however utilizing the Ethernet cable made it low sufficient for me to find a way to join my piano. That is one thing I can’t do with the baked-in latency on the Sonos Play:5 or Google House Max (the HomePod doesn’t have a wired enter in any respect). It’s one other boon for the LSX – they can be utilized for music creation, not simply consumption.
Okay, the sound. If you’ve by no means listened to a pair of hi-fi speakers, you’re in for a deal with.
The household resemblance with the LS50W is instantly obvious, and it’s a perform of KEF’s proprietary ‘Uni-Q’ drivers. KEF’s declare to fame is its experience in presenting a large, lifelike, and cohesive soundstage, and the LSX is not any totally different.
The overwhelming majority of speakers separate the tweeter from the woofer, and as you may think, engineers focus a lot of their effort into making the separate drivers sound cohesive. However check out the LSX’s drivers; KEF embeds the tweeter inside the woofer. The sound all emanates from a ‘point source,’ which when carried out correctly leads to extra exact and real looking stereo imaging. (You possibly can learn KEF’s article on the advantages of its Uni-Q tech right here.)
The soundstage emanating from the LSX is simply that: practical. At occasions, eerily so.
Most of my testing was carried out with the LSX positioned on isolation stands on the edges of my desk, just a little over 4 ft aside. My house (like most individuals’s) is way from acoustically superb, and with different speakers I have hassle attaining a plausible ‘phantom center’ – that impact the place centered voices and devices sound like they’re coming from an invisible speaker in between the different two.
However the LSX creates a phantom middle higher than speakers its measurement have any proper to. In the opening variety of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” Bernadette Peters walks from one finish of the stage to the different – the LSX recreates the motion with no hole in the soundstage.
Equally notable, the LSX creates a large candy spot that maintains the soundstage even when you transfer round a bit. Most speakers stereo speakers disintegrate as quickly as you exit the candy spot. This additionally makes the LSX adept for TV use. If you can afford $1,100 speakers, these will give you a extra spectacular stereo picture than any soundbar I’ve heard in need of Sennheiser’s $2,500 Ambeo.
A lot to my shock, I discovered that in my near-field setup, I most popular the picture coming from the LSX to my LS50W. Whereas the latter are nonetheless spectacular, they really feel a bit ‘smudged’ when positioned too shut. The LS50W’s speakers sound greatest positioned between six and twelve ft in my condominium. The LSX on the different hand, appears to be simply nearly as good at three ft aside as it’s at ten. And since it takes up a lot much less area, the wider hole between the speakers contributes to the phantasm of a phantom middle.
Soundstage apart, I anticipated the LSX to sound thinner and brighter than the LS50Ws due to the smaller woofers (four.5″ vs 5.5″). The other is definitely true – although nonetheless minimize from the similar material, the LSX have a barely hotter presentation. The treble is clean and clear, however extra laid again than the LS50W’s. The LSX can also’t fairly match the dynamics of its sibling when issues get actually busy.
Each have a equally clear midrange presentation although, and whereas the bass on the LS50W reaches decrease, it’s a lot much less of a distinction than I anticipated. The LSX doesn’t start rolling off till 49hz – decrease than most speakers its measurement, and lots of bigger – and it sounds good at it too. The bass is all the time taught and managed thanks to some intelligent lively DSP work by KEF’s circuitry. The LSX extends low sufficient – and hits with sufficient visceral slam – for nearly any music made up of bodily devices. I think the LSX will solely really feel bass-shy to the largest bassheads.
If you do want extra bass, the LSX features a subwoofer output. I examined KEF’s Kube 8b subwoofer together with the LSX, and it provides the low finish extra authority than I’d ever want in a small house. Most individuals actually gained’t want one. However the subtler advantage of including a sub is that it frees up the LSX’s drivers for dealing with the remainder of the frequency vary, regaining some element and dynamics throughout busy tracks. I in contrast the LSX with a sub to the LS50W with out one, and I might usually select the former – and nonetheless avoid wasting money whereas at it. (In fact, the LS50W with a sub is even higher).
To be clear, I don’t contemplate the LSX to be a peak performer in all respects for its worth. The coincident driver association could also be excellent for soundstage and coherence, nevertheless it doesn’t essentially present extra element over cheaper hi-fi with a standard driver association.
I examined the less expensive Q Acoustics 3020i ($299) and Bowers and Wilkins 607 ($600) at the similar time as the LSX, they usually have been just about on par with the LSX’s copy of upper frequencies. The Q Acoustics even had a equally lifelike soundstage when positioned good, and I most popular its tuning out of the field. In the meantime, a pair of Sonos Play:5s or a single Devialet Phantom Reactor can dig deeper into the bass.
So no, the LSX isn’t the good speaker. It straddles the line between hi-fi and mainstream, and it makes some compromises for it. Functionally, its lack of bodily controls is sometimes infuriating, its twin apps are pointless, and I might gladly take Google Forged over Spotify Join or Tidal. Acoustically, I’d favor a bit extra treble presence, and you shouldn’t anticipate it to absolutely match the transparency and dynamics of its greater sibling. Relying on what you’re in search of, you may even want a standard set of passive speakers. Audio is, as all the time, partly subjective.
However taken as an entire, there’s nothing I can consider that may match the LSX’s mixture of measurement, design, inputs, comfort, and sound. It has the greatest soundstage I’ve heard at the worth, with oodles of element and bass too. In a near-field setup, particularly with a sub, it’d even be higher than the venerable LS50W.
Level is, if you have $1,100 to spend on stereo speakers, the KEF LSX must be at the prime of your record.
Revealed January 24, 2019 — 00:19 UTC