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KEF LS-50 Bookshelf Speaker Review

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The KEF LS-50 is fast becoming one of the most talked about speakers around, and I suppose it’s time for a reviewer at Dagogo to talk about them. Residing in Hong Kong I live in an apartment that is well suited to the KEF LS-50. Well suited means small if you missed it.

The LS-50 is inspired by the LS-3/5a but let’s be clear: they don’t sound alike. The KEF LS-50 has significantly more bass depth and drive, which are probably the first things that came to the fore. The other of course is the KEF LS-50’s hi-tech cabinet design and coaxial driver based upon the KEF Blade loudspeakers that retails for 20 times the price. This is a serious effort and I feel it is a serious contributor to standmounts under $2,000.

Let me begin by saying that I did not care for these speakers at shows or at various dealers in Asia.  Companies the size of KEF typically sell their products at higher volume retailers in Hong Kong and Thailand and such retailers often don’t take care in their set-ups (or have enough space) to properly demonstrate dedicated two channel speakers as they could in the west. The double edge sword here is that bigger speaker companies are then viewed as sounding worse that smaller boutique labels because the smaller labels are sold in rooms that are geared for quality listening.   And while I didn’t love the LS–50, I had greatly enjoyed the KEF Blade which managed to overcome a less than good room at the California Audio Show in 2012. I felt the LS-50 would be better served by better gear and a better room. Further I got the nagging feeling that in spite of the low sensitivity and difficult load, a good SET amplifier might be what was needed. Time and again I have heard Single Ended Triode Amplifiers in the 8-30 watt range make supposedly difficult to drive speakers sound wonderful.

So I decided to buy the speakers, bring them home to see if my speculations were correct.

I opened the box and was pleasantly surprised by their very high build construction and gorgeous piano black cabinetry and the well above average binding posts. At $1500 these speakers are a class act all the way in the looks and build quality department. But what about the sound?

Connecting the speakers to my Line Magnetic 219IA integrated amplifier, I was immediately treated to good sound – far better than what I had heard at show and demo rooms and without any burning in time.

The 219IA I reviewed here http://dagogo.com/line-magnetic-219ia-integrated-amplifier-review and had more than enough power to drive the KEF LS-50 and rather superbly to boot.

Using the 4 ohm taps the KEF could play at significant levels while retaining very solid bass depth and drive. This surprised me in fact because I found them lightweight in dealer showrooms which typically run rather wimpy receivers and budget integrated amps. The LS-50 requires a serious amplifier to truly be able to reward the listener. I maintain that the $1500 price is somewhat misleading because it generally follows that you can get by with a $500 SS integrated and I fear many end users will judge the speakers too harshly based upon such set-ups. Assuming you use an amplifier with good pedigree, the KEF LS-50 can reveal some spectacular traits, including tight controlled sound and excellent taught bass, which should reach 50 Hz in smaller rooms. For a 5 inch woofer that is quite impressive.

The KEF LS-50 betters previous UNI-Q drivers that have sounded a little strident to me. The LS-50 is cohesive and doesn’t have ragged rough edges. KEF has gotten it right and every piece of music I throw at them has been enjoyable from trance to vocals.

Is it perfect? Well no it’s not. You are aware that the KEF uses a metal tweeter and on lesser recordings or strings leading edges can be slightly rough. The bass, while deep for the size, can occasionally sound one note and a little dead. Higher efficiency speakers tend to sound more out of the box and alive and often seem to possess superior dynamic as a result – but good high efficiency speaker often cost significantly more money than the KEF LS-50. I must remember to keep in mind the price – this isn’t a $5,000 speaker after all.

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