When KEF introduced the LS50 bookshelf speakers in 2012, it quickly gained a following and earned many “Speaker of the Year” awards. KEF knew they had something special. So when they unveiled a bi-amplified active version of the LS50, it took the speaker world by storm. And so was born the LS50 Wireless. Perhaps KEF’s strength is not in their naming department, but they sure do know how to make a speaker.
With the LS50 as a base, the LS50W, as we will call it from this point, adds two amplifiers in each speaker, producing a bi-amplified setup with 230 Watts of total power. Use them as desktop speakers if you must, but you might not get the full experience of what these speakers can do for a room. In addition, the LS50W includes a DAC and a DSP to manage crossovers, something impossible to mimic in the LS50 passives.
What’s In The Box?
As with many active speakers, the LS50W has several connections including RCA, toslink, and USB. A sub out is available as well as a USB in for firmware updates. Bluetooth with AptX is supported for wireless connectivity. But the real star of the show for some is its wifi capability which KEF believes to be important enough to put in the name of the speakers.
Rounding out the package are Ethernet cables to connect the two speakers digitally, and a small remote. A touch strip on top of the main speaker controls most the speaker’s modes and volume as well as on/off. If you have chubby fingers, it could take a couple of presses to register the hit.
But the touch strip isn’t needed if the remote is used. Or alternatively, use the KEF control app from your phone to set up the speaker and control the speaker. The app can arrange the speakers for desk or stand mode and free or wall mode. Room acoustics can also be chosen and the speakers will compensate for the setting. It’s these little touches that put the LS50W ahead of the pack. There is little doubt that room compensation will be added to many powered speakers that come after the LS50W.
Because of the DSP and firmware, the LS50W can support several wireless services including Tidal, Spotify Connect, Roon. With firmware updates, KEF has added support for services so the list will likely grow.
All of these components make for a heavy speaker. The left and right speakers are about 22.0lbs or 10 Kg and they feel like it. Be sure that the stands or shelves they are placed on can hold the weight. Like the LS50 passives, the LS50W is well built. Knock on the speakers and no part of it sounds hollow. The piano glass finish is lovely but many dislike it because of its propensity for micro-scratches.
What About Sound?
Of course, for all the features of the LS50W, it would be a let down if the sound quality wasn’t up to the task. Fortunately, it is. With the right placement and a good source, the LS50W produces an excellent soundstage and really immerses the listener in the music. Percussion that sound dull in lesser speakers are sharp and clear. Piano keys sound like piano keys.
The LS50W has a sub out, but it’s worth listening to these without a sub to see if it meets your needs. Bass is punchy and not muddy. Turned loud enough, and your neighbors will definitely know you’re home.
Audiophiles scoff at Bluetooth, but with AptX and a higher bitrate source, many will barely be able to differentiate between Bluetooth and a wired setup. There is no distortion and music doesn’t sound flat as can occur with other Bluetooth speakers.
Where Does It Fall Short?
With all the praise of the LS50W, are there any negatives? No speaker is perfect. While the LS50W sound excellent, the price is steep. Less expensive speakers can’t match the LS50W’s fidelity, but some can come close enough that many might not notice the difference unless played side by side. Of course price is somewhat relative. Some will argue that the LS50 passives require a much bigger investment to match the LS50W in quality.
The touch controls on top of the master speaker is not as easy to use as physical buttons. Sometimes it takes a couple of attempts to turn on and off the speakers if the buttons are not hit at the center. And does anyone actually prefer constantly tapping a plus button to increase volume over a knob?
Being a speaker that contains a lot of electronics and a processor, the LS50W had many growing pains requiring firmware updates and still do. For instance, sometimes when turning on the speakers, the left speaker would not connect. This required turning off and on the speaker to fix.
One other aspect to mention is that the warranty is short in comparison to other brands, only one year for the electronics. The non-electrical components are four years.
And finally, the KEF app? It’s not great. But the company keeps updating it so it is improving.
For many years, speakers have not changed much. Small tweaks here and there improved sound but often not enough to get people to upgrade a perfectly usable system. The inclusion of electronics and digital smarts is changing that. Sonos has staked a place. Amazon created a genre with the Echo line. Google and Apple have smart speakers. But it is KEF, the old guy, with their years of speaker knowledge and more recent experience with digital electronics that has produced the most exciting speaker yet for me.