The Audiophiliac's speaker of the year: The KEF LS50

The British have a knack for making exceptional-sounding small monitor speakers; the KEF LS50 is the latest example of the breed.

The KEF LS50 driver Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Even before you hear KEF's new LS50 speaker, there's no doubt it's a unique design. The speaker's single "rose"-color driver sports radial fins, and the cabinet has a swept-back front baffle. I've never seen anything quite like it before. The speaker stands 11.9 inches tall, 7.9 inches wide, 10.9 inches deep, and weighs 15.8 pounds. The MDF cabinet has the build quality of a very high-end design. The sound is just as extraordinary as the look, and the LS50 can be used as a desktop monitor or as hi-fi speakers. It commemorates KEF's 50th anniversary.

The LS50's proprietary driver combines a ribbed 5.25-inch aluminum/magnesium woofer with a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter, the driver sports a die-cast aluminum frame, and the tweeter has that nifty-looking Tangerine waveguide that uses "radial air channels to produce spherical waves up to the highest frequencies." The driver shares a design and engineering kinship with the similar-looking unit in KEF's $30,000 Blade speaker. The LS50's curved front panel is made of a polyester resin combined with glass fiber and calcium carbonate. The speaker's rear hosts heavy-duty binding posts that match the quality feel of the rest of the speaker. There are no provisions for wall mounts or brackets, but this isn't really the sort of speaker that sounds best hugging a wall. The MSRP runs $1,499.99 per pair.

KEF LS50s KEF

Placed on 25-inch-tall steel speaker stands in my listening room at home, the LS50s projected a massive sound field. Spatial depth and resolution of fine detail were exceptionally good, so when I played Muddy Waters' "Folk Singer" LP I didn't just hear Muddy and his band, I heard them playing within the acoustic of the recording studio, so the music was more believably alive. The LS50 communicates music's subtle dynamic shifts with rare precision, and that may be one of the reasons why it sounds so lifelike. Bass fullness and definition are pretty respectable for a speaker of its size. They played rock loud enough for me, and large-scale orchestral music was well served by the LS50s. It's one of the best small hi-fi speakers I've heard at any price. It may be a little large for a desktop speaker, but it's the best-sounding speaker I've heard on my desktop, partnered with my old NAD 3020 integrated amplifier .

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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