The KEF LS50 was my Speaker of the Year when it debuted as the company's 50th Anniversary Edition speaker in 2012. It's been in and out of my system since then, but more recently I've spent a good deal of time listening to the LS50 and my respect for this speaker has only grown. It defines what it means to be an audiophile speaker in the 21st century.
It is, in every sense a modern classic, the sort of speaker that 10 or 20 years from now will still be a force to be reckoned with. So when I heard KEF made a limited run of LS50s in Racing Red, Frosted Black and Titanium Grey finishes I requested a fresh sample in Racing Red. I can't explain why, but I've always been attracted to red speakers.
I think its distinctive, form-follows-function design is downright elegant. The speaker stands 11.9 inches (302mm) tall and weighs 15.8 pounds (7.2 kg). The heavily braced MDF cabinet feels solidly built.
The LS50's proprietary "Uni-Q" driver combines a ribbed 5.25 inch (130mm) aluminum/magnesium woofer with a 1-inch (25mm) aluminum dome tweeter in its center, the driver sports a die-cast aluminum frame. The tweeter has that nifty looking Tangerine waveguide that uses "radial air channels to produce spherical waves up to the highest frequencies." The Uni-Q driver shares a design and engineering kinship with the similar looking unit in KEF's flagship Blade Two speaker. The LS50 speakers' rear-end hosts an elliptical bass port and 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. I had them on metal floor stands 3 feet away from the wall.
I listened to the Racing Red LS50 speakers paired first with a Schiit Ragnarok integrated amplifier, and then over the last few days with my Pass XP-20 preamp and Pass XA100.5 power amps, and marveled at the LS50s' musicality and presence.
Thanks in large part to its Uni-Q driver the LS50 projects a huge, but precisely focused, room-filling soundstage. With some recordings it's akin to listening to 3D sound, these little speakers create a big stereo image. Drums and other percussion instruments sound downright vivid, but it's still a small speaker, it will never match the dynamics and power you get from a large floor standing tower speaker. I enjoyed the LS50s most with acoustic music. Electronica sounds were also pretty spectacular, but not so much with hard rock.
Playing LPs over the LS50 brought out the best of analog sound -- the natural, unforced sweetness of live, acoustic music -- but I also felt the LS50 keyed into the better digital recordings' resolution and clarity.
The tonal balance is on the warm and full side of neutral, which helps the LS50 sound bigger than it really is. If you crave a more accurate balance check out the Technics SB700 monitors. I like that speaker a lot, but there's something about the LS50 that always makes me come back for more. It's an ideal small to mid-size room audiophile speaker, but I also enjoyed it in my large loft apartment.
The KEF LS50 sells for $1,499.99 a pair in the US or £800 in the UK. The Racing Red, Frosted Black and Titanium Grey finishes will only be available for a limited time, but you can always get these LS50s in High Gloss Piano Black or High Gloss Piano White.