KEF LS50 Wireless II review: built for the streaming age

Audiophiles are a thorny bouquet, especially with regard to wireless speakers. In order to save time, space, or money, audio companies will often take the design of a larger, more expensive device and downsize it slightly to create a more accessible and probably better for most product. ‘between us. Of course, audio enthusiasts don’t care about such compromises.

Until I tried the KEF LS50 Wireless II, I tended to agree with them. Even at the high end, cord-cut speakers simply never matched their wired counterparts. But after a month of listening to these new KEFs, playing everything from Sheryl Crow to Stephen colbertI’ve heard real proof that amps and cables will eventually go the bedtime route. KEF’s wireless speakers are an almost perfect window into the future of high-fidelity audio.

Two at Tango

The UK company has been making speakers since the early 1960s, but the vast majority of audiophiles know KEF for its more recent designs. The company’s exclusive Uni-Q drivers, which mount the tweeters concentrically into the midrange speaker, are its modern calling card. These flower-shaped pilots have propelled the original LS50 to near-mythical levels of nerd appeal since their launch in 2012 to celebrate KEF’s 50th anniversary.

The LS50 Wireless II has the same concentric pilot design as the original.

Photography: Kef

Fear not, nerds: the new version of the LS50 looks like the old one. These are rounded rectangles with a curved front that showcases the gorgeous pilots. You can get them in many colors, but my review units are available in a sleek matte black with copper accents.

Unlike the LS50 Meta passive speakers, which require a stereo amp to deliver the juice, the LS50 Wireless II speakers are self-powered. Connect them to the wall and to each other, and no external amp is required.

Even without dedicated external hardware, the rear of the right speaker has a plethora of inputs. You’ll find an optical input, a coaxial cable jack, a 3.5mm mini-jack, and even an HDMI ARC port for television – a rare feature that makes them excellent for placement in a living room on either side of a screen. For fully wireless operation, you can pair a PC or phone with them via Bluetooth, or add them to your Wi-Fi network for AirPlay, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, or Roon streaming. The controls for all of the above can be adjusted using the included small black remote control or by manipulating the backlit touch controls located at the top of the right speaker.

New KEF sound

Under the hood, the company’s engineers have spent a lot of time making sure that the LS50 Wireless II far outperforms the original KEF wireless model released several years ago.

The new speakers feature what the company calls metamaterial absorption technology, which KEF says allows the speakers to absorb up to 60% of the distortion-causing energy that is typically reflected back into the speaker. the cabinet. The labyrinth-like structures of this material inside each speaker are not easy to design; it took a two-year research project with a company called Acoustic Metamaterials Group for the business to grow.

The results are less complicated to understand than the technology itself. Turn on the KEF LS50 Wireless II and you’ll be greeted with the most immersive, distortion-free sound you’ve likely heard from speakers of this size. They might look the same as their predecessors, but they sound absolutely better.

The depth and width of the soundstage is dramatically improved, thanks to this lower downward distortion. Each element of the music you listen to occupies an almost three-dimensional place in the sound, allowing you to easily focus between them or hear more clearly how they combine into the whole.

I became obsessed with Lucy Dacus’ new track “Hot & Heavy, that goes from synthetic pads to full-fledged dance rock in the first minute. On KEFs, the slow addition of layers and instruments pulls me through the song, as if I can see every aspect of the music through a crisp, clear lens. I can hear exactly where each of Dacus’ vocal harmonies is in the sound, the perfect edge the engineer got from the signal that distorts slightly when she sings the loudest.

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