The LS50 launched by KEF in 2011 is and remains one of the most popular speakers of the new millennium. Still, the British think it is time for an update to this successful recipe. Why? The answer will be in this KEF LS50 Meta review.
KEF LS50 Meta
Perhaps the biggest challenge with the 1,199 euro LS50 Meta was coming up with a suitable name. The new loudspeaker is clearly related to the successful LS50, so the desire must have been to keep the name similar so that everyone would understand the relationship between old and new. At the same time, the Meta really makes a big step forward compared to its predecessor by using a new and revolutionary material. Ultimately, the familiar ‘LS50’ with the Meta suffix was chosen. There is a chance that some people underestimate what has been adjusted as a result.
The core of the matter has remained unchanged – and that is a very good thing. The LS50 Meta remains a relatively compact speaker with a modern (but acoustically sound) design that even creates an integrated soundstage at a distance of one meter. You can therefore use them just as well as monitors at your workplace or as speakers that are at a normal listening distance in the living room.
The KEF LS50 Meta is one loudspeaker which is completely new and yet carries a huge portion of history. After all, the LS50 that KEF released almost a decade ago on the occasion of the British brand’s 50th anniversary was in turn a rethink of the classic LS3 / 5a speaker developed for the BBC in the 1970s. At the time, the British broadcaster needed a compact speaker that sounded correct at a short distance, so that engineers in mobile radio cars could assess recordings. KEF was one of the companies that was allowed to build this speaker under license, although not the first. But the brand was the supplier of the drivers for the BBC speaker from the outset. However, the LS3 / 5a was not only a hit with BBC employees, many music lovers also fell for the compact speaker.
So like the LS50 of 2011, the Meta is a further evolution of that original BBC concept from the 1970s. Thoroughly modified and improved with KEF’s Uni-Q driver system, of course. Where the original LS3 / 5a featured two separate speakers, the modern KEF versions boast – apparently – one large central driver. Seems deceiving, of course, because this is a coaxial driver where the tweeter floats disconnected in the middle of the midrange speaker. So this is really a 2-way speaker. If there was anything a ‘secret’ ingredient in every KEF recipe, it would be this 2-in-1 Uni-Q driver. The highly research & development-focused KEF has made this driver better and better over the years, so that we are now in the twelfth generation.
For the music fan, it is especially important that the Uni-Q driver has many advantages. That it takes up less space is certainly one of them. In this way, the LS50 Meta can remain relatively compact – although it is certainly not a mini speaker. A big acoustic advantage of the Uni-Q is that a large part of the frequency range appears to come from one point, while with a speaker with two or more drivers, small phase differences can exist. This makes instruments sound coherent and more natural.
LS50 Meta in attractive new colors
In terms of design, the LS50 is a modernist eye-catcher, just like its predecessor. Without suddenly opting for an exotic design splash, KEF has created a radically different-looking bookshelf speaker here. This is not a simple shoe box for a loudspeaker, but an object that stimulates visually and appears luxurious. What immediately stands out is that Uni-Q driver, centrally and seamlessly mounted in the convex front or baffle. The driver itself is an attention grabber, because of the shape but also the color. Depending on which color version of the LS50 Meta you purchase, the driver is copper, gold or red. People with a more conventional taste may opt for the white or black versions, if you are looking for something more exuberant, you will end up with the titanium gray version or the special edition in royal blue. All versions are rather matte, which fits well with current design trends.
Due to its convex front and the rounded corners, the LS50 Meta appears smaller than it is. Not that it is really big, but the depth is still large enough that you cannot just place it anywhere. You can place it flat against a wall (which is a less good idea with many speakers, but it is possible here), in our opinion the best position is on a stand and a meter or so from a wall. For lovers of a sleek interior: the (slightly convex) back of the LS50 Meta also looks particularly clean, so that the speaker still looks sleek when placed free-standing.
Meta: what is it?
Both the LS50 Meta and its updated active brother, the LS50 Wireless II, come with a Uni-Q driver similar to the R-series driver. That’s a remarkable speaker range, not least because it goes from a relatively affordable R3 upright speaker to a truly high-end R7 floor upright. Few speaker families are so broad in the market. However, the Uni-Q driver has been supplemented in the new LS50 version with what the manufacturer calls Metamaterial Absorption Technology (MAT), a material that absorbs unwanted vibrations better. However, adding MAT required a significant redesign of the entire coaxial driver, so that you ultimately speak of a different Uni-Q than with the R speakers.
But what is that Metamaterial Absorption Technology that KEF is so proud of? A metamaterial is a generic name for a material that exhibits properties that are not associated with its solid form. In this case it concerns tubes of polymer (ABS) that are laid in a very specific shape. In pictures it looks like you are looking at a circular maze. Each tube absorbs a certain frequency very well, with a high Q so that adjacent frequencies are barely damped. That maze shape is then calculated in such a way that certain frequencies can be attenuated very accurately, to compensate for what the driver produces. Somewhat straightforward: this prevents additional sounds from clouding the music reproduction.
There is more adjustment with the LS50 Meta, including in the motors of the tweeter and the midrange / basswoofer. In terms of industrial design, in addition to the new colors and convex rear, the bass port at the rear has also been modified to cause less turbulence.
Vocals in a large space
The combination of the Uni-Q driver and the convex front ensures something that you will immediately notice: the music goes far beyond these LS50 Metas and comes across very open. The soundstage is surprisingly large for speakers of this size, which makes listening to symphonic works as well as trip-hop classics such as ‘Unfinished Sympathy (2012 Mix / Master)’ very pleasant. You soon forget that the music comes from two speakers. When you suddenly realize that again, you are surprised again. It happened to us regularly when listening. For example when listening to the intimate piano playing and singing on ‘Ethereal’ by Icelandic Hjaltalin. Not only did the piano touches sound very correct, the reverberation of each string was also very realistic, with a nice sustain. The voice of singer Sigríður Thorlacius also came towards us perfectly from the middle of the soundstage, even though we were only listening at 1.5 meters from the KEFs and with the speakers turned off. Strong. At the end of this song, the strings swell, which the LS50 Metas convey perfectly, as if the whole orchestra were in front of us. By the way, at the moment we were listening with a Hegel Röst as an amplifier, with an Auralic network transport on the USB B port and Roon as a streaming source. It is a minimalist system that you can place inconspicuously in the living room and that still has enough punch to control the LS50s excellently. The SoundEngine2 of the Röst also has no problems with putting down a super tight performance ‘Tron Legacy (End Titles)’ by Daft Punk (although we would have liked the H190 as well, in our opinion an even better marriage). There is certainly nothing wrong with the low end of the LS50 Meta, because the percussion of Lizz Wrights ‘Barley’ also comes in with a lot of impact. It’s also nice how that voice of the American singer is in the room, while somewhere on the left in the room an acoustic guitar is being plucked. Do you really want ultra-low sub-basses, with more detail? Then there are interesting subwoofers at KEF that probably combine well with these little ones.
We also hang the LS50 Metas on the C 658 and C 298 set that is in the test room. Not a bad match for the KEFs either. The Hegel sounded just a bit fuller, but we don’t notice any really big differences. It remains to be seen how three-dimensional the LS50 Meta’s look. The water at Craig Armstrong’s ‘Weather Storm’ trickles gently into the background, just as if we actually have a leaking heating pipe. Anyway, just checked.
The strength of the LS50 Meta is undoubtedly that it builds a handsome expansive soundstage, but that would be nothing without the excellent reproduction of vocals. This combination produces a loudspeaker that suits a particular audience and situation, but which performs excellently.
Conclusion KEF LS50 Meta
The LS50 Meta remains something exceptional. At KEF, but actually also in the wider hi-fi world. It is not part of a larger speaker family and you cannot just slide it between the Q and R series of the British brand. This has partly to do with that rich history, but also because it is a real outside leg. The LS50 speakers also remain a separate choice for the Meta generation, which certain music lovers consciously choose. Clarity, coherence and naturalness are the strong cards that the new LS50 can throw at the table, with a tightness and detail rendering that is even better thanks to Meta material.
The LS50 Meta only confirms this unique position even more. It is and remains a leading loudspeaker that performs extremely well despite a modest size and reasonable price tag. You don’t just get that good performance as a gift, you have to do the necessary in terms of reinforcement to get the most out of it. But it is absolutely worth it. A must for the real music lover.
Positives of KEF LS50 Meta
- Also great for near-field listening
- Very mature bass reproduction
- Flowing lines and modern design
- Wide horizontal appearance
- Amazing mid and high integration
Negatives of KEF LS50 Meta
- Better amplifier remains a must