Review: KEF LS50 Wireless II- The LS50 Wireless from 2016 turned out to be a masterstroke by KEF. Added value seekers who did not find what they wanted at Sonos and co, discovered a lot of musical talent with this all-in-one speaker system. The new Wireless II now improves the recipe in several areas. A new app, more streaming options and a better sound seem to provide a new hit in the making.
KEF LS50 Wireless II
A while ago we looked at the passive one LS50 Meta, the updated version of the very popular LS50 speakers that you combine with a separate amplifier. It also makes sense for KEF to simultaneously release an update for the LS50 Wireless, the active version. After all, it was based on the passive LS50. If one gets an update, the other should be scrutinized too, right? KEF could have made the same technical improvements with the metamaterial and then thrown in the towel. But the company with British roots has not done that. On the contrary, the LS50 Wireless has taken an immense leap in functionality. By adding an HDMI port, AirPlay 2, Chromecast and embedded streaming services via a new app, KEF has almost completely reinvented its wireless LS50 and new usage scenarios are possible.
With a price tag of 2,499 euros, the LS50 Wireless II is of course not a cheap solution, although at the same time you should avoid the comparison with a set of Sonos speakers and rather compare this KEF with the release for a full hi-fi system.
|What||Active speakers with built-in streaming|
|Inputs||HDMI-ARC, optical, coaxial, aux|
|Streaming||Bluetooth, Chromecast, AirPlay 2, DNLA, own app, Roon (soon)|
|Power||760 Watt (2 x class D 280 Watt + 2 x class AB 100 Watt)|
|DAC||384 kHz / 24-bit, DSD256|
|Dimensions||30.5 x 20 x 31.1 cm, 10 kg (per speaker)|
Not different, but better
Quite a bit has changed with the LS50 Wireless II, but the basic concept has remained the same as with the first generation. In the box you will find two identical speakers, with the characteristic Uni-Q driver mounted in the middle. The Wireless II is available in a number of new colors, such as an attention-grabbing blood red. The Uni-Q driver is always in a matching color: black for the red version, red for the gray version, copper-colored for the matte black and white editions. There are also matching stands.
They are quite robust speakers, a bit deeper than the passive LS50 Metas we see previously viewed. That is not surprising, because every LS50 Wireless II naturally includes a power supply and amplification section. The design makes the speakers seem softer and smaller than they really are. The convex front and the rounded corners, together with the matte colors, make the LS50 Wireless II a subtle presence in your living room.
And two separate speakers in the box? Yes, because this is a real stereo system. One speaker takes care of the right channel, the other the left. Via the new app you can set which speaker takes up which role, which can be useful for cable management. Speaking of cables: each speaker has its own power cord, a cable between the two speakers is optional. You do it if you want to experience higher hi-res than 96 kHz / 24-bit or want to play it safe in a busy wireless environment, but the connection can be completely wireless. For our tests, we did without it.
The LS50 Wireless II speakers look identical from the front, but there is a difference at the back. On one of the two you will find all the physical connections, including the HDMI connection that you use to connect the KEFs to your TV. Optical, coaxial and an auxiliary input (for example for a turntable with built-in phono amplifier) complete the list. Here you will also find a button for Bluetooth pairing and for connecting the speakers wirelessly. The placement of all connections on the speaker itself instead of on a hub (such as with Dali or Dynaudio) has its advantages and disadvantages. A hub can be a little easier in terms of cable integration, but it does mean an extra device and an extra wireless connection. It ultimately depends on your situation which is the most convenient.
More streaming than ever
That there are so many physical entrances is a plus. The HDMI certainly makes the new KEFs just a bit more universally applicable than the previous version – and a lot of rivals. This makes the speakers not only reproducers for your music, but also for TV sound. But equally important is the big step that KEF has taken in the field of streaming. Installing Chromecast and AirPlay 2 actually gives you the option to play almost any streaming service on the LS50 Wireless II. AirPlay 2 is even more flexible, since you can use it to wirelessly send the soundtrack of a movie that you play via an Apple TV 4K on a large screen to the KEFs. Chromecast and AirPlay 2 also bring multi-room capabilities to these speakers, so you can sync the same song on the LS50 Wireless IIs in the living room and on a Sonos speaker in the kitchen.
With those two streaming technologies you actually have enough, but KEF nevertheless developed a new app in which certain services (Deezer, Qobuz and Tidal, among others), plus internet radio, are integrated. The many Spotify fans simply see the KEFs appear as a speaker in the Spotify app.
Who wants to take it more old-school: the LS50 Wireless II speakers are DLNA / UPnP compatible. So you can safely use an app like BubbleUPnP or Mconnect to play your own files or certain cloud services. Finally, there is Bluetooth, an easy but not lossless way to stream from a mobile device.
And Roon? The LS50 Wireless II will appear in Roon, but is not yet certified. Until that is all right (“Any day now”, it says), you have to stream losslessly in CD quality from the music software via AirPlay or Chromecast.
Even if you are going to stream entirely via AirPlay or Chromecast, installing the new KEF Connect app is recommended. You will find a lot of handy settings to tune the sound for your room, adjust the balance (which is useful if you place the speakers asymmetrically around your TV screen) and more. The app can be used to switch between inputs, but the compact remote that KEF provides is a bit more practical in that area. Those nice controls on the top of one of the speakers? We think you will rarely use them.
In the review of the passive LS50 Meta, we already referred to the metamaterial with which KEF turns out big. The manufacturer calls this a major breakthrough, because this material makes it possible to dampen very specifically and thus eliminate unwanted noise. These types of noise or resonances cause a certain amount of distortion, both in the frequency domain (things sound wrong) and the time domain (the music loses its tightness and rhythm). Manufacturers combat this problem in various ways, including by making speaker cabinets vibration-free. KEF does that too – the LS50 Wireless II is very solidly built – but also zooms in on the internal structure of the tweeter. It is here that the metamaterial has been applied.
KEF applies the metamaterial in an updated form of the Uni-Q driver in the LS50 Wireless II, making the tweeter play even more cleanly than before. The Uni-Q driver is of course one of KEF’s great assets. You will find it with almost all speakers of the brand. But what’s so special about it? Uni-Q driver is a coaxial driver, which means that the tweeter for the high tones and the midrange woofer that provides the middle and low tones are merged into one whole. So it looks like there is only one speaker, but actually there are two. Just look at the photos of the LS50 Wireless II: the tweeter is in the middle, covered with a waveguide that is somewhat reminiscent of the quarters of an orange.
The midrange woofer is around it and is completely decoupled. It is obvious that such a coaxial driver takes up less space and thus makes more compact speakers possible. But a coaxial driver – and the Uni-Q drivers in particular – is very interesting to us because they (almost) work as a point source. All tones and sounds of instruments seem to come from one central point, instead of being distributed over multiple drivers. It is something that you will certainly notice if you listen a little closer, we think. This coherence in the music is noticeable when we put on more intimate classical work, such as the modest ‘Nightfall’ in which the Japanese-German pianist Alice Sarah Ott is behind the keys and plays a number of works that bring you to rest completely. It is literally music to dream away, like Gnossienne No.1 by Satie, which works well because you really get the impression that the piano is playing in the room. Also in ‘Foscarini’s Groove’ the theorbo (a kind of lute) that provides the accompaniment for a playful violin sounds very realistic and pure. It’s one of the best performance active speakers from this segment we’ve ever heard. That delicacy and ‘natural’ doesn’t mean the LS50 Wireless II falls short of modern genres. The tightness and layer extension are just as much to make Daft Punk’s ‘Revolution 909’ excellent. What we mainly hear is that despite a lot of high-tech and DSPs that are included in the speaker, the LS50 Wireless II really sounds like a KEF.
Real option for TV sound
We set up the active KEFs in our living room, paired with an LG OLED55C9 TV and relatively close to the wall. The collaboration with television immediately went smoothly. The LG immediately recognized the LS50 Wireless II speakers, connected via HDMI-ARC. You have to bring the audio output on the TV to car or PCM, because like most stereo solutions, the KEFs do not process surround formats. When we switch on the television, the speakers switch on and we can adjust the volume via the TV remote control. That is a lot more comfortable than with the previous version, which you could only connect to your television via optical cable. Via Disney +, we take a look at some key scenes from the recent Star Wars episodes, including the fight between Rey and Kylo Ren, surrounded by the debris of the Death Star and lots of water. The relative brightness of the LS50 Wireless II makes dialogs easy to understand, although you have to make sure that you place the speakers correctly in relation to your screen. Choosing stands that bring the Uni-Q driver to ear height is recommended. The fact that these KEFs are also musically strong, ensures that they convey a lot of emotion and tension in films like this one. It’s not surround, but it’s better than most sound bars.
Although the LS50 Wireless II can be combined with a wired subwoofer, the speakers in our room already weighed in enough to set the Star Wars scene mightily. They can sometimes even come across in terms of low. That is why it is certainly worthwhile to dive into the app and adjust the bass extension to the situation at the EQ Settings. Less is recommended if you place them very close to a wall.
KEF LS50 Wireless II- Conclusion
The LS50 Wireless II continues to be one of the best wireless speaker systems on the market in its second generation in audio quality. A natural, room-filling presentation is coupled with a real stereo reproduction, at such a level that even with passive speakers and accompanying amplifier and source you can hardly match it. Still for the same price.
KEF has also made the original Wireless concept a lot better by adding HDMI-ARC and much better streaming options. If you are willing to make a little more budget, with the LS50 Wireless II you get a complete music system that offers high quality and remains quite interior-friendly.
Positives of KEF LS50 Wireless II
- All possible streaming options, now also multiroom
- Very good, natural sound reproduction
- Solid app with many options
- Modern looking premium design
- Replaces entire music system
Negatives of KEF LS50 Wireless II
- Still waiting for Roon
- Longer HDMI cable often required
- Higher price range