More and more audio manufacturers focus on active speakers, models with their own amplifier and often their own streaming options. KEF is one of these manufacturers and recently presented the KEF LSX. This active stereo pair is described as a truly all-in-one system with premium audio reproduction and simplicity in use.
What is the KEF LSX?
The KEF LSX is the smaller brother of LS50 Wireless. The smaller and cheaper system shares a large part of the acoustic engineering that made the LS50W so successful – including a version of KEF’s Uni-Q driver (4 inches), an innovation that improves the stereo image and enables a wide listening area
The LSX is a compact wireless music system with two loudspeakers that focuses on audio quality in addition to convenience. The set is completely wireless, both from the source and between the speakers, with AirPlay 2 (from January 2019) for multiroom capabilities. The compact LSX system can boast KEF’s Music Integrity Engine, a selection of custom-made algorithms for digital signal processing that ensure accurate time matching and phase coherence. On the inside we find 2 x 30Watt and 2 x 70Watt class D amplifiers. The EQ settings can be adjusted via the KEF Control app.
In terms of services there is support for Apple Music, Spotify Connect and TIDAL, and via DLNA access to the music is stored on a network server or PC. In addition, there is Bluetooth 4.2 available for streaming music. If you want to connect a physical component or a TV, you can use the toslink optical input or the aux inputs. A USB port for a laptop or PC is missing, but that is the only downside.
KEF once again cooperated with a well-known designer for its appearance. This time, industrial designer Michael Young signed for the finish. The models in black, blue, maroon and olive green are covered with a luxury fabric from the Danish textile manufacturer Kvadrat, and there is a fifth version in glossy white. The LSX is on sale for a suggested retail price of 1.199 euro per pair.
Unique and sleek design
The very first thing that strikes you when we get the LSX out of the box is the unique and sleek design. Rarely do we immediately fall for the appearance of a speaker, but in this case the spark immediately skipped. I am a big fan of dust and the color green makes it complete. Anyway, that does not have to apply to everyone and that is why it is good to know that there are several beautiful finishes available, including blue, brown, black and even white. So for any interior you would have an option.
The speakers have a sleek finish on the front, with the well-known and striking Uni-Q Driver. The color of the driver depends on the overall finish you choose, and in our case the driver is brown, which gives a nice contrast. First we also see a status led and the signature of Michael Young. The sides of the speakers are finished with Kvadrat fabric and that looks simple and very chic. Not too conspicuous but just perfectly fitting to the front, without visible seams.
The rear is the place that is not in sight but even there is nothing to be desired in terms of design. It just looks neat, and all connections and options are clearly labeled. We find here (on the master speaker) the ethernet port, the ethernet port for the slave (when wired connected), the ac connection, the tosklink connection, the 3.5mm port and the subwoofer output.
All in all, we can only get excited about the KEF LSX in terms of finish and design. It is a unique set, a set that you are only too happy to place in sight. And that’s easy because the speakers are nice and compact (240 x 155 x 180mm) and can be placed on a stand (not supplied) or on a table or cabinet. KEF also indicates that special stands and wall brackets for the LSX will soon be released.
Incidentally, the LSX comes with a small, black remote control. This does not represent much in terms of design or quality, but is a useful addition for when you do not have the smartphone at hand. Let him lie in the vicinity of the speakers because physical buttons we see on the speakers themselves not back.
Easy to install
If we encounter the term all-in-one then we assume that the installation and operation both have to be very simple. And that is fortunately also true in the case of the KEF LSX. The installation is a matter of downloading the KEF Control app, connecting the ac cables and the ethernet cable between the speakers, pressing a few buttons, linking to your WiFi network via the app and giving a name to the creature.
The LSX then appears directly in the Control app, where you also get an explanation of the most important functions. You can choose the source from the app but also adjust the equalizer. KEF itself provides a standard equalizer which, according to the manufacturer, almost always offers a good audio reproduction, but our advice is to get started with the settings ourselves in order to approach the optimal display for your room.
The app you start with is the KEF Control app. Here you can adjust the base and control the basic functions of the LSX. Switching on and off, changing the volume, muting the speakers, selecting the source and choosing, for example, to remove the cable between the master and slave and let them communicate wirelessly. The latter also ensures that the maximum quality of the audio signal is slightly deteriorated. The system can play hi-res files of up to 24-bit / 192kHz, but downsampled everything to 24-bit/48kHz if the speakers are wirelessly connected, or 24-bit/96kHz if you use the ethernet cable between them.
As far as the equalizer is concerned, you can choose the default ‘default’ setting, but as mentioned, we recommend that you work with the settings yourself. You simply create a new profile and indicate in this profile how the speakers are placed. On a stand or desk / table, the distance to the wall, the liveliness of the room, the size of the room and whether a subwoofer is connected. This is sufficient for the novice user to adjust the audio output to the placement and the room. Do you want to dive further into the settings then go to the tab ‘Expert’. Here you can adjust the ‘desk mode’ ‘wall mode’ individually, adjust treble, correct the stage, emphasize the low tones or emphasize less and adjust settings for a connected subwoofer.
For the real layman is to figure out exactly what the settings do with the sound, which might be a bit tricky at first but which is a good way to learn how you can influence the audio reproduction in a room by means of an equalizer. So it is a matter of time to play with the institutions, which here and there deserve a bit more explanation. Make especially different presets, especially if you want to use the compact speakers in multiple rooms. The app itself is clearly and structured, but we notice that the connection between the LSX and the app has sometimes disappeared spontaneously. Then it is a matter of restarting the app to restore connection.
There is, however, a second app; the KEF Stream app. This allows you to select and control the music sources from the network or streaming services. You use this app especially when you play music from Tidal or your own DLNA server. If you use Spotify, you will quickly end up in the Spotify app and choose the LSX here to play the music. If you use Apple Music, chances are you just use Apple’s AirPlay to stream directly to the LSX. It is a gateway to content, but especially for those who want to play music from their own server. The app is sleekly designed, works smoothly and offers a good overview of all your media.
From Spotify to AirPlay 2
I’ve mentioned them above, but a big plus of the LSX is that you actually already can play favorite music through different paths. You can already use Spotify (Connect), Apple Music, Tidal and your own media server, but next week Apple’s AirPlay 2 will also be added. Thanks to AirPlay 2 you can use the KEF LSX as part of a multiroom system. In addition, the system will soon receive support for Roon as well. If that is not an option then bluetooth 4.2 offers the solution. And the great thing is that you can also connect the LSX with other equipment; set the set next to your TV and use the optical input for the TV sound. In short, the possibilities are great, making it an all-in-one system.
The LSX system is operated by means of the Control app, an app from a third party (for example Spotify) or the included remote control. There are no buttons on the speakers themselves, but a big loss is not. It must be said that the remote does not always work smoothly, or at least; the communication between the remote and the speakers. For example, to change the volume, the volume button must be pressed very often and the steps are very small. A minuscule minus.
And how does it sound?
The KEF LSX is a lot smaller than its bigger brother, the LS50W, and also has a smaller driver (4.5-inch vs 5.25-inch) and less power ( 100 Watt versus 230 Watt), but that also results in a more attractive price tag of 1,199 euros. But, what about the sound quality? We are used to a lot of beauty from the Uni-Q Driver and the performance of the LS50W has raised our expectations. We tested the LSX separately, in our living room, and put it next to the LS50W.
As an all-in-one audio system for the living room, the LSX has not only convinced us in terms of design. The system also has a high profile in the field of audio performance. The LSX produces a detailed, warm and dynamic sound. Warm vocals are surrounded by subtle and clear details, which brings the music to life. Voice is emotion and this brings the LSX with verve forward.
The LSX also has a real sense of rhythm, with perfect timing, a transparent view but at the same time a warm and comfortable glow. The speakers put the right weight on important parts, offer a lot of variety and ensure a balanced and above all lively sound. Even if we set up more intense music with a large dynamic range, the LSX manages to keep control effortlessly. The system never gets heavy, and always the view remains tight and full of dynamics.
With a 4.5-inch driver you might not expect much of the low, but here too KEF shows everything under control and even go deep. The low tones are particularly tight and have a nice impact. Even when watching a movie on a somewhat higher volume feel the low tones well from the paint, and that while dialogues are not snowed under by audio effects or music. However, you can connect a loose sub for even more depth and impact, but chances are you’ll have a saturated feeling about the LSX’s performance.
The stereo image is not great, but the soundstage is wide and deep enough to display a piece of music vividly and with accurate placement. We are talking about a relatively small system, so we do not expect miracles, but looking at the price category in which the KEF LSX is located we can not name a few audio systems that offer more value for money.
LSX vs LS50W
Na a few days of enjoying music we went to colleague Jamie Biesemans, who still had his set LS50W’s and just like me was very curious about the performance of the LSX. Time to put the LSX in front of its 1,100 euro more expensive brother.
First of all the external differences – which stand out even more than on paper. The LSX is significantly smaller than the LS50W, even a lot. And also a lot lighter and less deep. The direct comparison gives the LSX an even more compact feeling and that makes me even more impressed by the performance. Personally, I am sorry that the LS50W is not in the finishes of the LSX, but that model has a great special edition and comes in other colors.
After having performed the installation and the equalizer to have the room adjusted, it is immediately time for a direct comparison. And the first reaction of fellow Jamie is immediately positive; he also did not expect the little LSX to sound so full and sparkling, especially in the vocals. The difference with the LS50W is not super big, and you might expect that.
Nevertheless, there is certainly a difference between the KEF LSX and the LS50W, and that difference is possibly decisive for the true hi-fi enthusiast. The LSX can keep up with the LS50W on normal volume, but as soon as we turn up the volume a bit further (especially with more complex tracks with many layers and instruments) the difference becomes clearer. The LSX begins to meet its limitations and has to make a choice here. The speakers focus on the high and mid tones, causing the low tones to sink slightly and the LSX gives a somewhat more closed and more compact sound image than the LS50W. The LS50W is still far from its max and continues to play open and tight, with controlled and deep low. We can also generally state that the LSX is slightly more closed than its more expensive brother. In the display of the LS50W there are more layers, the sound field is deeper and wider, and the placement in the room is slightly better. The LS50W also wins, logically, from the LSX in terms of the deep and tight layer reproduction.
Although there is absolutely a difference in quality between the LSX and LS50W, we were surprised that this difference is not particularly great . And that is a big compliment for the LSX. This set knows how to keep up with the acclaimed LS50W. And I think the LSX is very good in the average living room of its target group. If you miss that control in the lower level with a higher volume, then an external subwoofer is a solution. The LS50W is clear to the slightly more demanding user, the user who already has some experience with good hifi and always seeks maximum performance, without restrictions.
KEF has hit the nail with the LSX and possibly even a gap in the market. Stylish, compact speakers that you can place anywhere in the house, with which you can play all your favorite music and from which you can expect high-quality hi-fi sound. The KEF LSX is a user-friendly system, with finishing options that fit perfectly in any interior and an equalizer function that allows you to adjust the audio output to each room (and taste). In addition to access to the most important streaming services and your own media, you will soon be able to work with multiroom capabilities thanks to AirPlay 2. KEF has the most important functions and an important part of the LS50W’s performance in an even more compact and accessible system. build, and that makes the KEF LSX in its affordable price range the all-in-one hi-fi system ‘to beat’.