Terence Conran is an English designer who founded the Habitat range of shops in the 1960s – think of it as the British Ikea, but without the meatballs in the middle or at the end, and better quality. Contemporary modern design but also with traditional influences. When firms link together like peas and carrots to market products in this way, it’s called co-branding. Everyone knows car and audio firms have this synergy. In building on the existing £1000 LSX range, price goes up to £1,150 for this Kvadrat fabric covered Terence Conran ‘Soundwave’ edition. I’ve never tried KEF LSX, but like the Englishness of Sir Terence and as the title avers, I ask ; “Is this the Best of British at the price?”
What’s in it for us?
So you want a one box convenience mini speaker solution – well two obviously!…a system that streams Tidal and/or Spotify, Bluetooths, AirPlays, plays music off network drives or computer drives, and has connections so you can add other analogue or digital sources? Well that’s what LSX does; the baby brother of KEF’s LS50W, developed from the LS50 50th anniversary passive speakers.
The wavey printed fabric design of the Soundwave version and bronze tan coloured face plates with contrasting coloured drivers are of high quality and really well made. Being careful not to mark them with your oily cooking fingers in COVID-19 time rich times, fitting into contemporary spaces is the key to this model.
And like most KEF designs, I spy with my little eye the Uni-Q concentric drivers – which ironically look like little eyes. The idea, without being austerely techie, is that having the high frequency driver in the middle of the surrounding bass and midrange driver, ensures the music hits you from the same point in space. This, KEF say, means better sound dispersion and realism with the frequencies making up the music being aligned better. KEF have been developing ongoing iterations of this technology since the 80s.
Inside each speaker, 70 watts of power is supplied to the combined bass/mid driver – *the iris* in my speak, and 30 watts to the high frequency tweeter – *the pupil*. But you get TWO amps in each speaker in a ‘dual mono’ configuration which means it’s not a stereo amp feeding the twin drivers, but separate amp modules are their for each driver. And because it is an active crossover system in the digital domain, LSX benefit in the use of Digital Signal Processing (DSP) to achieve control of audio output, with two DACs in each speaker for each driver. Storable and user assignable DSP sound profiles, allows tailoring to your room. Useful with rearward bass reflex ports to correct for any bass boom off walls.
I didn’t need to use either the master/slave connection button or the Bluetooth pairing button on the back of the master speaker, simply since such connections occurred automatically. The USB socket on the master speaker is not a USB slave input for pen drives, nor a USB 2.0 digital input. Unlike the multi-purpose function of car cigarette lighters of old, it’s simply a 5volt/2amp USB charging output for phones etc.
The amps are also Class D, no doubt because these speakers are in small enclosures and Class D runs cooler. You notice little vent holes at the top of the rear plastic covers too.
Each speaker can talk to the other via WiFi so there is no need for cables between them, or alternatively you can use the box supplied three metre Ethernet cable to hook them together and why? Well because it reputedly improves sonic performance. One of them is the master, which has all the buttons and input selections, and the other the slave. The master can talk to the network over WiFi or via the fixed Ethernet connection. But either way, using the KEF Stream App on the same network will show any computer hard drive music folders or network attached storage (NAS) drives – connectivity called UPnP (universal plug and play). There are no issues using WiFi for all your music needs – unlike some more expensive streamers I’ve used that stutter with Hi-res.
Each speaker has its own mains connection and helpfully the two metre power cables are long enough to facilitate connection to the mains wherever speakers are spaced. I used oak stands from HiFi racks, but you could also use KEF S1 floor stands, KEF wall brackets or mini ‘desk pad’ stands, available on the KEF website.
A budget style remote control is in the box which facilitates standby/on operation, changing volume, muting, and playing and selecting between tracks. You get this pleasing guitar jingle when turning LSX on or off, and you hear the output switches click in each speaker. Also the remote can change the input and the light on the master changes from white for streaming, blue for Bluetooth, purple for the Optical digital input (digital TV connectivity perhaps) and green for the Auxillary analogue input (3.5mm jack). You could connect a turntable with a 2 x RCA to 3.5mm cable into the AUX input, something like an AudioQuest Evergreen. Because this is an active speaker with an active digital crossover, before the audio is fed to the DAC it is converted to digital by a AD (Analogue to Digital) converter via the 3.5mm jack.
Set up / Connectivity
Set up is intuitively designed, but I initially had issues re-connecting after turning off my router- it’s next to a bed so I turn it off at night because of its bright light. Nothing to do with being paranoid about having my brain turned to mush in 20 years time by leaving WiFi on…The issue did resolve itself after a while weirdly… We all know PC peripherals and routers are often fickle so no extrapolations can be made to connectivity of other users networks here.
First you install the KEF Control App to set the speakers up, then the KEF Stream app where you can set up Spotify and/or Tidal streaming services. KEF Control also allows changing the different input selections too. Be sure to change the volume sensitivity of the remote because the default settings takes ages to appreciably change volume. If using UPnP, KEF Stream conventionally reflects the same album-artist tree structure as the media server on those drives.
I’m not saying this as some cliched reviewer pandering to a manufacturer – I can say what I like as no money is exchanged and 13thnote.net is an effort at credible reviewing too, but straight out, these speakers are terrific sounding for the money!!!
The thing that hits you with these speakers is that they have good even tonality that is neither overly smoothed or excessively sharp. It’s that type of sound we’ve come to expect of really good commercially priced audio. Good detail and dynamically astute, which gets you thinking why spend more….
My expensive system can beat your cheaper LSX speakers…..true maybe….. my Dad can beat up your Dad. Nah, nah, nah. For all that type of playground talk, the comparative here is Mike Tyson taking on Frank Bruno, both heavyweights in their own right. It is far from Tyson squaring up to your Dad as comparisons go to diminishing returns on some much pricier HiFi. You’ve got to love this type of HiFi on that score. Also, the more and more you listen to Active crossover speakers, the more you realise how stellar they are against passive designs. Take the original LS50 passive, make it smaller and active and it’s hardly surprising LSX performs so well.
And the positive dispersive qualities from these diminutive boxes is another stand out trait. They clearly have some limit on how astute they can be dynamically in their on / off nature with music against much pricier HiFi and with detail too. But at the price it’s nothing to scoff at – extremely far from it. That’s one ‘take out’ of this review that surprised me so much.
There is an impression they are trying to go down low on bass even with DSP room profiles set appropriately. LSX are not quite as dynamically intonated as the LS50W I’ve heard. But hey, making comparables to pricier speakers ain’t no criticism.
Against some similarly priced Totem KIN Play speakers with a £30 Google Chromecast Audio, these KEFs don’t quite have the depth in bass extension with their smaller drivers, nor the incisiveness in treble of the Totem’s, if that’s your thing. But the KEFs make up in dispersion *for their size* and even tonality, the latter of which could be argued is more important. Also there is built in streaming and smaller form factor convenience.
The Totem’s are a bit like choosing a whiskey with a distinct taste – Laphroaig perhaps; might not be to everyone’s taste, whereas KEF LSX fit into a blended smoother balanced approach. I hope that analogy didn’t sound too pretentiousness, but the KEFs have an altogether more neutral mid range, and treble that is not as brittle to the Totem’s. An easier listen that I think will appeal more. I had to add a different DAC (RME ADI-2 DAC FS and my Innuos Zenith) to get anywhere near the same quality as these KEFs, albeit the different presentation.
They certainly sound better than alternate solutions like a Naim Muso 2**, which is not hard for all their inherent sonic qualities, and ability to image as a two box solution. This basically means I’d always advocate speakers such as these KEFs beyond one box solutions, and I’ve yet to hear a one box that is better. In fact my Dad wants a new HiFi set up and these are the speakers I’ll be recommending – a considerable improvement on his Bose ‘one box’.
You notice the sonic difference streaming Tidal compared to AirPlay’ing music to these KEFs; I found they are more than good enough to hear a difference.
But even though these speakers come with a £1,150 price tag, which is a big price in normal terms, and considering Audiophiles can spend lots more, you still don’t want to be using Bluetooth with LSX for anything other than quick convenience. Much flatter sound is had on ‘blue light’, so get a near CD quality Tidal subscription quick smart, as these speakers will quite conceivably help you to a journey of further ‘Audiophilia’. They are that good.
Using the Ethernet cable to connect master and slave supports 96kHz/24bit streaming and in wireless mode, 48kHz/24bit. If you don’t know what this means, for an explanation see here. For all intents and purposes it’s unlikely to mean that much sonically for most streaming quality uses, with mainstay CD music at 44.1kHz/16bit. But the thing is when toggling the cable mode slider to on in KEF Control, soundstage does open up and so does a consequent impression of dynamics. You can be forgiven for thinking that you don’t need to set this, if you use the wired connection as it would surely be automatic? But, yes, it is a setting all present and correct so be sure to find it!
It is noted that other reviews have said the same about wired connection and I can confirm this. I did ask KEF why and their attitude was it should sound the same. It definitely wasn’t something I was umming and arring over, to the extent bias might have been involved and toggling the switch allows instant sonic plaudits.
You do get a sense that as you turn them up to highest volume levels, they struggle a little to convey everything they might at more normal levels – small drivers have a limit in physics. To be frank though this is only an issue if you are maybe a techno junkie and want loud parties at home. For all reasonable listening these speakers are more than hard enough! That all said, I might contradict myself by saying you’ve got a subwoofer output too. So conceivably a moot point but I didn’t try with a sub as a somewhat HiFi ‘traditionalist’.
Considering how KEF’s LSX speakers perform, I feel like I want to assert confidently nothing can come close. Clearly that would be a big leap without hearing more of the competition, and in fairness to other brands too. But surely these speakers would be one of the best at the price!
The Best or British for your money – very possibly yes. 13th Note performers easily and very recommended.
Watch the film too?….
Or an article about my factory tour instead here
- Available in: Maroon, Blue, Gloss White, Black and Olive, ‘Soundwave’ (Terence Conran) Special edition
- 2 x 30W + 2 x 70W Class D amplifiers (dual mono)
- 48kHz/24bit WiFi; optional wired connection supports 96kHz/24bit transmission
- 4″ Uni-Q driver
- Apple AirPlay 2
- Spotify Connect
- Tidal Music (via KEF Stream app)
- Dedicated apps for iOS and Android
- Bluetooth 4.2 with Qualcomm aptX codec
- KEF’s dedicated time correcting Music Integrity Engine™
- Adjustable EQ settings via KEF Control App
- Supports source files up to 192kHz/24bit
- 2.4GHz/5GHz Dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity (DLNA/uPNP)
- Optical input (TOSLINK)
- 3.5mm AUX input
- Subwoofer output
- Mounting insert for supporting wall-mount
- Supports 3rd party programmable remote controls
- KEF LSX (standard) : $1249 / €1200 / £1000
- KEF LSX (Soundwave Terence Conran edition) : £1150 / €1350 (not available in the US)
- S1 Floor Stands : $349 / €329 / £300
- B1 Wall Bracket : $229 / €199 / £180
- P1 Desk Pad : $179 / €149 / £135
Website : https://uk.kef.com
Contact (on website) : https://uk.kef.com/pages/contact-us
KEF LSX into IsoTek Aquarius Power Conditioner (high current outputs) , Innuos Zenith Mk2 with Roon over AirPlay.
**not tested at home – but my experiences of hearing the product outside home testing environment.