KEF LS50 Loudspeaker

Star Power

Equipment report
KEF LS50 Loudspeaker

Sonically the LS50 doesn’t suggest the lighter, faster, and edgier personality of the average compact with a five-incher for a driver. This is an essentially neutral monitor throughout the mid-range. But there’s also a prevailing sweet- ness, a harmonic saturation that lends it a dark, velvety overall character, and a bloom that is so pleasing that I began affectionately dubbing it the butterscotch sundae of small monitors.

When listening to a variety of symphonic music I noted image focus was excellent, as I’d expected from a coincident driver. But it’s not hyper-focused. It provides a more spacious, open, and, in my view, authentic representation of an orchestra. Yes, the LS50 has quick transient reflexes, but that is not what grabbed my attention. Rather, it was its bloom and tonal weight. Heavens to Betsy, this little speaker has guts. As I listened to the Rutter Requiem [Reference Recordings], overflowing with the huge Turtle Creek Chorale and the massive voice of the pipe organ, the LS50 supplied a rich impression of large-speaker grandeur (although somewhat scaled back) as it energized the room with ambience and provided the illusion of the walls fading away as the musicians begin to materialize.

The mid- and upper-treble range is smooth; the sibilance region is controlled— crisp and clean, but with compliance. As I listened to the Bryn Terfel and Renée Fleming duet on “Not While I’m Around” from Under the Stars [Decca], I felt the physical presence of these superb singers, their voices seamlessly expressed. Their images were pitched slightly forward, but only enough to grab your attention and not enough to overwhelm or minimize the musical accompaniment. There is probably a hint of energy fall-off in the presence range, which, when combined with the heavier low end, adds a darker hue to vocals and ever so slightly rounds the edges from peakier recordings. As I listened to Leonard Cohen’s “Darkness” from Old Ideas [Sony], I keyed on Cohen’s voice, whose deep, tired, full-chested character seems dredged from the bottom of an old whisky bar- rel. Here it sounded even darker than usual, as if it had further sunk into his chest.

Ultimately, when pressed at higher volumes, the LS50 will give away some of the finer low-level details. I felt that during the Bach Toccata in C [RCA], Kissin’s piano sounded slightly dampened during high- pursuit lines.

As Kissin’s left hand descended into the lower octaves there was a trace of soundboard plumminess that suggested the presence of a hard-working port. As with the Leonard Cohen example, the 12-string guitar that ushers in “All Things Must Pass” from Concert for George receded slightly in the mix, and during Jen Chapin’s ReVisions [Chesky] baritone sax and acoustic bass shed some weight and developed a more strictly midband character.

The heretic in me should add that owing to the wide dynamic and spectral envelope of the LS50, it’s a very satisfying companion when pressed into home-theater mode. I tend to break in speakers with all kinds of material, so if there’s a Blu-ray movie I’ve been angling to watch, whatever speaker I happen to be running-in will be pressed into duty. In this case, the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, which features Benjamin

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