I’ve always liked variety and difference, and hi-fi has both in spades. In this hobby, there isn’t one right answer, one perfect system for everyone. There’s a huge array of different sizes, shapes, and sounds, and they’re all equally good, at least in that they aren’t the be-alls/end-alls. The KEF LSX ($1099) wireless streaming speaker system may be unconventional, but it’s another path to great sound, one that’s accessible to absolutely everyone, especially people who don’t want to wade through pages of hi-fi forum snark in order to learn about this stuff.
The LSX looks and functions a lot like KEF’s insanely popular LS50 wireless. However, the LSXes are only about nine pounds each and nine-and-a-half inches tall, which means they’re a lot smaller than the LS50. They are built around a 4.5" version of KEF’s Uni-Q concentric driver, which positions the tweeter inside the mid/woofer cone. The black LSXes I received are beautiful objects, genuinely centerpiece-quality stuff, with this tactile fabric wrap around the main body that feels nice to the touch and looks fantastic. This, folks, is good design, both functional and gorgeous. I showed them to every single person that came through my house, even the ones who don’t care at all about speakers, and almost everyone commented on the fabric. It’s just cool—plain, and simple.
Each LSX is powered by a 70W Class D amp for the mid/bass driver and a 30W amp for the tweeter. The total system power for the pair is a substantial 200W. Unlike some wireless speakers, the LSX is sold in pairs for the best stereo reproduction. The inputs are simple: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi streaming, one optical connection, and a 3.5mm analog AUX port. There’s also a sub-out for an extra hit of bass (although I never once felt like that was necessary), an Ethernet port for wired Internet, and a USB port. That’s it, barebones and simple, yet the simplicity masks the flexibility. The LSX decodes digital sources and streams reliably and effortlessly. Just about any streaming or digital source will work with these basic inputs, and the only functions I missed were AirPlay and Chromecast. KEF says that AirPlay 2 is coming soon, but it wasn’t available at the time of this review. Hopefully, KEF will add Chromecast too.
Setup is simple: Unbox the speakers and plug them in. After that, you use the KEF control app to get online, then you’re good to go. The two speakers connect to each other seamlessly and wirelessly. There’s no need to tether them together with the supplied Ethernet cable, although that cable will bump resolution from 24-bit/48kHz up to 24-bit/192kHz. I had them plugged in and streaming Spotify within ten minutes. The whole thing was so simple I actually thought I’d done something wrong, but no, it really was that easy.
Since these are digital-forward, Wi-Fi-connected speakers, a lot of their functionality is contained in its two apps, and it makes sense to spend a little time learning about them. The control app deals with volume, inputs, and DSP tweaks, while the stream app deals with Tidal, Spotify, and local media-server streaming. There is a physical remote, and I found myself using that the majority of the time to control volume and input. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a hardware-centered company with a genuinely good proprietary app, let alone two of them. As expected, these apps aren’t pure greatness. The control app is slow, ugly, and wonky at best, although it does function. The stream app also works, but that’s about as much as I can say about it. I basically tested streaming, made sure it did what it was supposed to, but gave up on it almost instantly. Native Tidal streaming forces you to use the stream app, and I found myself plugging my Chromecast Audio in through the optical port to get around that limitation. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but something to be aware of. Also, I have no clue why there are two apps instead of one, but again, not the end of the world. My final verdict on both the connect and stream apps is this: They’re ugly and wonky but they work. Hopefully KEF will support the LSX for years to come and improve app design and functionality down the road.
So normally, with traditional hi-fi gear, I stick the component into my system and I leave it there during my review. I get speakers dialed in as much as possible, but mostly they stay in one spot. But the LSX begs to be demo’d in a few different spots, which is exactly what I did: in my living room next to my TV, on my desktop, and on stands in my hi-fi listening space. All of my listening notes are going to come from my listening to the speakers on stands in my traditional hi-fi setup without the Ethernet tether, which means the output was limited to 24-bit/48kHz, but I do want to briefly touch on the other two loudspeaker positions.