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.
First, the LSXes sounded great hooked up to a TV through the optical input. I hate having a million different remotes, but found that the control app came in handy in this instance, since my phone was always nearby. The LSXes looked fantastic sitting on top of my pair of Original Large Advents that flank either side of my little entertainment center. All cables were easily routed, and the setup just worked. I could stream from Spotify while eating breakfast, or listen to podcasts over aptX Bluetooth. The KEFs brought music to a space that’s traditionally filled by my crappy tinny phone speakers, and they made my TV sound fantastic.
Next up was the desktop. Right away I listened to an Elvis Costello Tidal Master stream from my Android phone into the LSX’s AUX input, and the sound was very solid. Mids were a bit muted, and the bass could be woolly when I cranked it up, but overall the KEFs sounded pleasant and hefty for such small speakers. I used the control app’s DSP functions to tweak the sound a bit and got it dialed in to my preference. The DSP app has some really in-depth settings, like treble trim, phase correction, bass extension, sub-out low-pass frequency adjustments, and more. After playing music, I did some gaming with the LSXes, which was a blast. Overwatch never sounded so big and bold and vibrant as through these speakers; they were even resolving enough to pick up distant footsteps. During my time with the LSXes, I kept coming back to this desktop positioning, and liked it second to my typical hi-fi spot.
Finally, we get to the traditional placement, and my favorite of the three. I have to admit this sounded the best to me, I think because I have my room fairly well dialed-in for this kind of listening. I did tweak the output again with the control app, but didn’t go crazy with it. I wanted something as reasonably neutral as I could get, without jacking up the upper and lower ends to compensate for my room’s size.
First up was The Weeknd’s debut album, House of Balloons. I listened to the remastered version that was re-released as part of the Trilogy compilation. The first thing that struck me was just how shockingly forceful and deep the bass sounded on the opening track, “High for This.” It’s a song that gets its power from a fantastic drop, especially when the second chorus starts up, and that impact feels almost necessary to the bleak nihilism of everything that comes after. The LSXes resolved the bass in satisfying, almost visceral thumps. The kickdrum was solid and encompassing, way more powerful-sounding than bass from little tiny speakers has any right to be.
Impact and ambiance are two necessary features of any speaker that wants to do House of Balloons justice. It’s a never-ending sprawl of dark odes to money, drugs, and strippers, and the ambiance of the album is central to its success. I found that the LSXes were more than up to the task of conveying those jet-black depths, and Abel Tesfaye’s near-falsetto sounded crisp and sharp in contrast to the thumping lows. The grinding guitars and synths were full-bodied in “Wicked Games,” though I felt the midrange could sound a bit veiled compared to my Zu Audio Omen Dirty Weekends, which isn’t exactly surprising. In terms of impact, though, I actually preferred the LSXes to the Omen DWs.
Next up, I turned to Beirut’s brand-new album, Gallipoli. The piano on “I Giardini” was mellow and even, although sometimes at odds with the deepest notes of the kickdrum. I found that the horns on “Gauze fur Zah” were never shrill, but even-tempered and smooth. Zach Condor’s voice on that same track had a very nice reverb, subtle but well resolved. And honestly, if there was ever an aspect of the LSXes that sounded lacking, the control app’s DSP function could probably tweak it in the right direction. I held off from this for my close listening, but during my background listening, I would tweak to my heart’s content.
One thing that I found never really needed tweaking was the LSXes’ soundstaging and imaging. It just threw up this big wall of sound, way bigger than such tiny speakers look capable of. On the track “Corfu,” my backwall felt like it was vibrating with sound. I could pinpoint where the woodblock snap in the latter half of the track was happening, both in depth and width. This was probably my favorite aspect of the LSXes’ sound, just the sheer physical size of the stage they created. I never felt like they were “small” speakers, even on tracks that beg for absolute monster sound.
Which brings me to my last bit of listening. I decided to end with The 1975’s new album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. It’s packed with pop-rock anthems, each song bigger, wilder, and more life-affirming than the next. If there was ever an album that begged for high volume and huge, room-wide soundstages, this was it. “Love It if We Made It” is an absolute banger of an anthem toward the beginning of the album. The LSX presented the huge drums and the even bigger, near-yelled lyrics in crushing strokes, while managing not to lose the almost delicate, shimmering synth that grounds the whole track. The drop in the latter half of the song was exuberant and exciting, and I honestly forgot I was listening to tiny speakers on rickety, inexpensive speaker stands. In contrast, the closing track, “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes),” features an almost gentle acoustic guitar in the beginning that sparkled with clarity and simplicity. And that’s the beauty of the KEF LSX. They have the sheer brute force necessary to get a dance party moving, but also the subtlety to resolve more typical “audiophile” recordings. I felt as at home listening to The 1975 or The Weeknd as I did listening to the beautifully recorded and produced Beirut tracks.
In the end, the KEF LSX is not going to replace traditional hi-fi rigs. It’s not going to make hardened, seasoned veterans of the hi-fi show circuit suddenly give up their ten-watt tube amps and worship at the altar of Spotify streaming. But it might convince some of them that good sound can come in new shapes and forms, that hi-fi doesn’t have to be limited to vast component systems and artisanal hand-crafted phono cartridges. I know I was convinced that bigger isn’t always better, that stacking more and more shiny metal boxes won’t necessarily get me closer to what I want.
What I want is fun and good music. That’s what the LSXes provide. Sure, the apps aren’t great, but that’s far from a deal-breaker. The LSXes sound fantastic; they’re simple and easy to set up; they’re surprisingly versatile and portable; and they’re genuinely affordable. They aren’t the future of hi-fi, but they’re definitely one of the futures. From now on, if a normal person in real life asks me how to get into this hobby, I’m going to recommend the LSXes or something like them. I think that more or less says it all.
Specs & Pricing
Drive units: Uni-Q Drive array, 0.75″ aluminum dome tweeter and 4.5″ magnesium/aluminum-alloy cone mid/bass
Frequency response: 54Hz–28kHz (variable through control app)
Maximum output: 102dB
Inputs: Dual-band Wi-Fi, aptX Bluetooth, TosLink optical, 3.5mm auxiliary, Ethernet
Input resolution: 24-bit/48kHz without Ethernet; 24-bit/192kHz with Ethernet
Dimensions: 9.5″ x 6.1″ x 7.1″
Weight: 7.9 lbs.
Price: $1099 per pair
GP ACOUSTICS (U.S.), INC.
10 Timber Lane
Marlboro, NJ 07746
By Drew Kalbach
I have a degree in English from Temple University and a Masters in Fine Arts with a specialty in poetry from the University of Notre Dame. I’m a full-time self-published author with over 100 books in both romance and men’s adventure fiction.More articles from this editor
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