KEF

Affordable to High-End speakers with KEF's own unique features & drivers
Our brand promise is 'Innovators in Sound'. This is a summation of our company direction as well as our whole work ethic and the underlying culture at KEF.

The company was founded in 1961 by Raymond Cooke OBE (1925 - 1995) and was initially headquartered in a Nissen Hut on the premises of Kent Engineering & Foundry (from where the name KEF is derived) - a metal-working company on the banks of the River Medway, near Maidstone in Kent. Cooke, an ex-BBC Electrical Engineer, was keen to experiment with new materials and technologies in order to create products with superior acoustic quality that could reproduce recordings as natural as the original performance. From the very beginning, the pioneering inventiveness of KEF loudspeakers was undeniable and now for several decades, audiophiles around the world have revered KEF for its innovative, high-performance loudspeakers.

NEW R-gen12 SERIES RELEASE:
KEF has unveiled its redesigned R Series that employs trickle-down design and tech developments usually found on the Kent-based company’s flagship Reference Series. With 1,043 individual changes to the revamped series, highlights include the latest generation of the company’s Uni-Q driver array – now in its 12th iteration – featuring Shadow Flare trim ring design for more transparent sound, smaller bass drivers with greater excursion and a sophisticated internal bracing system, all aimed at bringing higher levels of performance to the series. 

Focusing on the stereo models, all are three-way ported designs and the standmount has a 165mm bass driver partnered to a Uni-Q array with 125mm midrange and 25mm aluminium dome tweeter with sensitivity of 87dB at 8ohm. All three floorstanders use the same Uni-Q array, but the R5 has 2x 130mm bass drivers to the same electrical specification, while the R7 has 2x 165mm and the R11 employs 4x 165mm bass drivers and claim 88dB and 90dB into 8ohm respectively. 

  • 50 YEARS OF INNOVATION IN SOUND
  • Innovation is what sets KEF apart. It's why we were founded, and why we've always attracted some of the world's most gifted acoustic engineers.
  • The results are plain to see, in long lists of breakthroughs that no other manufacturer can match - and we have the patents and academic papers to prove it. Right from the start, we pioneered the use of synthetic materials for diaphragms and driver surrounds to maintain consistent sound quality across the frequency range. In the mid-sixties, we were the first to commercially exploit the stability of Bextrene as a cone material, with a range of drivers that found their way into many leading audiophile speakers.
  • A hugely important breakthrough came a few years later, when KEF became the first company to use computers in loudspeaker testing and design. Having led the industry in the digital analysis of speaker behaviour ever since, this unrivalled capability is what still underpins KEF's technological supremacy. Such pioneering work allowed us to match pairs of speakers to within half of a decibel, for near-perfect stereo reproduction. Ever since models like the 104A/B and 105 achieved worldwide acclaim in the seventies, KEF’s premium Reference Series has been synonymous with acoustic excellence.
  • The next decade saw the appearance of KEF's signature technology, the Uni-Q point source driver array. Using NASA-developed magnets ten times more powerful than conventional materials allowed us to engineer a tweeter small enough to mount at the acoustic centre of the bass unit voice coil so that both acted as one. The resulting wide dispersion characteristics meant that the previously elusive 'sweet spot' was no more.
  • With the advent of 5:1 home theatre recordings in the nineties, KEF was once again ahead of the game by applying the performance advantages of Uni-Q to the UK's first dedicated centre speaker, the Model 100. This was followed by a succession of radically inventive and visually distinctive sub-sat systems such as the KHT2005 ‘egg’, which is still regarded as iconic.
  • Other KEF firsts include the first motorised ceiling speaker and acoustic compliance enhancement technology, which achieves truly full-bodied bass performance from small enclosures. Today, our remarkable T series speakers deliver exemplary sound reproduction from wall-mountable enclosures less than an inch and a half thick.
  • It's a remarkable legacy that informs everything we do to this day. Innovation is a continuing process, not a destination – and KEF still leads the way.

Featured

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Featured

KF 14 SF R7
NZ$ 6,495.00 (incl. GST)
R7 FLOORSTANDING SPEAKER:The R7 is the mid-sized floorstanding member of the new R Series Featuring two 165mm (6.5 in.) hybrid aluminium bass drivers and a Uni-Q combining a 125mm (5 in.)...
Uni-QPlacing the tweeter in the acoustic centre of the midrange cone brings the acoustic ideal of a...
Have KEF gone and done it again?KEF a company with a history dating back over 50 years have really...
KF 15 SF R11
NZ$ 8,495.00 (incl. GST)
"I am loving these speakers. They sound like an improved version of the LS 50's (my favorite affordable speaker) with much greater dynamics, a sweeter midrange, and highs that are detailed but non...
Uni-QPlacing the tweeter in the acoustic centre of the midrange cone brings the acoustic ideal of a...

All Products

Book Shelf/Stand Mtg

KF 01 SS LSX
NZ$ 2,200.00 pr (incl. GST)
LSX comes with Apple AirPlay 2 which, from a simple screen tap or request to Siri, unlocks the world of multi-room audio. You can wirelessly stream all your favourite music apps...
Acoustic design with 4" Uni-Q driver; FEA designed cabinet with hidden heatsink KEF's dedicated...
Scaling something down proportionally to create a smaller replica may work for model villages and...
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg
KF 02 SS LS50P
NZ$ 1,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
Rarely the case in such a compact design, the LS50 monitor delivers a rich, multi-dimensional 'soundstage experience' that is out of all proportion to its size. Patent-pending acoustic designs,...
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg
KF 03 SS LS50W
SOLD
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 2,595.00 pr (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 2,995.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 400.00 (incl. GST)
What Hi-Fi? Awards 2018 winner. All the performance of a top traditional system in a smart "All-In-One" package...  VERDICTThese KEF Wirelesses are way more than just active versions of the...
Every Spot is Sweet - Uni-QGet a three-dimensional sound image wherever you sit, for a sweet spot...
When someone says the words ‘hi-fi system’, what do you think of?
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg
KF 06 SB LS50 WN
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 2,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 4,195.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 1,200.00 (incl. GST)
KEF has collaborated with the globally renowned design studio Marcel Wanders to produce a special Limited Edition speaker, the LS50 Wireless 'Nocturne' by Marcel Wanders. Its sensuous aesthetic...
Every Spot is Sweet - Uni-QGet a three-dimensional sound image wherever you sit, for a sweet spot...
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg
KF 12 SS R3
NZ$ 3,295.00 pr (incl. GST)
R3 - STAND MTG SPEAKERS:R3 redefines stand-mount performance. No surprise, as it shares the same drivers as the range-topping R11. A true three-way speaker, the 165mm (6.5 in.) bass driver pushes...
Uni-QPlacing the tweeter in the acoustic centre of the midrange cone brings the acoustic ideal of a...
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg

KF 05 SS STANDS
NZ$ 595.00 pr (incl. GST)
KEF Performance Speaker Stands For KEF Bookshelf Speakers. Colour Black. Sold As Pair.The KEF Performance Speaker Stand was created to offer the ideal look and placement for KEF Bookshelf Speakers....

KF 10 SC R2C
NZ$ 1,795.00 ea (incl. GST)
R2C CENTRE SPEAKERWithin a home theatre environment, the centre speaker is arguably the hardest working. It helps to drive the story by handling vocal duties and most of the on-screen action. With...
Uni-QPlacing the tweeter in the acoustic centre of the midrange cone brings the acoustic ideal of a...
KF 11 SS R8A
NZ$ 2,199.00 pr (incl. GST)
The R Series offers a choice of three floorstanding speakers, a stand mount for more compact spaces and accompanying matching theatre models. Each one offers the finest sound KEF has ever delivered...
Uni-QPlacing the tweeter in the acoustic centre of the midrange cone brings the acoustic ideal of a...

Floor Standing

KF 13 SF R5
NZ$ 4,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
R5 FLOORSTANDING SPEAKER:KEF engineers do not believe in compromise. The svelte styling of R5 contains the same Uni-Q as its bigger brothers, with a 125mm (5in.) midrange driver and 25mm (1 in.)...
Uni-QPlacing the tweeter in the acoustic centre of the midrange cone brings the acoustic ideal of a...
Floor Standing
KF 14 SF R7
NZ$ 6,495.00 pr (incl. GST)
R7 FLOORSTANDING SPEAKER:The R7 is the mid-sized floorstanding member of the new R Series Featuring two 165mm (6.5 in.) hybrid aluminium bass drivers and a Uni-Q combining a 125mm (5 in.)...
Uni-QPlacing the tweeter in the acoustic centre of the midrange cone brings the acoustic ideal of a...
Have KEF gone and done it again?KEF a company with a history dating back over 50 years have really...
Floor Standing
KF 15 SF R11
NZ$ 8,495.00 pr (incl. GST)
"I am loving these speakers. They sound like an improved version of the LS 50's (my favorite affordable speaker) with much greater dynamics, a sweeter midrange, and highs that are detailed but non...
Uni-QPlacing the tweeter in the acoustic centre of the midrange cone brings the acoustic ideal of a...
Floor Standing
KF 20 SF REF3
NZ$ 21,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
THE REFERENCE. It speaks for itself."A description was needed to convey the idea that every loudspeaker is subject to scrutiny at all stages of assembly, culminating in a final test comparison with a...
STANDARD COLOUR - Piano BlackAlso available in the following finishes:Rosewood @ $21,995/prWalnut...
Floor Standing
KF 21 SF REF5
NZ$ 28,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
THE REFERENCE. It speaks for itself. - "A description was needed to convey the idea that every loudspeaker is subject to scrutiny at all stages of assembly, culminating in a final test...
STANDARD COLOUR - Piano BlackAlso available in the following finishes:Rosewood @ $28,995/prWalnut...
Floor Standing
KF 30 SF BLADE2
NZ$ 34,995.01 pr (incl. GST)
Uncompromised InnovationLike the original BLADE, BLADE TWO is based on the advanced materials and innovative technologies KEF developed to replicate the shattering performance of the prototype, and...
Single Apparent SourceLike listening to one voice rather than many, sound from a single source is...
EXTENDED REVIEW: The story's been often told: 30 years ago, British speaker manufacturer KEF was...
BEST of the BEST - KEF Blade Loudspeaker
Floor Standing
KF 32 SF BLADE1
NZ$ 44,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
BLADE & BLADE TWOWith all of BLADE's acoustic prowess and iconic design on a slightly smaller scale, BLADE TWO is easier to position where space is at a premium, and where BLADE's extreme bass...
Floor Standing

Sub Woofers

KF 17SF R400
NZ$ 2,555.00 ea (incl. GST)
"The KEF R400b subwoofer’s agility and musicality should nicely complement the sound of high-quality speaker systems, and its modern look and small size will easily blend with the furnishings of...
Sub Woofers

Reviews

Indeed, the LSX is a scaled-down, carefully crafted copycat of its sibling, and for that is just as triumphant.Take heed, rival systems, these miniature marvels are going to take some beating.

SCORES
     Sound 5/5
     Features 5/5
     Build 5/5

OUR VERDICT

A neat, compact and entertaining all-in-one system of rare sonic quality

FOR
     Class-leading insight
     Extensive connectivity
     Neat, colourful design
AGAINST
     Some app snags

Scaling something down proportionally to create a smaller replica may work for model villages and food recipes, but in speaker design the rules aren’t quite as simple.

KEF has shrunk its multi-Award-winning LS50 Wireless streaming system down to make a miniature, version, the KEF LSX.

The LSX shares its successful sibling’s blueprint as an all-in-one hi-fi system: a network streamer, Bluetooth receiver and amplification within a pair of compact stereo speakers.

But creating the LSX isn’t just a case of simply miniaturising everything in the LS50 Wireless’ anatomy and cutting the price in half. In addition to the smaller cabinets, smaller Uni-Q driver arrays and smaller, 200W amplification, some changes have been made to cater for the price and size reduction.

Rather than combining a Class A/B circuit (to feed the tweeter) with a Class D module (to power the mid/bass unit) as the LS50 Wireless does, the LSX’s amplification is purely Class D. Such a design is compact as well as being more power efficient. This reduces the need for large, bulky heatsinks and means KEF can keep the plastic cabinets (which used to be MDF on the LS50) as small as possible.

The LSX system loses a couple of its bigger sibling’s connections: USB Type B (for computer and laptop hook-ups) and RCAs for connecting legacy hi-fi kit. But KEF has evolved its stereo speaker system concept on the LSX. Since the LS50 Wireless was launched last year, the company has developed its proprietary, wireless inter-speaker connection so, unlike that set-up, the LSX system doesn’t require an ethernet cable to connect the two speakers.

The system can play hi-res files all the way up to 24-bit/192kHz, but will downsample to either 24-bit/48kHz if the speakers are connected to each other wirelessly or 24-bit/96kHz if you do decide to run the supplied ethernet cable between them.

Build

The LSX’s ‘miniature’ description isn’t just relative to its larger sibling. Each speaker is smaller than any passive stereo speaker we can recall testing, bookshelf-friendly and easily transported to another room.

The smaller proportions may make them less of an eyeful than their sibling, but they’re no less bold. The LSX speakers see the return of KEF’s distinct-looking Uni-Q driver array, in which a 19mm aluminium dome tweeter sits in the centre of a 10cm magnesium/aluminium mid/bass cone. And this time the cabinets are, bar the curved baffles, wrapped in an attractive woven fabric.

KEF has been involved in many design collaborations over the years – including the ‘Nocturne by Marcel Wanders’ edition of the LS50 Wireless, the multi-coloured KEF Muos by Ross Lovegrave, and KEF’s Porsche Design Space One headphones. For the LSX system, KEF has had a helping hand from British designer Michael Young, whose signature is subtly printed on the olive green (with gold cone and red tweeter) version.

You can also opt for red with red cone and silver tweeter, blue with blue cone and silver tweeter or black with silver cone and red tweeter variants. There’s also a fabric-less glossy white version with a silver cone and red tweeter.

Features

The LSX has many sources you’ll want to make use of. Over ethernet or 2.4GHz/5GHz wi-fi, users can stream networked music via DLNA or from Tidal – all from within the KEF Stream app. Spotify Connect and aptX Bluetooth are due to be joined by Apple AirPlay 2 over the coming months.

While the LSX’s master speaker overlooks its sibling’s legacy RCA and USB type-B connections, its optical and 3.5mm aux inputs provide means to connect TVs and portable devices, while a subwoofer output offers the opportunity to add more bass to the system.

You can always add a bit more bass by tweaking the balance in the system's EQ settings, which can be found in KEF’s Control app. The app is also used to get the LSX on your network, apply room settings, perform firmware updates and switch sources. The latter can also be performed via the supplied remote – as can volume adjustment – but the LSX lacks the on-speaker touch controls of its sibling.

We’ve mentioned two KEF apps (Stream and Control) in this review, because there are separate apps; one for set-up and control, and another for navigating network streaming. It feels unnecessary given how some rivals manage to integrate everything in one app, but at least you can easily switch between the two without having to open and close them.

Our biggest grumble is the Stream app has a tendency to trip up during playback from Tidal. It’s not the end of the world, but the occasional dropout and delay stops it being a completely satisfactory user experience. Thankfully no such problems occur when we stream from our media server, although the interface does have a simplistic list view, rather than a grid view for browsing music libraries.

Sound

KEF is pitching the LSX as equally competitive for its price category as the LS50 Wireless is. We only need to hear the serene drum beat and guitar plucking duo of Nick Cave’s Jubilee Street to know that these KEFs do, to borrow lyrics from the song, “practice what they preach”. From the poised delivery of his first stanza, the LSX are clearly sonic descendants of the expressive, tonally-even and rhythmically astute LS50 Wireless.

The audible assortment of guitar notes, along with the varied emphasis upon each, is credit to the LSX’s transparency, not only in the amount of detail it digs up but also the dynamic discretion it delivers. The placement of the crystal-clear vocal is given no less consideration than the bells that come in subtly beside it.

Warren Ellis’s violin entrance pushes the soundstage’s ceiling and inflates the presentation, while denser electrics and choral accompaniments busy the soundstage but don’t overwhelm the LSX, which appears as comfortable in revealing layers as an expert trifle maker.

Timing is of the essence with any piece of hi-fi kit and, no doubt thanks in part to KEF’s trademark-pending ‘Music Integrity Engine’ digital signal processing, which works to ensure accurate time alignment and phase coherence, the LSX has an assured approach to rhythms.

We switch to Olafur Arnalds’ Ljósið, and the LSX really engages us. Smooth and bodied enough to bring a sweet lushness to the piano-playing, but insightful enough to reveal the varying weight on the keys as well as the slight coarseness in the accompanying violin, its rendition easily carries us through the track’s duration.

While the LSX doesn’t offer the absolute last word in dynamic expression, it offers variation that isn’t bettered at this price point.

Despite the smaller mid/bass driver (10cm as opposed to 13cm) and cabinet volume, it shares its sibling’s relative talent for bass performance. Whether it’s punching out the potent beat opening to St Vincent’s Los Angeles or pushing along the tubby yet tuneful bassline in Mac Miller’s What’s the Use?, the LSX’s low frequency delivery is consistently taut, agile and lucid.

With Tidal streams, the LSX remains cohesive without feeling condensed. Play Shame’s The Lick and the building swamp of electrics underneath thickens the presentation’s consistency but doesn’t drown out its clarity or that of the singer’s deliberately prolonged pronunciation.

The LSX doesn’t defy the scientific logic of smaller drivers and boxes equalling smaller sound, but that doesn’t feel like a shortcoming, especially considering its soundstage is more expansive than that of its closest rival, the Naim Mu-so.

The undulating synthwave that undertows Thom Yorke’s Has Ended (from the Suspiria remake) manages to be atmospheric and room-filling, although naturally the LS50 Wireless would be able to more impactfully mark the occasion with its greater power, scale and dynamic reach.

Verdict

That, and the extra connectivity, keeps the LS50 Wireless very much relevant in KEF’s streaming system offering. But the presence of the LSX in the line-up feels almost as justified. Here, KEF has managed to squeeze much of its innovative system’s performance and feature set into a more modest stature, offering the convenience and versatility of the tried-and-tested package at a much more accessible price that is relatively budget for an all-in hi-fi system.

Indeed, the LSX is a scaled-down, carefully crafted copycat of its sibling, and for that is just as triumphant. Take heed, rival systems, these miniature marvels are going to take some beating.

Overall, these speakers have the insight to unravel a recording yet never go so far as to tear the music apart. They’re informative but always musical with it.

OUR VERDICT
These KEF Wirelesses are way more than just active versions of the award-winning LS50s. They’re a complete system wrapped in a neat and brilliant package

FOR
Impressive clarity and insight
Taut bass and strong dynamics
Features and excellent build
Neat package

AGAINST
Some small usability issues

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2018 winner. All the performance of a top traditional system in a smart package...

When someone says the words ‘hi-fi system’, what do you think of? If you’re anything like us, you’ve just pictured a combination of separates comprising source – maybe a streamerCD player or record player – an amplifier and a pair of speakers.

If we could go back 40 years and ask the same question, we suspect any enthusiast would have given a very similar answer - minus the digital sources, of course.

While hi-fi has certainly improved and been developed over the decades, on a fundamental level, arguably, it’s barely evolved at all.

Active speakers, while nothing new, could be a building block for an alternative solution.

On a purely technical level they have clear performance benefits, and they certainly reduce the box count. But many enthusiasts don’t like the lack of easy upgradability or the low perceived value - active speakers are, inevitably, always far more expensive than their passive relatives due to the cost of the power amplification inside. And, of course, a pair of active speakers only goes so far - you still need to add a preamp and a range of sources too.

But what if you didn’t need to add those extras? Imagine active speakers with preamp functionality; something that includes digital and analogue inputs.

Such a device would certainly need Bluetooth, and perhaps even streaming services such as Tidal built-in. You know what would also be nice? A streamer, so that any music stored on a NAS unit or computer connected to your home network could be replayed.

Such well-equipped active speakers would not only get rid of the clutter of traditional hi-fi but also, if done properly, could potentially deliver a performance broadly equivalent to a similarly priced separates rig.

The good news (as you may have guessed...) is that such a product does now exist: KEF’s LS50 Wireless.

Build

While we’ve reviewed powered and actives options from the likes of  Dynaudio, Dali and Meridian before, none of them has combined such a wide range of features in such an elegant two-box format.

Those that offer a range of inputs usually add an extra connection hub that transmits the signal wirelessly to the speakers. That’s not the case here. There are just the two fully active speaker boxes, arranged in a master and slave configuration. All sources connect to the right (master) speaker, which is then linked to the left by means of a supplied ethernet cable.

As is usually the case, 'wireless' doesn’t actually mean wireless. While these KEFs are better than most, you still have two mains leads – one for each speaker – and the connecting lead between them. Still, they remain a neater solution for getting high-quality sound into the home than traditional separates.

It will come as no surprise to any regular reader that the Award-winning passive LS50s are the basis for this design. The drive units remain unchanged.

These speakers use a Uni-Q array, where the 25mm aluminium dome tweeter sits in the centre of a 13cm magnesium/aluminium mid/bass cone.

This arrangement helps to produce an even dispersion of sound and improves integration between the two drivers. What looks like a grille in front of the tweeter is, in fact, a waveguide that improves its performance.

That beautifully built and finished enclosure is the same as the passive version too, bar a couple of centimetres of additional depth to accommodate the electronics and heatsinking. There are three cabinet options: the Titanium of our review samples, gloss black and gloss white. Each option comes with a contrasting colour on the Uni-Q driver array.

That curved front panel still looks unusual and is made of DMC (Dough Moulding Compound: a polyester resin combined with glass fibre and calcium carbonate). DMC was chosen for its inertness and ability to be shaped.

The rest of the enclosure is made from MDF. It’s heavily braced and strongly damped to minimise any resonances. We don’t tend to talk much about ports, but the one here is unusual in that it’s flexible in a bid to reduce distortion.

Features

These are true active speakers where each drive unit has a dedicated power amplifier. A 30W Class A/B circuit feeds the tweeter while a 200W Class D module powers the mid/bass unit.

The Class D design was chosen for its combination of high power and low heat output – heat generation is an important consideration in a product as crammed as this.

KEF has taken advantage of the internal DSP by phase correcting the crossover and using the software to allow the speakers to play loud and true while minimising distortion.

The digital signal path is 24-bit/192kHz capable and there’s a dedicated DAC for each drive unit. Only the optical input is limited to 96kHz signals, but that’s not unusual.

Take a look at the back of the right speaker and you’ll find stereo analogue, optical and USB Type B connectors. You’ll also find a subwoofer connection, in case you want to add more low frequency output, and an Ethernet socket for connecting to your network.

Normally we’d recommend sticking to the wired network option for greater stability but we used the twin-band (2.4gHz/5GHz) wireless option for most of our test without issue.

There are also controls for adjusting the sound for different speaker placements with options for close-to-wall or free space positioning as well as the choice between desk or stand supports. These choices can be made from the dedicated iOS/Android app too.

That app looks nice, is well laid out and easy to use. It controls the streaming (DLNA as well as Tidal) functionality and allows plenty of scope to fine-tune the speaker’s performance in a given environment. There is room for improvement, though. It’s a little glitchy and feels unresponsive at times.

We also don’t like the sliding volume control. It doesn’t change the volume until you lift your finger, so you don’t know how loud the sound is going to be until you hear it. It can shock on occasion.

It’s important to note that the app doesn’t switch between physical inputs, as it only operates the KEFs in streaming mode. To change input, you need to use the supplied remote or the touch controls on the master speaker.

This swapping around of controllers gets a little annoying if you switch sources a lot, particularly as the app has to reconnect with the LS50s every time you switch back, rather than just working straight away.

It would also be nice to be able to see an indication of the input chosen when sitting at the listening position – the only indicator is out of sight on the right speaker’s top panel. So if you’re using the remote to change input there’s no way (apart from counting clicks) to know what input the LS50 has settled on.

None of these things are anywhere near serious enough to be deal breakers for us, but they make living with the speakers a fussier experience than it should be. Make no mistake; you will want to live with them.

Why? To our ears they sound at least as good as the best comparably featured separates combinations available for similar money. Remember, here there are no extra electronics to house or cables to hide, just a pair of beautifully built speakers on (ideally) a pair of stands. Neat.

Sound

We start off with Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa and are deeply impressed by what we hear. The LS50 Wirelesses sound clean and precise. They dig up so much detail and deliver it in an organised and stable manner. We’re struck by the KEF’s subtlety and their ability to generate strong dynamic shifts without stress.

These are small speakers but they manage to fill our medium sized listening room with high volume levels. KEF claims a maximum sound pressure level of 106dB, which should be loud enough for most people in most circumstances.

Positioned with care, a little away from the rear wall and with a touch of toe-in towards the listening position, they render a lovely, expansive soundstage that’s neatly layered and nicely defined.

We try the LS50s in less optimised positions and manage to use the app to make the results sound balanced. They’re never quite as good as the optimal position in terms of outright clarity or stereo imaging, but tonally we still get a balanced presentation.

Once set-up properly we think KEF’s engineers have struck a really nice tonal balance. It’s even-handed yet refined enough to make the most of less than optimal recordings or sources.

Moving onto Massive Attack’s Angel shows the LS50’s impressive bass performance. These aren’t big speakers so you won’t get really deep floor shaking bass, but they generate low frequencies that are taut, articulate and punchy.

For a speaker that stands 30cm tall and has a mid/bass unit that’s just 13cm in diameter, it’s an impressive result. The good news continues higher up the range with a transparent and fluid midrange and insightful highs.

Vocals are delivered with passion while percussion comes through with bite and composure.

The LS50 Wirelesses are rhythmic too, delivering the song’s unmistakable momentum with determination. They never sound too pushy either, allowing the song’s natural flow to come through.

Overall, these speakers have the insight to unravel a recording yet never go so far as to tear the music apart. They’re informative but always musical with it.

We play a whole range of music from the heartfelt grit of Bruce Springsteen’s Terry’s Song and sparse electronica of xx’s Stars right through to large scale symphonies from the likes of Stravinsky and Beethoven; these speakers take it all in stride. It takes a broad range of talents for this to happen.

Verdict

KEF has done a terrific job here. It has taken the award-winning LS50s and made them an even better proposition.

That price tag looks pretty hefty for such compact speakers, but remember that money also buys you a dedicated streamer, a Bluetooth module, 24-bit/192kHz DAC, preamp and four power amplifiers with a total of 460W of output.

Is this what the hi-fi system of the future should look like? We certainly hope so.

The LS50W has all of those characteristics but to each one it adds a significant extra level of quality and ability. It may be a hi-fi speaker, but it’s a brilliant little nearfield monitor too.  
Phil Ward

SUMMARY: the LS50W is one of those monitors — simply because it sounds so natural and uncoloured — for which there’s not a great deal to say. The mid-range, especially on voices, offers great clarity, yet still has warmth, and the high frequencies from that coincident tweeter are detailed and delicate, yet there’s still HF power when it’s needed. The stereo imagery and portrayal of depth effects is absolutely among the best I’ve heard. I hate to fall into the trap, because the basic principle of a dual-coincident design is coherence, but the whole performance just hangs together in a way that simply sounds right.

EXTENDED REVIEW: although primarily a hi-fi brand, KEF have strong links to some classic monitor designs — and in this new compact speaker, it shows...

I suspect I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Why are Sound On Sound reviewing what is clearly a consumer product”? And it’s a reasonable question because despite KEF’s close links to numerous BBC-designed studio monitors of old, the company always have been primarily a hi-fi brand, with little availability through pro audio retailers or distributors. And, well, hi-fi speakers and pro monitors require different characteristics... don’t they? Well, no. To my way of thinking, and echoing Duke Ellington’s famous thoughts on music, there are only two kinds of speaker: good ones, and “the other kind”. There’s also no escaping the fact that the most iconic nearfield monitor out there, the Yamaha NS10, began life as a hi-fi speaker, and one of the most iconic h-fi speakers, the BBC LS3/5A, began life as a nearfield monitor (although it would be a while after its arrival before the term ‘nearfield’ was coined).

But, if we’re going to review a ‘hi-fi speaker’ as a nearfield monitor, why the KEF LS50 Wireless? Why not a Bowers & Wilkins model or a Mission, or a Monitor Audio? Well, regular readers of my reviews will perhaps have picked up on the occasional mention that one of my favourite speakers for nearfield monitoring is the original, passive version of the KEF LS50. It’s the one I use when there are no review monitors either side of the workstation, and when there are review monitors in place, it’s the one I use as a benchmark reference. I think the LS50 is one of the best (if not the best) compact and reasonably affordable speakers ever made (I bought my pair, previously loved. So, when KEF announced a wireless active version, that also happens to incorporate a raft of electroacoustic advances over its predecessor, it was of huge interest and, I think, impossible to ignore here on planet pro-audio.

Wi-Fi System

To begin with, however, a bit of description and background. The LS50 Wireless (to be written henceforth as LS50W) is a compact and classy-looking speaker with connection panel, heatsink and reflex port on the back and a touch control panel on the top of the right-channel speaker. The LS50W is wireless in so much as it can connect to a Wi-Fi network and play audio streams. The ‘wireless’ title, however, is not entirely accurate because each speaker of the pair needs mains power, and a network-style cable is used to connect the pair together so that they can talk to each other. The LS50W can also connect to conventional wired input signals. The right-channel speaker is by default the ‘master’ and carries the control panel, configuration switches and input sockets. The left speaker is the ‘slave’ (the right/left master/slave default can be switched). The left speaker rear panel carries just the pairing network socket, its mains input socket and a rotary balance control. I’m sure there’s a good reason why the balance control is on the left speaker, but I’m not sure what it is. I didn’t use it anyway.

Along with providing power for the internal A-D, DSP and D-A conversion, those mains inputs also, of course, provide power for a couple of power amplifier channels in each speaker. Interestingly, while the bass/mid amps provide 200 Watts of Class-D power, the tweeter amps provide 30 Watts of Class A/B. The discrepancy between bass/mid and tweeter amplifier power ratings arises partly because the tweeter is more sensitive than the bass/mid driver (so needs less power), and partly because headroom is required on the bass/mid amplifier to enable LF equalisation to be applied. The decision to use Class A/B for the tweeter was taken on sound quality grounds.

The LS50 cabinet is constructed from a rounded and gloss-finished MDF carcass attached to a gently curved and matte-finished, dough-moulded composite front panel. The curve and soft edges of the front panel will help to minimise the smearing effect of edge diffraction. The cabinet is comprehensively braced and damped internally and KEF make quite a play of the FEA (Finite Element Analysis) simulation techniques used to optimise its design in order to minimise panel resonance. It certainly sounds dead to the high-tech knuckle tap. The previously mentioned reflex port exits through the amplifier heatsink on the rear panel and is somewhat more sophisticated in design than the simple plastic tubes I sometimes find myself describing. The tube is elliptical in section, with generous flaring on both entrance and exit, but most unusually, it is constructed internally from a flexible material that’s designed to help suppress the ‘organ pipe’ resonant mode that reflex ports often display. The clean and resonance-free curve in Diagram 1 illustrates the success of the KEF port design in those terms.

Quelle Coincidence

The most distinguishing feature of the LS50W is the matte-copper-finished, dual-concentric — or, more correctly, dual-coincident — compound driver. The difference between the ‘dual-concentric’ and ‘dual-coincident’ terms distinguishes the KEF-style driver from earlier compound driver designs, such as the classic Tannoy unit developed by Ronald Rackham in 1948. Rackham’s Tannoy driver located the tweeter on the same central axis as the bass/mid diaphragm, but at a position behind the magnet, so it’s laterally displaced. In contrast, the KEF-style compound driver places the tweeter right at the apex of the bass/mid diaphragm, so not only is it on the same central axis, it’s effectively at the same position in space — hence ‘coincident’. The voice coils of the bass/mid driver and tweeter are both laterally and axially aligned, so their effective acoustic source positions are the same.

KEF introduced their first dual-coincident driver in the mid 1980s. It was was made possible by the development of high-power NeFeB (Neodymium-Iron-Boron) magnetic materials, which made it possible to build a dome tweeter compact enough to fit on the end of a bass/mid driver pole-piece. Patents were granted to KEF that protected the dual-coincident technology and were mostly effective in restricting competitors from exploiting similar ideas for a couple of decades. Even after the original patent protection had lapsed, later KEF patents covering refinements to the basic idea continue to limit the scope for other manufacturers to compete. This could well be one reason why the compound driver in the Pioneer RM monitors has its tweeter mounted slightly forward of the bass/mid diaphragm apex.

But what, you might by now be asking, are the advantages of the dual-coincident format? Firstly, at a stroke, it fixes a fundamental problem of conventional multi-way speakers with displaced drivers: their phase relationship changes with listening position. It’s simply a matter of geometry: move your head, and the relative distance from your ears to the bass/mid driver and tweeter (in a conventional two-way system) changes. This means that in the crossover region where the output from the two drivers overlaps, the frequency response of the direct sound varies significantly as the relative phase of the outputs from the two changes. Putting a time-domain slant on this, dual-coincident means that the signal arrival time from bass/mid driver and tweeter is the same at all listening positions. This is illustrated in Diagram 2, showing the step response of the LS50W (literally, the response to a simple step change input signal) compared to the step response of a conventional two-way monitor).

Secondly, the dispersion discontinuity that typically occurs in two-way speakers, where the relatively narrow dispersion of the bass/mid driver towards the top end of its range joins the much wider dispersion of the tweeter, is avoided. In a dual-coincident arrangement, the dispersion of the tweeter is defined by the dimensions and profile of the bass/mid diaphragm. When KEF first launched their dual-coincident technology, they christened it ‘Uni-Q’, ‘Q’ being an acoustician’s term for directivity. This consistency of directivity from, effectively, a point source is, I think, particularly suited to nearfield listening. Diagram 3 illustrates the dispersion consistency of the LS50W.

KEF have now been developing their dual-coincident technology for over 30 years and, in contrast to the relatively primitive early Uni-Q drivers, the compound driver fitted to the LS50W is decidedly high-tech. In fact there are not too many drivers out there in either pro or hi-fi sectors that have it beaten in terms of engineering and technology. Its bass/mid element is a 130mm magnesium/aluminium-alloy diaphragm driven by a 50mm-diameter voice coil. The diaphragm is unusual not only for its material but also for its radially reinforced profile and radially pleated rubber surround. Rather than to play a role primarily in bass/mid driver performance, the last of these features is actually designed to present less of a diffraction-causing discontinuity to the tweeter radiation than would a conventional half-roll surround.

Tangerine Dream

And speaking of the tweeter, it’s a 25mm, rear-vented, reinforced-aluminium dome device driven by a NeFeB magnet, but perhaps its most interesting aspect is the ‘tangerine’ waveguide and short horn. The tangerine waveguide is designed to compensate for a fundamental technical aspect of acoustic radiation from a dome that, while obvious when you think about it, mostly goes unappreciated.

Imagine a dome moving axially backwards and forwards. Acoustic radiation will be proportional to the velocity along the axis of movement. However, the profile of the dome, increasingly sloped towards its outside, means that the perpendicular axial velocity effectively falls towards the periphery (the inverse is true for a cone diaphragm). So the dome output level reduces across its radius. The action of the tangerine waveguide is to increase the acoustic impedance presented to the dome towards its periphery and so compensate for the drop in output. It’s as if the dome operates as a direct radiator at the centre and morphs towards a compression driver model at the outside. It’s a neat solution to the problem and one you probably won’t see elsewhere because, of course, it’s patent protected.

Around the outside of the tangerine is a ‘horn’ profiled wave-guide section that extends a significant distance into the bass/mid diaphragm and smoothly integrates the tweeter with the diaphragm profile. The effective integration of the tweeter and bass/mid driver radiation is an area of Uni-Q technology that has developed significantly over the decades and is fundamental to the way KEF have optimised the dual-coincident concept. I wrote earlier that one of the benefits of the dual-coincident format is that it consolidates the dispersion characteristics of the bass/mid and tweeter diaphragms, and it does. Optimising the phenomenon, however, falls into the ’easier said than done’ category. In order to make it work well there’s a number of conflicting factors to be resolved. Firstly, the bass/mid diaphragm profile that works best in terms of that driver’s mechanical/acoustic performance might not be the profile that works best in terms of tweeter radiation and dispersion. So perhaps the stiffening ‘creases’ of the LS50 bass/mid diaphragm are present partly to enable a little more latitude in its physical profile to suit tweeter radiation demands.

Secondly, the bass/mid driver diaphragm, unavoidably, isn’t stationary and this is potentially a problem in terms of intermodulation distortion. Intermodulation distortion occurs when, as the name suggests, one signal modulates another, resulting in the generation of sum and difference signals not present in the input. Speakers generally are prone to it, there being a number of mechanisms that can potentially result in intermodulation. But with movement of the bass/mid diaphragm in very close proximity to the tweeter dome, dual-coincident systems have a potential intermodulation mechanism that conventional speakers don’t. So part of the role of the horn section around the tangerine waveguide on the KEF driver is, I suspect, to constrain the radiation of the tweeter and minimise the potential for intermodulation.

Primal Stream

Moving away from the dual-coincident driver, the LS50W is an unconventional beast in other respects too. This is primarily because it’s a consumer hi-fi speaker aimed mainly at users who have fully embraced the contemporary digital, networked and streamed audio paradigm. The most obvious aspect of its unconventional nature is in the complement of inputs provided. Along with conventional unbalanced analogue and S/PDIF optical digital inputs, the LS50W can play Spotify and Tidal streams wirelessly, play from DLNA-compatible servers and over Bluetooth, and operate as a USB device (so DAW apps will see it as an audio output). It also ships with a remote control and has an iOS/Android app for setup and control.

The lack of balanced analogue audio inputs and the addition of touch-panel, handset or app-based volume control left me scratching my head a little over the best way to integrate the LS50W into my DAW setup (Pro Tools with, currently, a second-generation Focusrite Scarlett 18i20). Though not ideal (being unbalanced), the analogue inputs worked perfectly well and it was possible to set the volume of the LS50W at, or near, maximum (although frustratingly, there’s no indication of volume on the speaker itself or in its app) and treat them as conventional active monitors with volume control on the interface. However, the LS50W incorporates internal DSP, so analogue input signals go through an entire A-D/D-A process, and a signal chain incorporating that extra conversion round trip doesn’t seem ideal. Using the LS50 as a USB output device in the DAW also worked perfectly, and to my ears, sounded better than the analogue inputs, however as soon as the DAW job in hand leaves ‘the box’ and requires inputs or outputs, or even a pair of headphones or a second pair of monitors, it’s no good if the monitors have exclusive use of the DAW interface.

By default, the right speaker acts as the ‘master’, and is where the speaker EQ controls, analogue and digital audio inputs, and Ethernet link output socket are located.

A solution to this conundrum came to me in the form of a TC Electronic BMC-2 DAC/monitor controller (for which I’ve promised to thank KMR Audio for the loan). The BMC-2 provides three digital inputs and well-implemented digital volume control, so by taking an optical output from the Scarlett interface I could connect the LS50W digital optical input to the BMC-2 and have both a fully digital monitoring chain and convenient desktop volume control. Conveniently, the BMC-2 can also drive a second pair of monitors from its analogue outputs so I could simultaneously connect my passive LS50s (given a clean bill of health following a technical once-over by KEF) and be able to directly compare the active LS50W and the passive LS50.

Before I get to how that comparison panned out there’s just one more aspect of the LS50W to describe. I’ve mentioned a couple of times that the LS50W incorporates some DSP, but haven’t explained why. There’s effectively four elements to it. Firstly, the 2.2kHz crossover between the bass/mid and tweeter is done in the digital domain, and secondly, the DSP provides analysis of the input signal so the trade-off between low-frequency bandwidth and volume level can be optimised. It means that the diaphragm displacement-limited power handling can be maximised, which is decidedly useful on a speaker with a relatively small LF radiating area.

The Small Phases

The third DSP function is to compensate for the phase (time) changes that occur over the mid to HF frequency band, the most obvious of course being those introduced by the crossover filters and driver voice-coil inductance. A linear-phase response throughout the audio band has long been a holy grail of speaker design and while a few monitors claim to achieve it, in reality it’s not truly possible on multi-way speakers with physically displaced drivers. You can have linear phase at discrete positions in space where the driver-to-ear flight time is equal but, as mentioned earlier, as soon as you move your head, it’s gone. With a dual-coincident driver, however, it’s very much worth equalising phase because the distance between each ear and the two drivers remains constant. The step response in Diagram 2 shows clearly how the two drivers of the KEF LS50 are time-coincident (the LS50W DSP helps here too of course, and it’s also the case that if I’d moved the measuring microphone, the conventional speaker step response in Diagram 2 may well have looked better).

The final LS50W DSP function is to provide some environmental EQ — accessible from push switches on the back of the right speaker or, more conveniently, via the app. Variable ‘desk’, ‘wall’ and high-frequency EQ functions are provided along with three LF extension options. For what it’s worth, in my room, a little desk and wall attenuation worked well and I preferred the less extended LF option.

Passive Resistance

So how did the comparison between the old passive and new active LS50W go? It went extremely well as it turns out. The LS50W sounds unmistakably like my passive LS50, only more so. I played both familiar and unfamiliar material from Pro Tools sessions and CDs, but also, thanks to the range of inputs the LS50W offers and its network-connected nature, hi-res streams from servers and slightly less hi-res streams from Spotify came into play. One advantage of the ‘consumer’ nature of the LS50W in a pro environment is that it provides such easy access to as wide a range of audio sources as it’s possible to imagine. If your monitoring setup is occasionally required for ‘entertainment’ listening rather than work, the LS50W makes a decidedly strong case for itself.

Being compact and consequently relatively limited in terms of both maximum volume level and low-frequency extension, the LS50W will never be fully in its comfort zone playing the role of a main or midfield monitor, but it’s actually able to play surprisingly loud, and in my room never sounded as if it was up against its limits. Having said that, its fundamental quality and revealing nature meant that there was little to be gained in monitoring terms by pushing the volume level too far. Listening to familiar mixes and material I was immediately comfortable with the tonal balance while at the same time impressed that I could hear easily down into the layers of the mix so that details, both good and bad, were more apparent and so easier to either work with and emphasise, or deal with and suppress.

Nifty Fifty

I mentioned previously that I preferred the less extended LF options of the three that the LS50W offers, and that to some extent reflects my only concern over its performance: its reflex-loaded bass. KEF supply foam bungs with the passive LS50 to block the ports and that’s how I normally use them, the more explicit bass detail and more secure sense of timing being of greater worth to my ears than wider bandwidth. There are no port bungs supplied with the LS50W, but using the LS50 bungs and selecting the ‘Extra’ LF EQ option produced what I felt was the best result, although it was a very close-run thing with the less extended EQ option without bungs. In the grand scheme of things though, the LS50W reflex-loaded bass is very far from a deal breaker and in comparison to many reflex-loaded speakers the negative influence of the port is subtle.

Moving further up the band, the LS50W is one of those monitors — simply because it sounds so natural and uncoloured — for which there’s not a great deal to say. The mid-range, especially on voices, offers great clarity, yet still has warmth, and the high frequencies from that coincident tweeter are detailed and delicate, yet there’s still HF power when it’s needed. The stereo imagery and portrayal of depth effects is absolutely among the best I’ve heard. I hate to fall into the trap, because the basic principle of a dual-coincident design is coherence, but the whole performance just hangs together in a way that simply sounds right.

I’m going to conclude by referring back once again to the passive LS50 for a moment. The qualities it delivers so effectively are a combination of neutrality in terms of tonal balance, dispersion consistency for nearfield listening, pin-sharp imaging, and the hear-through clarity that comes from minimal enclosure character, low distortion and, of course, time-domain coherence. The LS50W has all of those characteristics but to each one it adds a significant extra level of quality and ability. It may be a hi-fi speaker, but it’s a brilliant little nearfield monitor too.

I was … well…BLOWN AWAY. These do NOT have the all out gusto and power or bass output and in your face sound of the Phantom Golds but dare I say, they sound more delicate, more focused, more complete, more cohesive, more open when compared side by side.

SUMMARY: I was … well…BLOWN AWAY. These do NOT have the all out gusto and power or bass output and in your face sound of the Phantom Golds but dare I say, they sound more delicate, more focused, more complete, more cohesive, more open when compared side by side. No chest thumping shaking bass and no warm sound but it was just right. A shade or hair to the right of neutral into warm and with the detail and imaging I was hoping for, the same imaging and depth I heard from the passive versions but now they came to life with the extra bass extension and power. The way these speakers deliver music is quite special and spellbinding. Put on some acoustic guitar, piano, vocals or a mic of all and you will be shocked at the realism of the vocals and midrange. Best I have heard since my old Guarneri Evolutions and these may even be better in many ways (Guarneri can be very warm depending on amp or room and this can hinder the details and open-ness of the speaker) . The KEF’s are More accurate but also throaty and husky when needed.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Wow. Just Wow. Audio tech just continues to move forward, and here we are in 2017 with a myriad of new tech waiting for us audio nuts to try. Me, I am now a huge believer in the “wireless” speakers…well, more so “Active” speakers for 2016/2017. So far this year I have tested the modest Klipsch Sixes which are also a set of powered active speakers. I really enjoyed them and for the money, the Klipsch’s are tough to beat but at the end of the day, the build or sound of those Klipsch are not nearly up to the levels of Devialet Phantoms, Dynaudio or KEF Active speakers. The Sixes, I consider “Mid Fi” as they just do not deliver the Audiophile experience with soundstage, air and imaging yet they are very good for playing good old fashioned party music, and they sound damn good and fill a room. But what we have here in the KEF LS50 Actives is something entirely different and on a different level. IN A GOOD WAY.

Let’s back up a tad…

About a year or two ago I owned a pair of standard passive KEF LS 50’s and had them set up and stand mounted in my listening room, which is SMALL. 12X13 and most speakers in this room sound like magic somehow..almost all, but not all. Normally a room like this would be a nightmare, or so I am told but anyone who has heard my audio systems in this room has told me how amazing it sounded. Rich, full yet with all of the audiophile tricks included. ; ) I truly love my room, as what I hear inside of these walls has beaten demos of high end speakers in shops and others I have heard that cost much more than what I normally have in here.

When I had the standard passive LS50’s in this room though, which are notoriously hard to match an amp to, I ran them with three integrated amps. One was a $10,000 McIntosh Ma8000, one was a McIntosh Headphone amp and the other was an Audio research 75WPC amp. None really drove those original LS50’s to my satisfaction, or..what I should be saying is, the LS50’s while being amazing with layering and detail fell flat for the lower end. They had almost no real solid room filling bass, and while they were as open as can be, had a nice wide soundstage and had gobs of detail, the high end irritated me too much so I got rid of them and sold them at a $300 loss after a few months. They never grew on me and yet I tried, and I did love them for what THEY COULD DO, just not what they could not do. This is why I never reviewed them as well. I do not review what I do not like ; )

After they were sold I somehow missed that layering and detail they gave with some vocals. In some situations, they did deliver amazing spooky real vocals. When I saw KEF was releasing “wireless” active versions of the LS50’s with four amps inside of two speakers that matched the drivers perfectly (200 WPC for the mid/bass and 30WPC Class A/B for the tweeter) as well as its own 24/192 dacs and all the inputs I would need…I knew I had to give them a test. The word on the street was that these new Active versions upped the game and brought these speakers to life and the bass now extended lower, into the 40’s. WHAT?!?! If so, I would be getting that sweet detail of the KEF’s and some of the bass that was missing from the passive versions! Hmmmm.

I ordered Black with Blue drivers but you can also get these in White with Copper Drivers or a Grey with Red Driver (would have been my 2nd choice) as that color combo matched my listening room perfectly. When they arrived I moved out the Klipsch Sixes and was ready to be BLOWN AWAY! All of the reviews of these speakers praised them as amazing. When I put them in, I was a little let down as they sounded thin and flat. The Klipsch Sixes I reviewed recently were pumping out LOUD, LIVE sounding music with an effortless ease and these were..well..NOT. Now, due to the power cords and cables needing to be plugged into the each speaker, I could not fit them on my stands (same with the Sixes) so I set them where I had placed the Klipsch speakers.

As the music played I notice the same thing as I had with the passive LS50’s. They seemed thin and a tad bright. Hmmmm. Something had to be off..it had to be. I soon found out that yes indeed, something was off.

I have a Sonos going into these with an audioquest Diamond optical cable. I also have my Marantz TT15 Turntable going into a Tube phone stage (Vincent) and then into the analog ins of the speakers. As they played I decided to read the instructions, lol.

When I set them up I set the controls on the back to them being on a desk and away from the wall. When I changed the settings to being close to the wall, they came to life in the bass dept. THERE IT WAS. BASS. It was rich, never boomy, and solid/tight and fast. Wow. What a difference. While no where near as plentiful as the Phantom Golds with the Bass, they were delivering better imaging and resolution and were more open. The bass was plenty good enough, and much better than the previous passive LS50’s.

On the back of the right speaker you can set up the speakers for your listening room and placement. Also, all inputs reside here. Analog, Optical, PC, Subwoofer, USB, Network and an output to the left speaker. The cable that connects the speakers comes with the set and is around 3 meters long.

I then set up a pair of suedo sands, the ISO Acoustics Aperta stands. They are aluminum and fit these speakers like they were made for them. Amazing fit and finish and look. When the speakers were placed on these, same spot, they were lifted up a tad and BOOM, now I had even better bass and focus. I had a little warmth going on but it was … magical. I then set the settings to these being on stands and close to the wall. ONG, OMG, OMG. THIS WAS IT! On the Aperta stands, with these settings I was hearing magic.

I had to get serious and get in my spot, and make sure they were set up perfectly for my “sweet spot”. Once I did this, I dimmed the lights, chilled out and sat in my chair listening to my demo playlist.

I was … well…BLOWN AWAY. These do NOT have the all out gusto and power or bass output and in your face sound of the Phantom Golds but dare I say, they sound more delicate, more focused, more complete, more cohesive, more open when compared side by side. No chest thumping shaking bass and no warm sound but it was just right. A shade or hair to the right of neutral into warm and with the detail and imaging I was hoping for, the same imaging and depth I heard from the passive versions but now they came to life with the extra bass extension and power. The way these speakers deliver music is quite special and spellbinding. Put on some acoustic guitar, piano, vocals or a mic of all and you will be shocked at the realism of the vocals and midrange. Best I have heard since my old Guarneri Evolutions and these may even be better in many ways (Guarneri can be very warm depending on amp or room and this can hinder the details and open-ness of the speaker) . The KEF’s are More accurate but also throaty and husky when needed.

These speakers ship with all cables you need and a basic plastic remote, with matching colors to your speaker. So my remote is blue and black.

You can use the remote of the touch panel on top of the right speaker to power them on, change inputs, go to bluetooth or adjust volume. 

The remote could have been better. For example, I am using two inputs. Optical and Analog. There should be buttons on the remote to pick whatever input you want but instead there is just one button to scroll through the inputs but you never know which one you are on, so it is hit or miss. The remote is also plastic, and kind of cheap. I would have loved to see a nice backlit metal remote as these seekers are pure high end in looks, build and sound but the remote was an afterthought. But back to listening…

For kicks I started to turn them up to see how loud they can go, as this is usually a test of how good a speaker really is…and as I kept going they would get louder and louder yet the volume steps are like baby steps, so I kept pushing and pushing and they became so loud my wall shelving units were shaking yet the speakers never sounded congested, they never lost focus and they never sounded harsh. They kept that same sound at every volume level I tested them at but would get louder and louder. When my shelves were shaking I decided to not go any further with the volume so I never maxed them out, but they retained clarity and focus when pushed which was pretty impressive. When loud, they can fill my room but they sound much different than the Phantom Gold’s do. The Phantoms have a warmth and just overall sense of ease and power about them, and they can blow you out of the room, but they sound much warmer and not as open as these. With the KEF’s I hear amazing things with acoustic instruments, piano and vocals. For metal and rock, the Phantoms rule the day but these are not bad at all, even with old 70’s rock. All I miss is a tad bit of mid bass thump. But the pros far outweigh that one con with these.

For my small room, these are just about PERFECT. Not too much, not too little.

As I sat in my sweet spot, I realized it was now four hours later and I was still grinning and smiling at the amazing sound coming from these. When I listened to all of my demo music not once, but twice I knew I had something very special here. No hype, no BS. No fatigue, no shrill sounds, just exactly what I had hoped for. When I had the original LS50’s I did not even want to write a review, as if I do not really love something I do not review it or write about it. So they were sold at a loss and I never spoke of them. THESE on the other hand, these are up there with some of the best I have had in my house, and I have owned systems up to $45,000 and some a little more. The funny thing is, my worst sounding system here was that crazy expensive one that neared $50,000. That showed me that the cost does not mean all out performance. Some speakers and amps are just over rated and go by name recognition, and I have learned this the hard way (by buying and selling and losing). After having these LS 50 Active Speakers in this space for a while now, I can not imagine taking them out, even for the Phantom Golds. THEY ARE THAT GOOD. They offer something that is hard to pin down, and hard to get from larger speakers as well. They are so lifelike, yet do not shout of of the speakers like the Klipsch do. They are not direct, but when you listen you feel an expansion of a soundwall  that stretches out beyond the speakers. You hear precise layering of instruments and voices and damn good imaging.

KEF has a future classic here.

But remember, they did not get this good until I set up the DSP on the back and put the stands in place. Now they are locked in, and just give me a wide soundstage, precise imaging, amazing layering of music (you hear each instrument clearly) and vocals to die for with some artists. Bass is tight, snappy and amazing, and I do not need a sub here..in fact, I would not want to muddle things up by adding one. I do not feel these are lacking bass and unless you are addicted to Hip Hop and beats headphones you would not find them lacking either, unless you had them in a huge room. What is truly awesome is the bass never ever gets boomy or muddled, nor does it ever interfere with the delicate mids and treble. It is tight, and called upon the needed. Amazing integration here and KEF really has created a speaker that truly blew me away, and for much less than all of my old setups. CRAZY!!!

Listening to Only by RY X had his voice floating in the middle of my room with a scary realism that blew my mind. I had this effect with a couple of other speakers ($25k and $16k) but never with US$2200 (excl sales tax) self powered speakers. As the guitar and piano were behind this voice, it was almost like VR audio, lol. At that point I knew, I KNEW these were staying no matter what I had to do. Now, the old lS50’s suffered with rock or metal music, and some electronic as they did not have the balls and gusto to reproduce that music properly. THESE CAN to some extent but if you like hard driving rock and metal, I’d say there are better options. These excel with voices, acoustic, electronic, jazz, and even modern pop and country. With Rock and Metal they sound great but you may miss the driving thump of larger speakers with more mid bass. I am listening to KISS ALIVE II on vinyl as I write this and while some mid bass thump is missing the soundstage and realness of the voices and instruments make me feel like I am there. The old LS50’s could not do this. So these are much more versatile than the old ones that were raved about everywhere.

I have used countless HiFi setups in my days, over the last 20 years or so and I have had opportunities to use systems ranging from $500 to $50,000 and this right here, these KEF Powered Active Wireless speakers? In my top 3 easily yet they come in at $2200 and include all you need from amps, dac and inputs. All in one, the future of HiFi. Set these up right, use a good source and cable and yes, there is a marked improvement over a generic optical) and they will reward you with some amazing organic beautiful sound. This is what 2 Channel is meant to sound like, and the fact that these come in at this price point makes me wonder what other high end manufactures will be doing for the near future.

Of course there is another con to these. With all electronics being INSIDE the speakers, if an amp goes out you are sort of screwed. If a DAC goes out, screwed. With separate components we can fix of swap what is broken easily. With these, not so much. So while we do not know about the longevity of these, they seem to be built to a very high standard, and so far, so good.

My advice if you buy these?

USE Dedicated stands and set them up correctly. If like me you are limited with this due to the cables needing to be attached, get some ISO Acoustics Aperta stands, that were actually made just for LS50’s and set them up like I did. Take your time and angle them in to your sweet spot. I have some toe in. Set them up as on stands but far from the wall if going the ISO Acoustics route and  you will have rich sound with plenty of tight, never boomy bass. Of course, room size and dimensions come into play so work with it. When set up just right these will be incredible.

that imaging magic and its midrange clarity make the Blade-2 a winner all the way.
John Atkinson

SUMMARY: The Blade-2 carries that evolution to the limit. It preserves all the positive qualities that made KEF's little LS50 Stereophile's "Product of 2013," while adding greater dynamic range and two more octaves of bass extension..... considering how sweet they were in my room...... that imaging magic and its midrange clarity make the Blade Two a winner all the way.

EXTENDED REVIEW: The story's been often told: 30 years ago, British speaker manufacturer KEF was asked to design a small, spherical loudspeaker that could be used in a European project to research room acoustics. The speaker had to have wide, even dispersion, so KEF's solution was to mount the tweeter coaxially, on what would have been the woofer's dustcap. That "point source" drive-unit, called the Uni-Q, began appearing in KEF's commercial speaker models in 1989, starting with the Reference 105/3—but it wasn't until the appearance of KEF's 50th-anniversary loudspeaker, the LS50, which I reviewed in Dc 12, that I felt that the Uni-Q drive-unit had fully fulfilled its promise, at least in a speaker I had auditioned in my own room.

Designed by a team led by engineer Jack Oclee-Brown, the LS50 is a superb performer. As I wrote in a follow up review last Jan, "The KEF LS50 gave a sound that was evenly balanced from the upper bass through the high treble, with superbly defined imaging." But the LS50, a minimonitor costing $1500/pair, is necessarily limited in both loudness capability and low-frequency extension.

The LS50's driver was derived from the Uni-Q model used in KEF's full-range flagship, the Blade-1. Though I had listened to the Blade at shows, at 62" tall, it was probably going to be too large to work optimally in my room. But when I heard, at last October's New York Show, that KEF was about to introduce a slightly smaller version, the Blade-2, I asked for review samples to be delivered as soon as they became available in the US.

The Second Blade
An examination of the Blade-2 gives an overall impression of elegant and effective audio engineering. At 57.5" tall, the Blade-2 is only slightly shorter than the original Blade-1 and shares its form factor: an idiosyncratically shaped, parabolically curved enclosure designed by Eric Chan, of New York-based ECCO Design. This is formed from high-density polyurethane that, with a stretch of the imagination, resembles a knife blade, hence the name. The elegant cabinet is no wider than it needs to be, and is shallower and narrower at the base than higher up. It is therefore supported on a wide plinth. The plinth has a spirit level at its rear, and can be fitted with carpet-piercing spikes.

The Two's complement of drive-units is similar to the Blade-1’s: an advanced development of KEF's Uni-Q driver is mounted in a shallow recess on the front of the speaker. Whereas the LS50's Uni-Q has to operate full-range, and the 5" cone therefore must be able to undergo significant excursion, the Blade-2's Uni-Q is crossed over at 320Hz. This means that a different surround, optimised for high-frequency operation, can be used, but other than that, the Blade Two's midrange cone looks similar to the LS50's: both are formed from an aluminium-magnesium alloy, but the Blade's has a ribbed skeleton attached to the rear of the cone and a 3" voice-coil, which pushes break-up modes as high in frequency as possible. The die-cast basket of the drive-unit's chassis is profiled to present the smallest degree of acoustic obstruction behind the cone.

The 1" aluminium-dome tweeter, vented to its rear, is mounted at the exact acoustic centre of the midrange cone. It takes over above 2.4kHz and has a dual-profile dome, elliptical at the base for maximal stiffness—which pushes the primary dome resonance up to around 40kHz—but with a spherical cap to optimise dispersion. KEF's patented "tangerine" waveguide is mounted in front of the dome; this and the profiles of the midrange cone surrounding the tweeter, the drive-unit's surround, and the its recessed, flared mounting plate, plus the profile of the enclosure, all contribute to optimal control of the Blade-2's high-frequency dispersion.

Low frequencies are covered by two pairs of woofers, mounted on opposite sides of the enclosure and with their chassis coupled together to cancel reaction forces that would otherwise excite enclosure resonances. However, whereas the Blade-1’s low-frequency drivers are each 9" in diameter, the Blade-2's are 6.5". The woofer cones, formed from aluminium, have a shallow concave profile, and each opposed pair of bass drivers is mounted in a discrete, ported chamber separated from the other pair by an internal partition, this construction said to increase the frequency of any internal standing waves beyond the crossover point. Two large-diameter ports vent to the enclosure's rear.

The Blade-2's crossover filters are said be "simple, low-order" types using "the best components available, carefully selected by a rigorous auditioning process." Rather than being mounted on a conventional circuit board, these crossover components are hardwired. Electrical connection is via two pairs of WBT binding posts, to allow bi-wiring or bi-amping. For single wiring, which was how I used the Blade Twos, patented linking plugs are screwed in between the WBT terminals.

Setup & Listening

I began with the KEF Blade-2s in the same positions as the DALI Rubicon 8s, which had preceded them in my room. Though dual-mono pink noise sounded smooth and evenly balanced, with no frequency regions either being too prominent or splashing to the sides, the low frequencies sounded too loose. I moved each speaker from side to side and forward and back, a half-inch at a time, until I achieved the most even transition between the mid-bass and upper-bass regions; only then did I insert the spikes in the bases. With the spikes, the Blade-2's tweeter is 39" from the floor, which is a couple of inches above my ears when I sit in my listening chair. However, the character of pink noise changed very little as I moved my head up and down. Its Uni-Q drive-unit gives the Blade Two wide, even vertical dispersion.

The first recording I played through the KEFs after optimising their positions was a charming disc of Romantic waltzes Kal Rubinson had given me, with the Orchestra de la Suisse Romande conducted by Kazuki Yamada (SACD/CD, Pentatone PTC 5185 518). The orchestral balance of the SACD layer was rich and full, if sounding undoubtedly more mellow than through the DALIs. But the stereo imaging was superbly precise and stable. In oboe-and-violin duet in the waltzes from Richard Strauss's opera Der Rosenkavalier, the image of each instrument was appropriately small compared with the orchestral backdrop, yet not obscured in any way.

The same impression held when I played "The Mooche," from the Jerome Harris Quintet's Rendezvous (16-bit/44.1kHz ALAC file from CD, Stereophile STPH013-2). The sound was mellower than it had been through the DALIs, especially with the polite-sounding Bricasti amplifiers, which made differentiating Bill Drummond's swishing cymbals in the first verse from the air escaping from alto-sax player Marty Ehrlich's embouchure a little more difficult. But again, the stereo imaging was superbly stable. I had recorded Steve Nelson's vibes in stereo and panned them in the mix from audience left to just left of centre stage. Through the KEF Blade Twos, every mallet stroke was precisely positioned in space.

In the bass, Jerome's Taylor acoustic bass guitar on Rendezvous, and my Fender bass on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2), were each reproduced with a rich, weighty bottom octave and terrific impact. The low-frequency, 1/3-octave warble tones on Editor's Choice were reproduced with full weight down to the 32Hz band, which was boosted by the lowest-frequency mode in my room. The 25Hz warble tone was still readily audible at normal listening levels, though the 20Hz tone disappeared. The half-step–spaced tonebursts on Editor's Choice were reproduced cleanly from the mid-bass through the mid-treble, with impressive weight below 80Hz, though with a touch of emphasis in the presence region. Overall, however, the low-frequency tones sounded very clean—KEF does specify very low distortion for the Blade-2.

Serendipity Strikes Deep moment No.634: I was moving some boxes in my office and found a white-label CD from 2007 that had fallen down behind a stack of old press releases. It was Thelonious Monk's Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival (CD, Monterey Jazz Festival/Concord Jazz MFJR-30312). I love Monk, but it was a double-bass solo in the herky-jerky–themed "Evidence" that caught my attention. There were no credits on the disc; a quick bit of Googling revealed that the bassist was a 24-year-old Steve Swallow, playing for the first time with Monk.

The first jazz record many audiophiles my age bought was Kind of Blue. But I was a latecomer to Miles Davis—In a Silent Way, a decade after KoB, was my introduction to the iconic trumpet player. The first jazz LP I purchased was the Gary Burton Quartet's Lofty Fake Anagram, which was also my first exposure to Steve Swallow's masterful bass playing. I have followed his career since this 1967 album, and especially after he switched to bass guitar. But Swallow was still playing double bass on Lofty Fake Anagram, and as I listened to the album (16/44.1 ALAC files ripped from CD, RCA), the Blade-2s caressed his every note, reproducing them with power and precision.

It was a bit too good to be true. In my relatively modest-sized room (greatest dimensions: 27' long by 16.5' wide), the Blade-2’s low frequencies were too generous in absolute terms, Swallow's bottom octave sounding a touch too powerful. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Leonard Cohen's deep-toned speaking voice in "The Jungle Line," from Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters (24/96 ALAC file, Verve/HDtracks), sounded magnificently magisterial, with no apparent coloration.

And like its small sibling, the LS50—which I described in my review as "one of the finest speakers at reproducing female voices that I have heard"—the big Blade-2, too, loved the female voice. I recently treated myself to the live recording of Russian soprano Anna Netrebko singing Strauss's Four Last Songs, accompanied by the Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Daniel Barenboim (CD, Deutsche Grammophon 479 3964). I initially felt that Netrebko's opera-gestated vibrato was too deep for this music, but her voice has a molten-metal quality that draws the listener into her performance and that the Blade Twos faithfully reproduced. In the final song, "Im Abendrot" (At Sunset), Strauss's sensitive scoring paints a rich-toned soundstage above which Netrebko soared in contemplative calm, without the KEFs editorializing in any way. And again, the image of the solo violin in the third song, "Beim Schlafengehen" (Going to Sleep), was the correct size, and stable. Magic music. Magic speakers.

I reached for some Steely Dan: "My Rival," from Gaucho (24/96 ALAC file transcoded from FLAC, HDtracks/MCA B0000868-36), features bass guitar and kick drum in lockstep. Through the Blade Twos this track sounded rich but tight, and on the words "prickly pear," when the bass guitar drops an octave, to a low E-natural, the damped note was weighty, with excellent pitch definition. This was with the Bricasti M28 monoblocks. With the Ayre Acoustics MX-R Twenty amplifiers, the lowest bass-guitar notes were not quite as weighty, but the upper-bass register seemed a bit more even. But with either amp, Nick Mason's kick drum in "Us and Them," from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (24/96, HDtracks/EMI), sounded a touch too ripe through the KEFs.

Looking at what I've written so far, it appears that I mainly played old-fart music while preparing this review. But I did play a lot of modern rock. I have been in love with Hildur Gudnadóttir's Leyfdu Ljósinu (CD, Touch TO:90) ever since Stephen Mejias gave it to me as a Christmas present a couple of years ago. For the title track, Gudnadóttir constructs soundscapes comprising a looped motif based on a major-second interval that at first is underpinned by long, bowed notes on her cello, then by sung notes that first echo, then clash with the harmonies established by the cello. As each looped clone of the singer enters, it occupied its own place on the stage thrown by the KEFs, unambiguously hanging there as the track developed.

In "Limit to Your Love," from James Blake's eponymous album (CD, A&M) the bottom-octave synth-bass notes a minor second apart that had given the LS50s stomach trouble were reproduced cleanly and with excellent pitch definition.

Nothing for it—time to reach for a speaker killer: "Nightwalker," from Anders Trentemoller's The Last Resort (ALAC file ripped from CD, Pokerflat PFRCD18). This German DJ–created track has a combination of high-level ultrabass, plus a soundscape created by massive phase manipulation, to produce images that extend well beyond the speaker positions. All of which the Blade Twos handled with English aplomb: "Can you give me a bit more, old chap?" I turned up the Ayre preamp's volume control until the books started walking along their shelves and one of my children shouted at me from the kitchen, one floor and the length of the house away. "That'll do, old chaps," I instructed these English thoroughbreds. "Let's back it off a jot."

As I finish writing this review, I'm streaming from Tidal a fast and furious performance of J.S. Bach's Double Violin Concerto, BWV 1043, with soloists Giuliano Carmignola and Mayumi Hirasaki, accompanied by Concerto Köln (from CD, Deutsche Grammophon Archiv 0289 479 2695 5). The big KEFs get everything about this recording right: the upfront miking of the two violinists that gives the soundstage a wide-angle perspective; the solid stability of that soundstage; the ambient bloom of the recording venue; the natural tonalities of the instruments, both solo and ripieno; the gruff richness of the basso-continuo cellos and double bass; and the harpsichord's accompanying arpeggios. All is as it should be; all is to the benefit of this sublime music.

Summing Up

In the 1970s and early '80s I was never a fan of KEF speakers, feeling they sacrificed musical involvement in favour of tonal neutrality, resolution in favour of not wanting to offend. A colleague at Hi-Fi News & Record Review, the late Geoff Jeanes, had bought a pair of the original KEF Reference 105s when that speaker was launched in 1977, and too much of the time I listened to the R105 in his system, I found it just too polite. It wasn't until 1986 and the appearance of the Reference 107, the very last product I reviewed for Hi-Fi News before joining Stereophile, that I felt KEF was managing to marry resolution to an absence of coloration.

The Blade-2 carries that evolution to the limit. It preserves all the positive qualities that made KEF's little LS50 Stereophile's "Product of 2013," while adding greater dynamic range and two more octaves of bass extension. The low frequencies are balanced to be neutral in a room larger than mine, though too large a room and the top octaves might start to sound mellow—which could be a concern, considering how sweet they already were in my room. But that imaging magic and its midrange clarity make the Blade-2 a winner all the way.

Review comment submitted by audiodoctorn: 
"As a Blade dealer who has both the LS 50 and the Blades and the Ref 1 and 3 and the R series, I feel I know the line really, really well.
I agree with many of the comments that were made, however, I was really taken back by the comparison to the LS 50 saying that other than increased bass, and dynamics, you seem to be implying that there is some similarity between the LS 50 and the Blade II.
We love the LS 50 and even with the matching KEF R400 sub woofer the sound is really great, and in fact will challenge a lot of $5k plus speakers, but the resulting sound doesn't come close to amazing resolution, and incredible holographic sound stage, which comes out of the Blades, so it is not just about the increased bass and dynamics, there is a wholeness and organic quality to the sound that you just don't get out of the LS 50 or many other speakers.
We had a setup at the New York High End Show in 2013 with the original Blades setup with state of the art electronics, a Merrill Williams Turntable, and an EMM Labs Digital setup and the system was amazing! Yes this system was over a US$100k: US$30k speakers, and US$50k electronics, and US$15k front end plus US$20k plus on cables, so the system was up there in price but I did listen to the $107k Yg the $54k Wilson's plus some other very expensive speakers and I would say that a well setup pair of Blades offers the performance of speakers in the US$50k-US$100k price range and that is an amazing value proposition that the Kef Blades and Blade II represent".

This is an uncompromising piece of engineering brilliance that does things with soundstage, scale, impact and three-dimensionality that are truly exceptional.

SUMMARY: Once you become used to the sheer scale on offer, you can appreciate that within this enormous presentation, the soundstage is effortlessly detailed and the character of all of the instruments at work are distinct but harmoniously presented as a whole. This is an album that exists to be played loud and the Blade Two is more than up to the challenge. You will need to ensure your amplification is up to the job too, not so much in terms of outright power but in the ability to work with a speaker that will highlight any shortcomings. 

This is still a demanding speaker in terms of placement, in partnering equipment and in the listening demands that it makes of you. It should be expected that a speaker that looks the way this one does will never be an unobtrusive wallflower and there are rivals, even at this elevated price that might be seen as easier to live with. This doesn’t matter, though. This is an uncompromising piece of engineering brilliance that does things with soundstage, scale, impact and three-dimensionality that are truly exceptional. Anyone lucky enough to own a pair will have a sculpture that’s also one of the most awe-inspiring loudspeakers on sale today.

EXTENDED REVIEW: The original Blade wowed us with its unique design, but its sibling is an altogether more room-friendly loudspeaker

Producing a concept unit especially for a show or event is a relatively common practise in the car industry, but rather less so in the world of hi-fi. Most companies tend to consider the business of creating items for production to be work enough, but one noble exception is KEF. Having done exactly this with the Muon floorstander, it repeated the process with the Concept Blade, and then managed to get both speaker prototypes into series production. 

In the case of the Blade, the result was an extraordinary speaker and one we liked very much. There is no escaping it is also rather large, fairly pricey and somewhat demanding in terms of placement. With this in mind, KEF has taken the design features of the original and produced the Blade Two, which shrinks the dimensions by roughly a third to create a speaker more appropriate for those with smaller rooms. 

One look at the Blade Two ought to be sufficient evidence that beyond a spot of shrinkage, other compromises are not on the menu. The speaker is still built around the concept of the ‘Single Apparent Source’ that ensures that the ‘acoustic centre’ of every driver is the same. This gives the brain the impression that it is listening to a single extremely wide bandwidth driver with none of the phase or alignment issues that a conventional forward-facing driver array usually faces. 

Key to the success of this approach is an example of KEF’s ubiquitous Uni-Q driver. This is the only driver completely visible to the listener on the leading ‘edge’ of the blade form and combines a 25mm tweeter sat in the throat of a 125mm midrange driver. The latest refinements to the design are present, notably the ‘tangerine’ waveguide that’s designed to widen the dispersion from the tweeter at high frequencies and ensure it more closely matches that of the midrange driver. This duo is exactly the same as the one used in the full-size Blade and sits inside a small, sealed enclosure. 

Like the original, the Blade Two partners this forward-facing driver array with a quartet of drivers mounted on the sides of the cabinet in opposed pairs. The reasoning for this is that by doing so, the forces on the cabinet are eliminated by a process of the drivers operating against one another – a technique that is also adopted by some opposed cylinder engines and recoilless rifles. As the Blade Two is smaller, the four 225mm drivers are replaced with 165mm units. The combined radiating area of this quartet is still considerable. Each pair occupies a separate chamber, which is ported via openings of exactly equal lengths to maintain the sense of all drivers hitting the same acoustic centre.  

KEF has expended considerable effort ensuring that despite the cabinet mounting six drivers apiece, the overall sensitivity of the Blade Two remains easy to drive. The speaker is strictly a 4ohm design, but the quoted sensitivity of 90dB/1W/1m is pretty impressive for a speaker of this nature. The reduction in size means the low-end extension drops to a quoted 40Hz at +/-3dB in test conditions. KEF suggests that in a room – as opposed to an anechoic chamber – owners should see extension below 30Hz.

The form of the Blade Two is unchanged from the original concept and to my eyes at least, this is a good thing. There is no arguing that the singular appearance is going to be to everyone’s taste – this is never going to be a speaker that vanishes in a room unless you happen to live on a movie set of a utopian future – but I admire the sheer ambition. There is the intriguing addition that the colour you choose has an effect on your perception – I find that in black, the detailing is consumed by the cabinet and robs the appearance of some of its elegance. The silver of the review sample conversely shows that striking form off to great effect while ensuring you can take in the extra design aspects at the same time. 

Sound quality
KEF has close ties with Chord Electronics so a DAVE DAC/preamp and SPM 1050 MkII power amp have been made available for testing. It is a simple business to connect my Melco N1A (HFC 397) to the DAVE to create a functional system with my music library to hand. I only need a minute or so of the 24/88.2 SACD rip of Dead Can Dance’s Toward The Within to establish that while it looks spectacular, the form of the Blade Two definitely follows function. The six drivers in each cabinet have the unerring ability to function as one to the extent where there is a disconnect between what your eyes see and ears can hear. The reproduction of the performing space in Rakim lacks any sense of ambiguity about where performers are and the space that they inhabit. More than anything else, the effect is like wearing a giant pair of open-backed headphones. 

If you play something rather smaller in scale like Regina Spektor’s Consequence Of Sounds, the KEF shrinks its scale back to the intimacy of a single vocalist and a piano but never loses that cohesion and sense of an almost perfect soundstage. The crossover points between the drivers are utterly imperceptible and the tonality is unaffected by the shift from driver to driver. Even when listening to something comparatively low key and gentle, the impression is extremely dynamic. Spektor’s sharp, staccato vocals leap out of the soundstage with every syllable reproduced with an unwavering intensity. Minute pauses for breath, lost almost everywhere else are here in full. The piano is a physical presence that has meaningful weight to its struck keys and a tangible delay to the notes that are played.

This does mean the Blade Two is not a speaker that is going to cosset you or wrap you in a sort of comforting blanket of sound. It demands your attention and focus in a manner that I suspect won’t appeal to everyone. While it has a superbly refined top end, it has little interest in sugar coating material that is rough or compressed and the whole presentation is the antithesis of ‘background listening’ although if you are spending £16,000 on a pair of speakers to burble away in the background, your priorities are rather different to the norm. 

If you accept this, give it your undivided attention and ensure it is fed by suitably capable equipment, the results are unquestionably thrilling. The 24/44.1 download of Scratch Massive’s live Communion album allows the Blade Two to demonstrate every feature in its impressive arsenal. The opening Waiting For A Sign is underpinned by bass that suggests that KEF’s thoughts on the boost in room are entirely accurate. As the chorus kicks in, you are presented with a furious wave of sound that you feel as much as hear. 

Once you become used to the sheer scale on offer, you can appreciate that within this enormous presentation, the soundstage is effortlessly detailed and the character of all of the instruments at work are distinct but harmoniously presented as a whole. This is an album that exists to be played loud and the Blade Two is more than up to the challenge. You will need to ensure your amplification is up to the job too, not so much in terms of outright power but in the ability to work with a speaker that will highlight any shortcomings. 

Conclusion
This is still a demanding speaker in terms of placement, in partnering equipment and in the listening demands that it makes of you. It should be expected that a speaker that looks the way this one does will never be an unobtrusive wallflower and there are rivals, even at this elevated price that might be seen as easier to live with. This doesn’t matter, though. This is an uncompromising piece of engineering brilliance that does things with soundstage, scale, impact and three-dimensionality that are truly exceptional. Anyone lucky enough to own a pair will have a sculpture that’s also one of the most awe-inspiring loudspeakers on sale today. ES

If you’re looking for a loudspeaker of uncompromising modernity and style, and value transparency and neutrality in your loudspeakers, then the KEF Blade-2 loudspeakers are hugely deserving of your time.
Bob

SUMMARY: As the organ swells rise, the sense of dynamics and scaling are noteworthy; once again the Blade’s low-frequency performance is deeply impressive. Strings are smooth, silky and wide with the atmospheric additions to Zimmer’s score presented confidently in the soundstage.
The overall impression is one of a very modern take on the classic KEF sound; there are restraint and class in the presentation, with nothing being overly forceful, brash, or shouty. By the same token, however, the KEF Blade 2 loudspeakers are only ever a twist of the volume knob away from being able to completely immerse you in the music you’re listening to.

EXTENDED REVIEW: How do KEF’s unique and eye-catching Blade 2 speakers perform under sonic scrutiny?

KEF: one of the undisputed “power brands” within the Hi-Fi world, and progenitor of some of the greatest loudspeaker designs of the last 50 years. Always innovative, and always impressive, the KEF Blade 2 continues that great legacy.

As part of our review on the Devialet Expert Proamps, we used the KEF Blade 2 loudspeakers as our reference point. It seemed fitting that we reported back on the performance of these excellent loudspeakers…

KEF Blade 2

The KEF Blade 2 fits rather neatly between KEF’s hugely successful LS50 stand mtg speakers and their leviathan flagship Blade-1 loudspeakers. What all of these models have in common, is the signature KEF Uni-Q loudspeaker driver, with the now famous “tangerine waveguide”.

KEF’s Uni Q driver came about after a request for a laboratory grade reference driver for measurements and scientific testing. There are strong parallels between the Uni-Q and the original Tannoy Monitor loudspeaker in this respect.

Both the Uni-Q and the Tannoy Dual Concentric are “single point source” speaker drivers and were both originally developed to provide outstanding directional imaging and a truly transparent presentation.

Where the two differ perhaps is in execution; Tannoy’s current GR series is very much a traditional loudspeaker born from a heritage background. In contrast, the KEF Blade and LS50 speakers are unashamedly modern and futurist which is borne out in their aesthetics and sonic signature.

Uncompromisingly Modern

The KEF Blade 2 loudspeakers are like no other floor standing speakers this reviewer has seen before. Standing tall and narrow, with the signature Uni-Q driver sitting proudly up front as a focal point. The futuristic, composite, blade-shaped cabinets, also house four low-frequency drivers placed on the side of the cabinet.

With an aesthetic which is both tech-driven and modernist, yet also rather organic and natural, the KEF Blade 2 will certainly be a talking point in any room. Available in a range of colours from a subdued black through to eye-catching gloss shades, one can personalise the Blade 2 to your own taste.

Even the most arresting of aesthetics and industrial design won’t make up for a lacklustre audio experience, however. It was time to dispense with aesthetic judgements, turn up the volume and see what the KEF Blade 2 is really all about…

A Highly Competent Performer

The audio chain for these tests was provided by the remarkable Devialet Expert Pro 220 integrate DAC amplifier streaming music from an iPad via ROON. First up is Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker; the opening choir displays a nice width in the soundstage, and as the bass guitar and percussion enter, it’s clear these are speakers which don’t lack depth or confidence in their presentation.

As Cohen’s vocal enters, there’s incredible low-mid presence; Cohen’s aged characterful voice presented with force and depth which shudders the couch. By the same token, the speakers remain composed and controlled; it’s a confident start.

Switching over to MUSE’s New Born from Origin of Symmetry, it’s time to step up a gear and really see what the KEF Blade’s are capable of. This is a harmonically complex mix which could easily upset the balance of less composed loudspeakers.

As one would expect of a Uni-Q equipped loudspeaker, HF detail is superb; the hi-hats and cymbals in the opener are beautifully defined within the soundstage and appear crisp and lively without being harsh or intrusive.

As the full band enters, the dynamic capabilities of the KEF Blade 2’s shine; there’s a full and defined bandwidth with everything sitting pretty much as one would expect. Even with a fairly busy mix such as this, the vocal is clearly defined and intelligible, even against the glorious onslaught of MUSE’s distorted guitars and growling bass guitar.

Loading up Hans Zimmer’s score for Interstellar revealed another aspect to the Blade 2’s personality. The opening thunderclaps and ambient noises of the score were so real, your reviewer found himself looking out of the window to see if it had in fact begun raining!

As the organ swells rise, the sense of dynamics and scaling are noteworthy; once again the Blade’s low-frequency performance is deeply impressive. Strings are smooth, silky and wide with the atmospheric additions to Zimmer’s score presented confidently in the soundstage.

The overall impression is one of a very modern take on the classic KEF sound; there are restraint and class in the presentation, with nothing being overly forceful, brash, or shouty. By the same token, however, the KEF Blade 2 loudspeakers are only ever a twist of the volume knob away from being able to completely immerse you in the music you’re listening to.

If you’re looking for something which offers a little more scale than the KEF LS50, a loudspeaker of uncompromising modernity and style, and value transparency and neutrality in your loudspeakers, then the KEF Blade-2 loudspeakers are hugely deserving of your time.

There’s nothing in the world like the Blade Two -- except its big brother, the Blade.
Doug Schneider

SUMMARY: Listening to these and many other tracks revealed other Blade Two strengths. I mentioned the clarity I heard with the Cowboy Junkies and Ani DiFranco discs -- it conveyed fantastic purity and cleanness throughout the audioband, whether the volume level was whisper quiet or wall-flexing loud. That clarity, combined with the outstanding imaging, made voices, male or female, “pop” holographically on the soundstage.

My favorite song on We Go Home is “Song of Me and You.” Through the Blue Circle BC204 amplifier, Cohen’s voice was appropriately rich and highly detailed

EXTENDED REVIEW: In 2009, when KEF unveiled the Concept Blade at High End, in Munich, Germany, its radical shape was a bolt from the blue that left little doubt that KEF wanted to make a statement -- that they were on the cutting edge, so to speak, of loudspeaker design, in terms of both looks and sound. I was gobsmacked by the speaker’s visual beauty, particularly its similarity to a knife blade when viewed from the side.

Two things about the Concept Blade’s acoustical engineering stood out. First, it was clear that the designers were making more than a visual statement with that narrow, curved front baffle: they wanted to give the speaker’s front-mounted Uni-Q driver -- a coaxial design comprising a tweeter and a midrange (described in more detail below) -- a noninterfering platform from which to launch soundwaves. Second, the Concept Blade’s four woofers were mounted two on each side, all equidistant from the Uni-Q. It was obvious that KEF’s designers were attempting to create point-source behavior throughout the audioband -- in other words, a uniform soundfield created by the outputs of all the drivers seeming to originate from a single point in space.

The Concept Blade was just that -- a concept, a prototype, not a production model. However, KEF was sufficiently encouraged by the positive reaction of the public and the audio press that, under the direction of Dr. Jack O’Clee-Brown, KEF’s acoustics team found ways to reduce the prototype’s cost and complexity to the point where it became a commercially viable product that could be manufactured in the UK, at KEF’s factory. The Blade was launched in 2011; it’s still available, 3 years later came the subject of this review: the BladeTwo.

Description

Take snapshots of the Blade and Blade Two on their own and you might not be able to tell them apart -- the cabinet shapes are the same, as are the placements of the drivers. The Two is just a bit smaller. The finish options, too, are identical: Snow White and Piano Black are standard; Racing Red, Light Metallic Silver, Warm Metallic, Frosted Copper Black, and Frosted Blue are optional, and usually take longer for delivery, at least in North America.

The Uni-Q driver is the same in both Blades, but differs from those used in KEF’s Reference and R-series speakers, though all of these look almost identical. This coaxial driver comprises a 1” aluminum-dome tweeter buried in the throat of a midrange driver whose 4” cone is made of an alloy of lithium, aluminum, and magnesium. The tweeter and midrange motor systems have neodymium magnets, which can generate a much stronger magnetic force than can ferrite magnets of the same size, provided all else is equal. The midrange cone has a 3”-diameter voice coil, and liquid-crystal polymer (LCP) ribs on its rear surface. LCP is said to be exceptionally strong and remarkably inert, so these ribs stay rigid under extreme conditions. Because of its extra-large size, the voice coil is attached closer to the edge of the cone than to its center, a configuration KEF calls “nodal drive.” The positioning of the coil, the inclusion of the LCP ribs, and the cone’s shape (which KEF’s engineers arrived at through computer modeling) and materials combine to keep this driver’s motion pistonic throughout and well beyond its operating bandwidth. This means that, as the cone reproduces the frequencies it’s told to, it retains its shape, instead of bending and flexing like many diaphragms, which can create audible distortions. According to O’Clee-Brown, the midrange driver’s operating bandwidth is roughly between 380Hz and 3kHz, the frequencies at which it’s respectively crossed over to the woofers and the tweeter.

The upper limit of the audioband -- that is, the top of the range of human hearing -- is generally considered to be 20kHz. KEF claims that the aluminum-dome tweeter used in both Blades remains pistonic past 40kHz -- not only far beyond the audioband, but, surprisingly, higher than even many beryllium-based domes I’ve seen measured can go without hitting their natural resonance points. (Although beryllium domes can be made to extend well past 40kHz without breakup, many I’ve seen measured go only a little past 30kHz.) According to O’Clee-Brown, achieving such a high breakup point has partly to do with the materials used in the tweeter, but mostly with the dome’s shape.

I need to say a bit more about the Uni-Q, because it’s such an important element in KEF’s current speaker designs. Burying the tweeter in the midrange cone aligns the acoustic centers of both drivers at the same point in space, which means their sounds propagate along the same axis. As a result, the summing behavior of their soundwaves as they radiate from the speaker is consistent at all points above and around the speaker. This is quite different from most speakers’ driver arrays, in which the tweeter and midrange are usually at least a couple inches apart. The summing behavior of disparate drivers positioned so far apart changes as you move to different places around the speaker, because the distances from each driver to those places are constantly changing. Imagine attaching ends of two strings of equal length to the center of each of two separate (i.e., non-coaxial) drivers, but holding the other ends together so that they line up perfectly where they terminate. It will form something like a triangle, because the driver ends are apart. Then, move that ending point to where both strings meet around in space -- each string will move differently wherever you move, because each is attached to a driver that’s in a different place from the other driver. If you attach those same strings to the center of the Uni-Q’s midrange and tweeter, they’ll be attached to the exact same spot at the speaker end, because the center of the midrange is also the center of the tweeter. As a result, the strings will remain together as you move the ending point of the strings around.

The midrange cone is also shaped to act as a waveguide for the tweeter; that is, it controls or redirects the propagation of the tweeter’s soundwaves, to better match the tweeter’s dispersion characteristics with that of the midrange. The waveguide also provides the tweeter with acoustical gain -- exactly how much depends on the frequency. For example, imagine speaking into a megaphone: it amplifies your voice. The waveguide works similarly, although the secret of good waveguide design is to shape it to avoid stereotypical horn-type colorations. To give me an idea of just how much gain can be generated by a waveguide, O’Clee-Brown sent along charts that show that the Blade Two’s midrange cone provides up to 7dB of gain for the tweeter at about 4kHz, that gain diminishing at a very slow but constant rate for higher and lower frequencies, until, at about 1kHz and 10kHz, it provides no gain at all. And 7dB is a lot of gain: It takes double the amount of amplifier power to increase a speaker’s output by 3dB, and twice that power again to achieve another 3dB rise in volume level, and so on. KEF’s waveguide provides up to 7dB more output without the amplifier having to work a bit harder.

However, the midrange cone doesn’t affect the tweeter’s output above 10kHz, because the wavelengths of those higher frequencies are so much shorter. Enter KEF’s “tangerine waveguide,” consisting of the nine fin-like things in front of the tweeter attached to the midrange cone. Again according to O’Clee-Brown’s graphs, the tangerine provides some 3dB of gain centered at about 15kHz, and helps control the tweeter’s output when the dome hits its natural resonance point somewhere above 40kHz. Clever.

But there are differences between the Blade and the Blade Two -- most notably, in the sizes of their cabinets and woofers, and in the components of the crossover, to accommodate the differing drivers.

According to KEF’s specs, the Blade’s cabinet, with plinth, measures 62.5”H x 14.3”W x 21.2”D; the Two’s cabinet, with plinth, is 57.5”H x 13.3”W x 18.7”D. That might not seem much of a difference, but if you look at the speakers side by side, it’s easy to see that the Blade Two is quite a bit smaller. However, those dimensions make both speakers sound a bit wider on paper than they actually appear -- the width cited is that of the plinth, which is only 1 5/8” high (without spikes). Once you get past the plinth, the Blade Two is only about 7.5” at its widest and 18” at its deepest -- it doesn’t take up much space. And despite it’s being nearly 5’ tall, the Blade Two is lighter than it looks -- just 78 pounds -- which made unboxing it and moving it around easy. The reason it’s so light is that it’s made from what designer and engineer Phil Gidley describes in our SoundStage inSight Blade Two video as a “self-forming composite,” which doesn’t weigh nearly as much as the woods and metals most other speakers are made of.

The Blade Two’s four side-mounted aluminum-cone woofers are a lot smaller than the Blade’s quartet: 6.5” vs. 9”. This means that, all else being equal, the Two’s woofers can’t move as much air, which, in turn, means less bass extension and output. Each pair of opposed woofers is bolted to the cabinet, and the two woofers are connected to each other inside the speaker with metal rods, in what’s called a force-canceling configuration. The cabinet interior is subdivided: each woofer pair operates within its own subenclosure, with its own port on the rear panel.

Force-canceling woofers aren’t unique to KEF, but few companies use the technique, despite its obvious advantages: Extraneous vibrations created by each woofer are canceled because, when both are pumping out bass, their movements are equal and opposite of each other. As a result, vibrations from each driver that would normally travel into the cabinet are almost completely eliminated, which is one of the reasons KEF’s designers could get away with using such a lightweight cabinet material -- there’s less need for damping unwanted resonances with extra mass. Vivid Audio does the same thing -- I also had in for review Vivid’s Oval B1 Decade speaker ($28,000/pair), which has opposed woofers. (Vivid’s designer, Laurence Dickie, does a great job of explaining force-canceling drivers in a SoundStage! InSight video we produced in October 2014.) The efficacy of this approach became clear to me when I played bass-heavy music loud: When I laid a hand on the Blade Twos’ cabinets, I felt as little vibration as I’ve felt from speakers two or three times the Two’s weight. It works.

My only complaint about the Blade Two’s lightweight construction has to do mostly with the plinth, which is light plastic and looks it. The heavy drivers are mounted high on the speaker, which makes the Two a touch top-heavy, even with the supplied floor spikes screwed in. The spikes raise the speaker a bit, but make it far more stable on carpeted floors. Neither speaker fell over during the listening period, but once, when changing speaker cables, I bumped a Two hard with my butt -- it rocked back and forth enough that I was very glad I hadn’t bumped it harder.

Toward the bottom of the Two’s rear panel are two pairs of binding posts: the top two are connected to the tweeter and midrange, the bottom two to the woofers. These can be used for biwiring or biamping, provided you turn fully counterclockwise the two knobs labeled Link, which are between the posts. If, as I did, you use only a single pair of speaker cables, turn the Link knobs clockwise to connect the leads of the top and bottom posts.

The two Blades’ impedances are specified the same: 4 ohms nominal, 3.2 ohms minimum, which should be an easy enough load for most amps. The Two’s sensitivity is a claimed 90dB vs. the original Blade’s 91dB (both at 2.83V/m), which likely won’t make a bit of difference, regardless of the amp used. The Two’s maximum output, measured as a peak level using pink noise, is specified by KEF as 116dB, the Blade’s as 117dB -- again, a negligible difference, and anyway, few people would ever dream of playing their speakers that loud.

The biggest difference is in the bass-extension specs. KEF rates the Blade’s “free field” and “typical in room” bass responses as, respectively, 28 and 20Hz, both -6dB. The Blade Two’s corresponding specs are 34 and 25Hz, both -6dB. Those differences are not trivial -- the Blade goes considerably deeper than the Blade Two. But which Blade will sound better will mostly depend on the room it’s used in -- some rooms don’t deal well with superdeep bass, others do. Furthermore, despite the Blade Two’s less extended bass, as you’ll read below, the “Baby Blade” (as KEF’s Johan Coorg called it in our video) could hardly be called bass-shy.

System and setup

Because my reviews of the Vivid Oval B1 Decade (B1D for short) and KEF Blade Two overlapped, most of the equipment I used for each was the same, which helped with comparisons. I mostly drove the Blade Twos with my Blue Circle Audio BC204 stereo amplifier (150Wpc into 8 ohms or 250Wpc into 4 ohms), which has a tubed input stage and a solid-state output stage. But for a short while I also used JE Audio’s all-tube VM60 monoblocks, specced at 60W each into 8 or 4 ohms. The VM60s lacked the power to play the Twos superloud, but they do have some magical properties in the midrange that the Vivids and KEFs readily revealed (see below). Ahead of the amps were Simaudio’s Moon Evolution 740P preamplifier with optional Moon Evolution 820S power supply; Hegel Music Systems’ HD30 DAC, which I reviewed in December 2015; and a Samsung laptop computer running Windows 10, JRiver Media Center 20, and the Tidal music-streaming service.

I connected DAC to computer with an AudioQuest Carbon USB cable and JitterBug USB filter, the latter connected to the computer’s USB port. I used Crystal Cable Standard Diamond interconnects and Siltech Classic Anniversary 330L speaker cables for all analog signals. The electronics were plugged into one of two Shunyata Research Venom PS8 power distributors (one for the source components, the other for the amps). Plugged into one receptacle of each PS8 was a Shunyata Venom Defender noise reducer/EMI suppressor. Shunyata Venom HC power cables were used for the preamp and DAC, stock cords for the power amps.

After experimenting with placement, I wound up setting up the Blade Twos the same as I had the B1Ds because that’s where they sounded best: just over 8’ apart, tweeter to tweeter, and 8’ from my listening position, firing straight (no toe-in).

Sound

I cued up “Mining for Gold,” from the Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, RCA) -- probably the album I most often play for reviews nowadays, because I know it so well -- and marveled at the hugeness of the soundstage, the overall clarity and neutrality of the sound, how well focused Margo Timmins’s voice was at center stage, and the breathtaking depth of the bass. But it was with the Junkies’ cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” that I was able to zero in on the Twos’ unique abilities in soundstaging and imaging. In this track, Timmins is at center stage, the lead guitar to the left, just a little behind her, and the drums to the right, much farther back. Most well-set-up speakers likewise put Timmins’s voice very solidly at center stage, and position the other instruments in the correct locations, but none I’ve reviewed has positioned the other instruments as solidly and tangibly as the Twos did -- we’re talking hyperprecise toward the sides of the stage. Furthermore, even though the drums were very far back and to the right, their aural images were as precisely drawn as that of Timmins’s voice up front and center. I haven’t heard any other pair of speakers achieve that degree of image focus across the stage with all of the instruments in this track.

In the next track, “Postcard Blues,” Steve Shearer’s harmonica is at right, and the Twos positioned it with as much focus and tangibility as Timmins’s voice at center stage. Again, the effect was uncanny -- with pretty much every other speaker I’ve heard, the imaging to the side gets a little vague, even though the positioning is correct. But with the Twos, it was not only more vividly drawn, the illusion of depth was far more convincing than I’d heard before.

Intrigued by how precisely the Blade Twos were placing images left to right and front to back on the soundstage, I played “Mademoiselle Mabry,” from Miles Davis’s The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions (16/44.1 FLAC, Columbia/Legacy/Tidal). Davis’s trumpet is at center stage, but the other instruments are hard right and left, which makes for a very wide but not very realistic-sounding stage, particularly with the drums way out to the right. That kind of left/right spread tends to draw the listener’s attention to the speakers themselves, rather than to the music. But with the Blade Twos imaging so accurately in my room, and able to “disappear” into the soundstage and convey such convincing depth with such precision and focus, even with images placed at the extreme sides of the stage, I found that this 1968 recording sounded quite a bit more natural -- I was better able to imagine the instruments being set farther back and detached from the speakers, not right at them.

I also played “Everest,” from Ani DiFranco’s Up Up Up Up Up Up (16/44.1 FLAC, Righteous Babe), a recording I often use for imaging because DiFranco’s voice and guitar aren’t at the front of the stage but to the left, and, based on what I’ve gathered from all the systems I’ve listened to this track through, a few feet back. (Of course, I wasn’t there for the recording or mixing, so I can’t know for sure, but after hundreds of listening sessions, I’m confident enough.) Through some of the best speakers I’ve heard, DiFranco’s voice and guitar are positioned specifically to the left, with a very good semblance of how far back she’s positioned. But with the Blade Twos, her positioning was laser-like -- her voice and guitar sounded as if emanating from a spot exactly 3’ behind the left speaker’s Uni-Q driver. That spot was about 3” above the upper port, or midway between the woofers on each side.

In this album’s title track, DiFranco’s voice is mixed at center, a placement the Twos re-created as a focused point in space about the size of a softball. Her voice sounded remarkably clear and natural, indicating to me that the Blade Twos were adding no colorations of their own. But what really took me aback was when, 2:03 into the song, the drums came crashing in -- with greater weight, impact, and solidity through the Twos than I’d ever heard in my room. This was startling because the Two is the “Baby Blade,” with more limited bass reproduction than the full-grown Blade. Nonetheless, the Two sounded anything but small, and while it might output less bass than its big brother, it delivered far deeper bass than Vivid’s Oval B1 Decades (more below). Based on what I heard, KEF’s in-room rating of 25Hz is probably true.

But because the Blade Two sounded so powerful in the bass, I wanted to make sure that none of that bass was overblown -- an inflation of reality. That’s what had happened with the Polymer Audio Research MKS (US$42,000/pair), whose sound, though really big down low, was a little too prominent and a touch loose, at times even sounding fat. To hear if KEF had got the Two’s bass voicing right, I turned to the title track of Adam Cohen’s We Go Home (16/44.1 FLAC, Rezolute Music), which has tremendous WHOMP when the kick drum enters. I wasn’t in the studio when this album was recorded either, but I’ve heard Cohen perform live in a small, well-designed theater with good acoustics. The same drummer was playing as had played on the album, and the engineer kept the SPLs reasonable -- rare in live venues, where everything is usually so loud you risk hearing damage. The overall bass level at the concert closely matched what I heard in my room: prominent when the drums entered, but not so much as to obscure the other musicians.

I went back and listened more carefully to the Cowboy Junkies’ “Mining for Gold.” I’ve found with this track that if a speaker’s bass is too elevated, it overshadows Margo Timmins’s voice. Through the Blade Twos, the substantial bass weight was obvious -- it thundered in my room -- but with no overshadowing or loss of clarity in the singer’s voice. I can only surmise that the powerful bass the Blade Twos presented accurately reflected what the recordings contained.

Listening to these and many other tracks revealed other Blade Two strengths. I mentioned the clarity I heard with the Cowboy Junkies and Ani DiFranco discs -- it conveyed fantastic purity and cleanness throughout the audioband, whether the volume level was whisper quiet or wall-flexing loud. That clarity, combined with the outstanding imaging, made voices, male or female, “pop” holographically on the soundstage.

My favorite song on We Go Home is “Song of Me and You.” Through the Blue Circle BC204 amplifier, Cohen’s voice was appropriately rich and highly detailed. When I replaced the BC204 with the JE Audio VM60 monoblocks, I heard a slight reduction in the lowest bass produced -- a typical byproduct of low- and medium-powered tube amps, which tend to lack extension at the audioband extremes -- but his voice was even richer and even more present than before. This I really liked, because it made the sound more palpable, full, and realistic. I also found that the VM60s sweetened the highs just a touch, which some might welcome -- the Blade Two, like other KEF speakers I’ve reviewed in my room and heard at shows, has highs that are extremely extended, voiced just this side of bright. A little sweetening up top can go a long way toward making inherently bright-sounding recordings just a little more palatable -- this speaker hides nothing, and holds no frequencies back.

With such a clean, neutral, near-full-range sound at both very low and very high volumes, the Blade Two was a sort of chameleon -- its sound depended on the type of music I threw at it, regardless of listening level. For example, for much of the time I spent writing this review, I streamed Miles Davis’s ’Round About Midnight(16/44.1 FLAC, Columbia/Legacy/Tidal) at very low volumes so that I could concentrate on my writing. Nonetheless, again and again I found myself looking up, marveling at how much detail I could hear, and how deep into the soundstage of this 1957 mono recording I could perceive.

At other times I cut loose with stuff that begs to be played really loud: orchestral music, metal, and hard rock -- particularly, when I felt like reliving my youth, rock from the late 1970s and early ’80s. Music like that just doesn’t seem right when played quietly (which is why guys at parties always yell “Turn it up!” when their favorite old song comes on). I also often played recordings that I don’t always feel compelled to play super loud -- but I did through the Blade Twos because the speakers never sounded as if they were straining. I played all of We Go Home many times at levels as loud, and sometimes louder, than those I heard at that Adam Cohen concert. Katarina and Svante Henryson’s High, Low or In Between, featuring just voice and cello (24/96 FLAC, BIS), is something I often use for background listening. But I cranked up their cover of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” to ridiculously loud listening levels -- beyond lifelike, I believe -- and was amazed that the sound remained as clear and composed as it was when played at reasonable or very quiet levels.

One of the hallmarks of a great loudspeaker is that it favors no kind of music over any other. The Blade Two easily achieved that -- and did so at any volume level.

Comparison

Pit almost any current loudspeaker against Vivid Audio’s Oval B1 Decade and there’s a good chance it will come up short. Except for the B1D’s inability to reproduce with any authority the very lowest audible octave (20-40Hz), it sounds nothing short of exceptional throughout the rest of the audioband, with reference-class clarity, total transparency, and an openness of sound matched by no other speaker I’ve heard. KEF’s Blade Two is one of the few that can hold its own against the B1D -- and, in some areas, outperform it.

Before I get to the sound, it’s important to point out some design similarities between the Vivid and the KEF: both have force-canceling woofers; both have cabinets of radically different shape from the norm, and from each other, and made of unusual materials (the B1D’s cabinet comprises panels of vacuum-infused, fiberglass-reinforced resin sandwiching a balsa core); and both have bespoke drivers designed to retain their pistonic action within their operating bandwidths (like the Blade Two’s tweeter, the breakup frequency of the B1D’s aluminum-dome tweeter is beyond 40kHz).

When it came to depth of bass, and power throughout the bass range, the B1D’s two woofers were no match for the Blade Two’s four woofers in a much larger cabinet -- the Twos reached down to under 30Hz in my room with tremendous authority, whereas by around 40Hz the B1Ds had fallen off the cliff. The Blade Twos could also play at least a bit louder overall. At unrealistically loud listening levels, I did reach the B1 Decades’ limit: some compression in the highs set in (as I increased the volume, the bass and midrange frequencies were rising in level, but the highs were not); however, with the Blade Twos, I never found a place to stop. The only thing that stopped me was that I didn’t want to drive my amplifier into clipping. Overall, the Blade Twos sounded bigger, fuller, richer, and, when needed, louder than the B1Ds. Because of all that, a pair of Blade Twos would be my choice for a large room.

The midranges of the Blade Two and B1D were comparable: exceptionally clear, unflinchingly neutral, amazingly detailed. The highs were equally extended and clean, but, in back-to-back comparisons, I found the B1D’s top end just a touch cleaner, as I stated in my review of that speaker: “I’ll say that the B1D’s top end was the cleanest I’ve heard -- ever.”

There were subtle differences between the speakers in soundstaging and imaging, but no clear winner. The B1Ds cast the most spacious soundstages that any front-firing speakers have in my room, with imaging that was always precise throughout the stage. The Blade Twos’ stages weren’t quite as spacious, but were darn close; however, the Twos’ images were even more tangible and focused, particularly toward the sides of the stage. Also, when musicians were layered in depth, their exact positions were easier to pinpoint through the KEFs. I found my preference switching back and forth between the KEFs and the Vivids, depending on the recording.
Soundstaging and imaging? A draw.

Conclusion

When KEF introduced their new Reference line at High End 2015, in Munich, I was surprised -- their rectilinear cabinets looked so ordinary compared to what they’d done with the Blades. When I asked Johan Coorg about this, he explained that although the Blades were big hits around the world, their knifelike profiles were too out there for some people. The Reference models were KEF’s way of offering something more traditional. I get that -- but I loved how the Blade Twos looked in my room. I also loved their sound.

KEF’s Blade Two ranks with Vivid Audio’s Oval B1 Decade -- which, except for the absence of the bottommost octave of bass. That’s fine company. The Two handily bettered the B1D in bass power and extension. The Blade Twos also edged out the B1Ds in image specificity, particularly along the edges of the soundstage. And although the output levels either speaker is capable of exceed the needs of most listeners, the Twos could play a little louder in my large room. Add to those qualities strict neutrality across the audioband, extremely extended highs, and clarity that made me stand up and notice, and the Blade Two is a top-drawer transducer as exciting to listen to as it is to look at. There’s nothing in the world like the Blade Two -- except its big brother, the Blade.

If the audiophile can achieve that level of sound quality from the R7 speakers at their price point it makes them incredible value for money.
Terry Ellis December 2018

Final Thoughts: I am full of admiration for KEF and the R7 speakers, they have impressed me immensely with their sonic performance, without even considering their price point and they are testament to KEF sharing and filtering technologies across all their speaker models.  They are a speaker many audiophiles will be able to afford.  They are a speaker many audiophiles will love and can enjoy for many years safe in the knowledge that their system can be upgraded and the R7 will keep giving and that is one of their most exciting aspects.

Have KEF gone and done it again?
KEF a company with a history dating back over 50 years have really been on a roll in the last five year with knock out products being released one after the other and they are showing no signs of slowing down with the new R Series.  A full redesign of what was already a very accomplished product line KEF are boasting over one thousand changes, just think about that number for a minute. 
I was very happy and excited to take a pair of the new R7, the larger of the two very similar looking floor standing speakers home for review to see what sound quality KEF had achieved for a speaker at this price point.
Special thanks to Nintronics the excellent hifi and AV dealership for loaning me this sample for review
Looked very familiar
Despite the very high number of changes in the new R7 speakers they look very familiar, the design very much mimics the companies outstanding Reference Range of speakers.  The R7 could easily pass as a younger brother to the Reference 3, they both have a modern and elegant styling, purposeful but not over bearing.  The all black R7 is a very nice finish, despite making it difficult to find things to write about.  In this instance I think simplicity is no bad thing.
The speakers are a domestic friendly size and weigh 25kg each, they are easy to move around and tweak the position.  The build quality is excellent and I was impressed with the high gloss paint finish.
One new visual aspect to new R range is the speaker grilles which are a completely new design and for once actually add rather than subtract to the aesthetic, while protecting the drivers from any prying fingers.

Picture
 
How much Reference DNA is there in the R7
KEF are very transparent in how they engineer technologies for their speakers, their aim is share designs across their entire range and this is very evident in the inclusion of the UniQ in every speaker they make.  The R7 visually resembling the Reference 3 is not by chance its the result of its design benefiting from the engineering work completed during the Reference project.
The first resemblance is the Shadow Flare that surrounds the UniQ driver, this was taken directly from Reference and is there to prevent the tweeter having any line of sight with the edges of the cabinet.  This helps with the retrieval of more fine details and nuance.

The next resemblance is the low frequency drivers, the D'apolito driver array is common across varying speaker brands and is a particular favourite of mine so I was very happy to see it used on the R Series floor standers.  The low frequency drivers are about the nicest looking you will see across any speaker brand with their discrete, surround less design and concave smooth driver its just damn sexy.  How often do you say that about a 6 1/2 inch speaker bass driver.  In the R7 they are a hybrid design combining two skin materials, aluminium and paper to create enough stiffess for a piston like motion.
To control the drivers KEF have redesigned the magnet system to create a more even magnetic field for a more impressive and impactful low end 

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Attentions to Detail 
Whenever KEF release a new speaker I am deeply impressed by their attentions to detail.  In the R7 they have employed a very comprehensive bracing system, using the constrained layer bracing system similar to the system used in Reference.  This system utilises internal braces joined by a ‘lossy’ interface and is highly effective at dissipating unwanted vibrations that would otherwise artificially change the sound and music.  
The R7 uses KEF Flexible port technology first seen in the LS50
The ports in R Series feature innovative flexible walls and using computational fluid dynamics, the flare and profile of each port is calculated to delay the onset of turbulence, preventing this from colouring the midrange.

12th Iteration of the UniQ
UniQ technology has been at the heart of KEF speakers for about as long as I have been alive and its used for specific and very good reasons and its been under development and improvement all this time.  In the new R series speakers the UniQ is improved again. KEF have reduced a resonance in the minute gaps between Uni-Q’s separate elements reducing any slight colouration this added. 
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Easy to setup 
I placed the R7 in the usual spot in my room paying very close attention to the speakers toe in angle.  Having reviewed quite a few different speakers recently I have changed tactic with my speaker toe in strategy choosing to set the speakers as wide apart as I can with the speakers facing mostly straight forward (maybe a slight amount of toe in)  This strategy creates a more open and cohesive sound stage between the speakers with a trade off of some perceived depth, well at least that is what I thought, more on that later.

The KEF R7 suited this strategy perfectly and following a Dirac Live set of measurements and correction I was very happy with the overall results.  Dirac live really worked wonders on the R7 in my room despite all the acoustic treatment I have employed.  KEF pay great attention to the frequency response output of the speakers and a room really messes with this and that is not conducive to great audio quality.  Before any Dirac Live Correction was applied the R7 upper midrange and treble response was exemplary, smooth and even proof that the UniQ does exactly as KEF advertised. 
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Starting where I left off
I started the review using the same electronics I used in the previous review the Leema Elements Integrated and Qutest as the DAC and Tellurium Q Silver II speaker cables.  It was a positive start for sure and the sound was impressive and I could tell the R7 are a well designed capable speaker and I really wanted to push them.
Coming back with a Game Changer
I visited Nintronics to return some equipment to them and discussed with them my thoughts on the R7 and how I could tell they were capable of more than I was giving them.  They suggested a try the new Chord Electronics Hugo TT2 as a DAC instead of the Qutest with its more resolving chipset and balanced connections.  I then saw some sexy valves housed in a green and black chassis that I just had to take away with me.  I have been desperate to try a Valve amplifier forever and the combination of a Hugo TT2 to be used as a DAC and pre amplifier with a McIntosh NC275 power amplifier was put into my car.  That wasn't all, my car was graced with another Chord Electronics gem that I have been desperate to try and this combination was sure to push the qualities of the R7 with the added bonus of exposing me to KEF on Tubes - what was this going to sound like??  I was very excited to try.

I started slowly so I could assess the qualities of each product and what they might add or take away from the sound with the R7 setup as they was.  I have spent a lot of time with Chord Electronics DACs having reviewed nearly all of their recent models so I knew what to expect from the Hugo TT 2 and it delivered exactly that.   Using the TT2 allowed me to use Tellurium Q Silver Diamond Balanced cables, these are exquisite cables and again added, or rather removed what I expected.  The big surprise was the McIntosh, I listened to this new combination for several days as happy as an audiophile could be, a lucid smooth but organic detailed sound that had that draw, we all know it, a sound that has itching to get back in the listening seat as much as possible to enjoy as much music as can be fitted into a day.  In some regards this was some of the most enjoyable sound I have had in my listening room to date which is saying a lot considering the quality of products I have reviewed in the last year.  KEF being great on Tubes was a real surprise one and I wanted to hear much more of.
Audiophiles are naturally greedy creatures
After several days of happiness my analytical side kicked in and I remembered my goal of pushing the R7 as much as possible to see what they could really do, it was time to pull out the big guns.  Initially I replaced the Tellurium Q Silver II speaker cable with the companies much higher end speaker cable the Silver Diamond knowing this would cast the net wide open between the R7's and what came before them.  Making this change was very interesting because it was not a wholly positive experience.  There was a lot of positive change but not all positive and this puzzled me for a short while, until I realised the Silver Diamond Speaker Cable and ultimately the R7 was transparent enough to show me all the good and not so good of the audio system chain before them.  This was extremely impressive, the R7 were this transparent, because we are talking about a very high performing digital and analogue chain.

It was time to bring out the game changer, I installed the Chord Hugo M scaer before Hugo TT 2 and set it to dual BNC output mode upscaling to its maximum of 768khz (705.6 from 44.1Khz).   Coupled with this change I installed the Wave High Fidelty Stream Digital BNC Cables between the Hugo M Scaler and Hugo TT 2 knowing these would be about the best cables to entrust to this important link.  This really was a sensible and clever move because from here things got seriously good and at last I was ready to assess the actual performance of the KEF R7.
Refined, Detailed & Articulate
It would be easy to lose focus here and sing the praises of the Chord Hugo M Scaler, but putting my feet back on the ground and focusing the KEF R7 were giving me all the improvements I was hearing from the game changing digital technology.  I had hit a fantastic audio plateu where the sound was nearly everything to me and I dare say would be to a large portion of audiophiles.  A sweet and smooth detailed presentation with fantastic articulation across a wide open sound stage with excellent clarity and focus.  The sonic images the R7 were creating between and outside the speakers were full scale, clean and presented with a very near KEF Reference level of clarity.

More impressive was how the central sound stage opened up and the sense of depth increased, aided with improved clarity and focus to the sounds with the most depth.  The R7 were performing to a level in this regard I was not expecting but relished in listening to.
Still Fun
I have seen comments  written on forums where audiophiles complain of speakers becoming too good at what they do but seemingly losing the fun factor.  The term fun will differ between audiophiles but I believe fun comes from a speakers ability to convey the energy of the musical, maybe even the intended emotion.  From the song demonstration video above you can see the KEF R7 are able to convey the lively and passionate musical intent from the  Ana Moura Track Oz Buzios.

Can do Complex
The KEF R7 proved themselves to be very capable speakers across a big variety of music styles and I tried to test them and find a weak spot in their performance, I failed.  Even more complex pieces of music such as Dead Can Dance Song of the Stars the R7 proved just how capable they are as you can see from the song demonstration video below.
KEF R7 Perfect Speaker?
Its very easy to get carried away when listening to a great sounding hifi system, one that is really pushing all the right buttons for you as an audiophile.  Are the KEF R7 the perfect speaker, of course not and they are not marketed as such.  If I was going to be ultra critical and unfairly compare them against the whole market of speakers, their bass could be more powerful and they could be more transparent.  Both of these you get and more as you move up the KEF range to the Reference and Blade speakers.  What was startling to me was just how familiar the sound quality was, very close to sound I am used to from my KEF Reference 3 speakers, however I am still to hear the Hugo M Scaler and Tubes with the Reference 3 and know there is a lot more to come from these speakers.  Despite that, If the audiophile can achieve that level of sound quality from the R7 speakers at their price point of £2600 it makes them incredible value for money.
Final Thoughts
I am full of admiration for KEF and the R7 speakers, they have impressed me immensely with their sonic performance, without even considering their price point and they are testament to KEF sharing and filtering technologies across all their speaker models.  They are a speaker many audiophiles will be able to afford.  They are a speaker many audiophiles will love and can enjoy for many years safe in the knowledge that their system can be upgraded and the R7 will keep giving and that is one of their most exciting aspects.

I make this recommendation to any audiophiles considering purchasing the R7, at the same time invest in some Isoacoustic GAIA speaker isolators, the extra cost will be worth it.

Congratulations to KEF, you have done it again, the R7 is a fantastic speaker

Awards

SUMMARY OF THE MANY AWARDS HANDED OUR TO KEF LS50 PASSIVE


Value-Priced Loudspeaker of the Year


Year: 2016
Magazine / Issuing Body: Hi-Fi+
Country: United Kingdom
Product: LS50







AV Forums Highly Recommended Award
"The LS50 resolves beautifully and matches this with tonal accuracy and cohesion that is truly outstanding but just as importantly, it does all this with a sense of energy life and sheer entertainment that is quite its own." (Visit the AV Forums for full review)


Year: 2015
Magazine / Issuing Body: AV Forums
Country: United Kingdom
Product: LS50







Best Bookshelf Speaker - Gold
 



Year: 2015
Magazine / Issuing Body: SVI
Country: United Kingdom
Product: LS50







Hi-Fi Choice 'Recommended'
"…the KEF is a snappy thing to listen to. Music bounces along with heady abandon, and so do you!"


Year: 2014
Magazine / Issuing Body: Hi-Fi Choice
Country: United Kingdom
Product: LS50







What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision - Product of the Year
"The terrific KEF LS50 standmounters show no sign of losing their sparkle after dazzling our readers for a second successive year."


Year: 2014
Magazine / Issuing Body: What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision
Country: United Kingdom
Product: LS50









Product of the Year Awards 2013
"It is rare to find a loudspeaker that offers this combination of clarity and neutrality"


Year: 2013
Magazine / Issuing Body: Stereophile
Country: USA
Product: LS50








What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision – Readers' Award
"Our readers love the LS50s, and so do we. It's a cracking speaker"



Year: 2013
Magazine / Issuing Body: What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision
Country: United Kingdom
Product: LS50








What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision – Best standmounter £400-£800
"A brilliant achievement - the LS50s look and sound gorgeous"



Year: 2013
Magazine / Issuing Body: What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision
Country: United Kingdom
Product: LS50







Review : LS50 - The Absolute Sound 07/2013
"The KEF LS50 is one of the most all-around-satisfying little speakers I've reviewed in some time. Construction and execution are exemplary. It delivers the kind of performance that deserves to be on a Wheaties box. And there’s an incalculable coolness factor that makes it a breath of fresh air. The LS50 also answers the classic question, 'Who says you can’t teach an old box new tricks?'"



Year: 2013
Magazine / Issuing Body: What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision
Country: USA
Product: LS50







Reviewers Choice award
"The LS50 is nothing short of a masterpiece of a minimonitor, priced so that anyone serious about audio can buy a pair -- and probably should, if only to know how great a small speaker can be. Time hasn’t been as much on my side as it’s been on KEF's -- the LS50 is one of their best speakers yet, and one of their best values; it’s proof that, as it ages, this company seems to get better and better."



Year: 2013
Magazine / Issuing Body: SoundStage Hifi!
Country: USA
Product: LS50







Product of the Year 2013
 


Year: 2013
Magazine / Issuing Body: TOP HIGH END
Country: Russia
Product: LS50









What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision – Test Winner
"The KEF LS50s have set a ridiculously high benchmark and it is going to take a superhuman effort to top them."
Year: 2013
Magazine / Issuing Body: What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision
Country: United Kingdom
Product: LS50







Best Budget of the Year
"Overall, LS50 can be said quite comprehensive in the performance of music, especially the performance of overwhelming classical music..."


Year: 2013
Issuing Organization: AudioArt Magazine
Country: Taiwan
Product: LS50









Speaker of the Year 2012
 



Year: 2012
Magazine / Issuing Body: CNET
Country: USA
Product: LS50
 








Stereo speakers of the year $2,500 - $5,000
 
Year: 2012
Magazine / Issuing Body: Sound+Image Awards 2013
Country: Australia
Product: LS50







Product of the Year 2012
"We're impressed by the speaker's seamless integration, as we are by the way it sets up a huge stereo image populated by securely focused sounds…most importantly these speakers are fun to listen to."



Year: 2012
Magazine / Issuing Body: What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision
Country: United Kingdom
Product: LS50









Top 2012
 



Year: 2012
Magazine / Issuing Body: hifinews
Country: Russia
Product: LS50








Good Design Award 2012
 



Year: 2012
Magazine / Issuing Body: Japan Institute of Design Promotion
Country: Japan
Product: LS50
 







What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision – 5 star review
"KEF's quality still golden after 50 years"


Year: 2012
Magazine / Issuing Body: What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision
Country: United Kingdom
Product: LS50







"Real Formula 1 The KEF LS50 features all assets of high-end speakers"
"KEF's quality still golden after 50 years"



Year: 2012
Magazine / Issuing Body: DIAPASON
Country: France
Product: LS50







Innovation, High Quality and Design
"KEF's quality still golden after 50 years"


Year: 2012
Magazine / Issuing Body: Plus X Award
Country: Germany
Product: LS50







Stereo Prestige & Image review
"as emblematic as the LS3/5a...no doubt that they are a matchless model for less than 1000€, as they appear to be a new standard of appreciation of a real stereo image."


Year: 2012
Magazine / Issuing Body: Plus X Award
Country: France
Product: LS50







Hi-Fi News & Record Review 'Outstanding Product'
'… a cracking little speaker of which KEF’s design engineers must be most proud. Sweetly voiced yet highly revealing of source quality, it surprises and delights in equal measure. And boy does it sound big, defying its compact dimensions.'



Year: 2012
Magazine / Issuing Body: Hi-Fi News & Record Review/td>
Country: United Kingdom
Product: LS50

BEST SPEAKERS 2018 KEF R7

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BEST of the BEST - KEF Blade Loudspeaker

BEST of the BEST - KEF Blade Loudspeaker
Get the Blades working well – and you’ll need to work at that because these speakers are so coherent that they are unforgiving of any inadequacies in system set-up or optimization – and they will reward you with an incredibly seamless, natural and contiguous presentation; a bit like a pair of Quad ESL 63s that suddenly grew a pair – and the bandwidth, dynamics and sheer musical impact that goes with them. There is a subtlety to their timing and tonal shadings that is quite beguiling, but it is the temporal integrity and the sense of performance and drama that goes with it that makes the Blades so special. How special? Special enough that I’ve chosen to use them for show seminars – partly to let people hear them sound the way they can, partly because of how clearly they tell you when they don’t. How special? Special enough to provoke a complete meltdown from one of those big name designers I mentioned earlier, incensed by the proposition that any speaker with sideways firing drivers could possibly compete with his masterful creations. Was he really upset by the KEF’s topology – or by its price? I guess it’s possible it was the former, but if his brain is as big as he thinks it is, it really should have been the latter! What the Blade does is totally rewrite the cost/performance equation, fronting up the established £50K speakers and saying, “Okay, so what have you got?” The answer in too many cases is not enough – not when confronted by this speaker at this price.

Line the KEF up beside its price competitors and it makes them look pretty silly, on grounds of fit, finish and material content; and that’s before you listen to them. Just don’t be tempted to cheapskate on the driving amps, or you’ll live to regret it. Tube amps at least have an output transformer to hide behind, but when the Blades suck out a solid-state design, they celebrate by spotlighting their tweeter something chronic. To give you some idea of the lengths required, the otherwise excellent Rowland 625 wasn’t up to the job, it taking a pair of the 725 monoblocs to restore order. But when this speaker sings, it really sings – as the procession of practiced listeners and industry notables who enjoyed their performance in my listening room attests. I lost count of the number of visitors who arrived, casting glances at the speakers that ranged between suspicion and downright hostility – only to be shocked, surprised, seduced and sent home, all with slightly wobbly legs and stupid, fixed grins. Several have been disappointed to return and find the KEFs absent, even when the current incumbents cost many times the price of the Blade. I’ve rarely met a product that has divided opinion so starkly – between those who think they’ve heard it and those who actually have.

So the KEF Blade isn’t a recipe for champagne sound on a beer budget. But it does represent a considerable saving when it comes to getting the sort of sonic and musical results that used to rely on a £50K loudspeaker. It still demands the very best and very particular partnering equipment, but it answers once and for all the question that’s hanging over the entire audio industry; what happens when the Chinese get serious? Here’s the news flash guys; they already did!  
………. Roy Gregory