KEF LS50 Wireless II Review: Worth It?

KEF has revised its innovative wireless active speaker system, KEF LS50 Wireless II, and Ed Selley gets to put it through its paces.

KEF has traditionally focused on more conventional passive speakers for its product lines. Its decision to create an active version of the LS50 was shaped not so much as a challenger to more conventional active rivals but to create a self-contained system built around one of its most successful recent designs.

KEF LS50 Wireless II in black
(Image credit: 7Review)

With the passive LS50 receiving a selection of enhancements, KEF has applied these to the active version, creating the KEF LS50 Wireless II. The Wireless II takes the same raw ingredients as the passive LS50 Meta. It uses a single 150mm Uni-Q driver in each cabinet.

Now in its 12th generation, the process of mounting a 25mm tweeter in the center of the mid/bass driver improves the dispersion, imaging, and phase characteristics of both drivers and, thanks to KEF’s ongoing work with waveguides, surrounds, and bracing, the bulk of these notional benefits are now largely realized. This latest generation of Uni-Q uses what the company calls Metamaterial Absorption Technology. This consists of a circular plate of metamaterials that reduces unwanted reflections from the driver.

KEF LS50 WIRELESS II TECH SPECS

PRODUCTKEF LS50 Wireless II
ORIGINUK/China
TYPEWireless active loudspeaker
WEIGHT20kg (boxed)
DIMENSIONS (WxHxD)200 x 305 x 311mm
FEATURES380W internal amplification
24-bit/384kHz and DSD128 compatible
Inputs: coaxial; optical; analogue
AirPlay 2, Google Cast and Bluetooth
Roon Ready
DISTRIBUTORKEF
WEBSITEuk.kef.com

To make the LS50 active, KEF fits no less than 380W of amplification per speaker, with 100W allocated to the tweeter and 280W to the mid/bass driver. The design is a true active, with a DSP-based crossover called a Music Integrity Engine that allows for user adjustment to fit the space and position in which the speaker is being used. This hardware is mounted in the same cabinet as the passive version. This is designed around the principle of massively stiff glass fiber, and polyester front baffles that curve away from the driver itself to assist its already excellent dispersion characteristics.

Key to the KEF’s operation is that while it has a solitary analog connection via a 3.5mm input, it should be seen more like an all-in-one system. It has a 24-bit/384kHz-capable UPnP streamer and a coaxial digital, optical, and HDMI ARC connection. You can wirelessly stream to the LS50 Wireless II via AirPlay 2, Google Cast, and Bluetooth 4.2. KEF has also ensured that it’s Roon Ready. Connections are fitted to one speaker, which then communicates with the other via either an RJ45 umbilical or – new for the KEF LS50 Wireless II – via wireless at a 24-bit/96kHz sample rate. I have minor dropout issues with wireless pairing, so opt to use the tether while testing.

KEF LS50 Wireless II and it control app
(Image credit: 7Review)

Control options are usefully flexible. The master speaker has a selection of hard controls on a touchpad on the top and comes supplied with a remote handset that allows for day-to-day requirements, volume, input selection, play/pause, etc., to be made without having to open an app. This is beneficial because the app itself has some limitations. On the plus side, it’s considerably better than the older version used by the original KEF LS50 Wireless and LSX, but it’s not without its foibles; somewhat limited browsing of a library on the same network is the main one. On the plus side, streaming service access is comprehensive (and for Tidal users, the Wireless II is MQA compatible), and the app is stable and logically laid out. It isn’t pretty, though, feeling a generation behind some more mainstream rivals in this regard.

The clear gains over its passive relative are the tonality and richness it offers

However, it gives away rather less in terms of design and build. The striking and distinctive design of the LS50 is unchanged, which means it will be seen as a bit of a Marmite product by a few would-be owners, but the decent choice of different color finishes goes a long way to alleviating that. The build quality is also outstanding. The cabinet feels incredibly solid, and the implementation of details like the touch panel on the master speaker is also done to a very high standard. This product isn’t cheap, but you can see where the money has gone.

KEF LS50 Wireless II rear panel connections
(Image credit: 7Review)

Sound quality

With the cabinets running wired to my network and each other and using Roon as a control point, the most obvious immediate impression is effortlessness. The passive LS50 Meta benefits from a reasonably powerful amplifier and the 380W on hand to drive the active version never feels too much. Pushed very hard, the KEF can harden up a little, but any volume levels you’ll be hitting at this point will be seriously anti-social anyway.

Used within its considerable operating envelope, the KEF LS50 Wireless II delivers on the design premise of both the driver and mounting. So long as your position relative to it forms a rough triangle, it images in a way that is beyond many rival stereo systems and leaves any one-box rival standing. The 24-bit/96kHz Qobuz stream of Dead Sea by Paris Jackson sees her vocals pushed forward and to the center, while the supporting instrumentation is arrayed around her in a space that extends both up and out from the cabinets.

KEF LS50 Wireless II speakers in black finish from top down angle
(Image credit: 7Review)

Where the active speaker makes clear gains over its passive relative is the tonality and richness it offers.

The KEF LS50 Wireless II never fails to deliver bass you feel as much as you hear.

While I feel that some care will need to be taken with any partnering equipment with the LS50 Meta, the tonal balance of the Wireless II is extremely well-judged. The sumptuous 24-bit/96kHz download of Star’s Losing To You is well-controlled and believable and leaves Torquil Campbell’s lovely vocal turn sounding rich and emotional. But even when you change tack entirely and move to the crunching aggression of Royal Blood’s Boilermaker, things remain civilized without losing the all-important boisterous energy of the track.

Something else that Royal Blood demonstrates is that the LS50 has a phenomenal bass extension for a relatively small cabinet. The grunt of that on-board amplification is enough to ensure that the KEF never fails to deliver bass you can feel as much as you hear. No, less importantly, this bass is fast, controlled, and detailed. I have the best results telling the Music Integrity engine the speakers are closer to the wall than they are. This sees a fractional drop in low-end extension but tightens things up to the point

where no time signature I listen to throws it off. Something else the KEF does very effectively is to ensure that all its functionality feels usable and usefully equivalent in performance terms. Streaming Deezer over AirPlay lacks some of the definition and richness of Qobuz over UPnP, but the experience is more than listenable. The only real note of caution I’d extend with the wired functionality is practical rather than performative. With the inputs on the back of the speaker, some thought is going to have to be given to ensuring that your sources can reach it in a tidy fashion. Features like the HDMI ARC work well under test, though.

HOW IT COMPARES

The KEF is roughly £ more than Naim’s Mu-So 2nd Generation. The Naim has a superior native control app and is part of a wider family of products that can be controlled via the same software. In performance terms, the KEF justifies the price gap. The Naim is superlative for a single chassis device, but the width and separation the KEF LS50 Wireless II brings to its performance is a step forward over any more conventional rival.

Conclusion

It’s this strength in depth that makes the KEF so convincing. I still feel that a few little tweaks to the software would reap benefits. Still, I can’t argue with the way it combines an extensive and practical specification that makes it an ideal one-stop shop with a level of overall performance that is truly outstanding. When you listen to the LS50 Wireless II, it’s easy to forget about the convenience angle and concentrate on the sensational level of sonic performance. It isn’t cheap, but it’s unquestionably a superb all-in-one system that should be on anyone’s shortlist at or near the price.

VERDICT

9 Total Score
Recommended KEF LS50 Wireless II

A talented and impressively flexible system that delivers superb performance across its many features

PROS
  • Superb sonic performance
  • Build
  • Practical and flexible
CONS
  • Some minor control foibles
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KEF LS50 Wireless II: Price Comparison

SCORES

  • Sound 5
  • Features 5
  • Build 5

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