KEF launched the original LS50s as an anniversary celebration back in 2012. These standmounters proved a huge success, so much so that they have continued in production pretty much untouched since then.
Eight years is a long run by any standards, but it was made possible by a combination of sound quality, build and aesthetics that remains highly appealing today. That hasn’t stopped the company’s engineers from having a fresh look, however, and the result is the LS50 Metas we have on test here.
The LS50 Metas don’t look any different from the LS50s, and in many ways they aren’t. The company considered revising that beautifully made enclosure but concluded that little could be improved.
The cabinet shape and size still works well, and the curved front panel – made of Dough Moulding Compound: a polyester resin combined with glass fibre and calcium carbonate – continues to make for an impressively rigid and well-controlled foundation for the Uni-Q drive unit array.
Max power 106dB
Frequency response 79Hz - 28kHz
Dimensions (hwd) 30.2 x 20 x 27.8cm
The rest of the box is made from MDF, which is heavily braced and carefully damped to minimise any resonances. The LS50 Metas are available in four finishes – Mineral White, Carbon Black, Titanium Grey and a Royal Blue Special Edition.
The only obvious changes are to the back panel, which has been tidied up. The fixing holes for the front baffle retention bolts have disappeared, and there has also been some cosmetic detailing to make it all look neater.
The one area ripe for improvement was the LS50’s Uni-Q driver array, where the tweeter sits in the throat of the mid/bass unit. This has been thoroughly reworked, taking in all the refinements that KEF has developed over the past eight years and adding something new in the form of Metamaterial Absorption Technology (MAT).
MAT is KEF’s way of coping with the sound that comes off the back of the 25mm aluminium tweeter dome. In a conventional design, this sound usually fires into a chamber behind the dome where it is mostly absorbed by damping material. But some sound energy always bounces back through the dome to add distortion.
Here, the rearward sound feeds into something about the size of a hockey puck that looks like a plastic circular maze. It is layered and made up of 30 tubes, each tuned to absorb a different frequency. KEF claims that, once combined, the tubes absorb a wide range of frequencies – from around 600Hz upwards – much more effectively than alternate methods. The result should be cleaner, less distorted highs.
There have been tweaks to the crossover to take all the drive unit changes into account. Aside from a slight shift in crossover frequency – from 2.2kHz to 2.1kHz – the specifications look identical.
These aren’t particularly sensitive speakers, at a rated 85dB/W/m, and the minimum impedance is just 3.5 ohms, so it makes sense to partner them with an amplifier that has a bit of grunt.
We suggest Cambridge’s CXA81 integrated with a suitably capable source, though such are the LS50 Meta’s capabilities that you could easily use the likes of Naim’s SuperNait 3, and the speakers wouldn’t be limiting.
At just 30cm tall, these KEFs are pretty compact, but don’t be tempted to stuff them in a bookshelf or right up against a wall. They won’t sulk if you do, but they will sound a lot better if placed around 50cm into a room and well away from the sidewalls.
It doesn’t take long to realise that the LS50s have improved significantly. While the basic sonic character is instantly familiar, the new ones have gained a level of clarity and finesse the originals only hinted at.
Listening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, we’re soon marvelling at the LS50 Meta’s delicacy and precision. They sound so much more transparent than before and manage to render low-level details, such as instrumental textures, much more convincingly.
It’s a surprisingly full-bodied presentation with a good degree of authority for such compact speakers. Still, there’s only so deep a 13cm magnesium/aluminium mid/bass unit in a smallish, 30cm-tall cabinet can go. Stretch to the likes of the Award-winning and larger three-way KEF R3s (£1300, $2000, AU$3625) and you’ll get notably more in the way of low-frequency reach and punch. But you don’t get the LS50 Meta’s insight, delicacy or top-end refinement.
It looks like the Metamaterial technology really works. These new KEFs sound so much cleaner and more sophisticated than before, particularly at higher frequencies. These Metas make the excellent R3s sound congested and ham-fisted in comparison, and that’s a real shock.
Large-scale dynamics are handled well and there’s a good amount of muscle for a speaker of this size. These are refined and composed performers that rarely sound stressed unless volume levels are high.
There’s little to complain about when it comes to tonality. The KEFs sound smooth and balanced while still having enough in the way of high-frequency bite. They will reveal the shortcomings in poor recordings, but don’t go out of their way to be nasty.
KEF’s Uni-Q designs tend to image well by their very nature, and these speakers are no different. The LS50 Metas generate an expansive and tightly focused soundstage where the instruments are layered convincingly. We’re also impressed by the image’s stability when the music gets demanding.
We switch to Neneh Cherry’s Blank Project and these KEFs continue to shine. Their detailed and clear midrange performance makes the most of Cherry’s passionate vocals, delivering dynamic nuances and subtle shifts in timing superbly. There’s a good degree of punch to the bass and the KEFs render rhythms in a surefooted manner. We’ve heard more enthusiastic rivals, but none that can match the KEF’s many and varied range of strengths.
We’ve always loved the LS50s and this new version takes their performance to a notably higher level. We think KEF is on to something with the Metamaterial technology and can’t wait to see how it develops. As things stand, that tech and all the other work KEF’s engineers have put into the Uni-Q array has propelled the LS50 Metas to the head of the class at this level. Buy them with confidence.
- Sound 5
- Compatibility 5
- Build 5
Read our KEF LS50 review
Read our KEF LS50 Wireless II review
Read our KEF R3 review