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KEF LS50 Meta review

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2020 winner. These standmounters set new standards at the price Tested at £1000 / $1499 / AU$2495

5 Star Rating
KEF LS50 Meta review
(Image: © KEF)

Our Verdict

KEF has taken an excellent speaker and made it even better with its innovative Metamaterial tech. The LS50 Metas are now the class leader at this level

For

  • Exceptional sonic transparency
  • Subtle and precise presentation
  • Innovative technology

Against

  • Nothing at this price

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.

Build

KEF LS50 Meta build

(Image credit: KEF)

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.

KEF LS50 Meta tech specs

(Image credit: KEF)

Max power 106dB


Sensitivity 85dB  

Frequency response 79Hz - 28kHz

Impedance 8ohms

Dimensions (hwd) 30.2 x 20 x 27.8cm


Weight 7.2kg

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.

Compatibility

KEF LS50 Meta compatibility

(Image credit: KEF)

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.

Sound

KEF LS50 Meta sound

(Image credit: KEF)

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.

Verdict

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.

SCORES

  • Sound 5
  • Compatibility 5
  • Build 5

MORE:

Best hi-fi speakers 2020

Read our KEF LS50 review

Read our KEF LS50 Wireless II review

Read our KEF R3 review

  • fortiz1970
    Ok... BUT... why did they not improve the Bass extension? Now if you are using a sub.... then this may be ok. But if you are trying to survive of only a pair of bookshelf speakers, there are better options at 1000 and certainly better options for 1500. B&W 707s2 better for same money, Wharfedale Evo4.2 better for less money. If you really want a kef... save some more money and buy Kef R3 which is outstanding.
    Just heard them today, by the way. Transparent, almost ribbon-ish, but again it is like being served a hamburger with no bun.
    Reply
  • Sliced Bread
    It’s interesting that it’s outperforming Kefs own R series which was only released a short while ago (bass extension excluding).

    I wonder if we will seea quick refresh of the range to include the same technology
    Reply
  • Sliced Bread
    Would be interesting to see a shoot out between this and say, b&w 707s2 and ATC scm11’s
    Reply
  • leemccann1
    id like to see a comparison against the new wireless version with an equivalent priced amp to make up to the price of the wireless, other sites say the original wireless couldnt be touched in terms of value by setting up a separate system with the original LS50 - is this the same with the two new versions as both are on my potential purchase list but id rather go down the separate route just for future upgradability.
    Reply
  • nopiano
    leemccann1 said:
    id like to see a comparison against the new wireless version with an equivalent priced amp to make up to the price of the wireless, other sites say the original wireless couldnt be touched in terms of value by setting up a separate system with the original LS50 - is this the same with the two new versions as both are on my potential purchase list but id rather go down the separate route just for future upgradability.
    I’m sure in performance per £ the Wireless set would win, just as Active versions - such as of my ATCs - are hard to beat for the money. However, when you’ve got streaming and DAC technology built in, I agree I’d be more wary of the lifespan. And, as you infer, upgradeability is non-existent. For a modern room with minimalist decor they’d be great - as long as you vanish the mains cables!
    Reply
  • Surly Sid
    The KEF LS 50 is THE MOST OVER RATED speaker in history.
    Reply
  • neomancer
    Surly Sid said:
    The KEF LS 50 is THE MOST OVER RATED speaker in history.

    Got them expecting to use them in my lounge and grabbed the 3001SEs thinking they'd be good as surrounds. It turns out the 3001SEs weren't only built better, sound better, and solved all the issues the ls50 meta is supposed to solve years ago, but it literally beat the ls50s in every blind test no matter how I placed them.

    I couldn't believe it so had someone else online try picking up a pair and he was equally floored.

    a/rfvc2q4View: http://imgur.com/a/rfvc2q4

    I did some research and found out that the 3001SEs was so over engineered because it was literally the prototype to the Blade. in fact from 300hz to 55khz (while the blade only goes up to 35khz) the measurements are better and they don't only look the similar in the outside but use the same technology on the inside including the diffusing internal blades and the sealed suspension system that the Meta material is supposed to solve.

    it makes no sense. but it makes sense from an r and d stand point that they needed something to prototype the blade and the LS series before that they can also sell. the center speaker plays razor flat.

    here's the sealed center frequency response.

    a/sbl2Us8View: https://imgur.com/a/sbl2Us8

    and was designed completely independent of the mains both completely from scratch and was perfected to the point where I literally cannot pass an ABX test of whether the center is on in 3.0 or if I'm hearing a phantom in center in 2.0.

    bfDanZSzoTYView: https://youtu.be/bfDanZSzoTY

    the first transition was rough, but even with my eyes open I literally cannot hear a difference between switching between 3.0 and 2.0 which seems like it's magic or something.
    Reply
  • plus 1
    Surly Sid said:
    The KEF LS 50 is THE MOST OVER RATED speaker in history.

    care to elaborate ?
    Reply
  • plus 1
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    KEF’s uprated LS50s make use of innovative technology to set new standards at their price.

    KEF LS50 Meta : Read more

    there is a thread currently running in the "hifi" section of the forum on the kef ls50 meta.
    Reply
  • utomo
    KEF need to improve the sensitivity. 85 is too low. 88 minimum, or better if higher than 90
    Reply