KEF – a name in the audio world that conjures visions of good design and great quality. Today, they launched the KEF LSX fully-wireless two-speaker stereo music system. However, with an MSRP of SGD 1,899, the LSX pits itself against some of the most entrenched names in wireless hi-fi.
At the Singapore launch event earlier today, KEF ironically foreshadowed my first impressions of the LSX. The speaker – which it claims to deliver respectable audio despite its new-age new-fangled suite of wireless connectivity options – is latest in KEF’s thrust in updating its systems. During the presentation, technical failures abounded: clickers encountered glitches, software updates disrupted the presentation, awkward pauses and fumbling made for terrible viewing. These feelings of technical frustration are to echo in my first impressions of their (decidedly expensive) LSX speaker system.
The KEF LSX is based on the well-received LS50 Wireless (SGD 3,299) and the LS50 before it. Half the size and price, of its larger sibling, KEF has done without the wired interconnect between left and right channels on the LSX that was previously necessary to keep the high bit rate audio in sync. KEF has achieved this with “cutting-edge”, “bespoke” magic-sauce “Music Integrity Engine” that basically consists Digital Signal Processing algorithms that keep audio phases aligned and perfectly timed, effectively rendering music accurately as it is recorded.
The LSX speaker pair is also small enough to fit in bookshelves or on your TV console, and is well designed with audio in mind. Constrained layer dampening on the cabinet helps deliver accurate distortion and reverberation-free audio. The speakers are available in five colours – Black, Blue, Maroon, and Olive which are clad in a wool material made by luxury Danish fabric manufacturer Kvadrat (which features in Airbus, Kassina and Land Rover products), and Gloss White.
Audio, however, is a different story. Despite its heritage in hi-fi, the KEF LSX sounded hollow and sibilant. There was great-sounding, accurate bass extension, but the speakers lacked character and three-dimensionality. Now – these could be due to the terrible venue KEF had situated its speakers in, but for close to two thousand Singapore dollars, this just illustrates my next point. The LSX have failed first impressions, and badly at that.
Before we move on, rave reviews about the KEF LSX are more than warranted, and I’d probably feel the same about them as I have the much more expensive LS50, but only when auditioned in a perfectly-damped, optimised listening room. In controlled environments, in a very limited use case, the KEF LSX delivers the super-premium audiophile experience they’ve set out to give. But we’re in the age of Spotify and cramped apartments where a dedicated listening room is difficult to justify anymore.
Pair that (pun intended) with its plethora of connectivity options, including Airplay 2 (coming in a firmware update early next year), Spotify Connect (mid-November 2018), along with Bluetooth 4.2 (Qualcomm aptX compatible) and Wi-Fi. KEF’s attempt to target the streaming crowd is commendable, but a huge caveat emptor to all considering the LSX. If you like streaming, you’ll probably prefer more affordable, better-implemented, full ecosystem products like that from Sonos where multi-speaker, multi-room, performance is great, and they even double up to deliver 5.1 effects for your movie nights.
You might simply not be the type to sit down to a listening experience in front of your two-thousand dollar speakers. If you are – you’d likely prefer the wired reliability that comes with KEF’s other wired bookshelf speakers and your choice of player and amp.
KEF maintains that they’ve stuffed the LSX full with its proprietary innovations like their proprietary Uni-Q driver array that improves stereo imaging and the size of speaker “sweet-spots” in a given environment. On the LSX, they are large 4-inch Drivers with two 30W and two 70W class D amplifiers.
In addition to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, the LSX speakers are also compatible with Roon, Tidal Music and users can opt for optical TOSLINK wired AUX input. The wireless interconnect between the speakers are capable of supporting up to 48kHz/24bit resolution, but opting for a more conventional wired solution ups it to 96kHz/24bit. The speakers are capable of supporting source files with resolutions of up to 192kHz/24bit.
To aid in control and connectivity, KEF has implemented a clunky two-app system. Though they’ve described it as Facebook and Facebook Messanger, but the KEF Control (which you use to, no surprise here, control the connectivity of your speakers) has a miserly 3.2 stars on the Play Store. The KEF Stream only has 3.1 stars out of five.
Again – the most immediate comparison is the undisputed name in “fully” wireless home audio: Sonos. With a pair of the mid-ranged Play:3 selling at SGD 898 and the frankly monstrous Play:5 at SGD 1,598, the SGD 1,899 LSX really is a hard purchase to justify. Sure, there’s great design on the LSX. Sure, you get great music-centric performance. But few of us have dedicated listening rooms, and those of us who have would opt for a traditional wired setup, anyway.
For the rest of us with regular living rooms that have regular people gadgets and accoutrements like televisions – the Hi-Fi, music-centric LSX is a hard purchase to justify. If you’ve got more cash and consider yourself an audiophile, go for something that’s more reliable and less prone to obsolescence. If you’re looking for connectivity (and the versatility that comes with it, Sonos is the perfect place to start with their ecosystem and all-in-one app. If you’re really into this streaming business, and got more money than sense, then get both, I Guess.
The KEF LSX retails in Singapore at SGD 1,899 as a speaker pair, and is available in five colour finishes. Auditions are possible at the KEF store at Adelphi, and can be found at Stereo outlets at Westgate, VivoCity and Plaza Singapura; Analogue outlets at CK Tang’s, Robinsons and VivoCity. It is also available online at Lazada and Qoo10, and at Krissshop from December onwards.
Retail price in KEF’s home in the UK is GBP 999 (SGD 1,798) – there’s not as big an issue with import prices as on KEF’s other speakers.