|Pros||Flat-out fantastic sound in a compact package, easy to setup, able to produce a huge soundstage and good bass.|
|Cons||No IR learning capability, some of the colors might not be for everyone.|
|Summary||Finding the right speaker solution for audiophiles can be hard as a sound bar isn't good enough, and speakers can be too hard to integrate with a TV. The KEF LSX system combines the best of both worlds into a package that is compact, attractive, wireless, and that sounds fantastic. For the person looking for a unified audio and video system that is easy to use and sounds great, you should listen to the KEF LSX.|
We previously reviewed the KEF LS50W wireless speaker system and, like everyone else, came away very impressed with it. At $2,200 it was a high price point for many people, and the speakers are also quite large. They also had the annoyance of needing to be connected via an Ethernet cable, making them wireless but also wired at the same time. The new KEF LSX speakers are a more affordable wireless speaker system that is both smaller than the LS50W, but also don’t require a cable between them and comes in more finishes. Most importantly, they sound absolutely fantastic and can easily serve as a nice living room system.
KEF LSX Design and Set Up
The heart of the KEF LSX is a 4.5” UniQ driver that has a 0.75” tweeter inside the bass/midrange driver. What this driver design allows is for perfect time alignment between the drivers, as sounds originate from the same point. What this means in practice is that music sounds more clear and detailed because you’re hearing the sounds arrive at exactly the same time. When you have a separate midrange and tweeter, while sounds are going to arrive very close they’ll be just slightly off in timing depending on where you sit. While it might seem small and trivial, it is something that you can hear and is why I’ve been running KEF speakers for my home theater exclusively since I first reviewed a UniQ model.
The UniQ driver is housed in a solid cabinet with a curved front that comes in a variety of colors. My sample in red is finished with fabric wrapping the outside giving it a much softer and more friendly appearance than a standard speaker. Each speaker has its own 100-watt amplifier on the rear and its own power supply. The big difference from the LS50W is that there is now just an optional Ethernet connection that allows for 24/96 listening while without it you’re limited to 24/48. For most listeners, who stream content that’s recorded at CD-quality at best, there is no need for the Ethernet cable, but it is nice to have the option there for those that do want it.
One speaker also includes an Ethernet input in case you don’t want to use WiFi, an optical input for your TV, a 3.5mm analog input for a turntable or other source, and an RCA output for a subwoofer. You can configure if this master speaker is on the right or left to make it easier to set up.
Configuring the KEF LSX was quite easy. I took the speakers out of the box and connected each to power while also connecting the main to my OLED TV, Ethernet, and a subwoofer for testing. Using the KEF app to finish configuration was quick and it helped me to get them set up correctly for my room. You answer a few simple questions about room size, speaker placement and distance from the wall, and if you want to use a subwoofer. You can also use a more advanced mode, but the basic one works well. Once configured in the app I was ready to start listening.
KEF LSX Listening Notes
The main concern I had when I unpacked the LSX is how much the bass will suffer when compared to the LS50W due to the smaller size. To get right to the heart of this, I went straight to my playlist of subwoofer testing tracks and listened to “Angel” from Massive Attack. The opening bass line played much deeper than I expected from these compact little speakers. Clearly, you aren’t going to get the SPLs and impact that an 8” driver is going to provide, but you are getting the essence of the song which is what I was looking for. When listening I didn’t feel as though I needed a subwoofer at all to improve the bass response here.
More noticeable was the superior clarity of the KEF LSX compared to all the other wireless speakers I’ve recently reviewed. I compared it to the Sonos Play:5, which costs almost the same in a stereo configuration. While the bass on the Play:5 is a bit better due to the size, the clarity and detail in the vocals and instruments is an easy win for the LSX. I spent a lot of time A/B comparing using a playlist of songs from Wes Anderson films and the LSX just sounds amazing. When Nico sings her voice is much more present and in the room where it recedes into the background more with the Play:5. The instruments behind Nick Drake have a better tone as guitars sound more natural than with other wireless speakers.
Comparing the LSX to some other affordable bookshelf speakers I have around, like the ELAC B6.2 or the Q Acoustics 3050i towers, the LSX just sounds better. Those two speakers can do deeper bass, but not by a significant margin. To see how the KEF LSX could keep up, I added a couple different subwoofers to the setup for testing. The Martin Logan Dynamo 800X was a perfect pairing, as the integrated room correction and iOS app for adjustments made the configuration of the pair easy. With a few simple settings and testing, I was able to make the LSX sound even better than it did before.
Integrating my Power Sound Audio dual 15” subwoofer was a larger challenge, as it lacks the room correction and app controls that the Martin Logan offers. Even after my best efforts, I still found the balance of the bass and output to not be a perfect match with the LSX. If I was pairing a subwoofer to the LSX, I’d lean towards a 12” or 10” model, preferably with room correction, to make the integration easier and seamless. It will give you that lower-end impact you’re after and the blending will be easier to get right.
Moving onto movies and TV, I connected the LSX to my Sony A1E OLED and watched a variety of content from the internal apps and TV tuner. Watching football on TV doesn’t ask much of speakers, but the LSX sounded great. Far better than the internal speakers of any TV you’ll buy, bringing the impact of the hits on the field across. Streaming Edge of Tomorrow (or whatever they are calling it now for marketing reasons) the opening bass notes only strike so low, but the dialogue and explosions sound fantastic. The soundstage is wide and deep, putting you into the movie far more than any sound bar or TV speaker can alone. You don’t get the option for surround sound with the LSX, but you do get a fantastic stereo image that sounds better with most content, in my opinion, than a sound bar with surrounds would due to the smaller soundstage.
The LSX also supports Roon directly, making it easy to stream content to them from your local library or Tidal. You can also use the KEF app to playback music but Roon is the better user experience. KEF is also going to add AirPlay 2 support to the LSX in the first quarter of 2019. For those of us invested in the Apple ecosystem, it makes playback to the LSX incredibly easy and it also will make it possible to integrate the LSX with other multiroom speaker systems like Sonos and Bluesound that also support AirPlay 2.
KEF LSX Improvements
The KEF LSX sounds wonderful but there are always some ways to improve. If KEF could develop an automated method to integrate the subwoofer it would fix one of the biggest issues. Using the microphone of an iOS or Android device they could run sweeps at the listening position and figure out the ideal crossover and level settings for your room which would be great.
I also wish that the KEF LSX would be able to learn a TV remote code. If detecting a volume command from your TV remote would cause it to automatically switch to the Optical input and then control the volume, it would make using it even easier. Guests or family members could just pick up a TV remote (or Roku remote in my case) and the speakers would just work instead of having a secondary remote for the volume control. A universal remote will fix this but I’d much rather see it not require any extra hardware.
KEF LSX Conclusions
I write this review as 2018 draws to a close. With that, the KEF LSX claims a place as one of the best pieces of gear that I’ve reviewed. It sounds just fantastic, supports the essential streaming services and protocols to make it easy for anyone to use, and is actually wireless. It lets you set up a pair of great sounding speakers for your TV or music system that produces a huge soundstage with minimum fuss. I can see some of the color choices being more controversial but there are white and black finish options for those that don’t want something bold.
There’s often a disconnect between speakers that are easy to set up and use and those that sound great. There are many options I can suggest to people that will sound good and be easy to set up and use but come with limitations in sound quality and stereo immersion. The KEF LSX might not be as easy to use as the easiest option, but they sound much better and would be what I suggest to someone that is after fantastic sound for music and movies without hassling with wires or a receiver. By cutting the price of the LS50W in half they’ve made a solution that is far more accessible to people but gives up very little in performance and gets my highest recommendation.
|Drivers||UniQ (0.75" aluminium dome tweeter, 4.5" magnesium/aluminium alloy cone mid/woofer)|
|Streaming Services||Spotify Connect, Roon, Tidal, AirPlay 2|
|Dimensions||9.5" x 6.1" x 7.1"|
|Review Date||December 29, 2018|