There’s a well-deserved reference for compact passive home hi-fi speakers. The KEF LS50 Meta are being recommended left and right. Though my métier is now more with headphones and active near-fields, I decided to give them a try
Powered by Chord ANNI
Were it not for the chance to try the newest amp by Chord Electronics early, I probably would not have considered a second stereo setup. But as I received an early version of Anni to try out, I also felt the need to try passive speakers again. I will share more impression of Anni eventually, but I found that it’s a highly dynamic sounding amp! It breathes so much life into the HEDDphone, that I am not surprised that it also has absolutely zero issues powering the LS50 Meta. During testing, I did not exceed 50% of the volume.
I am sure there will be more reviews coming – and all of them more informative than my gibberish, but I have the feeling they will be mostly positive and ascribe the usual Chord attributes: effortless, controlled, natural, dynamic – in exchange for a lack of usability. I can definitely say that the performance as a headphone amp is ace, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Anni takes home another What Hi-Fi award as speaker amp or tie-in for an analog + vinyl HUEI stack.
Setting Up the LS50 Meta Bookshelf Speakers
For listening, I obviously set the KEF on my stands and used the recommended 60% stereo triangle for near-fields. (The shelf is just for pictures.) KEF actually recommends to not angle the speakers in the manual and says they have wide directivity. Personally, I noticed a difference and thought the stereo image was best when angled and directed towards the listener. I kept the recommended distance to the back wall. I think I should mention this, because for the photos only I put the speakers elsewhere.
There are foam pads included with the LS50 that you can put into the bass port. This allows you to place them closer to the wall. It’s a nice and simple solution that allows for more flexibility. I haven’t found the perfect spot for them yet, considering they will not serve as my main speaker system. But if you can, I do recommend to place them prominently on stands and at a stereo angle.
Wow! I was so surprised by the sound when I hit play on the first tunes. The small and almost tiny KEF LS50 Meta sound really grand! The midrange is excellent and natural. What struck me first was the incredible stereo image that has a very precise center. This helps bring voices to life. Playing Norah Jones’ latest live album, I unconsciously picked the best possible showcase for the KEF. Intimate, dynamic, emotional, wide and precise. This was a very realistic rendition! I seriously did not expect this.
Even now, after hours of play, I find the timbre to be excellent. Shuffling through more genres, I never managed to find a fault with the sound of instruments and voices. IMHO, the forte of the LS50 is definitely with female voices, which make them a great choice for Jazz vocalists. If this is your preferred genre, I would not want to recommend you anything else.
My living room is at least 40 square meters but the listening distance is only 2,5 to 3m. The LS50 Meta are so well-behaved in this room! They have a very compact and intimate center that I almost felt like I could grab the vocalist by the throat! But at the same time, stereo information expands really far to the left and right. It is so immersive and I got completely lost in the music several times.
VS Type 07 MK2
For the more finer details of the KEF LS50 Meta review, I have no choice but to compare them with the HEDD Type 07 MK2 which are my current main speakers. Warning: If you follow me, you probably know already. But here is a link to my private disclaimer and here are my impressions on the 07, in which I inform about working for HEDD. But I guess this is a very harmless comparison in the likes of pro-audio vs hi-fi, or bookshelf vs near-fields. I am honestly interested in what category suits myself best.
Let me say this first: I did not find the bass of the LS50 Meta lacking in any way. I could shuffle all my music and was left satisfied with the lower bass notes. I am not a bass head. For me, the KEF sound very well-rounded, but the lows also never try to draw focus. Playing some Triple A blockbuster movie trailers, there is a lot of rumble missing. Does it matter to me? Not so much.
Depicting the bass in particular, I feel confident to say the Type 07 MK2 have better low-end performance in every regard: extension, texture, punch and overall volume. I use the 07 in Closed mode and only switch to Ported once in a while. However, I always keep missing the fast attack and transients of Closed mode, which is why I always end up sticking the plugs back into the bass ports. Were the LS50 Meta designed as an infinite-baffle system and were using DSP to even out the bass response, this might be a closer call. Ultimately, the LS50 would still lose for extension, which is due to the smaller woofer. (In a way, especially for bass, the comparison isn’t even fair. The Type 05 MK2 would be a more appropriate comparison. But even I cannot get my hands on the 05 at the moment.)
Adding a Sub
The HEDD BASS 08 is kind of a big deal. When paired with MK2 monitors, it’s the first subwoofer that allows full-range group delay compensation. This means that the setup has linear phase from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. I had the BASS 08 at home for a while, though I am not worthy of such low-end accuracy. I used it (with) Closed (ports) as well, but I did not feel like the added precision actually enhanced the music for pure enjoyment. This setup sounded very clean and made the bass sound thinner, though rumble was more. Lots of notes I couldn’t hear, but tickled me because my leg hairs were fluttering and touching my pants. I’ll say it again, I’m not a bass head. In my opinion, the 07 has all the audible frequencies and then some. I like it just like that!
Yet in case of the LS50, comparing it in more detail, I think some better extension could be in favor of many users. Fortunately, the KEF KC62 matches the visuals of LS50 quite nicely. For my living space, if I were set on a 2.1 system, I would probably choose KEF over HEDD for design alone. However, unfortunately, the KC62 does not have the matching color for the special edition Royal Blue. What a shame… Anyway, I have no sound impressions to share here. I’m just wasting your time. Instead, there is an informative comparison by Darko Audio here: https://darko.audio/2021/07/a-long-film-about-the-hedd-type-07-mk2-bass-08/
I already knew the title of this post before I started typing. The KEF LS50 Meta are excellent for female voices! It’s where they shine most. Vocals all day long. In general, the midrange is superb and I never expected this level of polish from such a small passive speaker. There is nothing distracting the essence of musicality and natural non-fatiguing enjoyment. I could listen to these for hours! Well, I did. There is such well-rounded behavior that it distracts from all technicalities. You hit play and – bam! – you’re there! In the music, lost, for at least another 20 minutes before your wife shouts angrily you should be coming to bed…
This puts me in a very weird spot. This easiness and forgiving nature makes the Type 07 MK2 sound aggressive in comparison. The HEDD sound much more forward and dissecting of the information. This is so weird, because that is never how I would have described them before. In the contrary. But the KEF are much smoother. Yes, less detailed, but also with such great dynamics that it never sounds lacking. Personally, as a non-professional user, I actually enjoy female voices and trumpets a bit more on the KEF.
However, if it’s technicalities you are after, say you want to blast Power Metal riffs through your speakers, the 07 are the ones that will make sure you pick up every single string. Slower Blues tracks might sound more moody on LS50 Meta. Complex Classical pieces are better enjoyed on the 07. It’s a back and forth and I can enjoy (and recommend) either.
The KEF LS50 are slightly warm sounding. While typing this, I fear this might be overemphasized. They’re not warmspeakers, but they roll-off slightly in the highs. I do not count this as a negative. In fact, this is great for my living space which lacks curtains and has the actual bookshelves in another room. However, this assessment is again based on the fact that I have angled the KEF in a stereo triangle. Having them point parallel, a lot of the treble energy is softened even more.
The 07 MK2 are not like that. The HEDD AMT extends so far that I believe this might be the reason we have bats circling around our balcony. However, for me as a heavy IEM-user, the difference in extension is not that big of a deal. There is plenty of treble with both speakers and both sound way more more airy than any IEM. Most importantly, neither sounds boosted, strenuous or like it’s forcing details.
There is quite a difference in presentation, though. Cymbal splashes sound more muted on the KEF when compared to the Type 07 MK2. Yet it’s the speed of the HEDD AMT that becomes most noticeable. The treble from the 07 sounds effortless, whereas the highs from the LS50 sound soft. Both manage to allow enough presence of the highs without drawing attention. With both speakers, the treble supports the midrange. But again, going by technical performance, I have to say that one of the two is a step a-hedd.
VS Type 07 MK2 Conclusion
You can tell I am having a hard time letting my consumer preferences go. If you are looking for monitoring-grade equipment for mixing and mastering, this isn’t even a competition. More details, better linearity, greater dynamics, higher resolution and faster transients all speak in favor of the Type 07 MK2. But the way the LS50 Meta handle its (naturally given) downsides to a well-rounded package and focuses on musicality, this is an excellent set of speakers to end the day in a comfortable chair.
KEF LS50 Meta Conclusion
The thing with user speaker reviews is that they are very subjective and limited. Who else is driving his LS50 with an unreleased Chord Anni amplifier (at point of writing)? Probably nobody. And also my room is unique. But I am sharing my impressions anyway and adding my praise to the pool. If you were expecting me to rip the KEF apart, sorry, I can’t do that. They are indeed excellent speakers! I want to say flawless by design.
There are some expected limitations due to the size of the 5-inch woofer. If these were used as main speakers or for movies, I would suggest adding a subwoofer or at least a DSP (e.g. use RME ADI-2 DAC as pre-amp). But as a second pair, the LS50 Meta do especially well with affectionate and honest music, from natural instruments and unprocessed vocals. Highly recommended for Blues + Jazz fans! The KEF LS50 meta do female vocals best and I thus call them the Queen of Vocals.