Equipment Reviews – KEF LS50 Meta Bookshelf Speakers
Introduction – KEF launched the LS50 in 2012 and at £799 it sold like hot cakes, and deservedly so, it was a great little speaker bettering much of the competition at or above its price point. After 8 years they have introduced what is essentially a Mk II version called the KEF LS50 Meta and with a price increase to £999. Matching stands are available for around £399.
So, the questions here are, if you already own a pair of the original LS50 should you upgrade to the LS50 Meta and if you are looking for a very good pair of stand mount / bookshelf speakers should the Meta be on your shortlist?
Technology – Where and how have KEF made improvements to what was already an excellent speaker and if it wasn’t broken why did the decide to fix it? Well, the enclosure is the same size and shape and largely made of the same materials. The drive unit is similar but not identical in that it now uses the latest generation 12 Uni-Q Driver whereas the original was Generation 11, so no big change there either.
What has changed and what appears to have made all the difference is the introduction of a material that KEF term Metamaterial and using Metamaterial Absorption Technology (MAT) they worked with the inventors to turn it into a disc shaped material that has been bonded directly to the rear of the Uni-Q driver to reduce rearward driver distortion.
Part view of the Meta Disc
KEF describes this as “A Highly complex maze-like structure that absorbs 99% of the unwanted sound from the rear of the Driver, eliminating the resulting distortion and providing purer, more natural sound”.
The original LS50, similar to most modern speakers, was only able to absorb 60% of the unwanted sound from the rear of the driver.
Apparently, this is the very first application of MAT in a speaker system.
The cabinet is internally braced and ported at the rear. The rear panels only other fixture is a pair of high-quality single wire binding posts able to accept banana or spade connections. All visible fixings have now been removed from the rear panel, another upgrade from the original design.
The LS50 Meta measure 302 x 200 x 278mm (H x W x D) and weigh in at 7.2 Kg each. They come in four colours, Carbon Black, Titanium Grey, Mineral White and Royal Blue which is a Special Edition version at no extra cost and is the colour of our demo pair on review here. All four colours are in matt finish. The black and white ones have a gold/bronze coloured Uni-Q driver, the grey ones have a red Uni-Q and our blue ones have a creamy yellow coloured Uni-Q driver, the best looking in my opinion.
They are an 8ohm speaker with 85dB sensitivity which is not that high, so a decent amount of power is needed to drive them properly.
System Components – I used my regular Innuos Zenith server and USB Reclocker with the Michi P5 Pre-Amp and M8 Monobloc Power Amps driving the KEF LS50 Meta speakers. I also used FM radio and a CD Player from Sony as sources. Cables used throughout the review were mostly by Jorma. The Michi amps are probably a little overpowered for these speakers but I was just careful with the volume control.
The LS50 Meta were placed on 575mm tall stands to bring the driver to ear height when seated. I’d recommend the KEF dedicated stands finding that in general the manufacturers purpose made stands always perform well and look better aesthetically.
Performance – I first listened to ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley and the track had great bass guitar definition with a very wide soundstage. His voice being smooth yet powerful, not bright or brittle. Bass depth was a surprise for a speaker of this size. Then I played ‘Confession’ by Alesso to see just what bass the speaker can generate and, in most rooms, and for most listeners the LS50 Meta was more than adequate, surprisingly so in fact. They presented a central image that spread wide of the speakers which just seemed to disappear and detailed bass that had tonal definition unlike some speakers that seem to generate single toneless bass. KEF has done a really good job here.
Turning to Shelby Lynne’s tribute to Dusty Springfield on Just a Little Lovin’ I played ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’. I wanted to hear how the LS50 Meta coped with female vocals and this track came across with a vocal sincerity that would have made Dusty proud. I then went on to listen to the rest of this album finding the KEF’s have the ability to draw you into the music and keep you there, fully entertained and feeling rewarded and content.
I didn’t have a pair of original LS50’s to hand during this review but I have listened to them many times in the showrooms so have a good memory of how they perform. Should owners of the original LS50 upgrade to the Meta, probably not if you are happy with their performance but if you are looking for a better sound all around and a general upgrade then yes, the change is worthwhile.
Those of you of a certain vintage, like me, will remember when Rogers partnered their LS3/5a BBC bookshelf speakers with a dedicated AB1 subwoofer that also acted as a stand for the speakers giving the impression of a floor stander. I wonder how KEF would approach this concept with the LS50 Meta, I guess it won’t happen but just imagine how delicious it could be. Go on KEF give it a try, perhaps using some form of isobaric bass system or a downward firing bass driver to avoid anything spoiling the front baffle.
Summary – These speakers are not for the bass obsessed, sure they deliver fine, detailed and articulate bass, but cabinets and drivers of this size (130mm) cannot deliver the subbase that some crave. If however, you are in the market for a bookshelf/stand-mount speaker at or below £2k then the LS50 Meta should be on your shortlist. I can’t think of another similar speaker that could better it at this price point. It really is that good and of course, they can be partnered with a separate sub-woofer for those that need a little bit more bass.
If you have a budget of around £5,000 for speakers with a one box amp/streamer solution then I’d recommend the Primare I35 integrated amp with the Prisma streaming module included, this all-in-one box does everything you need at £4,000 and partnered with the LS50 Meta at £999 + Stands is a stunning value for money complete system.
Please contact us at Nintronics to listen to the LS50 Meta and other equipment in our three dedicated listening rooms, current Covid -19 restrictions notwithstanding.
Thanks for listening and if you have any questions then we are happy to try and answer them for you.
Bob at Team Nintronics – December 2020.