I’ve demoed a fair few speakers (with various amps) over the last few months, convinced I was that I wanted to upgrade from my previous set up of Kef R100 / Arcam A19:
Dynaudio Special 40
Q Acoustics Concept 300
B&W 700 series
Dynaudio Evoke 10
Russell K red 50
(wanted to demo some Harbeths but couldn’t find an easily accessible dealer; I suspect though they could be too far the other way for me, as I listen to a variety of music, with classical, Jazz and singer/songwriter probably being the least listened to)
A couple stood out, leading to further home & shop demos and lengthy yo-yoing between them. But even with demoing with a variety of amps within budget, there was just something not right (realised more in hindsight), that didn’t really click at the time. The top 3 (Dyn S40s, Kef R3/R5 and Q Acoustics Concept 300s) all excelled at a smooth, detailed presentation, albeit all tuned slightly differently, excelling in different respects. But it was all just a bit ‘hifi’, too spotlit on detail for my tastes. Bass too, was just a bit fatiguing; I learned that I have no need for deep frequencies – taut and tuneful, but reasonably rolled off is fine with me. In the mids/highs, everything was simply too clean and explicit. Sure, different amps made a bit of difference, but the general character of the presentations remained.
I found myself getting quite jaded with the whole thing. Here I was, willing (but somewhat reluctant) to shell out between £3,500 - £4,500 for the total set up, and for that sort of money wanted to be delighted, wondering why I ever sold my previous set up and feeling that I was falling down the rabbit hole somewhat. It also felt an excessive amount to spend, especially after my old car recently died.
As a stop gap, I therefore decided to jack it in for now and just buy a wireless speaker for background music; maybe I’d revisit the ‘proper’ hifi thing if I ever move house with a dedicated listening room and no neighbours. Considered an Audio Addon C3, but just took a punt on a pair of Kef LSX after hearing good things, and really didn’t expect too much.
To my great surprise, they have been absolutely superb.
They aren’t as detailed as the Kef R3/R5. The soundstaging isn’t as vast. They aren’t as neutral or faithful to source. The highs are slightly less refined perhaps, but are very close, the bass doesn’t go anywhere near as deep. They sound generally a bit smaller/closed in. The dynamic shifts and slams aren’t as great. So on paper, they are the notably ‘worse’ speaker.
Despite having metallic drivers, powered by internal Class D amplification, they sound seductively smooth, analogue and rich. The midrange may not be strictly neutral, but it’s got such an inviting warmth to it. Back to back with the Kef R series, and the latter sound cleaner, more pristine (and more neutral) in the midrange, but with a subtly clinical, thin and metallic edge. The highs too, whilst smooth on the R3s / R5s, to me sound a bit more unnatural and tinny; I find the LSX’s highs sweeter and easier to listen to. The bass of the LSX may not go as deep (a good thing in my book, in this bedroom setup), but it is well integrated, always taut, punchy and agile – and that is placed on a sideboard! On dedicated stands, they will improve further.
They are still excellent in terms of detail retrieval, dispersion and soundstaging (so retain the virtues of modern speakers), but accompany this with a romantic/euphonious, smooth and warm tone across the frequency range that makes listening to a wide variety of music pleasurable. Voices sound stunning and are nicely projected.
I don’t find myself avoiding certain recordings, or occasionally wincing at the in your face detail of more resolving speakers. They are just fun, forgiving and pleasurable to listen to and I catch myself just enjoying the music more, without analysing the sound. As above, they aren’t strictly neutral – clearly there is some tuning going on, with the internal amplification and digital processing. So it’s not exactly purist hifi, but it sounds good!
The tiny size, being able to move them round the house easily, great looks and complete avoidance of a separate amp/streamer are the icing on the cake. Ok, so the app isn’t the most intuitive, there can be some frustrations with this, but to me that’s a compromise I’m willing to make.
I suppose it’s partly a matter of expectations – at £925 (with a discount code online), maybe it’s the performance per pound and lack of accompanying buyers remorse that has swayed me slightly here. But they are without a doubt, the most enjoyable hifi solution I’ve listened to this year.
IMO, Kef excels when they take the edge off a bit. The Kef R100s were the same years back – they were in most ways, ‘worse’ than the LS50s at the time, but their warmer, more laid back and forgiving nature won me over in the end. So it’s interesting that they release the LSX today with similar tuning in mind – I had assumed they’d strive across the ranges to get closer and closer to the immensely detailed and resolving reference series, via trickle down technology. Personally though, I see it as a virtue when manufacturers deliberately voice certain ranges differently.