The Magic of KEF at AXPONA 2017

Listening to the KEF demo by Dipin Sehdev and Johan Coorg this year was a fairly epic journey through the recent pipeline of loudspeaker products that have been pushed front and center from the UK-based company. Resting firmly on the far end of the lower lobby at the heart of AXPONA, the heat generated from the inertia of KEF’s running success could be felt throughout the show, even though AC might have been running a little high in the demo room. A little extra cool in a listening session at an audio show is very fine by me, keeping the extra heat off generated by hard-working gear makes for optimal listening conditions with fellow attendees more often than not.

Located on the long side of the room, a pair KEF LS50 wireless ($2,199/pair) sat in solidarity on top of a pair of matching custom-finish stands with little else in play. On the far left hand side of the room, a TV screen hosting the projected screen of a mobile phone playing the homegrown KEF control app. Listening to the stripped down version of 24/96 Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes from the Deluxe verson of Paul Simon’s Graceland (playing via NAS Drive, controlled from the KEF app), I could help but let the overused marketing catchphrase and review cliché #gamechanger run rampant through my mind. But let me not merely leave you with the tired hashtag clinging to your consciousness like fleeting billboard copy in your mind. Elaboration is my gift to you. The “game” is the intricate dance of truly high fidelity: engaging sound inbattled with cost, convenience and a sea of marketing hype. The “Change” is (from this reporters experience) the plainclothes quality of the Wireless LS50s for the price. It is a shift from so many that have come before in that more of a truly impressive sound from the upper registers of the high end can be found sandwhiched inbetween the concentric driver, DSP and internal amplifier. But how much of that sweet high end does it manage to capture? The answer is much more elusive and steeped in personal perception. The integrated DSP is a hard pill to swallow for purists, but for both times I’ve heard the wireless, they were absolutely stunning and perhaps even more impactful at times than many of my LS50 (original) experiences, regardless of the back end. The result of the combined internal catalog of advancements in the LS50 Wireless at AXPONA was liveliness, tonal mass and tangible pluses across the board. You can find more fine details on the LS50 Wireless technologies and capabilities in our CES coverage.

The total experience made the next part of the presentation even more surprising. With an about right turn in our seats, the small group of attendees were greeted with a pair of Reference 1 bookshelves ($7,999) connected to a 250 watt Hegel 360 integrated ($5,800) with Straightwire Octaves for cables duties ($380/10 ft.). Female vocals poured out of the Reference 3-ways like liquid crystal. The imaging was so fine it was almost scary. Johan followed this up with an interesting selection of Johnny Cash’s version of the Trent Reznor track Hurt. He was quick to mention before the track began that during the large and busy crescendo at the end of the song John’s vocals start to break up a bit. And like an acoustic magic trick, it so happened with Johan jumping in for a moment over the high volume to comment “you see! He’s pushed it too far!”  It was a good demo, having heard that track so many times throughout the 2000’s I found it surprising I hadn’t caught that before. Perhaps its because I have never owned a pair of Reference 1s.

After a quick vocal-centric song by the Weekend, the bookshelves were pulled away to reveal a pair of Blade 2s ($25k) in full glory. The promised track of an attendee played a bass-full dance song which really pulled out the low end extension, control and capabilities of the driver-enhanced Blades. Good demo’s at an audio show are a treat, where its more common to find a single track that sounds best for a single system. Dipin and Johan did a superb job of packing in multiple features with a diverse array of songs that each somehow managed to bring out the best in each tasting. Bravo gents, I will dine at that table anytime.

More info:

Johan also took the room though a demo of the Reference series unique port tube adjustment feature, of which you can catch a few excerpts from the video embed below. It was quite illuminating, including a little polling of the participants and some back and forth with listening observations. Johan goes into the more technical differences between the two adjustable, swappable lengths stating the short port’s response is more linear to a lower frequency, with a steeper falloff and just a touch more midrange presence, while the longer tube rolls off at 150 hertz, with more energy on the very end of the spectrum. To my ears the difference was small (Johan says any variance could be less than .5 dB) but noticeable.


11 thoughts on “The Magic of KEF at AXPONA 2017

  • it is interesting that Omega is a company that gets no love from reviewers but consumers love it. Kef LS50 gets all the love from reviewers but consumers including me are constantly underwhelmed. Guess which of the two spends marketing dollars!!!

    • Consumers are constantly underwhelmed? What planet are you on? Five years on and sales for LS50’s are still through the roof.

      • well because they go with the hype. on There are many people who bought one because of the hype and were underwhelmed including me.

        • Hey Dadbeh. I totally understand where you are coming from, but have you heard the wireless version yet? Also, I would like to point out that if your goal is to drop a link where someone is hating on an audio product, you can find something like that on the forums for every component ever made.

    • Not everybody listens at sedate levels with small SET’s or “chip-amps” that are in the Omega wheelhouse. I have from ZU’s to home brews using Lowther drivers and I love them.

  • No floorstanders from the new Reference Line for audition?

    • Not this time, topped out with the Blade 2s. I have heard the Reference floor standers in a Wyred4Sound room and it was pretty fantastic.

  • How does the LS50 fare compared to Reference and Blade? Not a fare comparison i know, but just wanted to know how close/apart are they in terms of performance. Thanks!

    • Pang, that is a totally legitimate question and one that I would be asking myself. From the demo I heard at AXPONA, the Reference bookshelves had a smoother treble response and better imaging in general. From there, the Blades had a much bigger and lustier bass response than Reference 1s. I didn’t get a chance to A/B the exact same song, so take that with a grain of salt, but it gives you a slight idea of how a possible progression would go from speaker to speaker.

    • i’ve seen the kef room at axpona a few years in a row now.. you’d be surprised how close ls50 are with blades for most music at less than 11 volume levels.

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