Stereophile's Products of 2013 Overall Component of 2013

Overall Component of 2013

KEF LS50 50th Anniversary Model loudspeaker ($1499.99/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, December 2012, Vol.35 No.12 review)

This is the first time since . . . um . . . Hold on a sec. I have to consult the archives . . .

Well. Yes. This is the first time ever that our Budget Component of the Year has also been our Overall Component of the Year.

Have we mentioned that the components in our Budget category are awesome? Have we mentioned that the KEF LS50 is especially awesome?

The rave reviews began with the speaker's official debut at the 2012 Munich High End Show: KEF had knocked it out of the ballpark. The LS50 was something special. We were in for a treat.


In October 2012, at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, the little LS50 made another big splash. Driven by Parasound electronics, its sound was both delicate and full-bodied, JA reported. I missed the LS50 in Denver but got to hear it a month later, when I visited KEF's factory in Maidstone, England. Driven by Arcam's A38 integrated amplifier, the LS50 made absolutely beautiful music, sounding bigger and far more confident than I'd imagined possible, while delivering all the detail, clarity, and spatial abilities for which the best minimonitors are known.

Just as I returned from England, mind still thoroughly blown by what I'd heard, the LS50 appeared on the cover of our December issue. "Exquisite performance from this tiny package," we giddily wrote. "Class A sound from KEF's 50th Anniversary LS50 speaker." Indeed, by the following April, the LS50 had taken its rightful place in Class A (Restricted Extreme LF) of our "Recommended Components"—alongside speakers costing up to 40 times as much.

Today, thanks to its unique combination of first-rate sound and exceptional value for money, the KEF LS50 takes our top prize. "It is rare to find a loudspeaker that offers this combination of clarity and neutrality," JA wrote in his review. "For KEF's 50th Anniversary Model to do so for a penny under $1500/pair makes it even more remarkable."

Right on.

Runners-up: (in alphabetical order)

Audio Research Reference CD9 CD player
Audio Research Reference 5 SE line preamplifier
Ayre Acoustics AX-5 integrated amplifier
Dan D'Agostino Momentum monoblock power amplifier
Devialet D-Premier integrated amplifier
Lamm Industries ML3 Signature monoblock
Spiral Groove SG1.1 turntable with Centroid tonearm
Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria XLF loudspeaker
YG Acoustics Sonja 1.3 loudspeaker

anthony.aaron47's picture

As a refugee from high-end audio (my former spouse got custody of our system), I'd like to offer a counterpoint to what is offered here.

A competing audio site recently (October 24, 2013) reviewed a pair of Omega Super 3T Single-Driver monitors and a Dared 2A3C integrated amplifier.

Based on that review, and some phone conversations with the owner of Omega Speakers and the US Importer for Dared, I purchased a pair of Omega Super 3S speakers (the flagship of the Omega Super 3 series) and the Dared 2A3C SET integrated amplifier, plus Kimber Kable 4PR 8' cables. Total cost, less than $2k.

Thie sound of this system is magical -- even without being fully broken in yet -- and it just keeps getting better as the listening hours pass. The sublime sound of each component is dependent -- and revealing of -- the other. Neither operates in a vacuum. The speakers offer a wide and layered sound stage, fine detail when it's in the recording, and depth down to 38 Hz. The amplifier is dead silent -- and at 8 wpc is well able to push the sound out to these magnificent 4.5" full-range drivers.

This is a sublime system -- and, even though I've had a system that I considered excellent at 7 or 8 times the price -- I'll take this one any day.

bwright's picture

I have to comment on your review of the KEF LS50, as I have listened to these speakers at length.  

The bass is incredible for an enclosure of this size.  It is smooth and expansive.  The midrange is gorgeous and clear, and the air and space that this speaker lends to all recordings is superb.  In those areas, it far surpassed the other models I recently auditioned in the $5000 range.

But given the reviews, it was the aluminum tweeters that left me scratching my head.  On certain tracks, the treble was sharply etched, and had the same harsh and 'ringing' character that 90% of the metal tweeters I have heard typically exhibit.  

On occasion, you will find metal tweeters executed beautifully - Vivid loudspeakers are a notable example.  But in my experience, they are the exception to the rule.

I realize human hearing can be subjective.  Maybe it's just me.  Or it was the recordings or components used.  But that wasn't the case with other models I listened to, and with the exact same amplification and source.

In the areas mentioned, this speaker was truly incredible, and a remarkable achievement.  If your system is a bit more forgiving than most, then you'll love them. 

JohnJ's picture

I just want to give John Atkinson thumbs up for giving "awards"/saluting year awards to the two low budget speakers KEF LS50 and Pioneer SP-BS22-LR :  Great !!

I also want to thank him for his enormous amount of component measuring during many years: I have learnt a lot on where great hi-fi can be found from his conclusions of the measurements: For instance that Benchmark Media and Bryston make excellent measuring gear for a low/sensible amount of money while in contrast DartZeel and Edge are bad value for money.


John Atkinson's picture

JohnJ wrote:
I also want to thank him for his enormous amount of component measuring during many years: I have learnt a lot on where great hi-fi can be found from his conclusions of the measurement...

Thanks very much. This aspect of the magazine is very much a labor of love on my part.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile


bwright's picture

I'll now humbly revise my comments above.  I returned to the dealer who had originally arranged my auditions with the LS50.  They mentioned that I had been one of the first to listen to this particular set of speakers.  Since that point, they had been auditioned numerous times, and could now be considered fully broken in.  

I figured it was worth investigating, and set up the speakers with the same CD, source, cables and amplification.  Indeed, the hardness in the treble noted previously had completely disappeared.

This taught me an important lesson, and made me wonder how many other components I had written off in a similar way.  But one thing I did realize - the Stereophile award was spot on, and the LS50 is an incredible value.  The presence and warmth they add to vocals is stunning.  And if your desktop is big enough, these could be the ultimate computer audio speakers.

derekseto's picture

Hi, I have an 18 year old Denon UDRA-90 component system and the speaker surrounds are badly damaged. I'm looking for replacement speakers with a limited budget. I was considering the KEF Q100s until I saw your review of the Pioneer B22. While I do prefer the looks of the KEFs, the price of the BS22 is too attractive to ignore. The Denon's amp says its 8 ohm while the Pioneers speakers are 6 ohm. Would they work together? Would you recommend the Q100s or the B22s? Thanks for any opinion.