One. The greatest hifi product of the last five years? KEF’s LS50 Wireless (US$2199) stand head and shoulders above the rest. Why? These loudspeakers are a complete high-end audio system in a box. With one eye on the more expansive world that exists beyond the audiophile ghetto, audiophile tweakery has been shown the door in favour of bespoke amplifier matching via a digitally active crossover.
Experience tells us that we’d need to spend close to US$10K on matching amplifier and DAC to get this kind of audible performance from a pair passive LS50. And spending US$10K to match the performance of a US$2199 system makes no sense. The icing on the cake is that these KEFs ask us to wave goodbye to loudspeaker cables and interconnects.
Place the KEF LS50 Wireless on a decent pair of speaker stands or a sturdy credenza, join them together with the provided Ethernet cable, connect each speaker to the mains, power them on, hook them into your wireless/wired network and you’re set to stream music.
Skip out on the latter step and music can be fed into the KEF hifi system via its Bluetooth input. Between box delivery and music playback can sit as little as fifteen minutes.
If there are weaknesses with this active loudspeaker system they are on the software side: 1) the network streaming input is UPnP-based and therefore offers no gapless playback, even with the recently-added Tidal functionality; and 2) the smartphone app – essential only for those who wish to run the active LS50 wirelessly and/or for applying room-relevant DSP settings.
Two. The greatest audio software product of the last five years? Roon stands head and shoulders above the rest — a nicely-designed interface returns some much-needed elegance to digital audio library navigation and playback. Its powerful back-end offering EQ and DSD-upsampling keeps power users in the picture.
Install Roon to a PC or NAS drive (or snag a Roon Nucleus server), point it at your music library, log in to your Tidal account (if you have one) and find yourself up and running with network streaming – gaplessly – within minutes.
Roon’s ever expanding range of hardware partners sees increasingly more products coming to market as Roon Ready endpoints to which the Roon server can stream directly (and without an interceding device). As of Roon 1.3, it’s possible to stream to Sonos devices.
To those who see Adobe’s Creative Cloud charged out at US$120/year and baulk at the same for a year’s worth of Roon, I cannot relate. The best things in life are worth paying for – especially Roon. Software might be intangible but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t see audio applications as bona fide hi-fi components.
Three. The greatest audio software product of the last five years and the greatest hifi product of the last five years – how about bringing them together?
At CEDIA 2017, taking place in San Diego this weekend, the KEF LS50 Wireless and Roon will wed. Within the next few weeks Roon will begin rolling out a software update that will allow it to stream directly to the LS50 Wireless’ network input. No update to the KEF speakers will be required. (All technical questions should be directed toward your nearest Roon representative).
Multi-room streaming will be possible from this newly married software and hardware couple but only to additional devices other than a second pair of LS50 Wireless.
With the new Roon update installed, KEF LS50 Wireless users will see their speakers show up as an output device in Roon’s audio settings panel. Enable this new endpoint and name it to stream digital audio directly and gaplessly from Roon server to KEF standmount – no interceding streamer required. A 5G wireless network is recommended by KEF for those wishing to stream hi-res content. Me? I recommend Ethernet.
Adding a lifetime’s supply of Roon at US$499 to the KEF LS50 Wireless means we get a powerful, high-end audio system that’s easy to use but without our total spend crossing the US$3K marker. As easy as one, two, three. A marriage made in audio heaven.