KEF LS50W vs Emotiva + Elemental Designs W6-6TC

I’ve had an Emotiva XPA-3 Gen1, UMC-200, and ED W6-6TC since 2011. The ED speakers are an obscure redesign of the Swan D2.1SE, with a different crossover and the port facing front. They are large standmounters with a 6.5" woofer, and they should produce prodigious bass. I got them on sale for $475 and have never been fully satisfied with the bass.

I had heard about the KEF LS50W and wanted to try them. So I ordered a pair on Wednesday and they arrived at my home the next day. I’ve only had them for a day now, and I know they need at least 10 days break in, but I thought I’d provide a preliminary review that I can update later.

I have the KEF’s hooked up to my wifi network, a toslink to my TV, and USB to my Zotac ZBOX music server running LibreElec.

1. The sound via wifi from the music server has more richness and detail than via USB. Toslink is also better than USB and I have no idea why.

2. The KEF turns off automatically after a few minutes and will also lose wifi connection if you change inputs.

3. To access the speaker setup and change DSP settings, you need to connect via wifi. Wifi connection ends when you change inputs. To return to wifi input you need to stop listening to the music, cycle inputs, wait for wifi to connect, and then get into setup. Takes like 30-45 seconds each time. So annoying.

4. The Android app takes a while to connect to the music server. You can’t search for music on the server. It organizes tracks in albums alphabetically instead of by track number. This is annoying.

5. Tidal on the app works well but it is slow to access tracks and it is not gapless.

6. The remote is minimal and you have to listen for the audible beep to know which input you are choosing.

7. If KEF had created Open API’s to enable any music server app to access the speaker and send content, their could be a large ecosystem of improved apps providing better integration. The go-it-alone model for app integration is inefficient and limited. If I return the speakers it will be because the sound quality improvements do not overcome the interface limitations and inconvenience.

8.  I do have some questions about the privacy of my listening data.  Does KEF get a copy of my metadata and do they share that with third parties?  Is that the reason why they keep their API's proprietary?

Sound quality on the KEF has a rich balance. It is neutral and detailed, and has more bass than the Emotiva / ED combo. For its size and simplicity, the KEF is a remarkable package and I am hopeful it will open up in its sound.

But as good as the KEF is, the Emotiva / ED combo surprised me. The sound signature is more open and airy, with just as much detail as the KEF, but with clearer trebble and tighter bass. Sometimes, the Emotiva presents a sparkly sound to the highs and it can get bright at very high volumes. The KEF does not get brighter at high volumes. You an play it to the limit and it the sound signature does not change.

So far I think the differences are more tonal balance than sonic superiority. This may change as the KEF breaks in. But kudos to Emotiva (who often get a bad rap amoung audiophiles) for producing such a nice amp for $500 (what I paid for it) and pre/pro for $300 (bought mine used) that pairs well with unknown ED speakers to compete very well with an active speaker that is supposed to be better than the passive LS50 that Stereophile already listed as a class A reference design. I guess in a way that this shows that changes and improvements in hifi quality are smaller than what the marketing would have us all believe.

I will update this every few days.
Day 3 Update:

I have to remember that these are very small speakers.  They sound at least equal to my ED speakers, though the Emotiva/ED setup is slightly more open and airy and at the same time brighter and more glaring at higher volumes. 

But the KEF's interface is just very limited and I'm ready to return them.  The sonic benefits do not overcome the interface limitations.  I would rather own passive LS50's and be able to play anything I want through my pre/pro and make tweaks to that hardware, than rely on one manufacturer to dictate to me how I should interface with my system.  Especially since those interfaces are proprietary and badly designed. 

They will be returned.
I'm expecting delivery of Phil Jones' latest creation:  The Airpulse Model 1 next week which are active blue tooth enabled monitors with built in dac and Dsp.   My reason for  going this route is to eliminate all the cabling, interconnects, speaker wire etc... associated with my monos and pre so I can reintroduce music back into my family room.   Computer audio and streaming is new to me and I plan on listening to cd's but I'm sure my kids will enjoy streaming spotify over them and I would like to stream Tidal as well. I'll do A review after I get them
    It's a shame the KEF's didn't work out for you. The actives are supposed a lot better than the passive.  Hopefully they'll improve the interface down the road
Well, I had kind of an audio audition this weekend thanks to Paypal.  I had the KEF's setup to access my Zotac Zbox running LibreElec via wifi, and the ED W6-6TC's next to them on stands getting music via HDMI to the UMC-200.  I was able to A/B a lot and the KEF's are really awesome for their size.  They had clearer mids, highs, and deeper bass than the ED run by the Emotiva.  But then I also had found a Parasound A23, which came this morning.  It is a better amp than the Emotiva XPA-3.  Bass is better defined and lower, mids are a little less forward, and treble is extended but not as harsh and sparkly.  The overall balance is nearly identical to the KEF LS50W, which persuaded me to return the KEF, sell the XPA-3, and be happy with the wonderful speakers I have connected to the UMC-200 and Parasound A23.  In the end, this experience made me very happy to enjoy music and not feel I am missing anything... well, maybe a small subwoofer... because you have to wish for something...