For over half a century, Kent Engineering & Foundry (KEF) has been at the helm of creating the most authentic and natural sound. Listeners feel as though their favourite musician is performing live, the narrator is sat with them, or they are amidst the high-energy of their team’s final game. Whether enjoying a much-loved film from your sofa, or writing a bestseller at your home studio, the unrivalled quality is a signature of KEF.
With a flair for the unusual, and often extraordinary, KEF’s pursuit of perfection balances an obsession with design in harmony with the most innovative engineering, from breaking ground with Uni-Q technology to setting industry benchmarks with the first LS50 in 2012. Until today, KEF’s reputation for quality has been founded on a refusal to compromise on aural authenticity or experience.
In late September, KEF raised the benchmark even further with the new LS50 Collection, delivering an unprecedented purity of sound coupled with intuitive usability. Comprising of the LS50 Meta bookshelf speaker and the LS50 Wireless II wireless hifi speaker, the new LS50 Collection marks an innovative evolution from its previous iterations; KEF had set the bar high with the original LS50 speakers but, after three years of intensive research, the latest LS50 Collection speakers were unparalleled, as the world’s first loudspeakers to use the revolutionary Metamaterial Absorption Technology (MAT).
A highly complex, maze-like structure with the super capacity to absorb 99% of the unwanted sound radiating from the rear of the driver, MAT is the embodiment of KEF’s desire for continual development and innovation. The result is a magical acoustic experience that pushes the boundaries of what has ever been imagined; the speakers disappear to allow the listener to become truly immersed, hearing every note, every word, every detail.
Further reducing distortion and enabling the prevention of audio distraction, Metamaterial Absorption Technology acts as an acoustic black hole – and the resulting acoustic quality is incomparable. Evident in this innovative fusion of technology and design, not to mention the elegantly curved front and the collection’s versatile colourways, every detail is design and performance perfection; KEF’s passionate team of designers and engineers have thoughtfully considered every component of the LS50 Collection.
Here, we speak to Jack Oclee-Brown, KEF’s Head of Research and Development, and Simon Davies, KEF’s Director of Product Design, about taking on the monumental task of designing the revolutionary LS50 Collection.
What role did you play in the development of the new LS50 Collection?
Jack Oclee-Brown: For the new LS50 Collection, my team’s major role was to develop the new driver that is used in both products. The driver incorporates many updates and new technologies, including the MAT absorber. In addition, we work closely with the electronics, software, design and mechanical teams to ensure the sound of the loudspeaker is as good as possible. Finally, my team are also responsible for balancing the loudspeakers. For the LS50 Meta, this involves us designing a “crossover”, which is the internal electronics inside the loudspeaker that controls which part of the music signal is fed to each driver. In the LS50 Wireless II this involves designing and tuning the software that runs on the loudspeakers internal processors to control the signal fed to each of the two internal amplifiers.
Simon Davies: My team led the product design and was involved in all the visual refinements to the original design, choice of new colours, materials and finishes, and design of the new remote control. Throughout the programme, we worked closely with our UX, Acoustic and Engineering teams in Hong Kong and the U.K.
What would you say was the biggest challenge faced during the development of the new LS50 Collection, and how was it overcome through innovation and design?
Jack Oclee-Brown: The original LS50 Meta and the LS50 Wireless were tremendously successful products that many people have written about and loved owning and using. We felt a major weight of expectation for these new products to live up to the same high standards as the originals. The engineering of the originals was driven by the acoustics, with numerous carefully considered design details each targeting a small improvement in some aspect of the loudspeaker performance. This drove a lot of new technologies into the first LS50, and the combined effect of all these incremental improvements was a step improvement in the loudspeaker performance. We quickly decided that the most appropriate approach was to continue with the same philosophy for the LS50 Meta. This has again helped us to achieve a large improvement in the overall performance of the product and also to introduce some brand-new technologies, especially the MAT, into the loudspeakers.
Simon Davies: We listened very carefully to comments from our customers and mainstream service providers regarding user interface issues with the original LS50 Wireless and the KEF App. Our in-house UX Team has worked tirelessly to improve the entire user experience from the layout of rear panel, simplicity of set up, to interfacing with the product via the App or the new remote control. Significantly, all of these improvements have been noted and praised in many of the recent reviews on the new LS50 Wireless II.
How would you say the new LS50 Collection showcases KEF’s pursuit of perfection?
Jack Oclee-Brown: The performance of the product, in all aspects, is world-leading. This can only be achieved by rigorous engineering and design work, carefully considering all aspects of the product to achieve the best possible result.
Simon Davies: When we launched the first LS50 speaker in 2012, we weren’t sure how the accentuated curved baffle would be received by consumers. We needn’t have worried because this feature alone visually defined the LS50 and made it an icon within the industry. So, when planning the new range, we had to make a decision, do we stick with the iconic form and improve where possible or propose a complete redesign. Initial reaction to the new LS50 Collection has been phenomenal and validates our commitment to develop and refine the original design.
The LS50 range has always been strong in its use of colours, materials and finishes. When considering the colour strategy for the new range we knew from performance figures across the LS50 Collection that black and white were still the most popular colour choices followed by metallic grey. We therefore decided to enhance and modernise these colours by developing a deep rich Matte version for each. This then gave us a good platform to introduce strong tone on tone colours for the driver waveguides and aluminium cones creating a stunning overall effect. As for the cabinet on the LS50 Meta, we altered the construction method which allowed us to redesign the rear panel as a separate part and make a colour change to that of the main body. The rear port has been redesigned for both ranges to visually strengthen its integration with heavily radiused cabinet form.
What was your favourite part about developing the new LS50 Collection?
Jack Oclee-Brown: Much of our early work on a loudspeaker is theoretical or by simulation, and it takes a great deal of skill and judgement to use these abstract tools to develop a product that can play a wonderful sound. The first opportunity to listen to a real prototype is always extremely exciting.
Simon Davies: The design process is the most enjoyable aspect as one collaborates to create a product from a white sheet of paper. The ability of our team is to bring together the key disciplines within the organisation and harness their ideas through the design process and materialise them with a product. This LS50 Collection builds on refining the initial product line in every way through better design. The most satisfying part is seeing the original LS50 in use for the first time in Munich's high-end audio show. The room was filled with people who were amazed by the diminutive bookshelf speaker. Its ability to fill the room with sound that would normally be generated by a much larger pair of speakers.
For more information about the new LS50 Collection, visit KEF.com.