British speaker brand KEF keeps an eye on aesthetics and acoustics
Sir Terence Conran lends his eye to KEF’s LSX Soundwave Edition speakers
The world of hi-fidelity sound occupies an unusual place in the global tech scene, for it is still scattered with small operators and long-established brands with a love of craftsmanship and quality as well as technology, tucked away in industrial estates that are as far removed from the monolithic giants of Silicon Valley as can possibly be imagined. KEF is one of these boutique firms, founded in 1961 by former BBC and Wharfedale engineer Raymond Cooke. The Kent-based company was a technological pioneer and has always kept an eye on aesthetics as much as acoustics.
The LSX Soundwave Edition speakers have been designed in conjunction with no less than Sir Terence Conran of Conran Design. Conran, working closely with his young collaborator Daniel Schofield, has conjured up an endearingly retro-modern skin for the acclaimed LSX series. The original design of the speakers was created by Hong Kong-based industrial designer Michael Young, and as well as the form factor, the key elements that still stand out are the exposed speaker cone and splashes of bold colour.
KEF, which has also worked with Ross Lovegrove, believes strongly in the idea of a speaker system being an essential piece of domestic design, so the partnership with Conran makes a great deal of sense. The textile ‘waves’ on the sides of the speaker are supplied by Kvadrat and are of course a nod to soundwaves, but also read as a playful allusion to the abstract forms of mid-century modernism. In a way, we’re back in the era of colour and trim, when design served to embellish and distinguish a piece of functional industrial design. Thanks to the solid form of Young’s original, the LSX Soundwave is rather more than that, but it still speaks to the speaker buyer looking to make a stylish statement as well as generate beautiful sounds.
Speaker design is in a transitionary phase, as the mass market opts for convenience over quality in the form of compact wireless speakers, both smart and dumb. High quality streaming is largely the preserve of companies like Sonos, who have captured the ‘whole house’ market that was once the preserve of plumbed-in speakers and miles of cabling. Meanwhile, the ultra-high-end has disappeared down the infinite vortex of perfect fidelity, where even six-figure set-ups still can’t get you all the way and that’s part of the fun.
The KEF LSX Soundwave sits amidst these wildly divergent approaches. Physically hefty, they deliver a remarkably clear and solid sound image, far removed from the ephemeral fuzz of a laptop or portable Bluetooth module. They also offer an impressive suite of connectivity, being compatible forwards and backwards through a combination of wireless networking and the option to physically plug in CD and record players (or DATs, if that’s still your thing). This Swiss Army knife approach to delivering sound is all but essential in the ephemeral world of streaming. With the Soundwave, even if your favourite sounds now live in the cloud, you can rest assured that they’re being delivered by a speaker that is reassuringly solid. §