A KEF LS50-Based System

To Doug Schneider,

I have fallen in love with the lifelike sound of KEF's LS50. Adele sounded as if I was in her studio! For me they are better than the R900s. Only problem was the Caspian M2 demo amp fell apart on rather complex musical passages and I want to achieve a total system that allows these speakers to deliver what they can really do.

If you were to start from scratch and build a system around the LS50s, what system would you choose (i.e., your choice of amplifier, subwoofer, DAC, speaker stands, cables, etc.)?

Kind regards,

If I were to build a system around the LS50s, I’d likely go with a fairly powerful integrated amplifier with high current capability that, if possible, also has a built-in DAC that’s suitable for the time being. That way I’d take my time and look for an external DAC that would better its performance. Two integrated amps that come to mind are Bryston’s B135 SST2 and Hegel’s H300. The H300 comes standard with a DAC, while it’s an option for the B135 SST2. Hans Wetzel, who runs our GoodSound! site, uses Hegel's H300 as a reference. Philip Beaudette, who writes mostly for this site, has a review of the B135 SST2 that will published here on September 1. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him buy one of those, since he uses a B100 SST as a reference right now.

Of course, you could also go with a Devialet 110, which, inherent to the digital nature of its design, also has a built-in DAC. If the 110 is actually better than the D-Premier, which is what I reviewed a couple years ago, then the sound with the LS50s is likely to be astonishingly good. It’s more expensive and less powerful than the B135 and H300, mind you, so you’ll have to figure out how much you’ll want to spend and if its power would be suitable enough for your listening tastes. NAD’s C 390DD, which Colin Smith reviewed in February and loved, would be another good one to check out -- it, too, doesn’t need a DAC. Another option that’s designed along similar lines is Wadia’s new Intuition 01, but I don’t know anyone who has heard that yet and it's the most expensive of all.

Tough call on the sub -- while a sub can offer tremendous bass depth, it has to be integrated to the main speakers exceptionally well in order to sound seamless, which is not an easy task. That’s why I can’t give you much advice right now -- I’ve never done it. So unless you have a sub you’ve fallen in love with already and definitely want to use it, get the rest of your system built first and then see if you’re happy with the bass performance. That said, if you want a recommendation on a brand, based on my past experiences, JL Audio and Paradigm tend to make the best subs.

About the stands: prioritize height and stability over brand name and price. Depending how handy you are, you might even be able to build your own (I know many who do). If not, Target, which is based in the UK, is well known for offering high-quality stands at reasonable prices. There are many other brands as well. How high the stands need to be will depend on your height as well as the height of the listening chair. Basically, you want to get the tweeters at ear level. I used the LS50s on 24”-high stands, which worked well in my room, but I think 26-28” high might be better in most situations (I’m fairly short and my listening chair isn’t all that high).

Insofar as cables go, lots of brands to choose from, not to mention plenty of models within each brand at various prices. AudioQuest, Nordost, Crystal Cable, and Siltech are brands I tend to look to first, so that should give you a good start. Of course, there are likely hundreds more to choose from. Before you make that decision, though, settle on the other pieces of the system since the cables should really be the icing on the cake. I hope that helps. . . . Doug Schneider