KEF R500s or LS50s Plus Sub?

To Doug Schneider,

Still stuck on this one but now down to two: KEF LS50 plus a good subwoofer versus the KEF R500. What would you do?

Andy Jerram

Great question that I’m sure others would like to know the answer to, so I’ll take a stab at answering it as thoroughly as possible, since many will likely read this letter.

KEF’s R500 sells for about $2600/pair, while the LS50 is $1500/pair. Both speakers are outstanding. The big difference is that the R500 is a three-way floorstander, so it can generate a lot more bass than the two-way, stand-mounted LS50 without a sub. A good sub plus stands will probably bring the LS50-based system in line price-wise with an R500-based one, so there’s no real money saving to be had with either setup; instead, performance is what matters.

With separate speakers and a sub, you have the distinct advantage of being able to place the speakers in the best spot for tonality and imaging, while the subwoofer can be placed for optimum bass. Seems like the way to go, huh? Perhaps.

The issue is integrating the three speakers, which isn’t always easy. Essentially, you have to make the LS50s and whatever subwoofer you choose sound like a cohesive system. There are a number of ways you can go about this. One way is to use a preamplifier, integrated amplifier, or receiver with bass-management capabilities. Bass management, which is standard with audio/video receivers, was created specifically for this task and usually work quite well. Unfortunately, it’s not that common in audiophile preamplifiers or integrated amplifiers (yet!). Does your preamplifier or integrated amplifier have bass-management capabilities?

If not, the traditional way is with the controls on the subwoofer in combination with moving it around your room. Most subwoofers have a crossover built in, as well as volume and phase controls. With enough fiddling around with those controls in conjunction with room placement, it’s usually possible to get a good blend. Do you want to go that route?

If you don’t have bass management and you’re not prepared to wrestle with the subwoofer’s controls, then the R500 is the obvious choice. With it, the designers have taken the guesswork out of integrating the bass, so you just set the pair up where they sound the best overall (tonality, imaging, and bass) and call it a day. Now I leave it up to you. . . . Doug Schneider