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KEF LSX -vs- Audioengine A5... An Unexpectedly Close Match-Up


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Summary, and statement of the expectedly obvious: The KEF LSXs, which are more than double the cost, are a much better pair of self-powered speakers than the Audioengines A5s... And ultimately I'm keeping the KEFs as my main listening partners.

 

What I didn't expect was how my listening context - my listening intentions, positioning, and habits - get in the way. Yes the KEFs are more capable, but they require more attention and effort from me to really appreciate their technical advantages.

 

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Being older (not the '+' version) and a second-hand purchase with some visible wear-and-tear, the A5s are at an immediate disadvantage. With that in mind, my listening notes on the Audioengines:

- Sound immediately impressive, takes little effort to enjoy

- Very 'pleasant' with no harshness to the treble at moderate listening levels (they get shrill at higher levels)

- Sound 'bigger' with full-bodied bass that almost gets into the can-be-felt zone, which makes sense as they are bigger boxes compared to the KEFs

- Actually, all the details in the music (the breath in singers' voices, details in the instruments, etc) sound 'big' on the Audioengines... But this isn't a good thing because they all sound the same size. It's almost as if they have some built-in dynamic range compression?

- To fit in my living room the speakers are placed quite far apart, and they struggle to combine for a single, stereo image (I had to toe them in quite drastically to get them to combine)

- The last two points lead to a soundstage that is fairly wide, but is also flat and feels like a two-dimensional wall of sound projected right in front of me

 

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The LSXs were a new (but thankfully discounted!) purchase, bought with the intention of replacing the older speakers. My listening notes on the KEFs show it wasn't an easy, slam-dunk decision:

- Out-of-the-box sound is clinical bordering on harsh, with treble that is too bright for my concrete and glass living room... But this was tamed with some EQ (either from my music source or built-in to the KEFs via their Control app)

- Bass is neither as full nor as extended as the Audioengines, belying the LSX's smaller size

- (In the end I've connected a pair of woofer / subwoofers into my living room setup so the Audioengines' bass advantages are moot for me)

- The subtleties of singers' voices and instruments sound less boxy, more throaty and airy

- Soundstage is where the KEFs really separate themselves from the Audioengines

- The LSXs have no trouble 'bridging' the large distance separating the two individual speakers

- Moreover there is much, MUCH more dynamic range... Voices and foreground instruments sound closer to me, and background instruments are delicately placed behind at different distances... Overall a much more three-dimensional presentation from the KEFs (as opposed to the two-dimensional wall projected by the Audioengines)

 

A very tangible example of the difference between the KEFs and the Audioengines comes from listening to the Diana Krall and Michael Buble duet on 'Alone Again'. (Forgive me, I'm originally from Canadia and have to plug my hometown crooners!) Three minutes into it there are some high-pitched string instruments that come in behind the duet's voices. On the AudioEngines, the strings are a bit more prominent, a bit more binary in that they're there then they're not. Whereas on the KEFs the strings are a bit quieter and can be easily missed. But when I do catch them, I notice they float a little more off in the distance and the way they trail on and trail off gives them an enjoyable, 'shimmering' feel...

 

... So why didn't I immediately choose the KEFs over the Audioengines? The answer lies in my first listening note for the Audioengines: they take less effort to enjoy. Over a week, I'll have music on in my living room for approx 30 hours. But for 29 out of those 30 hours I'm doing other things, like lying on the couch reading or working on my laptop, standing in the open plan kitchen preparing a meal, crouching on the floor stretching before a run, etc. Do all the KEFs subtleties and depth of soundstage matter when I'm doing all that? Nope. In fact that two-dimensional wall of range-compressed sound projected by the Audioengines makes it easier to catch every note - and are therefore more enjoyable - when I'm distracted with things other than the music. In other words, I'm a chronic multi-tasker and the Audioengines are a more suitable companion for the majority of my listening habits.

 

But what about that 1 out of 30 hours a week where I am truly listening to the music? That's when I have the time to tweak and take advantage of the KEFs technical advantages, the attention span to catch all the details in the music, and the mindfulness to be conscious of all the subtleties in soundstage. That 1 hour a week is when the KEF LSXs truly, erm... sing!

 

And it's for that 1 hour a week I'm choosing the KEFs over the AudioEngines. Am I hopeless or what...? 😋

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