Stenheim Ultime Reference 2 Loudspeaker
By Roy Gregory
For a long time, there’s been a yawning chasm between the top of Stenheim’s Alumine range and their flagship series Reference Ultime 3 model. It’s a gap that has now, finally been filled by the arrival of the smaller (well, slightly smaller) Reference Ultime 2, a model that comes in at around the same price-point as the Wilson Alexx V and the Göbel Divin Noblesse, and promises the same genuine, full-range performance.
Superficially (and from the front), the Reference Ultime 2 – or U2 as it will be known henceforth – is almost identical to the Ultime 3. The U2 uses pretty much the same drivers in an almost identical d’Appolito array, housed in a cabinet the same width, only 4”/100mm shorter and 2”/50mm shallower in depth (the height discrepancy in the published specs reflects the fact that the measurement for the U3 includes its cones/footers while the U2 doesn’t). Although it lacks its big-brother’s pivoting MTM section (and super-tweeter), the baffle is still divided by horizontal feature lines that bracket the midrange units and tweeter, meaning that it can be hard to tell the two models apart – at least at first glance.
But beyond the first visual impression, these are two distinctly different speakers. The U2 lacks the 3’s sealed cabinet(s) and pairs of rear-facing bass drivers. Instead it is rear-reflex loaded by a pair of adjacent and heavily profiled slot ports. Inside, each driver (and the crossover) still enjoys its own, independent enclosed space, the resulting internal baffles adding to the substantial bracing – helping explain each speaker’s equally substantial 231kg/508lb weight. The bi-wire speaker terminals are sensibly located low on the rear panel, while above them, a row of three jumpers allows users to make subtle up/down adjustments to the bass, mid and treble output. Combined with a -3db point at 25Hz, 95db sensitivity and a fairly benign 4Ω load, that makes for a potentially potent but also highly controllable speaker package – as we shall see.
Working with any speaker this heavy is always a challenge, requiring considerable care if you are to avoid damaging either yourself or the product. I have plenty of experience and am pretty comfortable working with big speakers, but even once they are upright, I’d still want a second body to help with positioning and replacement of the installation wheels with the large cones and footers that come with the U2. With a speaker this tall, attitude and rake angle are critically important set-up parameters, while the upper bass unit places a substantial mass up high, so tilting the cabinet to install the cones can appear alarming. Fortunately, Stenheim supplies three different thread lengths for the cones, allowing you to achieve a firm footing, ideal attitude and perfect height off of the floor in almost any situation (and the 17thC. floor in the Studio is definitely quite a challenge).
Mention of the Studio should suggest that, although the U2s were initially installed in the main Music Room, I also listened with them in the smallest of our three listening spaces. The fact that the two rooms are at opposite ends of the house, with three separate steps in between should tell you that the wheels on the U2s really work, but it should also tell you just how intrigued I was by the prospect of listening to these speakers in a smaller space.