The Stenheim Reference Ultime 2X, the X-base and a makeover that’s long overdue.
By Roy Gregory
I’ve always liked the Stenheim Ultime 2, from the very first time I heard it. All too often, when you have truly excellent smaller speakers, building larger designs can be a challenge. Those smaller and more affordable models only have to be superior in one respect and they undermine the performance and credibility of the more ambitious model, popping its pretensions, pulling down its sonic trousers and leaving it embarrassed. But here was a big speaker that took the considerable strengths of the Alumine 5SE and built on them, retaining the smaller model’s easy, dynamic, richly coloured and engaging musical performance and adding more: more bandwidth, more dynamic range, more micro-dynamic discrimination and texture, more presence and more dimensionality. The U2 gives nothing away and brings layers of extra detail, information, clarity and structure to the (musical) performance. It’s adaptable crossover contours and critically damped slot ports make it extremely adaptable, happy working surprisingly close to walls and in surprisingly small spaces – at least relative to the speaker’s size. It’s a sonic and artistic tour de force, combining beautifully executed engineering, subtly satisfying proportions and highly developed musical sensibilities – all in a single, understated, flawlessly finished and surprisingly unobtrusive cabinet.
But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have issues. The pleasing proportions and unobtrusive appearance depend on the narrow frontal aspect. The large diameter cones supplied with the speaker set the contact points even further in, creating a heavy mass supported on a footprint that is significantly smaller than the exterior dimensions of the cabinet itself (where all the weight is concentrated). The full D’appolito topology places a large and extremely heavy drive unit at the top of the cabinet, while the elegantly curved baffle adds even more weight to the front of the speaker. That makes it a bear to handle and manoeuvre, with a horrible propensity to topple when in motion – and with all that weight set high, once it starts to topple, stopping it isn’t easy. I’ve lived with U2s, I’ve moved them repeatedly (including from one end of the house to the other, up and down steps) and I’ve definitely had my moments in the process. You don’t want something this heavy falling over: you definitely don’t want it falling on someone…
The other practical issue is the cones themselves. I get the visual continuity with the rest of the design and wanting to keep the grounded appearance: But they are not pointed enough to penetrate carpet and the threads supplied to the original versions were not long enough to allow both levelling on old or wonky floors and a decent range of attitude adjustment during set up. Stenheim also supplied a pair of large diameter C-spanners to adjust the cones and tighten the lock-rings: undoubtedly effective, and precise but a pain in the proverbial to actually use, especially underneath a speaker with very little ground clearance.