Steady On!

The two halves of the X-base arrive bolted firmly together. You attach it with the speaker lying down, bolting through the holes in the X-base to the threads in the underside of the U2 that used to accept the original cones, thus making the X-base compatible with existing speakers. Look at the underside of the X-base and you’ll see four additional, blind, threaded holes. These accept short bolts that hold soft, wide casters in place, casters that lift the base clear of the floor. Wheel the speakers into position with the posts raised (the POM-C domes will add stability and prevent tipping), lower the posts fully and they raise the speaker enough to undo the bolts and remove the casters. The use of separate bolts reduces the required height differential for removal, while having posts and casters installed simultaneously makes the whole operation considerably more straightforward (and self contained) than having to lift the speaker high enough to unthread a caster and then replace it with a spike. Safe, stable and utterly practical, what’s not to like – except the price? No matter how much easier the X-base makes handling and installation: no matter how impressively ‘engineered’ it looks; no matter how much more stable (and safer) the speaker is through installation and in use – and believe me, there’s no way you are tipping over a U2 on the X-base, even if you try – it needs to do more than that to justify its price-tag.

Ironically, if the U2 had arrived on the market, with the X-base installed at a price of $180,000, nobody would have batted an eyelid – especially given the musical performance it delivers. But because the original U2 launched at $155,000, the later addition of the base get’s costed separately and highlighted. In this case, that’s the price of coming late to the party… On paper, there’s no escaping the fact that the X-bases look expensive: less-so when you meet them in the flesh; not at all once you hear their sonic and musical impact.

Given the retrofittable nature of the X-base, the opportunity to actually her the upgrade in action was too good to miss. I started with the U2s in their familiar, original guise, while lurking in the shadows, a large crate contained the X-bases and their associated hardware.

With the system set up for A5SE, it was a relatively easy task to install and position the U2, stood on its original cones. A pretty good level of performance was achieved in around three hours, with careful placement and adjustment of height, attitude and azimuth. I ended up with 0.2 degrees of rearward rake, 0.1 degree of inward tilt on the left hand speaker and a height of 67 mm off the floor for both speakers (measured to the underside of the cabinet. This (musically pleasing) result was achieved after considerable sweating, grovelling and not a little swearing, mainly the result of trying to locate the C-spanners in the peripheral holes behind the cones. Even so, the results were excellent, showing off the U2’s tonal, textural and micro/macro dynamic virtues.

Entering intensive care…

Swapping to the X-bases was both a major operation (in terms of relocation) and fairly straightforward (in terms of mechanical demands). It was necessary to drop the speakers onto their sides – resting on high-density foam blocks – which meant rotating them in place, removing the cones and then tipping them sideways, definitely a two-man job given the weight of the cabinets. With the speaker on its side, attaching the X-base was a simple case of aligning it with the INOX bosses on the speaker base that accepted the original cones and tightening four bolts. Next, it was a case of inserting the threaded posts to a sensible depth (one that allowed adjustment in both directions) and fitting the POM-C tips before heaving the speaker upright once more. Of course, in the process, you’ve just lost all of the original positional settings, while the speaker now stands significantly higher from the ground, making a complete re-set necessary. After spending three-hours on the original set-up, I can’t say I was looking forward to the prospect…