Esprit Audio has been handmaking audio cables in France for over 23 years but they are little known outside their home country. Could all this be about to change? Janine Elliot takes a listen to their Beta speaker cables and interconnects.

A large box arrived at my door recently, full of cables from a French manufacturer I hadn’t even heard of, so I was very eager to try them all out. The cables might be well known in France but as yet hadn’t crossed the waters, something that’s in the process of changing.  Meet Esprit. They are a company based in a tiny village in the centre of France called Epenède, though soon to be moving to larger premises in the nearby village of Confolens as the team is growing and exports increasing. Founded by Richard Cesari 23 years ago, he has in fact been making cables for many more years than that; starting it as a hobby making them for himself and friends. His cables were found to be so good that he got a lot of interest from his audiophile friends. Richard had a lifetime goal trying to figure out why the cable linking good HiFi components could generate so many acoustic issues. He quite simply wanted to make the best cables money can buy. After a few years making them as a hobby, he decided to form Esprit in 1996. From then on things grew pretty fast, and while some manufacturers are happy to stick to making the same cables for many years, Richard is always on the hunt for better materials, technologies and assembling techniques in order to make his cables even better. The Eterna range introduced in 1999 was an instant hit and 20 years later Esprit is now producing the 8th generation of their cables. Richard pays special attention in creating the very best product he can, whether it be the conductors, insulation materials, shielding or connectors, and everything is tested by ear. Being a saxophonist and drummer, he has good musical ears to be able to determine what would be a great sound.

Esprit hasn’t just been making cables, though. Richard first toyed with making a turntable and loudspeaker and later the RendistoR, an HF/RF noise-reducing passive unit fitted between terminals of the loudspeaker. Now his technical knowledge is being expanded further to produce a power distributor called the Volta. This is an 8-output distributor made of CNC aluminium to make any system more “silent, more dynamic and transparent”.

With 8 ranges of cables presently, there are plans for two more to complete the range with the Gaïa and L’Esprit as the pinnacle of the collection. These top-end products will only be made to order by Richard himself. Finally, Esprit has been working on an area of cables that have long suffered in terms of audio and construction; guitar cables. Both Richard and Eric are musicians and have been experimenting with homemade guitar cables for a long time as these, like HiFi cables, can make a huge difference to the sound. I have personally found an enormous difference in sound and quality in guitar and microphone cables over the years, with most only really suitable as skipping ropes. Esprit is presently in the process of finalising the prototypes and soon will have a professional line of guitar cables, pedalboard patches and possibly other professional cables such as microphone cables following later.

DESIGN

The intention of this review was for me to listen to the cables provided to me from their Bêta range as a complete set. However, I have decided to listen to each component separately and only at the very end to put them all together, thereby me getting a chance to identify differences and similarities in the cables set against my known HiFi persona, and then at the end seeing how well the cables work together as a set. The box of toys arriving at my door included the Bêta interconnect (1m), Alpha mains cable (1.5m – there is no Bêta version) and the Bêta loudspeaker cable (3m).

Esprit believe listening to the cables is worth so much more than words, and that, of course, would make my life easier if I didn’t have to tell you about the assembly of the cables, but it would also not indicate just how much work has indeed been put into designing them. All Esprit cables use a symmetrical structure for conductors and an asymmetrical structure for insulators. For the symmetrical structure of materials, this means identical conductors for both phase (+) and neutral (-). According to Esprit, it makes for a more dynamic, more detailed and more silent performance compared with coaxial cables. It also helps tonal balance and timbre.  The asymmetrical structure of insulating materials is there to avoid the build-up of an electric load inside the cable, and there are two different insulating materials being used; one soft and one hard. One wire is insulated with a stiff dielectric material, the other with a soft one. The result is said to be a more balanced sonic performance, with a combination of the qualities of both.

“Identical insulators load up the same way. Once they are loaded, it can often result in a more aggressive sound. The asymmetrical structure avoids this so that the tonal balance of your electronics and speakers are preserved”.

Esprit uses only 5N and 6N OCC copper. They don’t believe in using silver as they feel pure silver can be rather smooth sounding, or conversely bright if it is a thin plating.  5N pure OCC copper is used in Alpha, Bêta and Kappa Series, with 6N copper used on all other cables in the range. They source their copper from a Japanese company that guarantees consistent, high-level quality. All Esprit cables use multi-stranded OCC copper, with 720 0.07mm strands on the lower end RCA and speaker cables and 0.32mm strands, for example, on the XLR interconnects. The Bêta range only uses silver in the terminations, with 20micron silver-plated copper connections. They are available in a black or white finish and marked with direction of connection to your HiFi, and the build quality is excellent. Richard aims for consistency as you go up the ranges; a proper sonic signature. All cables follow the same aims of bringing you more silence, more dynamics, more timbre, more soundstage, and as my findings will show I can agree wholeheartedly with their aspirations.

SOUND QUALITY

Beta Loudspeaker Cables

With 8 cables in the portfolio, the Bêta LS cable comes in as the second cheapest after the Alpha at  €580 (3m). This compares with the top of the range Eureka coming in at €10200 (3m). The cable is available terminated with 20 microns silver-plated copper banana or spades connectors, and with partial and integral screening. The cable includes a ferrite choke to reduce RFI/EMIs and comes with a direction arrow for the best audio. To begin with, I chose to listen to some of my known audio tracks as used in many of my previous reviews. Firstly, I listened to the beautifully sung “The Oak and the Ash” from the King Singers. The cable really worked well in the vocal range offering a very relaxed performance of the song. Everything was there, just rather tranquil, and quite different from my regular Ecosse cable. Turning to Pictures at an Exhibition (The Hut on Fowls Legs, Minnesota Orchestra), that relaxed nature persisted; it didn’t reduce my enjoyment, it simply felt slower and gave me more chance to get deeper into the music and enjoy it. All frequencies were covered, and the soundstage was equally detailed. Indeed, the background murmuring strings at 2’ into the music were given more space and time to come across. Listening to “Walking on the Moon” (YH Trio) the Bêta gave an excellent dynamic range and detail to the instruments, particularly the snare drum, but again the performance was much more relaxed than I am used to. At long last “New Orleans Bump” (W. Marsalis) made me jump with surprise as it began in earnest. This track is on my Ortofon test record from the ’80s and has excellent drums and brass along with a great banjo. This performance was not short of speed and detail and it gave these cables a chance to show off the excellent dynamic range, particularly at the very last chord. These cables really do open up the sound. This track has a wide range of instrumentation including rasping saxophone and rhythmical banjo and the cable could bring out all the instruments with great detail and passion. Another good selling point from the cables was the excellent bass end; songs like “CottonTail” (Dee Dee Bridgewater) and “All or Nothing at All” (Diana Krall) both showed weight and balance.

Turning to Talgalgo ‘La Zucca Barucca’ the tango-based album is fiery and fast. Playing through the Bêta introduced me to a new experience over my previous encounters with this fine album; a more controlled timing and excellent soundstage. The bass was notably present, and that timing was refined and somewhat slower than my usual cables. In track two the percussionist often hits the sticks against the rim of the snare drum, and the Bêta gave me a chance to enjoy this rather than wonder why it made its way onto the record.

‘Love over Gold’ from Dire Straits is one of those greats from the past, although it wasn’t as successful as ‘Brothers in Arms’, which sold 30 million copies. Beautifully recorded (indeed the CD version was a great hit in the ’80s as the album you should buy to “show off” your CD player) this album didn’t rely on click-tracks, and often the timing wasn’t that great, but at least it was human. Today’s click-track/pitch-correct recording technology is so unreal it can be hard to listen to. “Love over Gold” gave me a chance to take in a wide dynamic range and frequency sweep and tons of great playing. Mark Knopfler’s voice isn’t bad either and with the interconnects connected between phono-stage and preamp gave his voice a gentile manner that was magical. Detail to instrument positioning and initial transients and frequency range was faultless.

Beta Interconnect

If anything, the interconnect had more speed and urgency than the Bêta speaker cable. “Private Investigation” is my favourite track on this album. Here there was an excellent dynamic range – particularly when the guitar comes in after the quiet mumbling – and great timing apart from a few of the drumbeats from Pick Withers that aren’t quite so well-timed (5’30”). The Bêta comes in at €420 for 1.2m and €540 for 1.8m, which means being exceptionally good for the price of a cable that offers such good overall performance, if you accept that slightly laid-back timing. The cable’s precise timing and honesty with all frequencies mean that it will give you long fatigue-free listening pleasure. The cable comes with a ferrite choke and build quality is excellent.

Glenn Gould was a pianist/harpsichordist/organist from my long and distant past, someone who I loved to hear playing when I was learning the piano as a child. He is famed not only for his own accuracy of timing and never speeding away out of control but also for his voice that hummed and burbled away in the background and picked up by the microphone. He got so involved in the music he would sing the melody or bass line in the background of all his playing, something I found hilarious as a child but gradually I got to ignore it just as one ignored the hiss on those Dolby B cassette recorders after a few month’s playing. His album ‘Bach; The Art of the Fugue and Handel Suites for Harpsichord’ has as much character as the performer himself. The Bach Contrapunctus 1 is a harmless introductory movement which lacks any energy or excitement, that no cables could possibly enthuse. Only in the next movement do we get a sense of character and power, with the cables coming to life as Glenn bashed away on the keys and hummed.  The set of 10 movements in this album certain get us close to the composer’s and Glenn’s mind. The interconnect allowed the music to speak and its gentele manner enabled it to have more timing and space. Bach wrote this around 1748 and only completed it two years later in the last year of his life. Also on the album is a collection of Handel’s harpsichord Suites. Work on these was begun that same year as Bach’s death, and the recording sounds very close mic’d with much mechanical noise and loss of top-end in the recording; my Yamaha Clavinova has better sounding samples! But it did give me a chance to hear Glenn’s distinctive vocals and test the honesty of the cables. Reducing signal losses is a fundamental design aim at Esprit. Their cables are highly efficient (putting them up against similar RCA and LS cables) and nothing is lost in reproduction. Interestingly, my findings showed the interconnect was not quite so efficient as was the loudspeaker cable, though both are excellent.

Alpha Mains Lead

Finishing off the package was a 1.5m Alpha mains cable, the baby of the family, but certainly not short of build quality and performance. Coming in at €425 (€390 for 1m) the cable has partial shielding and 40-micron silver-plated connectors and 5N pure OCC copper. Having such a thick silver plating does affect the sound, whether it is the connectors or the cable itself. Esprit is very serious about the thickness of silver plating and how it can affect the sound.

“A robust myth is that silver cables enhance the top end of the sonic spectrum. Pure silver is in fact a very smooth sounding material, much like the sound of OCC copper. The myth behind that reputation actually comes from the fact that most ‘silver’ cables you can find on the market are in fact made of silver-plated copper.”

Only super-thin silver plating would cause a ‘brighter’ sound. The plating used in the Alpha mains cable certainly doesn’t cause a lift in top-end. It makes for excellent contact with my sockets, but my initial problem was actually using it as the suppled review cables (two of them) unfortunately had euro connectors, something not very useful in the UK even without Brexit. Luckily a little bit of DIY enabled me to soon be able to use and test them. Having recently tried a £3000 mains lead and being amazed at just how much of a difference it made, testing this cable certainly showed its credentials; noise-free, great dynamics, excellent frequency response and sounds beyond the loudspeakers. This was indeed an excellent mains lead that looked the part, too. As well as choice and structure of conductors being paramount in creating the ultimate sound, so too insulation materials have their own sonic signature. Esprit has found that stiffer dielectric materials such as High-Temperature PVC tend to have a bit more bass, a slightly attenuated treble and quite a lot of punch. Softer dielectric materials, such as silicon, have a drier bass and a more detailed midrange and treble.  Consequently, Esprit uses two different insulating materials: one wire is insulated with a stiff dielectric material, and the other with a soft one. The result they say is a more balanced sonic performance, with a combination of the qualities of both.

The Big Listen

It soon became time to listen to the complete setup, the total coming in at €1425. This is by no means a large financial layout, the theory being that 10% of the total layout on hi-fi should be reserved for the connectors. Immediately I was aware of a sense of control and passion in the music, with the music somewhat laidback compared with my home cables, but no less interesting. Goldfrapp’s ‘Felt Mountain’ is one of my favourite albums of recent years, first heard on Radio 3’s “Late Junction” show that I was mixing at the BBC studio, so I bought a copy. The album has an eerie spaciousness that the Esprit cables pulled off with passion, plus added control and depth to the music, especially the vocal line and bass. With the close-mic’d vocal line you can almost see Alison between the speakers. The detail was very enjoyable if perhaps too well-mannered for some.  Yes ‘Drama’ is my favourite album from this progressive rock group of my youth. Each track in this well-produced album fits well with those either side, nothing sounding out of place. This album takes me back to late evenings at university, days full of drama. Whilst the Esprit lost a tad of this drama it made for a very controlled performance. My favourite track is “Into the Lens”, a track about a camera. The Esprit captured it with a great image of reality and naturalness. The musicians follow the precise rhythmic patterns on their instruments with great precision; there was no digital Cubase or Protools editing to make life easier when this was recorded. They had to be exactly on time with each other and indeed the Esprit followed the performers with equal precision.

Next was Neillson’s Symphony Number 4 (The Indistinguishable). This is a powerful album written in the Romantic era by a Danish composer opposed to the soft and sentimental music of this period and hence is considered an anti-romantic composer. He is famed for saying “A harp in the orchestra is like a hair in the soup”, so expect strong brass and woodwind. I do enjoy this work and it is rather Wagner’esque (actually, he also hated Wagner). The cables gave a solid performance with plenty of space to enjoy or endure the blasts. Even coming to the end of the first section of the movement with long chords the flute and violins can be heard trying to interrupt the ‘violence’ with their very quiet passages. I could understand so well what Richard wanted to achieve with his cables and also could hear just how well they worked together as a trio of cables. Just like the movements of the Yes album, each part worked well with the next not sounding out of place with the other, each sharing the same footprint. As a team, the components added more dynamic range and timbre to all the music I played and with a controlled soundstage. Only that the overall soundstage wasn’t quite as wide as I would like.

Returning to music I played during the individual trials showed me just how well the cables work as a team. Talgalgo ‘La Zucca Barucca’ was exceptionally well put together, confirming Esprit’s bass flair, something not in short supply in the album. Initial transients in the drums were very natural and powerful. The quiet start to track 2 had an eerie nature and I could almost breathe the air being radiated in the recording studio; it was so close to reality. All frequencies were present, just a slightly dominant bass. The soundstage, whilst excellent, was just not quite as wide as my home cables, and top-ends were accurate but not quite so refined but, and this is very important, I actually preferred the musicality afforded by these cables. They were quite simply honest, not out there to impress, but rather be accurate. As a sound engineer and musician that is what I want to hear. And if this is at the cheap end of the scale then I hope I get a chance to audition the top of the range.

CONCLUSION

For honesty of sound with a noticeably controlled nature and with great dynamics and timbre, these are certainly cables that we ought to know more about in the UK. They are also excellent value for money and work well with all types of music. With excellent bass and a relaxed performance, long listening sessions will be guaranteed.

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: Excellent quality of build including terminals and with a glistening silver sheen under the black outer tech flex cover.

Sound Quality:  Very restrained and honest performance, particularly honest dynamics and timbre

Value for Money: €1425 for all your basic cable needs makes this all sound worth every euro.

Pros: Excellent dynamics. An honest reproduction of the music. Refined timing.

Cons: You might not get on with the cables if you want an exaggerated, fast or over-exciting sound.

Price: €1425

 

 

 

 

 

Janine Elliot

Review Equipment:

Pre-Audio GL-1102N/AT33sa (turntable); Manley Steelhead (phono stage); Krell KPS20i (CD); Ferrograph Logic7 (reel to reel); Krell KAV250a/MFA Baby Reference Pre (amplification); Graham Audio LS5/9 plus Townshend Supertweeter and Wilson Benesch Torus sub (speakers); IsoTek mains conditioner, Townshend rack; Other cables used; Tellurium Q, Ecosse, Townshend and Nordost.

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