French cable expert and electro-mechanics engineer Richard Cesari founded Esprit over 20 years ago. Esprit might not be the first name to roll off the tongue in terms of audio hookups, but perhaps it should be. Why? Because the Esprit Beta interconnect and loudspeaker cables, and the Alpha power cords all represent extraordinary value for money. They are basically high-end cables that forgot to get a bit too ‘spendy’. Everything about them, from the box they come in, to the braided shield, to the quality of the connectors, all says ‘money’, and the performance they elicit isn’t exactly cheap-sounding either.
OK, so the Alpha and Beta ranges are just the jumping off point; there are six more lines of ever more esoteric and expensive cables in the Esprit line-up. The same 1.2m interconnect, 3m of speaker cable, and 1.5m power cords from the company’s top ‘laboratory standard’ Eureka range will set you back €7,200, €10,200, and €5,300 respectively. OK, by upper echelon cable standards, these are practically freebies, but for those of us who aren’t deposed African dictators that’s still a significant investment in cable.
Back to Alpha and Beta. The cables use 720 strand high-grade copper conductors (in the Beta interconnects) and high-grade 20-micron silver-plated copper conductors and terminators in the Beta speaker cables and Alpha power cords (there is no mix and match mystery here; we wanted to listen to the Beta range, but at this time there is no power cord in the range, so the Alpha power cord stepped up). This is not only a good starting place for financial reasons, but also many of the company’s core concepts start at this point, and the materials science stays constant throughout. There’s no shields of unicorn hair or magic metals throughout the range; just good, honest PVC, silicone, air, copper, and silver.
Both ranges have worked on the application of shielding carefully. The Alpha power cord uses a unique directional shield, while the Beta interconnects and power cords rely on a partial shield (integral in the case of the Beta speaker cable). Arguably the most interesting of these is the Alpha interconnect cable. Although an electrically symmetrical design, the Alpha cable uses an asymmetric dielectric (PVC on one conductor, silicone on the other), with an air layer insulator. The asymmetry is seen in a cross-section of the cable, rather than an asymmetry along the cable’s length.
For a relatively inexpensive cable, Esprit takes an age to run in. It sounds OK from the get-go, but unfolds inexorably over the days and weeks. A burn-in device (such as the Blue Horizons model we use) helps greatly, and the company doesn’t break out in a case of hives if you use one to speed the conditioning.
Cesari takes a refreshing view on cables, for a cable maker. They intrinsically undermine the sound, but the better the cable, the less damage they do to the overall performance. It might not be the kind of ‘sell’ that wins over people looking for their next audio panacea, but when you think on it, it’s axiomatic. A cable cannot (make that ‘should not’) add to the performance, only detract from it, and those that delicately push the sound like a tone control are compromising the sound on a basic level. Maybe it’s better to passively do less harm than actively do more?
So perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that this cable didn’t go for the ‘audio fireworks’ that typify so many lower and even middle-range cables. Instead the Esprit line make a very lithe sound leading from the midrange out in the manner of so many good audio components. This means there is a sublime sense of vocal articulation but without the forwardness or leading-edge impressiveness that often plagues cable designs. This is a more sophisticated and mature approach than you often hear at this level.
A fine example of how this midrange-first approach benefits the sound of your system is playing something where the vocals are hard for us to process, such as ‘The Murder Mystery’ on The Velvet Underground album [MGM]. This late 1960s avant-garde work has two voices saying different things in different channels. The more you hear, the better the performance, and the Esprit cables allow you to listen into the sound more accurately, but not in a forced way.
Aside from its tonal balance, the Esprit all worked together to make a soundstage that was as precise as it was solid. The image had some real three-dimensionality to it, with a stage that runs deeper than wider, but mercifully free of the mellifluous, ‘fluffy’, and ill-defined soundstage that is immediately impressive due to its width.
Across all three cables, what little sins they commit are those of omission rather than commission, and this is how it should be. A cable that introduces a slight ‘zing’ to the leading edges or a mild forward tilt to the upper registers leaves that mark on every audio component it touches. A cable that retains a sense of good tonal balance and honesty throughout except where it runs out of road leaves no footprint.
Where the Esprit Alpha and Beta begin to run out of road are at the extremes. Gut-churning bass, cut-glass treble, and the sort of dynamic range that has people on the edge of their seats is not high on the Esprit agenda. It’s not that the cables are relaxed or laid-back sounding, but they create a midrange so nice, you might see a cable that plays to the extremes as showy and over-impressive after logging some hours with Esprit cables.
Esprit’s Alpha and Beta are not going to break the habit of a cable high-end aficionado, but instead may mint a few aficionados. The elegant midrange they produce is enticing, makes you listen to music more, and is full of detail and insight. It’s not a cable to surprise you, just gently show you how much more enjoyment you can extract from your recordings.
Price and contact details
Esprit Beta interconnect: €290/1.2m pair
Esprit Beta loudspeaker cable: €580/3m pair
Esprit Alpha power cord: €180/1.5m (Schuko)
Manufactured by: Esprit
Tel: +33(0)7 86 48 20 76
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