For a surprising number of high-end enthusiasts audio cables are basically just wires—a means to an end, a conduit for the audio signal, best heard but not seen, a necessary evil. I could go on, but you get my drift. I’ve even had some respected colleagues admit that the prospect of launching into a cable review was about as entertaining as cleaning out a rain gutter. And yes, I understand where all these opinions are coming from. Wire is wire right? And then you come across a cable like Lumina from Esprit Audio of France. With its deluxe hard-shell presentation case and packaging, the mirror finish gleam of its connectors, its high-tech jacketing and polished carbon-fiber accents, its not-insubstantial weight and girth, everything about Lumina oozes quality and opulence. All of which would go for naught if its sonic performance were a flop, which I assure you was not the case. Not by a long shot.
My earliest flirtation with Esprit cables dates back to Issue 290 where I reviewed the budget Beta and got to know the upper-middle-range Aura wires. This time it’s Lumina, a big step up from Aura, and one that approaches the summit of the Esprit lineup. Only the Eureka series and the just-introduced Gala models top it.
A little background. Esprit Audio was founded more than twenty years ago by designer Richard Cesari. Cesari who trained in electro-mechanics, still oversees the complete cable manufacturing process—his products that are still assembled by hand and entirely made in France.
Esprit Audio offers a variety of speaker cables and interconnects—eight series in all, spread over a wide range of price points. There are also collections of power cords, digital interconnects, and power distributors. One constant through the Esprit line is the use of fine, multi-strand, high-purity copper conductors, the number of strands commensurate with the level of performance and price. Throughout its line Esprit selects copper conductor materials for their low resistance, rather than going for higher-resistance materials like gold and rhodium.
In the Lumina speaker cable, Esprit raises its multi-strand geometry to a more sophisticated level and ramps up the conductor count to a heady 6800 strands of 0.08mm (roughly the diameter of a human hair), 6N OCC copper, arranged in ten bundles of 680 strands each for about 25 square mm, with two of these arrangements per cable. The dielectric structure is asymmetrical and polarized. The cable is semi-shielded for very low capacitance. The positive and negative runs are independently jacketed, and coiled around one another to reduce the skin effect.
Similarly, Lumina RCA and XLR interconnects use 6N OCC copper connectors and silver multilayer plating (20 micrometers worth) in a symmetrical star-assembly configuration. The dielectric structure is asymmetrical, using two different materials (high temperature PVC and silicone) for the two polarities. Lumina comes equipped with dielectric polarization via an attached battery pack, batteries included. In Cesari’s words, “We polarize the insulators which has the effect of making them more efficient and creates an anti-vibratory system by means of the DC bias.” Lumina cabling also employs strategically positioned ferrites to reduce RF effects.
Before I delve into sonic performance, I should note that the cable products I’ve encountered in recent years haven’t shown broad tonal aberrations, as in a rising treble or sucked-out bass and the like. In this sense, materials, technology, and measurements (resistance and inductance) have matured the breed. Cables in the Lumina range converge much more than they diverge. That’s not to say that distortions, timing, and articulation are not real things. They are. And as with every component in the audio chain, cables do possess their own unique character or voice, however understated. A word of caution—cable swaps will not turn a system on its head. Or at least they shouldn’t. They will not upend carefully sought after and acquired voicings and balances. But at their best, cables will further hone, polish, reveal, and make transparent the performance of an audio system. If you really want to shake things up, change the loudspeakers, not the cables.