This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Reviewer: Frederic Beudot
Digital Source: Esoteric X-03SE
Preamplifier: Esoteric C-03
Amplifier: Genesis Reference 360, McIntosh MA2275
Speakers: FJ OMs, Rogers LS 3/5a
Cables: Zu Varial, Zu Gede, Zu Libtec, Cobalt Ultimate balanced, ACR silver-coated balanced
Power Cords: Zu Mother, Isotek Power
Powerline conditioning: Monster Power HTS5100mkII
Sundry accessories: Isolpads under electronics
Room size: 12'x 13.5' x 8'
Review component retail: $3500/pair

Synchronicity! It would seem that happens to Srajan and I all the time. He reviews the APL HiFi modified Esoteric UX01 with massively paralleled AKM 32-bit DACs, I review the Esoteric D05 with the very same chip. He reviews Esoteric's "activated passive" C-03 preamplifier, I review the equivalent SMc VRE-1. He reviews the Teo Audio Liquid Cable, I am shipped Esoteric's Mexcel DA2100. And each time, we come to similar if not identical conclusions. We of course don't do this on purpose. It's entirely unplanned. It's just synchronicity (and déjà vu) all over again.

Although this time I wasn't expecting similar conclusions because the technical basis for both cables is so fundamentally different. Teo Audio uses a liquid metallic alloy while the Mexcel cable manufactured by Acrolink for Esoteric uses traditional metallurgy but extremely advanced dielectric coating and shielding. Yet when it comes to sonic impressions, one could take Srajan's review of the Liquid Cable and paste it here almost word for word. Tonal density, weight, large stage, long decays without ever sounding heavy or slow indeed describes the Mexcel DA2100 exactly.

To try and summarize the technology behind the Mexcel series of speaker, interconnect and power cables revolves around two ideas. The first one is skin effect, i.e. the tendency of higher frequencies to travel only at the surface of cable. This is a bad thing as it induces timing and phase shifts in the treble. The second is distortion born from signal jumping from one conductor to another in a multi-strand design. Obviously ultra-pure 7N copper, high-quality dielectrics (non-conductive isolation) and shielding are also critical to make a statement cable but those are not necessarily exclusive to Mexcel.

To reduce skin effect (or more accurately, increase the depth of skin in which the higher frequencies travel) and prevent signal from jumping ship - er, conductors, Acrolink uses a coating technology developed by Mitsui. This is called MEDIS and allows for a very fine and uniform dielectric coating to be applied to the conductors. In their top-line cables, Esoteric and Acrolink add flat braided conductors which are structurally less prone to skin effect to start with but even on the round strands used in the DA2100 reviewed, the benefit is still claimed to be significant. With a much deeper skin and each strand isolated from its neighbors like Litz wire, this particular coating is said to address two of the most nefarious side effects of audio signal transmission.

The DA2100 also uses an air-filled dielectric material for maximum isolation and external spiral braiding for increased shielding. The $500/m more expensive NA2500 adds the flat-braided conductors for even better linearity and distortion rejection at the expense of flexibility. And flexible the DA2100 truly is. I was actually very favorably impressed by its combination of superb build quality and ease of use which at times can be antonymic.

If you've read my review of the Esoteric P05/D05 source components, you might remember how impressed I was with their clever triple boxing system. But quadruple boxing for a pair of cables, with the last box being solid wood with a metal plaque inside and out? Either someone in Esoteric's packing department went a little overboard without the excuse of Hazmat classification; or, the marketing group decided that a good dose of ego boosting was mandatory salve for anybody dropping $3500 on a pair of cables. Hence prepare to have your ego flattered to bursting with a foam-lined wooden box in a cardboard sleeve in a cardboard box in a shipping carton inside which arrive ostentatiously red cables which none of your audiophile friends could possibly miss. At $3500 you've earned all the patting on the back you can collect. This entry cable in the Mexcel line still costs four times as much as my Zu Varial reference even after the latter's recent price repositioning; or six times as much as the Acoustic System LiveLine, our editor's reference. Tough sell.

Yet I can see why somebody would want to drop this kind of money on a pair of Mexcel. The one and only good reason is how they blend certain qualities not very common in cables unless one were willing to spend excessively. I am not saying that the Mexcel cable is the only cable with those qualities. I am not even saying that you can't get this set of qualities for less (the Liquid Cable an obvious example that seems close for significantly less) but, if you are looking for those qualities, the Mexcel clearly is a contender to check out.

What it does is easily summarized. It is what all great
cables do - bridge the extremes of transparency and tonal density, weight without heaviness, bass depth and control, boundary-less staging and precise imaging. The Mexcel, the Varial and the LiveLine all do it. They all nail those fundamentals as well as the 'nice to have' and even superfluous qualities. Their remaining differences are hues and flavors, minor shifts of emphasis and priorities.

The Varial's focus is balanced between leading edge and decay of notes, the Mexcel excels at very looooooong decays. The bass of the Varial is tighter, the Mexcel's a little plumper but also unexpectedly more detailed. The Varial throws a very large stage, the Mexcel goes farther into the corners and adds depth and layering to an even greater extent. Most critically to my ears, the Mexcel outclasses the Varial in midrange richness and fluidity. It is a dream cable for vocal lovers. Don't get me wrong, the Varial is excellent already but the Mexcel adds that hint of realism which only comes at a dire price. Both cables are exceptional at tonal density and tonal hues, with the Mexcel having that sense of weight that Srajan describes so well for the Teo Audio cable while the Varial strikes back with a greater sense of timing and attacks. Finally, the Varial to my ears sounds dead-on neutral while the Mexcel adds a hint of warmth which contributes to its musicality, comfort and extreme listenability.

I enjoy the Mexcel DA2100; its liquid and organic yet transparent midrange and the huge stage and powerful bass. Price set aside, I find it to be an even better cable than the Zu Varial. But that's the problem. How to leave price aside when the Varial comes so close?

One last thing I need to point out which may had an impact on my assessment of the DA2100. This cable has been developed by Acrolink for Esoteric to connect their higher-end electronics. That's exactly where it sits in my system, between the X03SE SACD player and C-03 preamplifier. I therefore may benefit from designed-in brand synergy that may not manifest equally in other systems. On the other hand, Esoteric owners who want certainty that their gear operates at the highest possible level of system synergy can turn towards the Mexcel cables without worries. I have now tested six different XLR cables between those two Esoteric components and the Mexcel gives the best balance of qualities. I will also admit that I could easily live with the quarter-priced Varial in that same spot.

The tiny last fractions of performance do indeed come at a grave price. Whether those are sufficient returns on your investment will depend on your priorities and how you allocate your audio budget. If you're unwilling to compromise even one iota on interconnects between your upscale Esoteric components, then the Mexcels clearly are top contenders.
Quality of packing: Quadruple boxing. What else could one ask for?
Reusability of packing: Multiple times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: No particular issue, XLR connectors are shrink wrapped so care must be taken to unwrap them without scratching their surface.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Quality of owner's manual: No leather-bound manual to go with the wooden jewel box but who needs a manual for a cable?
Website comments: Complete and informative.
Warranty: 5 years.
Global distribution: See Esoteric website, available broadly.
Human interactions: Always responsive and helpful.
Pricing: As with most other high-end cables, it is hard to rationalize but at least this one is musically engaging and likely to improve listening enjoyment.
Application conditions: Probably better suited for use between higher-end Esoteric components as the voicing synergy is very clear between the X03SE and C-03. Transparent, broad staging, density and weighty with an absolutely fantastic midrange and a touch of warmth are all key qualities.
Final comments & suggestions: Above all else, this is a 'comfort' cable that does not sacrifice transparency to deliver this feeling of exquisite musicality. It is not the only cable option voiced that way and one of the pricier ones.

Esoteric website