The Audeze CRBN is the debut launch of the company’s first-ever 580v Pro Bias-compatible flagship electrostatic headphones. It is priced at $4500.
Disclaimer: The Audeze CRBN sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank the team at Audeze for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about the Audeze products we have reviewed on Headfonics click here.
Note, this 3-page review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
Audeze CRBN Electrostatic Headphones Review
The Audeze CRBN is a sublime and gorgeous-sounding electrostatic headphone but also one that does not play by the electrostatic norms. A few e-stat cans have tried failed before to get that bass rumbling and remain a coherent listening experience, the CRBN is not one of those failures, not by a long shot, it sounds powerful yet very coherent at the same time.
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Well, this is a completely new venture for Audeze. Long since known for their planar headphone creations, they have just gone and launched their first-ever electrostatic headphones earlier this year.
Called the CRBN, it retailed for $4500 which places it firmly on the top of the tree as their flagship headphones and pitches it squarely against the likes of HIFIMAN’s Shangri-La which we covered earlier this year. Those looking also at Stax or Dan Clark Audio’s VOCE will now have another TOTL electrostatic headphone to consider.
There is also a bit of an entrepreneurial side story to the CRBN and goes some way to explaining how it came to be. Indeed, the roots of the CRBN come from a project in the US health industry in partnership with the Smart Image and the UCLA School of Medicine.
So, I am not exactly familiar with the ins and outs of how Smart Image and Audeze reached out to each other but basically, the core project centered around MRI imaging and the current acoustic issues associated with doing it.
In a nutshell, successful MRI scans depend on two major factors, how well the patients react to the loud noises from the scan and the system’s sensitivity levels to electrical noise which can affect the final image quality.
Essentially, the scan depends on a set of high fidelity, accurate, and consistent set of ‘headphones’ free of any iron-based metals commonly known as ferrous materials that can create image-altering eddy currents, (loops of electrical current induced within conductors).
Audeze’s response to this problem was the ‘medical version’ of what is now known as the CRBN. You may have seen the images before of what appears to be an ‘upside down’ white closed-back electrostatic headphone.
Inside, Audeze has developed an entirely new transducer using a patent-pending carbon nanotube-suspended diaphragm technology to get around the challenge of ferrous-based material electrical distortions.
However, the use-case scenario for such as transducer can be applied far beyond MRI scanning. Hence the concept of the CRBN audiophile headphone version using the new design was born.
The driver inside the CRBN uses an ultra-thin diaphragm with carbon nanotubes directly suspended inside the material instead of a resistive coating. The density of said nanotubes directly affects how resistive the diaphragm material becomes.
Unlike planars, you do not need magnets to create a uniform consistency in electrostatic diaphragms, the electrical charge is uniformly distributed, and with this, you achieve a uniform driving force without unwanted distortion from traditional electrostatic diaphragm resistive coating.
A further benefit of using carbon nanotubes is their life expectancy with a greater degree of immunity from the elements and less likely to degrade over time.
The CRBN driver is a 20mm x 90mm 580V pro bias compatible electrostatic implementation but interestingly, the diaphragm tension is not quite as taught as you would normally expect.
The goal behind this is the bass response, which can be a bane for electrostatic headphone users given how flaccid it can seem compared to planar.
Audeze was able to reduce the tension through the carbon tube technology as it holds a better charge and hence a higher level of efficiency. In some ways, this reminds me of the trace pattern work going into the LCD-5 to also focus on efficiency and an improved performance from its new driver.
In turn, this allowed Audeze to increase the space between the stator and the new diaphragm to allow for stronger excursions, (movement), on the low end without it touching the stator itself. Combine that with some judicious application of new damping material and earpads should in some way produce a stronger bass characteristic from the CRBN.
To prevent the driver from being all about the bass, aka, super dark, the rigid PCB manufactured stator’s conductive surface is coated to ensure a high dialectic strength with a perforation design to keep that trademark electrostatic airy and very articulate high-frequency response.
Overall, I am expecting the new CRBN driver to have a sound signature that is grandiose, and better than expected low-end bass response with articulate imaging. However, having read the charts I am curious to see if the trademark Audeze midrange imaging remains. You can check this out on page 2 sound summary in more detail if it is indeed how it turns out.
The CRBN form factor is a mesh of the old and the new. The old is a variation of the recent Audeze shape and materials for the headband and the new is the big and gorgeous ovoid cup design with its lattice grill aesthetic.
It is probably the cups that will draw your attention to the CRBN first as they are oversized, almost HE-1-like in appearance. However, side by side with the entry-level Jade II cups they are a little slimmer and more egg-shaped also.
The materials are a healthy mix of magnesium, machined aluminum for the connector, stainless steel for the rods, and carbon fiber for the headband system. The cup rings follow the new Audeze design language which means a polymer acetate material finished in a blend of dark and light swirls, not unlike the Tortoiseshell effect of the LCD-5 only a bit more nuanced.
The classic rod blocks have returned so the new minimalist LCD-5 rod adjuster system didn’t make the cut on the CRBN. However, it is updated with a much smoother finish and more of a trapezoid shape than the older uniform thinner blocks.
I think it is probably important also to mention the weight which is one of Audeze’s lightest at just 300g, (the LCD-1 is 250g). That is 65g lighter than the Stax SRM-007 MK2, 74g less than the Shangri-La Jr, and even the superbly designed VOCE is 30g heavier.
As flagship electrostatic headphones go, the CRBN is one of the lightest I have handled thus far and consistent with Audeze’s recent work in reducing the weight on their headline headphones such as the LCD-5.
The CRBN uses virtually the same headband system as the LCD-4, save for the new stainless-steel rods which are from the LCD-5. The other key visual difference is the leather headband strap which is the same width as the LCD-4 strap but slightly thicker and uses the LCD-5 perforated finish.
The gimbals materials are a black coated magnesium with a more rounded tube-like form factor compared to the flatter lower-profile version on the LCD-5. The screws are more visible but have s smooth finish with no Allen key socket showing.
The articulation on the CRBN cups is excellent. You get a very smooth creak-free 180-degree lateral swivel and a small amount of vertical to adjust very easily for most head shapes. Yes, you can wear them flat around your neck if you truly want to.
The CRBN is supremely comfortable, almost on the Elite and Empyrean levels. The pressure balance is just a shade to the lateral side as opposed to vertical for me which is surprising given the size of the cups.
I thought the pressure balance might have been the other way around but the new and very soft ovoid leather pads and clamp do a nice job of keeping the headphones in place. For my head, the wide leather strap’s presence is negligible on the top with the split carbon fiber headband system above not adding anything meaningful in terms of weight.
The elongated cup does mean, however, that the leather pad edges will extend beyond some people’s jawlines but the wide contact surface of the new pad design prevents gaps and breaks in the seal from forming, at least on my neck.
The CRBN stock cable, as you would expect for safety reasons, is non-detachable. This is a 2.5m OCC monocrystal copper wire housed in a rounded cloth jacket and terminated with a CNC machined aluminum 5-pin Pro Bias connector.
That means the CRBN is a 580 VDC Stax Pro Bias-compatible headphone opening it up to a very wide range of compatible energizers and dedicated amplifiers.
This is also a fairly lightweight cable and not as bulky as say the VIVO finished version on the VOCE though the VOCE cable is finished to the same high standard IMHO. Certainly, it’s a lot superior in terms of durability and finish to the lightweight netted construct of HIFIMAN Shangri-la Jr cable.
Handling is smooth, with no stiffness in the cable or any noticeable memory retention, and certainly not a microphonic cable either. The 5-pin plug is constructed from lightweight machined aluminum and finished in molded plastic.
There is some design synergy also with the LCD Series stock cable with a similar, albeit larger, black aluminum bullet splitter with the Audeze branding and a similarly grippy finish to the plugs molded plastic.
Packaging & Accessories
The CRBN comes packed inside a similar aluminum travel case used by the LCD-5 which in turn is well protected by 2 foam inserts inside a regular brown courier box. The aluminum case is larger and slightly different in design from the standard Economy LCD Travel Case though the mechanics and internal foam lining follow a similar pattern.
I can’t say if it is weatherproof like the Premium Travel case but it does have an upscale and smoother-looking external finish compared to the Economy version that comes with the likes of the LCD-XC 2021. Like the smaller economy case, you do get a set of small keys to allow you to lock the LCD-5 version which is rather handy considering the price of the headphones.
Aside from the keys you also get a warranty card in its own separate thin foam slot and a very handy pair of white cotton gloves if you are OCD in the handling of the LCD-5 headphones. These keep the fingerprints off the enclosures and cut down on any unwanted transfer of dirt and grease from your hands.
Click on page 2 below for our sound impressions and pairings
Click on page 3 below for our selected comparisons.