My first pair of audiophile headphones was a pair of STAX II electrostatic earspeakers back in the early 1970s, and as a result of this, I considered STAX electrostatics to be the only audiophile headphone for the better part of three decades. I used dynamic headphones in the studio but did not really consider them worthy for music enjoyment. Ironically, at least for this review, in 2014 when I was introduced to the modern world of Personal Audio, the first pair of audiophile headphones I acquired was a pair of Audeze LCD-3 Planar Magnetic headphones. Needless to say, when I joined Headphone.Guru my love of electrostatics had not diminished, so when Audeze introduced the Audeze CRBN Electrostatic Headphone I was very excited and wanted to review them, but I did not own an electrostatic headphone amplifier. For previous reviews, I have always had to borrow an electrostatic headphone amplifier from someone else. Following my review of the Woo Audio WA7e electrostatic headphone amplifier I decided it was time to have the ready ability to listen to and review electrostatics so I purchased a Woo Audio WEE which allows me to convert my reference LSA VT-70 Tube Integrated Amp into an electrostatic headphone amplifier (35 Watts per channel being more than sufficient to drive electrostatics) and then arranged to acquire a pair of Audeze CRBN Electrostatic Headphones for this review.
The Audeze CRBN Electrostatic Headphones
The Audeze CRBN Electrostatic Headphone story began with Audeze originally developing a new technology working with Prof. Mark S. Cohen Ph.D., UCLA School of Medicine, and his team, for use in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Typical ferrous metals could not be used, so a new material had to be developed, and that led Audeze to patent a special thin film with suspended carbon nanotubes solving the problems associated with lamination and deposition on the film.
The CRBN driver includes a revolutionary ultra-thin diaphragm with carbon nanotubes suspended inside the material – unlike other electrostatic diaphragms, there is no coating. Because the charge is distributed throughout the film, this results in a uniform driving force that reduces distortion and improves clarity, resolution, and transparency.
Building on this revolutionary new diaphragm Audeze optimized every aspect of the electrostatic transducer design to meet their design goals of an electrostatic headphone that is efficient, with imaging, clarity, resolution, and transparency that are best-in-class along with a neutral frequency response, with smooth treble and well-extended bass.
The Audeze carbon nanotube diaphragm achieves high efficiency by holding more charge and preventing charge migration allowing Audeze to reduce diaphragm tension and increase the space between the stator and diaphragm, which provides for higher excursion and a lower resonant frequency without the risk of the diaphragm coming into contact with the stator. This low resonant frequency, combined with a large diaphragm surface area, acoustically transparent damping material, and custom-designed earpads provide an extremely well-extended bass response down to 20Hz.
In designing the CRBN driver an optimal diaphragm and stator size large enough to provide excellent bass and imaging without compromising on treble was chosen with stators made using a proprietary PCB manufacturing technique that allows for high rigidity, uniform thickness, and consistent flatness, which is important for equal force distribution and linear response. The perforation of the stator is optimized for excellent high frequency extension and its conductive surface is specially coated to ensure high dielectric strength. While a super lightweight diaphragm has naturally low inertia that allows for extremely fast acceleration a special edge-damping technique is employed to further reduce distortion and smooth the frequency and phase response.
Featuring materials such as magnesium and carbon fiber the CRBN offers supreme comfort with its lightweight construction (only 470 grams) and extra plush slightly oversized earpads for a great seal and pillow-soft, cranium-cradling comfort.
In appearance, the Audeze CRBN is elegant, functional, and sturdy, using the same tried and true headband design as the LCD-4z with the glossy rounded finish of the LCD-5 (though in solid black), and in a departure from Audeze standard, an oval earcup with an attractive cube patterned mesh over a fine holed screen which one assumes were necessitated by the requirements of the electrostatic driver.
Living with the Audeze CRBN Electrostatic Headphones
Since the Audeze CRBN Electrostatic Headphones I received were well used I was able to skip my usual burn-in and go right into listening mode. In addition to the above-mentioned LSA VT-70 and Woo Audio WEE, I used my regular reference system of Audio-gd R2R-1 DAC, Black Dragon Cables, and Core Power Technologies A/V Equi=Core 1000.
I started with just some background listening beginning with Peter Gabriel’s release of “i/o” on Qobuz (24-bit/96kHz – Qobuz) an epic compilation of 12 new songs that was released one song at a time over the last year, with two different mixes (versions really) of each song. While each song was brilliant in its own right, I tended to prefer the “Dark-Side Mix” though in some cases they seemed to be more up than the “Bright-Side Mix” such as in the case of “Panopticom”. Regardless, the CRBN lent a clarity and excitement to each track, with a warm articulate deep bass, bringing the popular Audeze sonic signature to the extreme detail and resolution of electrostatic headphones.
I followed this up with a little comparison listening with some of my other headphones, more to see how they compared to the CRBN and the speed of electrostatics rather than the other way around.
My first serious listening was the eponymous “Violent Femmes (Deluxe Edition)” (16-bit/44.1kHz – Qobuz). The Violent Femmes’ stark primitive minimalistic performance was enhanced by the CRBN’s unblemished rendition, not honeying over Gordon Gano’s harsh vocal, transporting me back to their live performance at the Country Club back in the ‘80s.
Next on the bill was “Schubert: Winterreise” as performed by Cyrille Dubois and Anne Le Bozec (24-bit/96kHz – Qobuz). This epic recording of Operatic vocal accompanied by solo piano was produced unfiltered by the CRBN, denoting a rich and robust articulate piano in a huge empty concert hall. The CRBN’s timbre and tonality seem eminently apt for this amazing tenor, providing dynamics and crystal upper mids.
The opening bass notes of Muriel Grossmann’s “Devotion” (16-bit/44.1kHz – Qobuz) had real impact, and Muriel’s saxophone was sweet and lush. Again the soundstage was massive, and the percussion was crisp, with a shimmer to the cymbals not evident in most headphones.
Once again there was an appropriateness to the CRBN’s blistering speed in reproducing the hammered dulcimer and zither from the rerelease of Dorothy Carter’s 1978 album “Waillee Waillee” (24-bit/44.1kHz – Qobuz) creating a real sense of space.
Conclusions on the Audeze CRBN Electrostatic Headphones
The Audeze CRBN Electrostatic Headphone is exactly what you would expect from Audeze, bringing the fabled Audeze sound to electrostatics. Simply put, if you like Audeze headphones, you will love the CRBN. On the other hand, the Audeze CRBN is everything you are missing in prototypical electrostatic headphones, dynamic, efficient, with exceptional bass response and extension, while retaining the resolute mids and highs you are looking for when you turn to electrostatics.
They also retain the solid construction of Audeze sorely missing in many expensive electrostatic headphones, yet achieve a comfort level and artistic beauty only seen in the latest Audeze models.
Clarity is the watchword of the CRBN with a timbre that is pure Audeze, a warm bottom end, a lively realistic midrange, and unlike many electrostatics that will try to bite your head off, a mellow yet extended high-end. And, of course, to top everything off, there is that expansive open soundstage that you can only get from electrostatics. It is not for nothing that the Audeze CRBN earned a much-deserved Editor’s Choice Award for 2023 from our publisher Frank Iacone who will be following this review up with a review of his own.
Congratulations to Audeze for a challenge well met in designing an electrostatic headphone that can not only meet the demands of medicine but the hypercritical desires of the audiophile also.
Manufacturer’s Website: https://www.audeze.com/products/crbn
|Functional bias voltage
|580 VDC Stax Pro Bias
|100 pF (including cable)
|Ultra-thin custom carbon nanotube
|120mm x 90mm
|20Hz – 40kHz
|<0.1% @ 90dB
|2.5m OCC monocrystal copper, 5-pin Pro Bias
|Magnesium, stainless steel and polymer acetate
|Carbon fiber and premium leather
Includes : CRBN Headphone | Premium Aluminum Travel Case | Certificate of Authenticity