The Audeze CRBN Electrostatic Headphone hits the market. OC-based headphone maker Audeze is primarily known for its work in planar magnetic technology. Their long line of full size audiophile cans (and now IEMs) has produced some of the mainstays in top tier sound for audiophiles and production folks alike for years. The Audeze CRBN product announcement this week marks a first time departure from much of the heritage, branching out to another high end technology utilized in big ticket headphones – electrostatic drivers.
I got a chance to sit down with founder Sankar Thiagasamudramn to discuss how the new CRBN product came into being, and the story is far from your typical audiophile R&D plot. Never one to create faux demand just to fulfill a product cycle (like Apple’s yearly iPhone updates), Audeze have been developing the CRBN headphone since 2016. The effort started as a partnership with UCLA’s School of Medicine as a solve for several existing issues with MRIs, producing an entirely new electrostatic headphone that was capable of two way communication and noise reduction while being used inside an MRI scanning machine. As anyone who has recently experienced an MRI will know, the scan can be extremely unnerving and uncomfortable, so any improvement to the overall experience is definitely a welcome one. From the press release:
Conventional headphone driver technologies such as moving coil, planar, and electrostatic cannot be easily used in MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) applications due to the ferrous metals required in the headphone design. Audeze engineers developed an innovative patent-pending driver solution using an ultra-thin film with carbon nanotubes suspended inside the film. The result is a unique driver that has uniform conductivity and is fully MRI compatible, improving patient comfort and communication between doctor and patient.
So the medical version of this headphone actually has no metal pieces in the design to interfere with the scan, which is unusual to say the least. Lucky for the rest of us, Audeze is also releasing a hifi version of the same carbon nanotube driver for public consumption. The Audeze CRBN will be compatible with most STAX-oriented electrostatic headphone amplifiers on the market, and at this time Audeze has no plans to release an electrostatic amplifier of their own.
I actually got a chance to hear a working prototype first hand at Audeze HQ with the Mjolnir Audio Carbon and the results were very pleasing. Sonic retrieval is audibly different from your usual planar magnetic transducer, with some of the most superb instrument separation and overall clarity to be found with any reproduction technology. Spatial cues, a sense of musical layers and overall heightened holographic representation highlight the CRBN’s ability to make music in that unique way that only electrostatic headphones seem capable of. Given Audeze’s success in the field of planar magnetic headphone’s it is easy to see why their newest efforts could really shake up high end market typically dominated by the long-time STAX brand and others.
The Audeze CRBN is now available for special order direct from the company site, and retails for $4,500.
More info: Audeze CRBN Electrostatic Headphone