CanJam NYC 2022: Audeze CRBN Electrostatic Headphones and Filter Portable Speaker

Presented by Head-Fi, CanJam promotes headphone and portable audio at shows in New York City, London, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Singapore, Southern California, and Chicago.

I was already planning to visit New York, and NYC COVID levels have now reached a recent new low, with positivity rates in the 1% range following an Omicron-era peak of 23% on 1 January. New York City lifted its general mask mandate in mid-February. CanJam is requiring proof of vaccination for entry, but masks are optional.

This is the first CanJam New York to take place in two years. Attendance appeared healthy. The show was busy. It was pleasing to see a fairly broad demographic, age-wise, gender-wise, etc. The wider-than-usual array of musical choices for streaming in the demos reflected this.

On to my and Ken Micallef’s coverage of CanJam highlights.

Audeze CRBN

Audeze has ventured beyond the audiophile market—not only into pro audio but also crossing over into medicine. Audeze is known for making audiophile-grade planar-magnetic headphones, but some special research led to electrostatic headphones called CRBN. The story behind the CRBN headphones was first told by Herb Reichert in Stereophile's Industry Update section. Herb later covered the CRBN in the January 2022 Gramophone Dreams.

In 2016, researchers from the UCLA Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior approached Audeze for help designing a headphone that would work inside an MRI machine. Patients must remain still inside that noisy, low-clearance, enclosed space. The headphone design needed to include noise cancellation, and the headphone and its cables had to be invisible to the scanner. That requirement eliminated any use of iron or other magnetic materials, including copper (footnote 1).

Audeze's engineers developed a polymer-film diaphragm with embedded carbon nanotubes. According to Audeze CEO Sankar Thiagasamudram, this technology increases capacitance and strength and provides uniform conductivity. He told me they make their own type of thin films that are cast as liquid. It's probably the first electrostatic film with no coating, he said. Oh, and the headphones, which were named CRBN, also sounded good, Thiagasamudram told me, though they were purely functional and a bit clinical in appearance. So, Audeze created a consumer version. That model's housing is made of magnesium, stainless steel, and polymer acetate, with a carbon-fiber headband. It weighs about a pound. Its THD is specified at <0.1% at 90dB, and its reported frequency range is 20Hz–40kHz. The CRBN is compatible with 580V "Stax Pro Bias" amplifiers, and their cable termination is the usual Stax Pro 5-pin type.

I listened to this CRBN connected to a Linear Tube Audio (LTA) Z10e tube amp. The sound seemed to come from beyond the headphones, with good separation of instruments. On the Bill Evans Trio's "Gloria's Step (Take 3)" from Live at the Village Vanguard (Qobuz, offline, Concord Records version), Scott LaFaro's double-bass registered full-throttle attacks and long sustains; Paul Motian's snare and cymbal taps were full of texture. Billie Eilish's "Xanny" had pleasing bass extension in higher rez.

The Audeze CRBN headphones are in market now and retail for $4500.

Audeze Filter

At the show, Audeze introduced the Audeze Filter, a new, portable active speaker that uses Audeze's planar-magnetic technology and contains a dual-pickup array microphone with selective noise-cancellation. Thiagasamudram explained that its AI filter is "trained" to identify and remove only certain sounds: sirens, dogs barking, babies crying, and so on. A demo of a baby crying over multiple voices simulating a conference call was remarkable: A touch button activated the noise-cancellation, which removed only the baby's cries, leaving the other voices intact. Voices sounded crystal clear. The almost pocket-sized sized speaker was designed for use for podcast listening, Zoom calls, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and so on. Zoom certification is forthcoming, Thiagasamudram told me. It has three user-selectable settings for beamforming: 360°, 120°, and 90°.

The touch-button side of the die-cast aluminum speaker hinges partway, enabling it to be positioned upright without a stand. It operates via Qualcomm aptX Bluetooth or USB type C connection and has a 10-hour battery life. It feels substantial for its size. It comes with a handy case and a thin slip-pad. The Audeze Filter will retail for $249. Shipping begins next month.

Footnote 1: Copper is not considered magnetic (although weak paramagnetism is induced in any metal in a strong magnetic field) and copper (ie, in IUDs) has been judged safe inside an MRI scanner. So why must copper be eliminated in the CRBN headphones? I asked Dragoslav Colich, less formally known as "Dr. C," Audeze's Chief Technology Officer. "Copper is safe to use in MRI machine in terms of magnetics. On the other side, there is very strong RF field used for scanning, which may interfere with copper (or other metals) and create distorted images. RF can [also] induce eddy currents in copper parts and heat up. Hot copper may cause burns if touched. Amplifier signal and power for active electronics inside the earcups are supplied via copper wires, but with very thin cross section. Wires have high impedance, and Eddy currents are minimized to a point which is not influencing the scan field." —Jim Austin

zimmer74's picture

are giving extensive coverage to CanJam, and of course it’s convenient, being in NYC and all. But personally, I have no interest in the headphone experience. It’s unfortunate that you did not cover the recent Florida audio expo, which focused on real hi-fi.

Jim Austin's picture

I too regret not covering the Florida show. We've covered it in the past, and I was there in 2020. I like the show, and we'll cover it in the future. Under the circumstances, though--a still-active Omicron variant and lax COVID protocols (which, to be clear, I don't blame the organizers for) caused me to make that difficult decision. Here's hoping it's the last show we miss because of COVID.

Jim Austin, Editor

Julie Mullins's picture

Thanks for your comment. The CanJam show overlapped with "traditional" high-end audio more than you might think with manufacturers like dCS, Chord Electronics, et al, showing products.

Also, I enjoyed covering the last Florida Audio Expo in 2020 too. As Jim noted, circumstances for this year didn't seem favorable at the time. I look forward to the next one!