AudioQuest - Nighthawk Headphones

General Information

AudioQuest NightHawk Headphones The Intersection of Performance, Quality, Innovation, Sustainability, and Affordability: Reference-Setting AudioQuest NightHawk Headphones Tout Supreme Comfort and Involving Music Playback AudioQuest NightHawk around-the-ear semi-open headphones represent a benchmark achievement in performance, quality, innovation, sustainability, and affordability. Featuring environmentally friendly "Liquid Wood" earcups, a 3D-printed biomimetic sound-diffusing grille, 50mm biocellulose pistonic drivers to reduce distortion, and a patent-pending ergonomic suspension system that produces an ideal fit to the listener's head, NightHawk soars. Taking advantage of AudioQuest's pioneering cables legacy, its headphone cable minimizes distortion and utilizes the company's acclaimed Solid Perfect-Surface Copper+ conductors, Foamed-PE insulation, Carbon-Loaded Noise-Dissipation System. The end result is a reference-setting pair of headphones that dramatically increase our emotional response to music - and the details, images, tones, and dynamics every audiophile values. With the surprisingly lightweight NightHawk, you're experiencing headphones that don't feel or sound like conventional headphones. 100% Music Direct Guaranteed. "Whether owing to [elastomer suspension], or because of the NightHawk's notably soft, anatomically correct, protein-leather earpads, the new AudioQuest headphones were easily the most comfortable ever worn by this personal-audio cynic." - Art Dudley, Stereophile CES Award-Winner Features Earcups Inspired By Loudspeaker Cabinets Named 2015 CES Innovation Winner (Eco-Design & Sustainable Technology) and Honoree (Headphones), NightHawk is designed for high levels of sonic, ergonomic, and aesthetic performance. NightHawk's earcups are made from a remarkable environmentally friendly material called "Liquid Wood," which offers outstanding acoustic properties. The sophisticated loudspeaker-cabi

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SoundApprentice

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Build, Comfort, Relaxed
Cons: Too Polite


Its sound is as unique as its looks. Its place in the market is as contested as its creator’s cables—OK maybe not that contested. And its performance appears to be either loved or hated. So often in audio, enthusiasts position a product in the black or white, better or worse, endgame or bust. But if there’s anything I can say about my audio experiences, it’s that every product worth writing about, discussing, photographing, and hearing has a place. For me, the NightHawk’s place is wherever I do my late-night listening.

It’s fall, which means my outdoor activities are winding down for the season, night comes early, and the tubes on my amp start glowing a bit more. It’s that time of year when longer nights get passed in pursuit of #AudioNirvana. Whether its name was aptly chosen or just coincidental I don’t know, but after 10 months with AudioQuest’s first-ever headphone (yes, I was late to the game), I find myself reaching for the NightHawk whenever I’m settling in for the evening. There’s just something about its uniquely rich tuning that compliments the albums I spin up when I want to drift off into the darkness. But this isn’t a realization that came quickly for me.

At first listen you’ll think something is amiss with the NightHawk—or at least I did. In fact, I hated it the first time I put it on my head—and quickly cursed myself for dropping a couple hundred dollars on a lightly used unit. Sure, it looks lovely and is surprisingly comfortable, but its sound made no sense to me, and it still continues to surprise me from time to time.

To my ears, at first listen, the NightHawk comes off as sounding kind of hollow and reverb-y, almost too unbalanced, like a half empty music venue during sound check. This feeling is further reinforced when quickly switching to the NightHawk from headphones like Sennheiser’s HD650 or Beyerdynamic’s Amiron Home, which both have more forward, mid-centric tunings. But when you pause, sit back, and actually listen, giving your ears and brain several minutes to acclimate, you start to hear a darkness in the NightHawk, a deep musical presentation that’s actually far more revealing, natural, and delicate than expected. And, given time to immerse your ears in its sound, AudioQuest’s NightHawk proves to be a true high-fidelity headphone—albeit a polite one.

What I mean by polite is that the NightHawk plays it safe with its warm and inviting sound signature that’s skewed to the lower end of the response curve. The powerful bass and rolled off treble will undoubtedly be deterrents to audio purists looking for flat response curves, but this is what I like about the NightHawk. It easily hides the flaws of weak recordings and low-res streaming audio; sibilance and tipped-up treble are non-existent; and the mid-range tuning is dialed in to a point where it retains nice vocal and instrumental clarity and detail retrieval without being forward or analytical. All this combined is why I say the NightHawk is excellent for late-night listening. It’s relaxed, it’s deep, it’s dark, and yet it’s still detailed enough to be hi-fi but non-fatiguing.

The trouble with comparisons is that I find the NightHawk to be pretty unique—it’s not really like anything else that I have heard or owned. I mean, it makes the HD650 sound downright thin and aggressive. The NightHawk’s visceral bass can be thick and meaty, the mids a touch relaxed and passive, and the treble tame by all accounts, but in the grand scheme of things, the presentation, while lacking punchy presence, is intimately intriguing. Because of its relaxed nature, the NightHawk actually draws you further into the listening experience, which is what finally reveals the details it achieves in all its subtlety.

If I had to place the NightHawk somewhere among some of its peers, I’d say it takes after Meze Audio’s 99 Classics and ZMF Headphones’ Ori, which favor darker, smoother, and ultimately safer sound signatures at the expense of some upper-mid and treble detail and extension. One could argue the NightHawk is similar to Shure’s SRH840 and SRH1540 as well, but I find both to have more cutting mids and treble, despite both also being considered darker in nature.

Only being semi-open, the NightHawk also doesn’t expel the expansive 3D extension or airiness of fully-open planar magnetic or dynamic driver headphones. Given the NightHawk’s tuning, a sound stage that extends about an inch beyond the cups still seems like an accomplishment to me, and I think its controlled, natural tone and timbre make up for added sound stage depth and height anyway. Don’t take that as me saying the NightHawk sounds claustrophobic, if anything it’s that the NightHawk centers the sound stage with nice accuracy but less extension. The takeaway here is that I encourage you to give the NightHawk a fair listen before deciding it is or isn’t for you.

Whether its sound is for you or not, you have to respect the thought put into the NightHawk. AudioQuest spared no expense in the design and engineering of its debut headphone. From the sustainable liquefied wood cups, to the truly loudspeaker-like biocellulose drivers and 3D-printed grilles that are real functioning acoustic diffusers, the NightHawk is as over-engineered as AudioQuest’s cables—and that’s not a bad thing.

This is a headphone that makes me feel like I actually got my money’s worth—in fact, it’s a stealin today’s headphone market that keeps pushing prices higher and higher. Inside and out, the NightHawk exudes quality. In fit and finish, the NightHawk is polished, clean-lined, sturdy, and minimalistic. Every part has a thoughtful purpose without excess embellishments. In particular, I really like the leather-wrapped elastic suspension strap, which allows precise positioning on the head and ears in comparison to standard headbands or yokes that have set positions to “click” into. The suspension strap is also receptive of my go-to headband mod for those looking for extra padding or that need to lessen the extension of the strap. The ear cups also are held on the yokes by a unique suspension system that allows them to articulate and easily conform to the shape of your head, making for a very comfortable fit. I find it quite easy to wear the NightHawk for several hours at a time.

The NightHawk also maintains a cohesive look and feel, seamlessly integrating into the style and branding of all things AudioQuest if that sort of thing matters to you. Of course, the NightHawk also comes with AudioQuest’s high-end star quad direct silver-plated pure red copper cable (removable), a silver-plated pure red copper ¼" headphone plug adapter, and a nice padded leather storage case.

With its uniquely deep and inviting tuning, excellent comfort, impressive design, and quality build and accessories, I think the NightHawk warrants a serious audition. To me, the NightHawk isn’t so black and white—it falls somewhere in the gray, not quite endgame, but still an underrated instrument and excellent addition to a flock of headphones that deliver different degrees of Audio Nirvana.

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volly
volly
Damn good read, thank you!
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Vero Golf Champ
Vero Golf Champ
Nice review. Had mine for 18 months or so and initially I thought they lacked excitement too. Upgrading my front end and amp may have helped and I grew to love them. Possibly the perfect cans for a recovering basshead. Sadly the leather strap on mine is deteriorating around the stitching on one side. Not a tough repair, given it slips off. Recently acquired the HifiMan Sundara and am enjoying the fully open planar characteristics you mention, however the Nighthawks aren't going anywhere.

SOULSIK

Member of the Trade: Audio Excellence
Pros: good design. good bass quantity
Cons: weird sound signature, competes poorly in this price range.
Video review here:

Sound Demo here:


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INTRODUCTION

Nighthawk was definitely on my “must review” list for a while now because of how much praise it received from other reviewers. However I was a little skeptical on how a company that has never created a headphone, not alone a single iem or earbud can suddenly come up with such brilliance. I was finally able to get my hands on the nighthawks this time around and not to spoil anything in particular, but they surely did not meet my expectations. However, do not get the impression that these are not good headphones, in fact these would be great headphones if they not choose to compete in this particular price range, where a lot of great headphones already has its place in the market.

ABOUT Audioquest

I would normally post what the manufacturers put on their website because I believe they best represent who they are but I will make an exception to this one as all audioquests’ website talks about is how Bill (creator of audioquest) started building amplifiers in his college years and suddenly started making expensive cables that make sound better. In my opinion, Audioquest is a good brand name and has to potential to represent may of our dreams. I mean our quest for audio is really no more than a game that we keep for that euphoric ending. However, they decided to taint the name of audioquest by putting cables as their main point of interest rather than headphones or speakers that actually matter more in one’s quest for better audio. And better yet when they contradict themselves directly by saying ” Bill hooked-up a twenty-five foot pair of his “original recipe” cable, everyone was very impressed with the much better sound.” in their “about me” section and “Cable design is all about damage control. No Cable can make your system sound or look better, they can only cause damage to the original signal. AudioQuest’s perspective has always been to design cable that DO NO HARM!” in their education section… you loose some respect right off the bat.

Am I being harsh or brutally honest? who knows, but I am very glad that they made some dacs like the dragonfly and such, and that they started making headphones. Now I think it is time they dive into the deeper game of things to earn my respect as well as the consumers’ respect. When they claim to know so much about audio through cables and come up with a headphone like the nighthawks, there is disappointment that follows. I do not mean to bash on audioquest, I mean no harm, I just hope that they take this review to the heart and make the improvements needed. Hopefully my future reviews of them will be more respectable.



DISCLAIMER

This review unit was lent to me by audio excellence, for a review. Nevertheless, my review will contain no bias

SPECS

Impedance: 25 ohms
Sensitivity: 99dBSPL / mW
Power Handling: 1.5W
Weight: 346g (12.2 oz.)
Driver: 50mm Dynamic – Biocellulose Diaphragm – 1.2T Split-Gap Motor

THE BUILD QUALITY

The headphone band self adjusts like the meze headphones but tends to slide up time to time nevertheless, the comfort is outstanding.



The Pads are also comfortable. Not the best but definitely one the better stock pads. cables are pretty descent with 45 degree termination.




The 3D printed carbon mesh looks amazing and screams quality. It would be interesting to see more added based off this mesh design

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The case that comes with the headphone is high in quality and very practical





The housing is made of something new called the “liquid wood” which I found to be similar to plastic in quality, subject to easy chipping or other physical damages. It may look nice but the sonic improvement due to so called “liquid wood” seems to be no more than their cable story until proven further.

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SOUND QUALITY

Lower Frequencies: Nighthawks shine the most in this frequency with quite a bit of extension into the sub bass. Not as much as the planar headphones or meze headphones but definitely somewhere in between and more than the HD650s. However the control and tightness of the bass seems to lack. In a simple sentence, there is more in quantity but less in quality bass.

Mid Frequencies: This is where I found the problems to be most prominent as there is some weird reverb going on that brings on a bout some kind of ringing sound signature. Some may enjoy this but as a reviewer, I have to keep with the norm and point out things that sound, for the lack of better words, “off.” Also any string instrument sound quite remarkable until you hear violin. Violin has this weird sibilant/shouting on this headphone. Also while the vocals presence is euphoric like the HD650s, it sounds rather drier. Overall unnatural feelings crosses over this frequency in particular

High Frequencies: being a rather darker/warmer headphone like the HD650s, while trebles are present there is not much of extension or presence. What surprised me was that there is a spike around 5 to 8khz area (vocal sibilance) where S sound more sibilant than other headphones in this price range, which can be quite bothersome.

Sound stage and imaging: while imaging is quite good on the nighthawks, the sound stage is somewhat similar to that of the modern closed back design. With closed backs being able to produce more sound stage than before, it certainly does not go in favor of the semi-open back (leaking) nighthawks.

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Overall Thoughts

I think that Nighthawks is a good start for the company to really bring out their passion for audio however, really needs to listen to their headphones more and engineer the small details required in making greater headphones. Nighthawks also seems to have picked the wrong price category to compete with as HD650s and 600s surely exists and to compete with it, it either needs to be different or just simply be better. In this case, it does neither. It rather seems similar to the HD650s with annoyance factor added.
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kevingzw

New Head-Fier
Pros: High Quality Acessories, Beautiful Aesthetics, Solid Build, Sweet Mids, Delicate Treble, Mellow low end, Natural and Airy Sound Signature
Cons: Might be Gaudy to some, Polarizing Sound Signature
A web of controversy:
 
aq_header.jpg audioquest_jitterbug_01.jpg
The usual suspect of "snake oil items"
 
Audioquest has established itself as a notorious company, solely focused on the manufacture of "state of the art" Hi-fi, primarily "exclusive cables" that focus on reducing audible distortion, bit errors and clean data transmission between audio sources and the output speaker/headphones.
 
Started up by William Low, Audioquest's philosophy focuses on the sum of its parts. Every component of one's audio setup plays a key role in the reproduction of quality music.
 
However, in the recent years as forums dedicated to Hi-fi have been gaining traction, many audiophiles are quick to call out Audioquest as a company selling wishy-washy products on the basis of psuedo-science. Products such as the Jitterbug and the plethora of high-end cables have been caught under the gaze of a group of "hard-core audiophiles". 
Amidst all the flak they've been receiving for at least 10 years, the company has managed to hatch a few golden eggs; not limited to the brilliantly tiny yet mighty Dragonfly Dac. Audiophile zines for a more "mature" clientele such as Stereophile adore Audioquest's journey to sound nirvana.
 
Be that as it may, the company has made a bold decision: to venture into the world of Hi-fi headphones. Their latest invention: The AudioQuest Nighthawk took the headphone world by storm. With over 9,000 replies on Head-fi, the Nighthawk's startling sound and design philosophy is something that must be experienced. From its unusual walnut earcups, to its wire-frame headband, the Nighthawks certainly knows how to leave a positive impression. 
 
Priced at 699 USD at launch, the Audioquest Nighthawk's are steeply priced against an already crowded market of mid-fi headphones from the likes of Sennheiser and Sony. But against the backdrop of such established brands, how does the Nighthawks fare against the current market? 
 
 
 
Things to take note: 
 
  1. I am not a governing authority for audio. This is merely my opinion. If there are any disagreements pertaining to the review, feel free to voice it out in the comments section. I'll happily share an open discussion.
  2. The headphones were burned in for at least 50 hours before testing. 
  3. I purchased a used pair with 1.5 years of warranty left. 
 
 
 
What are the Audioquest Nighthawks?
 
NightHawk_HomePageSlide.jpg
 
The Audioquest Nighthawks are an expensive pair of dynamic driver headphones. The nighthawks were created to reduce EMF (Electromotive Forces) and harmful resonances that tamper with the actual end result. Some of revolutionary features include:
 
  1. 3D Printed Crystal Lattice Grills (to reduce to EMF)
  2. Utility Patented Suspension System (to avoid resonances or unwanted interference)
  3. Bio-Cellulose Piston Diaphragm with a Split Gap Motor and Rubber Surround
  4. Liquid Wood Earcups with a special internal coating (Injection Molded)
  5. Audioquest Patented Thickly Plated Silver Braided Cables
 
Engineered by a Sound Engineer named Skylar Grey, the aforementioned list of components listed above took at least 2 years of research and development. The Audioquest Nighthawks are targeted to musically inclined audience. Stating to reproduce music that wasn't focused on wonky frequency extensions, the tonality of the Audioquest Nigthawks is described as natural, airy and almost intimate. Akin to a pair of speakers, Audioquest has labelled it as a pair of "earspeakers" (alittle too pretentious for my taste). But enough chatter. Lets get on with the review. 
 
 
 
The Included Package: 
 
audioquest-nighthawk-kit-1500x1000.jpg
 
 
Foregoing the matte-finished cardboard boxes of its competitors, the Audioquest Nighthawks jumps right into its accessories, the packaging being an oversized leather bag with ample foam cushioning. Inside the case, we have:
 
1 X Audioquest Nighthawks
1 X Oversized Travel Case
1 X Audioquest Thickly Plated Silver Cable (3.5 mm to 2.5 mm LR)
1 X Audioquest Standard Cables (3.5 mm to 2.5 mm LR)
1 X Audioquest Thickly Plated Silver Jack
1 X Tidal Subscription 
1 X Instructions and Warranty
 
Now that's a giant package of accessories. Audioquest definitely nailed the "generosity" aspect. Seriously, that is a giant package! I especially love the oversized case as an added bonus. The case is entire is suspended in cushy foam interiors, ready to protect the Nighthawks at any costs. The silver cables are a nice touch, as expected from a company proud of its top-tier cable engineering. As a Head-fi first, I'll have to give the Nighthawks a perfect score in the accessories department. I'm duly impressed. 
 
 
 
Comfort and Build:
 
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Thanks to https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8822/17780498244_098dd02fc7_b.jpg
 
The earcups themselves are suspended in a strange web-like structure, with rubber poles keeping the earcups suspended in traction. The framed headband with pleather cushion is comfy and lies firmly on the head. The protein leather pads cup the ears nicely with its oval curvature. The clamping force is adequate, without bordering on the threshold of discomfort. Unlike other headphones that I previously owned in a similar price range (ZMF Vibro Mkii and the Sony MDR Z7). The oval cups cover the ears nicely, without pressing against the earlobes and causing unwanted discomfort. 
 
The wood earcups are finished beautifully, with its burled edges and lacquered/glossy finish. The cables are termed with 2.55mm connectors, allowing the headphones to run in Balanced mode. The cables are a strange bland of straight and twisted design, with uneven twirls occurring as it reaches the 3.5mm end. The 45 degree angled jack is a nice touch, allowing the cable to tugged without weary of it every snapping into half. Another Head-fi First, the headphones get a perfect score in this department. So far, so good. 
 
 
 
Sound Quality:
 
Sources used: Spotify Premium on PC
                          Cowon Plenue D
                          Sony Xperia Z5

  
Amplifiers/Dacs used: Aune X1s
                                       Fiio K1

 
Tracklist:
 
She and Him: Stay Awhile
 
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Case Lang Veirs: Honey and Smoke
 
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Bloc Party: Banquet
 
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The Twilight Sad: The Airport (Acoustic)
 
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The Jam: Town called Malice
 
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Burn in: 50 Hours
 
Impedance: 25 Ohms, 100dbSPL/mW
 
The Audioquest Nighthawks when paired with the Aune X1s or the Fiio K1, they had a significant improvement in terms of sound quality as compared to a direct source (cleaner sound, wider soundstage, and a tighter mid-bass hump). It is good to take note that the Nighthawks respond positively to amp/dac combos with low impedance output to achieve a proper damping factor. 
 
The Audioquest Nighthawks are easily driven out of portable devices and sound pretty damn good all things considered. I would, however, encourage the usage of an amplifier for optimal performance. 

 
Amidst the head-fi commotion, I have to say that the Nighthawks are truly a strange beast to behold. Dare I say, an oddity. With tracks such as "Stay Awhile" and "Honey and Smoke", females vocals are velvety smooth, with a sweet mid-range. The saccharine vocals are presented intimately in a closed 3D sphere (and that's not a bad thing). Imaging is superb and the sparkly yet un-peaky treble is something to behold. It captures enough audible information to reproduce an accurate sound. 
 
The Airport by The Twilight Sad is presented with intimacy, with the echo of the plucked strings reverberating against a black background. The distant vocals add a touch of realism to the size and intimacy of the small soundstage. 
 
Fast and transient tracks like "Banquet" are quick, speedy and again, smoothened out to create a   somewhat bloated indie rock track, with jangly guitars sounding smoother than ever.
 
The Jam's a Town called Malice sounded incredibly fluid and dynamic, breathing new life into the already old track. 
 
The Audioquest Nighthawks can be described as sweet, mid-centered and almost "speaker like", with a intimate soundstage and an articulate treble that can is almost impossible to describe. Sure, the sound signature is considerably dark and warm compared to other headphones in the same price bracket such as the HD700 and other Planar Magnetic options, but the enigmatic and hazy sound signature is aurally, a more enjoyable listen to my ears. I am madly in love with the nighthawks.

 
 
Sound Comparisons:
 
Vs Sony MDR Z7: The z7 is touted to be a treble free, with extended highs, solid imaging, and a bombastic low end. Unlike the z7, the Nighthawks are more laidback, its imaging on par with the z7. However, the sweet and articulate mid-range while recessed presented music with vinyl-like tone. I'm glad I sold the MDR z7 for the Audioquest Nighthawks.
 
Vs ZMF Vibro Mkii: These are tough the compare. The Vibros Mkii are a cult favorite, with a dedicated fanbase proud of Zach's creations. The Vibros, being Planar Magnetics, are characterized with speedy bass with quick attack, a realistic mid-tone and sparkly highs unlike dynamic drivers. The Audioquest Nighthawks are miles away in the sound department, with its dark and liquid-like mid-range. The Nighthawks are a safer bet for easy listening. For more oomph and vibrancy, the Vibros are a better pick. Make no mistake, both headphones are great at what they do. 
 
 

Conclusion: 
 
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The Nighthawks are , a polarizing pair of headphones. I, however, view it as a raving success. An auditory experiment, Skylar Grey has engineered a pair of headphones unlike any other. Suited for anyone and everyone, the Nighthawks are a revolutionary pair of headphones that has gotten people talking. I dare say, that these are my end-game headphones until the Nightowl Carbons drop in price. 
 
For the naysayers that tend to dislike headphones that are characterized as "dark" or "veiled", I suggest you give them a listen. You have to hear them to believe.
Sonic Defender
Sonic Defender
Nice effort put into sharing your thoughts on this as you say polarizing headphone. I may grab one used one day soon as they are very reasonable used. Cheers.
ecapsretliab
ecapsretliab
Headphones often sound like an analysing tool to me, the Nighthawks sound more like a pleasurable listening room attached to my head.  
 
I call them direct-brain-input-speaker-emulators, not headphones.  I'm a convert.
misteral201103
misteral201103
Great and fair review, very enjoyable read! Nice one :xf_eek:)

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