AudioQuest - Nighthawk Headphones - Reviews
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.
Pros: good design. good bass quantity
Cons: weird sound signature, competes poorly in this price range.
Video review here:

Sound Demo here:




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



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.




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.




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.
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:
 
17780498244_098dd02fc7_b.jpg
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
 

 
Case Lang Veirs: Honey and Smoke
 

 
Bloc Party: Banquet
 

 
The Twilight Sad: The Airport (Acoustic)
 


The Jam: Town called Malice
 

 
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: 
 
x700NHBNDLE-o_computer2.jpg
 
 
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:)
Pros: Comfortable
Cons: Dark sound, uncompetitive at price point
Heard these with Chord Hugo and boy oh boy was I unimpressed...  These are not worth anywhere their price point where their sound is concerned.  Decently comfortable though.  
 
The sound signature is just not pleasant, it's not very detailed or musical, just too dark and there was definitely something weird going on with the bass; rather overwhelming and kinda unnatural sounding, couldn't get passed it, anyway, it's way too expensive for its performance IMHO...  Even at half the price it would have serious competition, at full price there's no reason not to pickup a better sounding headphone...   I just really didn't dig these audioquest headphones...
 
I guess YMMV, as per comments below and other reviews, many seem to enjoy them...  Personally,  Hifiman 400i imho easily takes the cake at ~300$ less (650 vs 350 cdn$).  Even AKG Q701 have much better tonal balance, I think they may even just plainly be just a better headphone...   My advice would be definitely audition and compare them to other headphones, definitely not ordering blind...
h1f1add1cted
h1f1add1cted
Sorry but even this is not really a "review" this guy is right, this head phones are bad, especially for the price, it's a bad joke - that's my opinion. No different source or longer time using these will change anything, if the sound signature does not fit with your taste - there is no way to change anything. If you like dark, muffle, wrong sounding head phones than this is the right choice.
misteral201103
misteral201103
I've been really happy with my Nighthawks but recently heard them via an ifi Micro iDSD amp and my lord that took them to another level, especially with regard to high frequency clarity and definition. To see them dismissed so abruptly here I find quite sad - I would also 100% agree with @FastAndClean : with so little insight demonstrated in this 'review', a complete lack of definition of what was unsatisfactory about the sound, I wonder why the review was even submitted.
GirgleMirt
GirgleMirt
Yeah sorry might not have be worthy of a review...  Tell you the truth I was shocked at their price/performance, and when I saw that 7 out out of 10 scored it 4 or 5, I was equally shocked and just felt compelled to lower the score...  I'm still shocked/wondering how these can be so expensive and sound so off...  For the price, I just couldn't find any redeeming factor to their sound...  Name it, soundstage, imaging, bass, treble, mids, just not good at this price point...  I'll just have to agree with h1f1add1cted in saying that, for me, they just sound bad...  Ok maybe not that bad, just not good, for the price...  :\
Pros: Comfort. unique sound, interesting engineering, resolving
Cons: Inconsistent treble, often feel closed, could be a bit lighter. That smell.......
Design & Comfort:
 
Why can't you all do this? AudioQuest makes their first headphone and immediately gets so many things right that other companies seem to completely ignore. They even had the guts to experiment heavily with materials design, and even sound.
 
Wow. This factor is seriously real. Let’s start with the Headband. A single overhead support is not orthodox, but it works fantastically. The band is covered in woven material which gives it a nice touch. The headband itself also is backed with leather and is padded enough for my tastes. It could be a bit wider for more contact area, but is fantastic as a start. I do have a slight concern over how long the elastic will last in the headband, but for now it is doing well.
 
The headband is attached to the earcups by a ring with 4 rubber connections which work well, and allow for automatic adjustability. Good. The earcups themselves are made of liquid-wood. The liquid-wood has a distinct odor which had my eyes burning for the first couple of days, but later backed off significantly. I also think the earcups could be lighter, as this is where most of weight appears to come from. The best part about the earcups is the amazing shape. They are shaped like ears! Fantastic! Audioquest leap-frogged many other companies in the design department simply based on this factor. The pads are similarly shaped like ears, and are very soft and very comfortable. The pads are removable with flexible pegged frames to hold them in place, and in shape. This is fantastic, and hardly anybody else uses this design. I often grab the Nighthawks over other options I have simply out of comfort. 
The Grills on the back of the earcups are also quite interesting. They are designed to defuse sound the same way a butterfly wing diffuses light. I honestly can’t tell how well this in particular works, but the Nighthawks sound more closed than any other open, or semi-open headphone I have heard. I usually prefer more open headphones, especially when summer gets hot and I need to not sweat all over my headphones. I hope I can still use these in August without discomfort.
 
Another wonderful feature of the NightHawks is the detachable cable system. The cable easily pulls away by dual 1/8th mono connectors. This has saved the thin cable a few times already, as I am known to get snagged by everything. The cable also stays in place, and won't fall out unless they are pulled on. So many companies could benefit from having pull-away cables like these. (I won't say all because some professional applications will benefit from having more firmly attached cables.)
 
Overall they are more comfortable than almost everything I have tried. They could clamp a little less, but I think most people will have very little problem with this aspect.
 
BTW: As someone who has heard very slight differences among different cables before, I find nothing sonically different on NightHawks when swapping different cables at all.
 
Sound:
 
These are some seriously unique headphones in the sound department. The initial impression is thick and meaty, yet somehow very resolving. It is as if someone took the cheapest muddy bassy headphones they could find and ran them through the refinery several dozen times, and made them open-back as the cherry on top. There is not overshadowing mid-bass, nor are there high levels of sub-bass, but the feel is still thick and smooth. These in fact have some of the smoothest bass I have ever heard. I like to think of them as taking the HD650 sound and flipping it horizontally. Instead of smooth highs and upper-mids, they have smooth bass and lower-mids. Sometimes I found the treble to become a bit harsh. This could just be my brain reacting to extended use of other headphones, and not being used to the same set of imperfections as others.
 
I describe the sound as not full, but very thick. If that makes sense….
 
I think a lot of people will find the NightHawks to be bloated and lacking articulation. Maybe they are even a touch Gariny, but this could just be me comparing to Sennheiser and their uber-smooth mentality. I think this is true to an extent, but the low distortion seems to counter this pretty well, leaving quite a bit of detail without the feeling of having it etched into your ears. I find that the smooth texture of the NightHawk carries its own laurels. I sometimes get details I haven’t even heard on HD600s, HD700s, or the SR202, but other times they are clearly leaving out other details. The details it does catch are usually related to texture, and/or requiring a bit more bass than most open backs.
 
I was told that the best way to listen to them was to relax and let the Nighthawk paint a picture for me. I had trouble doing this as the treble is somewhat inconsistent, and I am spoiled by HD700 soundstage. When I could get to that point the Nighthawks really showed their chops. Certain songs just get a real speaker-like feel to them. Either way, I find them inexplicably addicting.
 
The Nighthawks have completed a sort of trifecta for me. I go around the loop of HD600 – NightHawk – HD700. Each complement each other nicely, and keeps me from getting bored.
 
Where they can fall behind is some female vocals, while others gain a lot musically from having more body. Particularly Michael Jackson sounded great on the NightHawks.
 
This is the only pair of headphones I have ever heard to be so dark and bassy, and yet be so refined and detailed. I give the sound a great big YES.
 
Song recommendation: Something Just Like This – The Chainsmokers & Coldplay
 
 
Comparisons go here:
 
Note: I took a lot of time getting myself to do any comparisons at all. I just didn’t want to take off the NightHawks. They tend to have that effect. It’s like getting out of bed when you wake up early.
 
NightHawk vs HD700
 
These are currently my two favorites. In many ways these are opposites. Just take a look at their graphs. The HD700 has a holographic effect where sound surrounds your head like a bubble, while the NightHawk is closer to painting a mural on a large wall. I don’t get nearly the same spacious effect from the Nighthawk as the HD700. The Nighthawk has far more body to the sound for sure, and often feels much more closed. The HD700 is cleaner and a little more resolving. It is also smoother in many places. The NightHawk doesn’t have the same treble spike as the HD700, so this is a plus for the NightHawk. For gaming: multiplayer: I would choose the HD700 every time, the spacial ques are in another league. Single player: you often don’t need nearly as much precision spatially, so no preference here. The body of the NightHawk might help with explosions though. Racing games: HD700 all the way.
 
NightHawk vs HD600
 
I was actually surprised to find that I don’t find these two to be too contradictory. I believe this to be due to the low distortion of the NightHawk, and the Neutrality/Natural nature of the HD600. Their soundstage is also very similar sounding to my ears. Comparatively the HD600 sounds harsh against the NightHawk. 0.o this threw me back a bit, as the HD600 is one of the lesser offensive headphones I have heard. I find the NightHawk to be more comfortable simply based on clamp force. I hate clamp. The NightHawks are far from what I would call studio headphones with their thick sound while the HD600 is the definition of a studio headphone.
 
 
Song recommendation: Something Just Like This – The Chainsmokers & Coldplay
 
Conclusion:
 
So many things are so right about the Nighthawks, and so many more could be improved or experimented more with. The sound is unique and fantastic. I just wish it had more HD700-ish soundstage, and were more open. I highly suggest these for people who love thick, bassy sound but also want that audiophile refinement and detail. The design is miles ahead of some other well respected companies. Try a pair if you ever get the chance. I can’t take these off my head. I give the Audioquest Nighthawk a big thumbs up!
 
Comments, questions, and song recommendations are highly appreciated!
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snapacap
snapacap
@caenlenfromOCN
I have the Monoprice 8323, and I use angled brainwavz pleathers on them. They sound great, but I cant stand the comfort. They clamp too much, (I am particularly sensitive to clamp) and they get hot after a bit. I have run them with everything from an Iphone 4 to my Project Polaris amp. They are remarkable, especially for the price. Funny, I haven't actually reviewed those yet, and I've had them for a year now....
Looks like I will have to get some alcantara pads!
 
@maxh22
I got the Nighthawks used, so burn-in is quite long. I have used them well over 100 hours now myself. Sources are anything I could plug them into with all types of digital formats. A few sources are on my profile page. I particularly like the PC -> FiiO E10 line out -> Project Polaris amp with the NightHawks.
 
I have not gotten a chance to try out other Audioquest pads. It sounds like a blast, and microfiber pads might help the summer sweat factor in a few months.
sabloke
sabloke
Very nice review!
I got the Nightowls last week and can't stop listening. The sound is very addictive indeed, thick, heavy bass. Drum kicks never sounded more natural, rock sounds like live to me. Comfort wise are the best headphones I have ever put on
Hibuckhobby
Hibuckhobby
Nice write up!  I find that the Nighthawks are more revealing than I originally thought.
They are a bit sensitive to amp type and I found them best with something like a Burson
or an ifi SE. The bass isn't as taut as my HD700 or 800, but the easy-going, laid back
sound works well on acoustic music.
Pros: Excellent bass control, depth & weight; Clear mids; Ideal treble presentation; Technically Impressive; Exquisite listening/wearing comfort; Value, etc
Cons: Original thick "NightHawk" cable can be prone to durability issues (Great cable otherwise)
Hey! So I've luckily owned the AudioQuest (AQ) NightHawk (NH) for a good while. Much of what I state below is identical to more informal posts I've left in the NightHawk thread since owning these. I honestly find that I almost can't stop myself from wanting to rave about my audio experience through these headphones, so I concluded I'd copy my thoughts into a more formal review format...for posterity and for my sanity, I guess. I still enjoy them that much. From this enjoyment, I've learned that headphone "endgame" to me is achieved when you're fortunate enough to find a pair of headphones that you'd literally change nothing about. That sums up the NightHawk for me. Lucky me and all others that feel the same way.
 
My desktop chain is PC (MusicBee) --> Grace Design x Massdrop m9XX DAC/Amp --> NH.
 
20161104_002.jpg
 
Cables & Usage Experience
 
To start, I chose to use the thinner stock cable for the first week or so of ownership and then reluctantly switched to the thicker stock "NightHawk cable" thereafter, to try it out. I use the word reluctant because the sound through the NH with the thin cable captivated me from the start and continued in the same fashion through those early days (aside from maybe a subtle tizziness in the treble that became unnoticeable after the first few hours). Upon hooking up the thick cable for the first time...well...to me it didn't sound worse per se. Did it sound exactly the same as the thin cable? No. I wouldn't say it did, not to my ears at least. The first and most noticeable difference upon initial use of the thick cable was at the edge of soundstage. Compared to the thin cable, the stage's farthest reaches somehow didn't sound as defined, and the imaging didn't seem to have the same level of accuracy. The attack of low-end notes also felt slightly more rounded. Overall, it seemed a bit more congested. Again, on first listen I surely wouldn't say that the NH sounded poor off the thick cable, but it wasn't fully captivating me quite like on the thin cable. Hopefully these slight differences weren't all in my head. Despite that, I decided to trudge on with the thick cable.
 
Fast forward almost two weeks of burn-in on the thick cable and that captivation returned with a little more in tow, believe it or not. Using the thick cable I fully experienced what I was hearing with the thin cable, plus more smoothness in presentation (blind A/B anyone?). Full disclosure, I even started noticing changes from my initial impressions on day 3 of thick cable use, after I had left the NH + thick cable plugged in for ~12 hours through days 1 & 2. I thought I was going crazy, may still be so
, but to my ears the presentation seemed to already be opening up nicely by day 3. Take all that as you may. In summary, the two cables are very good IMO, but in time and to my ears the edge went to the thicker "NightHawk cable" as the purer & better performer. 
 
In terms of build, both cables appeared sturdy enough...until issues developed with the thick cable 3-months into ownership. Note: I'm mostly a stationary, desktop listener so I'm generally very careful with my cables. I narrowed the issue down to audio dropouts that were caused by a faulty 3.5mm plug-1/4 in adapter end. Fortunately my warranty was active and served its purpose well. The entire RMA process took about 12 days total (including shipping time). Quite painless. Good job there AQ. Hopefully the issue doesn't recur. Side Note: the newer generation AQ headphones, the NightOwl Carbon & NightHawk Carbon, have supposedly rectified this potential fault with a single, more robust cable (***links/info below***).
 
Although I like the forgettable lightness of the thin cable's construction, it definitely suffers from microphonic tendencies, more than the thick cable. In addition, since the thinner cable was supposedly also included to serve in portable scenarios (as well as back-up), I would have preferred if it was shorter in length. Side Note: the newer generation cable is also shorter. +1.
 
Sound
 
To me, the Nighthawks seem to be a polarizing gem for a variety of reasons. These reasons, fair or not, have been chronicled at some point or another in the main thread. For example: A) Potentially insufficient driver break-in or cable burn-in, B) NH's distortion-minimized sound signature that veers off a trend of mids/treble over-emphasis, C) Excessive "frequency response watching" and "echo-chambering" in place of actual listening, D) Individual biases against AQ, E) People with ulterior motives, etc. And of course, some might simply not like the tuning. I'll honestly admit to subscribing to one or two of these myself at some point. It is what it is but since coming into ownership of a NH:
 
Natural clarity. That's how I would personally sum up the NightHawk sound. Natural - Clarity - all in a very balanced and cohesive package/presentation. For reference, I've previously owned the TH-X00, the HE-400i and before them, the K7XX and the MSR7, to name a few. I've also briefly heard some "TOTL" in a meet setting (HD 800, HE1000, etc). I respectfully disagree with those that conclusively label the Nighthawk as recessed or bloated. I don't hear it like that at all (even despite my initial impressions with its thick cable). To my ears, no area of the sound calls particular attention to itself but everything is there, cleanly presented with the appropriate control that the recording/audio seems to demand. IMO, there's an impressive sense of space, stage proportionality and imaging. So easy on the head, the ears and the music...like drinking a nice glass of water...an effortless consumption. What remains is me and my sheer musical pleasure and delight, for as long as I want. And I enjoy all musical genres minus metal, to which I don't listen. Not to mention that I've found these to be absolute champs at gaming and movies. Aesthetically, the NH is quite regal and understated. I didn't even mind the scent of the liquid wood (I still smell that vanilla)! "Do No Harm" indeed. Not forgetting to mention the sustainable focus that underpinned the creation of these headphones, nor the great carrying case that's included. You can see I'm drawing blanks on much of anything to complain about with regards to the NH. I honestly don't believe I could be happier with another pair of headphones, like I am with the NH off the m9XX. Since acquiring the NH, I've smiled more with these on than I remember doing with any pair before. I confidently expect that to continue. As is, the NightHawks are simply excellent IMHO. Overall, job extremely well done Skylar Gray! You have my genuine appreciation for the NH. I'll be closely monitoring future projects that have you at the helm and I very much look forward to them (more specifically: I await these in IEM form so we can party down anywhere)! Please, please, please maintain this same scrutinously logical approach and transparency with all of your products, from inception to MSRP.
 
 
20161104_003.jpg
 
 
Comparisons to Fostex/Massdrop X00 (Mahogany) & HIFIMAN HE-400i (v2)
 
I sold my X00 and 400i right before I picked up the NH, so this will all be based off memory. Since we know how fickle that can be in comparisons of this sort, take it and my resulting opinions with some NaCl. All were driven with the m9XX. If anything, the NH's low-end is more reminiscent of that of my 400i. However the NH has a more "natural" control over the bass notes to me. In other words, I prefer the attack and decay qualities of the NH's driver. When necessary, there's real weight to bass notes. As for the X00, I truly liked its thicker-toned bass presentation and would never say "no" to it, but quantity-wise it was a touch overboard in some scenarios (think: dubstep or trap music sessions). But again, it would be difficult for me to ever deny my enjoyment of the X00's low-end
. Without ever feeling like it goes overboard, the NH's bass extension and quantity are also solid while being more satisfying than that of the 400i. What's very nice to me about the NH is that I can turn the volume up louder than usual and get as much bass as I want, with virtually no distortion/harshness from the total presentation. Easy Cla-ri-ty; at any volume. No faint ringing in my ears after listening sessions. That is such an enjoyable trait and one that I no longer take for granted. For the 400i and X00, they both had a certain stridency or sibilance in their midrange & treble regions. In this regard, the 400i was a greater offender than the X00. This mostly became noticeable to me only after I received the NuForce HEM6 IEMs and acclimated to its sound signature (this was prior to getting the NHs). Once that happened though, I did not feel like I could go back to the 400i nor even the X00 and I don't miss either today. Maybe that says something about how tolerant our ears and brains can become of over-emphasis in the mids and/or treble regions
. Versus my memory of both the 400i and X00, the NH overall offer an improved sense of clarity, cohesion, space, balance, imaging and long-term listening + wearing comfort. All-round versatility to me. The NH basically possess my ideal sound signature (through my m9XX).
 
I also recommend the NuForce HEM6, if anyone is looking for a pair of universal IEMs that somewhat "approximate" the tuning of the NH. To my ears the HEM6 are actually "darker" and thus mellower-sounding in comparison to the NHs, but the HEM6 have more bass punch (when volume matched by ear). If interested, my HEM6 review is HERE. Fair comparison or not, sound-wise the HEM6 do fall short of the NH's overall sense of enveloping space and texture. As such, the NH makes up for the few shortcomings I personally have with the HEM6 tuning. That said, I'm no less impressed with the HEM6. I feel Lucky to have first owned the HEM6 because it was what unexpectedly spawned my interest in the NH. As a result, I only feel Luckier today to have had the opportunity to form an opinion of the NH for myself. To each his or her own however, as it should be.
 
 
***As of writing, there are plans for the NightHawk wood (this first version with brown cups) to be discontinued. More info on that HERE. The NightHawk wood are to be replaced by the NightHawk Carbon. There also now exists a closed-back version named the NightOwl Carbon. More info on those HERE.***
 
Thanks for reading. Above all, please enjoy your music
! ~Catharsis complete...
~
Hi-Fi EDU
Hi-Fi EDU
@captblaze Thanks. One day, I want to try these on a good balanced set-up to hear if there's a worthwhile difference. I'm glad the NHs are easy to drive and not too amp picky. What'll you be hooking yours up to?
captblaze
captblaze
My sit down rig is a windows 10 pc > iFi micro iUSB3.0 > Gungnir MB > Ragnarok
portable  is an AK300/Hugo stack
I also have a Burson Conductor Air and a Korg DS-DAC-100m​ for my Surface tablet.
 
I do believe one of those combos (if not all) should push the Nighthawks handily
Hi-Fi EDU
Hi-Fi EDU
Oh boy...care to invite me over for some tea & biscuits? Haha. Sweet combos. For what it's worth, the guy behind the Chord products says he quite enjoys these. Stands to reason that the portable should more than hold its own. Then that Schiit stack should be something, just barely :wink: . Do let us know your thoughts once you've had some extended time with the NH.
Pros: Great Build, Innovative Design, Unique Sound
Cons: Sound Sig, Soundstage, Slight Fragile Suspension
AudioQuest NightHawk
A Solid First Entry By AudioQuest  


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 ​
INTRODUCTION​

A Very Different Kind Of Blue
Different. It’s the AudioQuest NightHawk, in a word. A combination of rather unique design elements and aesthetics, this entry byAudioQuest is indeed an unconventional looking and sounding headphone. When I first auditioned the NightHawk, I was left with a positive impression and a piqued interest. I did feel that there was more to be had though – and hence I reached out to Stephen at AudioQuest, seeking to conduct a review and a longer-term examination of the headphones through equipment I was more familiar with. A couple of weeks and one IFA later, and I finally got around to completing the final draft of the review.

Let’s start first with some short observations regarding AudioQuest's history. Known for its high-end audio cables, the company has, as of late, been expanding its product range. It has entered the portable DAC/Amp market with the well-regarded Dragonfly series, and as of last year has become actively involved in headphone development as well. I think that this is indeed reflective of the incredible growth in the personal audio industry. However, this wasn’t some poorly conceived, opportunistic expedition into the wilds of Roanoke. Instead, the NightHawk presents itself as a look at headphone design from a ground-up perspective, one that seeks to incorporate several new technologies coherently into a meaningful package. I will summarize and explain these aspects in greater depth in a later section of the review.

To me, the Nighthawks were a very interesting pair of headphones to review. There’s been a lot of polarized community discussion on these –and it did indeed take me some time formulate a solid perspective on these headphones. After quite a bit of consideration, I do believe that these headphones are good, but have a unique sound signature and steep appreciation curve that will make it hard for some to get into.    You'll also notice that this is indeed my first video review.  Yes, it was hard being on camera and there were definitely things to work on.  However, I hope y'all find it at least reasonably entertaining and I do think it makes for a great complement to the writing.


Disclaimer
The AudioQuest NightHawk was provided by AudioQuest through Unicorn Sound & Vision for the purposes of this review. I’ve now had it on loan for about 3 weeks (perhaps more, I can’t quite recall). I’d like to thank AudioQuest for this unique opportunity. You can also find the review here on my blog.  In addition, I do reserve the rights to the media used in the review, so do contact me if you wish to reproduce any part of the writing, video or photography seen here. Apart from that, I hope y’all have as much fun reading this as I did have writing the review.

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES 

The AudioQuest NightHawk comes in a nice soft carry pleather case with a cardboard sleeve bearing a glossy graphic of a nighthawk (which mind you, is an actual animal, unlike the seahawk). The headphones were designed by AudioQuest in California, and have been assembled in China with components from China, Japan, USA, France and Germany. On the back is a quick pictorial summary of the unique technologies employed by AudioQuest in the construction of the NightHawk. Opening up the Nighthawk, one encounters the headphones and associated accessories:

  1. Headphone Carrying Case
  2. One AudioQuest Cable
  3. One Unmarked Cable
  4. 3.5 to 1/4th Adaptor
 ​

I like that everything is incredibly functional.  The headphone box is a carrying case with good padding, and is something that can actually be used meaningfully.  A bit about the cables.   There are two cables included by AudioQuest. The beefier one features AudioQuest's proprietary technologies –high-purity Solid Perfect-Surface Copper+ in a Double Star-Quad formation. This cable passed AudioQuest's bend testing 2,000 times. The other, apparently less sophisticated cable, is more durable, and survived over 12,000 + times.  I'm not a huge fan of the way the AudioQuest cable kinks, but I'm sure it's probably to do with the cable tech inside.

BUILD AND DESIGN

The NightHawk is a product of ambition and passion. There’s a strong sense of direction for this headphone, and this is well reflected in the various facets of its sound and design. Naturally, this section will be concerned with the latter. In introducing the headphones, a bit of design philosophy is in order –it’s rather revealing, and there certainly is lots of it. It is great that AudioQuest has taken the time to explain what it has done with the headphones, but some sections are indeed quite abstract.  From a general perspective, the NightHawk was designed primarily with the goal of minimizing distortion, and delivering what I would summarize as a musical sound. AudioQuest has further described the NightHawk as an attempt to “liberate headphone design from decades of misinformation and neglect”. A bold claim, and one that I don’t think is representative of the higher-end headphone scene.​

Starting with the driver, the NightHawk has employed the use of a 50mm biocellulose driver with a rubber surround. This driver is designed for low distortion and high excursion, and achieves “true pistonic motion” through its rigid properties. We’ve seen biocellulose applications before in the form of the Fostex “Biodyna” diaphragm and in the legendary Sony R10. Generally speaking, biocellulose drivers are capable of achieving high acoustic velocities, high rigidity and a fairly wide frequency band. I will mention that going into the NightHawk, I did have some expectations for how it would sound, since I was coming off the Fostex TH-900. Additionally, the NightHawk’s driver features a patented Split-Gap Motor system that provides greater control as through the extremes of the driver’s excursion. It’s good to see that this is an actual patented technology and not a “patent-pending” gimmick. Detailed thought has also gone into other aspects of the headphone, including the voice coil and vents.
 ​
_D702270.jpg  
Moving on to the readily observable. One of the most striking features of the NightHawk is the liquid wood enclosure. For those unfamiliar with liquid wood, it is a bioplastic that was developed by German scientists Helmut Nägele and Jürgen Pfitzer in the 90s. Currently, it is being produced by Tecnaro (which unsurprisingly, was started by the aforementioned two) under the name of Arboform. It is this very material that is employed in the NightHawk for its acoustic properties. To further minimize resonances and vibrations, the enclosures feature internal support beams and an elastomeric coating. Damping is achieved through a combination of wool and polyester. On the semi-open part of the enclosure is the Diamond Cubic Lattice grill. In short, a 3D printed grill inspired by butterfly wings that is supposedly much more effective at diffusing sound waves than a regular grill.

Overall, the design and build of the NightHawk is very impressive. In certainly felt luxurious in the hand. The pleather earpads make for a fairly comfortable fit, and the self-adjusting headband is one of the better implemented systems I’ve seen. Pressure is average, and it’s definitely not as weightless as the T1 or TH-900. For longer periods of time, I did find the narrow headband to be a little less comfortable on the head. The elastic suspension system is very nice, and allows the earcups to be rotated rather freely. I’m not sure how much abuse the suspension system can take, so I’d be careful around these. Sound isolation, for those wondering, isn’t great. The NightHawks are considered a semi-open headphone.  I might also mention that out of the box these have a strong lacquer smell.

 ​
SOUND

At A Glance
The NightHawk isn’t quite like anything I’ve heard before. I’ll cut to the chase. Is it good –yes. Is it something that everyone will like –no. Now that I’ve more or less shot myself in the foot here, I’d better start explaining. The NightHawk is one of those products that I feel has a steep appreciation curve, one that will vary rather significantly based on your personal tastes and daily use headphones. AudioQuest  believes that most headphones today are in fact plagued by an “upward tilt”, i.e. emphasized upper midrange and high frequencies. They explain this through their own interpretation of free-field and diffuse-field measurements, and the drawbacks of the current weighting system.  Pairing wise - stick to cleaner DAC/amp.
 ​
_D702304.jpg
 
Bass
The resultant product of the tuning and design philosophies is a headphone that features a warm and rich sound signature with a fairly prominent bass section. The bass focuses itself primarily with midbass. It’s not the vulgar and intrusive kind of midbass found on lesser headphones. Instead, it establishes its presence with weighty notes and a very slight reverb (reminds me of some pieces of Final Audio gear). The subbass on the NightHawk does extend fairly nicely, and at times can provide a visceral backing to the midbass. There are other times though when the midbass does more or less overshadow the subbass. This becomes all the more apparent when stacked directly against the TH-900, which I feel does have a generally deeper and more consistent bass section.

Mids
The midrange is easily the most divisive aspect of this headphone. If one is listening to the NightHawk as a primary can, it is indeed conceivable that he or she may feel that the midrange is just fine. However, coming off other headphones like the T1 and R70X, it was apparent to me that certain aspects of the midrange needed improvement. Let’s start with the positives, To me, the lower mids are where most of the NightHawk’s magic occurs. It’s a wonderfully impactful sound with a rather thick and lush presentation. On some tracks, this lower midrange comes together with the bass to produce an enveloping listening experience. However, the NightHawk starts teetering once you leave that lower midrange segment. In the upper mids, things start sounding distant and even a bit thin.  This distance can make it difficult to enjoy higher-energy music, and is easily the most troublesome aspect about the NightHawk's sound signature.

Treble
The highs are nice and complement the rest of sound signature appropriately. It’s got a bit of texture, and a slight bite that stops short of being sparkly. It’s also fairly articulate and generally pleasant to listen to. It is by no means liquid highs, but overall it does offer an enjoyable contrast to the bass. However, they do not begin to rival the lower frequencies in terms of quantity.
 
Soundstage And Imaging
The soundstage on the NightHawk is average. It’s got far more depth than width, and an average height. On some complex compositions things do tend to get a little squished together. It’s not that separation is poor (it is in fact decent), but that there simply isn’t enough space for everything. Imaging is average as well. Overall, a more intimate presentation of sound, and one that is appropriate for the sound that AudioQuest has tried to achieve in these headphones.  Too bad this also means restrictions on multigenre capability.

 ​
FINAL THOUGHTS

The NightHawk is a great first entry from AudioQuest.  It's a very unqiue headphone that's the product of a ground-up design, and it certainly looks and feels great.  Build quality is premium and very impressive.  The sound is rather unique, and not one that's for everyone.  However, if you enjoy a smooth listening experience with good bass and an intimate sonic presentation, I'd definitely give the NightHawk a shot.  It is a very musical and fun headphone to listen to.
 
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voxie
voxie
First off all thank you for sharing your views and impressions, secondly congrats on making your first video. Both achieved extremely well and articulated.  
thatonenoob
thatonenoob
Hi Voxie! Thanks and glad that the video came over well.
earfonia
earfonia
Great review with very cool pictures! Thanks!
Pros: Natural presentation, exceptional clarity, realism, comfort, immersive sound signature, lack of fatigure
Cons: May not be suited to those who like extreme treble sharpness
Audioquest Nighthawk – initial impressions


I picked up my pair of Audioquest Nighthawk headphones at the start of April from the Head-Fi “for sale” forums as what was intended to be my second pair of serious over-ear cans after briefly owning the Philips Fidelio L2. As a long time music fan but a late starter to the audiophile scene I am on a mission at the moment to listen to (and review) as many different types of headphones as I can, to work out what suits me best and what my own personal endgame audio will sound like. The intention, therefore, was to listen to the Nighthawks for a few weeks then trade them on for something different. Unfortunately for me, the good people of Audioquest have gone and ruined my cunning plan by making something so outrageously good that my journey may just have stopped before it has started. My opinions on this marvellous piece of audio tech follow below – I will try my best to avoid hyperbole, but feel it fair to warn anyone reading this that I think these are potentially the perfect sound signature for me, so the review will pretty much be outlining why in fairly glowing terms. To be clear, I have no affiliation to Audioquest and purchased these headphones myself, so the views expressed are 100% my own.


About me: newly minted audiophile, late 30s, long time music fan and aspiring to be a reasonably inept drummer. Listen to at least 2 hours of music a day on my commute to work – prefer IEMs for out and about, and a large pair of headphones when I have the house to myself and a glass in my hand. Recently started converting my library to FLAC and 320kbps MP3, and do most of my other listening through Spotify or Tidal HiFi. I am a fan of rock, acoustic (apart from folk) and sarcasm. Oh yeah, and a small amount of electronica. Not a basshead, but I do love a sound with some body to it. Please take all views expressed below with a pinch of salt – all my reviews are a work in progress based on my own perceptions and personal preferences, and your own ears may tell you a different story.


Tech specs (from the Audioquest website)


Impedance: 25ohms


Sensitivity: 100dBSPL/mW


Power handling: 1.5W


Driver: 50mm Dynamic / Biocellulose Diapraghm / 1.2T Split-Gap Motor


NHFreqResponse.jpg


 



Unboxing


The Nighthawks ship in a rectangular black leather zipper case with the Nighthawk logo embossed on the front, with poly-foam padding inside and space to store the headphone cables and a pocket in the front of the “door” to hold things like the instruction manual and other audio necessities. The design brief from Audioquest to their team when making the Nighthawks was to build something sustainable, high quality, innovative and high performance while minimising waste. The case is a perfect example – apart from the cardboard wrapper that comes with the case outlining the specs of the headphones and the usual marketing shots, everything else is directly related to the headphone itself. The case offers somewhere to store the headphones when not in use, protection when transporting them due to the rigid design and heavy foam padding, and even offers a carry handle on the top. If these were IEMs, this would be the equivalent of the headphones coming in the ubiquitous pelican case all high end customs seem to ship with, with everything you need fitted neatly inside and no additional packaging whatsoever apart from a small manual which no one reads (genuinely, if you are willing to spend £499 on a pair of headphones, you are likely to either be richer than Kanye West wants to be so will have an employee to do that for you, or have done enough research to render a glossy manual utterly redundant – just my 2 cents).


20160413_171636_HDR.jpg20160413_171703_HDR.jpg


 


Build quality and ergonomics


The Nighthawks are quite possibly one of the most striking headphone designs I have seen yet. From the embossed leather headband and single stranded arch over the crown of the head, through the glossy wood-effect cups and the styling of the earcup suspenders, these headphones ooze quality. They have been designed from the ground up, with each element considered in terms of function, form and fit to produce something that looks genuinely eye-catching while still serving a specific purpose. The earcups are made from a glossy dark brown “liquid wood”, which is a mix of resins, natural fibres and waxes which can be injection moulded into whatever shape is desirable. They look fantastic, and the injection moulding and some clever mathematics regarding the internal supporting structures have allowed Audioquest to tune the enclosures to dampen unwanted resonances quite dramatically as an added bonus. There are plenty of other clever touches in the design and modelling of these ‘phones, with the cups themselves suspended from a circular mount by four rubber ties, very reminiscent of a studio microphone. The ear shapes are also unusual, being modelled to follow the curve of the ear so the enclosure is asymmetric, and even the pad thickness varies from the front to the back of the cups. All this high-concept design wouldn’t amount to much if the headphones were a beast to wear, but unfortunately for the competition, these wear as impressively as they look. The headband system and light clamping force work in tandem with the suspension on the earcups to leave the Nighthawks feel and look like they are floating on your head rather than stuck to it like some form of Japanese torture device (Blue Mo-Fi, I’m looking at you here). They sit snugly, without any telltale pressure “hotspots”, and can be worn for hours on end without the slightest discomfort. If I had to be uber-picky, the support arch above the strap can make it look like the wearer has a carry-handle on the top of their head and the protein leather pads can get a little hot and sweaty after hours of use, but that really does feel like the princess finding the pea in terms of how little that matters compared to the sumptuous feeling of comfort and luxury that comes whenever you slip these on to your head. Simply outstanding.


(picture taken from Audioquest website)


Nighthawk3dwireframe.jpg


 


Sound quality


Test gear:


LG G Flex 2 (via Neutron Player)


Sony NWZ-A15


Sansa Clip+ (Rockboxed)


Microsoft Surface Pro 2 (straight from the output jack)


Brainwavz AP001


Cayin C5


Main test tracks (mainly 320kbps MP3 or FLAC/Tidal HiFi):


Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – S.O.B. / Wasting Time


Blackberry Smoke – The Whipporwill (album)


Slash – Shadow Life / Bad Rain (my reference tracks for bass impact and attack, guitar “crunch”)


Slash & Beth Hart – Mother Maria (vocal tone)


Richie Kotzen – Come On Free (bass tone)


Otis Redding – various


Elvis – various


Leon Bridges – Coming Home (album)


Foy Vance – various


Blues Traveler


Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (album)


Sigma - various


Rudimental – various


Rodrigo y Gabriela – various


Mavis Staples – Livin’ On A High Note


 


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General impressions on the sound signature


Reading through the Nighthawk micro-site (which is thoroughly recommended if you have any interest in how headphones work in general, and how these in particular were designed), there is one common theme running through all the decisions they have made when building this headphone: distortion. Or more specifically, finding ways to eliminate it. The aim when building these was to make the sound as pure and true to the music that was actually recorded as physically possible, without adding any of the frequency distortion in the higher bands that Audioquest claim is responsible for the impression of “detail” that most higher-end cans give out. Not being an audio scientist, I can only take what they claim on face value, but one thing is clear – their intention to produce a clear, true sounding headphone has very much succeeded. The attention to detail, from modelling the airflow around the driver enclosures and chamfering the internal parts accordingly to mounting the driver on a rubber surround to reduce standing wave distortion and all the other tricks they have crammed into this piece of engineering brilliance all add together to produce something that is clear, deep, fantastically detailed without being “etched” and as soulful a sound as I have heard on my audio travels to date.


Highs


Given the stated intention of producing something with as little sonic distortion as physically possible, my initial expectations of this headphone were that it would be clear, sharp and packed with detail. In fact, the first thing that hits you when you slip the Nighthawks on is what your brain thinks is lacking: sharpness. Until your brain adjusts (brain burn-in, as it is sometimes referred to), the sound can almost seem veiled and blunt, with none of the laser-etched edge to the high notes your ears are waiting to hear. As it turns out, this is exactly what the Nighthawk team mean by eliminating distortion, as they claim that the signature “clarity” in the higher registers of most high-end headphones is actually caused by artificially emphasised peaks in the treble response, similar to turning the sharpness setting up on your TV screen. They contend that no more actual detail is added, but what is there is distorted and sharpened into little audio peaks that your brain latches on to. The Nighthawks, in contrast, present the higher frequencies of a recording in a gloriously smooth and almost rolled off fashion, with a clarity and depth of note that is quite difficult to describe but very easy to listen to. When you have become used to the sound, the veil evaporates and you realise that all the detail is still present in the audio, and start to appreciate exactly how good the neutral nature of the treble reproduction actually is. Listening to some acoustic guitar tracks from Rodrigo y Gabriela, you can hear the harmonics and sounds of fingers brushing against frets like you were in the room, with a smooth purity of sound and air of “naturalness” that becomes almost mesmerising. You also realise that the treble extends naturally, not losing any detail or clarity no matter how high the track heads. Fortunately, once your brain has snapped the sound signature into focus, it will immediately pick it back up whenever you put the headphones back on (much like those Magic Eye pictures that were all the rage years ago – once you have seen the pirate ship in the middle of the grey and white blur, you can never un-see it again). The sonic presentation is similar in many ways to the Flare Audio R2 series of in-ear monitors (the R2A, R2S and R2Pro) – as they are also designed to eliminate distortion by balancing the pressure on either side of the driver in a similar manner to some of the audio trickery that Audioquest use, the commonalities in sound are perhaps unsurprising. The best analogy I can think of to describe the overall sound of the highs is to compare the Nighthawks to a glass of ice cold water on a boiling hot day, and other famous high-end headphones to a cold glass of BrandedFizzyBeverage™. If all you are used to is fizz and artificial flavour, you will be quite happy reaching for a glass of the bubbly stuff to cool you down, but once you have tasted the purer option, that’s all that will really satisfy your thirst. Listening to some modern classical music by Escala, the violin plucks float delicately above the soundscape, with cymbals crashing in the background and disappearing again just like they would if you were stood in front of them. Fans of a hyper-etched sound may find the Nighthawks lacking that little bit of “fizz” in the higher registers, but for me, the smoothness and subtle detail is nigh-on perfect.  The absence of “grain” in the presentation also lends these headphones to extended listening sessions without any danger of fatigue.


Mids


The mid-range on the Nighthawk shares a similar neutrality of emphasis to the treble, the balanced nature of the presentation (neither forward or recessed) leaving the listener to enjoy the smooth yet detailed sounds without being drawn to any particular part of the frequency range. Like the treble, there is an overwhelming sense of realism that drips through the sound, with vocals and guitar notes taking on a lifelike quality and slowly immersing you in the music. Male and female vocals both sound exceptional through these, with the pure presentation bringing out whatever the engineer mixed into the track without adding anything on the way. Breathing patterns, intonations and inflections all drift through the background noise while never overpowering or drawing attention away from the meat of the music. At this point, it is also worth mentioning the blackness of the background on these headphones. The sound hangs in the air around your ears like it was suspended on a black velvet drape, with the absence of sound between notes almost as absorbing as the music that plays in between the gaps. Listening to Mavis Staples’ glorious vocals swooping up and down the frequency ranges, you are struck by the emotion that is captured in the recordings and how effortlessly it sucks you in. The Nighthawks fare equally as well with driving rock music, “Figure It Out” by Royal Blood showcasing the ability of these cans to drive a down and dirty chugging riff just as well as the smoother sounds it excels in. Like the highs, the detail levels aren’t pushed too far into the spotlight, but can be picked out easily in the soundscape if you listen to them. The whole presentation feels effortless, with detail enough to do the music justice and emotion enough to do the song justice. The balanced nature of the mids also highlight the chameleonic nature of the Nighthawks, as they are equally proficient with the spiky electronica and riffage of a band like Don Broco or the latin silkiness of Rodrigo y Gabriela, dousing everything in a liberal splash of soul but never colouring the music in the process. Transparent is a word I have seen used to describe these headphones, but it doesn’t really do justice to the presentation – it is not so much that you see through the headphones to the music behind, it feels more like the headphones aren’t even there, getting out of the way and just leaving the listener with the music. Skylar and his team do appear to have created the Cheshire Cat of the audio world, an over-ear can you can’t see in the presentation but who leaves a big grin hanging in the air whenever it is around.


Bass


Amongst some of the more learned audio buffs, the bass tuning on these headphones is one of the objections raised about the Nighthawks not sounding like a “true” audiophile can. The lower end is noticeably more present than other competing headphones in the same bracket, which make it appear on first listen that these are tuned with a bass tilt. It never veers into full basshead territory, but does add a warm tinge to the presentation whenever the music calls for it, so this can appear less “lean” than the typical audiophile tuning. The design team at Audioquest actually contend that the reason the bass appears more prominent on their headphones is the lack of artificial boost applied to the mid and high frequency bands - in essence, the bass is not being drowned out by the pumped up highs. Whatever the reason, it makes for a very enjoyable and organic sound, with the low-distortion design providing a clarity and snap to the bass that drives most tracks along very nicely while never feeling loose or overdone. The control of the bass is excellent, and notes decay naturally (or in other words, not as quickly as some other headphones I have heard), but never feel bloated or boomy unless that is the way they were actually recorded. The liquid basslines in “Hello, It’s Me” by Sister Hazel sound as smooth as poured chocolate as they ooze out of the earpieces, but never threaten to overwhelm the rest of the track in the process. Bubbling under the liquid, the rasp of the bass strings vibrating against the guitar provide excellent texture, without sounding forced or unnatural. The extension is excellent, and reminds me of two of my all time favourite in-ear headphones (the ASG 2.5 from Aurisonics and the R2A from Flare Audio) in terms of the reach of the bass, and the overall quality of the presentation. My go to tester track for low-end texture (“Bad Rain” by Slash) sounds absolutely glorious through these, with the bass snarling away down into depths that not even James Cameron would send a film crew, while giving the drum and guitar licks enough low-end crunch around the edges to open a cereal factory. Drums also sound excellent through the Nighthawks, with a very authentic and natural tone. To be clear (like the headphones) – fans of a lean, dry sound signature probably won’t appreciate the warmth and quantity of the bass on offer here. For everyone else, the excellent execution and control of the lower range adds a body to the music that most music fans would find it very hard not to like.


 


20160413_171829_HDR.jpg


 


Soundstage/separation


The soundstage of the Nighthawks isn’t the most expansive I have ever heard – there is a bit of space to the edges of the sound, but there are certainly other headphones and in-ears who push the sound far further outside of your head. In part, I suspect this is a side-effect of the non-emphasised treble tuning, but never feels any the poorer for that particular choice. The clarity of the sound reproduction does give the Nighthawks an excellent sense of separation, with all the instruments standing out clearly in their own space, and easily identifiable against the jet-black audio background. No matter if it is large scale orchestral music or three-chord punk rock, the headphones imbue everything with a sense of accuracy and precision, allowing your brain to pick out parts of the song at will. The shape of the soundstage is reasonably 3D, with the vocals playing in the centre of your head, the drums rolling across the back of the room behind you and the other instruments feeling laid out in front of you like a live concert.  More often than not, the headphone feels like it is placing you in the middle of the recording session, which helps with the immersive tone no end on more intimate recordings. Listening to “Ten Songs from Carnegie Hall” by Ryan Adams really puts you on stage with the performer, with the applause cues and audience noise rolling in from all sides like you are standing next to the singer.


Isolation


The Nighthawk is a semi-open design, with a 3D printed covering standing between the rear of the driver and the outside world. They call their grille design a Diamond Cubic Lattice, and it is designed to diffuse sound passing through it from the driver, to avoid any sonic reflections from the surface back towards the ear which could create distortion in the sound waves heading towards the listener. This clever trick of geometry and 3D printing was actually modelled on the structure of a butterfly’s wing, which diffuses light that hits it in much the same manner. One side effect of this diffusion is the level of isolation it offers from external sounds, which is very high for an ostensibly open backed headphone (aided in part by the excellent seal offered by the headband mechanism and pads). While these will not be isolating enough to block out the noise of a busy commuter train or jet engine, for home use they do block out a decent chunk of the outside world. Unfortunately, more sound leaks out than leaks in, so like most open designs, these aren’t suitable for libraries, churches or anywhere else you don’t want anyone in a 12-foot radius listening to your Justin Bieber medley.


 


20160413_171758_HDR.jpg


 


Amping


These are very power-light in terms of amping requirements at a rated impedance of only 25 ohms, with plenty of volume being achievable from even the most puny of sources. They do tighten up a little with a little bit of juice flowing through their veins, but are enjoyable enough out of any jack you care to plug them into to suggest it isn’t mandatory. If you do have access to a decent amping solution, the transparent nature of these headphones will bring out the best of whatever you plug It into – using these with the Cayin C5 on low gain, the soundstage opens up marginally, and the music benefits from the extra power and refinement of the amp to really bring some more dynamic tracks to life. As the headphones are rated to handle up to 1.5W, they never feel overstretched when you crank up the power - I imagine the limiting factor is more likely to be the user’s hearing (and how much damage you want to do to it) rather than the limits of the driver when deciding exactly how close you get to full power on whatever you decide to use.


Cables


As Audioquest are primarily known for their high-end cables, this review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the two cables offered with this package. The thinner of the two is designed for “mobile” use (in as much as a large open-backed headphone can ever be mobile – perhaps they are for those times when you absolutely have to get up and go into the kitchen to make a sandwich in the middle of a marathon listening session?!), with a durability rating of over 12,000 bends before it will run into trouble. This cable is reasonably light and quite thin, but the sound feels a little less open compared to the sound produced by the main cabling. I am not a massive believer in the power of cabling, but to my (possibly biased) ears, there is a small but clear sonic difference between the two cables, with the “main” cable providing a sweeter sonic hit than the portable effort. Kudos to Audioquest for providing a more robust and flexible everyday cable for those who need it – due to the open nature of the headphones, it seems an unusual choice but it is welcome nonetheless. The main cable provided is specially made for these headphones, and is based on the Castle Rock range of aftermarket cables. It is a thick fabric covered affair, with a much more rigid structure made from solid cores of the manufacturer’s Perfect Surface Copper in a Double Star-Quad formation. If you are a cable geek, you may be aware what that means – if not, please refer to the Nighthawk mini-site as they have a whole page explaining it. Suffice to say, the cable, while not the most cooperative piece of audio connection equipment I have ever used, does give an audible bump in quality to the sound and looks sturdy and able to stand up to a lot of heavy listening. The attention to detail evident in the rest of the package even extends to the cable connectors, with Audioquest eschewing the more traditional gold-plated 3.5mm connectors for a silver plated finish copper connector, which it claims improves the overall performance.


 


20160413_171741_HDR.jpg


 


Comparisons


Aurisonics ASG-2.5 – these are my current “at home” listening pair, and while they are IEMs rather than over-ear headphones, they have some similarities in the general sound signature which makes this a worthy comparison. In terms of bass, the 2.5s on a ¼ opening of the bass port have the slight edge in bass quantity, with a more powerful slam than the more liquid Nighthawks. The midrange on the 2.5s are more forward than the Nighthawks but are more coloured and vocal-centric, with the Nighthawks giving a more natural and balanced tone and greater sense of realism. In terms of the highs, the 2.5s have a similar presentation, with a bit more “etching” and feel of airiness from the dual-BA setup on the 2.5 compared to the smoothness and purity of the NH. It terms of soundstage, the 2.5s shade this, but lose out on overall detail retrieval and timbre to the Nighthawks, with the Audioquest cans sounding cleaner across the spectrum.


Philips Fidelio L2 – another semi-open back design, but the presentation on these two over-ears couldn’t be  more different, with the L2s having a bright, clear bias which imparts an impression of clarity to the sound that runs against the tuning ethos of the Nighthawks. The bass on the L2 is lacking compared to the Nighthawks in both quantity and quality (except in the sub-bass, with the L2 holds its own on). Mids are better on the Nighthawk, with the natural tone and clarity of note having a little more weight than the thinner and brighter presentation of the L2. In terms of treble, the L2 have great extension and a sense of openness and sharpness which the Nighthawks lack, so if you are a fan of treble-centric headphones, then the L2 will have a more familiar signature in that respect. In terms of detail levels, they feel similar, but due to the tuning, the L2 push the details more to the forefront of the listening experience whereas the Nighthawk actually conveys the same or more detail in the track but in a much less pronounced manner. In terms of soundstage, the L2 feels more open than the Nighthawks to my ears.


Blue Microphones Mo-Fi – this is a closed back dynamic over-ear, so the soundstage is smaller on the Mo-Fi by a fairly decent margin. Separation is similar, with the Mo-Fi holding its own on congested tracks and keeping enough space for the instrumentation. To my ears, the Mo-Fi has a more mid-forward tuning, so pushes more emphasis to the midrange compared to the Nighthawks. Bass is won by the Nighthawks, with better control and quantity/quality, although the Mo-Fi do have a trick up their sleeve with the bass-boost on the active amplifier built in to the headphones. With boost on, the bass is similar to the Nighthawks, but feels less controlled and warms the mid-range considerably. Highs are a draw depending on your preference, with the Mo-Fi having slightly more emphasis on the higher treble frequencies, but the Nighthawks producing a clearer tone. Overall, the Nighthawk wins in terms of overall quality and resolution, with a better soundstage. The Mo-Fi wins on isolation and driveability (with its built in amp), but loses again on comfort as it is a far heavier headphone for extended periods of wear with a very peculiar hinged fitment system that would look right at home in a 1990s Manga comic.


Oppo PM-3 – I haven’t had much ear time with the PM-3 at the time of writing this, but the overall tonality and tuning does share some similarities with the Nighthawk. The impression it leaves me with is of a more clinical and less musical take on what the Nighthawk is trying to achieve – I will try and update this as I get some ore serious listening in with these.


 


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Overall conclusion


As I mentioned at the start, the Nighthawks are close to being the perfect sound signature for my preferences, so it is hard to write an impartial conclusion. The mix of design, audio engineering and very definitive tuning decisions come together to create something that is just a little bit special. Not content with producing another carbon copy of what everyone else considers audiophile headphones should sound like, the team have gone away and reinvented what they think high end sound should be, which is something clear, distortion free and true to the original recording. These are headphones that let you lose yourself in the moment, and have already provided me with hours of listening pleasure, with many hundreds more to come. For fans of a pure, transparent signature with bags of texture and detail, a warm and bassy lower end and a living, breathing “soul”, this is the perfect tuning for you. Give yourself a chance to unlearn whatever you expect to hear from something in this price bracket and embrace these and you may just grow to love the sound like nothing else. People looking for super-emphasised highs may never appreciate what this headphone can do, but for everyone else, this is a truly supreme piece of engineering that will bring a smile to your face and bliss to your ears. To paraphrase the end of one of my earlier paragraphs: simply outstanding.
DanDorn
DanDorn
Excellent review of the NHs. As a lover of these wonderful cans, I could relate to your "journey" from initial perception of weak treble to appreciation of their uniquely balanced and undistorted sound presentation. 
Criss969
Criss969
Please keep reviewing! Thanks!
Necron99
Necron99
I was thinking of writing a review, but after reading yours, why bother? You said what I was thinking and took it home. Well written and expressed. These cans, like you,hooked me from the first listen and I haven't looked back! Bravo sir!
Pros: Comfort, bass, innovation, quality materials, natural, lifelike sound
Cons: Takes time to adapt to its sound signature
 In this write-up I will concentrate on my personal experience with Audioquest Nighthawk, and I won’t talk about all the wonderful and innovative ideas that made it possible for the Nighthawk to exist. All these technical details, history and marketing are widely available online.
The Nighthawk is indeed a spectacular example of headphone engineering in the 21st century. These are a controversial pair of headphones, and my aim is to clear up some of the clouds of this contradiction.

 First of all I think, many reviewers did not give the 150 hrs recommended burn in time to the Nighthawks, and I also think, they did not give enough time to their brain to adjust to Nighthawks’s unique sound signature. Most of the contradiction comes from superficial reviews.

 Nighthawk can’t be treated as regular headphones. Skyler Gray’s approach to how a headphone should sound is quite unique, some would say revolutionary, but definitely challenging to all other companies as well as to the audiophile community. Skyler says the Nighthawk does right what all other headphones do wrong. They do not have the artificially elevated treble, which is present in most other headphones to give the listener a false impression of extra resolution and details.
 For this reason Nighthawk will sound strange at first. It will sound dark, warm, cloudy, initially many people feel something is missing.
 They require more time and patience than many other headphones, but they generously pay off all your patience, if you really want to know them.
IMG_20161001_104454339-2-01.jpg
 
 In the last 4-5 months I was enjoying my Fostex TH-X00s with their exceptional bass. Treble however started to really hurt my sensitive ears after a while. I found myself not having other choice than looking for other daily driver headphones.

 I am very happy I gave Nighthawks a second chance. The recommended burn in time is indeed necessary. The initially cloudy and mid-bass emphasised sound clears out, sub-bass becomes more present, treble and upper-mids clear out as you get used to the natural sound instead of the artificial sparkles. 

 Nighthawk benefits quite significantly from better DACs, amps. Chord Mojo with its uniquely liquid, realistic and clear sound seems to be a great pairing for the warm and also very natural sounding Nighthawk.

My main reason for selling X00s is the listening fatigue it caused me during long term listening sessions.

X00s vs Nighthawks in a nutshell:

IMG_20160324_171355.jpg
 
X00s have a punchier, more exciting bass, and it also extends deeper. Everything else however is much better on the Nighthawks in my opinion. Nighthawk sounds much more open, very close to a real opened back headphone. Nighthawk’s bass however is better than almost any opened back headphone’s bass, which means between spaciousness and bass currently the Nighthawk is the best compromise.
I will miss a little bit that deep and energetic bass of X00s, but Nighthawks have 9 other reasons to love for while X00s have only this one.

Nighthawks are extremely realistic, real, natural sounding. X00s mids sound pale and recessed in comparison, treble artificial empty and harsh.
Nighthawk’s sound is real, organic, alive and natural. It is almost like a living organism, while many other headphones sound unnatural and artificial in comparison.

 Audioquest also emphasises the speaker-like sound approach they used in creating the Nighthawks. Listening to Nighthawks is not the same as you were listening to real speakers in a room, but it does have a very speaker-like sound. In your mind you find yourself in a good sized club where high quality speakers are responsible for the powerful and realistic presentation of live music.

It is indeed a unique path, and along with the long burn-in time you also need to give time to your brain to adjust to this new way of sound presentation.
In my opinion Nighthawk can’t easily be A/B tested with other headphones, due to the adjustment time our brain needs.
For a truly honest review extended time need to be spent with the Nighthawks.

IMG_20161001_104559527_HDR-01.jpg
 
 One of Audioquest’s  slogan is that they want to draw you into music. One very important step in achieving this pleasant illusion is to create exceptional comfort. We can read everywhere, how comfortable the Nighthawks are. And yes, they are extremely comfy. What the reviews do not necessarily mention is that with this exceptional comfort they really make you forget you have headphones on your head, and only music exists.

 If you prefer a warmer sound signature with good bass, extreme reality and naturalism, with a gentle, liquid and never-fatiguing sound, than give Nighthawks a try.

I bought Nighthawks as a remedy for my treble sensitivity and listening fatigue that the Fostex gave me.
I found much more than I have been looking for. Not just the sound is not harsh anymore, it is also much more natural and enjoyable. A real, unique experience.
I do not feel I have lost anything with X00s bass, because I have gained much more with the Nighthawks.

Nighthawks are special, like caviar or oysters. Some do not like it, but if you do like it you will fall in love.  
sledgeharvy
sledgeharvy
I 100% agree that the NH give you that "local venue, live sound". It makes for an intimate listening experience. They are as I like to say, the equivalent of "Blue Light Shift" but for your ears than your eyes.
Pros: 2 in 1
Cons: i don't know
Sorry in advance, english is not my native language.

There is a big difference in tonality and overall presentation of this headphones when you change the stock pads.
Everyone has their own taste in sound signature, some people like it bright, other like it warm and smooth, and some people like it neutral.
I will try my best to describe differences to the sound.
stock pads and with HM5 velours pads
hm5-pads-nighthawk.png


leather pads
900x900px-LL-f4e34a3e_IMG_20151125_213154.jpg

sound signature - warm, smooth and sweet

bass - the bass is big (not too big), it can go low when the song call for it, mid and upper bass is more than the sub bass in quantity, the bass have good texture and layering, decay is moderate in speed, not the fastest out there but fast enough to sound natural.

mids - mids are thick, lower midrange is fat and smooth, you can try some songs of Barry White and you will notice extra power to his voice, middle part of the midrange is neutral, upper mids take one step back, mids are very special, they are not recessed, but the tonality is different than AKG open backs for example.

highs - highs are extended, clean and detailed, they are smooth and inoffensive, you will not find nasty peaks in the lower treble like A LOT of other headphones, sometimes i want more quantity.

imaging - imaging is top notch, instrument separation is very precise , every instrument is well defined inside the soundstage

soundstage - soundstage is good but not great, nothing special here, is better than typical closed back headphones but not close to fully open back cans.

velour pads



sound signature - neutral and detailed (but not cold or bass light)

bass - the bass is flatter, there is no huge mid bass hump, the thickness in the mid and upper bass is very reduced, with velours the bass is airy, the driver breathe, now the sub bass is in line with mid bass, is clean, texture and just beautiful, the rumble on the lower bass is a lot cleaner, is like a high quality musical subwoofer kind of bass, airy and clean.

mids - no thickness in the lower mids anymore, midrange now is more clear and detailed, there is more upper mid range, mids are smooth and beautiful, female voices sound more present and clear, amazing mids.

highs - more highs (the perception for more treble is from the shifted balance between the bass and treble), but interesting thing is that only the very upper treble feel like more, after 10 khz, that makes the sound more airy overall, i love the treble

soundstage - bigger, better, close to fully open back headphone, the soundstage now is big, not as big like my K601 but big.

imaging - the same precise imaging but with bigger soundstage now you can enjoy it more.

conclusion

It was a hard one, warm and organic smooth sound vs clearer more spacious and detailed sound, today i made i lot of tests and i was enjoying the velour pads more, if you already have NH, try this.

Thank you.
lerthedc
lerthedc
FastAndClean
Not In Love
Not In Love
Do you know if Audioquest or any other reseller sells the plastic mounting piece? I'm worried about ripping the original pads everytime I switch them out.
Pros: Nice bass extension, fairly good control, nice bass texture for a dynamic, good treble articulation, sexy build, comfortable
Cons: Upper mids are recessed, sound is a bit too sultry with cup reverb, isn't very cohesive, lack of definition, treble roughness, some poor design choice
I'm going to cut out all the BS like packing, there's plenty of unboxings on youtube and it will just mirror what others have wrote, this is about sound...
 
and some build quality comments
 
 
What I used
 
Chord Mojo
Project Ember 2
Schiit Vali 2
Eddie Current Black widow
Bimby, modi2,
Various Fiio players 
 
Many more that I don't own but have demo'd 
 
 
Build
 
The build is mainly pretty decent, I'm mostly concerned with the rubber that holds the cups which have been known to snap on a few people. The main cable has also failed on a lot of people. I'm also not a fan of the silly headband wire and extender. I much prefer a nice thick headband like the LCD-2. Apart from that, I love the liquid wood and the actual design of the cups. Having had many years experience with 100's of headphones I wouldn't personally be very confident in the long term durability, time will tell.
 
 
 
Sound 
 
 
Now the Nighthawk is very controversial. After weighing everything up it seems a lot of the experience ears of the hobby are very critical of the Nighthawk while many not none experience people with lower tier gear seem to enjoy it. Now I'm not using that as a weapon or anything like that, just a pattern I've seen and there's exceptions on both sides.
I've personally heard it both ways. I think the Nighthawk really benefits from a resolving dac more than other headphones I own. The Nighthawk is a very wild sounding headphone in terms of it's balance. it has a deep but elevated bass which dips when it enters the mid range then returning to provide a fairly balanced but rough treble section and if the DAC is poor like the Dragonfly, it won't sound as good as it potentially can at all. 
 
I've seen some people in the Nighthawk thread claim these are accurate...I'm sorry but that is ridiculous, some of the people in the thread also claim they can't hear the treble roughness which is concerning as this is showing that their ears are not good enough to pick out the difference which is scary considering people will go on their to get advice about an expensive headphone. 
 
So are these good?
 
Yes and no, like I said the bass is fairly textured, it's elevated but the biggest issue is vocals. Voices don't sound like they have enough depth, they don't show the emotion of the human voice and also the texture. The HD650 for example which has a fairly flat, natural mid range does a much better job and so does the LCD-2. Voices sound smoother, more natural with better distinction. The 650 has the best micro detail out of the three but the Nighthawk isn't terrible here, it actually does plankton fairly well. Running some tone sweeps also showed recession in the upper mids and a slight elevation in the treble which is quite choppy. The elevated mid bass does help to mask some of the faults but they are still obvious to someone with a good ear.
 
My biggest hate is headphones that boost a certain frequency for the perception of detail. The 650 doesn't do any of this, the LCD-2 has a small bump just over 10k which gives them some air and good imaging but it doesn't sound out of place like a T1 or TH900 which have exaggerations in it's response. The Nighthawk has recessions, boosted bass, some treble peaks so it's not as pure as Skylar was saying but of course, every headphone company is trying to give you what the artist intended BS on a plate.
 
The biggest problem for me was it's lack of definition and coherency, for example; The HD650 and LCD-2 sound defined, like everything is a whole, the Nighthawks sound like their centre image is lacking while the width and depth isn't defined. It's pretty weird and I hate this. They remind of the the Denon D600 in that regard. 
 
The imagining is ok,about on par with the older Fostex range, much better than the TH900(Terrible headphone) I find it can sound a bit difficult due to the reverb and the definition is lacking. I found using the velour pads helped things out a tad. I found the NH to sound great for late night listening, very relaxing, slow decay helps lower the tempo a bit!
yes it can male them sound a bit boring but as a second headphone, I find they work really well here. I really enjoyed them with aggressive bass tracks because they don't really hurt your ears even with the treble roughness which just comes across as tizz, rather then piercing hot. 
 
I read a couple of comments trying to justify the recessed mids, the bass, the fact is the mids ARE recessed, it's confirmed with graphs, it's confirmed with the majority of the hearing test. I still think this is down to lack of experience but not knowing what they are hearing, for those that are experience, maybe you overate your resolving capabilities of your ears? not having a go at anyone or mocking it's just an observation as human psychology a big hobby of mine, I could be full of crap, but I honestly feel that the way I go in this exceeds the other reviews which are very basic, feel like they hold back, stiffness in there expression, just something I pick up I guess. 
 
 
I think in terms of pricing the Nighthawks are somewhere around the DT880 in terms of sound quality but they have a better tuning, less artificial when it comes to upper ranges. I think the HD650 is far superior but this is difficult because it scales with better gear. The Nighthawk for example sounds crap from a phone but still better than the 650 out of a device of that calibre. 
 
Reading back this review I sound like a stuck up prick who is trying to put down things but you need to read it with an open mind, I'm describing what I see and hear. I feel this headphone needs work and I also feel that more experienced people like Tyll, Purrin(wrote a review + measurements) who can find out what is really going on with a headphone so  potential buyers can get a better idea. 
 
 
Now, I expect a lot of Nighthawk owners to appear in the comments complaining about certain aspects but remember, I'm a NH owner too.
 
The Nighthawk for me is incomplete, but a very good start! 
ChookJones1987
ChookJones1987
The TH900 has a massive hole in its mids, messed up treble stupid bass elevation it's absolutely awful for the price, the NH is a better headphone than the TH900 and it's not even close. That's even off the black window and bimby.
ChookJones1987
ChookJones1987
I actually am a fan of the old D5000, D7000 my problem isn't with the Bio drivers it's with the tuning. The TH900 is tuned too unnatural, wonky it's bright just for the sake trying to extract detail. It performs poorly here.

Honestly it makes me wonder if people on here actually play intruments in real life because the Fotex TH900 doesn't play them back naturally, it's too bright, forced and too much bass. The bass for being elevated is quite tight though. Vocals sound too distant, even more so than the Nighthawk.

You say the Nighthawk has good imaging but you need to listen to headphones like the LCD-2, Hifiman HE-1000, HD650(on a good rig) to see what good imaging is. The Nighthawks really struggle with definition compared to high end phones.
DanDorn
DanDorn
Alas, as a Nighthawk owner, I've come to realize its advantages and "its" disadvantage. I use the singular here because I believe the recessed or distant quality of the vocals is the biggest problem. In my experience, equalization or amplification source does little to change this inherent quality of the Nighthawks. I began as a lover of the Nighthawks, and while I still enjoy them quite a bit, my adoration has waned over time.
Pros: Aesthetically beautiful, Best sub $1k imagining, easily driven by mobile
Cons: Drastic drop in lower treble/upper mid intersection, may be to bass heavy for some, needs to be handled with care.
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    I absolutely have to give a huge shoutout and thank you to Todd at TTVJ audio for allowing me a chance to demo and review these. For these being so new even if I’ve the chance to go to a meet being able to see these is quite unlikely, so again I thank you. 
                                                              
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The Opening Experience
 
    One of the few products I’m away of that do not come with a cardboard artbox (retail box). These ship very simply with the real leather case and an art wrap around it. It’s simple, straight forward and effective, I’m ok with it.
    However, the smell & texture of the leather is striking, the name “NIGHTHAWK” engraved and the weight of the box shows confidence and is thus far presenting me with a very competent and well represented hand awaiting to be shaken. Then it’s time to open the chest that is in from of me, the sound a zipper makes as I’m unzipping is something that gives me chills every time for it builds up to the treasure that lies underneath.
    And a treasure I have received, presented in front of me in silhouetted cutout, that itself is laced in a very soft material, lies the Nighthawk’s. This is the first time I’ve seen these in person and let me tell you my friends pictures don’t do them justice, for these are stunning, though they are MUCH darker in person than the pictures show. The wooden backs are a nice dark color which is a very nice and very welcomed contrast from the dominant all black color. Before these the Monster Diamond Tears were to me the most striking headphones I’ve ever seen but these are now by far the most aesthetically pleasing cans I’ve ever seen.
    In the flap lies two extremely well crafted cables, the longer one being the main AudioQuest cable and a second extra cable that’s still nicely built. 2 silk clothes to keep the wood spotless and an artistically decorated instruction and warranty book with the signature NightHawk taking flight.
    I must say I’ve often been disappointed by the representation of a product that I’ve been so looking forward to finally seeing with my own eyes, rather by own hype or general representation but I have to say I was delivered a very nice and firm handshake with the NightHawk and couldn’t plug them into my setup quick enough.
 
 
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Construction
 
    Top notch if properly taken care of. The NightHawk’s feel extremely sturdy in my hands and it’s constructions even shows that. Every piece of it is supported by a flexible object rather it be string or rubber, which on that note I will add that if one is careless with flexing them, I can see one of the hinge pieces breaking but that would mostly fall into user error. The headband is on an elastic strap so finding one's exact fit shouldn’t be any problem but, as anyone who’s familiar with elastic knows, it loses its tautness over time.
    All in all the Nighthawks initially are built very well and I have complete confidence in the craftsmanship behind it. However I also must add that I feel that in order for one to continue to have these for many years to come one need to be mindful of how they handle the headphones.
    Lastly there’s the cable. There’s honestly not a whole lot to it other than it being extremely well built and other than it being very taught and prone to kinks I’ve no complaints about it whatsoever.
 
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Comfort
 
    Absolutely amazing. These are either the most comfortable of tied for most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn. They sit so perfectly on my head with such exact clamping force I’ve happily worn these 4+ hours at a time. The elastic headband conforms to the exact size of my head with minimal effort. The earcups felt extremely soft yet didn’t give way more than what was needed while at the same time being breathable. Very well done one the comfort side of things.
 
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Sound
 
    A couple people suggested I try the AudioQuest Nighthawk’s for they believe I’d greatly enjoy them for my tastes in music and sound signature preference. In fact I was asked to specifically compare them with that of the legendary Sennheiser HD650’s saying they were very similar. So after giving them a good amount of time and listen what’s my personal verdict on them? Let’s find out
    Firstly I have to make note of some of the best transparency and imaging I’ve ever heard. Not just in the price category it’s in either, but overall. The Nighthawks do an amazing job and bestowing the realism of the musical piece so amazingly well that I’ve came to choose these when listening to movies over any other product I own because of this. For gaming. or in music in general, the positional cues are extremely accurate and the layering in the soundstage though being one that’s very intimate, is still spot on and very enveloping.
An intimate soundstage, breathtaking imaging and wonderful transparency aside, how are the individual aspects of the AudioQuest Nighthawks and do they live up to the hype? Or are they purely aesthetics?
 
Treble
 
    The treble was accurate but yet still quite recessed. I didn’t get the energy transfer from my music that I like but I still felt what I was receiving was true. I really enjoy listening to “Tank” by The Seatbelt (from the Cowboy Bebop anime) and though I could very easily discern each trumpet apart from the next as well as locate them, I didn’t get chills even once. There just wasn’t any spark to the high notes which is very unfortunate.
 
Mids
 
    My personal preference to an audio piece. The mids to me represent the body and soul of music so if a piece of equipment can’t show great competence in this area I’m left feeling hollow . So does the AudioQuest Nighthawk live up to people recommendations for being something I’d like?
    For the most part I find the mids rather enjoyable. The “mid-mid” is quite clean and I feel quite accurate to the vocals. They feel focused and forward and give nice distinction from the rest of the musical ensemble. The lower-mids shows just a touch more coloration to the darker side (my guess is due to the bass bias) but not enough to deter me from enjoying it thoroughly or honestly even noticing it unless I’m strictly critiquing it. However, I’ve a definite issue with the upper-mid lower treble range for I notice a very distinct and very sharp dip that only lasts for a few hz but to me it’s very noticeable and sounds quite distorted. The best way I’ve found to reproduce the distortion I’m referring to is for those who use an audio app (in my case PowerAmp Pro.), if you turn on and increase the “Stereo-X” knob it makes a very similar sound. This is by no means a deal breaker but something to certainly be addressed.
 
Bass
 
    Most certainly and quite definitely the focal point of the Nighthawk. These have some thump to them but not in the bad way. Now make no mistake, I’m no basshead for I often find overly bassy products unpleasant and irritating to listen to but daggum, I really enjoyed the hit of the NightHawk’s. These really shines with hard rock such as Five Finger Death Punch, Skillet,
Rise Against, etc… The bass was very controlled and very impactful and the already incredible imagine of these really got my heart pumping. Want a freakishly good pre/workout song? Check out “Jekyll & Hyde” from FFDP. It’s already a great song but the Nighthawk’s brought it to life.
 
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Conclusion
 
    By far one of the most if not the most aesthetically pleasing headphones I’ve ever laid my eyes on. The comfort is unparalleled as well as the mouth watering imagine & transparency. The Nighthawk’s are definitely geared towards the bass lovers and really shine with hard rock style music and action movies. If properly taken care of I’ve no doubt that these will last for years to come and will certainly draw attention when seen.
    Lastly before I depart, I was asked by one of my followers/subscribers to compare these to my Sennheiser HD650’s. Though I’ll save the full A/B for the video; I’ll summarize by saying that they both have their strengths and crowds. If you like a more lifelike experience and really like the bass hit or you want headphones for media use over music I’d most certainly recommend the NightHawk’s. However if you like a more enveloping and fulfilling sound with a more broadened cache of music then I think you’d enjoy the HD650’s more.
 
Till next time my friends, till then check out my Unboxing, Review @ vs. HD650 videos!
 
 

 

 
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thomoz
thomoz
I listened to a pair of Nighthawks at the Atlanta HiFi Buys on Saturday, and my new Hifiman HE-400S' came today (Monday) in the mail - I would not be surprised to play them side by side and discover that the sound a bit similar. The Nighthawks are lighter and almost certainly play louder, but the tonal balance and level of detail is more similar than different.
 
I think the 400S has a little more detail though, the more I listen.
kman1211
kman1211
Great review. I also had the Nighthawks and the HD 650, I did a review of the two with the DT 150 thrown in. The Nighthawks were to my favor, due to preferences and system synergy. I definitely agree about the imaging and transparency, it's pretty much unrivaled in those aspects for it's price. Transparency is my number one priority when it comes to sound and is what I often consider to be the main measure of fidelity, it's just what I instinctively focus on. Definitely agree about media usage, they are absolute amazing in movies and games. 
 
I do understand the spine-tingling effect, I only really got it on brighter headphones such as AKGs and Beyers. Though with the Nighthawks I get that almost sweet addicting effect that you can almost actually taste from their euphoria. I found it only occurs in headphones I consider euphoric on certain systems, it's especially notable on tubes.
Army-Firedawg
Army-Firedawg
@thomoz that's interesting, I never thought about the AQ being similar to the Hifiman. Though disclaimer I've never heard a HM product and can only go from hear say. But man both are awesome looking cans
 
@kman1211 I know what you mean. Though they were a bit too bassy for my personal tastes I can absolutely see the addiction in their sound and man, I'm longing for that imaging again. 
Pros: Musical, detailed, beautiful, comfortable, unique but natural sound signature
Cons: Sometimes boxy sounding, very slightly grainy
Let me start off by saying that if you’re well experienced in the world of hifi, this review might not be helpful for you. I’m young, and though I’ve been dabbling in it for 6-7 years, my experience is limited. The Nighthawks are in a price range close to the best I’ve experienced (most I ever spent on anything hifi is $1000, including my current Westone ES5s). For quite some time now, I have exclusively been using custom IEMs, but the Nighthawk might just real me back towards the light of headphones. Special thanks to Todd (the vinyl junkie) for loaning me these headphones for a week, I may not have heard them otherwise.
 
Build Quality/Aethetics
 
If you’ve been reading other reviews and looking at pictures, the verdict is pretty unanimous: the Nighthawks are beautiful and comfortable. I have no disagreements - given the fact I’ve not been using headphones for 5-6 years, these were surprisingly comfortable on me. Not too tight or heavy on the head, which I’m particularly sensitive to and which led me to CIEMs in the first place. On the very first day, I wore them for 7-8 hours with few intermissions. While looks might not be important to most of us, I thought they were incredibly stylish and, through my research, probably the best looking headphones in their price range. Lastly, the cable is nice and seems durable, and I have no reason to doubt it's quality. There's also a thinner cable for better mobility which is pretty neat.
 
Sound
 
Right, the important part! To be honest, I didn’t have any specific plan for evaluating these headphones, but perhaps that’s the richest part. From the moment I received them, I was having so much fun listening to them that I didn’t want to bog down my experience with carefully picked song choices and over-analysis. Some might call this laziness, but hey, what do we buy headphones for? To listen to music. And that’s precisely what I did.
 
Equipment used:
- Macbook Pro with iTunes/Audirvana and 16 bit lossless music.
- Peachtree Shift DAC/Amp
Simple as that. The Shift is mostly neutral but slightly bright to me, I haven’t had it for long enough to really grasp the sound signature but I think it was a neutral and powerful enough source to fairly evaluate the Nighthawks.
 
The first thing I listened to was Joanna Newsom’s “Have One on Me”. They honestly sounded great, immediately warm and ostensibly non-fatiguing. Her voice sounded very natural to me, the accompaniment was very sweet and there was great instrument separation. It felt a little boxy at times, but if I focused on her voice or a specific instrument it seemed pretty well articulated.
 
Covering my bases (I’m not that lazy!), I threw on Volcano Suns’ “The Bright Orange Years”. I was slightly worried they’d sound too laid back to be fun, but I was wrong. It’s a noisier, rockier album and the headphones really give it a lot of weight and growl. Punchy, deep bass, lot’s of expected warmth, and crisp but not over-accentuated treble. Fairly dark sounding background, and I think it works perfectly for this type of music.
 
On Bjork’s “Medulla”, I found that these headphones really aren’t always as dark sounding as they seem. The album is largely acapella with brighter arrangements, and I don’t think the Nighthawks unfavorably colored them. I appreciated the soundstage that was big enough to sound spacious but close enough to feel intimate. For an album that should sound pretty smooth, it in fact sounded very smooth, with perhaps only a slight bit of grain.
 
Other music I listened to included a range of pop, hip-hop, rock, acoustic, jazz stuff. Surprisingly, I think I loved these headphones the most with livelier music, to which they gave non-fatiguing yet exciting quality to. With that said though, I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” as much as I did with the Nighthawks. It’s such a pretty, sullen record with low-key arrangements, and the Nighthawks sound signature just made perfect sense for it.
 
A lot has been said about the quality of the treble, but honestly even right away I felt it to be well represented. I suppose those used to brighter headphones might think the Nighthawks sound murky in comparison, but in my experience it sounded completely natural. In fact, other than some forwardness in the midbass range and nearby, they seemed surprisingly neutral to me. Not cold or analytically, but in a sense where I didn’t feel like anything stood out too much among the rest. For me, I’ve always liked my equipment to be a tad rich and less analytical without straying far from neutrality, and the Nighthawks really do that well.
 
Conclusion
 
If this was hard to follow, here’s some bullet point summary notes:
- Look beautiful, feel comfortable
- Warm and dark without sounding unnatural or overexaggerated
- Soundstage not particularly close or far
- Slightly midbassy, doesn’t overwhelm treble
- Great with vocals, particularly female
- Sounds boxy sometimes, maybe slightly grainy but overall smooth
 
There really is an undeniable build and sound here with the Nighthawks that makes them so compelling. Despite my few qualms, I think the Nighthawks do an excellent job at a fair but enjoyable representation of music, and are definitely among if not the best sounding headphones I’ve heard. I really hope to be buying these soon, and again thank Todd for his loaner program that allowed me to try these without the fear of buyer’s remorse. This is the first review I’ve done on a pair of headphones, so if anything is unclear please leave a comment and I’ll try to bring clarity. Thank you for reading!
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WhatToChoose
WhatToChoose
Wow....these are some gorgeous looking headphones
Pros: Build Quality, Comfort, Bass and Mids
Cons: Weight, Treble, Sound Signature is Divisive

Introduction

I got to try the Nighthawk headphones as part of TTVJ's preview tour, thanks Todd! While I haven't been actively looking for new cans for a while, I like to (fairly casually) try to keep up with any new and interesting cans, on the off chance that someone finally bests the HD600s for a reasonable price.
 

Build Quality

Build quality of the headphones is very nice. They are quite solid, with hinges and such appearing to be metal, and the liquid wood appears to be quite nice and solid as well. I also like the suspension and swivel system, which makes it quite easy to find a good fit. The earpads also easily snap on and off, which will be nice if they offer other options in the future.
 
I also want to mention the carrying case, which is quite nice.
 

Comfort

The drawback to the build quality is that these seem surprisingly heavy for a set of non-planar cans. I didn't have any real comfort concerns (as someone who finds the LCD-2s reasonably comfortable as well), but they are on the heavy side.
 
The suspension and swivel system made it quite easy to find a good fit as well. My only actual comfort concern is that, due to the pads and effectively closed nature of these cans, I found my ears heating up much faster than with most of my other cans.
 

Cables

Unfortunately, on the pair I got to demo, the main cable was defective (depending on how I wiggled the connector I could get one or the other side of the headphones to work, but never both at once). I also thought that aesthetically the main cable was pretty bad, as it looks like it's permanently twisted.
 
Fortunately, the Nighthawks also come with a portable cable, so at least I still got to try them out. The bad news is, the portable cable is fairly microphonic, so it wasn't an ideal situation.
 

Sound

As a preface, my normal cans are HD600s, and while I recognize that they aren't perfectly neutral, I feel that their overall tonal balance is quite close to what I'd consider neutral.
 
So with that as my baseline, to me the Nighthawks have quite a shelved treble and significant bass to mid emphasis. They also sound quite closed in general; I'm not sure if they are marketed as semi-open, but they definitely sound closed in to me, and the bass emphasis seems to further emphasize this.
 
The bass and mids sound pretty good and clean to me, just a bit louder than the treble. The treble sounds okay in isolation, but when switching between the HD600s you quickly realize how much more subdued most percussion and other treble details sound on the Nighthawk. The positive is that I had no listening fatigue even after hours of listening to the Nighthawk, and sibilance is greatly reduced. Unfortunately, that also means you lose out on a lot of nice percussion detail and general air and sense of space. I also did a quick comparison with the MA900, which I also find has a bit of mid emphasis, but found that even the MA900 sounds much more balanced than the Nighthawk.
 
With that said, I do think the Nighthawk are pretty fun as a different sound signature, but feel that they're much more of a specialized tool than a great all-rounder.
 

Value

And that's where my greatest issue with the Nighthawk lies. To me, it falls in the same general group as something like the Oppo PM1, a very nicely built and pleasant sounding can that strays a bit too far into "polite" territory, and thus ends up being something that I wouldn't recommend as a good general-purpose or first expensive set of cans. I also feel that, while the build quality is quite nice, they still feel quite overpriced to me based off of sound quality. As a personal valuation, with sound quality being my primary interest, I feel like these should be about $300.
Pros: Super comfortable, great sound, unique design, eco friendly
I got into music at a young age and my love of all types of audio gadgets stemmed from the joyous experience of hearing great music reproduced to its maximum potential. Along the way I have gotten lost at times and fallen into the trap of pursuing the technicalities over the musicalities. As Head-Fiers, the term 'musical' can sometimes be seen as a negative - a polite way of saying "Technically these aren't very good, but they make my music sound fun" but I want to pose a question to you: what do you think headphones are meant to do? Recognising that the answer to that question is different for all of us, you need to answer that question for yourself before you read on because it will completely change the relevance of the following information for you.
 
The Nighthawks came to me on loan courtesy of Australian distributor, Ambertech. I had heard them briefly at Noisy Motel here in Melbourne and while not blown away, was keen to hear a bit more before making up my mind. A mate of mine who works at Ambertech was kind enough to arrange the loan and I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity.
 
I've written a technical review of the Nighthawks on my blog so rather than repeating the same content in two places, let me share the story of my Nighthawk experience with you here.
 

First Introductions

I'd read about the Nighthawks here on Head-Fi and they seemed really interesting, so I jumped at the first chance I had to try them.
 
That first audition was using an iPhone connected to the Cozoy Aegis DAC - a very capable DAC - and my very first thoughts were that the 'hawks sounded nice, but they didn't blow me away. They reminded me of HD650s which is a high compliment, but at nearly $1000 here in Australia, my early enthusiasm was somewhat dulled. There was no denying how insanely comfortable and beautifully built they were, but coming from HD800s, T1s and LCD 2s, I didn't feel like the Nighthawks stacked up.
 
Nonetheless, I was keen to spend longer with them and accepted the offer from my friend at Ambertech to spend a couple of weeks with the 'hawks.
 

A Proper Listen

AQNighthawk-2793.jpgAfter receiving the loan pair I proceeded to put them through their paces with all my gear - portables, my phone, and various solid state and tube desktop amps. Each time, the sound was great, but also clearly showed the characteristics of each amp. For example, my Bottlehead S.E.X. amp was modified with capacitors specifically designed to create a rich, resolving mid-range. With the 'hawks, the S.E.X. sounded just as rich and magical as it does with my Audeze LCD-2s. Moving across to the much more neutral Bottlehead Mainline amp showed completely different characteristics with a much more balanced sound and a stronger sense of balance between the mids and treble. Immediately it was clear that the Nighthawks are truly transparent (i.e. they reveal the characteristics of the track and source chain rather than dominating it with their own influence). And yet, something troubled me...
 

That Bass!

The most striking element of the Nighthawk's sound was the bass. The bass seemed to be enhanced or maybe a little boomy on some tracks, but then it would disappear on others. There was no doubt in my mind that these headphones had the chops for some serious foot-tapping listening sessions, but I couldn't yet tell if the bass reproduction was accurate or a slight enhancement.
 
Well, further listening proved to me that the Nighthawks are very accurate in their bass reproduction, but they sound like they have slightly emphasised bass because they lack emphasis in the mids and treble. I'm so used to headphones like the Beyerdynamic T1, Sennheiser HD800 and even the later model Audeze LCD-2s that actually carry some degree of emphasis in the upper frequencies and therefore diminish the relative presence of the bass. The Nighthawks don't do that and by omission of emphasis they instead produce a faithful representation of each recording in a way that I've rarely heard. If you're coming from an "audiophile" headphone you'll think there's too much bass, but extended time with the 'hawks has proven to me that they are much more true to source and the other headphones I've mentioned are actually colouring the sound. Whether that colour / emphasis is for better or worse isn't for me to say, but there's no doubt it's there when you have such a great reference point as the frequency response as the Nighthawks.
 

Other Elements of Performance

AQNighthawk-2801.jpgOther than their amazing accuracy of bass quantity, there are a few other notable elements of the Nighthawks' sound performance. Firstly, in keeping with the topic of bass, their bass control is excellent and the extension too. They don't decay as rapidly as something like the HD800s so they won't tighten up a recording with "loose" bass, but they will reproduce everything from that loosely played bass through to a super tight kick drum and they can provide as much thump and boom as needed, right down to the lowest audible frequencies.
 
Similar to the bass, the 'hawks' treble is just right with plenty of extension and clarity, but no emphasis. Once again, next to HD800s and their kin, the 'hawks may initially seem a bit warm and rolled off, but careful listening to some more treble-oriented tracks soon proved that not only was all the treble information being faithfully reproduced, but it was clean, smooth and grain free. The result is a highly enjoyable and highly accurate treble presentation that never becomes fatiguing or harsh, but manages to also fully convey the quality (or lack of) in the recording.
 
I left the mids to last because they're worthy of an encore. The magnificently balanced frequency response from the Nighthawks allows the mids to have a beguiling mid-range presentation that is both liquid and lifelike while also being detailed and accurate. Because there is no significant enhancement in the frequency range, the Nighthawks don't ever create artificial tones in the mids - no extra texture or breathiness in vocals, no sense of the sound coming through a small enclosure and sounding boxed in - just a natural and accurate representation of the recording with a sense of reality and clarity that's a pleasure to listen to.
 
All of this sound is presented in a relatively intimate soundstage, but intimate doesn't mean congested. The imaging from the Nighthawks, thanks to their transparent sound and ridiculously low distortion, is precise and accurate with a clear sense of space and a dark, velvety-black background from which each individual sound can spring to life with all of its inherent texture, resonance and timbre. The Nighthawks won't compete with headphones like the HD800 or T1 for their expansive soundstages, but it will easily compete for accuracy and space in the soundstage despite the alternate style of presentation.
 

So, Who Got it Right?

AQNighthawk-2803.jpgI've mentioned a few of the standard reference headphones in this review - HD800s, T1s (not considered quite so "reference" these days), and LCD 2s - and no doubt some people will immediately think I'm "off my tree" for mentioning the Nighthawks in the same sentence, but hear me out here.
 
I still own and love HD800s, but will be buying a pair of Nighthawks as soon as I can raise the funds for the simple reason that both are amazing at what they do. So, "who got it right?" They all did, but in different ways. The HD800s are still the ultimate microscope on the music, but they do what they do by enhancing the upper mids and treble so in reality, they aren't a truly neutral / transparent headphone. The newer LCD 2s  take a similar approach to the sound which is a little more subtle than the HD800s, but is still emphasising some frequencies in the name of clarity and perceived resolution. As I write this I am selling my LCD 2s because they are closer in sound to the HD800s (not the same as) than they are to something like the Nighthawks and I want to have both a "clarity-enhanced" headphone and a musical and natural headphone in my collection so something had to go and, in my opinion, the HD800s are the ultimate microscope while the Nighthawks are the ultimate representation of the music in it's full, lifelike glory.
 
The Nighthawks are a headphone for people who love music and want to enjoy their music. As I said at the beginning, that's not a polite put-down, but the highest praise I can offer as a music lover and enthusiast. The Nighthawks are an incredible example of engineering and innovation, but rather than resulting in a scalpel-sharp reference tool, they're a pair of headphones designed to connect you with the heart and the soul of your music in all the best possible ways. That makes it hard to describe them in concrete terms because technicalities are far easier to put to paper - soul, heart and perfection are harder to pen.
 
As an industry, the headphone and earphone world seems to be obsessed with clarity and resolution so a headphone like the Nighthawks that don't "artificially" enhance clarity might seem less proficient in today's market, but if you love the emotional experience of being carried away by the ebbs and flows of your favourite music, do yourself a favour and try a pair of Nighthawks.
 
Apologies for not getting into the technicalities of the Nighthawk's design and specifications here, but I know there are other great reviews out there that will provide all that information for you and I wanted to share the story of these headphones with you in the same way that they share the stories of the music with us - not focussed on technicalities, just sharing the emotions, experiences and enjoyment of great music.
Synthax
Synthax
Well, I cannot agree with thei ECO FRIENDLY thesis, as these headphones got lots of plastic parts... On printed 3D mesh which suppose not to be biodegradable :)
waynes world
waynes world
Awesome review!
supabayes
supabayes
Nice review. As someone who owns the Sennheiser HD800S and Beyerdynamic T5P, I recently picked up a Nighthawk. It's day and night for me when I switch between these headphones. The NH is a shocker to say the least but I like it very much. It's a fun can for relaxed and casual listening like watching Netflix on my iPad.
Pros: Most comfortable and open sounding gateway to music I have heard on my head.
Cons: Price too low to be taken as seriously as they should be.
The following “review” depicts my discovery of the capability of NightHawk.  Right up front, I will tell you I am an AudioQuest dealer.  If, for any reason, this fact makes you suspicious of my objectivity, I will also tell you that I agree with you.  I make no attempt to be remotely objective in this writing. As it turns out, it was only my long-standing relationship with AudioQuest, and my universal affection for the performance of their products, and the musical experiences they have brought into my life, that made me stay with NightHawk until I got it.  This, to be sure, is subjectivity at its finest!  If this makes you want to disregard what I have to say, or not even read it, I completely understand. 
 
Also, because I wrote this piece as a communication to my customers to encourage them to buy NightHawks from me, and what they look for from me is what I experience when I listen to audio equipment, there are no boilerplate paragraphs describing physical properties of or the technology behind NightHawk.  By now, there are plenty of other sources of that information, and, if you have read this far, you probably know it already.
 
Despite all of the above, what follows is a true story, to the best of my ability to tell it.
 
AudioQuest NightHawk
 
An educated person: One who knows enough to understand just how much he or she does not know.
 
I have to admit I was initially not convinced.  That’s not quite accurate.  I was disappointed.  After all the in-house hype for NightHawk headphones, we received our initial order and they sounded like a dud.  That comes hard from me, so a little background to this tale is in order.
 
Since the day my industry friend Richard Colburn hand carried the first pair of Diamond interconnects from California to Illinois and into my life in the late ‘80’s, I have been a huge fan of virtually everything that has sprung from the mind of Bill Low and his band of merry pranksters at AudioQuest.  I well remember after dinner Richard handing me the cables to listen to that night as long as I returned them prior to his leaving the next day.  I got home around 10:30 and immediately replaced the cables connecting my CD player to my preamp with the Diamonds, well aware that this pair of cables, for crying out loud, cost nearly twice what my player did.
 
We already carried the largest selling brand of audio cables in the marketplace, and my feelings about the one brand of silver cables we also carried were not good, but here comes a cable that promises to fulfill the promise of silver absent the downside.  That night, which ended by sheer obligation to sleep at least a little before work the next day, lasted until near 4:00 AM, and was my watershed observation that everything in an audio system matters, often wildly out of proportion to what preconception and bias might suggest, and cables were not mere accessories or afterthoughts.
 
Imagine me, nearly thirty years on and all this time ensconced happily in the AudioQuest family, encountering a letdown for the first time.  I have to say it shook me.  We had let the NightHawks break in, both on and off our heads, for the better part of a month.  Surely that must be enough time?  But they didn’t seem to be coming around.
 
We would put them on and listen to music we knew well, and it just seemed to lie there, uninspired and uninspiring.  We would compare them to other ‘phones, well known and respected, and, while they were all in their ways disappointing, they at least each, for the most part, did what I had expected headphones to do- provide me that closer than real life perspective on the recording so that I could hear things I can’t hear even on my best home speaker system, so that the new knowledge could in turn inform my speaker-based listening.
 
I told some of my friends at AudioQuest that, aside from phenomenal build quality, state of the art comfort, beautiful profile, and spot on pricing, we were, to a person, not loving the NightHawks.  As we are all one big, heretofore happy, family we were concerned.  Hands were wrung, supporting documentation was provided, advice was given and a summit phone conversation was suggested.
 
And then something happened.  I’m not sure what, exactly, but, though a small part of it may have had to do with an even longer break-in period than we initially thought, I think mostly I changed.  You see, I’m not a headphone guy.  I use a nice pair of in-ear ‘phones for casual listening on my iPod Classic and my Pono (I will not listen to MP3s by choice ever and I own none), but that is pretty much just yard work and airplane travel mode in my world.  Those batteries probably discharge more often from non-use than while playing music.  The last time I used full-on headphones for any significant listening, they were Koss Pro 4AAs and they were a new idea, not a retro fad.
 
I decided to approach the NightHawks again from a fresh perspective- as though they were a speaker system that happened to be attached to my head.  I went in with the same expectations of enjoying music I have when I listen to speaker-based systems; in other words, I left evaluation mode behind.  True that I had read the AudioQuest treatise on all the technology involved, how the design brief departs from all that has come before, and how the measurements support NightHawks as a breakthrough.  And true also that the ‘phones had more play time on them than last time I donned them, but, again, I think the big change was in my thinking about what a headphone is.
 
Suddenly, I was lingering long on my favorite tracks with the NightHawks playing, and yearning to go back to them while trying esteemed competitors.  I’ve been evaluating vintage vacuum tubes to sell to customers with Peachtree gear, and my playlist for that “task” served double duty listening to headphones.
 
David Bromberg’s “Dehlia” live from a million years ago has a moment when (the great) Will Scarlet enters from WAY off stage left with his harmonica.  On a great speaker system this is a transcendent moment.  Seemingly starting in some other world, the harp moves slowly closer to the microphone until it’s finally as close as it’s going to get.  The growing drama of this moment, which never rises above the subtle, relies on a combination of spatial coherence, true detail retrieval and tonal gravitas that headphones just don’t seem to have.  Until NightHawk.
 
NightHawk presents all of this information, granted from inside my head, not coming to me as a concert performance does, but there is actual three-dimensionality, both to individual instruments (plucked acoustic guitar, voice and harmonica) as well as to the space they share.  This means I can locate everything in a 3D sound field in my head and that the instruments are fleshed out, pumped full of shape and color.  It makes it very easy to experience the emotional impact of this performance, with which it drips, although subtly.
 
All the esteemed competitors, which include two open back designs and one closed, and range in price from a little more than the NightHawks to more than twice as much, fall apart on this track.  Some do an okay job of getting the tonal balance (the closed pair coming closest), but still do not approach NightHawk.  More important, though, none gets the totality of the performance, and they all grossly miss the spine tingling entrance of Will Scarlet.  NightHawk nails it, and having done so, establishes a benchmark that has me taking off each of the others as this point comes and ending my note taking.
 
On the final movement of the Sibelius Fifth Symphony, Neemi Jarvi conducting the Gothenburg SO on Bis, again only the NightHawk really even lets me enjoy the piece.  As I said, I’m not a headphone guy so I still miss hearing this wonderful performance and recording presented to my seat in the concert hall of my main system, but it does tell me some things about the performance I don’t get from that seat and without the accompanying aggravation the competitors burn or bore my ears with.
 
NightHawk makes wonderfully visible sections of the orchestra, including sweet strings, wherein I can hear both ensemble and individual playing simultaneously, and it does so through the hard work of coherent resolution and a neutral tonal balance rather than resorting to the typical headphone trick of an upwardly tilted tonal balance and just enough high frequency distortion to make you think you are hearing detail.  French horns soar darkly above the rest of the orchestra, no mean feat because they have so little higher harmonic content, which is usually the way height is faked, but the ‘Hawks do it because they are actually reproducing the delicate phase information that places everything properly in the spatial environment of the recording.  So they preserve the horns’ tonal darkness and locate them properly.  And the tympani rolls!  Loaded with body and muscle, but staying rooted, properly somewhat vaguely outlined, in space no matter how played.
 
NightHawk revealed dynamics and rubato with an easy precision that made me, again, not want to take them off, especially to hear what the esteemed competitors did with this piece.  The short description is NightHawk soared while the others, to one degree or another, seared.
 
My notes have quotes like, “French horns or car horns?”, “tympani die immediately,” “no bass foundation,” “decent 3D to sections, but little overall depth and NO height,” “generic woodwind section with no ability to tell which ones are playing at any given time,” “can’t tell how bowed strings ‘work’; could be a synthesizer.”  The most expensive pair actually shifted the physical location of the tympani dependent on pitch and dynamics, while also making them appear too distinctly located on stage, thereby ruining the brilliant job of the Bis recording team to present an orchestra as an instrumentally egalitarian whole.  Yes, sometimes the device that “images” better is worse.
 
The Sibelius, by dint of its complexity and dynamic sweep, was the piece that most separated NightHawk from the pack.  Each competitor had me scribbling notes, hoping to go back to the NightHawk sound as soon as I could.  Each time I did, I listened all the way through, just waiting for the glorious finale.  I was wasting evaluation time, but I couldn’t help it.  I was having too much fun.
 
Then there is the riot on tape that is Van Morrison’s “Madame George.”  Not the contemplative mesmerizer from Astral Weeks (with my mother’s pal Richard Davis on bass) but the even earlier explosion I discovered not nearly as many years ago on The Bang Masters.  I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m damn glad the recorder was running.  It opens sounding like a kindergarten class thirty seconds after the opening bell has futilely rung, and it doesn’t straighten up a whole lot from there.
 
Under the influence of the NightHawks, it’s startlingly 3D and I can hear the superimposition of the individual mikes over what seems to be a stereo mike picking up all the classroom shenanigans as the teacher, not in any way Van, tries to corral the room into some semblance of order.  Thankfully, the kids win all the way to the end, but I am now gathering oodles of real information I can infuse into my speaker listening of this beloved track.
 
All the other headphones are a letdown.  One merits, “no foundation or dimension,” and “painfully high frequency tilted,” while another gets, “no depth, again okay fleshing out of instruments, but nothing like NH,” and “ lateral spread does not extend beyond earcups,” followed with “everything is either in left ear, middle of head, or right ear,” and “cannot sense the room,” and finally, the third is, “feel as though I am in Lilliput,” and “perhaps lowest distortion of non-NH, but brings nothing else to the party,” and “unlivable bass content and character.”
 
I ended with the wind-down palate cleanser that is “Watkins Ale” played ethereally on the lute by Ronn McFarlane.  Replete with lyrics, it’s clearly an Elizabethan pornographic campfire song which, although sung from the woman’s viewpoint, makes me think the composer, from the large and famous Anonymous family, had to be one of the sons.  Ronn, not a singer nor wishing to offend any Elizabethans still in the room, dispenses with the words and gorgeously plucks the tune out on his lute, making it sound far easier than the actual act.
 
Only NightHawk does this lovely little ditty justice.  The difference between the meatier, softer, thumbed down plucks on the lower pitched strings is easily differentiated from the much clickier, calloused fingered lifts of the more complex melody string passages.  Lots of dark hall ambience fills its rich and rightful role supporting the tiny gem that is a lute in a large room.  So simple, but so difficult to pull off.
 
So far behind, the esteemed competitors garner such praise as, “2D! Ambience splays out to sides, never peels back into depth,” “transient envelope gone, as if notes start before strings are plucked,” “tiny, tinny sound,” “had to turn it UP in attempt to find what NH delivers but still couldn’t,” “ambiance falls off digitally, as though a series of discrete events,” and “feels as though I am in a miniature world without any power.”
 
So what changed?  I’m fairly sure I did.  Even if the price for what I’m hearing is $599 and 45 days of break-in, it’s a screaming bargain.  But now, you’ll have to excuse me.  That Sibelius has come back around on my living room speaker system and I’m going back under the NightHawks.  Maybe I’m a headphone guy after all.
 
This is the point where I concluded my thoughts on NightHawk a few weeks ago.  Since then, I have had the opportunity to hear NightHawk at the same time as I was able to hear a ‘phone that is exactly three times the price.  I significantly preferred NightHawk, and feel comfortable extrapolating from a comparison earlier this year, before NightHawk existed, that there is only one headphone under $2000 that I am aware of which I now need to compare head to head, no pun intended, with NightHawk before I say that NightHawk is my favorite headphone at $2000 or less.  Beyond that price, I have yet to venture.  Remember, I’m not a headphone guy.  Also, remember, I am an AudioQuest dealer, so please take all of this with a sizable grain of salt, and I appreciate your diligence in making it this far!
Arsenal
Arsenal
Strange that an audioquest reseller writes a review about audioquest...
Ra97oR
Ra97oR
The Nighthawk is certainly a try before you buy product IMO, it simply didn't work for me.

Only assurance I can say is the absolute comfort of them, it's simply the most comfortable headphone I have wore.
mochill
mochill
I tired today and I'll buy it soon:scream:
Pros: Sound that offers full musicality, strong bass, along with all the detail you could want. Super comfortable - so you can listen forever.
Cons: Amp dependent for sonic signature.
Audioquest Nighthawk Headphones
 
I must begin this review with an admission – I’ve always been a speaker man at heart. It’s the way I grew up. I’ve always most enjoyed listening to my stereo via my speakers more so than via headphone. Not that I don’t like headphones because I do, and have a nice collection of both over ear and in ear headphones that I’ve use regularly. But given my druthers I’ll usually choose to listen to my system via loudspeakers most days. Well, at least that was the case until the new Audioquest Nighthawks arrived for an audition. It’s the story of that audition and what it did to my listening habits that makes this review something special, at least to me (and hopefully to you too).
 
For a far more comprehensive listing of the Nighthawk’s build quality and measurements than I can list here easily, click the link to Audioquest’s web page devoted to the Nighthawks and you can wallow in all the technical detail about these most interesting headphones that your heart desires.
 
http://personal.audioquest.com/nighthawk#nighthawk-page
 
Suffice to say, these are the most unusual headphones I’ve ever listened to. Each aspect of the headphones has been thought out and designed from the ground up to be both acoustically enjoyable and long-term sustainable. I will say that the Audioquest Nighthawks are both the best looking headphones I’ve ever seen (I absolutely love that liquid wood look) and far and away the most comfortable. And believe me, the comfort factor is nothing to be sneezed at. I’ve heard some excellent sounding headphones that were so heavy, so uncomfortable to wear, that despite their wonderful sound they simply weren’t conducive for long listening sessions, so the fact that the Nighthawks are easy on the head means that should they turn out to be as good sounding as they are good looking, you may find that the time you spend with them on is far longer than you’d ever anticipated.
 
One thing to note, DO NOT listen critically to these headphones until they have at least 150 to 200 hours on them. And you need this time on both the included cables – the one they call their mini Castlerock, which is the one I’m betting that most will use the majority of the time, and the smaller cable designed to work well with portable devices. Both come standard with a 1/8’ plug that will fit any portable device (like an iPod, iPhone or other cell phone) and a clip on 1/4’ adaptor for use with any full sized headphone amp.
 
I began this review by reaching for discs I know well, having used them often for reviewing purposes. But I also love the music on these discs, so I’m listening not only for how they sound, but how the music moves me. I used mostly my Original Electronics Master Headphone amp for the bulk of this review, but the Nighthawks also saw time with the headphone amp in my Parasound Zdac V.2, my Audioquest Dragonfly, and my Headroom Micro Amp w/DAC (playing my iPod music library). But since, as I say, the Original Electronics Master was the main amp used, let me state up front that this headphone amp does tilt a bit towards accentuating the lower frequencies, and I could clearly hear this through the Nighthawks. Not that this was a bad thing to me, as most of the music I listen to both for review purposes and for pleasure (jazz, classical and rock) can use a slight boost in the bass to make it more a part of the music.
 
However, I began by grabbing the Opus 3 SACD Tiny Island (Opus 3 CD 19824) due to its abundance of acoustic instruments along with its pleasurable musicality that tells me all I need to know about any products midrange capabilities. The Nighthawks passed this test with flying colors. I heard each instrument as a separate entity with a unique tonal sound all their own. I heard plenty of both micro and macro detail. But what really captured my attention was how the Nighthawks keep all of those aspects within the confines of the music. The Nighthawks presented the music as of a piece. Nothing sounded forced or highlighted. Instead, it was as if I were listening to them play live.
 
One of my favorite discs is the DVD-A of Michael Oldfield’s remake of his classic Tubular Bells 2004 (Warner Music R9 60204.) If I hadn’t known better I would never have been aware that there wasn’t multiple musicians playing, the music was presented as a whole piece of cloth. All of the different instruments Oldfield uses, from acoustic to electric sounded as close to real as I’ve heard. Percussion and bass was deep and powerful, guitars were easily identifiable as acoustic (with their softer, slightly woody sound) or electric (with that sharp, crunchy sound), and oh my lord, when those tubular bells rang I heard both the size of the bells as well as the initial transient strike and how those strikes created sound of varying frequencies that had just the right amount of decay. All of the audio spectrum was presented equally, with none giving the impression of being boosted or sucked out. Another aspect this disc taught me about the Nighthawks was how they created a realistic sense of soundstage. Most headphones keep the sound locked between your ears, but the Nighthawks gave me a sense of instruments coming from all directions and spots in space – exactly as my loudspeakers do – and this was a welcome and wonderful surprise and kept me listening far longer than I’d originally intended.
 
I’ve read many people who feel the Nighthawks veer more toward the dark side of neutral, placing a bit too much emphasis on the lower frequencies over that of the balance of the audio spectrum. I couldn’t disagree more. To my ears, the Nighthawks were far more neutral. What they did was offer a better look at the amp they are connected to than being themselves dark. As I’ve noted, my Original Electronics Master Headphone amp leans slightly toward the lower end of the frequency spectrum, and that’s what the Nighthawks reveled. But when I used the Dragonfly, the Parasound, or my Headroom Micro, that emphasis was nowhere near as pronounced. I found that the Nighthawks are so free of coloration that they will easily reveal aspects of the headphone amp you partner them with. So if you’re not sold on what you hear when you first listen, ask to try a different headphone amp and see if things change for the better for your ears as they did for mine when I switched amps.
The Nighthawks showed me they were up to any type of music I threw at them. Steve Davis SACD Quality Of Silence (DMP SACD-04) is based on the silence between notes and how much can be said by both those silences as well as the notes played. Davis is the drummer, and I thoroughly enjoyed how well the Nighthawks reproduced his drum kit. I heard excellent snap to snare drum, good wallop to the kick drum, and oh my goodness, the cymbal work was heavenly. I could not only hear the drumstick striking the brass cymbal, but I could almost see where on the cymbal Davis’ stick struck. Plus the Nighthawks showed how Davis use of space enhanced the music he played. On the other side of the musical speed spectrum was the Doobie Brothers song “Listen To The Music” from the SACD Crank It Up (Audio Fidelity AFZ 178). This song wants, nay demands, to get up and boogie. The Nighthawks placed no barriers in front of the sound. The song rocked right along just as I’ve heard it do a thousand times before.
 
Classical piano is a very demanding test of any piece of audio gear, and maybe more so with headphones as there is nowhere for mistakes to hide. Pulling out the Esoteric SACD of Clifford Curzon playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto’s #’s 20 & 27 (Esoteric ESSD 90014) backed by Benjamin Britten and the English Chamber Orchestra, Curzon’s piano was a full sized instrument placed just left of center. I could get a real sense of what the Nighthawks did well. What did they do well: They offered the full power and sound of the piano and orchestra, even when at full throttle. They offer great dynamics. But they didn’t skimp on detail in order to produce that powerful sound. I could hear musicians shuffling papers and moving their chairs as well as Curzon’s fingers on the keys if I wanted to listen for them. But to me, the cool point was that this detail was never thrust at me, just a part of the overall sound. It was there if I wanted to hear it, and not if I didn’t. And there was a solid foundation set to these concertos as both the bass and cello were given their proper place in the mix. Now, based on what I’ve heard, what didn’t the Nighthawks do well? Truthfully, to my ears, almost nothing. About the only nit I can pick with these headphones is how revealing they are of both source and headphone amp. If either are off center – that is, if they are adding or subtracting from the sound – you’ll hear it, whether you want to or not. So keep in mind that while the Nighthawks will play fine straight out of the headphone jack of an iPhone (and yes, I tried this too), the better the amp, the better the sound. And the Nighthawks deserve the very best you can give them, as they’ll reward you with better and better sound.
 
Besides piano, vocals can tell you a lot about how good a set of headphones are. Again, via my Original Electronics Master (with its slight boost to the bass) male voices were very, very realistic. The combo gave them enough chestiness to give a realistic impression of a man singing. But while male voices seemed to benefit, female vocals also got a dollop of that added chestiness which took a bit away from the ethereal quality of, let’s say, Alison Krauss’s angelic voice. Not that she didn’t sound like herself – for she did – but there was an element of sparkle that I’ve heard to her voice that was MIA. Still, I think that how you react to the Nighthawks vocal presentation will be more of a personal choice rather than an indictment of the Nighthawks. For me, it was mostly a non-issue.
I’ve listened to top end headphones from Audeze, HiFIMan, and Oppo as part of my job as a reviewer for The Audio Beat. And I also own a pair of AKG K701’s that have always been my go-to phones for what headphone listening I did up until the Nighthawks showed up on my doorstep. While I loved the sound of the planar headphones, but then, I’m a planar man at heart, I was never given the feeling that any of these were THE headphones I could live with long term. And lord, all of those headphones were on the heavy, bulky side when I put them on (the Audeze most of all, with the Oppo’s being the lightest), so despite the wonderful sound, I usually found I couldn’t listen for long periods before I just needed to take them off. The Audioquest Nighthawks on the other hand offer sonic goods equally as good and a comfort level that had me listening to entire discs when I’d put them on for one, maybe two songs. I would get so wrapped up in the sound that I just didn’t find myself even contemplating stopping my musical enjoyment at what the Nighthawks were giving me until the disc was over. In comparison to my K701’s, the Nighthawks had a more even frequency presentation from top to bottom with real weight on the bottom end. The AKG’s lacked the fullness in the bass that the Nighthawks reproduced so easily, even with a headphone amp that adds a slight boost to the bottom frequencies. And the Nighthawks offered all the top end sparkle that is the hallmark of the AKG’s as well. When I look back in both my memory and my notes, I find that the Nighthawks had a more even presentation than any of the planar models I’d heard. Those headphones seemed, from what I remember and wrote down, to lack the overall evenness that is a trademark of the Nighthawks. Detail, both macro and micro, were less a part of the music and a tad more emphasized via the planar models than what the Nighthawks offered.
 
To wrap up, for the $600 asking price of these groundbreaking headphones that Audioquest has created, the Nighthawks should be considered right at the top of the headphone pack, and a definite bargain. Sure, personal choice (and budget) will go a long way in deciding what pair of headphones become your long term companions, but most of the Nighthawks competition will come with a significantly higher cost and comfort level. DO NOT let their modest (by high end headphone standards) cause you to dismiss them as not being among the best available. Not only do the Audioquest Nighthawks offer sound that I found to be among the very best I’ve ever heard, but their comfort level as I wore them made me listen to entire albums when that wasn’t my initial plan – I just couldn’t stop myself. The music reproduced was simply too enjoyable to make me want to stop until the disc ended. And finding a top of the line headphone for the asking price of the Nighthawks, to me anyway, makes them a huge bargain and a must-audition before making any sort of final decision. Skylar Gray (the man behind the design of the Nighthawks) and Audioquest have created, with their first entry into this market, a unique pair of headphones that can compete with any on the market, and have done so in a way that is both totally different and yet eco-friendly. I think my search for my new reference headphones has ended. Suddenly, I’m grabbing my Nighthawks fully as often as I switch to my speakers when it comes to listening to music, so enjoyable are these new headphones from Audioquest. And that, my friends, was something totally unexpected, but a happily welcome outcome of this review. Kudos. 
JMCIII
JMCIII
Sergo9, COOL BEANS my friend!!! Glad you went into your audition with such an open mind, AND that you tried another very highly thought of pair of headphones too. Your ears (and head - gotta love how comfortable the NightHawks are as well as how good they sound) told you what worked for you. That's the way all decisions audio should be made. Are the NightHawks the BEST headphones out there? Who knows. They'll not be to everyone's taste, but that's OK. All I know is, to me, they surely rank among the very best.
KLJTech
KLJTech
Very nice review! I see that the NightHawks use a driver that is very similar, though larger (50mm vs 40mm) to that of the B&W P7 (one of my most used cans) and I'm wondering if anyone has compared the two? If they sound better than the P7's I'm in. Obviously, there's more to a headphones sound than its driver. 
Francisk
Francisk
Pros: Lush midrange, innovative earcup suspension system, fantastic build quality
Cons: Somewhat closed sounding, slight boxiness to vocals on some material
First off, thanks go to Todd the Vinyl Junkie for setting up the loaner program for the AudioQuest NightHawk headphones. It's a real treat to get to listen to new gear for only the cost of shipping (one-way, to boot).
 
My first memories of AudioQuest (from here on, AQ) are related to my first, proper hi-fi. I scraped it together after I graduated from college and landed a decent job at the precipice of the tech meltdown with a company that fortunately weathered the storm. Credit must go to one of my classmates who, when asked about prospects with some of the more dodgy startups at a career fair in the spring replied, "I'm looking for something more reliable." That somehow made it past the more reptilian parts of my twenty-one year old brain. Of course it also propelled me on a path to spending inordinate amounts of money that no sane person would part with on stuff to play back music.
 
In any case, that first hi-fi was wired with AQ Type 4 from a NAD integrated amplifier to a pair of Axiom Audio M3ti's. It was the most reasonable and seemingly cost-effective choice I had at the time. A good start, no doubt, but eventually supplanted by other more capable cabling, though not from the AQ family. In some ways, I feel like the NightHawk is at a similar point in its development as those AQ Type 4's - a harbinger of greater things to come.
 
Description
 
The AQ NightHawk is a semi-open, over-ear design. The glossy earcups are injection molded from a substance billed as 'Liquid Wood' that wouldn't look out of place in a modern luxury sedan. This allows the earcups to be shaped more along the contours of the human ear when placed against the head. On the outer surface, a diffusive grille that AQ says mimics the construction of butterfly wings lets air and sound escape without producing "standing waves and resonant colorations". The leather earpads are very comfortable and the miniature rubber cable earcup suspension system attached to hefty metal 'rings' ensures a evenly snug fit for all shapes of faces. The headband is a two-piece affair: a single, heavy gauge wire wrapped in braided nylon provides the clamping force, while a nylon and microfiber covered headband automagically stretches to the length of your noggin. Overall the build quality of the cans themselves are superb, nary a complaint about the look, feel, or weight.
 
The NightHawk comes with two sets of cabling, both ending in stereo mini-jacks on one end and splitting into color coded mono mini-jacks for attachment to the earcups. A 1/4" silver-plated copper adapter is also included. The first set, according to the literature, is a mini version of their Castle Rock speaker cable made of "Solid Perfect-Surface Copper+ (PSC+) in a Double Star-Quad configuration". The second is a much thinner, generic looking cable for use in situations when the former might be abused. The PSC+ boasts silver plating on the jacks, while the generic one settles for gold plating. One quibble I had with the PSC+ cabling is that the plating on the stereo minijack as well as the 1/4" adapter seemed to look worn. All silver-plated jacks had developed a slight patina and glints of copper can be seen peeking through tiny gaps in the plating. Unfortunately, I can't say whether this is par for the course or if (how) it impacts performance.
 
A nicely padded carrying case, cleaning cloth, and a one month free trial subscription to TIDAL rounds out the package.
 
Listening
 
When donning cans, I usually opt for open-back dynamic headphones, in my case a pair of Alessandro MS-1's that I've had for a decade and a half. I've had some experience with closed-back designs (cheap Sony's during my formative years and my wife's Sennheiser Momentum over-ears) and minimal time with planars / electrostats - mainly confined to Head-Fi meets or local audio shows. For critical listening, I have a pair of Etymotic ER-4S, but they bit the proverbial dust during a recent business trip. Mostly, I listen to my speaker setup (details below), so keep all those points in mind as I make the following comments. One other point is that being semi-open means that sound does leak out and it might not be apropos for all office settings.
 
First, I cued up "What Kind of Man" from Florence + the Machine's latest album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (CD, Republic, B0023122-02). The track was eminently listenable, with Florence Welch's performance rendered with a fulsomeness that reminded me somewhat of a tube-like sonic signature. Yet I also detected a subtle touch of boxiness that colored her vocals, especially noticeable when she sang the word 'this'. I also felt that the sound was a little more closed off than I expected, with a slight bias towards the midrange that prevented the airiness from developing around performers and instruments. That being said, the kick drum after the opening refrain had real heft and authority with a tactile quality on the ear.
 
The next selection was "Demons" from the album Trouble Will Find Me by The National (CD, 4AD, CAD3315CD). Here, frontman Matt Berninger's throaty baritone, as rendered by the NightHawk, had a velvety smoothness to it - a bit more 'chocolatey' than I'm used to. Drums had nice punch and slam. Once again, though, the sound lacked some openness, though the treble didn't seem to be soft. The NightHawk won't offer a large degree of low-level resolution that some listeners really crave, though it does imbue a warmish hue to the sound that can be equally addictive.
 
Modern recordings can make it difficult to really explore the strengths and weaknesses of a system or a piece of kit. In that vein, I popped in Blue Train (CD, Blue Note, 53428) and navigated to the wonderful ballad "I'm Old Fashioned". Besides being a great tune, almost all of the artists get their turn in the spotlight, making it a good track for examining the performance of brass instruments and piano. The NightHawk acquitted itself decently, though not with quite the success on the previous material. Coltrane's sax, Fuller's trombone, and Morgan's trumpet were rendered with a lushness that, unfortunately, obscured the brassiness and microdynamics of each instrument. Chambers' bass, though satisfyingly weighty, also lost some body - the lower octaves now sounding a touch too ripe. The lack of fine detail muted the expressiveness of Kenny Drew's keyboard work by blunting the impact of the felt hammers on the strings. Perhaps a little bit of warmth goes a long way in this case.
 
Finally, I swapped out jazz for classical with the finale of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 as performed by Earl Wild and the London Royal Philharmonic as conducted by Jascha Horenstein (CD, Chesky, CD2 A). The orchestra sounded big and bold with the NightHawks doing a convincing job of relaying the scale and depth of the work. Earl Wild's virtuosity is matched by the lushness of the midrange, though once again the bloom tended to remove any sense of airiness. The strings ended up a touch too rosiny, but the NightHawks served up macrodynamics in spades. Overall a generally pleasing presentation that did justice to the electric performance of Wild and the Royal Philharmonic.
 
Conclusions
 
At first blush, the NightHawk's sonic signature didn't exactly mesh with my initial expectations. But over time, it won me over with its lush midrange and non-fatiguing sound. These qualities were particularly welcome on modern recordings but became an Achilles' heel on other material. If your setup simply sounds too sterile and cold for your liking, the AQ NightHawk might just be the cure. At its price, though, one should expect reference-level sound quality which is where I feel the NightHawk falls short of the mark. It's a really fun headphone, but not necessarily one I'd like to get serious with. I think, though, that this is only one step forward of many. If true, I eagerly await the next version to make its landing.
 
 
Associated Equipment
 
Sources - Ayre C-5xeMP
Amplification - CI Audio VHP-1 / VAC-1, Ayre AX-5 Twenty
Loudspeakers - Vandersteen 3A Signature
Interconnects - Analysis Plus Pro Oval Studio XLR, Blue Jeans LC-1
Speaker cable - Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval 8
Power - Bryston BIT-15
leomitch
leomitch
@yage
 
One month later I disagree even more. I think they have a reference grade (What exactly does that mean?) set of headphones already! I assume, silly me, that a reference grade headphone reproduces sound accurately, musically like live music in front of you...that is what I feel I have with the Nighthawks. I am not a recording engineering like my former pupil John Hill who does some fine engineering for Naxos from time to time and teaches sound engineering in Tennessee...I must ask him one day to listen to these headphones and see if he considers them worthy of the name 'reference grade'. Right now I believe he uses a couple of different Grados.
I appreciate your opinions and views so many thanks for your fine efforts. I especially like 'chocolatey' as a descriptor. A new one for my vocab along with eye googles that I also picked up from another reviewer.
 
Cheers mate
Leo
 
P.S. Howdo you like the Vandersteen 3A speakers. I have a friend with a pair and they are fine speakers indeed.
yage
yage
@leomitch,
 
What I consider to be 'reference grade' is that the headphone can be (reasonably) said to have uncolored sound. To me, small degrees of warmth or additional bass are fine. However, I don't feel that the tonal balance of the NightHawks captures the human voice accurately. There's an artificial 'chestiness' or 'boxiness' to vocals that's distracting and takes me out of the performance. I do think the NightHawks work great as a second pair of headphones - they have a fun sonic signature.
 
I'd be interested in Mr. Hill's opinion. I too am partial to Grados, but do keep an open mind about other headphones. Even though it may not come across in the review, I was really excited to listen to the NightHawks and believe I gave them a fair shake. I tried my hardest to get them to sound their best on my kit, but unfortunately I just wasn't impressed with them in the end.
 
p.s. Thanks for asking about the Vandy's! I like them a lot though they aren't much to look at.
yage
yage
@KLJTech,
 
The pair I received were part of the loaner program from TTVJ Audio so I can only assume they were already broken-in. (I believe I was fourth in line.) My ears / brain did get accustomed to their sound and I can see how some folks would really like them. As I wrote in my comments to @leomitch, I think the primary weakness of the NightHawks is in the reproduction of vocals. To my ears, they fell short in accurately portraying the human voice. This parameter, in my opinion, is absolutely critical for excellent performance, whether it's a headphone or loudspeaker regardless of price.
Pros: Spectacular build and design, Extremely comfortable, Easy to drive, Nice stock cable
Cons: Dark sound signature, Needs EQ to control midbass response
At the time of the review, the Audioquest Nighthawk headphone was on sale at TTJV Audio’s website. Here is a link to Todd’s listing of the product:
20150803_205238.jpg
 
http://www.ttvjaudio.com/SearchResults.asp?Search=nighthawk
 
When Todd at TTVJ made an announcement that he would be touring the nighthawk, I jumped at the chance. This is a release I had been anticipating for a long time. One look at their sexy build combined with a company putting their name on it that is known for quality products like Audioquest, I knew I had to try them.
20150803_222007.jpg
 
The Audioquest package came in a black leather zipper case that housed the Nighthawk. In the package you get the Headphones, two cables, and a ¼ inch headphone plug adapter.  
20150803_222454.jpg
 

Features and Specs

General
Fit Style
Over-the-ear
 
Earcup Type
Semi-open
 
Noise-canceling
No
 
Bluetooth
No
 
Frequency Response
Not Given
 
Sensitivity
100 dB
 
Impedance
25 Ohms
 
Weight
Not Given
 
Cord Length
96"
 
Airline Adapter Included
No
 
iPod Control
No
 
Volume Control
No
 
Built-in Microphone
No
 
Parts Warranty
1 year
 
Labor Warranty
1 year
 


 
The Nighthawk features technology with terms like “split back motor” and “biocellulose diaphragm” as well as a bunch of other technological jargon that if I were to explain, I would be copying and pasting from their thread. So better yet, here is a link to the site so you can hear it straight from the horse’s mouth:
 
http://personal.audioquest.com/
 
The Nighthawk looks awesome, even more awesome than I was expecting. Holding them in my hand for the first time, I spent a good ten minutes looking at all the high quality and very cool design features. Some things that stood out were the replaceable headband suspension system and the elastic bands that held the cups in place. Everything just flows, and the liquid wood cups are even sharper in person than in the pictures. It honestly reminds me of the wooden steering wheels used in top of the line luxury cars. The earpads are high quality memory foam and almost identical to my pair of Brainwavs HM5 replacement pads. The Nighthawk is lightweight and not bulky (think somewhere along the lines of the same bulk and weight of the Sennheiser HD600).
 
Cable and Accessories
 
The Nighthawk has two cables that are both about 8-9 feet in length. One is a lighter and thinner Kevlar wrapped cable that appears to be made of copper internals. The other cable is a much thicker and bulkier Kevlar wrapped and silver coated copper cable. Bouncing back and forth between cables I got a noticeable difference in sound quality, with the thinner cable being slightly warmer and less detailed.
20150803_222739.jpg
 
The cables on the nighthawk are Y-split to each channel with the connection at the housing consisting of 2.5 mm jacks on each side. With this design picking up a balanced cable shouldn’t be too much of a problem.  
 
Cups and Headband
20150803_222841.jpg
 
The design and build of the Nighthawk is downright spectacular. Starting with the Liquid Wood cups, the design looks like it was made out of a dark lacquered burls. It is lightweight and has a polished finish. The cups appear to be a leather/protein pad with memory foam inside. The pads seal is excellent. On the outside of each cup there is a 3-D printed grill attached that gives Nighthawk it’s semi-open design. Attached to these grills are four rubber suspension attachments that attach the cups to the band.
 
The headband of the Nighthawk has two components. One is a kevlar coated metal wire that basically holds the headphones into their shape. Inside of this is another leather band with what I assume is spandex on the inside. This allows the Headphone to suspend comfortably on my head and it is VERY comfortable.
20150803_222925.jpg
 
All in all the design is epic. They are pretty light and I can wear them for hours with no problem. If there is anything I might do with them if I owned a pair is I would probably purchase some HM-5 velour pads from Brainwavz to make them even more comfortable and cooler on my ears.
20150803_223334_HDR.jpg
 
Sound Review & Materials
 
I used my usual same songs for testing gear:
“Limit to your love” by James Blake (bass speed, punch, response)
“Doin’ it Right” by Daft Punk (sub bass)
“Get lucky” by Daft Punk (bass to midrange transition resolution, male vocals)
“Madness” by Muse (soundstage, separation)
“Some nights” by Fun (soundstage and male vocals)
“The soundmaker” by Rodrigo y Gabriela (texture and imaging)
“Bassically” by Tei Shi (bass to midrange resolution, female vocals)
“Skinny Love” performed by Birdie (female vocals, acoustic playback)
“One” by Ed Sheeran (male vocals, acoustic playback)
“Outlands” from the Tron Legacy Soundtrack (symphonic presentation, imaging)
“Sultans of swing” by Dire Straits (detail, separation, balance)
“And Justic for All” by Metallica (driver distortion, treble response, rock playback)
“Ten thousand fists” by Disturbed (driver distortion, treble response, rock playback)
 
Note: Other tracks were used, but the listed songs were primarily used to asses and break down the gear’s response.
 
Sound Signature
This is going to be a love or hate sound signature for just about everyone. The first time I fired them up I was thoroughly disappointed in their sonic presentation. They sounded very dark and warm. At first listen I thought the treble was very shelved. The bass seemed to be very centered around midbass frequencies. I will admit though, once my ears adjusted to them there are some things about them that I enjoyed.
After tinkering with my equalizer, applying various settings in an effort to optimize the sound quality of them to match my sound preference, I realized that the treble wasn’t shelved at all and there was plenty of low frequency beyond the midbass. At the end of the day the Nighthawk has WAY too much midbass and lower midrange for its own good. The forwardness of this range takes away from the rest of what they have to offer in my opinion. After lowering everything around the 300 Hz range about 5dB, what I heard was a completely different headphone with strong and extended bass response, airy midrange and clear and natural treble. With less midbass it is one of the best headphones I have ever heard, period. I get a grain free sound that is remarkable with this tweak. If you have a chance to try the Nighthawk, make sure to try this adjustment.
 
Without the equalizer adjustment they are a very colored and what I would consider a darker sounding headphone with a very unique energy and soundstage presence.
 
Audioquest set out to make a headphone that is virtually distortion free, and they accomplished this. The Nighthawk is a creamy sounding pair of cans with a fatigue free signature. One big positive is that you can really crank these things up and still enjoy them. You don’t ever feel like the treble gets too hot or fatiguing when the nighthawk is playing at louder volumes.
 
Because most people will listen to these full size headphones in stock configuration, the sound remainder of the sound review will be done in stock form with no audio adjustments.
 
Source Selection
They are 25 Ohms so for a full size headphone so they are pretty easy to drive. If you have no other options a cell phone will work (though not ideal). They Nighthawk will sound sweet through a dedicated DAP like a Fiio X5, Ibasso DX90, or A&K AK240. Same for a desktop rig; The better the file and source the better they will sound, and remember you don’t need a ton of power to accomplish this. You can hook your high powered desktop tube amp up to it, you just won’t be turning it up very high I suppose.
 
Bass
These cans are midbass forward. There is no “bleed” and from what I hear there isn’t any distortion. The forward midbass just kind of lingers, resonates and shadows over the frequencies around it, making the overall presentation sound very colored. Some people are going to love it and others will probably dislike it for the same reason.
 
Sub bass is there, but again it is overshadowed by the midbass forwardness. You will hear the sub bass if you listen for it, trust me. During James Blake’s “Limit to your Love” it hit every note with great speed and tone. It has low end extension and speed, but it takes back seat to the 300 Hz range.
 
Midrange
Again, the midrange is there and beautiful but the forward midbass kind of dictates the overall sound. Middle frequencies appear very forward in the lower midrange. Upper midrange takes a back seat to things like bass guitars and most male vocals. The tuning keeps things from seeming airy and open, but rather closed in and intimate.
 
Vocals have plenty of weight, and some will consider it to be over the top. separation and detail are shadowed by colorful sound. They are there, but you have to listen really close to pick them out of the crowd.
 
Treble
The forwardness of the midbass and lower midrange make the treble appear to be shelved. Although this isn’t the case, they users will get a sense that they could use more treble to balance out the sound. Truth is it isn’t the treble that’s lacking, but more boosted lower frequencies that prevent a very nice treble response from coming through the way it could/should, depending on how you hear it.
 
Soundstage and Imaging
This is probably the most unique thing about the NIghthawk. While many semi open headphones give and open feel to their sound, I found the nighthawk to have more of a closed back sound. To my ears, everything seemed like it was playing in a small hall or cathedral. It was slightly unnatural but kind of cool with some tracks. Soundstage and imaging was different to say the least. It was like listening to my favorite musicians playing for me in an empty room. If this is something that sounds cool or appeals to you, definitely check them out.
 
Comparisons
 
Sennheiser HD600 ($275 to $350 USD on many sites)
I dont know if you can get much different here. The HD600 is 320 Ohm and requires a powerful source to sound its best. They are a much colder and more open sounding headphone that focuses on detail and naturalness. Going back and forth the Nighthawk seems just the opposite, going for a more colored sound and intimate soundstage.
 
The Nighthawk might actually be a great option for someone looking for something offsetting and  different from the HD600. I’ll give it to the NIghthawk, their build quality and comfort destroys the Sennheiser offering. Holding the two side by side, if people were forced to pick between the two without hearing them, the Nighthawk would probably get picked ninety nine times out of a hundred.
 
AKG K7XX ($200 USD on Massdrop)
The K7XX is a very balanced semi open headphone with a slightly boosted low end. The AKG sounds much faster and more linear than the Nighthawk. The AKG separation and airiness is superior. The Nighthawk opts for a warmer and fatigue free sound.
 
One thing I will say is that in a matchup between these two, they are both VERY comfortable and I can wear either one all day with no problems.
 
Conclusion
The Nighthawk is a sexy looking headphone that is going to appeal to those looking for a warmer and darker sound than most of today’s high end headphone tunings. The build and appearance are spectacular. With an equalizer adjustment I was able to get some amazing sound quality geared for my preferences. Still, at the end of the day the Nighthawk didn’t wow me with their stock sound, probably because this isn’t my ideal tuning.
 
I enjoyed my time being a part of this tour. Thank you Todd for donating your headphones for the sake of guys like me getting a chance to sample gear I otherwise wouldn’t be able to. I look forward to sending these off to others and hear how their impressions line up or differ from mine. These are certainly going to be a controversial headphone that will strike a lot of conversation amongst the audiophile community.

Thanks for reading and happy listening!
LordToshiro
LordToshiro
I tried them in San Francisco with the Woo Portable, iFi micro iDSD, and with a Cavalli Liquid Crimson and I'm still not sure how I feel about them. It may have been the lack of hours, but I found them slightly bright. The comfort level was excellent and I could see wearing them for hours. The headband is well designed. I'm going to have to compare them to my HE-400i and the Ethers before deciding if I like them enough to buy a pair. 
PDC3
PDC3
Very helpful review and the comparison to the AKG 7xx was a nice bonus.
Francisk
Francisk
Pros: Great comfort & design overall nice sound liquid signature
Cons: None!
INTRO
I purchased these headphones on a whim out of curiosity as the design looked really cool and also I wanted to see what Audioquest might be thinking with their first foray in to headphones because frankly, I often don't know what they are thinking with regards to some of their mega over the top expensive cables like $7,000 power cables and $3,000 ethernet cables. Seriously?

COMFORT & DESIGN
The design and comfort of the Nighthawk headphones are surprisingly one of the best I've ever encountered in any headphones. These require no adjusting at all and I feel I could wear them all day and be comfortable as long as I took breaks for my hearing. The self-adusting headband is very similar to what you find on AKG 702 headphones for example. The "liquid wood" earcups are beautiful. The protein leather earpads are very plush and seem to fit over my ear without any discomfort. Each earpad is suspended in its own suspension system which also helps them remain comfortable around your ears and to acoustically de-couple them from the headband structure.

SOUND
I purchased these headphones on a whim, given my penchant for smooth laid-back headphones (I dislike any bright headphones as my hearing is quite sensitive to treble). With this regard, these headphones sound great since the treble is quite laid back and yummy. The midrange and bass is what is pronounced with the Nighthawks, with impactful bass but not overly so so as to interfere with the midrange. The mids are quite forward which gives a tube-like sound signature. And, these are soothing to you ears. No listening fatigue at all, really like a breath of fresh air, even after a long listening session. Amazing for treble sensitive folks like me.

I wish the Nighthawk had a higher Ohm rating (they are 25 Ohm) since they are almost too sensitive to use with some headphone amps although if you are not using these with an amp, I suppose this is a good trait. These still benefit from some amping however sound generally fine directly out of my iPhone.

INCLUDED CABLES
2 headphone cables are included in the box, which also doubles as the foam lined/padded case for the headphones. One of these cables seems nice and is solid copper PSC+ conductors in a star quad architecture, like a mini Audioquest Castle Rock speaker cable! This is the one you're really supposed to use; it seems of an appropriate thickness for a headphone cable, but the other included cable seems like a bit of a joke. It's extremely thin and cheapy feeling. I didn't even try listening to it but Audioquest has stated this one is more durable so I suppose that is the one to use if you are using the headphones while out and about.

BALANCED UPDATE
I have now had the opportunity to run the Nighthawk's in balanced mode as Audioquest will make you a balanced cable, just contact a dealer. They became less muddy and more open in the soundstage!

AUDIOQUEST AS A COMPANY
All this being said, with my engineering background, I just can't get over my differences with the Audioquest company regarding their marketing/selling of cables such as a  $2,700. HDMI cable or a $380 ethernet cable.  Seriously? Anyone with the least bit of knowledge of digital signals will tell you that there is zero measured or perceived difference in signal quality with these super expensive over the top cables.

I cannot fully trust Audioquest because of this yet I believe they have a winner with the Nighthawks.
Venere 2
Venere 2
Yes, he had "Made in China" listed in the cons. He removed it once people commented on it… Now he says "Where did I state that?"
LOL! This guy probably writes everything in pencil, just in case...
bracko
bracko
OK. You compared a $600 can to LCD-3 ($3200), and gave the cheaper headphone three stars for having grainy sound (compared to LCD-3?). That doesn't make any sense. If anything this hp deserves a better rating because of their good performance at its own price level (as you stated in the review). This can should be compared to the cans at or below it's price point and be given grade relative to those cans, not a can costing 5 times more. 
Mediahound
Mediahound
I've now updated my review and rating  to include some further impressions with running these balanced. Definitely improved the sound. 
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