- Jun 20, 2001
In being named a 2015 CES Innovation Awards Honoree (Headphones) and 2015 Best of Innovation Winner (Eco-Design and Sustainable Technology), the upcoming AudioQuest NightHawk full-size, semi-open headphone has been somewhat unexpectedly outed. I trust this upcoming NightHawk will soon be the first thing that comes to mind on Head-Fi when someone says "AudioQuest." Currently, most of you probably know AudioQuest for their high-end cables and, of course, the AudioQuest Dragonfly, which defined the ultra-portable USB DAC/amp category a couple of years ago.
Because it's a prototype, I will refrain from commenting specifically about the NightHawk's sound, beyond saying that if what I'm hearing is an indication of where this headphone is headed, then AudioQuest has a really exciting first headphone coming down the pike.
Here's what I will say about the AudioQuest NightHawk, though: It is a semi-open design. You can see in the photos (below) the grill shot from various angles. Viewed dead-on, the grill looks completely solid; but changing angles shows how open it can be--in other words, it's rather obvious why they're calling it "semi-open," and not just "open." This grill is 3D-printed using a process called selective laser sintering, and its design is what AudioQuest is calling "biomimetic," mimicking the latticework in a butterfly's wing. It's designed to diffuse sound and to help defeat resonances.
(Above photos) Head-on, the grill looks solid (top-left); at a slight angle, the openings in the lattice begin to show (top-right); at certain angles, the openings in the lattice are clearly visible (two bottom photos).
The grill isn't the only indication that AudioQuest was serious about resonance and damping in developing the NightHawk. In discussing the NightHawk with Skylar Gray--the AudioQuest NightHawk's designer and project leader--there have been a lot of references and analogies made to loudspeaker design. The cups have substantial internal bracing, and have their interior surfaces coated with an elastomeric coating. Skylar also sent me a partially assembled cup assembly that included substantial use of a wool/polyester blend damping material.
The driver uses a high-excursion 50mm biocellulose diaphragm, which AudioQuest claims is a far superior material to the Mylar diaphragms most drivers use. The diaphragms have compliant rubber surrounds, the idea being to improve the drivers' pistonic behavior. The NightHawk driver's magnet is very strong, rated at 1.2 tesla.
One thing Skylar touched on multiple times in our discussions was close attention to minimizing intermodulation distortion. In doing so, AudioQuest patented something they're calling a split-gap motor design. Truth be told, I haven't discussed this design in any great detail with Skylar yet, so I can't explain to you the idea behind, or the merits of, the split-gap motor design. I'll get back to you on this.
Another thing that he mentioned quite a bit was attention to managing airflow, to minimize the effect of turbulent air pockets and voice coil rocking. Again, this isn't something I have enough understanding about to say much on yet.
Environmental friendliness and sustainability were obviously very important in the NightHawk's design. It uses cups made of something they call Liquid Wood (you can read more about it in the link below), that, in addition to being more environmentally friendly, also has (according to AudioQuest) more superior acoustic properties.
The headband is simple, elegant. It's a dual-headband design, with the top structure defined by a stainless spring steel rod (covered in a woven material). The leather comfort strap has an elastic stretch suspension, and is very comfortable, even after hours of wear. The earpads feel like protein leather to me, are very soft and cushiony, and are quite large--my average sized ears fit comfortably and completely inside them.
The earcups are connected to the headband's yoke assemblies via a suspension system that reminds me quite a lot of microphone shock mounts. This suspension mount system uses ultra-high-grade silicone bands that let the earcups articulate with a lot of freedom, but while still providing nice tension and control. I think this suspension system (which is currently patent pending) contributes a great deal to the NighHawk's comfort; and, again, this is a very comfortable headphone to wear.
The AudioQuest NightHawk is also one of the most attractive full-size headphones I've yet seen. With the shock-mount-type suspension, the circular yokes, the Liquid Wood earcups, and the rod-type headband, the NightHawk looks somehow concurrently modern and vintage. The NightHawk looks very nice on the head, too, especially for a headphone with earpads of this size.
Pricing information hasn't yet been announced, and when I ask about release dates, they answer that it'll be released when it's done. As one of the beta testers, again, I'll say this is an exciting headphone so far, and one I think we'll see a lot of discussion about 'round these parts (hopefully soon).
As AudioQuest releases more information about the AudioQuest NightHawk, I'll pass it on.
Here's the link to AudioQuest's NightHawk introduction: http://nighthawk.audioquest.com/#intro
Here are more photos of the AudioQuest NightHawk:
Photos of the AudioQuest NightHawk on my largish noggin (to show that it is a full-size, circumaural headphone):