AudioQuest NightHawk Impressions and Discussion Thread
Sep 5, 2015 at 11:01 AM Post #213 of 9,946

inthere

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I don't smell anything. 
 
Sep 5, 2015 at 11:16 AM Post #214 of 9,946

Xarq

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That smell recedes over time, but becomes pleasantly familiar. I also like real leather (smells good when I put on my Fostex TH600 with Lawton pads), but I don't take issue with protein leather either.

 
I guess everyone has different likes and dislikes, tolerance levels and life choices.
 
My own life choice is to avoid as many synthetic chemicals and off-gassing materials as I can.  Yes, I can fully believe that the smell recedes with time, but I prefer not to have exposure to pthalates and other chemical compounds arising from plasticising compounds in something strapped to my head.  For me, chemical odours never become pleasantly familiar, even if they have an intensity half-life as they permeate my environment and lungs.  They just become less annoying and unsatisfactory.  However, leaching of plasticisers leads to embrittlement of the material that used to contain it.  
 
This is why I want leather pads.  They arrive smelling glorious.  And natural leather can be fed with natural oil and beeswax hide conditioner (as I use on all my leather goods) to keep it soft, supple and lovely - indefinitely.
 
Sep 5, 2015 at 11:41 AM Post #215 of 9,946
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  I've just taken delivery of a shiny new pair of Nighthawks 
beerchug.gif

 
Initial impressions are shared with the frequently used descriptions on this thread - that the sound is incredibly liquid and immersive.  Listening to well known music they really are quite revelatory in terms of the extra layers and detail of sound that is revealed.  I'm aware though that a long burn in time is recommended so I'll reserve full judgement for a while, then come back with more detailed observations.
 
In the meantime, and if Skylar is reading this, I do have some feedback.
 
Everything about the construction side of the Nighthawks is exemplary. I really, really appreciate the thought and effort put into designing this product from the ground up.  It looks gorgeous and is hands down the most comfortable headphone I've ever placed on my head.  This product deserves a place in design museums - and I'm sure you'll see it there soon.
 
There's one single issue:  others have mentioned an unpleasant odour from the product.  I too notice this, and having removed one of the ear cushions I've confirmed that it emanates from the "protein leather"  aka "leatherette" or "faux leather" or artificial leather.  In my understanding what I and others are smelling are the chemical plasticisers in the PVC used to make it. Given the attention to detail used elsewhere on the product, for instance the non off-gassing liquid wood coating, I feel at a loss as to why the product would have been compromised in this way.  Quite apart from the unpleasant chemical smell, if you research PVC and other plastics you'll find that there are significant and known issues to do with off-gassing and the toxicity of plasticisers and other chemicals used in production.  Japanese car manufacturers began a process of eliminating such fabrics from their vehicles back in 2007.
 
Skylar - how I wish you'd used Italian vegetable tanned natural leather instead.  It's super, super soft (as any Italian glove owner will tell you) It breathes, it smells gorgeous, it's natural, and it would undoubtedly enhance the look and perceived value of the Nighthawk.
 
May I humbly plead with you to consider producing Italian Veg tanned leather pads?  Even if it's an additional cost accessory.  I'd gladly pay for what I think would be superior.  As it is, the existing pads don't quite provide enough breathe-ability, and the smell detracts from the listening experience.  It grabs part of my sensory attention away from the music, and that just isn't good.
 
So how about it Skylar?  Even the chance of a spare plastic frame and pad would be appreciated, and I'll get my own made.
 
Please?

 
Xarq,
 
I'm really glad you're enjoying NightHawk, and thanks for the feedback. I can help clear up some confusion.
 
First, the smell is not the earpads, it is the natural aroma of liquid wood, a completely natural material.
Most people really like the smell (myself included). Of course, there will always be those who don’t care for it.

Fortunately for those who don't like it, the smell diminishes fairly rapidly over time as long as they are out of the case.
After a few days the smell diminishes by about half.
After 1–2 weeks, another half, and after 2–4 weeks, it should be mostly unnoticeable.
If one directly sniffs the inside of the earpad area after 2 weeks or more, there will be a faint aroma of liquid wood—which will have then matured to a more vanilla aroma (after all, one of the “top-secret” ingredients in liquid wood is vanilla bean extract).
 
Second, NightHawk is a sustainable, responsibly manufactured, and fully RoHS-compliant product; therefore, there are no plasticizers or harmful chemicals used (including PVC). I am extremely passionate about eliminating harmful materials in the manufacture of our products, and I believe NightHawk is the most sustainably produced headphone ever made. You can read more about our sustainability efforts here.
 
Third, our pads are made from eggshell membrane-derived proteins, so it's a more natural material than regular synthetic leather. This particular leather was specifically developed to more closely resemble human skin, which means improved comfort. Further, this eggshell leather is much more durable than genuine leather. We made the decision to use eggshell leather so that the pads wouldn't wear out as fast as genuine leather and would require no maintenance. You can read more about NightHawk's ergonomic design here.
 
Fourth, if you still want to make your own pads, the stock pads can be easily taken off the retaining frame and swapped out.
 
Sep 5, 2015 at 1:46 PM Post #216 of 9,946

Shembot

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Xarq,
 
I'm really glad you're enjoying NightHawk, and thanks for the feedback. I can help clear up some confusion.
 
First, the smell is not the earpads, it is the natural aroma of liquid wood, a completely natural material.
Most people really like the smell (myself included). Of course, there will always be those who don’t care for it.

Fortunately for those who don't like it, the smell diminishes fairly rapidly over time as long as they are out of the case.
After a few days the smell diminishes by about half.
After 1–2 weeks, another half, and after 2–4 weeks, it should be mostly unnoticeable.
If one directly sniffs the inside of the earpad area after 2 weeks or more, there will be a faint aroma of liquid wood—which will have then matured to a more vanilla aroma (after all, one of the “top-secret” ingredients in liquid wood is vanilla bean extract).
 
Second, NightHawk is a sustainable, responsibly manufactured, and fully RoHS-compliant product; therefore, there are no plasticizers or harmful chemicals used (including PVC). I am extremely passionate about eliminating harmful materials in the manufacture of our products, and I believe NightHawk is the most sustainably produced headphone ever made. You can read more about our sustainability efforts here.
 
Third, our pads are made from eggshell membrane-derived proteins, so it's a more natural material than regular synthetic leather. This particular leather was specifically developed to more closely resemble human skin, which means improved comfort. Further, this eggshell leather is much more durable than genuine leather. We made the decision to use eggshell leather so that the pads wouldn't wear out as fast as genuine leather and would require no maintenance. You can read more about NightHawk's ergonomic design here.
 
Fourth, if you still want to make your own pads, the stock pads can be easily taken off the retaining frame and swapped out.


I can vouch for the smell disappearing rapidly over time. Mine is barely detectable.
 
The only thing I'm still having a hard time getting over is the muddiness in the lower mids.
 
Sep 5, 2015 at 2:50 PM Post #217 of 9,946

Xarq

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Xarq,
 
I'm really glad you're enjoying NightHawk, and thanks for the feedback. I can help clear up some confusion.
 
First, the smell is not the earpads, it is the natural aroma of liquid wood, a completely natural material.
Most people really like the smell (myself included). Of course, there will always be those who don’t care for it.

Fortunately for those who don't like it, the smell diminishes fairly rapidly over time as long as they are out of the case.
After a few days the smell diminishes by about half.
After 1–2 weeks, another half, and after 2–4 weeks, it should be mostly unnoticeable.
If one directly sniffs the inside of the earpad area after 2 weeks or more, there will be a faint aroma of liquid wood—which will have then matured to a more vanilla aroma (after all, one of the “top-secret” ingredients in liquid wood is vanilla bean extract).
 
Second, NightHawk is a sustainable, responsibly manufactured, and fully RoHS-compliant product; therefore, there are no plasticizers or harmful chemicals used (including PVC). I am extremely passionate about eliminating harmful materials in the manufacture of our products, and I believe NightHawk is the most sustainably produced headphone ever made. You can read more about our sustainability efforts here.
 
Third, our pads are made from eggshell membrane-derived proteins, so it's a more natural material than regular synthetic leather. This particular leather was specifically developed to more closely resemble human skin, which means improved comfort. Further, this eggshell leather is much more durable than genuine leather. We made the decision to use eggshell leather so that the pads wouldn't wear out as fast as genuine leather and would require no maintenance. You can read more about NightHawk's ergonomic design here.
 
Fourth, if you still want to make your own pads, the stock pads can be easily taken off the retaining frame and swapped out.

 
 
Ah - I apologise in that case, for suggesting your pads contain chemicals.  The reason I thought that is twofold:
 
1) Unsatisfactory experience with synthetic leather on every other earpad I've ever worn.  Or any faux leather item experienced to date.
2) Detaching the pad and testing with my nose - liquid wood no smell, pads quite smelly
 
I guess being at the cutting edge of design and material innovation you're always going to be faced with public making assumptions or judgments based on past experience (which is how we all learn after all) which will result in people like me smelling something and thinking "chemicals" especially when they've encountered poorly made products from companies less passionate and principled than AQ.  
 
Maybe it's worth including an advisory card with the product, explaining the smell, how it quickly goes, and confirming there are no toxic plasticisers or pvc in the "leather"  Just a thought which might allay some peoples fears.  I share your passion for eliminating harmful materials, hence the concern I voiced.  Sorry I came to a wrong conclusion but perhaps that reinforces the need for an advisory note?  I'll air my Nighthawks for a couple of weeks and see how it goes.
 
I still cant understand why though, it's the pads that smell on my pair, not the liquid wood....
 
Carry on the great work Skylar - and I'm impressed that you're here, interacting with users.  So much better to own something made by a company that has a human face and welcomes dialogue, rather than a faceless monolithic corporation.
 
Sep 5, 2015 at 3:51 PM Post #218 of 9,946
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The only thing I'm still having a hard time getting over is the muddiness in the lower mids.

 
In my vernacular, I consider low/mid muddiness the opposite of tightness...a smeared sound.
When I experience speakers or headphones with muddy lower mids, the source of the problem can almost always be traced back to either resonance, intermodulation, or some other form of distortion.
 
Granted everyone's hearing is different, and preferences can be wildly different, I am surprised to hear NightHawk's lows or mids described as "muddy." NH was designed to be basically resonance-free and has lower intermodulation distortion than any headphone I've measured. A lot of owners specifically comment to me just how tight bass and mids are with NH. This was certainly the goal with many of the new design elements such as the split-gap motor, underhung voice coil, true surround, and radially symmetric venting.
 
With NH, one should be able to effortlessly distinguish lower-register instruments from one another and actually hear the time-based characteristics (attack/decay/silence between notes) much more clearly. One of my references when evaluating any system's performance in this realm is "Born Again" from Supergrass' notoriously "thick"-sounding, self-titled 1999 release. The bass & lower mids on this track are basically impossible to reproduce tightly since you have kick drum, tom fills, electric bass, bowed double bass + string section, and a Rhodes piano bassline all occupying the same spectral range with heavy dynamic compression. The track is a mess. Most headphones reproduce the lower mids as just a vague blob of fuzzy resonance. NightHawk really excels at making sense of tricky material like this thanks to it's ultra-linear motor & diaphragm motion.
 
Can you point me to some tracks that you're having a hard time with re:NightHawk?
 
Sep 5, 2015 at 4:01 PM Post #219 of 9,946

Luckbad

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@SkylarGray
 
Added Suprgrass - Born Again to my headphone test playlist. That's a very complex track. Listening to it on the Nighthawk right now, I can indeed distinguish all of the instruments from one another.
 
Most of the time if I feel like a song sounds at cloudy, it's questionable whether it was recorded well.
 
A decent example is Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" from Couldn't Stand the Weather. The very beginning in particular sounds a little compressed and cloudy.
 
Sep 5, 2015 at 4:10 PM Post #220 of 9,946

Shembot

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In my vernacular, I consider low/mid muddiness the opposite of tightness...a smeared sound.
When I experience speakers or headphones with muddy lower mids, the source of the problem can almost always be traced back to either resonance, intermodulation, or some other form of distortion.
 
Granted everyone's hearing is different, and preferences can be wildly different, I am surprised to hear NightHawk's lows or mids described as "muddy." NH was designed to be basically resonance-free and has lower intermodulation distortion than any headphone I've measured. A lot of owners specifically comment to me just how tight bass and mids are with NH. This was certainly the goal with many of the new design elements such as the split-gap motor, underhung voice coil, true surround, and radially symmetric venting.
 
With NH, one should be able to effortlessly distinguish lower-register instruments from one another and actually hear the time-based characteristics (attack/decay/silence between notes) much more clearly. One of my references when evaluating any system's performance in this realm is "Born Again" from Supergrass' notoriously "thick"-sounding, self-titled 1999 release. The bass & lower mids on this track are basically impossible to reproduce tightly since you have kick drum, tom fills, electric bass, bowed double bass + string section, and a Rhodes piano bassline all occupying the same spectral range with heavy dynamic compression. The track is a mess. Most headphones reproduce the lower mids as just a vague blob of fuzzy resonance. NightHawk really excels at making sense of tricky material like this thanks to it's ultra-linear motor & diaphragm motion.
 
Can you point me to some tracks that you're having a hard time with re:NightHawk?

 
Pretty much any track sounds muddy in the lower-to-center mids on the NightHawk, especially compared to the LCD-X (or even the more humble HE-400S). I can't make out most of the detail in that range on the NH. I don't listen to much "mainstream" music, but if I had to pick something, maybe Call Me When I'm Sober by Evanescence. I listen to a lot of contemporary metal, and I find that rhythm electric guitar sounds muddy. The funny thing is that this fault seems to vary in severity for me -- sometimes I feel like the headphone is like listening to music with my head underwater in a swamp, and other times it sounds more or less fine. Like as I'm listening right now to try and find an example track, it sounds decent, if not quite as resolving in the mids as other headphones. But earlier today it sounded unlistenably bad, I actually had to take it off and put on different headphones. This is the only headphone with which I've had this experience.
 
Sep 5, 2015 at 4:19 PM Post #221 of 9,946

Shembot

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In my vernacular, I consider low/mid muddiness the opposite of tightness...a smeared sound.
When I experience speakers or headphones with muddy lower mids, the source of the problem can almost always be traced back to either resonance, intermodulation, or some other form of distortion.
 
Granted everyone's hearing is different, and preferences can be wildly different, I am surprised to hear NightHawk's lows or mids described as "muddy." NH was designed to be basically resonance-free and has lower intermodulation distortion than any headphone I've measured. A lot of owners specifically comment to me just how tight bass and mids are with NH. This was certainly the goal with many of the new design elements such as the split-gap motor, underhung voice coil, true surround, and radially symmetric venting.
 
With NH, one should be able to effortlessly distinguish lower-register instruments from one another and actually hear the time-based characteristics (attack/decay/silence between notes) much more clearly. One of my references when evaluating any system's performance in this realm is "Born Again" from Supergrass' notoriously "thick"-sounding, self-titled 1999 release. The bass & lower mids on this track are basically impossible to reproduce tightly since you have kick drum, tom fills, electric bass, bowed double bass + string section, and a Rhodes piano bassline all occupying the same spectral range with heavy dynamic compression. The track is a mess. Most headphones reproduce the lower mids as just a vague blob of fuzzy resonance. NightHawk really excels at making sense of tricky material like this thanks to it's ultra-linear motor & diaphragm motion.
 
Can you point me to some tracks that you're having a hard time with re:NightHawk?

 
Here we go: Metallica - Battery. The entire low end of this song is a swampy mess on the NH. It's like listening to my other headphones with ear plugs in.
 
Sep 5, 2015 at 5:24 PM Post #223 of 9,946

donlin

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I brought my pair home from the dealer around 11:30 this morning and have been listening ever since (so literally right out of the box). All I can say is wow, these are exactly what I've been wishing for for the last 20 years! I can't imagine what they'll sound like when more broken in. I was really worried with all the talk of huge burn-in, muddiness, distant sound, etc. but no problems here. I've had so many highly regarded phones come through my system this year and was disappointed every time. I guess I "get" the goals for the voicing of these phones. Also, regarding the cable, it may not look great but it sounds way better than my Cardas.
 
Sep 5, 2015 at 6:00 PM Post #224 of 9,946

Jackson9696

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I brought my pair home from the dealer around 11:30 this morning and have been listening ever since (so literally right out of the box). All I can say is wow, these are exactly what I've been wishing for for the last 20 years! I can't imagine what they'll sound like when more broken in. I was really worried with all the talk of huge burn-in, muddiness, distant sound, etc. but no problems here. I've had so many highly regarded phones come through my system this year and was disappointed every time. I guess I "get" the goals for the voicing of these phones. Also, regarding the cable, it may not look great but it sounds way better than my Cardas.


I feel the same way having owned many high end phones, I think these are endgame for me! I haven't been looking for any other headphones for the past few weeks because of these, and my grado's compliment them nicely, so I have nothing left to look for. Speakers maybe?
 
Sep 5, 2015 at 7:28 PM Post #225 of 9,946

leomitch

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I feel the same way having owned many high end phones, I think these are endgame for me! I haven't been looking for any other headphones for the past few weeks because of these, and my grado's compliment them nicely, so I have nothing left to look for. Speakers maybe?


Me three! They were great right from the get go, but they improved subtly as time went on. I find no muddiness anywhere in their spectrum. I have been hearing these from many fine people here, so I have been looking, but to no avail. For me the NH's are the pinnacle of headphones and my Shure 1840's which are no slouches, complement their new cousins the Nighthawks.
I have just finished listening to the Berlin Philharmonic play Berg's Violin Concerto and the Shoshtakovitch  8th Symphony and I am still mopping up the tears I shed over the beauty of these and the wonderful reproduction by Skylar's babies! I am in love!
 
Leo
 

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