AUDIOQUEST

Nighthawk Headphone Review

Revolutionary design delivers big sound and maximum comfort

PRICE


$595

THE HIGH NOTES


  • Environmentally-friendly design
  • Easy to drive
  • Extended comfort

SOUND PROFILE

We began selling AudioQuest products in the early 1980s and have been big fans ever since due to their commitment to excellence and ability to consistently create outstanding audio gear.

Over the years, AudioQuest has remained true to their mantra of “do no harm” by working tirelessly to ensure they minimize distortions of the signal in order to honor the original source. Creating products while maintaining this goal is no easy feat. Yet after two years spent reinventing headphone truths that have always held true in the past, their design team led by Skylar Gray succeeded in creating the Nighthawk headphone.

Packaging, Design & Build Quality

The Nighthawk arrives in a well-made, discreet, embossed leather carrying case. Upon opening you’re greeted with a distinct woodsy scent, which we learned is due to the outer cup being made entirely of liquid wood. When removing the headphones from the case we were pleasantly surprised to find the Nighthawk to be significantly lighter than we had anticipated. We had a hard time locating the left/right markings when initially trying them on, but quickly discovered them subtly engraved into the bottom of the earcup.

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The design of the Nighthawk is over-the-ear and semi-open-back. The liquid wood material is environmentally friendly, incredibly lightweight, and when properly braced it has almost no resonances that might color the sound. The Nighthawk’s rear grill is another interesting detail that sets it apart.

Most open-air headphones have a rear grill with perforated holes or slats to allow some of the sound coming off the back of the headphone driver to both pass through and reflect back to your ears. The Nighthawk’s design inspiration for this 3D printed rear enclosure actually came from a butterfly wing. The combination of the semi-open-back design with the 3D diffuser allows you to enjoy these headphones even in an office environment as very little sound escapes, yet you still get that big sound stage that open-back headphones are known for.

The driver of the Nighthawk is like nothing in any other headphone. The AudioQuest team created a bio-cellulose driver that acts more like a high-end speaker driver. It has a rubber surround that allows it to piston with minimal distortion. AudioQuest claims if you measure the distortion of most mylar drivers used in many headphones and compare it to their bio-cellulose driver, they have far lower distortion in the midrange and higher frequencies.

Having been in the cable business for almost 40 years, AudioQuest did not skimp on the cables. The Nighthawk comes with two sets: a more rugged set designed to withstand abuse, and a high-end lightweight set made in a similar fashion to some of their best speaker cables. We were so impressed with the latter that we tested it using other headphones and found significant sound improvement. So much so, we told AudioQuest they need to offer it separately and hope they take us up on our suggestion soon.

Comfort

The Nighthawk is one of the most comfortable pairs of headphones you will ever put on. The head strap has a small layer of memory foam and is infinitely adjustable as it adjusts up and down and pivots front to back to conform to your head. Each earpiece is suspended by four pieces of rubber that allow it to move independently in all directions.

The earcups themselves are plush and large enough to fully cover ears without pressure and the unique liquid wood material leads to an incredibly lightweight headphone. Both of these factors ensure anyone can wear the Nighthawk for hours without discomfort.

Performance

When considering the Nighthawk, remember AudioQuest did not create these headphones to mimic the sound of speakers. Instead, the Nighthawk aims to provide the most natural headphone experience possible that is closest to the recorded sound.

When we first put the Nighthawk headphones on after the recommended 150-hour break-in period, it was after extensively testing a much less expensive pair of headphones. We found ourselves playing air drums within the first couple of notes when listening to the same songs we tested with the lower-end models. The Nighthawk completely changed our listening experience.

The Nighthawk delivers an overall warm, rich and inviting sound. They remind us of the presentation provided by a high-end, tube-based audio system. Since the dawn of stereo, audio connoisseurs argue that tube sound is closest to the real thing. This is because tubes master, not exaggerate, the high frequencies producing a silky smooth sound. Many high performance products in both consumer and concert touring arenas still use vacuum tubes due to their warm sound.

If you’re not familiar with tube-based audio, the Nighthawks may initially sound dull compared to other headphones you try. Give it some time, however, and we’re confident that you will soon be seduced by the warm, natural sound.

Testing 1…2…3…

To get the best feel for the Nighthawk’s smooth sound, start out with “Axel F” by Harold Faltermeyer. Enjoy hearing the bass line fill your head with clarity as the synthesizer perfectly combines the signals and frequencies.

Switch over to Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” and notice the Nighthawk’s outstanding rhythm and pacing.

Move ahead 20 years to the remastered “5 Minutes Ahead” by Pantera. Whether you are a fan of heavy metal or not, you’ll appreciate the way the Nighthawk handles this famous guitar-filled rock track.

Finally, one of our favorite cuts while testing was “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck. This is an early and somewhat stereo-exaggerated recording. The high hat is extended while you’ll hear all the rich harmonics of the sax and piano.

Overall Recommendation

If your headphones become uncomfortable during long listening sessions or you experience headaches due to exaggerated highs or lows, add the Nighthawks to your list of headphones to explore. They are perfect for long trips or extended listening sessions for both comfort and natural sound. Since they are crafted with exceptional materials and replaceable parts, they will be your go-to pair for the foreseeable future.

HIGH NOTES UNPACKED

Environmentally Friendly

AudioQuest went to great lengths to use materials that not only do little harm to the sound, but also our environment

Extended Comfort

Unique, completely adjustable system assures no head fatigue, even after hours of wear.

Easy to Drive

The low impedance of 25 ohms coupled with their 100db sensitivity make them easy to achieve concert levels with a portable device

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