AudioQuest started shipping their first headphone, the NightHawk, in the summer of 2015.  As an open-back headphone geared towards audio enthusiasts, the NightHawk broke the mold in several areas of headphone design — introducing innovations that made it not only one of the best sounding headphones we’ve heard but also one of the most comfortable. The NightHawk has been a huge success for AudioQuest and is one of our top selling headphones.

At Audio Advice, we don’t just love listening to music, we also love listening to and learning from our customers. This is a piece of DNA that AudioQuest shares. After a year on the market, AudioQuest had received lots of feedback that while they love the NightHawk for music listening, it was not ideal for the work environment.

Open-back designs have the advantage of giving headphone drivers more freedom of movement, which leads to many sonic advantages for the listener. The downside is that your coworkers may be able to hear some of what you’re listening to.

Enter the NightOwl Carbon

In their never ending search for better sound, the team at AudioQuest quickly set out to design an alternative to the NightHawk. Enter the AudioQuest NightOwl Carbon, with its Carbon Grey Metallic high gloss paint finish.

AudioQuest NightOwl angles

We were lucky enough to get to play around and listen to a pre-production pair at a recent meeting with AudioQuest.  At first glance, they look pretty similar to the NightHawk, but some key changes make all the difference.  What has not changed is the incredible comfort you get with AudioQuest headphones.  We still feel this brand is the most comfortable we have ever worn for long term listening!

While the NightOwl Carbon is closed-back, the team at AudioQuest figured out a way for the drivers to breathe — there is a vent running along the perimeter of each dome which lets the air exit through a hidden port. To put it simply, this closed-back headphone sounds like an open-back! It’s the best of both worlds!

What’s in the Box?

The NightOwl Carbon comes with two distinctly different sets of quick change ear pads.  First are the protein leather pads, the same as on the original NightHawk. In addition, the NightOwl comes with a set of super soft Ultrasuede earpads. During our brief listening session, we found the leather pads to offer a better seal with a more extended treble response, but if you are going to wear these for hours and hours, the Ultrasuede will probably be more comfortable.

As a top cable manufacturer themselves, you can always expect that this is an area where AudioQuest’s products will excel. It’s clear that they spent some real time on the headphone cable for the NightOwl.

Many headphone cables are microphonic. This means that they can transmit sound up the cable and into the headphones. When the cable rubs against you, for example, you can often hear it with microphonic cables.  The cable that comes with the NightOwl is virtually immune to this. AudioQuest also made the cable less prone to kinking and added a discreet microphone and transport controls.  Finally, they spent a lot of time figuring out a materials combination for the headphone connection tip that would not wear over time.  We just love the attention to detail AudioQuest puts into these and all their products.

First Thoughts on Performance

We listened to these with an AudioQuest Dragonfly Red and Tidal through a smartphone at our meeting.  The sound was stunning.  Like the NightHawk, the sound is very rich and smooth but we felt the treble extension on the NightOwl Carbon was far better than on the NightHawk, even though they measure the same.  We think it has something to do with the new back design.  If you’re looking for a great semi-open back headphone, however, the NightHawk is still the way to go. In fact, right now you can get the NightHawk for $348.75, a full $250 off regular price while supplies last. See our product listings below to learn more about the NightOwl Carbon and the NightHawk.

We will soon have our hands on a pair for a full review and really look forward to spending more time with the new NightOwl Carbons.