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Night Phonehawk: Quest of Audio

  • I realized that even before getting a sample of the AudioQuest NightHawk into my hands that they wouldn’t be just one more pair of cans from an old name company who’d recently felt the need to join the headphone market. The failure of this mission was surely an impossibility.


    Why? One reason is that NightHawk Skylar Gray had started from a blank canvas cleared by company founder William E.Low leading to the launch date claim (to fame) that the NightHawk were the first mass-produced headphones to use 3D printed parts.

    Not only that. Much more information on the innovations found within the NightHawk have since been detailed on the AudioQuest website:
    Measurements  Sustainability   Driver Tecnology  Biomimetics  Ergonomics  Acoustics  Cable

    If NightHawk is on your audition list, I highly recommend you visit each of the above pages in turn . They collectively provide a boundless ocean of information and will help you see more clearly the amount of intelligence invested in this outstanding project.

    If you want to read about the NightHawk and are not (yet!) ready to spend so much time then you might be satisfied by my short assessment: that such a headphone construction would have been impossible six years ago. In fact, two years were spent by Gray in taking this product’s development from start to finish.

    As usual, here are a couple of videos: an unboxing and Tyll Hertsens interviewing Gray at CES 2015.

    The 45 degree-angle termination of the 3.5 mm jack is a nice touch. If your laptop has an uneven sidewall at the audio output jack, you will certainly value it. Such seemingly insignificant things sum to a very nice slice of exceptionalism that’ll no doubt be valued by old headphone hands.

    Comfort factor is of rather high level. No, NightHawk didn’t reach the flight altitude of HiFiMan HE1000 or Sennheiser HD800 but you can sit for many hours without discomfort. I did it myself watching TV shows and video from YouTube.


    NightHawk are sincere involvers. Not one of my four friends stopping by for an audition were disappointed by their sound; I heard only compliments about the sound and only one guy made a complaint regarding the liquid wood earcup. Well, beauty is only skin deep. And because of the uniqueness of this material, each pair of NightHawk looks slightly different to the next.

    NightHawk never will boost/exaggerate HF band in a false attempt to imitate pseudo-audiophile excitement. These phones are very tolerant of bad quality recordings. You don’t need to be an audiomonk who listens only to specific moments on specific tracks from specific compact discs to enjoy the AudioQuest headphones’ repose. And no, I am not stretching the truth, I know such individuals!

    A shame that such an emotive, immersive, well-balanced headphone presentation (as heard here), one that appeals to a music lover and not audiophile, is not more commonly found among the modern hi-res audio reality show. I was particularly impressed by the NightHawk’s ability to properly deliver the transients of various drum and percussive sounds; I guess that’s the result of using very light diaphragm which measures 50mm across and is made from Biocellulose.


    Whilst we’re getting a little technical, how about some specifications?
    Impedance: 25 ohms
    Sensitivity: 100dBSPL/mW
    Power Handling: 1.5W
    Frequency Response & Distortion Measurements

    The cable matters too. After all, AudioQuest is a cable company:

    Length: 8’ (2.4m)
    Conductors: Solid Perfect-Surface Copper+ (PSC+)
    Geometry: Symmetric Star-Quad
    Dielectric: Foamed-Polyethylene
    NDS: Noise-Dissipation System
    Terminations: 3.5mm Stereo > Dual 2.5mm Mono | Direct-Silver Plated Copper.


    Let’s get down to listening…

    I used about 80 vinyl plates and about 25 CDs during the review period. Headphones are absolutely universal for any musical genres/moods. Did I say “any”? I am not overstating.

    To find out just how tolerant were the NightHawk of bad quality records I dug deep into my record collection with a villainous smile on my face. Not a trivial task as I usually hunt for the better quality sounds.

    The first to come up for air was John Lennon Rock’n’roll (1975). I remember how I bought it at the tail end of one vacation. 2LPs were delivered from Odessa City. Not Texas but the Ukraine. The second beast to surface was The Scorpions Blackout (1980). Back I went, into some past life.


    One distinctive feature of Lennon’s album is its real rock’n’roll rhythm. It’s an energetic hurricane, an absolutely mind-blowing record! The NightHawk could demonstrate to me the meaning of being there, caught up within its maelstrom, at the click of a finger.

    Bush’s Sixteen Stone fell as the second victim to NightHawk’s claws. Dirty guitar sounds were a standard for grunge rock bands back in 1994. I’ve never heard this album delivered with an acceptable limit of comfort. Until the NightHawk, which ensured an appropriate amount of tameness – just the right balance of stand up and sit down – so that my mind was not overriden by thoughts of the album’s terrible sound quality.


    What about Marylin Manson’s The Pale Emperor? I will not touch on the quality of the musical material. For that, hit up my review from January 2015. Some tracks of this beautiful album are recorded to audiophile standards. Ha! Did I catch you out? Some – but not all – tracks here sound very good indeed. I have spent many pleasurable minutes listening via the HiFiMan HE1000.

    However, NightHawk’s way with forgiveness comes in handy with the more average sounding material.


    Time for some pros and cons.

    Cons – these are hard to find. I found only one: the absence of a balanced cable. Yes, NightHawk are definitely positioned by manufacturer as portable headphones but for a cable company surely it would be peanuts to add a single balanced cable? They’ve said it will be offered in future as per the end of this FAQ section.

    Pros? Let’s get them down too:

    1. Non-fatiguing sound
    2. No preference for one particular music genre
    3. An easy load for amplifiers
    4. Very tolerant of bad quality recordings
    5. The manufacturing quality of ‘phones and all accessories are high. I have reason to emphasize it as not all manufacturers are so scrupulous.

    Have I gushed enough yet?


    Not the last question for potential buyer though hey?

    These cans will easily work from any “hole”. I watched movies on a tablet and then an old laptop, then I listened to records on an iPod Video (3rd Generation) and then on an iPod Touch. Great results across the board! Sure, the NightHawk don’t present a difficult load for amplifiers – 25 Ohms and flat graphic. That’s a huge plus as you can always may add a better headamp or source down the line.

    Toward the end of this review my iPod Video died an untimely death. It had been around since 2006 – an antique in audio terms. What to replace it with? How about the Cayin N5? It’s not such an expensive player and Cayin is close to showing high-end status. One shouldn’t look at the price tag and country of manufacturer with snobbery – this solidly made little beast can play all modern audio formats including DSD and even (Audiogods, bless me!) SACD-iso.


    The Cayin N5 promises to send only 200mV (32 Ohms) into connected headphones, so it was intriguing to witness how it might keep NightHawk under control. But before that, the new top dog from MrSpeakers – the Ether – was wired to the portable player. The Ether offers much greater resolution and transparency – ideal for learning the sonic limits of the N5.

    Well, it was rather predictable – a little bit harsh in the high frequencies. Perhaps the open version of Ether requires a more expensive player? Audiophile quality records are shown little mercy with such a combo. But let’s come back to Hawks!

    NightHawk showed almost full synergy with this mid-price player. Good balance – a word that arrived to my mind first whilst listening to more regular records. Rock music sounds coherently, tasty with nicely textured bass. The power output of the N5 proved more than enough; I could not listen higher than 45% of maximum volume – too loud. Even with my MFSL version of “Kind of Blue” I didn’t reach 50%.

    This is Skylar Gray and AudioQuest’s first attempt to mix up the speakers and headphone sound – and one I consider most successful. NightHawk is new but also very serious competitor for older, well known models from other brands in the sub-$1k price category. Is their US$599 a pro or a con? Such positioning lends the NightHawk’s price positioning a degree of uncertainty, one that in some ways falls short of its true talents. I bought my pair!

    Further information: AudioQuest

    Home System

      • Speakers: Audio Physic, model Avanti, first generation.
      • Power Amp: T+A, model 1500.
      • as Pre-Amp: AMR DP-777
      • as DAC: AMR DP-777
      • CD Player: Micromega Aria
      • Vinyl Player: ELAC, model Miracord 50H
      • Phono preamp: Abbas Esoteric Audio (Ukraine), model Treble Clef
      • Rack (audio furniture): DYI from Ikea tables, model Hemnes
      • Speakers Cable: Acoustic Revive SPC-Reference (bi-wiring)
      • Component Cables: 1) Acoustic Revive, model RCA-1.0PA;

    2) XLO Reference 2  1A

      • Power Cables: 1) Sound-YP, light version (Ukraine); 2) DYI cables made from polished soviet military copper bus with German connectors; 3) Neotech NEP-3001 MK3 3×5.25 OCC/SPUPOCC hybrid power cable with Neotech NC-P303 OCC EU power plug Gold (on Power Amp)
      • Headphones: HiFiMan HE-1000, Audeze LCD-X, AudioQuest NightHawk, Sennheiser Momentum (1st version), MrSpeakers Ether (opened and closed version).
      • Head Amp: hybrid version between “Hi-Dynamic” and “Hi-Power”, 5 Watts in class A on 16 Ohms, MOSFET-transistor output, Amp made by Peeves (Lugansk City, Ukraine).
      • USB Cables: 1) WireWorld USB Audio cable Starlight Platinum (1 m); 2) Sound-YP (Ukraine), top model Master SE (1.35 m).
      • Accessories: DYI footers under units, speakers and acoustic cable.
      • PC Laptop: Acer Predator 15, model G9-591-7451 (RAM 32 Gb, CPU Intel ® Core (TM) i7-6700HQ 2.60 GHz, Windows 10 Home).

    Test compilation
    1. Rex tremendae (Mozart – Requiem KV 626 – Philippe Herreweghe – La Chapelle Royale – Collegium Vocale – 1996 – Harmonia Mundi)
    2. Tuba mirum (Mozart – Requiem KV 626 – Philippe Herreweghe – La Chapelle Royale – Collegium Vocale – 1996 – Harmonia Mundi)
    3. Con Te Partiro (Andrea Bocelli – Romanza (XRCD))
    4. Manha De Carnaval (Susannah McCorkle – Most Requested Songs – Concord)
    5. Koni Priveredlivye (Vladimir Vysotsky – Izbrannoe (1974-75) – Melodiya)
    6. Mercy Street (Peter Gabriel – So – Geffen Records)
    7. Hotel California (Eagles – Hell Freezes Over – XRCD)
    8. Tlon (Nils Petter Molvaer – Khmer – ECM)
    9. Growing Up (Peter Gabriel – Up – Real World)
    10. Marche au supplice (Berliner Philharmoniker · Herbert von Karajan – Berlioz – Symphonie fantastique · La Damnation de Faust – Danses – Deutsche Grammophone)
    11. Carmen Fantaisie (Ruggiero Ricci – LSO – Pierino Gamba – Carmen Fantaisie – XRCD24)
    12. Wherever I May Roam (Metallica – 1991 – Elektra)
    13. The Sound of Perseverance (Death – The Sound of Perseverance – Nuclear Blast)
    14. Killing Strangers (Marylin Manson – The Pale Emperor – Cooking Vinyl, Loma Vista Recordings).

    Written by Sergii Dybov

    Music lover from the cradle, Sergii is a head-fier, vinyl man and fanatical audio tweaker. He works as a deep sea captain for the largest shipping container company in the world and has visited more than 100 countries. When not at sea, Sergii resides in the Ukraine's Kherson City. English is his second language but Sergii's reviews are presented here in unedited form in order to preserve their unique 'you are there' vibe.

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