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Audioquest Nighthawk Headphones commentary


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I posted this at another forum at Skylar Grays request...he is the designer of the Nighthawks for AudioQuest. This is my first fling of any consequence at a post here, so hopefully it does not break any forum rules about not posting something from another venue.

 

Those of you who know me, understand that I am about as loquacious as any 80 year old geezer gets...sorry to disappoint you but words elude me for once. My new Audioquest Nighthawks have been burning in for perhaps four hours and I will tell you that my lower jaw is aching from dropping open in awe and wonder. Perhaps as senility encroaches on my noodle, I have become childishly easy to please, but I don't really think so.

I have spent the last hour listening to Flamenco guitar music and this set up Nighthawks have brought those Spaniards and Gypsies right into my den. Suffice it to say, these head cans don't miss a thing, every finer movement over the strings and frets, the deep thumps when the players beat the body of the guitar in rhythm with their beautiful music and the full decaying of the various end notes when the fingers stop moving. I can clearly hear the warmth of the fine woods reverberating harmonically. The music fairly sizzles. And the Nighthawks dip deeply into the bass register provided by the Infinity DAC. The depth of the sound-stage plumbs fathoms with these babies...profound and black! The mids are balanced with the high and low ends to provide a well focused, natural sound and a real presence at the venue/sound studio/whatever.To be frank, I can't see how what I am hearing can be improved...I mean how real is real! How pure is the master tape? I suspect that is how real and pure these wondrous head cans are. To top it off, and this may be heresy, but if the Sennheiser 800's or the HiFi Man 1000's are better than these, I am a doubting Thomas unwilling to fork over another half or full grand more for whatever very slight improvement they might provide. There, I said it!

Seriously, I cannot see how much better these Nighthawks will get by further burning in. IMHO Skylar Gray has knocked one right out of the park. Cliched eh, but it is accurate! My only complaint is that the grain pattern in my liquid wood is not as pretty as others I have seen in photographs...never mind, I'll live with that. BTW they are super comfortable. The suspension system makes them fit my noggin with aplomb and they are light too without feeling like a toy...solidly built, beautiful,comfortable and they are priced right at $699 Canadian, $599 in US dollars. Watch out! Unless I miss the mark, people are going to love these beauties. I am already in love! Jeez! First the great Pulse Infinity and now these...Happy Birthday to me!Cheers to allLeo gs1000.gif

 

Addendum:

The headphones have been burning in for nearly 100 hours now and I can say that I haven't changed my opinion from my words above. My DAC is a Light Harmonic Pulse Infinity, which is similar to their XFI Pulse but on steroids, as someone has coined ahead of me. The steroids are 2 of the newest ESS Sabre 32 bit chips, 2 Femto clocks, 2 pair of naked resistors from Texas Components and as well upgraded PC board and much more. I am not an engineer so the electronic components and the readings that they accomplish when tested is so much arcane physics speak to this 8 decade old noodle, but I must say that I haven't heard any more musical sound than that which emanates from this unit. Whatever that means eh?! There are many here who are audiophiles non plus ultra relative to me, but nonetheless the impact of this DAC in concert with the Nighthawk Headphones is beyond stunning to my ears...and I mean that in a good way! LOL!

I bought both of these as presents to myself for my 80th birthday and I was taking two risks: one on a crowdfunding company that at first seemed to be stumbling and second on a first time development in the headphone area with no reviews or positive comments to back things up! Old age made me brave, some would say thoughtless with a fair bunch of American dollars and I am a Canadian with a weak dollar during the development time of these new items to the Audiophile munitions stockpile. I will finish off by saying I have not been disappointed...quite the opposite. These may well be my final purchases since my health quite frankly is less than optimum. There I go again with the words flying away. Enough already!

 

Leo

 

 

 

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I've been listening to mine for 2 days - they have an emphasis in the upper bass to low mids, a significant recess around 700-1000 hz, and a soft treble. Overall, many first-time listeners have been disappointed by the signature (after burn-in) that's quite different from the likes of Senn HD600/800 or Beyer T1/T90 et al. My youtube video is up, and I'm working on the written review. I intend to have a very positive review, but users who are committed to the typical hi-fi signatures may be disappointed, unless they have enough patience to wait out the adjustment period, and then decide yes or no.

 

Probably the real difference is the smoothness of the sound, and I don't say that lightly or flippantly - many headphones, even a few premium models, have a coarse or grainy texture due to the usual unevenness (albeit many of those are subtle) - but I think the Nighthawk will make a very good impression in the long run, if as I noted, users will give them the time a high-quality headphone merits.

 

If that doesn't sound like a raving recommendation, well, I have a lot of headphones and have moved the Nighthawk up to the top of my list - maybe shared with another more expensive headphone, and I'm past the point of doubting it - it's going to stay there for a long time.

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Hi Dale

Words of high praise coming from you mate! I wish I could winnow out the technical stuff like you can, but I am one of those intuitive guys when it comes to music. Great sound is a gestalt that I can't separate out...when I try here is what comes out...made the hair on the back of my neck tingle; I teared up uncontrollably, pass the Kleenex please; the warm thump of Bream's hand on the guitar gave me goose bumps; the kick from the multiple bass drum pedals shook my core...et al, stuff like that. I was a failure at physics...I majored in Philosophy and History of the Ancient Middle East, so the possibility of me knowing there was a bump or emphasis at 700 cycles or a de-emphasis at 12K cycles is nil, but I can tell you that the Nighthawks in concert with this wonderful DAC from Light Harmonic makes Norah Jones' voice bring me to tears. See what I mean?! So to hear your commentary matches up with my goose bumps and hair standing up on the back of my neck etc. Weird eh! So poetry and metaphor is more up my alley. We basically agree that the Nighthawks given a chance and a longish listen lasting longer than a curt ten minutes deserve to be near the top of the List!

I am listening to some great trumpeter rending my soul with his rendition of Yesterdays...I could dance the night away with the love of my life to this kind of music.

 

Well done as expected Dale! You have an Ear my friend! Lucky you! Lucky us! And another Happy Birthday to me for being clever enough to risk these two new and unproved converters of zeros and ones into the stuff that brings romantics like me to the edge of joyful tears. I wish I could still smoke my pipe...some fine Cavendish and Virginia tobacco with a smidge of Perique from Turkey, a glass of Scotch and a great recording by Boulez of the Firebird...let me die like that I say. Oh my Buddha, they are playing Georgia. I am blessed!

 

Tip my hat to you Dale

Leo

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Addendum - Just wanted to mention - most of the early questions I get are "how does the Nighthawk compare to headphone X, Y, or Z", and so the technical stuff (frequencies etc.) are necessary to say that some kind of measurement was actually performed. Most measurements from my experience don't convey anything useful to most audiophiles, but for users with perfect pitch it's important to make sure the headphone has accurate tonality. For the rest of us music lovers, the general balance of bass, mids and treble may be important, especially if the user has any hearing limitations.

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Ha! Yes! I have two hearing impairments, old outer ear and old inner ear! I have to listen with two expensive hearing aids or my trebles are severely truncated. Bad enough that I have old ears, but they were also subjected to a whole lot of rather careless bench-rest shooting with my beloved sharp voiced .243 Winchester loaded to accurately punch quarter inch groups at a hundred yards. Somehow in-ear protection was a no-no for me and I often didn't have my over the ear protection in place because I found the ear-cups were awkward when I would lay my head along side the rifle butt. Dumb eh!? No answer is required!

I am surprised I still hear as well as I do. It's those highs with the tops flattened that is the big problem...the hearing aids do really help.

 

Leo

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Ha! Yes! I have two hearing impairments, old outer ear and old inner ear! I have to listen with two expensive hearing aids or my trebles are severely truncated. Bad enough that I have old ears, but they were also subjected to a whole lot of rather careless bench-rest shooting with my beloved sharp voiced .243 Winchester loaded to accurately punch quarter inch groups at a hundred yards. Somehow in-ear protection was a no-no for me and I often didn't have my over the ear protection in place because I found the ear-cups were awkward when I would lay my head along side the rifle butt. Dumb eh!? No answer is required! I am surprised I still hear as well as I do. It's those highs with the tops flattened that is the big problem...the hearing aids do really help.

Leo

 

The electronic 'muffs today are amazing! I wish I had a set a couple of decades ago. Funny coincidence too - I hadn't used any .243's until a local law enforcement official sold me a Savage "bolt action pistol" (probably a misnomer). I wished for the Remington XP, but didn't find one in my budget. We got a pretty tight circle at 100 yards, which ain't bad for being as short as it is.

 

A caveat too - occasionally on headphone forums someone will ask for buying advice and then also mention a particular hearing problem. I unfailingly direct them to an audiologist first, so the audiologist can clear them for the type of headphone they're interested in.

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I just want to add here for those who are interested, the Lab Harmonic Infinity uses 2 ESS Sabre chips, the very latest one... ESS Sabre 9018AQ2M. No doubt that this plus Larry Ho's engineering genius plus the Nighthawks developed by Skylar Gray explain why my ears and mind are so happy lately. Wonderful music!

 

Leo

 

 

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I just want to add here for those who are interested, the Lab Harmonic Infinity uses 2 ESS Sabre chips, the very latest one... ESS Sabre 9018AQ2M. No doubt that this plus Larry Ho's engineering genius plus the Nighthawks developed by Skylar Gray explain why my ears and mind are so happy lately. Wonderful music!

 

Leo

 

 

 

Whoa there! Somebody says...the 9018AQ2M is meant to be used in mobile and easily transported DAC's etc. Yes that is correct, but it can also be used in a desk top DAC like the Infinity. This DAC has a particularly high THD performance due to the 9018AQ2M being used over the older version 9018 converter, which already in concert with excellent components had an excellent THD reading. Larry Ho decided after suggestions from the crowd fund raisers to experiment with the AQ2M and sure enough it surpassed the earlier model by enough to ask for another $22 dollars to use this newer converter.

That is the great thing about crowd-funding, the contributors get to have a say what features they would like to see and if enough want the feature, then the developers go for it.

Anyway, it was $22 well spent IMHO. Using the naked resistors and upgrading most of the components in the original vanilla Geek Pulse was very satisfying especially since the Infinity turned out so spectacularly well. So working in concert with a superior headphone was really necessary and to my ears I got just that.

 

Leo

Geek_Pulse_X_Front_520.jpg

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Whoa there! Somebody says...the 9018AQ2M is meant to be used in mobile and easily transported DAC's etc. Yes that is correct, but it can also be used in a desk top DAC like the Infinity. This DAC has a particularly high THD performance due to the 9018AQ2M being used over the older version 9018 converter, which already in concert with excellent components had an excellent THD reading. Larry Ho decided after suggestions from the crowd fund raisers to experiment with the AQ2M and sure enough it surpassed the earlier model by enough to ask for another $22 dollars to use this newer converter. That is the great thing about crowd-funding, the contributors get to have a say what features they would like to see and if enough want the feature, then the developers go for it. Anyway, it was $22 well spent IMHO. Using the naked resistors and upgrading most of the components in the original vanilla Geek Pulse was very satisfying especially since the Infinity turned out so spectacularly well. So working in concert with a superior headphone was really necessary and to my ears I got just that. Leo

 

If that's a solid state amp and it leans a bit toward a tube-type sound, that would be cool.

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So, how do the Nighthawk's compare to the HD 650's?

 

I had the original 600 and 650, but not the new 650. Based on my experience with those Senns (and many newer 650 reviews) and now the Nighthawk, I'd guess the Nighthawk will have more lower mids and less treble.

 

http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Audioquest_Nighthawk.jpg

 

The above (green line only) is an EQ curve to make the Nighthawk sound more like a warmer version of the 600 - perhaps like a 650?

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I had the original 600 and 650, but not the new 650. Based on my experience with those Senns (and many newer 650 reviews) and now the Nighthawk, I'd guess the Nighthawk will have more lower mids and less treble.

 

http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Audioquest_Nighthawk.jpg

 

The above (green line only) is an EQ curve to make the Nighthawk sound more like a warmer version of the 600 - perhaps like a 650?

 

So you reckon the Nighthawk is even warmer than the HD 650? That might be a step too far for me.

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I'd like to hear them but that seems like a bizarre business strategy.

 

Ya never know. I have a couple other "breakthrough" items in the closet whose makers will probably have to get a job elsewhere. But Audioquest is in it for the long term, so I think this will get interesting.

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I do like the look of them. They look comfy & I'm impressed with the innovative choice of materials. I think they might be heavy though, at least, heavier than the HD 650 anyway. Hmm..

 

They feel very light. The only possible objection users would have is the headband, which just pulls into place, so someone might not like the feel on top of their head. I'm good with it.

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If that's a solid state amp and it leans a bit toward a tube-type sound, that would be cool.

 

It is indeed a solid state amp and it was designed and tuned by Larry Ho who is a tube amp designer, so you can pretty well expect some tube-type sound from it.

 

Leo

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  • 1 month later...
It was the lightest headphone i have ever used. They look very nice indeed and are very light and comfortable .The ear cups are made out of liquid wood.It is the best i have ever used.Thank god,bay bloor radio in toronto delivered the headphone fast and safe. It have a very nice soundstage. The treble was smooth.The vocals on the tracks I used sounded great and natural. It had very nice soundstage

 

 

What were you comparing them to?

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  • 2 months later...

I WROTE the following about the NightHawk on another thread. I have it and other headphones in the house, and I am available on request to compare any of them with given music tracks, to see how they compare. My main point of reference is how acoustic music sounds to me in person, live, and then how the headphones compare to that.

 

I'd say the Nighthawk deserves its controversy, and then some. Even today after many, many hours of break-in and play, when I turn off the EQ it sounds very dull compared to my most accurate headphone (if accurate is OK) - the Beyer DT1770. To make things even more interesting, I've had to EQ the treble *down* quite a bit on my Grado PS1000e. Now comparing the PS1000e to the Nighthawk with no EQ, isn't even doable - ridiculous.

 

So with the PS1000e treble EQ'd down and the Nighthawk treble EQ'd up - both quite a bit I must say, the PS1000e still sounds brighter. They are light-years different.

 

But what's even more interesting is how radically the sound changes with just a modest EQ with the Nighthawk - it goes from dull and boomy to very, very natural and extended on both ends. I haven't experienced anything like that with 150 other headphones.

 

I don't know how to explain the Nighthawk, or predict its performance for other users. But I will say that despite any claims by the designer or manufacturer about the advanced technology they applied to its design (and I believe everything they say about those technologies), they still managed to come up with an out-of-the-box (and after burn-in) signature that's very, very un-hi-fi. The people who've reported that are not wrong.

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