Build & Fit7
Value For Money8
Our Score

AudioQuest ran into the Audiophile Pit while wearing a cowboy hat, guns blazing and firing at anything that moved like the mad men they are. I’ve got to admit, I really like their view on how headphones should sound and it is incredibly refreshing to have a product in house that appeals to the musicality chasers like me. This one is a keeper, ladies and gents.

A Rant about Audiophilia

Before starting, I’ve got to thank Stephen at AudioQuest for being such an awesome guy.  He supplied me with some cables for the NightHawk and I couldn’t be happier or more thankful for them.   Having everything I need for a full and detailed review right at the starting line makes things slick and smooth from beginning to end. Thanks so much AudioQuest, you guys rock!

Stephen sent me a random email about the NightHawk a while back, knowing full well beforehand that I would enjoy the hell out of this headphone and that he was eager to read my impressions.  Of course, I’d been skeptical when I read it.  Sadly, the audio community over the past few years has been stuck in a reference tone and clinical mine field of product releases and I really hate it on a subjective level.  I am not in this audio hobby to sit in my nice Eames chair and say “Yep, this is so true to the track!” as my ears bleed, wince at every high hat strike and feel dizzy over the constant poor rendering of treble being reiterated through my “accurate” headphones.  I am here for one reason: to enjoy my tunes.  Music comes first, gear second.

To some of the audio community, musicality means nothing and true to track qualities are all that is important.  That rock out mentality really died down over the past ten years or so and I’ve never understood neutral tone, reference or clinical appeal.  Objectively, I’ve always regarded those types of products as excellent in quality if they were as such, but I’ve also always drawn lines between my personal preferences and what I consider to be great, despite not enjoying the product at all.  I’ve done that because there are a lot of users like me in this hobby that want a fun and very musical experience.  On a personal level, we just want to enjoy the music, not the gear.  If you are that type of listener who likes to listen for fun, pay attention! You’ll love this NightHawk.

The Nighthawk Build and Fit

AudioQuest uses “Liquid Wood” for the cup housings of their new NightHawk, which is a process that involves a mold injection and pressing of renewable raw materials that include lignin, natural fibers, waxes and resigns.  Their finish is composed of a UV coating that makes the headphone look lustrous and almost candy-like, all while being environmentally friendly.  Despite not being true woodies that are carved from such, they put out that textural-woody vibe that most of us would find appealing.  We spend hundreds on Lawton modified woodies and I find it humorous that my Lawton Fostex TH-series wooden cups (just the wooden cups) cost the same price as this NightHawk headphone.


The NightHawk uses dual entry silver mono 2.5mm plugs and they’ve custom made me a balanced 4 pin XLR to be used with my Schiit Mjolnir setup. AudioQuest took the headband suspension route, which is something I am generally not at all fond of, but this time I’ve found that the suspension tactility actually makes sense and doesn’t feel loose fitting in the slightest.  In fact, it is the most form fitting and firm suspension style headband that I’ve ever used.

My Stax 007 and Enigma Dharma also have this type of a design, but both of them either feel overly stiff or floppy and wrong on my head, probably due to their lack of clamp and the abundant clamp of the NightHawk.  With clamp in mind, it isn’t at all severe, but it is well into the world of firm.  Thankfully, the leather pads really help out with their plushness that offers a ton of depth between your ear and the driver behind the fabric covering below.  This is a very comfy headphone.


Moreover, the earcup swivel range and flexibility is excellent, which allows for a nice fit even for mutant X-men shaped heads out there.Oddly, the frame over the leather headband is also fabric laced and you don’t see that too often, so that is a nice little extra.  Normally, they are rubber or plastic tubes with a metal wiring inside and nothing more, so the attention to detail there is appreciated.  The headband doesn’t have much in the way of padding, but it isn’t needed and it would probably ruin the nice comfort the NightHawk already offers.  The headphone is already plenty light and more padding really isn’t at all needed.  The headphone also comes with a great leather zip up case.

Page 2: Sound Impressions

23 Responses

  1. Dexter Yarza


    Between the Nighthawks and Sony MDR-Z7, which do you like better and why? Thank you.

    • 24bit

      Certainly, the Z7. It is more musical, less midrecessed and is more portable/slick looking. I’d consider the RBH HP2 though if you are after a very bass, all around great mid tier closed back. I’d skip the Z7 and the Hawk.

  2. Dexter Yarza

    Do you have any plans in the near future to review the Audioquest Nightowl Carbon which is the closed-back version of the Nighthawks? It’s revised tuning is supposed to be more balanced and addresses the upper-midrange to low-treble frequency range. Thank you.

  3. Peter Pipper

    I agree with you on the bass and treble but I have to say I think the mids are quite yummy. I normally like a slightly forward midrange most of the time and these a a little recessed “at times” but over all I really enjoy them. It reminds me of my old HD600 in the mids and highs in a lot of ways and I find the vocals to sound very nice. The bass is fantastic and I also find the soundstage to have decent depth as well. This is probably the most I’ve ever disagreed with any of your reviews but we all can’t always agree.

    I love your site and your reviews, its one of the reasons why I have a pair of Flare R2A’s on the way because after reading your review how could I not, plus they are only $115 where I got them (and they are real). Any hoo keep up the good work.

    • 24bit

      I respect that, thank you for the honesty. As for the mids of the Hawk, I still considered them into the excellent range objectively, but subjective and for my personal preferences I am not fond of a slight V shape. :) Still, an excellent headphone that I scored an 8/10 in value.

  4. Headphone4life

    I have to say that I think they might be the best headphone under $1000. I’ve have and had many of the popular under $1000 hp’s like the HD600/650, DT990, HE-400 & 400i, and HD700 just to name a few and I like the Nighthawk more than all of them (though it was close with the HD700). The build quality is quite good and the design is great as is the fit. I know everyone hears things differently and if your not into warm hp’s you might not like them but you can’t deny that there a really nice headphone.

    • 24bit

      Agreed. Although, Focals new one really made a mockery of pretty much everything under $999.

      • Headphone4life

        Yeah, I’m going to have to get my hands on a pair of the Elear’s

  5. Jethro

    I love “musicality” of sound, and understand why reference sound isn’t necessarily the best. But I’m disappointed with these headphones. I think they are muffled sounding. The bass seems to bleed into everything.

    • 24bit

      Fair point, sorry you did not enjoy them. I think calling them not good is a bit too harsh, but I’m on board with you for the most part. The recessed mids don’t help the bleeding in low end at all, just makes it that much more stressful to experience. But, you can drop the bass EQ and fix that enough for me to call it a good headphone overall. Thus, the 7.5 score. It’s good, but not great. A lot of people like the thick and “muffled” sound of the HD650 and the Hawk shares that quality. I hope they do a lot better in the future and as mentioned, I desperately want a flagship level Hawk-like headphone! Something with the same bass and overall tone, but with more forward mids and a lot more clarity. I’d be happy for a long time if they could do that.

      • Jethro

        Just to clear, a 7.5 out of 10 is a 75%. In most situations that’s regarded as a “C”.

      • headfonics

        Interestingly in the UK and Ireland a 75% is a First Class Honors or an “A”. Culturally the US type of marking system always uses the top quartile only for marking which I always find quite skewed. Its virtually impossibly to get above 80 in any UK university scoring system.

      • Jethro

        Considering audio equipment is often costly, it would probably make more sense to not regard a 75% as an “A”, especially as small differences between audio equipment are important.

      • Jethro

        Such an interpretation leads to confusion for the purposes of audio consumer reviews. These aren’t “A” headphones, relative to their price.

      • headfonics

        I think you missed my point. My point was to give a more global perspective on how different countries interpret scores, that is to say in the UK they consider anything above 70% an A grade which is derived from the educational scoring and grades system much like in the US they consider something in the 90’s to be A grade derived from their educational scoring system. Both are culturally driven.

        However in our case we have opted to align more closely with the US scoring system as the majority of our readers come from there and other countries that adhere to that interpretation. Thus in this instance the Nighthawk is not considered A grade.

    • 24bit

      Absolutely. Can’t think of many headphones that feel like the big brother of the HD650 in that price range. Both have the same thick sound signature, soft impact, bass texture and are plentiful in quantity on the bottom end, recessed mids, slightly elevated treble, well formed stage. Their qualities are almost identical, just that the Hawk sounds the cleaner of the two and feels like the big brother to the HD650.

      • 24bit

        Debatable, but you can’t deny they share very similar setup and feel. That was my main point I was trying to get across. Whether some people think the HD650 is better than the Hawk is up to them to decide.

      • Headfonia_L.

        Similar, yes. but the Senn to me is cleaner and less warm. That’s why I see it as an upgrade over the Hawk. Preferences I guess.

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