Disclaimer: The AAW Nightingale sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank the teams at AAW for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about AAW (Advanced AcousticWerkes) products reviewed on Headfonics click here.
I am always excited to receive a monitor that is a bit unusual or different from the norm. The AAW Nightingale is just such an example with a planar magnetic driver build.
Now we have done full-range planar magnetic monitor reviews before but, outside of the iSINE/LCDi4 from Audeze, the last one that dropped in my lap was the ME.1 from Unique Melody in 2017.
That is quite some time so I am excited to see if 2019’s planar designs have evolved because, for me, the ME.1 has not aged as well as I thought it would in the face of the iSINE competition.
The Nightingale, however, sits a little above the iSINE 10 and 20 but at SG$1399 well below the LCDi4. In fact, the price point is indeed much closer to the $769 ME.1 so for the main review I think this might be a very useful benchmark.
The Nightingale is a universal monitor but with an open-back design. That does mean you will not get top levels of isolation but, in order for the planar driver to properly breathe and sound spacious, it does need to have an open element to it. In fact, most every planar monitor I have seen is semi-closed or open-back.
At its heart, the Nightingale uses a 15mm MPMTM micro planar magnetic driver with a PVD deposited voice coil planar diaphragm. The internal wiring is finished with UPOCC Copper and that might just give you a hint of the type of sound signature you can expect from the Nightingale.
The driver is a little smaller than the 18.5mm used in the ME.1 and a fair bit smaller than the 30mm variants found in the iSINE and LCDi4 but it does allow AAW to shrink the size right down to something far more compact so it does look very much like an everyday in-ear monitor.
Unboxing & Accessories
I wish I could give you the complete unboxing experience but sadly the sample sent to us was slimmed down and not the full retail package. However, I did get to grapple with the retail packaging at CanJam Singapore 2019 so I can give you some pics from that and a rundown of what you can expect.
The packaging is quite grand for a monitor but for the price perhaps fitting. AAW has expanded its smaller blue flip-top cases from their mid-range offerings into much bigger and more complex blue cases with quite a display layout inside. These vinyl-finished blue cases are pretty sturdy and packed with copious layers of foam for safe shipping.
Inside, you get a compact and very attractive wood veneer finished round case for day to day usage and the main driver units on display right beside the case. underneath the foam layers you get a small accessory box which includes the following:
48″ Symphonym Tiburon Cable
Flight & 1/4″ adapter
Assorted Ear Tips
The black and silver combo matte black aluminum design is plenty cool and has all the trademarks of a planar open-back headphone design miniaturized to fit in your ear. It is not a huge monitor either and placing the Nightingale beside the ME.1 and iSINE 10 it looks far more compact looking.
The form factor is not quite custom universal. It does not have those deep contoured dips and valleys which I suspect is more to do with the constriction of the more rigid and wider planar driver design than any lack of design ambition.
The visual is really dominated by that front open-back ‘window shade’ faceplate and silver alloy grill behind. The design is accented with a solid aluminum plate to the side with the Nightingale logo and ‘Planar Magnetic’ strapline etched into it.
It has a sort of ‘noire’ 40’s look to it if you ask me; looking stylish but not overstated or garish in appeal.
AAW do some great cables with their close relationship with Null and the Nightingale comes with a stock cable that is well above average. This is Null Studio’s Symphonym Tiburon UPOCC Copper Cable which is sold separately for $169. I would place it on par with Effect Audio’s Ares II as a solid upgrade cable.
The Tiburon is a 1.2m 4-wire 26AWG UPOCC Litz wire insulated in a transparent thermoplastics jacket. You can easily see the copper underneath and also nicely matches with the internal copper wiring of the Nightingale to deliver a single blend of wiring throughout the design.
The cable is finished with matching aluminum alloy barrels with carbon fiber wraps for the 3.5mm TRS jack and MMCX connectors. It is not the lightest of cables but it is very quiet, very tangle free and so far as I can tell, delivers a typically copper-rich smooth performance.
Comfort & Seal
The comfort is excellent actually. The nozzle isn’t too long so some of that final word in comfort will depend on the tips you use and the nightingale does come with a fairly wide selection of tip options to help you out with that.
You will not get much of a seal from the Nightingale due to the open back nature of its design. You can mitigate the level of leakage a little though with the supplied foam tips but not it is marginal. The tips will affect the emphasis in the Nightingale’s presentation though and as you would expect the foams will thicken the sound whereas the silicone options will lighten it up and deliver something a bit more spacious sounding.
My initial listening has, so far, gravitated towards the dual flange tips as the best compromise between comfort and performance. I get a bit more low-end girth which the Nightingale really excels at but at the same time, it doesn’t sound too closed in.
Initial Sound Impressions
(Tested with a HiBy R6 Pro & a Lotoo PAW Gold Touch with FLAC 16BIT 44.1k tracks)
Ok, so my initial impressions are of a very planar sound, which is exactly where I suspect AAW want the Nightingale to be. In a way, the FR on this isn’t too surprising for planar lovers.
It got that pure planar ‘oomph’, a wonderfully distortion free and a fairly linear sounding bass and a fantastic lower-midrange which peaks around 1-2k. It is probably my favorite aspect already on the Nightingale. Rhythm guitar notes are crunchy, nicely textured and carrying a touch of warmth with excellent body. If you are a fan of hard-hitting rock like Five Finger Death Punch or slower paced beat-heavy pop like the CHVRCHES the Nightingale sounds deep, powerful and very smooth indeed.
One thing I will note on my initial impressions is that the Nightingale does have a relaxed treble performance. It makes for a forgiving sound but also not the airiest, even with the silicone tips. It also has that usual planar 2-4k dip with a 5-7k peak to prevent it from sounding muted or shelved-down. Male voicing up to 1k is strong and clear to my ear using the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch and the HiBy R6 Pro but higher pitched vocals beyond drop back a little with that little dip to the upper mids.
In a way, the Audeze LCD-2 pre-Fazor sound comes to mind when I am listening to the Nightingale and that ain’t a bad thing at all since pre-Fazor was always my preferred LCD flavor. The Nightingale right now sounds musical, forgiving and just excellent for anything that needs plenty of lower-mids power and presence.
Well, being a planar driver I suspect the Nightingale can scale a bit more with good power so beyond those two nicely powered DAPs we used for our initial impressions we will chuck in some current mode amping and some more powerful desktop options just to see how far we can push this little belter of a monitor.
I did call it a belter, didn’t I? Yeah, the Nightingale is already proving to be a personal preference choice with some crazy nice synergy with my god-awful 80’s thrash and hard rock collection as well as today’s crunching classics. I do love a good planar so this could well be a fun review. Stay Tuned!