We’ve been anticipating the arrival of Nighthawk since we first heard of the project, and now the luxurious pair of headphones are on my head, I couldn’t help but tap up this review.
The level of meticulous care and attention that AudioQuest have put into the construction of the Nighthawk is immediately evident. A classy leather hard-case zips open to reveal the headphones nestled gently within a shock-absorbing foam. Also in the box are two cables (Nighthawk, why two cables?), a 1/4” jack adapter and a 1 month free subscription to high-quality music streaming service; Tidal.
Taking the Nighthawk from its nest, the first thing you notice is that their stature is almost an oxymoron in nature. They’re phenomenally light, yet undeniably well-built with their smooth ‘liquid wood’ driver cabinets, and metal trimmings. The pads themselves are delicate and soft to the touch and are simply a pleasure on the ears. Wearing them is a slightly peculiar experience of great comfort; it almost feels as though you’re not wearing them at all. The headband is ergonomically efficient, and manipulating the headphones to fit your head is a smooth, free-flowing process with the right amount of pressure along the band. This is unlike some of its competitors, models where the adjustable headband is often overlooked and may be slightly clunky and difficult to move, or vice versa, too easy to manoeuvre and self-adjusting while walking around.
To test NightHawk initially, I used the dedicated NightHawk cable and plugged the 3.5mm connection into a Dragonfly 1.2, which in turn is connected to my PC. I then began to listen to some of my favourite tracks through Deezer at the higher quality MP3 format. The immediate thing to notice about the NightHawk’s signature sound is the degree of warmth and authenticity it reproduces. Acoustic tracks like Ben Howard’s ‘Old Pine’ and Lana Del Rey’s airy vocal in ‘Diet Mountain Dew’ sound natural and accurate, and really show off the NightHawk’s ability to reproduce these delicate details.
Switching it up a bit, I gave our NightHawks their first dose of rock/metal music, using Italian post-hardcore band ‘Hopes Die Last’ as a vessel, primarily through their song ‘Never Trust the Hazel Eyed’. The NightHawk handled the track pretty well and showed off its wide stereo-imaging. While I thought some of the heavier elements began to feel a little lost,I figured it would be best to try a different track to be sure. Linkin Park’s ‘Waiting For the End’ reiterated this, as during some of the more heavier parts of the song, guitars and harmonies become a little bit muddled, especially lower down in the frequency spectrum.
I listened to ‘Waiting For the End’ once more, this time using FooBar2000 and in an uncompressed WAV format… Unsurprisingly, the slight discrepancies I experienced before were no longer present. The NightHawk flew. Stereo imaging was flawless, every instrument and voice was easily pinpointed and the bass/midrange was controlled and dynamic in nature. Even at the large bass-drops during the final bridge/verse, you could hear Chester Bennington’s backing harmony clearly. The warmth I mentioned earlier really come into play at this point, as Mike Shinoda’s voice is quite warm, while Chester’s is brighter – NightHawk emphasises this contrast and highlights exactly what makes these two vocalists such a good team.
To finalise the assessment, I changed the track to Angels & Airwaves’ ‘The Adventure’. Tom Delonge and his AvA fellows are renowned for using innovative production and recording techniques, manipulating and making use of organic sounds to add a unique element to their music. I find this to be a good test track, as the band use every frequency possible and scatter delicate metallic sounds over a wide stereo field and a weighty, room-filling chorus. NightHawk exceeded. Everything is audible; from harmonies I didn’t even know were there before, to delicate guitar riffs and euphoria-inducing synth pads.
Luxurious, elegant feel
Wide stereo image
Warm, vinyl-like sound
Fussy about format
The NightHawk is brilliant, and definitely worthy of the AudioQuest badge. The level of warmth and coherence that these headphones are capable of reproducing will win the hearts of audiophiles and music-enthusiasts alike. NightHawk is refined and accurate, and will highlight the best elements of your favourite tracks. Be warned though, file-type is quite important here; NightHawk seems to reveal fidelity discrepancies as well as it reveals quality. If you put quality in, you’ll get quality out.