AudioQuest Nighthawk

Discussion in 'Headphone Measurements' started by purr1n, Oct 4, 2015.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    AudioQuest Nighthawk

    Impressions for the AudioQuest Nighthawk seem all over the place. (By the way, if you are in SoCal and want to listen to them, visit Audio Element in Pasadena. They are a vinyl shop, but with a bunch of headphones.) By "all over the place", specific impressions seem to either be that the Nighthawks are bassy warm, but pretty good or that they are a warm bassy gooey mess.

    [​IMG]

    Personally, I have experienced the Nighthawk both ways. This is what I believe it comes down to in order of effect:
    1. Selection of music and recordings used. Some recordings are bassier than others. The spectral distribution of the CD master of Daft Punk Random Access Memories does not mesh well with the Nighthawk. On the other hand, k.d. lang's Hymns_of_the_49th_Parallel works quite well.
    2. The Nighthawk has a nominal impedance of 25 ohms. Because the Nighthawk uses a dynamic driver, it's very likely going to have an impedance bump of some sort in the bass. (I will need to verify if I can find the time.) This means that the Nighthawk on certain amps with high output impedance is going to sound even more bassy and perhaps slow and syrupy. This seemed to be the case with the Zana Deux Super, which has an output impedance of about 20 ohms. For purposes of subjective evaluation, I used a variety of other amps with output impedance less than a few ohms.
    3. System matching. A few months ago, we were able to steal the Nighthawk from Audioquest and play it back on one of my reference systems. I will only say that the AudioQuest setup at the meets (Dragonfly fed into Woo 7) does the Nighthawk absolutely no favors and probably accounts for the many of the early pyrate impressions such as this: "Audioquest Nighthawk - muddy, indistinct, warm in a boring way. Looks cool, comfort's all right, but the plankton have been buried under a layer of cement."
    In comparison to my reference, a tweaked HD650:
    1. The Nighthawk is cleaner sounding. Less gray, less veiled.
    2. Resolution seems about equivalent for mid to mid/high headphone setups. This is indeed impressive as the HD650 scales like mad. I don't have the Studio or a BA on hand, and the ZD Super's output Z is too high, so I can't say how well it will scale with top tier gear; but my sense it that it will do quite well.
    3. Nighthawk has better bass quality, better articulation, better control; albeit the bass is much stronger and the warmth bleeds well into the mids.
    4. The HD650 frequency response is smoother and better integrated. The Nighthawk's middle and high midrange sounds recessed in comparison. The HD650's treble tilts dark. The Nighthawk continues to provide plenty of air in the last octave.
    5. The Nighthawk's treble is a bit tizzy. It's more a matter of a tizzy timbre as opposed to a nasty peak or horrible ringing. I'm really being nitpicky here because I so love the sound of bio-cellulose drivers.
    6. There's a bit of internal cup reverb with the Nighthawk. My brain got used to it over time and filtered it out. Staging is about the same with both headphones.
    7. EQ does wonders to the Nighthawk. Here are some quick settings by ear: -4db shelf at 800Hz Q = 1, -4db at 7000Hz Q = 2.5 (Note that I do not believe in surgical EQ and prefer simple settings with a light touch).
    Other Notes:
    1. Supremely light and comfortable. A really smart design.
    2. Termination is 1/8" with a 1/4" adapter.
    3. Cables are removable from the cups so you turds can buy a $600 cable to go with your $600 headphone.
    4. I suspect that the phono jack end of the cable can be re-terminated with a 4-pin. There appear to be sets of wires under the cable jacket instead of a shared ground wire.
    5. Very efficient. Lively and not compressed.
    6. Just slightly on the soft side of things in terms of impact and heft despite elevated bass.
    Conclusion:

    The Nighthawk in a nutshell is bassy and warm resolving headphone. The treble could be a bit smoother, but distortion is impressively low throughout. At $599 street price, we should be thanking the AudioQuest for not engaging in the oneupsmanship games of pricing stupidity other headphone manufacturers have embarked on.


    Figure 1: Nighthawk Frequency Response and Distortions
    (0dBr = 100dbSPL) Solid Plate Coupler

    Note that I could did match 1kHz with 87db per usual practice - there was too much rolloff. In hindsight, I should have cranked it up a bit. The deeper dips on the R channel are measurement artifacts. Note excellent distortion characteristics.
    NH.png
    Nighthawk L HD.jpg
    Nighthawk R HD.jpg

    Figure 2: Nighthawk CSD
    Solid Plate Coupler

    Nighthawk L.jpg
    Nighthawk R.jpg

    Figure 3: Nighthawk Frequency Response and CSD
    (0dBr = 100dbSPL) Foam Coupler "Free-Air"

    I'm bringing these back from V1. These are measurements on a foam coupler to simulate sort of a "free-air" response. Because there is no seal, bass measurements could be lower than the solid plate coupler. It depends on the electrical and mechanical characteristics of the driver and radiation pattern of the headphone. OJ recommended that these be brought back because it shows the behavior of the driver while minimizing the influence of the pads and the cup design. Note that this measurement can sometimes result more ringing in the CSDs because of less damping (no internal air spring).
    NH fa.png

    Figure 4: Nighthawk vs HD650 Frequency Response
    Yellow = HD650, Green = NH
    NHvHD650.png

    If you've enjoyed this post, help me help you,
    I have a growing family, blah blah blah,
    consider buying the AudioQuest Nighthawk from Amazon.
     

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    Last edited: Nov 25, 2015
  2. kapanak

    kapanak Canucklehead - Friend

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    So ... not shit? That's actually pretty good measurements and impressive distortion.

    And I think you meant to say we CAN* buy $600 cables :D

    Are they a loan or your own pair? Will you be engaging in some light modding to see what can be changed?
     
  3. Judeus

    Judeus Almost "Made"

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    i disagree these are disgustingly bad.

    muddy base and no treble articulation

    (herd out of a vega and a taurus mkii)​
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2015
  4. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    The muddy bass is a result of the frequency response (too much in the mid to upper bass) and is not inherent in the driver or design of the headphone. This can be validated via EQ which I tried. I felt the treble articulation was exceptional from the setups that I used (VPI Classic 1, Gungnir Multibit, Rag, other secret designs, etc.) Again, I didn't think the AQ setups at the meets and shows did the NH any favors. I would not pair a soft unresolving DAC and a warm lush amp rolled soft unresolving amp with the Nighthawk. On bass heavy or dark recordings, the treble does get buried.

    These are from a member who did not want to be named. They cannot be put on the loaner list.

    I'm keeping this one dry with no explicit opinions from me other this statement: Tyll, I, and several other people at CanJam OC did tell AQ that these could be killer fantastic if they won't so bassy and warm. Some of that bass and warmth is probably necessary to balance the roughness of the treble, but as it is right now, it is a bit too much, at least for my tastes.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2015
  5. kapanak

    kapanak Canucklehead - Friend

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    Kind of scary how close your measurements are to AudioQuest's own http://personal.audioquest.com/nighthawk-measurements/ even though they used measurement equipment in the mid five digits price range. Of course their scaling makes things look all nice, while we see the truth here in this thread's OP :D
     
  6. Judeus

    Judeus Almost "Made"

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  7. OJneg

    OJneg The Most Insufferable

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    So do these pass the Merv-fall-asleep-while-listening-with-drool-hanging-out Test?
     
  8. keanex

    keanex Martian Bounty Hunter - Friend

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    That looks like really slow bass based on spectrals. Can you guys confirm?
     
  9. audiofrk

    audiofrk Guest

    What I get from this is skip and hope they fix it in the next release.

    I was one of the pirates that really wanted to like them at canjam I agree with the assessment that the bio-cellulose driver is legit. the tremble and mids are really great when they peak out. But this has got to be the most over powering bass I heard. I couldn't find one song that I liked where I didn't feel like I was in a pimped out lowrider, bass just trying to dominate everything else.
     
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  10. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Too much of the midrange sucked out on these for me. Horribly so, to my tastes. Treble not as smooth as HD650. Sounded darker and less alive up top compared to HD650 too, subjectively. So goddamn boring. Stage made me feel like I was suffocating. Hotel California from HFA had the stage size of me sticking my hands over my face. No air whatsoever. HORRIBLY veiled. Like throw-this-in-the-trash veiled from top to bottom. Seriously, it ranks down there with the EL-8 Closed as one of the worst headphones I have ever heard. Well, I guess the bass wasn't too bad. Didn't seem to bleed much for me. Probably low distortion making it sound less bassy than I expected.

    Your measurements still make me think this pair has some of these qualities, like the lacking mids. But your impressions seem much more positive than mine. I wouldn't expect this headphone to have much variance from unit to unit, but I can't help but wonder. Everyone at Tyll's for that weekend just shook their head at the Nighthawk he had. We all agreed it was flat out bad.
     
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  11. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    1. Subjectively I wouldn't call the bass slow or fast. Maybe a bit faster than HD650 bass (if you can hear past the NH's elevated bass, which can affect the perception of speed). Using CSDs to determine bass speed is not totally reliable, although I would like to investigate this in the future with longer decay times on the graphs.
    2. I did not fall asleep for toss them aside in less than a minute and think "whatever" or "meh", so there might be some merit to these headphones.
    3. There is no doubt in my mind that opinions on the NH will vary quite a bit.
    4. The measurements reflect what I hear. They don't lie or mislead in this case. I'll let you guys make up your minds.
    The AQ NH beats the HD650 on several aspects. However, I really value the smooth response of the HD650. If someone wanted a bassy and warm headphone with clean sound and good resolution, I would easily recommend this. With EQ, they are quite exceptional. I listen to vinyl with a very simple chain (I'm not going to put an analog parametric EQ box in the chain), so the NH is not for me.

    AZ did mention that the production units might have been tweaked a bit from those heard at the meets and the shows. Something to keep in mind.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2015
  12. audiofrk

    audiofrk Guest

    marv you listen to these on much better setups than I so...

    if the bass quantity and the bleed could be fixed would these be what the hd750, that the prophet Jim spoke about about, could sound like?
     
  13. thune

    thune Friend

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    So is the bass problem made better with a busted seal, as suggested by the foam measurements? Does the design maybe need baffle plate ports or a vented pad, or something? Is the elevated low region a design problem, or does it actually represent the intent of the design?
     
  14. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    I can confirm that these can be re-terminated to 4-pin balanced. I have a balanced cable with my loaner in addition to standard.

    It's interesting that these seem good on mid-tier gear and not on the high-tier stuff you tried. It might explain why I like them (because I used mid-tier gear).

    I don't think they sound good on the Dragonfly. They did sound good from a Project Polaris, and pretty good on the O2 + ODAC RevB I used to have. I also like them straight out of a Sound Blaster ZxR but not from my motherboard. NOS-1704 + C-2 was too soft sounding with them.

    Note that I love bass and warm cans. I also fatigue very quickly from pronounced treble.

    If my ears weren't quite as tall, I'd really dig these headphones.
     
  15. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    No. Sennheiser drivers all have smooth response with no peaks with well damped impulse responses. The HD800 may be the exception, but the response anomalies seem to be caused by the cups, and even then, we don't see ragged peaks and dips.

    That is a brilliant idea. Break the seal to get less bass. I may try that and report back. (Don't count on it though.)
     
  16. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    Brainwavz HM5 velour or hybrid pads do reduce the bass.
     
  17. Klasse

    Klasse Friend

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    15dB down-slope from 70Hz to 3kHz, this reminds me the Fidelio X1 on Tyll's measurements.
    link
    More extension at both ends and less distortion across the board on the Nighthawk.
     
  18. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    HappyMonkey and ultrabike like this.
  19. mickeyvortex

    mickeyvortex Friend

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    I am curious as well, how do these compare to the Philips Fidelio X1s or the X2s?
     
  20. audiofrk

    audiofrk Guest

    Well heres hoping for a biocellulose hd698 or whatever it'd be (sennheiser nomenclature confuses me). I didn't really think that the tremble was tizzy, I kind of liked it ( you know when I could hear it). Oh well here is looking at you kiddo.
     

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