Kicking back at the MajorHiFi review headquarters in sunny Manhattan, today I’m practically drooling over the new AAW Nightingale. This planar magnetic earphone retails for a fair $999 – putting it in the realm of such staples as the Shure SE846 and Campfire Andromeda. But how does it sound? And how does that sound stack up to the competition?
AAW Nightingale Review
AAW, or Advanced AudioWerkes, continues their current streak of slam-dunk IEMs with the Nightingale. Utilizing a single 15mm micro planar magnetic driver, the Nightingale offers an impressive sound in a beautiful package.
Arriving in a plain brown box, the Nightingale comes with a large felt-and-leather case. Inside this larger case, you’ll find a smaller, round wooden case for the earphones, as well as cleaning cloth, a 1/4” stereo adapter plug, an airline adapter, and ten pairs of eartips.
Cabling comes in the form of a standard 4 ft (1.2 m) braided copper cable from Symphonym. Sporting a 2-pin connection to the earphones and a 3.5 mm single-ended connection, this cable ensures decent fidelity right out of the box, but opens up more options for higher-end cabling, as well.
Comfort-wise, the Nightingale sits comfortably in my ears, but it can take some wiggling to get the earphones situated in the best position.
And, as with most high-end IEMs, proper fit remains a crucial requirement. Much of the sound quality to be found in the Nightingale hinges on fit – as well as your willingness to become accustomed to the sound. Because the Nightingale sounds like no other earphone, but this can be a little off-putting at first.
More than burn-in, the Nightingale requires a listener to forget the dynamic-driver or BA-driver garbage they’ve been listening to for umpteen years. Because the longer you listen to the Nightingale, the more you realize just what you’ve been missing.
Frequency Range: 5-60000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 26 ohms
Sound Pressure Level (SPL): 105 dB
The Nightingale boasts a wide frequency range. And while a good portion falls outside the realm of human hearing, we can expect decent attention to detail from these numbers. A low nominal impedance of 26 ohms will benefit from a little amplification, but the Nightingale will also be at home with most low-output devices like smartphones or DAPs. Finally, SPL comes in at a more-than-decent 105 decibels, so finding adequate volume shouldn’t be an issue.
The Nightingale doesn’t slouch in the low end, thanks in no small part to that planar magnetic driver. Exhibiting an characteristic energy with plenty of punch, the bass will be the first thing most listeners will admire. But the sound appears rife with detail here, too. This gives the low end a sense of fullness and resolution that results in a mind-blowing sense of fidelity.
Vocals seem just a tad bit veiled, and this is my only real criticism of the Nightingale. The mids handle instrumentation well, though, and in general the sound remains impressive. The sheer level of detail keeps me listening, though, and the longer I listen, the more I can forgive the mids of their lacking vocals. Whether this comes from burn-in or just getting used to the planar magnetic sound, the Nightingale seems to sound better with each passing minute.
Somewhat outweighed by the deep, surging low end and the straight-laced midrange, the highs never seem too bright. Like the lows and mids, though, there’s plenty of fidelity here. Female vocals sound better than their male counterparts falling in the midrange. But the real show-stealer in this part of the frequency range remains instrumentation.
Surprisingly airy in its scope and reach, the soundstage on the Nightingale is practically palpable. Closing my eyes, I can feel each instrument around me, with individual notes pinpointed around me. Vocals still sound a little less articulate, but you can
hear feel every. freaking. instrument. Guitar, drums, bass, synth, piano – the Nightingale gives you an audio smorgasbord that won’t leave you feeling like you’re watching your favorite artist on stage – instead, you feel like you’re right there with them, on that same stage.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Nightingale is perfectly suited to deliver incredibly accurate instrumentation. I would even go so far as to say that instruments sound more real than real when it comes to the Nightingale.
But the other side of that coin shows vocals in a less-than-perfect light, and it can take some getting used to. That being said, after a few hours of listening to the Nightingale, my ears did become accustomed to the unique sound – and I was left feeling pretty satisfied, too. As mentioned earlier in this article, the Nightingale offers a unique sound, and one that requires some ear-and-brain adjustment. But the result is a truly interesting sound you just won’t get anywhere else.
If you want that classic dynamic sound with good lows, okay mids, and really rolled off highs, the Campfire Andromeda (at $1099) may provide a viable alternative to the Nightingale. While lacking the staggering fidelity found in AAW’s new earphone, the Andromeda remains a crowd-pleaser for plenty in the audiophile world.
For those who want less emphasis on the lows and more in the midrange, the Shure SE846 (at $999) offers another alternative. This earphone handles vocal work a little better, but may fall flat when compared to the Nightgale and its intoxicating flood of tonal fidelity.
So who is the Nightingale for? If you’re in the market for a truly resolving IEM under $1000 – and one that renders instrumentation in near-perfect detail – the Nightingale is a lovely bird. But for anyone who wants a radically different sound with TONS of detail and a unique sound that will ruin every earphone that follows it, this is the bird that sings.
With its $999 price tag and its singular sound, the AAW Nightingale won’t win over everyone. I’m fairly certain it will never be as popular as some other models around this price point. I think a lot of people will simply listen to it for short while and shrug it off, never getting accustomed to its unique and rare sound. But the Nightingale does offer something refreshing in terms of a high-end IEM, with a rich, rewarding listening experience that will change the way you listen to music. My take? Try this baby before pulling the trigger, but get ready to fall in love with your favorite music all over again.
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