A few days ago I got a chance to sit down with the semi-open AudioQuest Nighthawk Carbon. Today I’m following up with a complimentary review of the $699 AudioQuest Nightowl – the closed back alternative to the Nighthawk. Same price, same good looks, but where does the sound differ? And is it worth your hard earned cheddar? Let me drop some knowledge.
AudioQuest Nightowl Review
The Nightowl comes with two sets of earpads – one suede, one pleather. There’s also a user guide, soft carrying pouches for the headphone and the detachable cable, and a 1/4” stereo adapter. The whole kit arrives inside a large, heavy-duty pleather case.
Build-wise, this headphone remains nearly identical to its semi-open variant; there’s still a suspension-style headband, deep and comfortable padding on the earcups, and a sense of resilience you just can’t shake.
The thick no-nonsense cable utilizes dual input, and measures a modest 4.25 ft (1.3 m). A built-in mic and remote offer compatibility for just about everything but iPhone.
Frequency Range: NA
Impedance: 25 ohms
Sound Pressure Level (SPL): 99 dB
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): NA
AudioQuest doesn’t offer specs for frequency range, but I’d place it somewhere around 12-30,000 Hz. Impedance is a low 25 ohms – perfect for portable devices like a smartphone or my FiiO X5 II. Volume is decent – the relatively low 99 dB SPL may not impress on paper, but it’s more than enough where the Nightowl is concerned. Finally, Total Harmonic Distortion isn’t listed by the manufacturer, but I’m guessing it’s really, really low. These cans seem clean enough to deliver <0.2% or even <0.1% THD.
Detailed and resonant, the low end on the Nightowl is marked by an overall aura of clarity. There’s ample control at play here, nipping bleed in the bud, and generally delivering the goods. Thanks to the closed-back design, the Nightowl does offer more bass than the Nighthawk – the low end is punctuated by real “oomph” that compliments bassy tracks.
Clean and articulate, this is the same midrange that I fell in love with on the Nighthawk. Though the mids here have a tendency to be overshadowed by the luscious low end, the detail is still there in spades – perfect for those tracks that eschew lows and highs for emphasis on the mids.
Nowhere near bright, the high end on the Nightowl remains relaxed, but with just the slightest bit more detail than what I heard on the Nighthawk. Ultra-fine details may still be missing in action, but by-and-large, this is still a very competent and pleasing high end.
It should come as no surprise that the Nightowl fails to match its semi-open counterpart in this department. Despite ample depth and some plucky placement, the closed-back design of this headphone inevitably limits the sense of soundstage. The music is still realistic, bordering on immersive, but not as intoxicating as the delivery from the Nighthawk.
The hallmark of the Nightowl has to be it’s dynamic sound. The lows and highs seem more accentuated when compared to the performance of the Nighthawk, and even without the soundstage, I’m still won over.
Comfort! Like the Nighthawk, these babies were made for longer listening sessions. So spark up your something, turn down the lights, and cue up some Mobb Deep…or whatever you listen to. Plan on spending a few hours with these headphones – a quick audition ain’t gonna cut it, son.
As stated in my previous review of the Nighthawk, AudioQuest is on some next-level headphone wizardry. And the Nightowl is no exception to this indisputable fact. Sure, I could chuck some ideas out there, name-drop a few brands. But no one is delivering headphones quite like this.
Honestly, I’m inclined to recommend the Nightowl above the Nighthawk…or just about anything else at this price range, really. At $699, this headphone has it all – bass, fat mids, relaxed (but still detailed!) highs. And the soundstage is enough to still impress, even if the headphone isn’t open-back.
On top of the sound, the headphone actually looks good, can take a beating, and comes with everything you’ll need for it – so you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on extra accessories.
With more bass and improved high-end performance, the AudioQuest Nightowl offers an intense listening experience that easily outstrips the $699 asking price. I’m not saying it’s the best thing since sliced bread, but ask yourself this: What has sliced bread done for you lately? But don’t just take my word for it – try these headphones out, ASAP. Because if there’s one headphone you should audition in 2017, it’s the AudioQuest Nightowl.
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