One of the highlights of this year’s CES was the release of the NightHawk from AudioQuest. This may be placing some undue pressure on the headphone to over deliver, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. No, I mean that they were pretty much CES 2015 in a nutshell: this year was “The Year that Hi-Fi found Head-Fi”.
I wrote about this trend a bit over a year ago — that “traditional” hi-fi brands would look at the emerging market segment that is headphones, and say, “hey, we can totally do that, and better!” And then attempt to do just that.
These new cans, at $599, are not inexpensive enough to see them wipe out the newest Beats offerings or the other mass-market players, most of whom are floating products at and below the $300 mark. Like the new EL-8 from Audeze, I think what’s most striking about them is the bridge being make. It’s not about dominance, not exactly — I kinda think it’s more about credibility. Hi-Fi? Meet Head-Fi. Bam! And for the record, this NightHawk is a very credible headphone. It’s also pretty sexy to boot.
My first impression was that this may be the lightest headphone I’ve picked up in a long time. I nearly launched a pair attempting to get a listen. Designer Skylar Gray didn’t find that nearly as funny as I did, but there you go — they’re wicked light.
The head band is a single wiry cable with a leather strap, and the ear-cups are made out of something called “liquid wood”; I’m told this is very sustainable and highly formable. The result was touch-me comely, and was what I thought was finished to a gloss and painted with a sweet-looking burl … but wasn’t. From Stephen: “Actually, the earcups are not painted at all. The patterning of the earcups is simply a result of the processing of the material, and because Liquid Wood is a natural material, every earcup will be exhibit subtle variations in color and pattern.”
A semi-open-back design, the NightHawk has “50mm high-excursion drivers [with] biocellulose pistonic diaphragms and compliant rubber surrounds. The biocellulose material is rigid and self-damping, making it far more accurate and musically pleasing than Mylar.”
The sound of these headphones, paired with gear from Schiit Audio and played back in the middle of a release party, was a little challenging to pick out. I blame a crowd bubbling with enthusiasm and high spirits — and the buckets of IPA that were emptied rather promptly — but I hope I’ll get some more time on them soon.