Some products share common design and features, but not all are created equal, and the sound specialists at AudioQuest are on a journey to prove science and research can add up to awesomeness.
We’re looking at a pair of headphones that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. For staffers at this publication to say that, to think that, to stare at the product in question and gasp in awe is just an indication of how impressed we are, because we don’t go starry eyed for just anything.
Rather, it takes something of genuine ingenuity to grab us and make us go “wow”.
And the pair of headphones sitting on the table in reach of our hands does exactly that, tempting us to put them on and indulge in a listening experience that we know just from the stats, just from the specifics we’ve been read, will be nothing like anything else in the office right now.
For starters, it arrives with great fanfare in a leatherette case that zips up, appearing less like a pair of headphones and more like a deluxe piece of luggage, with a soft lining and a presence that whispers “try me, and you’ll never go back to anything else”.
When you do take them out of what could hardly be described as a box, the headphones sit in your hand and scream premium, with a leather band, a complicated semi-open headphone port, and a casing made out of wood, and not just any wood, but liquid wood.
Just think about that for a second: liquid wood.
Wood is a physical object, and yet this is liquid wood, which AudioQuest explains as a process called “arboform”, whereby the wood has been broken down into cellulose fibres, reproduced, and turned into a bioplastic that can be injection moulded.
The result is a part that has the texture and material consistency of wood, complete with all the benefits wooden objects enjoy, but made with a controlled process, rather than paying someone to carve each casing or have it made from machined wood.
You can even see the results of liquid wood in the grain which appears to ripple and fade off at the bottom of the casing.
Using wood obviously has its benefits for headphones, most notably offering warmer sound and a richer look, but there’s more going on under the hood than just the casing here.
In fact, AudioQuest tells us that it pulled apart over 100 headphones to build this special design.
Pulling apart headphones and seeing how they work is only one part of the equation, with Nighthawk designing 100 different ear cups, over 10,000 prototype parts, and then perfecting the fit and design at the headband level with over 100 suspension configurations. The design and testing of this pair of headphones is unusual, with the pair built like a loudspeaker, with tools used to track vibrations, a design built for lower distortion, and internal elements such as rubber and wool used for absorption.
Even that semi-open headphone port is of interest, with a highly complicated element that could only be produced thanks to 3D printing, which has been produced by Sculpteo for this pair of headphones.
It’s unusual and unlike most of the slots or ports you’ll find in any other headphones or speakers, with a design inspired by that of butterfly wings — a type of science and engineering called “biomimicry” — and when you raise it up to the light and change your point of view, it’s like watching pricks of light fade in and out as the 3D object blocks and exposes itself to the world.
“We were looking to make a headphone, but we didn’t want to be a me too,” said AudioQuest’s Shaun Schuetz. “At the end of the day, the world has too many headphones.”
The result is something of absolute beauty, and is far from another me too headphone. In fact, we came away from the briefing thinking that this was one of the most scientifically produced headphones we had ever seen, almost as if this magical product was designed by geeks with a passion for engineering.
The result is the AudioQuest Nighthawk, and it’s just one of those headphone pairs that has to be seen, felt, and heard to be believed.
AudioQuest’s take on what the modern headphone should be doesn’t include any extendable straps or pieces, and the suspension connection has been designed as such to sit on your head comfortably.
We’ll say more when we get the review done in the next few weeks, but without doubt, these are the most comfortable headphones we’ve ever worn, and whatever magic the AudioQuest and its lead designer Skylar Gray have been able to weave shows in its fit, and then amplifies when you plug the pair of headphones into a media player.
Interestingly, you won’t need a big media player to drive these, as they’ll work with an iPhone or another device. You might look a bit strange in public wearing them — we’ll try, don’t you worry — but these appear to have enough volume to be driven by even a smartphone, though a dedicated high-res player or headphone amp will certainly improve on the amount of volume on offer.
And then there’s the sound, and what can we say about that before the review?
Well, ahead of time we can tell you that it’s hard not to fall in love with the AudioQuest Nighthawk headphones upon first glance, upon first wearing and listening with your favourite album or set of tracks.
There’s just something about these headphones that works so well, with a soundstage that is deep and distinctive, a clarity that is almost impossible to image from a pair of headphones this size, and a balance that few headphone makers pull off.
Indeed, the AudioQuest Nighthawk headphones already feel like something you’ll need to pry from our cold, dead hands. We hope it doesn’t come to that.
AudioQuest’s Nighthawk headphones are available now for a recommended retail price of $895. Expect a review within the next few weeks.