Honeyed Songs in the Forest’s Shade – A Review of the AudioQuest NightOwl

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::Disclaimer::
AudioQuest provided me with the NightOwls free of charge in exchange for my honest review, for good or ill.

The NightOwl sells for $699.00
www.AudioQuest.com
NightOwl on Amazon


I’ve been harassing AudioQuest about the NightOwl for some time now. While the Meze 99 Classics nourish my soul better than I ever could have hoped, I felt the righteous project for a reviewer at THL was to investigate what “better” might sound like, in the closed-back, portable-esque category.

Stephen Mejias and Jessa Zapor helped me a great deal. They made sure Pinky got his hands on the NightOwls, and the Perch Headphone Stand, when review samples were ready. They were quick to reply to all emails and thoroughly answered any questions I had. Fine, upstanding paragons of the AudioQuest team. Thanks to them, you and I get to take this journey and explore higher up the ladder of full-size closed-back portable solutions to our audiophile lusts.

Indeed, the NightOwls are portable, though they do push the bounds of that classification. In my opinion, anything that can fit in my bag and is driven well by a mobile device is a portable headphone. Or at least can take on that role.

Unlike the Meze 99 Classics’, the NO’s travel case is not suited for everyday carry. It’s impressive for sure, but just too big for my messenger bag… unless I wish to carry nothing else. Instead, I use the included pouch. There’s even one for my cable, which is adorable.

The Perch Headphone Stand is great, and built like a tank. Since NO stays in my bag most of the time, Perch has been reassigned to the full-time duty of supporting my Audeze LCD-2.2Fazor. It’s a far cry from the cheap plastic stand I used before.

AudioQuest made a superb headphone in the NightOwl. True genius went into its design. I’ll not go into all the details because, quite frankly, that sort of writing bores me. But I encourage you to follow the link at the beginning and read up for yourself. What I do enjoy writing about is my own experience with the headphone. And it’s a positive one, let me assure you.

The pads are thick and extremely soft. The clamp force is a little weak, but ultimately this adds to the ease of use. For the NightOwl is the most comfortable headphone I own, and I own a few whose comfort I’d classify as “excellent”; The Meze 99C and Sennheiser HD6XX can be worn forever without pain.

They are elegant, attractive cans. I’m a big fan of the aesthetics here. Some obsessive bastard polished the liquid-wood cups to a mirror shine. In a couple shots, you may see my Samsung Galaxy S6 reflected in those black pools. What can I say? The f**kers are not easy to photograph without inadvertently making it a self-portrait. Such modesty! But it’s cool. Pinky likes shiny things.

It’s not all positive, of course. The cable AudioQuest provides for NightOwl is an exact replica of Lucifer’s phallus. It’s thick, stiff, and unwieldy… not to mention pure evil.

I had no choice but to make my own, if I were to get any sort of lasting enjoyment out of these headphones. Plus, this gave me the opportunity to go Balanced. Trevor over at Norne Audio must get a hearty call of thanks for supplying me with their Eidolic plugs and guiding me towards this conductor. His DiY shop is great, and he’s always very eager to help however he can.

Pinky-Made 22AWG 7n OCC Copper, 2.5mm TRRS Balanced

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About Author

Pinky is an artsy twat. Illustration, graphic design, writing. Yet music escapes him, and always has. He builds his own cables, and likes to explore the craftsmanship of others. He's a stabby one, also. At the first hint of annoyance, out comes the blade. I say he's compensating for something... in a big bad way. If we all try really hard as a collective, maybe we can have him put down.

8 Comments

  1. Basshead Betty on

    Now THAT is the kind of review that literally makes me want to buy on Amazon with next day air. When you/they stop using techno/audiophile babble and describe what you hear and feel, that’s when i was sold on checking these out. Graphs may paint a certain sound but it’s the sum of all things that truly make a great review. Well done… Apparently the Night Owls are everything I hoped they would be.

    • Pinky Powers on

      It would please me greatly if you found your way to these by the strength of my fondness for them. But only if you know your tastes in signature, and know you love profound warmth. If you like a brighter, more neutral sig, these won’t give you the same pleasure.

      I come from creative writing, and reviews are not natural to me. The way I’ve found my style as a reviewer is to focus on the emotions I feel when listening to different gear. Trying to remain clinical and dry as I discuss a headphone would never work. That would be disingenuous. While my prose may possess some measure of hyperbole, I call them honest for it, for that is honestly how I feel. I listen, and I write, attempting to channel the experience into words.

    • Steve Assante on

      Now if you really want to hear the NO at a higher potential ( & you listen to well recorded Genres of Acoustical based music) there are two things I suggest doing to them.

      #1) Don’t use the supplied AQ earpads ,they really are unable to produce the highest level of fine detail in wide dynamics music. The pads that do the best job with this music is the Audeze LCD Micro Suede earpads. They do a remarkable job at letting you hear the complete dynamics of what is on the recording . I have no idea whatsoever whether or not I could even recognize what the “Full
      Dynamics” of non Acoustical music should sound like ! He,he,he…. As I heard Joni Mitchell say once “There is very little “Muse” in today’s Music”. It’s way too much work trying to enjoy “Stylistic” mediocrity , so I try to avoid letting it beat my eardrums (& Psyche) up as much as possible . I could never hear all of the music I do like ,so I have no shortage of source material I will listen to (a lot of Stravinsky & Gordon Lightfoot lately).

      #2) The music I listen to doesn’t really need the benefit of “Dynamics” re-enforcement” (or whatever sound support was intended) from the Ported Dome earcups. Out of curiousity I removed the NO domes . I can put both domes back in place in less than a minute, but I’m detecting a slightly less (& not really necessary due to the recording technique used) “Forwardness” to the music. As a result I don’t have to work that hard at letting the “recording” get out of the way of the music I’m listening to.

      The perfect headphone doesn’t exist , but it’s definitely possible to find a headphone that comes close to what you’d like . All it takes is a less Democratic outlook of what sound qualities best benefit
      the music that you prefer. I find it hysterical whenever people start talking about “Dark Sounding” playback . My normal reaction is to think “Most people are way to used to acceptably listening to haphazardly,overlycompressed,too loud (to compensate for compression) recordings”

      It isn’t the playback equipment, that’s at fault .

  2. noplsestar on

    Hi Pinky,

    thanks for that review! Have you ever heard the Oppo PM3´s and the new Mr Speakers Aeon. It would be great if you could get your hands on those closed back hp´s in order to put them in perspective to the other mid tier closed HP´s you reviewed. I haven´t heard the Aeon but the PM3´s excel in the mids, and they are the most portable of all of them because they are foldable. You should definitely give them a try.

    • Pinky Powers on

      I hope to review the Aeon soon. But I’m not sure that will happen. Would be great, though.

      I’ve always wanted to try the PM3, though. Never did get the chance. If you read my Meze 99 Classics review, there is a strong comparison made to the Senn M2.0. And the M2.0 has been compared many times to the PM3, so you can try and make some tangential references that way. Sorry, it’s the best I can do.

      • noplsestar on

        Thanks anyways. And you should definitely check them out some time. They are neither warm, nor bright and have quite good bass (alas the treble is too tamed) but they have wonderful mids and are (IMO) the best portable (foldable) closed back planar in that price category.

  3. Pinky Powers on

    Both do a decent job of isolating, but they aren’t absolute. They’re good enough when music is playing, though. With some tunes on, you won’t be likely to hear any of the normal office sounds. The NightOwl does a slightly better job, probably due to its thicker ear pads

    I work at an electronics test department. We have this MASSIVE air compressor. When it’s being used, I can still hear it, even with the music up. But we’re talking LOUD NOISE. All the regular sounds around me are drowned out.

    Neither headphone leaks very much, and should be well suited for a cubicle.

  4. Matthew W on

    Hey Pinkie, informative and entertaining review as always. Thank you for sharing. Would you mind commenting on isolation between the NO and 99C? Both from the perspective of isolation from the wearer’s surroundings and the amount of sound leakage from the headphones. Which do you consider a more cubicle friendly headphone? Cheers!

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