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

Most of my time with AudioQuest’s NightOwl is spent paired with the Opus#2 portable music player. While many might not consider NO a portable headphone, I very much do. It’s light, comfortable, and easily driven, and sounds stupendous out of the Opus. This DAP is just warm of neutral and renders high levels of detail. It gives a natural, analogue tone, with one of the biggest soundstages around. NightOwl is at home on this player. Prone to a relaxed demeanor, NO is fed a wealth of dynamics from Opus. The highs are prominent and well extended, the bass big, deep, and controlled. This pairing brings out the best in both pieces.

Moving on to another Sabre DAC, the NFB-28 by Audio-GD, the step up in quality is but a small one. Don’t take that as a diss to the 28, but rather praise for the brilliance of the Opus#2. My NFB-28 is utterly neutral, full, and immaculate of rendering. Most everything I wrote about Opus holds true here, only a little bigger, a little finer, and a little clearer. Very little.

When I plugged these headphones into the iFi iDSD Black Label, I did not like what I heard. It was much darker, smaller, and heavily veiled. Then I flipped 3D on, and f**king wow! With 3D On, iMatch Off, Bass Boost Off, this paring is airy, spacious, and marvelously holographic. There’s great richness and intricate detailing. The NightOwls practically scream dynamism. It’s a bloody fun listen.

That about does it, yes? How many more ways can I say it? I love these headphones. From every DAP and DAC Pinky has on-hand, the AudioQuest NightOwl sings triumphant. It’s the best closed-back headphone I’ve yet to hear and a genuine upgrade to my old favorite in the mobile range, the Meze 99 Classics. Plug NightOwl into something like the Opus#2, and it’s like taking an acoustically warm concert hall everywhere you go. The degree of refinement and truth I hear is simply stunning. I’ve found something fiendishly special in these cans, and I’m not letting go anytime soon.




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Pinky Powers

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.


15 Responses

  1. Then I take 6XX is what I need at the current moment since I am spending more of my limited time in my home system watching movies than listening to music. And since I even use tubes with my TV system them 6XX seems better choice than NO for me for watching movies.

    I understand that NO is excellent and superior for long listening music sessions but unfortunately for me I have not that luxury. It is shame though they go out of production they just needed to have a lower price from the beginning (of course, maybe this was not possible due to the production costs. 3 months ago when I was starting looking for headphones I would have taken them immediately at the current price.

  2. My HD6XX gets more use than any headphone. I use it for movie and TV watching. Gaming. YouTube. Basically EVERYTHING other than sitting down with my music library for serious listening sessions.

    They make everything sound so natural, warm, and engaging.

  3. I have the 99 classics and I love them. But it seems you are really again spot on in your observations because in comparison with a HD650 I heard couple of months ago the mids are thicker in HD650. In music, the mids are sufficient in 99 for me but I have a feeling that in movies I miss something from HD650 and thus I ordered the HD6XX which will take some time to arrive.

    Unfortunately, I also ordered before the HE4XX and now I do not have the money to buy the nightowls in that amazing price but I am trying to find solace to the fact that NO needs some time for a mental burn in that really I have not right now. I was literally one click from buying them and this is because of your great review skills…

  4. In some ways. But in others, the 99C is better.

    99C has deeper, more satisfying bass. And clearer, more sparkly highs. The treble also extends further, giving the stage more air.

    The 6XX has lusher mids, with more body.

    To be perfectly honest, my tastes lean in favor of the 99C. I just adore that signature.

  5. Thanks so much for your honest and fast response.
    Just to make sure you believe also that HD6xx is better than 99 classics? ( Is not so clear from your review)

  6. I can never answer the question, is X worth twice of Y. Diminishing returns being what they are, and personal financials playing the biggest roll, it’s simply not possible to say.

    What I can say, is I always felt NightOwl was worth the asking price of $700. So it’s current price is, in my opinion, a true steal.

    What makes the price question even more unfair in this case, is that I consider the HD6XX to be priced WAY below it’s performance level. $200 for something like this is a mad bargain.

    So while I do think NightOwl is the better headphone, as my review lays out, both are great, and both can be had for super prices.

  7. Your reviews are excellent, especially classics Vs Neo you are the only one that understands the difference between these two so well. Therefore, I trust your opinion very much.

    NO in original price was something I would never consider. Now the price seems ok but unfortunately I spend the allocated funds elsewhere and I would like to ask you how much of an upgrade NO is to HD6XX regardless of one being open and the other closed. In terms, of sound quality alone is NO worth double the price of HD6XX?

    Many thanks for your great reviews.

  8. 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 .

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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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