Review: AudioQuest NightOwl Carbon – Clarity

Disclaimer: AudioQuest sent us a free sample of the AudioQuest NightOwl in exchange for our humble opinion. As far as I know the sample doesn’t need to be returned.



AudioQuest is a US based company but the EU headquarters is located in the Netherlands and AudioQuest mostly is known for their excellent value audio cables . I myself have limited experience with their cables but I without hesitation can say I’m a fan of their headphone related products.

AudioQuest not only is the maker of the very good and popular mini USB DAC/AMPs from the DragonFly-series but they’re also the guys that made the unique NightHawk headphone which we reviewed last year. The American company now is back with a new headphone, the NightOwl Carbon, and that’s what we’ll be looking at today.


Before going into the new NightOwl let’s first quickly look back at the NightHawk. When looking at the number of NightHawk fans out there it’s safe to say the NightHawk headphone was and still is a success. Of course the warmer, smoother and more relaxed sound signature wasn’t for everyone but with the right source the NightHawk really shined. The NightHawk has a unique sound signature and I can see why some find it a little too much on the dark and veiled side. If you didn’t like the original NightHawk I’m pretty sure you’ll love the new NightOwl, as it has a different tuning. (Even though the word is it uses the same drivers). Keep reading.


The new NightOwl doesn’t replace the NightHawk. The NightHawk was an open design, over-ear headphone while the NightOwl this time is a closed design. Skylar Gray, the creator of both of these headphones, however designed the NightOwl in such a way that the closed design improves the isolation but that it keeps the same open and expansive sound. The unit comes in a carbon grey metallic high-gloss automotive finish (still liquid wood) and as the NightOwl is a closed headphone now, the sexy grills have disappeared.

I’ll go into (a lot of) detail about the technology later but the NightOwl basically follows the same philosophy as the NightHawk with the use of liquid wood, design inspired by loudspeakers, structural integrity, angled drivers and vibration management. What I do like with the new NightOwl is how it has the L/R marking on the inside of the ear cup now, on the fabric covering the drivers, where, on the NightHawk, it was on the earcups themselves.

The AudioQuest NightOwl’s price is set at $699USD and it is available on and from hundreds of worldwide dealers. The original NightHawk’s price at the release was $599. Before reading this NightOwl article, I do recommend reading up on the AudioQuest NightHawk first should you be unfamiliar with it.

The Box & Accessories

The new NightOwl comes in a gorgeous leather carrying case and includes a soft microfiber pouch to store your headphones in. The other accessories are the AudioQuest high performance 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter, the new shorter cable (see below) and an extra set of pads (with their own microfiber pouch). You can choose to use the protein leather boost pads which seal tighter for better isolation and slightly enhanced treble clarity or the microsuede pads which breathe freer for greater comfort and slightly reduced bass impact. I personally prefer the protein leather pads over the microsuede ones, but I’ll talk about the differences in the part on “Sound”.

The 3.5mm-to-1/4” headphone plug adaptor that comes with every AudioQuest headphone features thick Direct-Silver plating over its high-purity copper base metal. AudioQuest decided to use a base metal of Tellurium Copper (TeCu) for their headphone cable plugs which is supposed to result in improved signal transmission. I actually always end up using the AudioQuest adapters whenever I need one.

Design, Build Quality & Comfort

We’ll cover the basics in chapter but if you want to know even more about Skylar’s and AudioQuest’s design philosophy, go here:

The new NightOwl comes in a carbon grey metallic high-gloss automotive finish and the biggest difference with the NightHawk is that the Owl is a closed back design. While is does block out more sound than before the isolation isn’t perfect and headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT770PRO AE/32 makes the environment disappear even more.

“Hidden beneath the central circular portion of NightOwl’s earcups, a vent runs along the perimeter of each dome and exits through a hidden airflow-resistive port”

The NightOwl is designed to effectively relieve the buildup of pressure, allowing the drivers to breathe freely, ensuring that any impulses quickly return to an innocuous resting state—with no ringing, oscillation, or resonance.

 “Earcups Shaped for Performance, Comfort, Beauty“

Unlike the ear cups of other headphones the Night Owl ear cups are designed to follow the general contour of the human ear—rounder at the rear, wide at the top, narrowing toward the bottom. This way, the ear cups provide a more complete and comfortable fit, reducing stress on the listener’s head and ears, offering a bit of isolation from external sounds while maintaining the headphones’ excellent tonal balance. I really like the pads of the Night-series: they look great and feel very comfortable although they do touch your ears. I know a few people that can’t stand their ears touching the pads, so do be aware of this. I personally like the grey finish of the NightOwl a whole lot more than the glossy wood finish the NightHawk has.

“Angled Drivers: Happy Ears, Fatigue-Free Listening“

The NightOwl ear pads and drivers are carefully positioned to complement the natural angle of the listener’s ear. Minimizing contact between the headphone’s parts and the listener’s pinnae reduces stress and, consequently, avoids frustration (the antitheses to music appreciation), while enabling long, fatigue-free listening.

Self-Adjusting Headpad: One Size Fits All

The patent-pending suspension system used is the same as in the NightHawk and it makes listening to the Owl very comfortable. This design allows the ear cups to move freely, accommodating heads of nearly any shape or size, while effectively decoupling the ear cups to counteract intrusive mechanical crosstalk. The head pad attaches to an outer headband via small, swiveling pins located on either side of the headband’s base, just above the suspension’s yoke. An inner elastic band is concealed by a soft, modestly cushioned pad, which yields and rises when met by resistance or pressure. In this simple way, the head pad automatically adjusts to the listener’s head. The suspension system gives the NightOwl/Hawk their specific modern look which you either like or hate. The look is unique though, that’s for sure.

“Low Clamping Force = Long, Luxurious Listening“

The suspension system and headband work together to evenly distribute the headphone’s weight (346gr) on your head. While the head band system on the Owl and Hawk is the same I found the pressure of the Hawk’s a little better. With the Owl on my small head, it has the intention to fall off more easily when picking up stuff I dropped from my desk. The NightHawk always stays firmly in place however.

The part on “Sound” starts on Page Two, after the click HERE or the jump below

3.9/5 - (110 votes)

Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.


  • Reply February 14, 2017


    When both T90 and NightOwl are properly ampped, which one has better base and sound stage?


    • Reply February 14, 2017


      The Bass quantity will always be bigger in the Owl while it technically will be superior in the T90. The sound stage will be for the T90 but the body is there with the Owl. Very different and complementary headphones.

  • Reply February 16, 2017

    Concerned reader

    Just a note: “qualitative” does not mean “high quality.” The meaning is closer to “quantifiable” or “numerically-based.”

    • Reply February 16, 2017

      Dale thorn

      Given the overall word-munching in the review, it kinda fits…

    • Reply August 3, 2019

      Less Concerned Reader

      Neither does it mean “low quality”, nor anything in between. But it is about qualities. ie. subjective assessment. In CONTRAST to “quantitative”, which is objective measurement.

  • Reply February 21, 2017


    Have you tried the Shure 1540 ? If so how would it compare agains the NightOwl ?


  • Reply February 28, 2017


    The Microphone that come with the Nightowl, can it be used with PC? If it does, is it “always-on” or it is push to talk?

    • Reply February 28, 2017


      I actually broke my cable, so I can’t test it atm. sorry

  • Reply March 8, 2017


    Thank you for an interesting review.

    I’m wondering: How well does the headphone isolate? I need a headphone that I can use in a crowed environment without me disturbing the outside world and vice versa. How is the isolation compared to the Beyerdynamic DT1770 pro?

    • Reply March 8, 2017


      Pretty well actually. They both do. Yesterday I gave the Owl to a colleague and I scared the hell out of him as he didn’t hear me come in and say hi. Same for the Beyer

  • Reply March 11, 2017


    creative aurvana live costs 45euros and are way better than this piece of shit.i can’t believe i jumped again on the hype train.

    • Reply March 12, 2017

      dale thorn

      My CAL had a huge bass hump and an equally deep recess at 5 khz – awful, simply awful. So it’s a disappointment to hear that the NightOwl is tuned badly also, like the NightHawk I paid $600 for. That Skylar Gray guy who designs those for AudioQuest must have ears like a bat.

  • Reply March 12, 2017


    voices are like they are covered with a veil, it’s like earing them over a wall or something. they remind me senn hd650 bad amped.
    aurvana is better hands down. the funny thing is that i bought these because they have the same cellulose driver but i thought that would be better because of the higher cost…………… disappointed…

  • Reply September 21, 2017

    Ryan Teo

    Do you think this is compatible with the creative x7 ltd edition? Thanksss!

  • Reply May 26, 2018

    dale thorn

    I just bought this at the new $400 USD price. I expect it to be better than the NightHawk, i.e. really, really good.

  • Reply June 1, 2018

    dale thorn

    Well, the NightOwl doesn’t seem to have the bass emphasis of the NightHawk, but it does have the NightHawk’s suckout in the lower treble, i.e. around 2-4 khz or so. The response gets better toward the high treble, even above 10 khz (with a peak at 9 khz, which is extremely common). I’m hoping I can have a very simple EQ job in trimming that 9 khz peak and boosting the lower treble a bit, without having to touch the bass. I’ve found most headphones that have too much bass sound better with the bass reduced a little, than headphones with not enough bass where I have to boost the bass.

    I’m using the installed pleather pads rather than the velour/fabric pads. The advantage of pleather for me is they wear less and don’t absorb sweat like the fabric pads, but people say the fabric pads are cooler in warm weather. How long that cooler feature lasts when sweat gets absorbed a lot is doubtful.

    Anyway, my bottom line is what I remember of the NightHawk – with a simple EQ it had a nice warm and musical sound with a decent amount of detail, which is about the best I could expect for the price. The quality of the NightOwl shows, especially in the close balance of left-right drivers at different frequencies.

    • Reply June 1, 2018

      dale thorn

      Turns out the NightOwl has a fairly weak bass, while the NightHawk had some emphasis in the upper bass/lower mids. The biggest problem with the NightHawk was the lower-treble recess, not the small bass emphasis, so with the NightOwl they made the bass worse (weak) and didn’t address the treble at all. Then again, Focal’s flagships suffer the same low-treble recess, and they cost a lot more.

  • Reply October 11, 2018

    Omar Hodges

    Audioquest obviously recognized the problem with the Nighthawk and produced these. After all, the Nighthawk only came out 4-5 years ago. Hopefully the included cable is sturdier this time around – the one included with the Nighthawk went kaput four months after I purchased it. Not good, especially for a company that specializes in cables. A few years later the headband broke.

  • Reply February 28, 2019


    I feel like Audioquest listened to the consumer and fixed all the things people didn’t like about the Nighthawk. I’ve had my NH for a few years now and just got the Nightowl about a week ago and I love them.

    Compared to the NH the Nightowl has a more controlled bass but still has that thump I love about the NH. The best part to me is the more forward midrange now which give them a more musical sound and vocals are more engaging which is great. The treble has better extension with a bit more sparkle up top and no longer has the veil over them like on the NH. Soundstage and imaging are really good for a closed hp and the 3D presentation just adds to the overall size as well.

    Now I’m glad I chose these over the Fostex TH-X00 I was thinking of getting but the Nightowl is more my speed and has lower distortion than most headphones.

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