What can I say about these beauties? I was in my local Audio Advice determined to demo the Audioquest Dragonfly (a portable USB Amp/DAC), but the sort of weird, know it all, half-way friendly (but kind of arrogant), matter of fact old man informed me that they need time to be “broken in.” “About 100 hours,” he says. I was reluctant to argue with him and demand that I needed it now, and just kind of agreed with what he was saying because I knew he knew better than me even though I wanted to be like “Well why did you ask me what I wanted to demo if you’re just going to poop all over it and suggest something else?” Lol.
I had a reason to be skeptical of his “recommendation.” You see, I was all gung ho on trying out the Audeze EL8 Closed back, since I had written an article on the EL8 Open back and absolutely loved them. The old man had better ideas. And boy howdy what an idea it was to give me the NightOwl’s instead.
But what made me almost say no was the fact that he had recommended the Audeze LCD-X’s awhile back and I absolutely hated them. I’ve since come to adore them but that’s neither here nor there. I trusted his judgement this time around and I’m glad I did.
I’ve found a common theme with headphones like the NightOwl. They fall in that $300-$600 range where you’re going to find the majority of headphones that are the most worth buying. There are great options for cheap, (cough the MDR V6 is just extraordinary) but this mid-tier area is really the sweet spot. Anything more expensive and there will be diminishing returns without the absolute best headphone amps, DAC’s, etc. How to choose a headphone amp! For instance, the HD800 is a great headphone, but is extremely amp picky and will only work well with a select few different units.
There’s a reason for the term “audiophile.” These guys are just borderline special when it comes to gear. I’m kinda becoming one of those obsessive nerds, but I’m not quite on that level yet. In one sense, I could never go back to low grade dog food type of headphones (Caddyshack anyone?) It’s just not going to happen. Not when I’ve heard what I’ve heard. What has been heard, cannot be unheard, as the saying goes.
When you’re not paying attention, the NightOwl’s can sound just like any other headphone. But that’s the thing: they DEMAND attention. You may miss out on some juicy details! Good thing there’s a rewind button for that though 😛
I would describe them as “fun,” like the old man put it. He had that weird “I know everything” smirk on his face before telling me how fun they are.
I would have to agree. The bass is what immediately jumped out at me, but not because it was all that deep. It definitely can reach down when it needs to, but this is an extremely articulate bass. You start to hear each and every note, and it kind of sits down in the mix a bit. You know, where it’s supposed to be. It’s lush. It’s warm. It’s.. inviting. It makes you want to get up and dance around for a spell.
They can get a tad sibilant at times, but it’s nothing to extreme. It’s very subtle. What does Sibilant mean? I’m willing to bet part of this has to do with the quality of the source file, as most on Spotify are good but not all. The sound is absolutely pristine with good CD’s.
What I love most about these is the accuracy involved. Everything becomes so much more prominent, clear, and detailed. I can make out what the artist is saying better. You’re never going to be able to hear every single lyric, but I sure as heck can understand a lot more of what’s going on, both vocally and instrumentally. More on that in a bit. There’s a clarity and warmth about these babies that really goes together well. They’re both clinical (meaning extremely precise) and inviting at the same time.
The build is phenomenal. They’re actually made of liquid wood that’s been combined with renewable materials such as plant fiber, lignin, various resins and waxes that have been heated, liquefied and injection molded. This material is thicker than plastic, and thus harder to break. It’s a carbon grey metallic high gloss finish that exudes class. This isn’t a Beats by Dre type of gloss, but rather an attractive one that won’t attract fingerprints! The headphones themselves feel extremely solid in your hand, and are a tad bulky, but it’s not a bad thing. They’re just a bit bigger than your average sized headphone. The ear-cups from the outside actually do remind me of an Owl’s eye which is a nice added touch and makes sense with the name given.
My oh my what a wonderfully comfortable headphone. I absolutely love the hammock style headband, and think more companies should implement it. No need for adjusting as it self adjusts to the size of your big freakin’ melon. 😛
Not only that, but you never feel the urge to take them off. They’re light and fluffy enough to securely fasten to your head while also not clamping too hard like a Vice Grip. I would dare say these rank as some of the most comfortable headphones I’ve worn, joining the HD600, Audeze EL8, and Oppo PM3.
Incredibly detailed sound. Details are revealed all over the place.
Textured, intimate, and enjoyable bass. You can actually hear full bass lines rather than just bits of it.
Ridiculously comfortable. The hammock style headband contours to your dome wonderfully, and the ear-cups are soft and plush.
Durable as heck. They feel very sturdy in your hands, and come with a thick, tangle free cable.
Good noise isolation. You’re able to enjoy these without distraction.
Sibilant at times.
They aren’t going to need an amp, but do benefit from one as the sound reaches another level by providing greater clarity.
Who these headphones benefit?
I would say these do well with most genres. I liked them with:
Pop. They do sound good with pop, but can get a little “essy” at times at high volumes.
Thoughts from Stu’s notepad
The cool thing about the NightOwl’s is that they are closed back, but have hidden vents beneath the outside of the circular enclosure that allow the sound to escape through an air flow resistive port, even though you can’t see it. So they’re a closed back design with open back qualities. This explains the immersive and great soundstage that they provide. I got a sense of instrument placement so well that my mind could clearly map out the sounds on a piece of paper in their fixed positions. They just open up very nicely. What is Soundstage?
The Left and Right indicators for your ears are located on the insides of the ear-cups which I thought was interesting.
The cable is extremely durable, thick, and tangle free. It terminates in your standard 3.5mm jack, is detachable, and forms a Y that plugs into both ear-cups.
Accessories include: Two pairs of ear pads, a 51″ straight cable, a 3.5mm-to-1/4″ adapter, two cleaning cloths, and a luxuriously-padded zippered storage case.
One set of ear-pads is an extremely soft protein leather which I have come to love. These seal very well and improve the treble response. The second pair is suede, and these provide a deeper bass wallop.
If you notice, the ear-cups are shaped very similar to that of the human ear, and fit very well, contouring with ease because they are wider at the top and narrower towards the bottom.
What most impresses me about the NightOwl is the bass; I just can’t get over it. It’s like every note is clearly defined, and it has impact when the song calls for it. It’s very versatile in this regard, but the texture and detail is incredible. I started hearing the bass line in it’s entirety, rather than bits and pieces. It’s incredible how much our brains have to piece together things without actually hearing them. Over the years, you start to form assumptions about sound based on what you’re given. I think the Owl is a perfect example of a headphone that fills in those missing gaps, or puzzle pieces if you will. I talked about this a lot in my PM3 review as well. We tend to hear only about 45-75% of the song depending on how good the headphones are. Once you start getting into the mid-level stuff, that gap starts to close and perhaps you instead hear about 95-100% of what the song provides. Small, subtle, after thought type of details become extremely enjoyable and prominent, because you realize how much actually goes into a recording. You start to appreciate the artists and how much they pour into their craft.
Comfort is out of this world. Durability is phenomenal, with an incredibly articulate bass that reveals a lot. Can be on the sibilant side at times.
I really adore this headphone and I’m glad I got a chance to demo it being that it was never on my radar. I do think that if you’re in the market for a headphone like this, it’s well worth the investment and will serve you well for a long time.
Stu is determined to provide the truth about all things audio, and strives to deliver excellent content to you the reader! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, attend church, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His attention to detail and perfectionist attitude are what allow him to excel, but it can be both a blessing and a hindrance at times.