Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon



A more sophisticated, more mature version of the award-winning NightHawk, NightHawk Carbon boasts several acoustic, ergonomic, and cosmetic refinements.

Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon
Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon
Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon

Adds a second pair of earpads, and includes a more versatile, durable cable - all while retaining its predecessor’s exceedingly low distortion, unsurpassed comfort, and naturally beautiful sound.



- Impedance: 25 ohms
- Sensitivity: 99dBSPL / mW
- Power Handling: 1.5W
- Weight: 346g (12.2 oz.)
- Driver: 50mm Dynamic - Biocellulose Diaphragm - 1.2T Split-Gap Motor

Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon


- Length: 4.25' (1.3m)
- Conductors: Long Grain Copper
- Jacket: Flexible, Non-Braided, Kink-Free, Non-Microphonic
- Terminations: 3.5mm TRRS to Dual 2.5mm Mono, Direct-Silver Plated Tellurium Copper (TeCu)
- Discrete Microphone and Smartphone Controls
- Adaptor (included):3.5mm to 1/4", Direct-Silver Plated High-Purity


Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon


AudioQuest has designed and refined high-performance cables since 1980. Our headphones benefit from that experience, including a durable cable designed to effectively control noise and minimize distortion, enabling a deeper emotional connection between listener and music. The cable’s conductors are made of high-purity copper that has been drawn and cast with exceptional care to eliminate as much oxygen content as possible, thereby significantly reducing impurities in the metal that would otherwise exacerbate distortion.


The cable’s flexible jacket greatly reduces microphonics—the annoyingly audible rustling or thumping sounds that occur when headphone cables come into contact with external surfaces—and its rigorously tested strain relief ensures longevity. The mic and smartphone controls allow the listener to accept and make phone calls, or, of course, play, pause, and select tracks—and our control circuitry is kept separate from the audio circuitry, meaning that audio quality is never compromised for convenience.


In our quest for beautiful sound, we take nothing for granted. While most plugs are made of nickel-plated brass with a thin outer layer of gold, our headphone cable plugs use a base metal of Tellurium Copper (TeCu), selected for its outstanding purity and superb machinability. Because TeCu is far easier to machine than other commonly used varieties of copper, we can achieve a much smoother plug surface, which, in turn, results in higher plating quality, better contact mating, and, most importantly, improved signal transmission.


Our commitment to quality extends to the 3.5mm-to-1/4” headphone plug adaptor that comes with every AudioQuest headphone. Featuring thick Direct-Silver plating over its high-purity copper base metal, our adaptor is far more than merely functional: It lives up to the high standards set by AudioQuest headphones.



Compared to the drive-units commonly used in most headphones, NightHawk Carbon’s 50mm dynamic driver much more closely resembles the high-quality drive-units found in today’s most sophisticated loudspeakers—not simply in appearance, but, more importantly, in terms of function and performance. It employs a carefully constructed bio-cellulose diaphragm, voice-coil former, and compliant rubber surround, resulting in quality that is as easily seen as it is heard.

Designed for exceedingly low distortion and high excursion with true pistonic motion, NightHawk Carbon’s driver contributes significantly to the headphones’ well-controlled bass, rich midrange, and naturally extended highs. Its combination of effortless clarity and outstanding representation of space produces meaningful, emotionally compelling listening experiences. More than merely capable of providing short-term pleasure, NightHawk Carbon is designed to deliver satisfaction that endures.

Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon


NightHawk Carbon’s headpad attaches to its 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 headpad automatically adjusts to the listener’s head—no clicking, snapping, cranking, or guessing involved—guaranteeing an easy, comfortable fit, time and time again. Just place NightHawk Carbon over your head and let it do its thing. There’s nothing else to do, but enjoy.


The open-back design of NightHawk Carbon’s speaker enclosures—its earcups—enables an expanded, three-dimensional soundstage with natural dynamics and smooth, coherent performance that extends into the lowest and highest octaves. As with any open-back headphone, the open area had to be protected by a grille to prevent damage to the headphone’s precision-made internal parts.

Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon

Traditionally, this has almost always been accomplished with perforated metal/plastic, wire cloth, or some other effectively two-dimensional material. While more or less successful at protecting the headphone’s internal parts, these materials also tend to compromise the headphone’s performance, reflecting sound back toward the driver, creating standing waves and resonant colorations. But what if this grille could be three-dimensional and promote a random scattering of sound—diffusion—to successfully prevent those destructive standing waves?


NightHawk Carbon’s earcups are made from a revolutionary material called “Liquid Wood”—actual wood that has been combined with reclaimed plant fiber, heated, liquefied, and processed in such a way that it can be injection molded. While injection molding is commonly accomplished with environmentally hazardous plastics or synthetic polymers, Liquid Wood is a natural material—as sustainable as it is physically beautiful. Moreover, compared to ordinary plastic or wood, Liquid Wood has far superior acoustic properties and provides a seemingly endless array of geometric possibilities. In our headphones, we’ve used Liquid Wood to shape our earcups to more closely resemble the human ear, thereby providing a more complete and comfortable fit, reducing stress on the listener’s head and ears.


To the very extent that it is possible and practical, we avoid the use of plastics in designing and manufacturing our headphones. Whereas the production and disposal of plastic is known to present environmental hazards, the production of Liquid Wood (as used in our earcups), biocellulose (as used in our drivers), and 3D-printed grilles (as used in NightHawk and NightHawk Carbon), has minimal impact on the ecosystem. The same holds true for Protein Leather—a bio-derived synthetic fabric that we’ve used to encase our soft, comfortable earpads. Developed by combining a specialty resin with protein powder derived from eggshells, Protein Leather is durable, pliable, and has a softness and surface asperity approximating that of human skin, making it particularly well suited to its application in NightHawk Carbon.


Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon


Compared to the drive-units commonly used in most headphones, AudioQuest’s 50mm dynamic driver much more closely resembles the high-quality drive-units found in today’s most sophisticated loudspeakers—not simply in appearance, but, more importantly, in terms of function and performance.


In the simplest terms, a speaker cone or driver diaphragm creates sound by moving air. Moving air, in and of itself, is relatively simple. Controlling the way the air moves, to promote time- and frequency-coherent performance, while also avoiding adverse tonal colorations, requires precise motion. 

The ideal speaker cone or driver acts as a piston.

The ideal speaker cone or driver diaphragm acts as a piston: as it moves back and forth, its surface remains rigid—never changing shape—and its motion is fluid and stable—never rocking, tilting, or wobbling. Unlike the typical un-terminated Mylar-diaphragm driver assemblies used in today’s most popular planar magnetic, dynamic, and electrostatic headphones, AudioQuest headphone drivers achieve true pistonic motion through the implementation of an ultra-rigid bio-cellulose diaphragm that is anechoically terminated by a urethane rubber surround.


Most of today’s headphones use diaphragms made from Mylar—an inexpensive, lightweight, commodity PET plastic material. Besides being a much more environmentally friendly and responsible material than plastic, biocellulose also presents significant sonic advantages. Mylar is inherently flimsy and brittle, typically distorting as the audio signal reaches high frequencies of 6–10kHz.

Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon

Biocellulose, however, is rigid, self-damping, and therefore capable of far better control across the entire frequency spectrum. Listeners who are accustomed to the sound of Mylar may initially think it offers more high-frequency “detail,” when, in fact, these perceived details are the direct result of distortion and artificially boosted highs. AudioQuest headphones do not boost high frequencies to create the false perception of greater detail. Instead, our headphones exhibit a much cleaner frequency response with much lower overall distortion, thereby delivering true detail matched by natural warmth, for a fatigue-free listening experience. AudioQuest headphones do not boost high frequencies to create the false perception of greater detail.

Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon


A typical one-piece Mylar driver diaphragm forgoes the use of a surround in order to maintain flexibility, which is necessary for moving air and creating sound. In this scenario, vibrations begin at the driver’s voice coil and travel through the Mylar diaphragm until they reach its exposed outer edge.

There, the vibrations encounter a hard surface, causing them to reflect back into the diaphragm and return to the voice coil. As the process continues, the Mylar diaphragm flexes and changes shape, flexes and changes shape, the ensuing collision of returning and exiting vibrations producing standing waves that reveal the material’s fundamental coloration. Of perhaps greatest interest and concern to headphone and music enthusiasts is the fact that this detrimental coloration is inevitably imparted to the music.

AudioQuest’s biocellulose driver diaphragm, however, is equipped with a compliant rubber surround, enabling pistonic motion and anechoic termination: As the voice coil moves, the diaphragm moves—not adversely, but sympathetically—thus generating a carefully controlled vibration that travels through the diaphragm until it reaches the surround. Rather than colliding into a hard surface and returning into the diaphragm to create resonant distortion, the vibration is absorbed by the surround and turned into heat, preventing it from imparting unnatural coloration to the music—a technique that is successfully implemented in loudspeakers, but rarely used in headphones. AudioQuest’s biocellulose driver diaphragm is equipped with a compliant rubber surround.


AudioQuest’s patented split-gap motor design dramatically reduces intermodulation distortion to provide a clean, well-defined broadband response and a large, naturally detailed representation of space with truly remarkable resolution in the time domain. These things, albeit admirable and impressive, are merely attributes of the sound. In terms of music, tonal colors should be more distinct, the interplay between voices and instruments easier to follow, the silences between notes deeper and more charged, so that the music itself becomes more intelligible, meaningful, and purposeful—easier to understand, appreciate, and enjoy. In short, you might hear deeper into recordings than you’re used to. Beware: Those aforementioned silences can be particularly staggering.

Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon

But how, exactly, does our split-gap motor work? In other dynamic headphones, the magnetic field generated by the driver motor rapidly loses control over the voice-coil and diaphragm as those parts approach their extreme boundaries of motion. Hello, distortion!

However, as our voice-coil travels through its magnetic gap, its split-gap motor focuses very intense amounts of magnetic-field strength towards the extremes of the voice-coil’s travel. The result is stronger grip over the voice-coil, and, consequently, greater control over the diaphragm’s movement at its minimum and maximum excursion points.

With a motor that precisely tracks motion through the magnetic gap and a diaphragm assembly that achieves true pistonic motion, AudioQuest headphones are simply better equipped to efficiently and accurately transform electricity into sound. Goodbye, distortion.

Steadily evolving over the course of more than 50 design iterations, our headphones’ driver motor was developed using today’s most sophisticated Finite Element Analysis software to algorithmically fine-tune and optimize the magnetic circuit with accuracy unattainable by any other method.


In a typical headphone driver, a coil of wire, known as the voice-coil, is directly connected to a Mylar diaphragm and finds its home in a gap surrounding a permanent magnet. An electric current is passed through the voice-coil, creating a magnetic field that interacts with the magnetic field of the permanent magnet, thus generating force, causing the diaphragm to vibrate, and producing sound.

Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon

However, the absence of a true voice-coil former, or bobbin, means that the voice-coil itself is susceptible to inefficiencies of size, as well as irregularities of shape and motion: As the Mylar diaphragm flexes, the voice-coil changes shape- a fact that proves detrimental to the headphone’s ability to produce clean, clear sound. A voice-coil that is not perfectly circular cannot effectively control the movement of the diaphragm. And, as we now know, poorly controlled diaphragm motion is a major source of distortion. Furthermore, the absence of a former means the design forfeits control of the voice-coil’s height and prohibits it from being optimally centered within the magnetic gap. The former-less coil must be tall and will therefore have higher mass, which can compromise its ability to accurately reproduce high frequencies.

Our headphones use a comparatively thin, lightweight voice-coil, with fewer coils of wire, carefully wound on a small cylinder of kraft paper, selected for its combination of low weight and stiffness - perfect for retaining the voice-coil’s shape - enabling productive motion, while preventing adverse flexion. Moreover, the voice-coil is wound at a very specific location on the former, precisely positioned at its zero resting point within the center of the magnetic gap, thus providing the ideal symmetry of motion needed for near-zero distortion. Precise control of the voice-coil design means better symmetry of motion, lower distortion, and more naturally beautiful sound.


In electronics, a coil of wire, such as a voice-coil, is known as an inductor, and the term inductance is used to describe its electrical and magnetic properties. As we mentioned above, an inductor produces a magnetic field when current passes through it. Additionally, its impedance, or its resistance to the flow of alternating current (AC), increases with increasing frequency. Thus, it passes low frequencies more readily than high. Significantly, the more turns of wire a coil has, the higher its inductance will be and the greater opposition it will pose to the AC passing through it.

As the voice-coil moves through the magnetic gap, its inductance changes with the frequency of the audio signal. As inductance increases, so too does its effect on the overall sound of the headphone, truncating high frequencies and introducing frequency-dependent distortion. That’s bad. Low inductance, on the other hand, results in low distortion. Which, as we all know, is good. With our headphones, we’ve minimized the voice-coil inductance so that it plays a smaller role in the overall sound, has less of an opportunity to introduce distortion, and, consequently, gets the heck out of your way so that you can more freely and easily enjoy the music.


As far as we’re concerned, when it comes to the enjoyment of music, there should be no boundaries, no limitations, absolutely no impediments. This cannot be overstated. So, let’s talk about impedance. Impedance, as the very term suggests, is limiting. As a headphone’s impedance increases, its compatibility with and drivability by amplifiers and source devices decreases. Moreover, impedance can often be woefully inconsistent across the audio band—for instance, high at low frequencies, falling through the midrange, rising again with the highs—meaning that the headphone’s own frequency response will vary with the associated source component. In other words, when the headphone’s impedance isn’t flat, the headphone itself will be far more sensitive to the partnering amplifier—and far more susceptible to sonic deviations presented by that amp.

Simply put, your enjoyment of the music may vary. AudioQuest, however, wants as many people as possible to enjoy as much music as possible—when they want, where they want, and with the audio components they love most. With that in mind, it seemed obvious that we should design our headphones for low impedance, making them compatible with a wide range of products.

Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon

Additionally, thanks to a number of aforementioned factors—low inductance, symmetry of motion through the magnetic gap, finesse of our surround design—our headphones exhibit exceptionally flat impedance curves, meaning that their response will not change with frequency. Yasss! While our headphones will respond well to a dedicated headphone amplifier—tube or solid-state—they can also be successfully partnered with laptops, tablets, smartphones, any of a growing number of high-resolution portable audio devices, and, of course, our very own DragonFly. That’s enjoyment—boundless and unwavering.


As a headphone’s driver diaphragm moves back and forth, it pushes air in both directions. Because that air needs somewhere to go, vents are built into the surrounding driver basket. Without these vents, pressure would build up and the trapped air would act as a spring, poised to push the diaphragm forward. In turn, the diaphragm would resist backward motion, causing frequencies at 500Hz and lower to become progressively asymmetric, introducing distortion and hampering bass response.

And that is another source of distortion and resonance. Unlike most headphone driver baskets, our basket is intelligently designed for perfectly even distribution of its air vents, thus avoiding that devilish rocking of the voice-coil. Free from the resultant distortion, low frequencies are better controlled and, therefore, sound cleaner and clearer, with more natural impact and extension. In AudioQuest headphones, airflow is further optimized through the use of the elegant, slightly mysterious, and oh so very handy equitangential curve.

Air will invariably take the path of least resistance, and that path can be defined by an equitangential curve. Examining a cross section of our air vents reveals the curve itself. Rather than forcing air through a vent whose edges are sharp, we allow the air to take its natural course—a technique that has long been used in aerodynamics to reduce turbulence, but has never before been used, as it is in our headphones, to counteract high-frequency chuffing. (Patent pending, FYI.) Thus, in AudioQuest headphones, turbulence is intelligently minimized so that all-important airflow may instead be laminar, i.e., smooth and natural—like the sound of our high frequencies.


Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon


Sophisticated ergonomic elements in a headphone design remove unnecessary boundaries - acoustic, physical, and psychological - between the listener and his or her emotional involvement with the music. Our patent-pending suspension system takes a cue from shock-mounted microphones, employing elastomer bands (four per side, symmetrically located around the earcups’ centerpiece) to join headband to earcups. This elegant design allows the earcups to move freely, accommodating heads of nearly any shape or size, while effectively decoupling the earcups to counteract intrusive mechanical crosstalk.

Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon


Unlike the earcups of other headphones that resemble rectangles, circles, diamonds, or other shapes, our earcups 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, our earcups 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 our headphones’ excellent tonal balance.


Unlike some headphones, whose earpads and drivers share a single plane and are angled so that they press awkwardly against the listener’s outer ears, inevitably causing undue pain and fast-setting fatigue, our earpads and drivers are carefully positioned to complement the natural angle of the listener’s ear. In this happy arrangement, there is ample room for the listener’s ears to rest easily within the space defined by the earpad’s internal volume. 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: a sigh of relief to headphone enthusiasts and cynics alike.


Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon

Our headpad 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, our headpad automatically adjusts to the listener’s head—no clicking, snapping, cranking, or guessing involved—guaranteeing an easy, comfortable fit, time and time again.

Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon


To the headphone enthusiast or music lover, there are few things more frustrating than great-sounding headphones that feel unnecessarily heavy and/or generally uncomfortable when worn for more than a few minutes. Our design strips away all excess, leaving behind only that which is absolutely essential to performance, facilitating a low total weight of 346 grams. Still, our headphones feel even lighter when worn.

The suspension system and headband work together to evenly distribute the headphone’s weight upon the listener’s head, avoiding the discomfort, pressure, and pain so commonly associated with the moderate to high clamping force of most headphones.

Providing contact akin to a hug or caress, rather than a pinch or stress, AudioQuest headphones rest softly but snugly upon the listener’s head, exerting minimal clamping force and enabling long, luxurious listening sessions—the kind you want and deserve.



In acoustics, diffusion is the efficacy by which sound can be more widely and evenly distributed to achieve a desired effect—less distortion, more beautiful music. But let’s be perfectly clear: The experience of listening to music through a set of headphones is not the same as the experience of attending a live musical performance. Art, science, technology, magic, whatever—our tools and totems have not been honed such that we can thoroughly deceive the ear/brain into reliably mistaking reproduced music for the real thing. Diffusion helps, however. Diffusion, properly employed, controls the arrival schedule of acoustic reflections, breaking up irritating echoes and controlling adverse colorations, to give the ear/brain more of what it wants: a sensation of complete immersion in a glorious musical event.

Typical headphone grille design: Some sound passes through while some is reflected back at the driver, potentially leading to standing wave resonances (reflected sound shown in red).

NightHawk's Diamond Cubic Lattice grille: Sound is diffused as it passes through and reflected, preventing standing waves. A small amount of sound is also dissipated as it bounces through the grille's complex internal geometry (diffused sound shown in red).


At AudioQuest, we are often inspired by the beauty, elegance, and ingenuity of the natural world. If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, we may have no greater source of inspiration than nature. We’re big fans of biomimicry—the act of imitating the structures, motions, and elements of the natural world for the purpose of solving human problems.

Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon

To solve the problem of diffusion, NightHawk uses a biomimetic grille inspired by the underlying structure of butterfly wings—a fascinating diamond-cubic latticework that diffuses light to create iridescence. Built to a much larger scale in NightHawk, our grille comprises a repeating pattern of interwoven trellises, each successive layer gradually becoming thicker as the latticework expands outward.

Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon

Through this intricate design, we’re better able to control the propagation of sound and minimize its adverse effects on the music. Because the innermost trellises of our grille are narrower and more widely spaced than those at the outer surface, we are encouraging internal diffusion: While it’s relatively easy for sound to enter the grille, it’s much more difficult for sound to exit. Thus, compared to the typical open-back headphone, NightHawk exhibits significantly less leakage—a boon for you and your neighbors. Furthermore, as sound enters the acoustic labyrinth of our latticework, it ceases to propagate. We’ve achieved greater diffusion and fewer reflections, thereby defeating the resonances that would otherwise distort our music. And all with the help of butterflies. Nature rules.


As mentioned above, the coloration of a butterfly’s wings is not due to actual pigmentation, but rather the result of the diffusion of light through alternating layers of exceedingly fine microstructures. With its intricate diamond-cubic latticework, NightHawk’s sound-diffusing grille is far too complex to machine or mold; it can only be created through today’s advanced 3D printing.

Knowing from the outset of our development process that NightHawk’s grille would be 3D printed, we were freed to explore patterns and forms that would have otherwise been impossible. The experience was liberating, informative, and wildly satisfying. With our 3D-printing partner, Sculpteo, and the trusty EOS P395 printer, we are able to reliably and consistently mass-produce a part that is structurally sound, beautiful to behold, and achieves levels of purpose and elegance to match its counterpart in nature.