Putting the record straight with Skylar Gray


Audioquest’s unfeasibly young headphone guru Skylar Gray responds to some of the comments in Richard Barclays recent review of the NightHawk headphones.

We appreciate the time and effort Richard Barclay has put into getting to know and understand NightHawk. Thank you very much. We’d like to offer a few points of clarification that might prove interesting and beneficial to both Richard, Jason Kennedy, and The Ear’s readers.

In his review, Richard writes “AQ argues Mylar is incapable of [pistonic motion].” This isn’t completely accurate. Our stance is that Mylar, as it’s currently used in most headphones, does not provide true pistonic motion. Theoretically, it is possible that a Mylar diaphragm could be pistonic if it were made with a compliant surround, were thick enough, small enough, and perhaps with a shape geometrically optimized for the application—for instance, a catenary dome or some kind of convoluted parabolic surface devised for mathematically optimal rigidity. Further, one would need to pay attention to weight distribution, airflow balance, and the addition of a coil former. It’s possible that the size of the diaphragms in question is the biggest hurdle to Mylar’s ability to achieve true pistonic motion. When used in very small drivers that necessarily move less, Mylar doesn’t break up as readily (but, even then, because there would be no surround, it wouldn’t be truly pistonic.) Simply put, the way that most Mylar/PET diaphragms are implemented today is far from the ideal required to achieve pistonic motion.

A bit later in the review, Richard writes that we argue “the consequently non-linear distortion at frequencies from 2kHz to 10kHz is blamed for the ‘artificially boosted highs’ that exist in ‘most headphones.’” Again, we apologize for any miscommunication, but this isn’t completely accurate. In fact, we cite high-frequency distortion at 6 to 10kHz, and we’ve been very careful to state in our educational documents and on our website that the artificially boosted highs common to most headphones are largely due to the improper application of free-field and diffuse-field measurement techniques and derivative target response curves. We discuss this in great detail in the “Measurements” section of our website.

Regarding competitive benchmarking, Richard is under the impression that our findings and comparisons are set against only one undisclosed “highly regarded flagship model.” Yes, it’s correct that several of the graphs on our website show comparisons between NightHawk and one other headphone, but this is merely for simplicity. AudioQuest now has on hand close to 200 headphones of various types, brands, and price points. NightHawk designer Skylar Gray has an archive of thousands of tests and measurements performed on these headphones, using AudioQuest’s Kemar + SoundCheck rig inside a custom isolation chamber. This research, experimentation, and knowledge has informed the way that NightHawk was developed, as well as the evolution of future AQ headphones.

A small point of clarification regarding our earpads: Richard says that the earpads “are fashioned from ‘protein leather.’” The earpads themselves are not made from protein leather, but rather their outer material is made of protein leather. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the earpads are covered or cloaked by protein leather. 

Regarding NightHawk’s two cables, Richard writes, “It currently ships with two detachable 8ft long cables, neither of which incidentally are balanced!” We appreciate the excellent point. However, the AudioQuest cable itself is balanced, but, at the time the review sample was provided, we hadn’t yet mass-produced the cable with proper balanced connectors. Up until recently, we had been custom-building balanced cables as requested. The existing AQ cable can, in fact, be made with balanced connectors, and we will soon also offer our own balanced connector. Actually, we’ll provide the NightHawk cable in any balanced configuration required — not only XLR. Lastly, Richard says that the second cable is “better suited to the rigours of portable use,” which is true, but what we’d like people to know is that the second cable is simply better suited for any application in which durability is of greater importance than performance — whether at home or on the go. 

Thanks again for the time and consideration. We’re pleased to know that Richard appreciates NightHawk’s many technological innovations and found it to offer an immersive, non-fatiguing listening experience worthy of a lengthy audition.

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