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Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/12/14 7:42 p.m.

I was recently contacted by a Miata owner who works at GE. He wanted me to try out the GE Nighthawk LED headlights and sent me a set. There weren't any strings attached other than an honest request for feedback. I don't have any financial stake here, this isn't a part Flyin' Miata is liable to start carrying. This is an honest review.

Of course, I jumped at the chance to try them. Properly engineered LED lighting is the future, and we've seen LEDs take over endurance racing in just a couple of years. How would they retrofit?

These are 7" round headlight replacements, so they'll fit a lot of older stuff. I've got something like 8 cars that can use them.

Let's get this out of the way first: these are not $20 headlights. Prices fluctuate, but expect to pay $400-500/set. They're actually aimed at the long distance truck market, where drivers want a light that will work for years and years and years. GE quotes a lifespan of 15,000 hours, compared to about 320 for incandescents.

I've always appreciated good lights. I run H4 conversions in every one of my vehicles, and have been known to put 9" Hella driving lights on my Miatas. My commute takes me across about 5 miles of completely dark, rural highways with deer as well as some suburban driving for a total time of about 30 minutes, so I need good lights to see where I'm going. I took a set of Bosch H4 lights and Philips high-efficiency bulbs out of my 1990 to install these.

The lights appear to be identical to the Trucklite lights that have been around for a while and are very well regarded. The design of the lens and the divider between the two halves looks the same. I haven't found them under any other name, there are visible differences on all the others I've seen.

The lights themselves are a bit odd looking, as the high and low beams are completely separate. But on an NA Miata, that doesn't matter because they're down during the day Installation was just like changing a headlight, they plug in.

Lit. The upper shot is the low beams. I have no idea what this looks like on the road, but I suspect it does give the car a pretty funny face. The exposure time for the second shot is half that of the first.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/12/14 7:44 p.m.

The beam pattern is good. Nice cutoff, with just enough softness to it that there's a bit of extra coverage above the beam. On the road, you can see a hot spot down the middle of the pattern that is almost like a small pencil beam. There's no kick up on the right side as there is on my H4s. Up against a wall, you can see a bit of bleed in the middle of the pattern.

The high beams don't look that difference against a wall. There's a big difference in lighting, though. I let the camera adjust the exposure so this wasn't blown out, but look at the dash light by comparison. It hasn't been changed between the two shots. The exposure for the first was 1/2 second, the exposure for the second was 1/6. That means there's about three times as much light in the high beam shot.

On the road, the first thing I noticed was their response time. LEDs flick on and off almost instantaneously, and I've caught myself just flashing the high beams for fun because of how fast they respond. I'm tempted to put in an Audi Le Mans-style stutter flash to pass setup because I can.

The color is much cooler than most incandescents, and it's really restful on long drives. If I was driving professionally through the night, these lights would be a godsend in that regard. I'm a big fan.

The beam pattern is really good for lighting up the shoulder. Excellent. Even at low beam, they're as good a deer spotting light as you'll find. Street signs light up but don't dazzle. I think part of this has to do with the nature of the light. I can't explain why, but the cooler temperature of the light doesn't blind you the same way.

I apologize for the poor shots. They were hand held, and I don't feel like going out to shoot it again. Still, it illustrates things. Maybe tomorrow night I'll take some shots on the back roads with a tripod.

The high beams act much differently than they did against the wall. They throw considerable light down the road, making for excellent visibility. As you can tell, these are the same shots as above. Once again, the exposure is dramatically different. 2 seconds vs 1 in the first shot, and 2.5 vs 1.6 in the second.

So, by this point I was 100% sold. I prefer them over my H4s due to the light color, the lack of glare off signs and the way they illuminate the shoulders. The lifespan is a nice bonus, although I doubt that will be a major concern. The lack of any heat off the lights and the minimal load on the electrical system makes me feel good too.

I did find one weak point - other than price. We had a dense fog one night when I was heading home. Very dense, the sort that gives you about 50' or less of visibility. And in that case, the bleed in the center of the low beam pattern and the slight softness in the cutoff meant I could barely see. Brandon was driving behind me with his H4s and was gaining. Now, we're talking about 15 mph vs 18 mph and he had my taillights to follow - but I felt they could have performed better there.

The end result: I'm leaving them in. They're winners. If I drove the Targa Miata at night more, I'd spring for a set there as well, as the combination of performance, reliability and low electrical load are all the sort of thing I'm looking for. I won't be buying a set for my other H4-equipped cars, although the Vanagon would probably benefit. If I didn't have a set for my daily driver Miata, I'd seriously consider them given my needs.

DoctorBlade
DoctorBlade UltraDork
1/12/14 7:45 p.m.

looks, well, clean so far.

Feedyurhed
Feedyurhed Dork
1/12/14 8:04 p.m.

Good write up and interesting stuff. I have a thing for good lights so these press the right buttons for me. Price is a little steep but worth it overall I think.

mad_machine
mad_machine GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/12/14 8:04 p.m.

I have been waiting for drop in LED replacements. They are long in coming. I am very glad to see they are this good

Jim Pettengill
Jim Pettengill HalfDork
1/12/14 8:05 p.m.

Pretty cool, they remind me of a headlight sold by Marchal way back in the mid 1970s called the Amplilux. They were a 7" round unit with separate reflectors for the high and low beams, with separate bulbs. They really worked great, especially with high-wattage bulbs. These also look to work great - pretty pricy, and I don't have to agonize because none of my current cars have 7" round lights, so I'll stick with my H4s w/100 watt high beams. But neat new technology.

Junkyard_Dog
Junkyard_Dog Dork
1/12/14 8:10 p.m.

What is the lens made of? My only problem with expensive ultra-long life lights is that the extra life doesn't mean squat if the lens gets taken out by a stone or clouds up over time.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/12/14 8:32 p.m.

Apparently, non-yellowing impact resistant polycarbonate - ie, Lexan. I suspect it'll deal better with stones than glass would.

http://www.gelighting.com/LightingWeb/na/consumer/products/highlights/nighthawk-led-headlights/overview/

mad_machine
mad_machine GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/12/14 9:38 p.m.

Amazon has them less than half the price Keith alluded too

DirtyBird222
DirtyBird222 UltraDork
1/12/14 9:55 p.m.

Looks neat. Comparable output to a proper HID projector conversion (i.e. an OEM projector with OEM bulbs and ballasts). I have some Rigid Industries Duallys in both my cars for an aux light and they are awesome with their instant on/off and the amount of light the throw.

DirtyBird222
DirtyBird222 UltraDork
1/12/14 10:00 p.m.
mad_machine wrote: Amazon has them less than half the price Keith alluded too

That's for a single light. Keith quoted a set.

DirtyBird222
DirtyBird222 UltraDork
1/12/14 10:00 p.m.
mad_machine wrote: Amazon has them less than half the price Keith alluded too

That's for a single light. Keith quoted a set.

amg_rx7
amg_rx7 Dork
1/12/14 10:27 p.m.

Thanks for the review Kieth. I have been wondering about these as I'm exploring a retrofit onto my RX7 in a custom setup like the old Brainstorm dual low profile projectors.

Do you know if they have plans on making a 3" version?

stanger_missle
stanger_missle GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
1/12/14 10:51 p.m.

KC HiLiTes also has their own 7" LED version: LED headlights

I have been looking at 7" replacement headlights for my Wrangler. The stock headlights are terrible. The beam pattern and output leaves a lot to be desired. Hopefully my tax return will allow me to pick up a pair.

One thing to remember about LED lights is that they hardly emit any heat. Ice and snow can build up on the lense.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/12/14 10:59 p.m.

Good point, I figured the low heat was a plus. Didn't think about the defrosting aspect, especially on a vehicle like a Wrangler with exposed lights. I have LED tail/brake lights on the Miata, and I have noticed they don't clear themselves.

amg, I don't know anything about their future plans. From one comment made by my contact, they're continuing to develop these. 3" isn't a big rig size, so the market's going to be dramatically smaller there. I have pretty strong feelings against low profile conversions, but if I were to do that, I'd run a set of Lang Racing LED pods. I figured a while back I could do two rows in place of a popup, one wide angle for a low beam and one driving light for a high beam.

Appleseed
Appleseed UltimaDork
1/13/14 12:30 a.m.

Look at this price comparison : In the time difference, I'll be replacing the incandescents 48.875 times in 15,000 hours. At $15.00 a light (I run sealed units on the 4Runner) that comes to $703.13.

mad_machine
mad_machine GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/13/14 4:19 p.m.
stanger_missle wrote: KC HiLiTes also has their own 7" LED version: LED headlights I have been looking at 7" replacement headlights for my Wrangler. The stock headlights are terrible. The beam pattern and output leaves a lot to be desired. Hopefully my tax return will allow me to pick up a pair. One thing to remember about LED lights is that they hardly emit any heat. Ice and snow can build up on the lense.

Bigger the LED and the higher the lumens, the more heat. I have an LED flashlight that gets warm to touch after a minute or so of use

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/13/14 6:02 p.m.

These don't. Maybe due to the large volume inside the housing, but I've put my hands on them after a drive and they're not warm at all that I've noticed.

failboat
failboat SuperDork
1/13/14 6:21 p.m.

awesome. I dont think I could ever justify lights in this price range for our beater truck. but man would I like to have some modern light output. the current headlights are terrible. haha.

beans
beans Dork
1/13/14 8:13 p.m.

I cant wait for laser headlights.

But really, great review Keith. Mahbe i can talk my dad into throwing these on his Harley's and Jeep. I'm still waiting on a smaller, retrofitable version.

4Msfam
4Msfam Reader
1/13/14 8:27 p.m.

The cutoff looks great. Does that help eliminate others "flashing" you when they're oncoming, thinking your brights are on?

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/13/14 9:01 p.m.

Beans, these are standard 7", the same size used on Harleys and Jeeps. There's a 5 x 7 as well.

4MSfam, properly aimed headlights will stop people from flashing you. The sharp cutoff means you're putting light where you need it and helps cut back scatter in fog.

beans
beans Dork
1/13/14 9:04 p.m.
Keith Tanner wrote: Beans, these are standard 7", the same size used on Harleys and Jeeps. There's a 5 x 7 as well. 4MSfam, properly aimed headlights will stop people from flashing you. The sharp cutoff means you're putting light where you need it and helps cut back scatter in fog.

I'm wanting some for my Accord to retrofit. :p good to know on the size standard, though.

Also, lies, people are stupid and will still flash their headlights, even if properly aimed, because theyre not dull and yellow.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/13/14 9:15 p.m.

Guess the iq is higher around here. I can't remember the last time I was flashed, but I have a tendency to be pretty sensitive to my aim.

I don't think you'll find a good LED replacement bulb, as the the directional nature of LEDs makes them a difficult drop-in replacement into a reflector designed for a filament that radiates in all directions. 7" or 5" x 7" was the DOT standard for years. And just as importantly, there's a good market between long haul truckers, Harley owners and Jeep owners - all who are well-known accessorizers People with "aero headlights" might be caught in a hard place between standards and lights designed for LEDs from the start, restricted to incandescents for best optics.

I'd love to be wrong though. Maybe I should spring for a few of the H4 bulb replacements to try them out.

mad_machine
mad_machine GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/13/14 9:23 p.m.

when I had my BMW with the Euro projector lights.. cars -never- flashed me.. but the pickups and SUVs did. Never did figure that one out

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