Review: Nocs NS2 Air Monitors v2

I hadn’t heard of the Swedish consumer audio manufacturer Nocs at all when it began sending get-gadget review units of its goods a few years ago. But I quickly grew to respect Nocs, especially after it produced a few pairs of excellent earbuds, including the NS400 and the NS600, and a killer pair of on-ear headphones, the NS900.

A couple of Christmases ago, Nocs shipped over the NS2, its set of desktop AirPlay speakers. They’re well-designed: 80 watts, Kevlar drivers, compact 6-inch-tall enclosures, and dressed in either basic black and white or bright colors like orange and yellow. I liked everything about them except for the fact they ran AirPlay. Apple’s wireless media platform works perfectly for some people, but it’s still buggy and unstable for most of us, and too unreliable for me to commit to, especially in a set of speakers costing several hundred dollars.

The NS2s are back now in a “version 2” model priced at $400, and they’re much improved. Nocs has added two additional methods beyond AirPlay to wirelessly play music: Bluetooth and Spotify Connect. The adoption of Bluetooth is what really completes the package, turning a pair of nice-sounding but flawed desktop speakers into a well-rounded audio setup I can easily recommend.

In my testing of the new Nocs, AirPlay was still problematic—it’s susceptible to interference from other wireless networks and devices, and suffers from frequent dropouts in high-traffic areas. (It may work for you, but you’ll know what awaits if you already have a few AirPlay devices in your home). Whenever AirPlay acted up during testing, however, I could just switch to either the Spotify direct-connect mode (better but not perfect) or to Bluetooth (zero hiccups, near flawless).

It’s a shame about AirPlay that even years into the life of the platform and wide adoption among manufacturers, I’m still seeing so many products that barely work as streaming devices. Bluetooth, on the other hand, has done nothing but get better over the last few years. Audio quality, signal stability, and the drain on the battery of whatever mobile device you’re using for playback have all improved. Not to mention that it’s device-agnostic and super-easy to set up. At this point, all of my favorite wireless speakers are either Bluetooth-only, or they have Bluetooth in addition to another platform, like AirPlay or DLNA. And I almost always just use Bluetooth to avoid all the potential hassles of Wi-Fi-based audio.

But you didn’t show up here for a dissertation on streaming platforms. How do these guys sound? They’re great—nice and loud when you want them to be, still crisp and present when they’re playing at background level, and capable of kicking out a big, full sound for bottom-heavy stuff like dance music. I fed them a steady diet of Aphex Twin and Plastikman, and for me, that’s where they really shone. Techno-heads will love them.

By name, they are “monitors”—in the audio world, that term carries the expectation that the speakers will present an audio source as transparently as possible. You shouldn’t expect a “bass boost,” exaggerated mids, or any flavoring of the audio when you buy anything calling itself a monitor. The Nocs are faithful to what you’d expect. They sound tidy.

The cases themselves aren’t smooth, they have a rubbery coating. It’s a nice feature if you’re using them on a bookshelf or a crowded desktop, since you can lean books against them and they’ll provide some grip. One thing you may notice is that the Nocs NS2s look a whole lot like Audioengine’s A2+ desktop monitors. The design is very close visually, and they also sound very much alike (the Nocs are 80W and the Audioengines are 60W). But the Nocs have the wireless tech built in. And they come in all those pretty colors.

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