Review: Nocs NS400 Titanium

What comes to mind when my thoughts turn to Sweden? The midnight sun. Psychedelic rock. Lingonberry jam on knäckebröd. Bergman, Forsberg, IKEA. Killer earbuds.

Ja, killer buds. For reals.

Nocs, a Swedish company you’ve never heard of, has been pumping out a line of high-performance earbuds over the last few years. I first became aware of the company when it sent us a pair of its NS400 Titanium in-ears. I’ve been using them for a few months, and I like everything about them: the minimal styling, the fit, the tight and accurate sound, and especially the price tag — between $80 and $90, which is a great deal for headphones as nice as these.

Nocs has employed titanium inside and out. The housing is crafted from finely machined metal, and the 8-millimeter driver inside utilizes a titanium-coated diaphragm. There’s a tiny hole at the end of the teardrop-shaped enclosure, presumably to act as a port.

The cabling is top quality, too: a kevlar-reinforced polymer that’s not too gummy and doesn’t produce too much noticeable cable noise. The inline remote adjusts the volume and can be used to take calls on an iPhone (but only sorta works on the Galaxy Nexus and the Galaxy S III, sorry). A bunch of tips come tumbling out when you open the box (just rubber, no foam), along with a collar clip. Finding a good seal is easy, as is keeping it — the remarkably light buds stay put.

And the sound is just great. There’s plenty of nuance in the mids and intricate detail in the highs, all without that grating, harsh tinniness you get from some overly detailed in-ears. I especially like how fast the bass is. Kick drums in rock music and drum machine hits in dance and IDM tracks sound huge and satisfying, but they don’t stick around. They come on strong and then snap out of there, just as they should.

Sometimes, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes a particular headset shine. Everyone’s ears perceive things like detail, “warmth” and “naturalness” differently. But the Nocs are easy to get a bead on: They’re just really comfortable. And I mean that in both senses of the word — they are lightweight with a great fit, and also, it’s pleasurable to listen to music through them for long periods of time. I know I’ve got a serious, quality headphone when I’m OK with wearing them for hours on end. I reach for these when I know I’ll be spending many hours on airplanes, which tells you something.

In the $80 to $100 range, these definitely stand out. I think there are other in-ear headphones that sound a little better — the NuForce NE-700s are less prone to distortion at high volumes, and the Etymotic mc5s offer more clinical, pristine audio — but these are still an excellent choice, especially if you prefer Nocs’ zupacool Euro styling.

One failure: the mic on the three-button remote. It’s a joke. I made some calls outside in the wind, and in a quiet room. In both cases, the mic was practically useless.

It’s a small stumble in an otherwise excellent product. I’m eager to see where Nocs goes from here. The company has recently sent over a pair of $150 in-ears tuned for electronic music, which I’ll be testing next. It’s also just come out with a pair of $100 on-the-ear headphones as well as a pair of $200 balanced armature in-ear monitors. I’m prepping my playlists right now.

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