Nocs NS400 in-ear headphones offer good sound, Apple-inspired design
When I reviewed Nocs’s $70 NS200 Aluminum ( ), I found that the Swedish company’s penchant for minimalism had resulted in a clean, but somewhat generic, design and that the sound quality, while unobjectionable, wasn’t particularly compelling, either. Nocs recently sent Macworld the company’s new $100 NS400 Titanium, which represents a step up in price and performance.
Like the NS200, the NS400 is a canalbud-style headset. Canalbuds generally split the difference, in both design and price, between traditional earbuds and true in-ear-canal (canalphone) models. Since they fit partially in the ear canal, canalbuds block some external noise, and they aim to form an acoustic seal that improves bass performance. However, they don’t block as much sound as true in-ear-canal models, and, as with those models, getting a proper fit can be tricky, the cord can produce unwanted microphonic noise in a listener’s ear, and using the headset function can be weird due to the occlusion effect of having your ears plugged while talking. (See our in-ear-canal headphone primer for more details.)
The two models’ similarities go beyond their canalbud design: From a visual standpoint, they’re so similar that you might mistake them for being variations of the same model. Both feature small, bullet-shaped metal earpieces, capped by silicone eartips and attached to a small, rubbery cable. The right half of the NS400’s split cable features the same Apple-style three-button (volume up, volume down, and play/pause/call/end) remote/microphone module found in the NS200, with the same three, almost identically shaped buttons. Like the NS200, the NS400’s microphone sounds good overall—loud and clear with above-average performance, but missing some of the depth that makes the iPhone 4’s internal microphone sound more natural. The package includes four pairs of silicone ear tips—one small, two medium, and one large—and a shirt clip, but it doesn’t include the carrying case that came with the NS200 when we reviewed it.
So, then, what’s different between the two models? On the outside, the NS400’s earpieces are constructed from titanium, which I found more handsome than the NS200’s aluminum housings—the titanium helps elevate the NS400’s design. The NS400 comes in black and white models, which each feature titanium-gray earpieces but differ in the color of the eartips, cable, and inline remote.
More important, the NS400 upgrades the NS200’s drivers (the tiny speakers inside) with a titanium coating, which makes them stiffer and, in theory, should improve sound quality. Indeed, in practice the drivers provide a noticeable upgrade. High-frequency sounds are better defined, while midrange frequencies are more detailed and bass is tighter (which also benefits other parts of the spectrum and gives a more-spacious sound). However, the NS400 isn’t perfect—bass is still somewhat bloated (and louder than I’d prefer), and the NS400 doesn’t draw me into the music as well as the more natural $90 Spider Realvoice ( ), or the more accurate $99 Etymotic mc3 ( ). On the other hand, I found the NS400’s midrange and high frequencies to be an improvement over those of the $80 Maximo iP-595 ( ), though the iP-595 offers tighter, cleaner bass.
Macworld’s buying advice
While I found the Nocs NS200 to be a little bland, the NS400 represents an improvement in looks and sound that more than compensates for the $30 price increase. There are better sonic values around this price point (although the NS400’s street prices are often substantially lower than the list price), but the NS400 will appeal to anyone looking for good headphones that match their Apple products.
R. Matthew Ward got a little nostalgic for the bygone days of the titanium PowerBook G4 while writing this review. In addition to regularly contributing to Macworld, he writes about audio, Apple, and other cool stuff on his personal blog.