I first met Swedish audio company Nocs Design around 10 years ago when they released some stylish headphones. I tested these – the titanium body NS400 and the avant-bass NS600– and found both to be pretty great, with great sound, clean aesthetics and a good in-ear fit. Nocs continued to make beautiful DJ headphones and a set of desktop speakersthen the mark kind of disappeared.
More precisely, it has mutated. Founder and lead designer Daniel Alm transitioned to designing novelty watches sold under the name NOC Workshop. After a few years of drifting, Alm and his team are once again turning to audio. The first Nocs audio product in years is a pair of wireless headphones called Air NS1100.
Much has changed during the time the NOCs have been absent from the portable audio market. The wireless revolution changed everything. Now we have AirPods and Pixel Buds and Beats and galaxy buds. We’ve got deluxe buds to match your Jaguar’s paint job and enough cheap slag to fill Hudson’s Bay. These Nocs better impress. Well, they do. The headphones are comfortable to wear, easy to manage and sound great. They also have a cool, sleek design and, perhaps best of all, cost under $130.
The Nocs NS1100 Air are a wireless design, with a pair of earbuds that nestle into a charging case that fits in your palm. Inside each bud is a 9.2mm driver, a pair of mics for taking calls and powering both the Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) system that blocks out outside sounds and the mode of transparency that channels some of the outside sound into your ears. They use Bluetooth 5.0, so their range and signal stability are exemplary. I never experienced a drop in connection during my months of testing, even with my laptop in the next room or with my phone buried in my backpack.
When you first open the box, you will find six sizes of bits. That’s three more than most companies provide; therefore, it is easy to find an earmold that provides a good fit and seal inside your ear canal. A tip about tips: your ear canals can be different sizes. Mine are, and I tend to forget about it until I can test headphones with tips that fit properly.
The buds are mostly plastic (they only come in a matte black finish) and while that makes them a little flimsy, it gives them a lightness that makes them more comfortable to wear. With the appropriately sized ear tip, the lightweight, contoured design allows the earbuds to float in your ear. This makes them less tiring to wear for long periods of time.
They are controlled by touch panels on each earbud. Tap the right ear to play and pause music, or skip to the next track. Tap the left ear to switch between three states: ANC mode, transparency mode or naturally isolated sound with these two modes disabled.
There’s no audio indicator to let you know what mode you’re in, just a chime to announce you’ve changed modes. If you want to know what mode you’re in, you can download the Nocs app, where the commands are labeled. In fact, I recommend downloading the app just so you can try the ability to customize the sound of the headphones. This is a feature developed by Nocs Design with the help of its technology partner audiodo. Launch the calibration function and you will hear a series of tones in the headphones. Whenever you hear a tone, tell the app you can hear it; it works just like a hearing test you would take at an audiologist. After a few minutes of sound hide-and-seek, the application generates a personal sound profile. You can then turn it on or off in the app at any time. (The app can store multiple profiles at once.)