At £60, the Nocs NS500 in-ear headphones are for people willing for fork out that bit extra for a pair that can really improve their music experience, rather than some to use and abuse until they fall apart.
Thanks to some sound-quality tweaks made since the Nocs NS400 and a design that’s just as good as the last, these are some of our favourite earphones at the price.
Until now, we knew Nocs primarily for its bullet-shaped in-ear headphones. Pairs like the Nocs NS400 and Nocs NS800 offer good sonics and striking design, all for a decent price. And unlike some other brands now widely known in the UK, they also offer good build quality.
So how do you improve on that?
Nocs has switched things up this year. The NS500s are still made of aluminium, and obviously so, but instead of rounded backs, they have flat ones with bevelled edges.
The finish is anodised to stop it from looking too loud, but leaves those angled edges shiny for that little bit of flash. Few earphone makers manage to balance flashiness and classiness like Nocs, and the NS500s do nothing to spoil that reputation. They’re great-looking earphones.
Nocs’s logo sits on each side, but this, too, is fairly low-key, drawn in the same base colour as the earpiece bodies. You can get the Nocs NS500s in silver, gold and metallic dark grey/black. We got hold of the gold version. While we’re generally suspicious of gold tech, which can teeter over into gaudiness, these actually look pretty great to us.
The visible parts of the bodies are made from a single piece of machined aluminium, with the join to the front part – which is also aluminium – hidden by the ear tips. Build quality is fantastic. We did manage to give the back of one earpiece a little ding during testing, but this is the nature of aluminium. Among metals, it’s relatively soft.
We wouldn’t make any grand claims about the Nocs NS500 lasting forever, as they don't offer a replaceable cable. That's no guarantee of eternal life, of course, but it is a backup.
The Nocs NS500s are comfortable, but those who don’t like an invasive fit might want to consider a different pair. We found we only got the best level of noise isolation when pushing the earpieces quite far in. It’s not outright uncomfortable, but it's a sensation some people just don’t like.
With them inserted snugly, these earphones offer very good noise isolation. They cope with the London Underground with relative ease, zapping quite a lot of low-end sound despite seeming to have a port on the top of each earpiece.
White headphone jacks – top-notch muck magnets
Getting a good fit is necessary, of course, and Nocs includes four sets of white translucent rubber tips of differing sizes – a decent selection.
Like most other Nocs earphones, the NS500s have a three-button remote that also enables you to take calls. It's simple and light, and fits in well with the flat cable. It's only really designed for iOS devices, but there's also a version for Androids.
In the Nocs NS400, we found the sound to be good, but with a slight lack of bass control that let the side down. This time, Nocs seems to have tightened things up a bit, offering great sound balance and composure that matches the precision of the design.
You get ample sparkle in the treble, matched with a very minor emphasis in the bass. This provides an injection of fun without making the sound at all muggy, veiled or bass-heavy.
Much like the SoundMagic E10s do for the entry-level earphone, the Nocs NS500s provide a great all-round option, but for someone willing to splash out a little more.
Crucially, the mid-range isn’t too recessed, either. Earphones and headphones that try to give you sonic thrills on a budget with sparkly treble and juiced-up bass often kick the mid-range into the background. This can make dance music sound good, but as soon as you throw a vocal into the arrangement, it gets lost, or at least relegated.
They also offer decent mid-range texture and presence. It’s a full house on the sound-balance front. These earphones offer the complete package, and are a great entry point into earphones designed for people who care that bit more about sound.
However, they're not perfect. While we think the NS500s offer excellent sound, great design and good comfort, we’re getting near the point where earphones start to transition to using balanced-armature drivers. The sound of the NS500s is accomplished, but lacks some of the high-end finesse and headroom you can get with a balanced-armature pair. Is this Nocs’s fault? Absolutely not, but it's something to consider if you’re out for hi-fi sound rather than all-round enjoyment.
Looking for something to act as an upgrade for your Apple EarPods? We can think of few better solutions than these.
They look great, sound great and offer everything we look for in a set of earphones primed for the city: a hands-free remote and good sound isolation. There’s very little to criticise them for.
We think they're a good step up from top entry-level sets such as the SoundMagic E10, offering better treble presence. However, if you’re taking the great leap into ‘real earphones’ you might want to look for a good balanced-armature pair, such as the older Nocs NS800, which we've spotted for under £100.
Design, sound quality and great isolation make the Nocs NS500 just about the perfect upgrade from bundled earphones.
Next, check out our Best Headphones Round-up