The process of buying earbuds is different for nearly every person. Some spring for expensive pairs boasting highly engineered internals while others stick with the standard pair that come in the box.
I’ve been buying pairs of earbuds that place all over that spectrum for the past five years — sometimes I’ve searched for the cheapest option with certain features, while other times gone after the best possible option in my price range. Throughout those years, I was left with the feeling that my current earbuds weren’t nice enough, or that I’d spent a lot of money on something that wasn’t worth it.
This past year, that all changed.
Last fall I dropped the expensive pair of earbuds I’d been using in favor of a colorful, cheaper pair whose design I liked better. It was a definite change of priority for me, and it snapped me out of the ever-price-ascending audiophile tendency I was developing. The Nocs NS500 were the next pair of earbuds I bought, and I believe they are that happy medium: quality, at a reasonable price.
A big part of how much a product speaks to me is its design. I love my iPad Air 2, I love my Field Notes memo books, and I love my brass fountain pen. Design is important in every sort of product and earbuds are no exception; you’ll usually be carrying them with you every day and wearing them where others can see them. Design isn’t a requirement to listen to music, but it plays a big part in what earbuds I choose.
The Nocs appeal to that quality in a unique way. They’re made from aluminum and sport the less tangle prone flat cables.
Rather than looking flashy or show-offish, they manage to be understated. There’s still bits of garnish like the etched Nocs logo and chamfered edge, but on the whole the Noc’s design is mostly minimal and doesn’t draw too much attention to itself.
That gold color and chamfered edge might have given this away already, but the Nocs are designed to match up well with Apple’s latest round of products from the past year or two. They’re available in black, silver, gold, and even Apple’s Space Grey color. There’s an Android version of the Nocs as well, with its respective remote control setup, but it’s clear the NS500’s were designed to fit well with an Apple user’s devices. And as those are the products I choose to use in my life, it’s a plus that the Nocs match up.
Nocs says the cables are kevlar-reinforced in addition to their flat design, and so far I’ve been duly impressed with them. This is my first pair of earbuds that feature flat cables and they do seem to prevent tangles more so than traditional round ones.
Through various pairs of earbuds, I’ve become used to having a standard three-button remote and microphone on the cable. The remote on the Nocs is the best I’ve used to date. The buttons are tactile in their click and never leave you wondering if you’ve actually pressed the button.
The microphone seems pretty standard for an in-line mic and picks up my voice decently with the earbuds plugged in. Overall, the microphone is good enough for calls and voice memos, but not for anything more serious than that.
In the several months I’ve had the Nocs, they’ve held up pretty well to wear and tear. On the inside, they still function perfectly despite my not being kind to them. I’ve accidentally snagged them on things plenty of times. They’ve been stepped on by accident a couple times, and I even accidentally dropped one of the actual ‘buds into a sink full of water. Despite this, they still work and sound like new, with no crackling or other issues.
On the outside, they’ve weathered their ordeal admirably as well. There are a smattering of small dings and scratches on the aluminum casings, which is to be expected. I put the earbuds through quite a bit of abuse, and while there are some blemishes, I’m surprised both that there aren’t more of them and that they aren’t larger and more prominent.
The only other part of the Nocs to be affected by wear is the cables which, due to their white color and rubber coating, pick up discoloration over time. In some places they’ve become a little more off-white than when they were brand new. This is unfortunate, but isn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened to the cables. I can live with the discoloration if the cables hold up functionally, and so far they’ve done just that.
The Nocs aren’t the fanciest earbuds by design, and they also aren’t as “built-like-a-tank” durable as other options you can find. But it’s more of that happy medium model at work here: The Nocs strike a good balance between taste and toughness which make their build the closest to perfect for me. I don’t say this lightly as I’m usually on the pickier side of design details, but I wouldn’t change a thing about the Nocs’ build given the chance.
While design is important in choosing a pair of earbuds, the sound that comes out of them is their primary purpose for existing.
It’s almost poetic, but the Nocs carry a consistent message both in their design and how they sound. You’ll find crisp highs, tight staccato bass response, and a full treble that helps support the sound. This isn’t the sort of earbud you’ll be looking for if one of the primary thrills you get from music is massive amounts of bass. Rather, the Nocs are better suited to tastefully portraying many different types of music in a pleasing way. Like the design, the sound is tasteful and understated, and I’ve listened to music of all kinds — from Simon & Garfunkel to Kendrick Lamar — on the Nocs. I’ve appreciated the Nocs’ faithful and almost-neutral sound portrayal, which is more akin to a good set of studio headphones than a pair of booming Beats.
The only other points about the Nocs’ sound pertains to their noise-isolation and their cable-noise. For noise isolation, the Nocs come with a variety of silicone-tip sizing options – as any good in-ear earbuds should. Once I found the size that fit me best I’ve had few issues with the Nocs’ fit. They don’t come out of my ears too easily and, while they don’t let much sound through thanks to their closed aluminum casings and in-ear placement, there’s just enough sound let in around them to keep me from being entirely dead to the world. There’s enough sound let through to hear an oncoming car while I’m walking or someone trying to get my attention at a café, but also so little that I can safely drown out most distractions with the volume at half. That’s the level of noise-isolation that I prefer, and so I’m glad the Nocs had a fit that worked for me.
There’s not much to say about the Nocs’ cabling other than that I’ve never once noticed there being audible cable noise while walking or running with the earbuds in. Thumbs up.
Sound-wise, I have to say the Nocs strike a sweet spot for me. There’s enough definition and accuracy in the sound that I feel like I’m hearing my music as the artists intended it when they were recording it back in the studio. It’s tasteful sound, and the Nocs will provide an experience that most people and most types of music will gratefully appreciate.
Cost and Other Options
The Nocs are priced at an MSRP of $89.95 US, which places them at the pricier end of the under-$100 bracket. The Nocs’ design and sound are some of the best I’ve experienced on any pair of earbuds I’ve owned, even though they are nowhere near the most expensive I’ve used. For what you’re getting, I’d call the Nocs a good deal, but there are other pairs of earbuds at a similar price point which could also catch your eye.
The A-Jays Five are a similarly priced pair of earbuds with a slightly more stylized design aesthetic. At $85, they’re a touch less expensive than the Nocs, but from what I can tell would offer a very similar experience.
The Jaybird Freedom Sprint bluetooth earbuds are a $100 option, but unlike the Nocs or the A-Jays, they aren’t wired earbuds and instead connect over bluetooth to your media device. These may be better for sports and other active lifestyles, but I wouldn’t consider the Freedom Sprints to be on the same level of design as the Nocs or the A-Jays.
The Nocs are on the cheaper end of these three options, and I’d argue that they look the nicest and have a great sound as well. I haven’t used either the Jays or the Freedom Sprints, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Nocs over them in a pinch. You’re getting a really solid pair of earbuds at a really solid price.
This all brings me back to where I initially started: that happy medium. The Nocs balance their design taste with a solid sonic experience and it all comes at a good value. There are nicer, more expensive earbuds out there — some even go into the thousands of dollars and are custom-molded to one’s ears — but for about $90 I’m more than satisfied with the look and sound the Nocs deliver. Quality and reasonable pricing – I’ve found my happy medium.