I first encountered the Swedish audio company Nocs Design around 10 years ago, when it released a pair of stylish earbuds. I tested those—the titanium-bodied NS400 and the bass-forward NS600—and found both to be pretty great, with superb sound, sharp aesthetics, and a good in-ear fit. Nocs went on to make some nice DJ headphones and a set of desktop speakersthen the brand sort of disappeared.
More accurately, it mutated. The founder and lead designer, Daniel Alm, switched over to designing some fancy watches that were sold under the name Nocs Atelier. After some years in the drift, Alm and his team are returning their attention to audio. The first Nocs audio product in years is a pair of wireless earbuds called the NS1100 Air.
A lot has changed during the time Nocs has been absent from the portable audio market. The wireless revolution has upended everything. Now we’ve got AirPods and Pixel Buds and Beats and Galaxy Buds. We’ve got luxury buds to match your Jaguar’s paint job, and enough cheap dross to fill the Hudson Bay. These Nocs had a better impression. Well, they do. The earbuds are comfortable to wear, easy to manage, and sound great. They also have a cool, elegant design and—maybe best of all—cost less than $130.
The Nocs NS1100 Air are a wireless design, with a pair of buds that nestle into a charging case that fits into your palm. Inside each bud is a 9.2-mm driver, a pair of mics for taking calls and for feeding both the active noise-cancelling (ANC) system that blocks exterior sounds and the transparency mode that pipes a bit of outside sound into your ears. They use Bluetooth 5.0, so their signal range and stability are both exemplary. I never experienced a dropped connection in my months of testing them, even with my laptop in the next room or with my phone buried inside my backpack.
When you first open the box, you’ll find six sizes of eartips. This is three more than most companies supply; as a result, it’s easy to find a tip that provides a good fit and seals properly inside your ear canal. A tip on the tips: Your ear canals might be different sizes. Mine are, and I tend to forget this until I get to test earbuds with eartips that actually fit properly.
The buds are mostly plastic (they are only available in a matte black finish) and while that makes them feel kind of flimsy, it gives them a lightness that makes them more comfortable to wear. With the proper-sized eartip, the lightweight and shapely design allows the earbuds to sort of float in your ear. It makes them less tiring to wear for long stretches.
They’re controlled by touch panels on each earpiece. Tap the right ear to play and pause the music, or go to the next track. Tap the left ear to switch between three states: ANC mode, transparency mode, or naturally isolated sound with both of those modes off.
There’s no audio indicator to let you know which mode you’re in, just a chime to announce you’ve switched modes. If you want to know which mode you’re in, you can download the Nocs app, where the controls are labeled. In fact, I recommend downloading the app just so you can try the option to personalize the sound of the headphones. This is a feature Nocs Design developed with the help of its technology partner Audio. Launch the calibration feature and you’ll hear a series of tones in the headphones. Whenever you hear a tone, tell the app you can hear it; this works just like a hearing test you’d take at an audiologist’s office. After a couple of minutes of playing aural hide-and-seek, the app generates a Personal Sound profile. You can then activate or deactivate it in the app any time you want. (The app can store multiple profiles at once.)