If you’re a longtime reader, you’ve probably heard of Nocs already. They were one of the first supporters of this site and have sent their earphones in the past for review. They turned out to be truly well made and I’ve had many readers email me about how happy they were with their purchases. Like Minimally Minimal, Nocs has now grown over the years and recently launched their second iteration of their speaker system called the NS2 Air Monitors V2. This is what I think:
The NS2 Air Monitors V2 have been sent by Nocs.
Nocs is a company conceived out of Sweden and in typical Swedish fashion, the design of the speakers are understated and democratic. I would fault them for maybe being too "super normal" and lacking a bit of ambition but I’ll take that over the ornate, over promising stuff this market always presents.
Many people compare the these to Audioengine’s products but I see them as very different products. I would personally never own an Audioengine speaker because of their heavy handed sensibility and lazy execution. I don’t like the strange surfacing on the front and the awkward intersection of the corners. While Nocs follows a similar layout, the execution is far superior with a rationality to the layout and form. Little things like the radii on a product are clear giveaways to understanding the amount of care a product has received and the Nocs does these little things better than most. This is ordinary done properly.
The NS2 V2 come in seven colors, ranging from white to orange. It’s an impressively large lineup and makes me wonder how they’re able to manage so many SKUs. Nocs knows me too well and sent me my favorite of the bunch - the grey model.
The speakers have a soft, matte texture achieved through the use of soft-touch paint. I’m usually against soft-touch as it wears easily but these are meant to be stationary so my objection doesn't apply here.
I’m probably not alone in saying that I’ve come to dislike bluetooth because of its poor audio quality and spotty connectivity. The NS2 V2 support bluetooth but also have AirPlay, Apple’s wi-fi based streaming protocol. It has the benefit of being compression free and is also (theoretically) more stable than a bluetooth connection. At $400, the NS2 V2 are average in terms of price compared to other AirPlay speakers.
I’ve tried two AirPlay speakers in the past, the Sony SA-NS500 and the Harman Kardon Aura. Both of those had unbelievably unreliable AirPlay implementations that would lose connection constantly. I’m happy to report that the NS2 V2 has the best implementation of AirPlay I’ve experienced thus far and has worked flawlessly for the past two weeks. The speakers connect instantly with all of my iOS and OS X devices and continue to stream music for hours with no hiccups. It’s weird that I have to say this but the NS2 V2 just works, and that sets it apart from a bunch of its competitors.
The out of box experience of AirPlay is still a bit of a convoluted process but Nocs provides an app that makes it a relatively simple process. Thankfully it’s something you only have to do once and it worked for me the first time. The speakers also support Spotify Connect, allowing the speakers to stream directly from Spotify. I don’t use the service so I haven’t tried it out myself.
The (rather messy) back of the right channel speaker is home to all of the buttons and ports. A standard AUX jack is available for versatility.
In terms of cabling, you’ll have to live with two; an AC cable and a speaker cable connecting to the left unit. Nocs includes two speaker cables of different lengths, which is convenient.
The AC adapter is unsurprisingly ugly and something just off the shelf. It’s an area where even larger companies like Bowers & Wilkins sadly don't put any investment into though.
Sound is what Nocs has ways done well and the NS2 V2 are no exception. Both speakers have a 3” kevlar woofer along with a 3/4” silk tweeter producing 80W at peak power. They’re balanced to be punchy rather than flat, making them well suited to modern, more electronic driven music. That’s not to say that they’re overly bass heavy or lack treble detail though. Nocs continues to find a nice balance of detail and dynamism, providing a sound profile that's clear but not overly technical for everyday use. It's on the warm side, making them ideal for comfortable listening rather than critical - a characteristic that most people probably want out of their speakers.
My workhorse stereo speakers are the Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 and compared to them, the NS2 V2 do seem to trail behind in terms of audio quality. It’s only when you listen to them side by side that you see the short comings but it does make you realize what an engineering feat the MM-1s really are. Both the clarity and subtly of treble and the snappiness of bass are things that MM-1 simply does better.
However, it is worth considering that the Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 are a $100 more and don’t have any wireless capabilities. It’s hard to call a simple winner here and your choice will really depend on whether connectivity or audio quality matters more to you.
The MM-1 and NS2 V2 also have further distinctions. The MM-1 have a very limited sweet spot, making ideal for use with a computer at a desk. The NS2 V2 have a longer throw and sound best with a little bit of distance. If you want a wireless speaker system to put on a bookshelf for an apartment or studio space, the NS2 V2 are probably the way to go.
Overall, Nocs has done a really good job with the NS2 V2. At $400, they undercut offerings from the usual suspect like Bowers & Wilkins and B&O and offer well rounded acoustics and bullet-proof AirPlay connectivity. In many ways, they are characteristically very similar to their Swedish relative, Volvo. It’s a product that undercuts their British and German rivals in price, offers solid performance, all wrapped in unpretentious, honest design. If you're the type of person that can appreciate the soft, composed voice of Volvo, you already understand the appeal of Nocs. Beats are for children, it's time for this industry to grow up.