Today we're looking at a DJ headphone aimed at the top end of the market from über-cool Swedish company Nocs. The Nocs NS900 Live headphones are as understated as they are premium, giving up their desirability slowly: no logos, no flash features, just high quality components hoping to add up to more than a sum of their parts. But do they? Is this a contender at the top of the DJ headphones market, or does its minimal, understated design offer too little to stand out? That's what we'll find out today in our Nocs NS900 Live review.
Nocs NS900 Live Review
First impressions and setting up
Boxed in a greyscale cardboard case with a "made for iPhone / iPod / iPad" flash on the front, the NS900 Live from Nocs is understated and minimal from the off. Open up and under the foam padding you'll find a small bound instruction booklet, a very nice black canvas bag bearing the Nocs name in black-on-black and with a jumbo zip, the leads, and the headphones themselves.
You get three leads: a standard DJ coiled cable with a small-to-large adaptor, an iOS cable, and an Android cable. The latter two are the currently trendy flat-style, and it is indeed a great design, basically because they remain tangle free. These two cables have remote controls, the iOS offering more control than the Android, and all cables lock into the headset. Clearly these headphones are aiming at the DJ who wants one pair of headphones he or she can use for everything, or the casual DJ who again wants a lifestyle pair of cans that double up for DJ gigs too.
So onto the headphones themselves. They come across basically as a more substantial Sennheiser HD-25 II. Same kind of size (on-ear rather than over-ear), but with metal and rubber augmenting the plastic earcups. The earpads are high quality leatherette (leather seems to be a dying breed even in the best DJ headphones nowadays), and the visible, minimal metal screws attaching the earcups to the headband are a real design statement - no nasty plastic hinges here. The flat black-painted stainless steel brackets are reminiscent of V-Moda's phones, and the rubberised metal headband is the only place the "Nocs" lettering appears, indented subtly in the top.
The "NS900" model number appears on the outside of the earcup mounting brackets, and "LEFT" and "RIGHT" lettering on the inside. You adjust the size of the headband by loosening the mounting screws (by hand) and tightening them where you want them; there is minimal movement in the earcups once tightened, and indeed no other moving hinges or other parts at all once they're adjusted to the required size.
Around the neck, they are exceedingly comfortable. As they aren't as big as many DJ headphones, the fact that the earcups don't hinge out of the way doesn't matter in the slightest. Once on the head, they are quite firm which means they acoustically isolate well, and actually you are still able to adjust them to fit your head even when the earcups are tightened as there's a bit of looseness built in. Surprisingly for an on-ear headphone and one with a reasonably tight grip, I found them comfortable over time, too.
They're not as artificially bass-heavy as some DJ headphones, but they are clear, detailed, precise and tight, and I enjoyed them very much for both DJ use (loud, well isolating) and home / out and about (comfort, engaging sound quality). They also pull off the feat of "blending into the background" so you don't feel as silly as you would wearing a pair of full-on, full-size DJ "cans" in the street, but you're still gaining from decent isolation.
When DJing, the coiled cable actually starts being coiled quite a long way down, meaning they look a bit cooler in the booth (it looks like you're wearing straight-cabled headphones basically), while still giving you the benefits of a coiled cable (not getting under your feet). Also, because they have relatively small earcups, you don't need to be able to swivel one out of the way for single-ear monitoring, as it's easy to move the cup off your ear and sit it a little behind the ear on your head, so actually for DJing I found them very practical. As mentioned earlier, the fact that they're as comfortable around the neck as on the head plays in their favour here too.
They don't fold (clearly, if you've read this far) meaning they take up more space than some designs for travelling, but as they're quite "thin", they can actually be quite easily tucked into a DJ bag or case, probably more eaily than large earcupped headphones that fold into their own headband but not "sideways" to flatten out, too.
The Nocs marketing info makes a lot of the NS900s' minimal, modular and high-quality nature, and judged by these criteria, they deliver. If you're looking for flashy headphones, these definitely aren't the ones. But if you're looking for a great design and premium build quality and materials, they'll no doubt already be appealing to you.
Sound quality is excellent, isolation is good, the cables cover all use cases, and it really comes down to whether you want the on-ear rather than the over-ear style as to whether you go for these or something more substantial. If you're considering something like the Sennheiser HD25 IIs or the AIAIAI TMA-1s, these definitely need to be on your shortlist too. Materials-wise, you could also consider them as an on-ear version of a V-Moda headphone, although they're not quite as flash (no personalised branding options here, for instance).
"If perfection was sound it would demand to be heard through the NS900" blurbs the marketing material. Despite this hyperbole, they are indeed a very good high-end headphone, and we'll be continuing to use them over the coming months to see if they hold up to the rigours DJs put their poor headphones through. Early signs are that they're more than up to the job.
What do you think of the Nocs NS900 Live, having seen our review and video? Do you own them, and if so, what are your impressions? Please share your thoughts in the comments.