In the market for a new pair of in-ear headphones under $100? Nocs has got you covered with its most recent offering – the NS500 Aluminum. Let's face it, if you're an iPhone user you probably still haven't taken your EarPods out of the packaging and that's perfectly understandable. The EarPods have an outstanding microphone and audio clarity, but they also lack isolation, and therefore bass. Almost any third party alternative is going to offer you better overall sound quality and a more secure in-ear fit. Over the years Nocs has consistently amazed us with its in-ear headphones, most notably the dual dynamic driver-equipped NS600 Crush model that we reviewed a couple of years ago. Unlike the NS600 Crush, the newer NS500 Aluminum feature a solid build made entirely out of CNC-machined lightweight aluminum that has been given an Apple-esque quality finish complete with a jewelry-like chamfer-cut highlight that literally begs to be paired up with an iPhone or iPad.
The NS500's titanium-coated diaphragm 8mm dynamic drivers claim to deliver the listener with an "amazing sonic experience that offers impeccable balance, rich detail and a deep bass". A flat tangle-free Kevlar reinforced cable features Nocs' slim and lightweight, Apple iDevice-compatible 3-button remote with MEMS microphone for headset use and music playback control. Don't fret though, there's also an Android-supported version of the NS500 available as well. Be sure to catch the full and in-depth review to find out if Nocs' impressively made NS500 Aluminum sound as phenomenal as they are stunningly beautiful.
Nocs' effective packaging can never do any of us wrong, but they don't do much justice to what's on the inside. That said, it's a good thing that you aren't actually spending your money on lavish sleeved box packaging like you do with some certain audio brands that we won't mention. Once you do get into the meat and potatoes, the NS500 Aluminum sit inside a foam tray with neatly tied cabling. Right underneath you'll find a familiar fabric travel pouch with the Nocs branding embossed on the front.
It may not be the slightly more impressive circular hard case that you'll get with JAYS' a-Jays Five in-ears, but the soft fabric pouch with its metal zipper closure is greatly appreciated considering the NS500 Aluminum aren't made fragile and from my experience don't require much care during transport. I'm sure a lot of you will really like this pouch as it does store many of the included silicone tips of various sizes including the optional clothing clip that you can use to attach part of the cable running down your body to your clothing for when you're exercising. It's important that you try at least two different tip sizes to find what fits your ears best so that you can get the best seal which will help isolate background noise and deliver better sounding audio as a result. Note that the Space Gray and black NS500 Aluminum models will come with black colored silicone tips apart from the gold and silver colored NS500 Aluminum, which have clear tips that better serve that color scheme of white and gold/silver without staining as easily from ear gunk.
Although these were initially inspired by the design language of the iPhone 5s, Nocs' NS500 Aluminum are still one of the prettiest in-ear headphones we've seen introduced as of late. The NS500 Aluminum also share a similar refined and minimalist design language with Apple's iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 tablets like polished chamfered-cut edge detailing, and a smooth sandblasted aluminum surface finished off with an anodized coating of complimenting colorways such as a subtle shade of gold, Space Gray, silver, and black. Note that the Space Gray color is exclusive to the iOS-supported model.
If you’re anything like me you also look for well designed in-ear headphones, preferably made using a lightweight metal instead of cheap plastic. Fortunately, the NS500 Aluminum meet that every demand from both an aesthetic, fit and finish perspective. If you’re an iPhone or iPad user because you appreciate quality aesthetics and build quality, then you’re the type of person that will undoubtedly fall in love with Nocs' latest in-ear offering. If you're someone that's really anal about what they use and absolutely must have your accessories match and compliment your devices you use on a daily basis then it's really not difficult to see how something like the refined finish and color matched scheme of the NS500 Aluminum would go really nicely paired with an iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3, iPhone 6, 6 Plus or the 5s even. It's all about user experience and I think that Nocs knocked it out of the park with these minimalist and elegantly designed in-ear headphones.
As far as build quality is concerned, I have nothing but positive things to say about the NS500 Aluminum. Everything from the Apple quality sandblasted aluminum finish and precision-cut light refracting edge, to the svelte-looking and seamless all-aluminum unibody machined driver enclosures. They're just as every bit as premium and sleek feeling in person as expensive in-ears from more widely known audio brands such as the urBeats by Beats, which are also offered in complimenting iPhone and iPad colorways. The NS500 Aluminum are surprisingly solid, and even better made than Nocs' more expensive and higher-end NS600 Crush.
I've been using the NS500 Aluminum extensively for the past month, and in that time I purposely did not use the included carry pouch to safely store them in when I wasn't using them to see how they'll hold up in the hands of careless users. I'm happy to report that the aluminum finish did not show any scratches or color chipping (especially on the gold colored version) after throwing them around unprotected. Nocs says that the color anodization of the aluminum material gives the NS500 Aluminum a more resilient finish. Also, the tangle-free flat cable worked perfectly in that it never once tangled on me even after countless pocket bundling and tossing wherever I normally find a spot for them on a bedside table – all without using the cute little storage pouch.
One thing I will say is that while the L-shaped 3.5mm audio plug is designed to fit into tight spaces, it is a bit too chunky compared to the flat cable it's attached to. It's even thicker than the plug found on the similarly priced a-Jays Five in-ears, which have an equally robust flat cable to go along with it.
How comfortable are the NS500 Aluminum you ask? Amazingly comfortable! Then again I can't confirm that everyone on planet earth will find them to be as amazingly comfortable as I personally do. The round silicone tips provided create a perfect tight seal that is snug and very secure. I have not once experienced any fatiguing during extensive usage or having them fall out of my ears when shaking my head around and generally moving about freely. If you'd like to use third party foam tips instead of the standard silicone tips that come with the NS500 Aluminum, you can use Comply's T-200 series of noise-isolating tips for maximum comfort and isolation. That being said, the provided tips on their own passively block out plenty of the outside world provided that you find the ones that fit you. I literally could not hear a word from the person talking next to me while I was wearing these inside my ear canals. They're that good at noise isolation. In fact, it'll be dangerous to walk or ride a bike in public whilst wearing the NS500 Aluminum. And that goes to for all in-ear headphones really.
Aside from the familiar round silicone tips, one more area that can attribute to poor user experience when wearing in-ear headphones is the cable that they're connected to. The thing I like most about the thinner flat cabling on the NS500 Aluminum is that they've got a more forgiving cord that isn't going to annoy you when you're running or simple walking. The flat cable is lighter than the a-Jays Five cable and not as obtrusive in that it doesn’t transfer any "string guitar effect" vibration from when it rubs against your clothing. When I move my head around whilst wearing the NS500 Aluminum I literally cannot feel the weight of the cable pulling on my ears, whereas with the a-Jays Five I can easily be distracted by the more robust rubbery cable. I’m going to have to give all the points to Nocs on this one just because the NS500 Aluminum are such a pleasure to wear in comparison. They’re super lightweight and essentially fade away after a while so that you’re not even bothered by the fact that you have something stuck inside your ears with a cable running down your body.
The NS500 Aluminum have the same familiar 3-button, in-line remote control that is present on all Nocs in-ears that you can use to control music on your iOS device by adjusting the volume, skipping tracks, playing and pausing audio including having the ability to bring up Siri. It's not the most impressively made remote module that we've seen, but it does get the job done as expected. Buttons are individually separated from one another, offer good tactile feedback when pressed and are easy to find by just touching your way around the remote despite them all sharing an identically raised circular form factor. The high quality MEMS microphone built into the remote will obviously let you use your in-ears as a headset for taking calls, voice chat or using it as a gaming headset. Again, it's the same microphone that the a-Jays Five uses and it does a really good job capturing your voice in a very clear and clean way. But it's worth noting that it doesn't fare as well as Apple's EarPods when it comes to canceling out background noises.
While this particular model we have gotten to review is made to seamlessly work with iOS devices like the iPhone, Nocs also offers an identical variant of the NS500 Aluminum that features the same 3-button in-line remote - but with full Android support specifically for Android smartphone and tablet models released after 2012. Nocs also says that its Android supported model will also work with current Windows Phone smartphones.
I'm thoroughly pleased with the design and build quality of the NS500 Aluminum so far, but I'm even more astounded with the sound quality outputted by these inconspicuously small in-ears. Crisp pure highs and a confident, acceptably defined midrange give every track a brilliant and pleasant vocal and acoustic clarity. I find that the bass is more neutral sounding on the NS500 Aluminum and that's actually not a bad thing at all. Personally, I wouldn't touch let alone use in-ears that don't produce a decent amount of bass. Because after all, bass is what brings beats to life. Needless to say it gives your music that far too important ingredient that is contrast and definition. The mid-bass response on the NS500 Aluminum isn't blown out of proportion and fortunately doesn't overpower the mids and highs, and still it pulls through when called for and can at times be oh so satisfyingly punchy at 30% volume and above. You can still enjoy the NS500 Aluminum if you like your bass dosage as they output moderately punchy, clean and tight unbiased lows with plenty of definition to put a smile on your face with very new track you'll put on play. Overall I'd say that the sound signature is nicely balanced, rich and cozy. If you were to combine the analytical sound characteristics of Sennheiser with Beats, this is what you'll end up with.
The bass response is more than acceptable, but if you’d like to take it to the next level you can use a headphone amp with a built-in bass boosting features such as the FiiO E6 or JDS Labs C5 amp to give the lows a more epic and deeper sounding punch. The NS500 can reach insanely impressive levels without distorting the sound signature and hurting the vocal clarity and midrange detail, which is awesome to say the least. With some added contrast from the C5, the NS500 truly sound spectacular. Anyone that listens to them whilst powered by this amp will think they’re listening to large over-ear headphones with massive 50mm drivers and a built-in amp.
Note the extra large openings at the top of each aluminum driver housing. These are without a doubt the largest air vents we've seen on a pair of in-ear headphones. Supposedly these help give the sound signature a less congested tone by allowing air to escape from being pushed through by bass creation. Whether it's true or not, there's no distortion or compressed sounding audio to be heard.
I really did not expect to find how remarkably similar the NS500 Aluminum sound when compared directly besides the a-Jays Five from Jays. They both are made using solid aluminum enclosures and have the same impedance of 16 Ohm so they're easy to power using small portable devices like your smartphone. It's really difficult to distinguish between the two pairs. For all intents and purposes the NS500 and a-Jays Five sound alike no matter what you listen to. Granted I find the NS500 Aluminum to be a tad brighter sounding most likely due to the larger bass openings in the metal driver enclosure, who his designed to let air out that is being pushed from the driver vibrations.
With all that being said, what should make you pick the NS500 Aluminum over the a-Jays Five despite the fact that they both deliver fantastic sound quality across the board - the NS500 Aluminum have the upper advantage in that they're more comfortable to use, have a lighter tangle-free cable and are arguably more aesthetically pleasing. Also, they come in more colors compared to the black or white options for the a-Jays Five.
You’ll be paying slightly more for the dual driver NS600 Crush in-ear headphones from Nocs at just $30. Knowing that I was eager to find out how the NS500 Aluminum would fare when put head to head with their supposedly higher-end stablemate. I fired up Spotify and put on the first noisy, rock song I could think of. The Offspring sprung to mind and I clicked play on “Can’t Get My Head Around You”. A minute into the song and I realized just how overly warm and muddy the NS600 Crush sounded compared to the NS500. I was stunned to find that one of my favorite pair of in-ears was ousted by a slightly cheaper, lower-end model made by the same company.
What is that all about, Nocs? I will say, however, that the NS600 Crush have richer sounding lows. Not that it’s enough to stop me from switching over to using the NS500 Aluminum. I came into this review thinking that I’ll ultimately end up recommending spending $30 more for the NS600 Crush, because two drivers is better than one right? Not in this case apparently. You’ll be much better off grabbing the NS500 Aluminum as they sound clearer and still acceptably warm. You won’t be disappointed. At $90, Nocs has stepped definitely up its in-ear game in terms of audio quality, build quality and design. And while we don’t have the Beats urBeats on hand to directly compare them against the NS500 Aluminum seeing as they are within the same price category, I highly doubt they’ll sound any better than the NS500 Aluminum.
Stunningly elegant design and impressive audio is what the NS500 Aluminum offer...and then some
Good design, solid build quality great comfortable fit and outstanding noise isolation paired with great audio performance and iOS/Android headset functionality for less than $100, what more could you ask for? Nocs' NS500 Aluminum should be on your 'must purchase list'. We like them so much they deserve our Editors' Choice Award and high recommendation.