THE PROBLEM WITH HEADPHONES
It’s near impossible to write a neutral review about a pair of headphones. Subtle differences in each person’s anatomy affect our aural perception, and of course we all have our own definition of what exactly constitutes a “good sound”. The only way for me to give you a better idea what I’m talking about is to use another pair as a reference when reviewing the NOCS NS900. And because I want the comparison to be as fair as possible, it has to be an over-ear model with a similar driver size and overall design.
One look at the NS900 will tell you I can only mean the Sennheiser HD25. The general consensus among DJs seems to be that they’re the best pair of cans ever made, and I happen to own one that’s been with me for a very long time – so I’m going to use that and hook them both up to my Rane Sixty-Four, which conveniently has two headphone outputs and allows me to do a true side-by-side comparison. Before we begin, I’ll say what I always say when people ask me about headphones: I can only give you my individual impression – you’ll have to try them yourself to find out if you agree.
IN THE BOX
Besides the NOCS NS900 itself, the box contains a soft carrying pouch with a zipper and three separate cables: a coiled one with an angled 3.5mm plug (a screw-on 6.3mm adapter is included) for DJing and two flat mobile cables with in-line microphone remotes for both iOS and Android devices respectively. The cables are easily interchangeable – the connector is located in the right ear cup, one small counter-clockwise turn locks them in safely. While NOCS are not the first to do it this way, it’s still really cool to be able to use DJ cans on the go without a heavy coiled cable getting in the way all the time.
IF DESIGNERS BUILT TANKS
The first thing I noticed before even listening to the NS900 is the surprising flexibility and durability of its feather steel headband. At Musikmesse, I saw it being twisted and bent in painful ways that would make any DJ cringe. This is the same headphone I took with me for the review, and despite the severe amount of abuse it took during the show, it still looks as if I were the first person to handle it.
The ear cups are attached to the headband with large, custom-designed screws. At first, I assumed an allen key would be necessary to adjust them and was disapponted not to find one in the box, but they’re actually large enough to grasp firmly with your thumb and index finger – so tightening and loosening the grip is no problem. However, the ear cups don’t fold away, which I assume some people have probably come to expect from DJ cans.
NOCS proudly advertises the amount of work spent choosing the right materials for every single component of the NS900, and it shows. This is one of the best-looking minimalistic headphones I’ve seen, and it’s very nice to the touch as well. After looking up the details, I realized I had little more than a basic understanding of the production methods used – so I had to do some research. The ear cups aren’t made of plastic, rather a mixture of fiberglass and nylon which is far more durable. The headband is PVD coated (not Paul Van Dyk – Ed), which goes way beyond a regular paint job and enhances its spotless look with supreme resistance to abrasion and impact. Despite the metal headband, the NS900 is only slightly heavier than the HD25. And at the same time, it puts a little less pressure on the head while still maintaining perfect stability. The coiled cable is much lighter than the Sennheiser counterpart, so the whole thing actually feels lighter when standing behind a mixer. During my listening sessions, I was able to wear the NS900 for a couple of hours without any discomfort – and it also holds up very well when DJing.
‟IF PERFECTION WAS A SOUND, IT WOULD DEMAND TO BE HEARD THROUGH THE NS900”
Most of the claims accompanying new products are usually either serious exaggerations or flat-out lies. Having read the above, for a second I almost wanted to say something bad about the sound of the NS900 out of spite – but apparently, I just keep getting high-end items to review. As the saying goes, writing about sound is like dancing about architecture… let’s see if I can find the right words.
The NOCS NS900 deliver a well-balanced sound across the entire spectrum. The lows are present, but not overwhelmingly emphasized as is often needlessly the case with DJ cans. The mid-range is incredibly spatial for a closed-back headphone designed with isolation in mind, resulting in a wonderfully deep and clear sound which is further accentuated by the crispy highs. They maintain this sound quality at both low and high volumes and there is almost no perceptible distortion even when you push them further than seems reasonable.
Because they put little pressure on the ears, they appear to have less of a punch at first, but the difference to the HD25 is negligible; you’ll notice when you crank them up. They can take DJ volume levels easily, combining a powerful sound with the airiness of an open-back headphone you would normally use for regular listening. From a DJ’s perspective, they isolate really well while exposing more nuances than you’ll ever need for a clean blend. When listening to some of my live material, I was able to pick out subtle details I couldn’t hear even on the HD25 – that’s borderline scary, remember I’m talking about a monitor I’ve been using for more than ten years and know very well. When listening to records, I could easily tell which ones had been played a few times too many. Normally, I wouldn’t expect such a high quality from a product aimed at DJs – but that’s nothing to complain about, now is it?
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT?
As I’ve already mentioned, some DJs may dislike the lack of swivel ear cups – but that’s not really a problem for me, I rarely take advantage of that with the HD25 anyway. The NOCS NS900 is still very comfortable with one cup tucked behind the ear. I almost expected a hard case to be included in the box, but since you’re probably going to put it into your DJ bag anyway, the soft carrying pouch is just fine. I really like that it has a proper, heavy zipper that seals it off completely instead of a puny tightening strap. Somehow, those seem to always leave a hole for your cable to find its way out and get tangled.
When I removed an ear cup to take a closer look, I noticed two really small plastic parts that are completely loose, normally held in place by the headband. Those could fall out and disappear down a crack in the floor before you have time to react. What I didn’t know is that the NS900 I picked up for the review wasn’t even one from the final production run – hard to guess when everything has such a neat finish to it. Apparently, that problem has long since been solved – these parts are now connected. As with the HD25, When you slide the ear cups all the way up, the cable that connects them bends a little too much. This part of the cable could’ve been coiled, like on AIAIAI’s TMA-1. If you ever need to swap it out, you’re going to need an allen key – but as with removing the ear cups, you’re probably not going to perform this kind of maintenance on the road, so no big deal.
Speaking of swapping out cables: when I contacted the NOCS distributor about spares, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that unlike most of the competition, they’re not going to make them too expensive. An estimated price tag of 20 EUR for a coiled cable is only about a third of what you have to spend on a Sennheiser cable – thumbs up for that. You can argue that the original HD25 is less expensive (the aluminium anniversary edition isn’t), but swap out a couple of parts and you may reconsider. Apparently, NOCS are also planning to release coloured spare kits for those among us who like to customize our gear. As of now, this isn’t much more than a rumour – but definitely a welcome one.
HEAR YE, HEAR YE
So what’s the final verdict? Well, there’s really only a few minor gripes to be had with the NS900. The sleek, lightweight design contrasts with its ability to take a serious beating. Most importantly, however, it sounds so amazingly good, I don’t really mind the little things – especially since none of them jumped at me; I had to look for them. My trusty HD25 has been with me forever and while I’ve tried a lot of different headphones over the years, I’ve always come back to it in the end. The NS900 is the first pair of cans that doesn’t claim to be “the next HD25″ like some have in the past, but definitely has the potential. Of course, we’ll have to see if it can stand the test of time – but no matter how you look at it, we can’t keep glorifying the HD25 forever. It’s probably still going to be around when most others have disappeared, but on the other hand… it had its time, so now I’m giving mine a well-deserved break. The NS900 is here to stay.
Sturdy, yet flexible build
High quality materials
Incredibly well-balanced sound
Different types of cables included
No swivel ear cups