Swedish simplicity meets wireless convenience in the new Air Monitors, but Bluetooth, AirPlay and Spotify come at a price as we find out in our Nocs NS2 v.2 review
AirPlay speakers have been losing ground to cheaper Bluetooth boxes like the Beats Pill 2.0 and Jawbone Big Jambox that connect readily to non-Apple devices.
But Swedish brand Nocs, looks set to win it back with its stylish Nocs NS2 Air Monitors that in version 2, add Airplay and Spotify Connect to their Bluetooth abilities. Convenience costs and these little boxes come with a big price tag, but they're more affordable than the Bluetooth-only Dali Kubik Free, while offering a similar stereo solution.
Nocs NS2 v.2 Air Monitors: Size and build
It's difficult to judge scale from these pictures, but the NS2s are as compact as bookshelf speakers can get while still being taken seriously. 16cm x 11cm x 14cm is small enough to stand on a mantelpiece, windowsill or desk and look good doing it. The rounded off MDF cabinets are coated in finger-print resistant rubber that's available in seven colours including this limited edition green. Cupertino clearly approves of the aesthetic as you'll find them on display in Apple stores.
The combination of soft dome tweeter, Kevlar reinforced mid-bass driver and front port is a proven formula and, of course, the two-speaker form factor has the advantage of attaining a real stereo soundstage.
Nocs NS2 v.2 Air Monitors: Features
While the first NS2 monitors were Bluetooth only, the V2 that replaces them comes with all the advantages of AirPlay. So that's more stable wireless streaming from a Mac, or iOS device over a much further range without audio compression and the flexibility to keep adding AirPlay speakers if you want to multi-room your whole home. A recent firmware update means you can make a wi-fi direct link between source and speakers if you prefer to spare your home network.
Alternatively, for a quick connection with non-Apple products there's Bluetooth with Apt-X for a fairly decent wireless connection. The other new feature is Spotify Connect, which works like a charm. You simply connect your smartphone to the speakers over wi-fi and press play on your Spotify app and provided you hold a 'premium' account with Spotify, the music keeps playing while you use your phone for other apps and calls. You can also control it from other devices running the app so long as they're all on the same home network.
Rear panel connections include a USB port for firmware updates and charging devices, but what Nocs doesn't tell you is that you can also listen to your iPhone through the USB cable from here. An optical digital input would have been useful, but at least there's an analogue minijack input for other devices. NFC is also absent, but not missed.
Nocs NS2 v.2 Air Monitors: Setup
Setting up AirPlay devices used to be a bit of a headache, until manufacturers began devising apps to guide you through the process. The free Nocs app joined the App store recently and gets you connected in a few moves.
With the power cable and the umbilical cable that connects the master and slave speakers connected, you only need to consider speaker placement. Small boxes tend not to have great projection, so either side of a desk will give you a good stereo image, whereas either side of a room will not.
Nocs NS2 v.2 Air Monitors: Sound quality
Aside from the convenience factor, these AirPlay speakers also have a sonic advantage over the Bluetooth brigade because they can stream uncompressed audio and in this case, without any dropouts.
Between the soft dome tweeter and Kevlar woofer, there's plenty of subtle treble detail, midrange expression and bass warmth. Basslines are tight and snappy and reach as low as you can reasonably expect from a three-inch driver making them well suited to beat-driven music. Meanwhile, the soft dome tweeter is revealing without ever being splashy or shrill.
They don't quite achieve the broad room-filling soundstage you get with larger boxes, but they can go pretty loud without distorting and create a convincing stereo image on your desk. It's a classic case of small box syndrome that stops the NS2s projecting much further into the room, but standing 16cm high, they were never going to be used on stage at Glastonbury.
Nocs NS2 v.2 Air Monitors: Verdict
For such small speakers the Nocs NS2 v.2 Air Monitors have a lot to offer with sound that punches way above their weight and a feature set that includes all of the key wireless technologies. We could bemoan the lack of a remote control, NFC, or a digital input of some kind, but really, we're glad Nocs blew its budget on the licenses for AirPlay and Spotify because that's what makes these stylish boxes so appealing.
Nocs NS2 v.2 Air Monitors release date: Out now
Nocs NS2 v.2 Air Monitors price: €399