Not only is it the year of the dragon, it seems to be year of the headphone too. Every manufacturer is in on the action, including audio behemoth Pioneer. And Pocket-lint has had our mitts - and indeed ears - on the fully enclosed, noise-cancelling Pioneer SE-NC21M on-ear headphones to test out their worth.
Priced at around £80, these aren't premium cans and shouldn't be confused with more luxe models. But there are some definite pro points.
The SE-NC21M headphones are light. Really light, weighing in at 120g, so they'll almost float on your bounce.
Compared to some of the skull-crushing cans out there, these Pioneers sure are a softer experience, but without the firm pressure and ear cups, er, without any real "cupping" to speak of, they don't quite deliver that all-encompassing audio experience as offered by more-premium models. They're certainly comfy over the ears from the very first wear though, which is always a bonus.
The SE-NC21M headphones have a plastic frame that's adjustable to ensure they can fit on all manner of head sizes, and a folding design makes them easier to pop in a bag, or the included hard plastic carry case if preferred (though this doesn't help save on space, it just protects).
Out of the packaging the first thing you may come to realise is that there's no battery included. You'll need to buy a single AAA in order for the noise-cancelling option to become active. Many manufacturers don't package products with batteries due to potential acid leakage, but we still reckon there ought to be one in the box.
Audio is reasonable, but far more preferable in quieter conditions. The specified 10-22,000Hz frequency response range may sound considerable, but without a more locked-to-the-ears design, trying to listen on, say, a London Underground train, will require the volume to go up and outside sound will still impact on the perceptible audio. The lower frequencies also feel a little "removed" from the ears, but there is some bass drive to be heard.
When the noise-cancellation feature is switched on it makes a difference only around the 300Hz mark. It helps to dissolve some surrounding audio, such as that "hiss" of air on an aircraft, but doesn't make a massive difference to all surrounding input and also seemingly sucks up some of the bass output from the 30mm drivers too.
At a desk in a quieter room, wired up to a computer, however, and the listening experience is far more enshrouding. Not bad for the £80 which, considering just how much more a lot of headphones are these days, is ultimately what makes the Pioneer SE-NC21M headphones a worthy purchase. They're light, comfy, and affordable but the audio is reflective of the price point rather than sock-knockingly standout.