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Monoprice SYNC-ANC Bluetooth Headphones: Great Sound, Not So Great ANC

The leather-wrapped headband is comfortable and fits a wide range of sizes.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

Full-size Bluetooth headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC) have been a must-have item for years. The space is largely dominated by models like Sony recently released the WH-1000XM5 or the old design WH-1000XM4as well as participants like The Bose Quiet Comfort range. Unfortunately, most of these excellent pairs sell for over $300.

So it might sound a little too good to be true when Monoprice comes with Bluetooth headphones which claim to provide ANC for just $60. While this skepticism proved well-founded in my testing, I still found the Monoprice SYNC-ANC Bluetooth headphones had a lot going for them, especially with their shaky ANC disabled.

I will not bury the lede. The ANC on these headphones just isn’t good. When used while listening to audio, it reduces the volume of content and creates a muffled sound reminiscent of a worn cassette tape (if you’re old enough to get that reference). Even if you just wanted to use it to block out background noise for a quieter environment, it still feels more like a quiet white noise machine than the near-silence provided by the working ANC I used. Simply put, you shouldn’t buy them for their ANC.

Also: The 5 best noise-canceling headphones: Shut out the world

Now, with that out of the way, let’s discuss how these headphones still managed to make me believe they’re well worth their $60 price tag.

Monoprice's SYNC ANC headphones folded.

Fair warning: the back plates of the earbuds are fingerprint magnets. These spots are the result of handling them for just a few minutes during this photoshoot.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

First, the build is pretty solid for the price. Metal hinges rotate and extend to provide a wide range of adjustments, and multiple bent configurations make them easy to fit into your bag.

Monoprice SYNC-ANC headphones with the inside of the ear cups visible.

You are unlikely to put them upside down.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

While the smudge-prone earbuds are too small to be called over-ear, the Monoprice SYNC-ANC headphones are among the most comfortable and budget-friendly on-ear models I’ve used. I was also surprised by the quality of the sealed leatherette ear cups when worn. In fact, I found the passive seal provided by them to be much more effective at blocking outside noise than the problematic ANC.

The sound quality provided by the headphones was also surprisingly good for $60, and much better than most similarly priced Bluetooth headphones that don’t offer ANC. Sound staging and separation of instruments and vocals was well above average for Bluetooth, and bass and treble retained excellent clarity, even at higher volume levels. Speaking of which, these get a lot louder than you’re probably used to if you’re coming from in-ear headphones. It’s great for people who like to blast their tracks, but maybe not so great for their long-term hearing health.

Also: 5 tips to prevent hearing loss caused by headphones

Monoprice SYNC ANC headset charging port and controls.

Don’t expect ultra-fast charging from the micro-USB port.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

Of course, you can’t have it all, especially not for that little money. Monoprice therefore had to cut corners somewhere. Among what looked like cost-cutting measures was the decision to use an older micro-USB charging port, as well as the very basic buttons and switches that give the device an almost retro feel. That said, the controls work well and are pleasantly tactile, and the included battery provides 20 hours of playback (usually accurate in my testing) per charge. So you may be able to go several days between refills.

Monoprice SYNC ANC Headphone Controls

The 3.5mm analog port for wired listening is a great plus.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

Connection stability was excellent in my testing, with only the very rare one or two-second dropouts that even the most expensive Bluetooth headphones I’ve ever tested tend to experience from time to time.

The option to connect via the included 3.5mm auxiliary port was also a nice touch, meaning older gear and anything with a 3.5mm jack (even without Bluetooth support) can take advantage of the its surprisingly good.

Cables included for Monoprice SYNC ANC headphones.

Charging and auxiliary cables included.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

What might not be immediately apparent is the fact that the SYNC-ANC headphones are also a very good headset. Callers I chatted with while connected to my phone couldn’t tell I was using an external mic, and video chat participants I used them with reported hearing me loudly.

Also: AirPods Pro 2 vs. AirPods Pro: Were they worth the wait?

I almost wish Monoprice would just eliminate the “ANC” part of the name and remove the ANC switch from the device itself. If I bought these completely passive headphones with these features and sound for $60, I’d be thrilled. As it stands, poor ANC performance is sure to leave a bad taste in the mouth of any buyer who bought them for this feature.

If you can overlook that deficit, or if you never cared about ANC to begin with, the $60 price tag at Monoprice’s online store will net you a great first pair of Bluetooth headphones for a young user, or a cheaper secondary pair you don’t have to be. afraid of having to knock in your bag on long journeys.