Monoprice SYNC-ANC Bluetooth Headphones: Great sound, not-so-great ANC

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

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

Full-size Bluetooth headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC) have been a hot item for years. The space is largely dominated by models like Sony’s recently released WH-1000XM5 or the older WH-1000XM4 designas well as participants like The Quiet Comfort line from Bose. Unfortunately, most of these excellent pairs sell for over $300.

So it might seem a little too good to be true when Monoprice comes with Bluetooth headphones this claim to provide ANC for only $60. While that skepticism proved justified during my testing, I still found that the Monoprice SYNC-ANC Bluetooth headphones had a lot to offer them, especially when their shaky ANC was 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 the content and creates a muffled sound reminiscent of a worn-out 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 sounds more like a quiet white noise machine than the near-silent capability offered by the functional ANC I use. Simply put, you shouldn’t buy these for their ANC.

Likewise: 5 Best Noise Canceling Earbuds: Shut the world out

Now let’s talk about how these headphones managed to make me believe they’re worth their $60 asking price.

Monoprice SYNC ANC Folded Headphones.

Fair warning: the earcup backplates are fingerprint magnets. These stains were the result of just a few minutes of handling during this photo shoot.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

First, the construction is quite solid for the price. The metal hinges twist and extend to offer a variety of fits, and multiple folded configurations make it easy to squash in your bag.

Monoprice SYNC ANC headphones with exposed inner ear cups.

You’re unlikely to ever put them on the wrong way round.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

While the smudge-prone earcups are too small to be called over-the-ear, the Monoprice SYNC-ANC headphones are among the more comfortable, budget-friendly on-ear models I’ve used. I was also surprised at how well the leatherette ear pads seal in when worn. In fact, I found that the passive gasket they provided was far more effective at blocking outside noise than the problematic ANC.

The sound quality of 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 instrument and vocal separation were well above average for Bluetooth, and both bass and treble retained excellent clarity even at higher volumes. Speaking of which, these get a lot louder than you’re probably used to coming from in-ear headphones. That’s great for people who like to blast their tracks, but maybe not so good for their long-term ear health.

Likewise: 5 tips to prevent hearing loss from headphones

Charging port and controls of Monoprice's SYNC ANC headphones.

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

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

Of course you can’t have everything, especially not for this little money. So Monoprice had to cut corners somewhere. Measures that felt like cost-cutting included the decision to use an older Micro-USB charging port and the very simple buttons and switches that give the device an almost retro feel. Still, the controls work well and are pleasantly tactile, and the included battery offers 20 hours of playback (generally accurate in my tests) per charge. So you can potentially have several days between charges.

Monoprice SYNC ANC Headphone Controls

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

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

Connection stability was excellent in my tests, with only the very rare one or two second dropouts that are common now and then with even the most expensive Bluetooth headphones I’ve tested.

The ability to connect via the included 3.5mm aux port was also a nice touch, allowing older devices and anything with a 3.5mm jack (even without Bluetooth support) to take advantage of the surprisingly good sound .

The included cables of Monoprice's SYNC ANC headphones.

The included charging and aux cables.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

What might not be immediately apparent is the fact that the SYNC ANC headphones are actually a pretty awesome headset too. The callers I chatted with while connected to my phone couldn’t tell I was using an external microphone, and the video chat participants I used it with said I was loud and clear to have heard.

Likewise: AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods Pro: Was it worth the wait?

I almost wish Monoprice would just drop the “ANC” part of the name and delete the ANC switch from the device itself. If I were to buy these completely passive headphones with these features and this sound for €60, I would be thrilled. As it stands, the poor ANC performance will leave any buyer who bought it for this feature in bad taste.

If you can overlook this shortcoming, or never cared about ANC to begin with, Monoprice’s online store price of $60 will get you a great first pair of Bluetooth headphones for a younger user, or a cheaper second pair that you’re looking for no need to be afraid of banging around in your bag on long journeys.

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