LG TONE Free FP9 review: Earbuds let down by occasional glitches

LG TONE Free FP9 review: Wireless buds sport impressive features like active noise cancellation and UV case that kills 99.9 per cent of bacteria – but are let down by occasional sound glitches

  • The comfortable buds offer a great call experience with multiple microphones 
  • While ‘Plug & Wireless’ mode allows them to be used with non-Bluetooth devices
  • However, in MailOnline’s trial of a pair they suffered from sporadic loss of audio
  • Furthermore, the lag in the touch controls proved somewhat disappointing

Rating:

Launched earlier this year, LG’s TONE Free FP series wireless headphones sport impressive features like active noise cancellation and a bacteria-killing case. 

They offer superb call quality via the three microphones built into each bud as well as a plug-in mode that allows users to wirelessly connect to non-Bluetooth devices.

As attractive as these extras are, however, MailOnline’s experience with the earbuds was that they were let down by small issues with their more fundamental functions.

These included intermittent — and, on one occasion, prolonged — loss of sound, audio distortion at higher volumes and a noticeable lag with the touch controls.  

The TONE Free FP series wireless headphones are currently retailing from LG for £79.98–£179.98, depending on the specific FP series model purchased.

Also, depending on the specific model purchased, the earbuds offer 8–10 hours of playback time, increasing to 22–24 hours when used with the charging case. 

A quick charge feature, meanwhile allows for just five minutes of resting in the case for the buds to store enough power for one full hour of listening.

Launched earlier this year, LG’s TONE Free FP series wireless headphones (pictured) sport natty features like active noise cancellation and a case that kills 99.9 per cent of bacteria

MailOnline’s experience with the buds (pictured) was that they were let down by small issues with fundamental functions. These included intermittent — and, on one occasion, prolonged — loss of sound, audio distortion at higher volumes and a noticeable lag with the touch controls

‘With fit and comfort top priorities for the LG TONE Free line-up, LG collaborated with a leading ergonomic design technology lab to analyse hundreds of subjects’ ears,’ an LG spokesperson said. ‘With an earbud stem 4.4 millimetres shorter than on previous models, [they] create the perfect balance and fit for an active lifestyle’

LG TONE FREE SPECS 

Price: £79.98–£179.98*

Noise cancellation: Active & Passive

Microphones: Three per bud

Total battery life: 22–24 hours*

Bud battery life: 8–10 hours*

Wireless charging: FP8 model only 

Plug & Wireless mode: FP9 mode only

UVnano: FP8 & FP9 models only

Colours: Black, White & Gold*

(*Depending on specific model)

According to an LG spokesperson, the newest LG TONE Free models are ‘ideal for those who lead active, high-energy lifestyles.’

‘With fit and comfort top priorities for the LG TONE Free line-up, LG collaborated with a leading ergonomic design technology lab to analyse hundreds of subjects’ ears.

‘With an earbud stem 4.4 millimetres shorter than on previous models, [they] create the perfect balance and fit for an active lifestyle.

‘And because the FP series earbuds are IPX4 rated, the earbuds can be worn without worry during hard workout sessions or in the rain.’

Arguably the most noteworthy feature of the earphones is the UVnano charging case, which — ‘to reduce the chance of inner ear infections’ — subjects the buds to five minutes of UV sterilisation with the promise of killing 99.9 per cent of bacteria.

This LED-based feature only engages, however, when the case is itself closed and being charged — whether by wire, or in the case of the FP8 model, wirelessly — unlike the decorative LEDs which light up whenever the earbuds are taken out.

‘For additional hygiene, both new models also feature medical-grade, hypoallergenic ear gels to reduce the risk of skin irritations in the ear canal,’ LG have said.

While I was unsure about the true menace posed by unchecked earbud bacteria, what did unequivocally impress was the superior calling experience afforded by each bud sporting three individual microphones.

The Tone Free FP series even includes access to a so-called Whisper Mode, in which the right earbud can be held close to the user’s mouth as a dedicated microphone, allowing for subtler calls in locations like workspaces or crowded trains.

Another feature that I really liked was the ‘Plug & Wireless’ mode, which allows the wireless earbuds to be used with non-Bluetooth devices (such as, for example, a treadmill, airplane entertainment system or older media player).

This feature works using a supplied USB-C-to-AUX cable to connect the charging case to any other device with a 3.5 mm audio jack, effectively turning the former into a wireless dongle.

While I was unsure about the true menace posed by unchecked earbud bacteria, what did unequivocally impress was the superior calling experience afforded by each bud sporting three individual microphones

Arguably the most noteworthy feature of the earphones is the UVnano charging case, which — ‘to reduce the chance of inner ear infections’ — subjects the buds to five minutes of UV sterilisation with the promise of killing 99.9 per cent of bacteria. This LED-based feature only engages, however, when the case is itself closed and being charged — whether by wire, or in the case of the FP8 model, wirelessly — unlike the decorative LEDs which light up whenever the earbuds are taken out (as pictured)

The earbuds come in a range of colour options — including pearl white (left), haze gold (centre) and charcoal black (right) — depending on the specific model purchased

An accompanying smartphone app — available via both Google Play and the Apple iOS store — opens up additional functionality, including access to an equaliser, customisation options for the touch controls and a ‘Find My Earbuds’ feature 

The buds, LG said, sport ‘Headphone Spatial Processing from Meridian Audio which envelops the listener with sound that seems to originate from all directions.’

‘Another new enhancement is 3D Sound Stage, which expands the sound stage via spatial up-mixing to bring users more lifelike audio for a more captivating listening experience,’ they added.

The earbuds come in a range of colour options — including charcoal black, pearl white and haze gold — depending on the specific model purchased.

More information on the LG TONE Free FP series can be found on the LG website.

Another feature that I really liked was the ‘Plug & Wireless’ mode, which allows the wireless earbuds to be used with non-Bluetooth devices (such as, for example, a treadmill, airplane entertainment system or older media player). This feature works using a supplied USB-C-to-AUX cable to connect the charging case to any other device with a 3.5 mm audio jack, effectively turning the former into a wireless dongle

HOW DOES ACTIVE NOISE CONTROL SOUND-CANCELLING TECHNOLOGY WORK?

Active noise control is found in high-end noise cancelling headphones and promises to reduce the amount of ambient sound entering a wearer’s ears. 

Each headphone speaker is equipped with a microphone, which enables the system to detect the waveforms of sounds entering them.

It then generates an exact match for these sound waves, which is then inverted. 

When these two opposite signals meet, it cancels out the offending outside sounds.

Some systems claim to be capable of reducing noise by up to 90 per cent, although this may be as low as 50 per cent in some models.

The technology has existed for several decades, but has relatively recently been used in commercial headphones.

Even more recently, it has begun to be applied in industrial and other public situations.

Full size speakers equipped with the technology is used to cancel out the disruptive noises of transformers, compressors and other low frequency machinery.

A number of institutions are also working on ways to incorporate it into residential and commercial buildings, like homes, shops and offices. 

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