– Pleasant and detailed sound output
– UV cleaning to kill bacteria
– Wireless transmitter mode
– Good build quality, comfortable in-ear fit
– Feature rich companion app
– Volume controls on the buds
– Good call quality
– IPX4 waterproof
– Average ANC
– Below average battery backup
– No support for high-end codecs
Price: Rs 16,990
Since Apple released its first Airpods, I’ve tested dozens of True Wireless (TWS) headphones from different brands. I’ve practically seen the segment evolve from early childhood illnesses to massive improvements in connectivity, sound quality, and battery life over the years. Then came active noise cancellation (ANC) for earbuds priced at 20,000+ and down to 2,000. Just when I thought I’d seen everything there was to see in the segment, the LG Tone Free FP9W came along.
While the buds are fairly similar to most of their premium counterparts with programmable touch controls, ANC, and the works, it’s the charging case that goes above and beyond its usual duty, offering some truly unique features. Let’s get to know this new wireless audio product from LG a little better.
LG Tone Free FP9W: design and comfort (8/10)
The LG Tone Free FP9W buds come in a round case. We got the Pearl White variant for review, which has a smooth matte finish, and that goes for both the buds and the body. The buds have short stems and angular tips covered in translucent silicone gel that penetrates the ear canals. They don’t cause any discomfort even after hours of wear and offer decent passive noise isolation. The top of the stems are touch-sensitive, accepting various gestures to control the buds.
While the case is compact, its nearly one-inch thickness doesn’t exactly make it pocket-friendly. But there’s more to this case than just the 390mAh battery, which I’ll cover in the next section. It glows blue for a few seconds when you open the lid, increasing the cool quotient. The case has two LEDs on the front, one for the power level and the other for the UVnano cleaning indicator. There’s a small slider on the side to switch to transmitter mode, and there’s a USB-C charging port on the back.
The build quality of the buds as well as the case feels premium. The earbuds have an IPX4 rating for sweat resistance. So you can wear them to the gym or while jogging without worry. There are three pairs of ear tips included in the box and it’s important to choose the right size for optimal ANC. While you can use these buds directly without installing the companion app, I would highly recommend using the LG Tone Free app, which offers a ton of customization options for these buds.
LG Tone Free FP9W: Features and Specifications (9/10)
Each earbud houses an 8mm dynamic driver and three microphones for calls and noise cancellation. You also get wear-detection sensors to pause the sound when you remove a bud from your ear and resume when you put it back in. Touch gestures work well and you’ll hear a beep every time you tap on the touch-enabled zones. The LG Tone Free app allows you to configure the controls.
You can assign single-tap, double-tap, or triple-tap gestures to play/pause, previous/next track, voice assistant, or nothing. But wait, there’s more! This is one of the rare TWS buds that also lets you assign volume up and volume down functionality to one of these gestures. So you don’t have to pick up the phone just to change the volume. The ANC switch is mapped to the touch-and-hold gesture, and you can’t change that. While that’s fine, there’s a weird issue with the toggle.
You can toggle between Noise Canceling and Ambient Sound (Transparency) modes just via the buds. You can only switch to normal mode (ANC and Transparency are both off) via the app rather than a touch gesture on the buds. This is highly unusual and I hope the company fixes this in a future firmware update. Otherwise, you’ll be using ANC even if you don’t intend to, and thus draining your battery faster.
The LG Tone Free FP9W is Bluetooth 5.2 compatible and supports AAC and SBC codecs. Given the premium pricing, I was expecting support for a higher throughput codec like aptX or LDAC, but that’s not the case here. This product offers two unique features that I have never come across. First, it features UVnano technology, which uses UV light to supposedly kill 99.9% of bacteria on the speaker mesh in the buds in 5 minutes if you charge the case with the earbuds inside and the lid closed. A great option for in-ear headphones.
The other unique feature allows the charging case to be used as a Bluetooth transmitter. With the included USB-C to Aux cable, you can connect the charging case to any audio device that doesn’t have built-in Bluetooth connectivity and use the earbuds to hear the audio. This is another great feature that breathes new life into your older devices and opens up a number of possibilities. You can use it with non-smart TVs, older MP3 players or stereo systems, or even in an inflight entertainment console.
LG Tone Free FP9W: Performance (8/10)
Let’s start with the sound quality. These LG buds aren’t among the loudest I’ve tested, and you’ll need to crank the volume up to 70-75% to get normal volume, even indoors, and over 80% when you’re out and about. The good thing is that the sound does not distort even at high volume. While the sound signature is not perfectly neutral, the output is quite pleasing with great detail and a very good balance between the three main frequency ranges.
The sound has been tuned by British hi-fi audio brand Meridian Audio. The default sound signature is slightly warmer with slightly boosted bass. Despite this, the bass is fairly tight and not boomy, delivering good punch that doesn’t overshadow the mids. Mid-range reproduction is crisp with ample vocal clarity and good instrument separation. The highs are sharp, well-tempered, and have just the right amount of sparkle.
The soundstage is one of the best I’ve come across in TWS earbuds. It’s surprisingly wide and the sound feels immersive. The imaging is also quite expensive. The overall sound output feels more refined and I just couldn’t stop myself from wondering if it would have sounded even better with a better codec than AAC. The Tone Free app lets you play further with the sound by offering five equalizer presets and two more custom equalizers to configure. Natural, Immersive, and Bass Boost were the best presets and should cater to broader sound preferences.
There were no latency issues when streaming videos with no noticeable lag between video and audio. ANC was functional at best and nothing fancy you’d expect from a premium product. It reduces certain ambient noise, but not as much as it should. In comparison, it was similar to the OnePlus Buds Z2, which is 70% cheaper than these LG buds, but falls far short of the Sony WF-1000XM4 that sells in the same price range as this product.
The ambient sound mode sounds quite natural here. The microphones let through ambient noise so you can hear your surroundings or have a conversation without taking your buds off your ears. The app offers you the listening and talking mode under Ambient noise to amplify background noise or voices. Wireless range is good as the earbuds maintain a strong connection at 10 meters with no obstacles between the source and the buds.
LG Tone Free FP9W: call quality (8/10)
Call quality is pretty good on these LG buds. The array of microphones and noise-cancelling technology work well to improve speech intelligibility. People on the line were perfectly audible both indoors and outdoors. The buds manage to keep wind noise and other ambient sounds like traffic noise in check fairly well. Another interesting feature here is Whisper mode, which when you enable it via the app, lets you whisper into the right earbud (hold it closer to your mouth) and be heard more clearly by the person on the line than the person next to you in a train.
LG Tone Free FP9W: Battery life (7/10)
The company promises 24 hours of playback with ANC off and up to 15 hours with ANC on for the buds and case combined. As I mentioned before, turning off ANC is quite a task here. With the ANC on I got five and a half hours for the buds at 75% volume and another about 7.5 hours with the charging case, making the overall battery backup less than an hour short of the advertised figure of 15 hours with ANC. While the claim is honest, 14 hours isn’t a huge number these days when competing brands can boast over 20 hours with ANC on.
Ironically, 5.5 hours with ANC is perfectly acceptable battery backup for the buds. I wish the case had a bigger battery and could charge the buds a few times longer. The LG Tone Free FP9W also supports fast charging. Charging the case with the buds inside will give you close to an hour of playtime, which isn’t bad at all. The buds take around an hour to fully charge while the case takes two. The battery status of the earbuds and the charging case can be viewed in the companion app.
LG Tone Free FP9W: price and verdict
The LG Tone Free FP9W can be purchased for Rs 16,990 with a one-year warranty. It might not be the cheapest TWS earbud, but you get a refined sound output with impressive detail and a wide soundstage. More importantly, it offers features that I don’t know about any other. Be it the extra hygiene provided by UVnano cleaning or the ability to make some of your old audio players wireless using the case as a transmitter, when you consider these features the surcharge is somewhat justified.
In terms of sheer sound quality and ANC, this pair of LGs may sound good, but they’re not the best under 20K. That honor goes to the Sony WF-1000XM4 with segment-defining ANC and even better performance for a few thousand more. If you don’t care about the UVnano or transmitter mode and just want comparable sound quality with ANC at a significantly lower price, you should definitely consider the Oppo Enco X for Rs 9,990. Having used all three products, I can say with certainty that none of them will disappoint you.
This article was previously published on Source link