From UV Cleaning to Exceptional Sound: LG’s Latest TONE Free Earbuds Are Pretty Much Perfect

From UV Cleaning to Exceptional Sound: LG’s Latest TONE Free Earbuds Are Pretty Much Perfect
Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia
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LG has just outdone itself with its latest TONE Free FP9 earbuds. They’re good, great, actually – so much so they’re making for a pretty boring review.

When publishing my review on the Amazon Echo Buds last month, I declared wireless earbuds need to do something stellar to rise above the competition. I was wanting the Amazon Echo Buds to move mountains and they didn’t – they could barely maintain connection. I put that mostly down to something Apple and Google were doing at their end to make sure you bought their earbuds, which was fine, things only need to work cross-platform, they don’t need to be perfect.

But…. the LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds kind of proved that wasn’t really the case. You can get a good experience on an iPhone and a Pixel using headphones made by a third party.

LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds

WHAT IS IT?

LG’s latest noise-cancelling in-ear headphones.

PRICE

RRP $319

LIKE

Absolutely everything, they’re brilliant.

NO LIKE

No dual-connectivity (I’m realllly stretching here, folks).

LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds

The LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds are the latest version of the LG TONE Free in-ear headphones. Previous versions of these have been pretty good, but the emphasis was more on their UV cleaning gimmick than the sound quality. Last year’s version sounded brilliant. The LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds had big shoes to fill.

And fill did they just.

Set up and connection

Honestly, this couldn’t have been easier. Open the case, head to Bluetooth in iPhone Settings, tap LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds, bam. Connected. They held a connection when Amazon Music was playing, paused when one bud was removed, and played again when the bud was placed back in my ear.

Siri worked seamlessly and over on a Pixel, the Google Assistant was responsive each and every time, and the LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds acted perfectly as a mic in that scenario. The experience is boosted when you download the LG TONE Free app, so do that, you can fiddle with settings and locate lost buds. More on that later.

I do have one bad thing to say – I can’t connect them to both my laptop AND phone at the same time, it’s one or the other.

Look and feel

LG opted for a round case for their buds, a welcome design choice. The case is light, easy to hold and the material is nice enough. Any changes I’d make to it, such as a more sturdy and less plastic-like feeling, would make it heavier and probably get covered in dings when placed in a bag. The case measures 55 mm x 28 mm.

The LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds themselves are quite nice. They’re not big and bulky, and they actually fit in my ears. You can change the tips if they’re too small for you, but that’s the only modification you can make (still more than you can with the Apple AirPods, though). They don’t necessarily feel modern and by that I mean it’s kind-of like the wired headphones of yesteryear have had their cables cut. But, to my point above, this makes them less bulky and more suited for someone with smaller ears (21 mm x 28 mm x 23 mm). The stem length is noticeably shorter over last year’s model and it’s definitely a welcome improvement.

LG TONE Free FP9 Earbuds
Image: LG, compiled by Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

They’re light, they’re magnetic so they snap into the case nicely and they don’t pull out earwax when you remove them from your ears. I told you this was going to be a boring review, they’re doing everything right.

UV cleaning

The LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds boast UV Nano Self Cleaning technology. LG says this kills 99.9 per cent of bacteria (Escherichia coli & Staphylococcus aureus) after five minutes. It’s worth noting the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency have released statements about their concerns with using UV to kill germs in a home setting, particularly when related to COVID.

“Concerns include the variability of effectiveness of lamps and the potential to provide a false impression of safety if the intensity or duration of exposure is not sufficient to kill the virus. In addition to varying reliability, there are also serious health risks if skin or eyes are exposed to UVC light.”

That said, LG has made this product so that the UV light supposedly only does its thing when the headphones are charging in their case and the lid is closed. I have no scientific proof that this light is actually doing anything to the headphones, but one person’s false sense of security is another person’s anxieties over germs lightly soothed.

Battery life

From completely drained, including the case, it took under an hour to fully charge both. I got just over 6 hours of use out of them. This is on-par with what LG says – up to 10 hours with noise cancelling off and up to 6 hours when noise cancelling is on. Once drained, the buds pulled almost all of the charging juice from the case (around 15 per cent was left) and I got another 6 hours out of them. I then charged both, because why not.

Sound quality

Tunes sound good, real good. They love a song with bass. The instruments don’t bleed and the vocals are clear and crisp – no matter what genre is thrown at them. Usually, in-ear headphones tend to get a little tinny when the volume is all the way up, at least where songs that are instrument-heavy are concerned. The LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds sound really, really good. Changing the tempo to a female vocalist with a super poppy backing track, it sounded even better – the high-pitch notes translated beautifully and the backing sound (this always just sounds like a metronome to me) didn’t cause a throbbing sensation in my eyes. Kicking it over to EDM, aside from getting the judgy eyes from my cat because I started dancing around the apartment, it sounded fully-immersive. As was the case with metal tracks, the each note was heard with clarity, there was no bleeding and absolutely no vibration fuzz.

Something I shouldn’t wish for, but do, is for the volume to go up even higher. There’s something so powerful to me about running with music absolutely blasting in my ears and I just want these to go a little further. The volume they’re at when maxed out is loud, don’t get me wrong, but perhaps LG has dropped this one notch below what it could have to ensure that there is no bleed, no fuzz and nothing to complain about regarding the sound.

The sound quality does deteriorate when you switch off noise cancelling. But that’s to be expected. It doesn’t sound terrible, just not as good, especially when you’ve just experienced supreme. Ambient sound mode allows you to hear ambient sound around you. There’s two types of ambient sound settings: listening mode and conversation mode. The former has the perfect use case being walking back to your car late at night, while the latter is useful in an office where you want to hear what’s going on, just also hear your music. There’s also ‘off’ which removes noise cancelling AND ambient sound features. This doesn’t sound great, but.

Moving through the app (more on that in the next section), you can play with the LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds equaliser settings. Immersive, Natural, Bass Boost, Treble Boost and 3D Sound Stage are your options. Heavy music through the Base Boost setting sounded the best, but Immersive really did provide an immersive experience while using them to stream Netflix. You can also set two custom settings, with the app allowing you to play around with frequency.

And on a call?

Well, my dad reported me sounding natural and “clear as”. I wasn’t breaking up, even in an area notorious for having poor reception (my bathroom) and while he could hear the echo when I moved into the bathroom, it wasn’t overpowering and the LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds didn’t smash the call with vibration. At my end, dad was clear as day. I’ll never get used to hearing people so deeply in my ear, but when comparing the phone call sound to other earbuds I’ve used, it was just as good as others I have tried. The volume is enough, even in a car with the window down or walking through the Sydney CBD.

Siri can be used to make a call (just not end one) and as I mentioned way up above, the assistant is fully responsive to other commands made via the earbuds.

All the extra bits

The LG TONE Free app is pretty darn good. There’s a lot you can do around music sound (as I mentioned in the previous section), but it also allows you to monitor battery life and change the controls on the earbuds.

LG TONE Free FP9 Earbuds
LG TONE Free app. Screenshots: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

App user experience is important and LG have done well.

Other features of the LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds I’m yet to mention include the ability to wirelessly connect to devices with an AUX jack and Whispering Mode, which is coooool.

The pitch from LG is that Whispering Mode allows for greater call privacy and clarity, allowing users to hold the right earbud close to their mouths as a dedicated microphone. It’s truly the perfect solution for making and taking calls in environments such as an office where you don’t want other people to hear what you’re saying.

The LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds, the verdict

Usually when I review something I pack it away in the box for collection once my thoughts are down on paper. But I’ve actually continued to use the LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds, as they do a lot that the Apple AirPods can do, while sounding so much better. The Jabra Elite Active 75t earbuds are $249, the Apple AirPods Pro are $399, the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds are $388 and the LG retail for $319. I actually recommended these to Kotaku’s Ruby and she hasn’t had one complaint since picking a pair up. If you asked me what earbuds you should buy, I’d probably say these.