“The LG Tone Free lags behind the competition in its price range”
Neat self-cleaning function
Great sound quality
Below average battery life
Hypersensitive touch controls
There doesn’t seem to be a better time to launch a product that kills bacteria as part of its functions than it is now. For this reason, LG should really get recognition for its excellent, if random timing for the release of the Tone Free HBS-FN6.
Of course, it’s never a good time to launch a product that can’t keep up with the competition in critical areas, and LG also deserves recognition for whether it wants it or not. The $ 150 Tone Free HBS-FN6 can do some things that most other real wireless earbuds don’t, but has had no effect on the areas that mattered most.
Before I summarize it, a brief explanation: There are three different clay-free models, the HBS-FN6, the HBS-FN5W and the HBS-FN4, each with incremental differences. I will review the HBS-FN6 and, for the purposes of this story, describe this product as clay-free unless otherwise noted. Okay, let’s go ahead.
Out of the box
Everything about the LG Tone Free earbuds is small except for the packaging they arrive in. Under the lid of the mostly white box are the buds and their housing. Below them is a separate compartment that contains a USB-C charging cable, additional earplugs, and a surprisingly thorough manual. I’m just saying surprisingly because I’ve seen a decent number of guides, the details of which have been largely scarce. It may be a little old-fashioned, but having something tangible to guide you through the operation of these buds is a welcome inclusion, which is sometimes lost in the mix with competitors.
Nick Woodard / Digital Trends
The Tone Free has a Fast Pair feature similar to Google’s Pixel Buds 2 or Apple’s AirPods, where the earbuds seem to find your phone before they can find it, though it’s limited to devices that run Android 5.0 or higher support. If you don’t have a device that matches this description, you can go the more traditional way and find the earbuds in your phone’s Bluetooth settings to connect.
The Tone Free had Bluetooth 5.0 technology and, like most earphones I’ve tested with this built-in technology, was easy when it came to solid connections. I was free to move around the house or even in the back yard while my phone remained stationary.
As with so many pairs before, the Tone Free was – at least partially – made after the model of the Apple AirPods. After all, Apple has made the concept of wearing golf T-shirts in its ears a hot thing, in which the competitors simply follow the trend. The Tone Free are a bit more bulky (about 5 grams compared to the 4-gram AirPods) and are currently only available in black, but the visual similarities are obvious enough.
Nick Woodard / Digital Trends
I really like how compact the charging case for the Tone Free is. It’s actually a little lighter (39 grams) than the AirPod’s 40-gram charging case, and I personally prefer the round design of the Tone Free case. This may be an unpopular opinion, as Apple’s lighter Zippo case has been copied by many manufacturers. But I would definitely take LG’s circular on the AirPods in a stow-and-go situation, although neither will be a big problem in this regard.
The Tone Free are comfortable and fit snugly in my ears without putting too much pressure on my ear canals.
The Tone Free are comfortable and fit snugly in my ears without putting too much pressure on my ear canals. The only time I physically adjusted them on morning walks or jogging in the afternoon was to use the auto pause function of the buds when I passed other people. I could have used the earphones ‘Ambient Sound mode to remove a bud, but I found that pulling them out was easier than trying to use the earphones’ multi-touch controls while moving.
When I speak of these multitouch controls, I will be the first to admit that getting this control style right is not easy. Many buds that use this feature are between too sensitive to touch or not sensitive enough. I think the Tone Free are functional – with multiple print options for answering or ending phone calls, switching music, or changing the volume – but they’re erroneous closer to the “too sensitive” end of the spectrum. They’re not as bad as others I’ve tested in this regard, but there were still a handful of frustrating moments.
When it comes to their functions, the Tone Free are a bit mixed. They have the characteristic self-cleaning function that fascinates these buds on their own. However, if you expand the scope and examine the more standard but more important functions, the intrigue is almost lost.
Nick Woodard / Digital Trends
First, let’s work out the uniqueness of these earphones. The Tone Free are self-cleaning buds, thanks to a UV nano charging housing that, according to LG, kills 99.9% of the bacteria while the housing is connected to a charging cable. The case uses ultraviolet light that is focused on the ear buds of the buds, though the process doesn’t remove dirt, grime, or ear wax.
On the one hand, this is objectively cool. Especially at a time when most people are still focused on cleanliness, it can only be good to have buds that kill the bacteria themselves. On the other hand, all of this seems completely unnecessary. As I suspect, many of you, I have never been overly concerned with the amount of bacteria in my earbuds. Perhaps LG is indicting and uncovering an issue we didn’t previously know was an issue, and maybe future earphones will follow in Tone Free’s footsteps. On the other hand, maybe not. It’s a feature the effects of which the average person can’t feel, and it’s the main reason why these buds cost $ 50 more than the clay-free HBS-FN4. That seems like a great deal of work for a largely invisible advantage.
When it comes to their functions, the Tone Free are a bit mixed.
The battery life in Tone Free is up to six hours. The case contains two additional charging cycles for a total of 18. They also have a quick charge function that allows you to play for an hour after five minutes in the case. It would have been solid two years ago. Unfortunately for LG it is mediocre at best. The RHA TrueConnect 2 offers 9.5 hours of playback on a single charge and a total battery life of 44 hours at the same price. Given that the Tone Free has a low battery shortly after the five-hour mark and barely approaches the specified six-hour lifespan, it’s hard to see why you wouldn’t choose a much stronger battery in the RHA .
And while the Tone Free offers IPX4 weather resistance – a fairly normal benchmark for earphones that gives them solid protection against sweat and splashes of water from every direction – the TrueConnect 2 has raised the bar by introducing dust protection with an IP55 degree of protection. You probably won’t need this protection in your everyday life. But why not choose this route at the same time when it no longer costs you? That is the problem LG is facing. Their functions are fine if you don’t place them next to a competitor with the same price. In this scenario, it is difficult to find an area that clearly prefers the tonelessness. Unless you wanted to limit the number of bacteria you expose your ears to.
Just like the latest sound bars, LG is promoting its partnership with Meridian to optimize the sound of their products. Also in line with these sound bars, LG has kept silent about the specifications of the actual drivers in these earphones. After the sound of the company’s conversation topics, we shouldn’t worry about the details or design of the components that produce the sound we hear. Instead, we should blindly rely on Meridian to adopt the audio quality of this product and rely on the company’s HSP (Headphone Spatial Processing) technology to achieve solid sound.
Nick Woodard / Digital Trends
What I have to admit, it works very well. Just like the sound bars in which Meridian was involved, the Tone Free offers a pleasant listening experience. According to LG, Meridian’s HSP technology is said to “create a realistic soundstage that simulates the experience of hearing real speakers.” I wouldn’t go anywhere near that, but after listening to a selection like Led Zeppelin’s ‘Ramble On or The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter, I appreciate the stereo separation and vocal clarity that these earbuds could produce.
With the LG Tone Free app, you can choose between three other Meridian presets – Bass Boost, Natural or Treble Boost – or adjust the sound to your taste with an in-app equalizer. Although LG’s efforts to make the sound customizable for all kinds of ears are recognized and presets like Bass Boost fill the required low-end for more modern tracks, I preferred the sound of the standard “Immersive” preset.
The Tone Free did a great job of producing a pleasant sound.
However, I will say this: the Tone Free did a good job of producing a pleasant sound, but at the same time they did not produce an incredibly distinctive sound. It’s hard for me to decide whether these buds sound better than, for example, the RHAs I heard last week or the Google Pixel Buds 2 that I auditioned a few months ago. The Tone Free cited the ability to kill bacteria as a key feature that just isn’t that exciting, and they really needed their sound to set a tone. They sound very good, just not good enough to cover their other shortcomings.
The call quality of the Tone Free is sufficient thanks to the dual microphone setup that LG has integrated into the Tone Free. LG says it uses technologies called echo cancellation and noise cancellation to detect unwanted noise and minimize what works pretty well. Just don’t expect these features and the minimal passive noise cancellation created by the fit of the buds to reflect the kind of experience that real active noise cancellation offers. Try anyway, these ANC replacement products don’t affect the real business.
The LG Tone Free doesn’t do anything particularly bad, they just don’t do most things as well as some of the more notable competitors in their price range. It is a difficult task to reach all the key touch points when things are moving so fast in the real wireless earphone world, but if you can’t keep up with the rest of the field at least, you won’t be ranking.
Are there any better alternatives?
The Tone Free has a slight sound edge, but it’s not enough to overlook everything else that makes the RHA TrueConnect 2 better for exactly the same $ 150. For another $ 50, I’ve become quite a fan of the $ 200 Sony WF-SP800N, which improves battery life over both the LG and RHA and offers effective active noise cancellation.
Honestly, I would probably use the cheaper $ 99 LG Tone Free HBS-FN4 compared to the FN6, as the main difference is in the self-cleaning charging case, where we found a limit.
How long will they last?
These buds seem to have high quality workmanship and moderately good protection against the weather. I do not foresee that they will collapse soon.
Should you buy them
Nah. I liked the design of these earphones and their tasty sound, but there are too many options in this price range with better features to recommend the latest from LG. The Tone Free can eliminate most of the bacteria that get in their way, but they don’t have the same effect on the tough competition that surrounds them.