Ameya DalviJul 13, 2022 16:57:04 IST
– Enjoyable and detailed sound output
– UV cleansing to kill bacteria
– Wireless transmitter mode
– Good build quality, comfortable in-ear fit
– Feature-rich companion app
– Volume control on the buds
– Good call quality
– IPX4 water resistant
– Average ANC
– Below par battery backup
– Lacks support for high-end codecs
Price: Rs 16,990
Ever since Apple released their first Airpods, I have reviewed dozens of true wireless (TWS) earphones from various brands. I have practically seen the segment evolve from the initial teething issues to massive improvement in connectivity, sound quality and battery life over the years. Then came active noise cancellation (ANC) on earbuds priced at 20K and beyond, and all the way down to 2K. Just when I thought I had seen everything there was to see in the segment, the LG Tone Free FP9W came along.
While the buds are pretty much like most of their premium counterparts with programmable touch controls, ANC and the works, it is the charging case that goes beyond its usual call of duty and offers 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 arrive in a circular case. We got the Pearl White variant for review which has a smooth matte finish, and that applies for the buds and case both. The buds have short stems and angular tips covered with translucent silicone gel that enters the ear canals. They cause absolutely no discomfort even after wearing them for long hours and provide decent passive noise isolation. The top of the stems are touch enabled and accept various gestures to control the buds.
While the case is compact, its near one inch thickness doesn’t exactly make it totally pocketable. But this case packs more than just the 390 mAh battery, which I will talk about in the next section. It glows blue for a couple of seconds when you open the lid adding to the cool quotient. The case has two LEDs at the front, one for power level and the other for UVnano cleansing indication. There’s a tiny slider on the side to switch to transmitter mode and a USB-C charging port is located at 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 for a jog without a worry. Three pairs of eartips are bundled, and it is important to choose the right sized pair for optimal ANC. While you can use these buds directly without installing the companion app, I would strongly suggest using the LG Tone Free app that provides a ton of customisation for these buds.
LG Tone Free FP9W: Features and Specifications (9/10)
Each earbud hosts an 8 mm dynamic driver and three microphones for calling and noise cancellation. You also get wear detection sensors to pause the audio when you remove a bud from the ear and resume when you put it back in. Touch gestures work well and you hear a beep every time you tap the touch enabled zones. The LG Tone Free app lets you configure the controls.
You can assign play/pause, previous/next tracks, voice assistant or nothing to single-tap, double-tap or triple-tap gestures. But wait, there’s more! This is one of the rare TWS buds that lets you assign volume up and down function to one of those gestures too. So you don’t need to reach for the phone just to change the loudness. The ANC toggle is assigned to touch and hold gesture, and you cannot change that. While that is fine, there is a weird issue with the toggle.
You can only switch between Noise Cancelling and Ambient Sound (transparency) modes from the buds. You can go to Normal mode (ANC and transparency both off) only through the app and not via any touch gesture on the buds. That is highly unusual, and I hope the company fixes that in a future firmware update. Else you end up using ANC even when you don’t intend to, and thus deplete the battery faster.
The LG Tone Free FP9W is Bluetooth 5.2 compliant 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 does offer two unique features that I have never come across before. Firstly, it has UVnano technology that uses UV light to supposedly kill 99.9% bacteria on the speaker mesh inside the buds in 5 minutes whenever you put the case on charge with the earbuds inside and lid closed. A great option to have for in-ear buds.
The other unique feature lets you use the charging case as a Bluetooth transmitter. Using the bundled USB-C to Aux cable, you can plug the charging case into any audio device that doesn’t have Bluetooth connectivity built in, and use the earbuds to listen to the audio. That is another great feature to have that breathes new life into your older gadgets and opens up a bunch of possibilities. You can use it with non-smart TVs, older MP3 players or stereos, or even in an in-flight 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 have tested and you will need to push the volume up to 70-75% for normal loudness even when indoors, and upwards of 80% when on the road. The good part being the sound doesn’t distort even at high volume. While the sound signature isn’t perfectly neutral, the output is thoroughly enjoyable with great detail and very good balance between the three major frequency ranges.
The sound has been tuned by the British HiFi audio brand, Meridian Audio. The default sound signature is a bit on the warmer side with slightly boosted lows. Despite that, the bass is fairly tight and not boomy, and provides a good thump that doesn’t overshadow the mids. The midrange reproduction is crisp with ample clarity in the vocals and good instrument separation. The highs are sharp, well tempered and with just the right amount of sparkle.
The soundstage is one of the best I have come across in TWS earbuds. It is surprisingly broad and the sound feels immersive. The imaging is pretty much on the money too. The overall sound output feels refined and I just couldn’t stop wondering if it would have sounded even better with a better codec than AAC. The Tone Free app lets you play with the sound further by offering five equaliser presets and two more custom equalisers for you to configure. Natural, Immersive and Bass Boost were the best of the presets and should cater to broader sound preferences.
There were no latency issues with no noticeable lag between the video and audio when streaming videos. As for ANC, it was functional at best and not something special that you expect from a premium product. It does reduce certain ambient sounds but not as much as it should. In comparative terms, it was similar to what you get on the OnePlus Buds Z2 that is priced 70% lower than these LG buds, but nowhere close to the Sony WF-1000XM4 that sells in the same price bracket as this product.
The Ambient Sound mode here sounds quite natural. The microphones let ambient sounds through to let you be aware of your surroundings or have a conversation without removing the buds from the ears. The app offers you Listening and Conversation modes under Ambient Sound to boost background sounds or voices respectively. The wireless range is good with the earbuds retaining a strong connection at 10 metres with no obstruction between the source and the buds.
LG Tone Free FP9W: Call quality (8/10)
The call quality is pretty good on these LG buds. The array of microphones and the noise suppression tech work well to improve voice clarity. People on the line were perfectly audible to each other indoors as well as outdoors. The buds manage to keep the wind noise and other ambient sounds like traffic noise in check pretty well. Another interesting feature here is the Whispering mode, which when enabled from the app lets you whisper into the right earbud (held closer to your mouth) and be heard more clearly by the person on the line than the one next to you on 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 earlier, turning ANC off is quite a task here. With ANC on, I got five and a half hours for the buds at 75% loudness and an additional 7.5 hours or so with the charging case, thus taking the overall battery backup under an hour short of the advertised figure of 15 hours with ANC. While the claim is honest, 14 hours is not a great number in this day and age when competing brands have been managing upwards of 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 recharge the buds a few extra times. The LG Tone Free FP9W supports quick charging too. Charging the case with the buds inside gives you almost an hour of playtime, which is not bad at all. The buds take about an hour to charge fully, while the case takes two. The battery level of the earbuds and the charging case can be seen 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 may not be the most affordable TWS earphones around, but you do get a refined sound output with impressive detail and a broad soundstage. More importantly it offers features that none others I know of do. Be it the extra level of hygiene courtesy of UVnano cleansing or the option to turn some of your old audio players wireless using the case as a transmitter, if you factor in these features, the premium is somewhat justified.
In terms of pure sound quality and ANC, while this LG pair sounds good, it is not the best under 20K. That honour goes to the Sony WF-1000XM4 with segment defining ANC along with an even better output for a couple of thousands extra. If you do not care about UVnano or transmitter mode, and just want comparable sound quality with ANC at a significantly lower price point, you should strongly consider the Oppo Enco X for Rs 9,990. Having used all three products, I can say one thing for certain that neither will disappoint you.