If you want to cut down the number of headphones you carry and are scared of ear germs then these are pretty much the only thing that ticks both those boxes.
LG is back at it again with its next line of Tone Free wireless earbuds. It has released three new models, FP5, FP8 and FP9. Those are priced at R2,300, R3,000 and R4,000 respectively. We received a set of the FP9s to review because we love to start at the top.
These sit somewhere in the upper mid-range of wireless earbuds. You get most of the features you’d expect for the price, miss out on others, and may be surprised by a few more. Well, they aren’t really a surprise. It’s written on the box. But we’ll get to that.
Don’t forget they’re in
We were rather impressed with the build quality. The case has a soft, premium feel. Thankfully it’s not coated in rubber so you won’t have to deal with a mushy mess in a few years. The hinge does feel a little flimsy but other than that, no complaints.
The buds themselves feel equally premium. They’re a bit smaller than we were expecting, and they’re light and compact as well. LG has chopped a bit off the stems. This makes for an understated look when worn. They’re also perhaps the most comfortable buds we’ve had in our ears in recent years. If the default tips aren’t to your liking, there are options in the box for a smaller or larger size.
The stems feature familiar touch controls. These are well-placed and we had almost no false touches or fumbling to make them do what we wanted. You can also customise the controls in the companion app if you don’t like the defaults.
Looking good, sounding good
LG has partnered with Meridian for the sound of the Tone Free FP9. That’s the same British company that handles the sound for LG’s previous earphones as well as its soundbars and portable speakers. That tuning allows them to punch above their weight when it comes to the sound profile. That is, once you’ve turned off the default bass boost. The Tone Free FP9 offers a relatively flat frequency response.
If you aren’t a fan of any of the presets, the 8-band Equaliser in the app offers decent customisation. There is also a 3D sound space preset that attempts to mimic Dobly Atmos or Apple’s spatial audio. While it can’t quite reach those levels of width, it definitely adds noticeable depth. But it should be noted that LG’s buds only support the SBC and AAC codecs so you’re not getting any lossless audio here.
These, like most decent wireless earbuds on the market, offer active noise cancellation. When you’re in a quiet to moderate environment the FN9s manage to dampen (not block out) most sounds you’re trying to avoid. Aircons, heaters and office chatter fade into the background, especially when set to the high ANC setting. If you feel that ANC pressure there’s also a ‘low’ setting.
Together with ANC are two ambient modes, a general mode, and a conversation mode that focuses on boosting the voice of your fellow interlocutor. Both of these managed to sound natural. The conversation mode works better than expected, picking out and boosting vocals.
It was surprising then when we tested the microphones. The FP9 uses a three-mic array but sadly we found the quality of those lacking. We recorded audio to a PC to confirm this. Audio lacked a considerable amount of the lower frequencies, making the FP9s sound tinny and thin. There’s an experimental whisper feature in the app that lets you use the right earbud as a dedicated microphone. The idea is you hold it right up to your mouth and whisper if you need to take your calls in a library. This is certainly cool, and not one we’ve seen before. But we felt it was a little wasted on the sub-par mics.
On to those ‘surprise’ features. The FP9 is the first of LG’s earbuds to feature a plug and wireless mode. This allows you to use the included 3.5mm-to-USB-C cable to connect the case to things that don’t support a Bluetooth connection. The case then wirelessly transmits the audio to the buds. Gone are the days of carrying more than one set of headphones.
Get those germs outta here
These also continue with LG’s tradition of using UVNano tech to sanitise the mesh inside the ‘buds. It claims to kill 99.9% of bacteria. We have no way of testing that so we’ll just have to take LG’s word for it. This only works when the earbuds are in the case and it’s plugged in to charge. Unfortunately, ear wax is UV resistant so you’ll still have to clean that off manually. Humans can’t see UV light (don’t try) so the internal blue LEDs are a nice touch. It really gives the buds a clean feel.
The battery life on the FN9 could be longer. With ANC on, you can expect around five to six hours of playback time with the case offering an additional ten hours. Turning ANC off bumps that up to ten hours in the buds and 24 hours in the case. Most are going to have ANC on though, so keep that charging cable handy.
The FP9s don’t feature wireless charging. If you’re looking for that you’ll have to get the FP8 ‘buds. But then you miss out on the plug and wireless feature. You can’t have it both ways. Luckily the FP9s feature fast charging with five minutes on charge giving you an hour of playback. Outside of that, they tend to charge quite slowly. The case will take around two hours to go from 0% to full.
A few other quirks and features worth mentioning. These come with Swift Pair for Windows and Fast Pair for Android, meaning connecting to anything that isn’t Apple is a breeze. We did notice an oddity the first time we paired them to our smartphone in that the name in the Bluetooth menu looked like it used wingdings instead of letters. That fixed itself after a few days, though.
LG also claims you can connect these to multiple devices. We attempted with two Android phones and an Android phone and a Windows laptop but they would always disconnect from the first when paired with the second.
LG Tone Free FP9 verdict
LG has proved (once again) that it knows how to make a decent set of wireless earbuds. It’s also great to see a company trying new things, like its plug and wireless feature. It’s just a pity about the mic quality and the lack of wireless charging and multi-device connections. If you can overlook those things and you’re scared of ear germs, then you’ll get a decent-sounding set of earbuds here. At this price, though, you can probably get better overall performance elsewhere.