Wireless earbuds aren’t so much a luxury item anymore. More models have been cutting the cords and popping up every day. LG’s TONE Free HBS-FN6 wireless earbuds are joining the ranks with a unique feature that may speak to many as cleanliness and sanitation have been on our minds all throughout the year.
You’ve probably walked down the street and have noticed the small white or black buds in someone’s ear, delivering stable audio all the same. The TONE Free does just that but is also working overtime while in its case. LG and Meridian have teamed up to develop a wireless audio device with a UVnano case, capable of killing 99.9 percent of bacteria.
The selling point of these Bluetooth earbuds may not be the UV charging case. However, releasing during the year where the entire global population is more aware of every surface we touch, having a bacteria-killing feature is a nice bonus. LG’s TONE Free isn’t pushing any boundaries in terms of features. From an audio quality perspective, this model delivers exceptionally clear audio. However, I have a few personal gripes with the earbuds that may be relatable, but we’ll get to that shortly.
Another entry note here before we dive in. LG has released three TONE Free products, each referred to by product name: HBS-FN6, HBS-FN5W, and the HBS-FN4. We have only reviewed the HBS-FN6 and therefore any reference to TONE Free will be referring to that model and that model only.
First Look and Unboxing
I’m always a big fan of small product packages. I hate consistently opening boxes that have wasted space and materials to hold even the smallest items. LG’s TONE Free earbuds come in a nice compact box, no bigger than your palm. Inside, I was immediately met with the TONE Free UVnano charging case. Underneath the case is a lower compartment, which stored the USB-C cable, an in-depth manual, and swappable earbud tips.
LG has developed the charging case to specifically kill 99.9 percent of everyday bacteria. The case is incredibly small and lightweight. For comparison’s sake, the LG TONE Free’s total weight including the case is slightly lighter than AirPods 2. It comes with a sleek matte black design with the TONE label scrawled across the front in gray. Turning our attention to some of the additional details on the case, there is a small LED light on the front which acts as a status check light when charging the case. On the left side, I found a pairing button, which doubles as a battery check button to show how much of a charge remains. On the rear lies the USB-C charging port.
When opening the case, the first thing that caught my eye is the accompanied blue light emitting from the earbud wells. What LG describes as “Mood Lighting”, doesn’t necessarily serve any purpose other than making the TONE Free one of the more stylish earbud cases I’ve seen. Moving on to the LG TONE Free earbuds themselves, they are quite small as well. Rather than the matte black finish seen on the case, the earbuds have a piano black finish to them. From a design perspective, the TONE Frees are very similar to the AirPods, down to the slightly elongated stem. The most notable difference is that the TONE Free earbuds feature the rubber earbud tips meant to sit more comfortably in your ear.
Set Up and TONE Free app
Pairing the LG TONE Free earbuds is surprisingly intuitive. I simply opened up my Bluetooth settings on my iPhone and it instantly connected. LG provides a supplementary TONE Free mobile app if you want to customize your experience. However, you can use the earbuds on the default settings and get a very suitable experience out of them.
The TONE Free app has every setting and customizable feature you need to tweak the earbuds to your personal preference. For instance, I was able to change the Equalizer Settings from its default ‘Immersive’ setting to either ‘Bass Boost’, ‘Natural’, or ‘Treble Boost’. If you’re primarily listening to music, I strongly suggest playing with the Bass Boost setting as tracks can often sound flat without it.
I was also able to customize the ‘Ambient Sound’ settings. The TONE Free earbuds have a noise cancellation setting but can also filter in ambient sound and mix it with the audio. The settings within the TONE Free app allowed me to use a slider to determine how much ambient sound is used when the feature is turned on.
Finally, other important features of the app include a ‘Find my earbuds’ option to emit a chirping sound from the earbuds when they are in Bluetooth range. The app will also show the battery percentage the earbuds have. Plus, you can download software updates through the app when available.
Use and Features
It goes without saying that not every user will experience this, but the TONE Free earbud tips did not fit my ear in the slightest. In the box, alternative sizes are given. Though, even when swapping to the smallest size available, the earbuds would consistently shift out of my ear. While at home, this wasn’t too much of an issue as I could adjust them on the fly. When walking or taking transit, this proved to be every wireless earbud user’s nightmare. On two separate occasions, the right earbud fell out of my ear, once in an elevator and the other while crossing the street. From a personal use case, I never felt 100 percent comfortable using them while outside due to the fear of losing or damaging one.
The audio itself is quite nice. Regardless of whether I was listening to music or a podcast, all the elements were coming in clearly. It wasn’t too surprising. I have to imagine LG let Meridian do what it does best. LG and Meridian have had a successful partnership that has helped in the development of LG’s critically adored soundbars. The TONE Free earbuds are a worthy offshoot of that partnership and Meridian’s audio prowess comes through in spades. Though, it’s worth mentioning again that it is worth the time to investigate the equalizer settings to optimize your experience.
The TONE Free earbuds each have a touchpad to control the play/pause function. The touchpad can also be used to answer calls, enable/disable the Ambient Sound setting and skip an audio track. All commands are done by tapping or holding the touchpad. For instance, a simple tap will play or resume the audio. Double tapping the touchpad will end a call or control the volume. Three taps skip a song. A long press will turn the Ambient Sound on/off. There’s a lot going on within the touchpad settings. However, I often found the touchpad sensitivity to be a little finicky. Oftentimes I’d try to skip a song and it would only register two of the three required taps. If I tried to pause a song, it would register the Ambient Sound feature. It takes a bit of patience and practice to get the timing right.
The UV lights within the case have been tested to kill 99 percent of bacteria within 10 minutes. The UVnano charging case has been proven to kill Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) and Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. While this was not a feature I ever thought I needed in the past, 2020 has been the year that’s taught me to be more cautious about bacteria. Granted, this won’t help clean away debris or other potentially harmful materials, but it can assist in repelling bacteria known to cause ear infections.
To initiate the UV-C cleaning cycle, the earbuds must be placed in the case and the case must be plugged into a power source. The case’s LED light will flash until the cycle is complete.
The battery life of the LG TONE Free earbuds isn’t necessarily the best on the market, but it is still quite respectable. For starters, I consistently received roughly 6 hours of playtime from the earbuds on a single charge. Additionally, the charging case itself can yield three full charges, totalling upwards of 18 hours before the entire device requires a new charge.
The UVnano charging case supports fast charging. To my surprise, a mere five minutes of charging via USB-C granted a full hour of playtime. On average, I plugged my charging case for an hour or so until the charging status light shined blue, indicating a full charge. The case is also compatible with Qi wireless chargers but I found the process of charging to be comparatively slower than by USB-C.
The LG TONE Free earbuds aren’t perfect. The sensitive touchpad of the earbuds can be frustrating to use. For me personally, the earbud tips never felt right sitting in my ear so they were often relegated as my in-home and office audio device. But not everyone will run into that issue.
However, for the reasonable price of $199 CAD, you’ll get a great selection of features and options to personalize your listening experience. The LG and Meridian partnership once again pays off with crisp and clear audio quality. The UVnano case not only helps kill germs but it makes for one of the most stylish wireless earbud cases I’ve seen on the market.