LG’s TONE Free FN4 and FN6 earbuds look very similar to Apple’s AirPods Pros, have an ambient sound mode, automatic ear detection and wireless charging. Their sound is tuned by Meridian and they can be configured with an accompanying app.
The more expensive FN6 version I’m looking at, also come with a so-called UVnano wireless charging cradle that supposedly sanitises your earbuds. A quite apt and well timed feature with the current global pandemic.
Inside the box you get the earbuds themselves inside their charging case, a USB-C charging cable, 3 sizes of ear tips including the ones already fitted, and a user manual.
LG’s earbuds come in black or white and their circular charging case has a diameter of 55mm. The case is 28mm thick and weighs 50g, with the earbuds themselves weighing 10g. This is one of the most compact and light charging cases I’ve seen. It is thicker than the AirPods Pro case, but feels just as compact.
The case has a matte finish with TONE branding on its lid, which does unfortunately really need two hands to open. But the build quality is good and the lid has very little play.
Underneath the lid is the LG branding and more prominently there’s the Meridian logo just below the earbuds.
Around the back of the case is the USB-C charging port and the side of the case has the pairing button.
When you first open the lid, the front status light flashes blue indicating they are ready for pairing. With an Android device (Android 5.0 or later) they support Google Fast Pair. You’ll get a notification which you just need to tap to pair your earbuds and link them to your Google account. This is a very welcome feature.
On iOS or if you don’t get the pairing request, you’ll need to go into Bluetooth settings and tap on LG HBS-FN6.
Even though you can use either earbud separately in mono mode, there isn’t the clumsy prompt you often get to pair the second earbud. All this happens transparently. The one disadvantage of this is you can’t use the left and right earbud with two different devices.
You can only connect to one device at a time. To pair to a second device, either disconnect from your currently connected device or, with the lid open and the earbuds charging, press and hold the pairing button for a few seconds until the blue status light flashes, indicating the earbuds are ready for pairing as before.
You can factory reset the earbuds and delete all pairing records with a ten second press of the pairing button with both earbuds in their case and the lid open. The status light flashes red and then blue when they are again ready for pairing.
You can charge the case either with the included USB-C cable, or with the FN6 model, wirelessly with any Qi compatible charger.
With a wired connection a full charge of the case’s 390mAh battery takes around 2 hours charging at around 0.4A. Wirelessly charging also takes around 2 hours. The earbuds themselves take around an hour to charge their 55mAh batteries and conveniently a 5 minute quick charge will provide one hour of playback.
The earbuds have a rather average 6 hours of playback with a full charge and the case will provide an additional 2 full charges for a total of 18 hours of usage. This is below average, perhaps due to the electronics required for the UV cleaning. Although the FN4s also have the same battery life.
The charging case on this FN6 model has a built in UV-C LED which has disinfecting capabilities which is meant to kill 99.9% of bacteria. This only activates with the earbuds in the case whilst charging with a wired connection.
The status light pulses whilst this cleaning cycle is active which takes around 10 minutes. This status light also indicates the case’s remaining battery, and will stay on when cleaning has completed. In use, this battery status light also indicates the remaining charge of the case when you open and close the lid. You’ll need your phone to check the charge of the earbuds themselves.
The earbuds are fairly easy to remove from the case but they are also quite easy to put back in the case the wrong way around if you’re not careful, which you quickly realise when the lid doesn’t close.
The earbuds’ resemblance to AirPods Pros is hard to ignore. I quite like their design with the substantially shorter than average stem. They have a mainly glossy finish with just the front of the stem having a matte finish. They aren’t quite as stylish as the AirPods Pros and build quality doesn’t feel as premium, but then they are much cheaper. They have no branding on them at all and I can’t help but feel they could so with some sort of design flourish to make them look a little less plain.
Each earbud has two microphones for suppressing noise during calls but these mics are also used in Ambient Sound Mode to let you hear your surroundings, a feature I was very happy to see. Unfortunately they don’t have Active Noise Cancellation, only passive noise isolation.
The earbuds come with medium silicone ear tips fitted with a spare set of small and large tips to swap out for the perfect fit.
Their fit in my ears was excellent – they’re some of the most comfortable and secure earbuds I’ve tried which is impressive, since they don’t have any included fins like the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pros. They even stayed put running.
The earbuds have touch controls which can be configured in the accompanying TONE Free app. By default, a single tap of either earbud will pause and resume playback or answer a phone call, a double tap of the left and right earbud will turn the volume down or up respectively or end a phone call, and a triple press on either earbud will skip forward a track.
A long press on either earbud will switch Ambient mode on and off with a rather intrusive voice prompt. A long press will also reject an incoming phone call.
In the app which is available on iOS and Android, you can configure all these controls apart from the long press. I like to configure the triple press on the left earbud to activate my voice assistant.
The app also lets you check the battery level of each earbud, switch Ambient Sound on and off and control how loud these ambient sounds are, lock the touchpad controls and update the firmware.
There are also four equalizer presets and two custom presets, which you can edit to your tastes. I did find it a little tricky to grab the frequency control handles – it’s easy to end up just scrolling up and down.
There’s also a handy feature to locate your earbuds, playing a loud chirp sound to each earbud.
Most settings are the same on iOS and Android, but the Notifications option that reads back messages has a finer level of configuration on my Android phone.
These touch controls work well as far as touch controls go, but trying to triple tap or even double tap is tricky walking and even more so running. Still, sitting down in the office or on a train, it’s handy being able to fully control the earbuds, even adjusting volume, without reaching for your phone.
There’s also Ear Detection which works very well, pausing and resuming playback when you remove and reinsert either earbud. It’s a convenient feature, but I would still like the option to disable this in the accompanying app, as well as all the beeps and sound prompts which you might find a little annoying after a while.
Sound quality and performance
They have a slightly unusual name for earbuds but Tone are LG’s range of headphones, and Free relates to them being TWS or True Wireless Earbuds therefore free of any cable or band, not free of tone!
Naming aside these earbuds with their 6mm drivers sound very good. The default Immersive EQ profile is well balanced with a full bodied sound with clear mids and a decent amount of bass. Meridian has done a good job tuning them to provide audio that does genuinely feel quite immersive as their profile promises, with a better soundstage than you often get with wireless earbuds.
And although there’s not a huge number of presets to choose from in the accompanying app, they all offer something different to suit most people’s tastes.
I did try and configure a custom profile, but I found the presets always sounded better with a wider range than I could achieve dragging around the frequency graph.
They don’t have the lower end of the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pros or the clarity of AirPods Pros at the higher end but overall they have a pleasing sound that I imagine most people would be more than happy with for the price.
The earbuds don’t have support for the aptX codec but do support the still higher quality AAC codec.
The LG Tone Free FN6s and FN4s don’t have active noise cancellation, but their passive noise isolation is very effective. It’s not far off the AirPods Pro’s ANC in a lot of environments, but Apple’s earbuds do a much better job with constant background noises, like the hum of fans, or somebody strimming.
Their good seal also makes sound leakage even at maximum volume minimal. They aren’t the loudest earbuds I’ve tested – similar to the Soundcores Liberty 2 Pros but not quite as loud as the AirPods Pros.
Although there’s no ANC, they do have Ambient Sound mode which I compared to Apple’s Transparency mode. This mode does a decent job, basically playing back your surroundings using the built in mics. It does sound quite artificial though, especially comparing to the AirPods Pros which do such a realistic job you almost take it for granted what they are actually doing.
You can tweak the Ambient Sound Mode slider but I found the default mode about right in most cases. If it’s at all windy, you’ll mostly hear wind noise even over your music, so I usually turned Ambient Sound mode off when I was out walking or running where there were no roads or people to contend with. But it is still a useful feature to have.
The earbuds have an IPX4 waterproof rating and were certainly sweatproof in my tests. They make a very good pair of running earbuds with their sweatproof rating, secure fit and ambient sound feature. And they worked well on the cycling turbo trainer too, where sweat eventually causes my AirPods Pros to fall out.
The four microphones, two on each earbud did a decent job in a quiet environment. As a more extreme test, I tried them on the cycling turbo trainer, a noisy and windy environment with two very powerful fans pointing towards me. I compared them to the AirPods Pros and the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pros.
They did an ok job, but the AirPods Pros are still the earbuds to beat!
Battery life is quoted as 6 hours and I found I got close to that, mainly playing back at 60% volume and often louder.
The earbuds use Bluetooth 5.0 and although they were very easy to pair, especially on Android devices, I did get occasional issues with interruptions in the audio on both or just one earbud. This was even outside in the countryside with no sources of interference. The connection to the iOS app was a little unreliable too. I’m hoping a firmware update might fix these issues since my earbuds are a very early sample.
Range was ok though, maintaining a connection even when my phone was in the next room over 10 metres away.
One thing I couldn’t really test where the cleansing claims with the FN6s, but these claims have been apparently independently verified and do provide a certain reassurance especially in the current climate – and more so if you tend to share your earbuds with others.
The LG Tone Free FN6 earbuds sound good and have a very impressive range of features. Really the only feature missing on the FN6s is active noise cancellation and I’ve not seen any earbuds with this cleansing function.
The FN4s at under £100 or $100 are great value if you don’t need the superior case with wireless charging and UV cleansing.
I like the compact case, the extremely comfortable and secure fit in my ears and their design. The audio quality is good, especially in the mids and the accompanying LG Tone Free app makes adjusting the sound to your tastes very easy.
Battery life is a little on the low side and the ambient sound mode whilst welcome, I didn’t find as effective as I’d hoped. I did also have some issues with audio breaking up occasionally which I really hope will be fixed soon in a firmware update – I’ll report back in the description.
Overall though LG has done a good job with these earbuds and with their sound quality, comfort and feature set they should definitely be on your shortlist if you’re looking at true wireless earbuds around these price points.
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