There's a lot to consider in a product that needs to compete in the mid-price range of a crowded but growing product category like true wireless earbuds. Especially when it is simultaneously promoted for being the first to offer UL-verified UV bacteria reduction through its unique UVnano charging case, while delivering personal audio thanks to Meridian's spatial processing technology. And being a product from LG Electronics - not from some startup that launched their first Kickstarter campaign - this is certainly an interesting product to follow.
What will appeal to consumers the most, if anything? The LG TONE Free has no active noise cancellation, the earbuds have a somewhat similar design to Apple's AirPods Pro, and knowing that the market for TWS earbuds has no idea who Meridian is, effectively the UV bacteria killing angle will get the most headlines.
The LG TONE Free (model HBS-FN6) are the first true wireless earbuds featuring the unique UVnano charging case that kills 99.9 percent of bacteria on the in-ear part of the earbud. In the midst of a global pandemic, it would be easy to amplify a message that UV sanitizer devices could be effective against virus - and some did that claim. The problem is, they aren't, and the ones that could be, would literally kill people as well. UV sterilizers are great at killing germs or bacteria in surfaces and small objects. There's a lot of misinformation out there about this, so be aware. Even for bacteria, the process takes time, and that's why LG developed an innovative UVnano charging case, developed simultaneously for storage and protection, and enhanced hygiene of the small earbuds while charging. It might sound like a good idea for anyone that already had an ear infection - and that's what this is all about.
The UVnano charging case is also the first product that is UL Verified to reduce bacteria based on a new ultra-violet-light test protocol developed by microbiology experts at UL, considered a leading safety science company. UL verified that the UV light reduces bacteria on the earbuds' speaker mesh by 99.9 percent during the powered charging cycle.
"UL's tests verified that the UV light source in the LG charging case reduces bacteria on the earbuds' speaker mesh by 99.9 percent," confirms Todd Denison, vice president and general manager of lighting at UL. The UL evaluation involved applying microorganisms to the inner mesh of the earbuds and then placing them in the powered charging case, which has a UV light source, Denison explained. Before and after the 10-minute UV exposure cycle, samples of the bacteria were extracted and analyzed for microbial counts and the reduction of test organisms was calculated.
So, there's that.
And There's the Audio Performance
The LG TONE Free earbuds promise to deliver "an extra audio dimension" courtesy of HSP (Headphone Spatial Processing) technology from Meridian – LG's long-standing audio partner in tuning speakers and other products like TV's - now expanding into headphone processing. Powered by this new processing technology that Meridian has been perfecting, the earbuds not only recreate a more realistic soundstage that is described as simulating "the experience of listening to real loudspeakers," but it also enhances vocals and detail.
And the TONE Free also add customized EQ sound settings developed by Meridian, with each mode offering four unique presets to deliver a perfectly tailored listening experience. Users can opt for a Natural preset for authentic sound, Immersive for an expanded sense of space, Bass Boost for that extra punch, and Treble Boost for greater vocal clarity.
The new LG earbuds are Bluetooth 5 (Single Device Connection) devices with SBC and AAC support, and they use two-layered dynamic drivers. Design-wise, the snug-fitting eartips provide a tight seal for passive noise isolation, while the Ambient Sound mode lets users hear what's going on around them with the press of a button that activates the built-in microphones.
"We poured all of our accumulated expertise into creating the sound identity for the new generation of LG TONE Free earbuds," says Meridian Audio CEO John Buchanan. "Whether you're at home, in the car, commuting or at the gym, the new LG TONE Free is a clear step forward in audio innovation and performance, meeting the demand for convenient high-quality listening experiences, anywhere."
LG's innovative UVnano charging case provides a total of 18 hours of listening. When fully charged, the LG FN6 provides up to six hours of playback with typical use (five with microphones on), and an additional 12 hours on-the-go from the charging case – all from one charge. Supporting fast charge, the case will provide 1 hour of play in just 5 minutes.
The LG TONE Free lineup also includes two additional models both offering the same Meridian audio technology but do not include the unique UVnano feature of the flagship HBS-FN6 - the HBS-FN5W (SRP $129.99) which includes wireless charging (via compatible charging pads) and the HBS-FN4 (SRP $99.99). All are available in matte black and gloss white finishes.
With an IPX4 rating, all three LG TONE Free FN Series earbud models provide water resistance against raindrops, splashing and perspiration. They also support voice commands for convenient voice access to Google Assistant or Siri on a connected smartphone, while intuitive touch commands allow users to play, pause, skip and adjust the volume without reaching for the phone.
LG TONE Free also features an app for iOS and Android platforms that adds access to the four mentioned Meridian EQ presets and two customizable EQ modes. Through the app, users can boost or diminish specific frequencies to their personal listening preferences. The app also helps users to locate their missing earbuds with the "Find My Earbuds" mode, which generates an audible beep.