Let’s be blunt here. LG isn’t the first brand that comes to mind when you think of the hyper-competitive market for true wireless earbuds. Personal audio is always going to be a fiercely competitive scene, but dominators Sony, Bose, Sennheiser, Apple, Samsung, and JBL are always going to come out on top. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be looking elsewhere, so LG are fully within their rights to try and sneak up from behind and capture that lucrative slice of personal audio.
They made a decent attempt with the LG Tone Free HBS-FN6 last year, and now their back with the sequel – the FN7. LG has always been innovators and market leaders when it comes to refrigerators and mind-blowing OLED TVs, so it’s no surprise to see them double down on a USP for these earbuds.
That would be the germ-busting charging case, which uses a UV light while the buds are securely tucked away to kill 99.9% of bacteria in 10 minutes. Granted, we’re not talking COVID here. These would be as effective as your standard wet wipe – killing the type of bacteria that causes staph (s. aureus) and E. coli. As I said in the review for the FN6, this is a particularly valuable feature now that more people are paying closer attention to the smaller details of their personal hygiene, for obvious reasons. Staph in your ear is not something you want.
Not that you’d be sharing these earbuds much. The noise-cancelling pair is one of the best I’ve tried this year, and while the sound quality might not be on the level as offerings from Sennheiser and Bose, it’s very clear that LG are taking this market move seriously.
I’m not a huge fan of the stem-design on any earbuds, but that’s the preferred profile from most brands. Apple and JBL especially love this design, and LG are following it to a tee. Regardless, the stem tapers off nicely here and if short, instead saving most of the thickness for the part that goes inside of the ear. Regardless, the shiny matte plastic used is attractive if not a bit of a fingerprint magnet, and the comfort is exceptional. They fit in the ear incredibly well and are unlikely to move around, even with the jolts of a good jog.
However, as stable as they are, don’t go thinking of these as sports earbuds. There are a lot more secure brands on the market, specifically those from the likes of Beat and Jabra.
Integrated touch controls work fine enough, but as mentioned above, the matter plastic is prone to a lot of fingerprints. You can re-map the touch surface using the Tone Free app, which is a great inclusion and sits alongside Merdidian Audio’s beautifully calibrated EQ settings, both pre-set and customisable.
LG has obviously studied their competitors and packed a lot of features into the app, which is responsive, clean, and intuitive. You’ll also be able to toggle levels of noise-cancellation as well as easily toggle a “find my earbuds” alert, with either bud letting off this shrill to make them easy to find. As opposed to headphones, buds are notoriously easy to leave lying around if you aren’t vigilant about packing them into the case every time they aren’t in use. This is always a welcome feature.
Inside, you’ve got a pair of 6mm full-range neodymium drivers taking care of the sound. LG make no secret about their partnership with Meridian, the high-end British audio company that is responsible for the superior performance.
Although the Bluetooth standard and codecs supports (Bluetooth 5.0, SBC, AAC) are sufficient enough to handle any playlist you throw at these earphones, there’s still more advanced out there. But at this price point, LG are being fairly generous. What they have overlooked, however, is aptX Low Latency, so the buds aren’t the best when it comes to watching Netflix (or the new Paramount Plus Australia) – there’s a notable lag sometimes.
The music side of things fares much better. Which is no surprise. The soundstage isn’t as spacious as Sony’s pinnacle offering, neither is it as warm as Sennheiser’s pinnacle offering, but LG do just fine muscling into the market with bright, present highs and mids. The low-end is solid as well, picking up the buzzy, reverberating sounds of modern hip hop quite well, and then doing an equally impressive job when it’s all just dense jazz tunes. There’s a lot of bite to the profile here, and even at times when it isn’t, the EQ on the app is so fantastic and offers such a great range that it’s unlikely any style could be left behind.
LG have even got call quality spot-on, at least for the most part. I had a bit of trouble with some calls sounding distant (granted, the other person could have been on speaker phone), but for the most part vocals are clear, crisp, and I never had an issue with someone not understanding me. Do note, that due to lockdown, I haven’t been testing these out in the city so haven’t been moving through the louder environments like I usually would.
Active noise cancelling works really well compared to the lack thereof of its predecessor. You can really note the attempt at cancelling out external noise in real-time, with the earphones clearly improved in this area. As mentioned above, the app is really useful here – being able to toggle the level of noise cancellation with meaningful differences between each level is definitely appreciated.
With the germ-busting charging case, you can expect a total of 16 hours of battery life. That’s pretty underwhelming when compared to others on the market, and at the same price point. Yet it should be enough for the daily commute. You can also use a Qi-enabled charging pad should you want to mess around with wireless charging for the case, but wired you’re thankfully looking at the ubiquitous USB-C.
It’s clear the main draw for the rather slim and well designed charging case is the UV light used to kill germs. I wish I could be as excited about the battery as I am about that.
Verdict & Value
LG have taken an already impressive pair of earbuds and made them even better. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, however. As good as the sound signature is, there’s some notable weakness when it comes to handling to more subtle details. As good as the charging case is, with its nifty little way of killing germs, the battery life kind of pales in the market. And as good as the design is, there’s still a lot that can be tweaked, like how the matte plastic takes on way too many fingerprints when you’re controlling playback.
Regardless, LG have done a solid job here. You might want to think long and hard about if that germ-killing feature is something you’ll actually need, but even if it isn’t, there’s still a lot about the Tone Free Wireless FN7 that’s worth the $299 price tag. The price hike over its predecessor is justified through great sound and better design, and that’s more than enough for me, even if there are better options at this price point.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Likeable sound with even better EQ options; comfortable design; ability to map touch controls and other forms of customisation; UV case can kill germs.
Lowlights: Fingerprint magnet; lacklustre battery life, even with the case.