The LG Tone Free HBS-FN6 earbuds are true wireless earbuds made for an age in which people are looking for increased protection against pathogens, coming with a UV light-touting charging case that LG says can kill "up to 99.9%" of bacteria on the speaker mesh of the buds.
Whether this works isn’t something we can say for sure without access to a lab, but the thought of not needing to regularly disinfect our earbuds is certainly an attractive prospect – and as any music aficionado knows, ear infections that make wearing earbuds or headphones uncomfortable aren't much fun.
Unfortunately, this is one of the few noteworthy features the LG Tone Free have to offer, alongside good connectivity courtesy of Bluetooth 5.
The design of these wireless earbuds is pretty unassuming, taking an aesthetic cue from the AirPods Pro – though they don’t offer the noise-cancelling smarts of Apple’s earbuds. They’re lightweight and comfortable to wear, and a choice of silicone eartips plus IPX4 water resistance rating makes them suitable for use while working out.
In truth, however, the audio quality offered by the LG Tone Free buds isn’t very good at all – trebles sound harsh and distorted, while the bass manages to be both underwhelming and muddy at the same time.
Their only saving grace here is that they handle mid frequencies fairly well (think pianos, vocals, and guitars), especially in simpler musical arrangements. However, once you give them anything much more complicated than a solo guitar and voice to deal with the soundstage becomes a muddled mess.
We’d expect more than that for the price you're paying – even if they can kill the bugs that hope to infect your ears.
LG Tone Free HBS-FN6 price and release date
- Launched January 2020
- $150 / £130 / AU$280
The LG Tone Free HBS-FN6 were first announced at CES 2020 in January, and went on sale shortly after. They cost $149.99 / £129.99 / AU$279 – though discounts are sometimes available – putting them at the lower end of the true wireless price scale.
If you can live without the bacteria-eliminating UV light charging case, the HBS-FN4 are a cheaper alternative, coming in at $99 / £79 (about AU$140).
- Lightweight design
- IPX4 water resistance
- UV light charging case
Coming in black and white, the LG Tone Free buds look pretty similar to the Apple AirPods Pro, with protruding ear stems and silicone eartips – although they don’t offer the noise cancellation that you’ll get with Apple’s earbuds.
The buds themselves are slick and lightweight, with a glossy finish on the housings and a matte finish on the touch-sensitive ear stems. You get a choice of three sizes of eartip in the box, and they feel very comfortable to wear, with a secure fit that makes them suitable for using while out and about.
The earbuds also come with an IPX4 water resistance rating, which means you can use them while working out without worrying that a little sweat or rain will damage them – you definitely can’t take them swimming though (for that, we’d recommend checking out the best waterproof headphones of 2020).
The touch-sensitive controls are housed at the very top of the ear stems; you can use these to play / pause your music, adjust the volume, answer phone calls, and activate Ambient Sound mode, which allows some environmental noise to pass through the buds – it's a handy feature if you need to quickly tune into your surroundings.
We found that the controls are a little finicky, and you do have to be very deliberate in the way you press them, lest your taps be misinterpreted by the buds.
The charging case has a round, featherlight design and flip-top lid, and it’s definitely among the smaller charging cases we’ve tested, which means you can easily slip it into your pocket when not in use – and thanks to its wireless capabilities you can charge it up on a wireless charging mat.
On the front of the charging case is a small LED that gives you an indication of your remaining battery life, while a USB-C charging port can be found on the back.
As mentioned, LG says the charging case is capable of killing 99.9% of bacteria on the speaker mesh of the earbuds. When you place the earbuds inside the case it blasts them with UV light, sanitizing them for the next time you use them – the charging case does need to be connected to the USB-C power cable in order for this to work.
It’s a bit gimmicky – and LG doesn’t say whether the UV light is also capable of killing viruses, which in hindsight, may have be more useful during the current Covid-19 pandemic – but we can see how this feature may be reassuring to those who frequently share their earbuds with others.
We’ve certainly never heard of anyone becoming sick from bacteria on their earbuds, but what’s the harm in taking extra precautions?
- Muddled soundstage
- Harsh trebles
- Sibilance in high frequencies
We first tried the LG Tone Free HBS-FN6 earbuds by listening to Crystal Castles’ Not In Love, and the sparkling synth ostinatos cut through the mix with clarity as Robert Smith’s distinctive vocal commanded the track; however, the rest of the instrumentation suffered from a muddied sound that made it difficult to pick out the different instruments.
Experimenting with the equalizer does yield some better results when using the Natural preset, but the bass frequencies tend to overpower the rest of the soundstage, while the trebles sometimes sound a little sibilant, with an annoying hiss when the volume picks up.
The LG Free Tones fare better with less complex tracks; in Drunk Kid Catholic by Bright Eyes, the piano sounded clear and bright, while whining guitar lines wrapped fugue-like around Connor Oberst’s angsty vocal. There was still that irritating sibilance in the high-frequency percussion, though, which detracted from the otherwise well-balanced mids.
It seems these earbuds sound best when playing clean pop music. In Kimbra’s Cameo Lover, the bass initially sounded tight and controlled, though it did begin to bleed into the other frequencies as the chorus picked up. The sparser verses with harmonized backing vocals sounded pretty good – but as more instruments are introduced, the soundstage became confused, with a lack of clarity across the board.
Putting our theory to the test, we tried the buds out on Fleet Foxes’ Oliver James – a song that relies purely on Robin Pecknold’s resonant a capella vocal – and we found that the LG Free Tones sounded far clearer and more detailed, although that hissing quality was still there.
Battery life and connectivity
- 18-hour battery life
- Bluetooth 5
- Easy to pair
The LG Tone Free earbuds offer a six-hour battery life, with an additional 12 hours contained within the wireless charging case; a quick five-minute charge will give you an hour of juice if you’re in a hurry, too.
That battery life is fairly underwhelming. While the buds themselves are longer-lasting than the likes of the Apple AirPods, the 18-hour total is significantly lower than you get from many of the best true wireless buds available today.
We found that pairing the LG Tone Frees with our Nokia 7.2 was absolutely seamless, and that’s thanks to Bluetooth 5 connectivity. We didn’t experience any annoying connection dropouts while we were using them, and once you’ve paired them initially, they’ll automatically connect with your phone when you place them in your ears.
Should I buy the LG Tone Free HBS-FN6?
Buy them if...
You’re concerned about bacteria on your buds
The charging case that comes with the LG Tone Free reportedly kills up to 99.9% of the bacteria that live on the speaker mesh of your earbuds with clever UV light technology.
You want seamless connectivity
The LG Tone Free are a dream to pair with your smartphone or tablet, thanks to Bluetooth 5 connectivity.
Don't buy them if...
You’re looking for good sound quality
Unfortunately, the sound provided by the LG Tone Free is underwhelming.
You want active noise cancellation
They may look like the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro, but you won’t find any ANC smarts here.
- The best true wireless earbuds of 2020