TECH

LG Tone Free FP9 review: true wireless headphones that also work in mini-jack

Editor's rating: 4 out of 5

User experience

The Tone Free FP9s offer a complete and very pleasant user experience. They are easily controllable using very responsive touch sensors that easily fall within reach. It is thus possible to execute all essential commands on the fly, such as managing reading, volume, listening mode or navigating between tracks, with a simple gesture.

Each action is accompanied by an audible click and / or a tone to identify which action is being performed (a voice notification system would have been nice).

Each action is accompanied by an audible click and / or a tone to identify which action is being performed (a voice notification system would have been nice).

All of these controls can be changed via the companion LG Tone app, available on Android and iOS. The application is entirely translated into French, perfectly stable and anything but stingy in parameters. Therefore, we find within this app different settings for sound rendering (8-band equalizer, presets, etc.), the choice of the active noise reduction level or the activation of some customization options.

The earphones have presence detectors that allow you to pause the audio transmission when removed from the ears or to switch to monaural when wearing only one earphone.

The earphones have presence detectors that allow you to pause the audio transmission when removed from the ears or to switch to monaural when wearing only one earphone.

As for connectivity, the Tone Free FP9s have Bluetooth 5.2 and are compatible with SBC and AAC codecs. They do not offer the possibility of multipoint connection, but do support quick pairing with Android terminals and PCs running Windows 10. On iOS, the headphones are divided into two devices: LG-TONE-FP9 and LG-TONE-FP9_LE. You must be connected to the former to stream music and to the latter to access the application. We knew simpler, especially that sometimes the headphones automatically connect only to the LG-TONE-FP9_LE. We also experienced some connection drops, even when the phone was on the table, with no obstructions between the headset and the phone itself.

The most interesting feature of these Tone Free FP9s is on the side of their case. You can turn it into a Bluetooth relay to make the headphones compatible with any media that has a mini-jack output, such as airplane seats or some treadmills. In this configuration, the commands remain accessible but the functions relating to calls or access to the application are no longer available.

Editor's rating: 3 out of 5

Audio

As usual on its audio products, LG has partnered with Meridian to develop the sonic signature of its Tone Free FP9. They thus have access to five pre-recorded spatialization profiles and two profiles called “custom” that allow the user to choose their own equalization mode. Without playing with the equalizer, these “custom” modes give pride of place to the low and low mids at the expense of the high mids and mids. The result is too muffled, almost muffled, and lacking in sharpness and liveliness. By acting on the eight bands of the equalizer it is possible to obtain a much more pleasant rendering, but this without taking into account the main concern of these “custom” profiles. The output sound volume is very low (about -15 dB SPL compared to the pre-recorded profiles) which makes them of little use, especially in noisy environments.

Frequency response measurement (normalized to 94 dB SPL at 1 kHz).  With active noise reduction and active bass boost preset (purple), without active noise reduction and active bass boost preset (black), without active noise reduction and without equalization (orange).

Frequency response measurement (normalized to 94 dB SPL at 1 kHz). With active noise reduction and active bass boost preset (purple), without active noise reduction and active bass boost preset (black), without active noise reduction and without equalization (orange).

We will therefore focus in more detail on the Bass Boost profile, the one on which the Tone Free FP9s are set when they go out of the way (the Treble Boost profile puts the mids too far forward to be usable and the other profiles rely too much on spatialization). In Bass Boost mode, therefore, the Tone Free FP9s may offer more pleasing sound reproduction, but they are not without flaws, with notably a noticeable emphasis on extreme bass and mid-highs. Excessive extreme bass can sometimes make some kick drum hits or some very bass synth pads too deafening, while extremely heavy songs can even quickly become tiresome. This behavior is accentuated by a cruel lack of precision in the bass, which gives certain instruments that arbitrate in this register a dripping, slightly overflowing appearance in the higher frequencies. This extreme bass highlighting is further accentuated when noise reduction is activated. The result is slightly more deafening sound reproduction, but much lower than the frequency response curve would suggest.

Measurement of membrane reactivity: square waves at 50 Hz.

Measurement of membrane reactivity: square waves at 50 Hz.

The other problem encountered by these FP9 Tone Free is the pronounced highlighting of the high mids. This behavior lends a slightly pizzicato character to certain instruments such as overdriven guitars and horns, or a snappy look on snare hits. The voice also sounds a little more nasal than it should be. Nothing bad, however, in the latter case, since the voices remain well reproduced and perfectly intelligible.

Measurement of membrane reactivity: square waves at 500 Hz.

Measurement of membrane reactivity: square waves at 500 Hz.

However, the Tone Free FP9s remain faithful in their tone reproduction. Bass mids and mids are also reproduced with precision, as evidenced by the membrane reactivity measurement at 500 Hz. The highs are also relatively accurate, with only a few minor hiss issues to complain. The extreme highs are a bit too reserved, which is felt on the rendering of the cymbals in particular and on some room effects that are a bit too discreet. The Tone Free FP9s also have nice dynamic range and commendable stereo width. The depth of the soundstage is wide enough, but it remains too frontal to appreciate all the room effects as it should.

Measurement of harmonic distortion (normalized to 94 dB SPL at 1 kHz).

Measurement of harmonic distortion (normalized to 94 dB SPL at 1 kHz).

Editor's rating: 2 out of 5

Active noise reduction

The Tone Free FP9s don’t particularly shine with their active noise reduction. Indeed, it is ineffective on some key frequency ranges, particularly the mediums.

Insulation measurement: reference noise (black), passive insulation (gray), active noise reduction “High” mode, ambient sound “conversation mode” (orange).

Insulation measurement: reference noise (black), passive insulation (gray), active noise reduction “High” mode, ambient sound “conversation mode” (orange).

In its loudest mode, the active noise reduction of these Tone Free FP9s struggles to disguise mediums and more particularly human voices. Therefore, you won’t miss any conversations around you, which can quickly be problematic if you want to isolate yourself in a noisy open space or crowded subway train. Furthermore, the Tone Free FP9s offer mediocre passive isolation with very little attenuation of the high mids – and therefore some components of the human voice – or the screech of a train on the tracks. However, LG’s earphones do a great job of reducing low-pitched sounds like the rolling of a train or the roar of engines. However, Active Noise Reduction is not very effective on extreme bass, which can cause unpleasant ringing in the ears.

As for how to listen to the surrounding sounds, we advise you to use the “Conversation Mode” which is much more natural than the classic listening mode: the latter greatly reduces the low mids to be useful.

Highlights

  • Convenient transportation.

  • Possibility to use the box as a Bluetooth relay.

  • Low latency with active game mode.

  • Good autonomy.

Weaknesses

  • Lack of control over low frequencies.

  • Not very usable basic sound signature due to low dynamics and very low output volume.

  • Ineffective noise reduction on extreme bass and human voices.

Conclusion

we tested we liked it
Global brand

Editor's rating: 4 out of 5

How does the evaluation work?

With these Tone Free FP9, LG signs decent true wireless headphones with pleasant comfort and practical Bluetooth passthrough functionality. Meridian’s contribution is also felt in the sound processing and spatialization profiles, which for some of them are quite convincing. However, we remain dissatisfied as the sonic signature of these Tone Free FP9s deserved a little more attention, especially in the low frequencies. The same goes for the effectiveness of active noise reduction, which is well below what could be hoped for.

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