LG ToneFree FP9 Review: Comfortable UV-Cleansing Earbud
LG’s lineup of tonfree True Wireless earphones has Meridian sound technology, and the ones we’ve reviewed before must have fascinated us. We now have LG’s latest top-of-the-line TWS earphones called the LG ToneFree FP9. While the naming scheme can certainly use some work, these earbuds look impressive on paper. LG usually has one or two strategies to differentiate their earbuds from competitors. According to LG, the earphones are equipped with UV cleansing technology that releases bacteria from the earbuds while the case is in charge. This feature was also present in previous LG TWS earbuds such as the LG ToneFree FN7, which we reviewed earlier. Another interesting feature is the ability to double the charging case’s capacity as a wireless transmitter, allowing users to listen to non-Bluetooth devices wirelessly. But are these features enough to justify the Rs 13,990 price tag and how do these buds work? Find out.
LG Tonfree FP9: Made and comfortable
To see the charging case of LG ToneFree FP9 with a lot of FN7 which we reviewed last year. It has a round charging case with a small footprint that will easily fit in a pocket or handbag. The earphones are available in Charcoal Black and Pearl White color options and we got the next one for review. The matte finish of the case is pleasant to the touch and avoids fingerprints. The case is light weight and easy to open with one hand. The magnets holding the buds inside the case, however, are not very strong and if left unchecked they can get out of the case.
When you open the case, it turns blue, probably to drive UV cleansing capabilities at home but the light is for aesthetic purposes only and the actual cleansing occurs when the case is closed and charged. The case has an LED indicator light for charging status and another for UVnano Tech. There is a toggle on the left and a USB-C port on the back to switch to wireless transmitter mode.
Truth be told, Bud is simple to look at and a little humble. The back of the stem has a slight tinge but this is the only aesthetic feature. At the top of the stem are touch panels that work very well with some typography. LG has provided medical-grade eargel or ear tips made from non-toxic, hypoallergenic silicone. The buds are extremely light and comfortable to wear, even for long periods of time. Even when you are walking or jogging, they just slip out of your ears, which is impressive. Combined with the IPX4 rating, it makes these earphones usable even when exercising.
LG Tonfree FP9: Features
Tonfree FP9 comes with many features that we have rarely seen in other earbuds. Let’s first talk about its two most unique features. Starting with UVNano technology. The FP9 case uses UV light to automatically clean your earbuds. According to LG, it reduces inner-ear mesh bacteria by up to 99.9% within 5 minutes of charging. We’ve tested FN7 with the same feature before and it’s nice to see the company continue to bring this feature to their new devices as well. LG has included this feature to reduce the risk of infection of the inner ear when using TWS earbuds.
Although UV cleansing is the only unique, not standout feature. The FP9’s charging case doubles as a wireless dongle or transmitter that allows the use of earbuds with devices that are not Bluetooth. There is a toggle on the left side of the case that needs to be turned on to use this feature Then, using the provided USB-C to Aux cable, the charging case can be plugged into any device with a 3.5mm input such as a gaming console or an in-flight entertainment system. The user can then simply remove the earbuds from the case and listen to the media wirelessly without using Bluetooth. This is a very innovative and unique feature, and during our testing, the feature worked well Although there are some audio delays and the volume is not as high as usual.
The earphones come with active noise cancellation and ambient mode support. While not as effective as competitors such as the ANC, Sony WF-1000XM4 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, it is quite decent to dismiss ambient noise. It deals with constant noise like the buzz of an AC or a car engine, but it does not suppress the human voice well. Ambient sound mode works pretty well and sounds natural enough, but not performance pathbreaking.
Earbuds come with app support. They use a tone free app that gives users access to lots of features and customizations. The app has 5 EQ presets – Immersive, Natural, Bus Boost, Treble Boost and 3D Sound Stage. Immersive and Natural was the most balanced EQ preset where Immersive has a wide sound stage. 3D Sound Stage uses Meridian’s skills to up-mix media locally and expand the sound stage. You can even customize the EQ to your liking, but for some reason, the volume levels drop significantly when using a custom EQ. We hope LG fixes this in a software update.
Users can also toggle between sound-cancellation modes. You can choose between low or high ANC, turn off ANC completely, or enable ambient mode. In ambient mode, you can choose between listening mode and conversation mode, and the latter allows more noise than before. Additionally, users can customize the touchpad controls. There’s also volume control, something that a surprising number of TWS earphones don’t have. You can also toggle voice alerts for notifications, use the My Earbud feature to locate a lost earbud in the app, auto-pause / play toggle, and more. The automatic pause / play feature works well, it’s reliable enough that we feel comfortable sacrificing pause / play control for volume control. Other features include IPX4 sweat and water resistance and mono earbud use.
LG Tonfree FP9: Performance
Like previous tonfree earphones, LG has again partnered with Meridian, a British manufacturer of high-quality audio components and systems for the FP9. The earphones are equipped with an 8mm driver, an improvement over LG’s previous flagship TWS – ToneFree FN7’s 6mm driver. You get SBC and AAC audio codec support, which is good for the most part, but we ourselves were expecting some aptX or LDAC action for better wireless fidelity. Meridian-tuned audio and advanced drivers equate to a more immersive and refined sonic experience than we experienced on the FN7.
Earbuds provide competing detail and natural sound by very few people in the consumer TWS segment. Meridian’s skill in the surrounding sound really shows with these earbuds. It’s one of the few in-ear headphones with a very immersive and engaging sound stage that we usually only experience with over-the-year or on-year headphones.
We also used our special tools to find the word signatures of these earphones and here is what we found. We tested the earphones using Immersive and Natural EQ presets, for the most part, since they are the closest to neutral. Looking at the generated frequency response graph, you can see that there is a huge dip of the base reaction from 130Hz to 250Hz. However, we think it’s intentional on the part of Meridian because it tones the bus’s response here and keeps the details in the middle. Not what OnePlus or even Sony will offer you. You won’t find much of that sting and drive in alloy notes, but what you do find is a clear, detailed presentation.
There are some peaks and dips in the mid frequency response that can have some effect on the details of the vocal and lead instruments. The heights are finely crafted, even better than Sony’s flagship – the Sony WF-1000XM4. Clap and high-hat sound full of detail and mix. Overall, the sound quality is detailed, clear and technical. Bass lovers will not enjoy this sound signature but purists will certainly appreciate it, especially because of the wide soundstage which is rare in TWS earphones. The imaging platform is also excellent and you can accurately position the instrument and vocals in the mix. These earphones will work great for those who enjoy classical and rock music.
LG ToneFree FP9: Battery Life
FP9’s battery life is nothing like writing at home. Earbuds have a wireless playback time of 6 hours with ANC turned on, which is decent, but in total, you can get only 15 hours of total playback time, including the charging case, which is optimally average. Basically this means that the charging case provides only a complete extra charge with some extra juice.
If you turn off the ANC even though you get 10 hours of play time on the earbud, which is impressive. However, the total battery life without ANC is 24 hours, which is again uncomfortable. So, you have to charge the case more often than competitors like Sony WF-1000XM4.
In our experiments, with the ANC turned on and the volume level set at 60 percent, the earbuds lasted a little over 5 hours and the case charged more than one and a half. Earbuds come with fast charging where 5 minutes of charging provides one hour of playback. Although there is no Kiwi wireless charging support, which is disappointing at this price.
LG ToneFree FP9: Judgment
The LG ToneFree FP9 is easily distinguished in the sea of TWS offers on the market due to features like UV cleansing, case doubling as a wireless transmitter and whispering mode. These are one of the most exciting pairs of truly wireless earphones we have tested and if you are a technology enthusiast you may be able to spend hours exploring the various features of the buds. Once you get tired of exploring, you have the perfect pair of TWS earphones with a great companion app packed with excellent fit, immersive sound quality, decent battery life and customization options. The microphone, however, can use some work and the ANC is not the best of our experience at this price, but overall it is a solid package like no other TWS before you. While the Sony WF-1000XM4 may be a more refined overall product, using the LG ToneFree FP anyway is definitely more fun.