Anirudh RegidiFeb 17, 2021 12:53:07 IST
If I had Rs 20,000 to spend on wireless earbuds, I could get…
… the absolute best ANC (active noise-cancelling) tech and superlative audio, excellent battery life and save six grand, by paying for a Sony WF-1000XM3.
… the modern, compact, beautifully crafted Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro with positional audio, excellent ANC and great battery life.
… the AirPods Pro with its unmatched comfort, superb ANC, positional audio and ability to seamlessly integrate with Apple devices.
… the LG HBS-FN7 with bass-less audio, sibilant highs, passable ANC, janky Bluetooth and a touch input panel I disabled because it was too inconvenient.
I’m confused as well
LG’s pitch is that the LG HBS-FN7 are ‘India’s first 99.9 percent bacteria-free earbuds.’ First, thank you, LG, for alerting my borderline germaphobe brain to an issue that two decades of music-listening never clued me into.
Secondly, and more importantly, who the hell cares?
If I’m hedonistic enough to want to spend Rs 20,000 on TWS earbuds, that means I’m willing to pay a premium for nothing more than the sheer convenience of living a cable-free life. I want something that sounds good, something with good ANC, something that feels special.
If I were so worried about germs that I’d even consider investing in UV-based germ-killing earbuds, wouldn’t I just ditch the idea of earbuds altogether rather than take even that 0.1 percent risk of UV-resistant bacteria (LG only claims 99.9 percent effectiveness, you see) entering my ears?
And anyway, it’s not even like these LG HBSomethings sound good.
Bacteria-killing potential aside, LG makes a couple of tall claims about the FN7’s audio prowess. These include ‘roaring bass’ and ‘clear and spatial sound.’
There is some bass, although it’s far from what anyone would consider ‘roaring’, and while the sound is indeed ‘clear’ and ‘spatial’, the former is a result of having limited bass, and the latter applies only if you confuse ‘spatial’ with stereo separation. To put it another way, my Rs 2,000 OnePlus Buds sound better.
Movies are not immersive, and music sounds flat. Unlike Samsung’s and Apple’s Pro earbuds that cost the same, there are no accelerometers and thus, no 3D positional audio effects.
LG says that Meridian audio, a 30-year-old audio company with a history of building great products, tuned the audio. I’ve never tried out anything from Meridian, and judging by the FN7, they either think too highly of themselves, or LG didn’t give them much to work with. I’m leaning towards the latter.
ANC that (sort of) works
I’ll never forget the hush that descended on the room when I first tried the AirPods Pro. It felt like I was entering another (quieter) world where nothing would get in between me and my music.
With the LG Tone Free, I wasn’t even sure if the ANC was switched on.
With the AirPods Pro, Sony XM3 and every other decent ANC headset/TWS set I’ve tried, ambient audio essentially vanishes, and all other sounds are generally muted. With the LG Tone Free, only low bass vanishes and everything else is only slightly muted. While I couldn’t hear the rumble of the kitchen’s chimney, I could hear the rattle of the mechanism. While I couldn’t hear the whirr of the ceiling fan, I could hear its blades chopping through the air. Conversations with other people could happen at a normal volume without the need for turning on transparency mode.
At first, I thought it was the fit, but I tried different ear tips and even tried pressing the set into my ears, but ANC quality never changed.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t mind this level of ANC. It cuts out enough background noise to be worthwhile. It’s just that for Rs 20,000, I expect ANC that’s comparable with the best.
Everything else is just meh
The connectivity experience is about as janky as you can expect from a barebones Bluetooth device. There is no instant pairing or easy switching between devices. Signal quality isn’t great, and the earbuds randomly fall out of sync with each other. There is enough lag (when used with an iPhone), to make gaming a secondary concern. On several occasions, audio would simply cut out while watching a movie or listening to music.
Then there’s touch input. The tops of the buds are touch-sensitive, and you can perform various actions by tapping, double-tapping or triple-tapping the left and right buds. Associated actions can be edited in the LG Tone Free app.
It’s a good enough idea in theory but just frustrating in practice. I’d keep pausing and playing audio every time I adjusted an earbud, and there were occasions when I turned on ambient sound mode just by pulling the earbud out of my ear and holding it. After a couple of days of this nonsense, I got so frustrated that I disabled touch input altogether via LG’s app.
The bacteria-killing UV light doesn’t turn on unless the lid is closed, and even then, only lights up when the case is charging (via USB-C, thankfully). This is good as a safety feature because UV light can be harmful to us. I don’t know if the feature works and whether 99.9 percent of the bacteria are indeed being killed, but I’m happy to take LG’s word for it in this instance.
At least the fit is comfortable
The only thing I love about the Tone Free is its fit. The FN7 is made of plastic and is quite light, almost to the point of feeling cheap. That said, it fits snugly in my ears, and because it weighs next to nothing — and because ANC barely works — I sometimes forgot about the set in my ears. It also seems quite stable and refuses to fall out when jogging.
The case is quite slim and pocketable. The earbuds lay flat and fit snugly inside. They’re also aligned with magnets and are not difficult to place. A pair of blue LEDs light up the interior and look pretty cool.
Another thing I like is the battery life. The earbuds last about 7 hours, and the case lasted 18 hours.
Verdict: It’s just not good enough
I have close relatives who avoid all kinds of earbuds because they suffer from ear infections, and I was thus initially intrigued by LG’s idea. While I’m sure the sanitisation part works, neither I nor said affected relatives were interested once we caught wind of the Rs 20,000 price tag.
You can pick up a UV sanitiser box online for under Rs 2,000. That box will sanitise your earbuds, your phone, your laptop, your shoes and anything else that will fit inside. If you’re paranoid enough about germs to consider buying the FN7, that box is a far cheaper option, and you could buy any TWS set you want.
In fact, it is cheaper to buy a Sony WF-1000XM3 — with class-leading ANC and fantastic audio quality — along with a UV sanitiser box than it is to buy the LG Tone Free HSB-FN7.
The FN7 simply makes no sense at any level.