LG has partnered with Meridian Audio for several years and incorporated the Meridian technology in many of LG products. The latest LG Tone Free FP9 (TONE-FP9) is the top-of-the-range true wireless earbuds from LG Electronics packed with all the audio features in the market. It retails for S$298 in Singapore and if you read this review in detail, you will uncover a lot of smart features which makes the FP9 one of the most user-friendly earbuds in the market.
Here are 6 reasons why the LG Tone FP9 makes a great true wireless earbuds for everyone:
- It is comfortable to wear for long hours.
- It kills bacteria in the ear tips.
- It makes music sound out-of-the-head through several audio profiles for immersive music listening.
- It reads incoming messages.
- It plugs to any device with 3.5mm output to listen wirelessly.
- It comes with intuitive features.
Features of LG Tone FP9
- ANC and Ambient Sound modes
- Meridian EQ Presets
- Unique UVnano kills germs while charging
- Unique Built-in Bluetooth Transmitter in the Charging Case (Plug and Wireless Mode)
- Unique Whispering Mode
- Unique Voice Alert (read out messages)
- Supports Game Mode (low latency)
- Supports Windows Swift Pair and Google Fast Pair
- IPX4 Water Protection
LG Tone FP9 Unique Feature #1 – UVnano
You can see from above list that there are several features that are not found in any other wireless earbuds. UVnano is unique to LG and several of their previous true wireless earbuds already come with this bacteria-killing feature. The UVnano will only be activated when the charging case is plugged to the wall socket for charging (the round LED on the charging case turns blue). The blue light is not the UVC light, it only lights up briefly for aesthetics.
LG Tone FP9 Unique Feature #2 – Bluetooth Transmitter
What attracts me to the FP9 is the Bluetooth Transmitter (Plug and Wireless) feature, which is not common (the other earbuds with this feature is the Bowers & Wilkins PI7). I had always wondered how one can convert a wireless earbuds into a wired version. LG did a rather smart workaround by tethering the earbuds to the charging case while plugging the case via a USB-C cable converter to a 3.5mm connector. With the FP9, you can listen to wireless audio on any device as long as it has a 3.5mm AUX Line-Out connector.
To activate it, just flip the switch on the side of the charging case. It takes about 20 seconds to switch between the existing paired device (e.g. smartphone) and the charging case. Note also that the EQ Sound Profile is based on last set from the smartphone app. So you should select your preferred EQ from the smartphone before switching over to “Plug and Wireless” connection.
Based on my listening test, the Plug and Wireless audio quality is slightly inferior to the direct Bluetooth connection. It sounds slightly more compressed and I can hear some distortion at higher frequencies. This is likely because it prioritises connection stability over audio quality.
LG Tone FP9 Unique Feature #3 – Whispering Mode
Whispering Mode is other feature which I have actually thought of during a separate product review – to hold and speak into the earbud like a mic. It’s a hack many people uses but LG made it into a feature which is really cool. Not only can you use this in noisy places, this is potentially a feature that you can use in quiet places too. You can actually leave this option enabled all the time, as it will only be activated when you remove the right earbud. FP9 will turn on Whispering Mode when it detects that you are not wearing the earbud. Pretty smart.
LG Tone FP9 Unique Feature #4 – Voice Alert
Voice Alert is another cool feature that I recommend enabling. You can pick the smartphone apps to read out incoming notifications. Granted, the text-to-speech conversion does not sound natural, but it’s really useful and this will encourage me to wear the earbuds for long hours. They feel comfortable to wear thanks to the contouring design and soft ear tips that rests on the ear concha instead of exerting in-canal pressure to hold them. The wear experience is similar to the AirPods Pro.
ANC and Ambient Sound Modes
Another strong reason that I can keep the FP9 in my ears is the Ambient Sound mode, which lets me listen to sounds around me hence my ears do not feel blocked. There are 2 settings for Ambient Sound – Listening Mode and Conversation Mode. The Listening Mode sounds more natural while the Conversation Mode is more amplified in the lower treble to boost the vocal frequency range. Also in Conversation mode, the music volume is reduced slightly and the bass is less boomy.
The ANC also comes with 2 levels. At High Level, the ANC is more aggressive but you end up hearing a bit more high pitched sounds because the lower pitch sounds are removed. At Low Level, the ANC is less intense. In both cases, the ANC could not achieve the performance as the Sony WF-1000XM4 nor the Technics AZ60 in removing upper frequencies but the noise level is reduced naturally to let me listen to my music clearly.
Review Audio Quality: 5 Profiles To Choose From
The LG Tone FP9 has 5 distinct audio profiles, and this is different from other earbuds where only the EQ is applied to sound different.
Bass Boost and Treble Boost are LG tuned audio profiles while the remaining three are HSP (Headphone Spatial Processing), by Meridian. User can apply custom EQ but they sound feeble without the audio processing engine tweaks. I find no pleasure using the custom EQ and I would simply use one of the 5 modes.
After spending some time trying out all the 5 audio profiles, I find that each of them has their advantages and drawbacks, and I highly recommend that you play around to appreciate Meridian audio processing technologies. Let me describe my observation below:
- Natural: Tuned by Meridian, this mode positions the audio source at eye level from the front at 2-3 feet away to provide an out-of-head listening experience. In this mode, the sound is neutral, the bass is flat, the treble does not sound bright and pushy. I find it sounds more natural than Creative Super X-Fi, without the room echo effect.
- Immersive: the imaging is now slightly wider with instruments positioned to the side and closer towards the ears. The sounds are natural and open, without the sparkle associated with in-ears. This is the same observation I had when reviewing the Audeze Mobius and HyperX Cloud Orbit S.
- 3D Sound Stage: the bass is boosted and beefed, positioned across the floor. It offers movie-like rumble effects but the bass-slapping does not sound natural. The vocals are shifted towards the eye level and further away, like on a stage. Instrumental accompaniments are spread wide. This mode really mimics a small live concert hall with proper acoustics without the awful reverbs. Some albums I listened to sound really effective, for instance, Hoff Ensemble “Quiet Winter Night”.
- Treble Boost: this is tuned by LG without any HSP effect and I consider this as my default listening mode with emphasis on vocal space and clarity. Even so, the treble is still not as sparkly and spatial as Technics AZ60, nor is the bass as tight. When playing fast tracks like Hiromi “Player”, the FP9 couldn’t quite keep up compared to the AZ60. But the midrange is fuller on the FP9.
- Bass Boost: this is LG Tone FP9 default, out of the box. Tuning is similar to “Treble Boost”, with the treble less sparkling while the bass is slightly more emphasized but not overly heavy (the bass on 3D Sound Stage mode is the heaviest).
Since there are so many audio profiles, I cannot compare against other earbuds, but I feel that the “Treble Boost” is closest to my default, so I have used that as my benchmark. As mentioned above and to elaborate further, the FP9 offers great balance with the “Treble Boost” mode, where the bass is not too offensively strong and the treble has good sizzle. It might sound a tad less transparent compared to Sennheiser CX Plus and cluttered but they do not sound dark nor warm. It simply lacks that extra shine but the overall tonality is cohesive and inoffensive. Take Daft Punk “Get Lucky”, the drums are slightly overpowered, the instrumentation crowded, the bass nicely booming.
Each of the modes have their unique tuning and all of them are very usable depending on the music and your mood. What I like is that all of the Meridian modes do not tune the EQ to suit certain genres. All the modes offer the listener a different perspective of the same song, so essentially you are paying one price for five different sounding earbuds!
Mic Quality for Voice Calls
The LG Tone FP9 mic quality is loud, rounded, and with force when using indoors. The background noise cancelling is quite aggressive, which means when you are not talking, the other party cannot hear any noises in the room. Using it for telecommuting apps like MS TEAMS, the other party will hear you loudly. Under windy conditions, the mic still manages to pick up the voice but with some misses here and there. With the Whispering Mode – holding the right earbud near the mouth – the voice quality improves with slightly brighter tone.
Under outdoor noisy conditions, there is a struggle for FP9 to pick the voice over the noise. However, using the Whisper Mode improves the pick up tremendously and voice clarity is much better.
What I like is the ability to switch on ANC and Ambient Sound during calls, allowing me to choose which mode to use.
The LG Tone-FP9 delivers 10 hours of listening time on the earbuds without ANC, or 6 hours with ANC. The charging case adds another 14 hours of play time. When the earbuds are docked with the charging case opened, the earbuds connect to the smartphone and the battery percentage for the case will appear on the app.
Outstanding Intuitive Experience
True wireless earbuds technology have matured so much that it can cost less than S$30 for one. What distinguishes one product from another is not just product design or brand, but also user experience. The LG Tone FP9 is very intuitive to use for the following reasons:
- Easy to pair with Android and Windows devices using Fast Pair and Swift Pair. For manual pairing, hold the touch controls on either earbuds for 3-5 seconds.
- When you tap the touchpad (easily felt with a tiny bump), you will hear a “click” tone. This gives you absolute assurance that you have triggered an action. This helps me a lot to determine whether I should tap again to trigger the right combo (tap once to play-pause, tap twice to change volume, tap 3 times to change tracks).
- The audio will switch from stereo to mono when one of the earbuds is removed from the ears.
- You can control playback and volume on the touchpad, as well as customising the touch controls from the smartphone app
- Option to lock the touchpad from the smartphone app, which is useful to prevent user from triggering any unnecessary actions remotely.
- Wear detection (proximity) sensor on the earbuds determines whether you are wearing the earbuds, and will turn off functions. For instance:
- When Ambient Sound is enabled, it will be turned off when one of the earbuds is removed from the ears.
- The touchpad will be disabled so that you do not accidentally trigger actions. when holding the earbud.
- The mic will be turned off when the earbud is removed from the ears, unless Whispering Mode is enabled, in that case, only the right earbud mic will be enabled.
- Music playback auto-pauses when the earbud is removed from the ears. This feature can be disabled.
Verdict: More Features Than I Expect
The LG TONE Free FP9 packs a surprising load of intuitive features with excellent user experience. The multiple EQ profiles provide different listening perspectives which I enjoy toggling when going through my music catalog. The compact case makes it easy to carry around. The earbuds fit comfortably in my ears and I have no qualms wearing it for hours with Ambient Sound On. Every tap on the touchpad sends a click tone so I know exactly how many more taps to go to trigger the desired action. Activating Voice Alert let me hear incoming notifications without touching the phone. Removing the right earbud and talk into it during phone calls guarantee the other caller can hear me loud and clear.
I requested LG for a review of the FP9 but did not expect to uncover so many benefits from it, and now I am simply sold. It might not deliver audiophile quality sound, but its usability and price beats the competition. The LG TONE Free FP9 is my favourite true wireless earbuds at the start of 2022.
Where To Buy LG Tone Free FP9 in Singapore
The LG Tone Free FP9 retails at S$298 and is available from Courts, Gain City, Shopee, Lazada, KrisShop, as well as authorised retailers and distributors – Audio House, Best Denki, Challenger, ConnectIT, Giant, Goh Joo Hin, Hao Mart, Harvey Norman, Mega Discount Store, NTUC, Parisilk, Popular, and Stereo Electronics.