Collaborations were once relegated to the realm of streetwear and sneakerheads, but today they’re abundant. Enter the LG x Meridian Audio partnership that begets the LG TONE Free FP8 active noise cancelling (ANC) true wireless earphones.
LG has almost always packed extra goodies for audio into its phones, and for some it was one of the last bastions of hope for the headphone jack’s survival on smartphones. In other words, audio is not just a tag-on feature for the company. Meanwhile, Meridian Audio is most recently known for the (kind of controversial) MQA format, but the company has decades of creating upscale audio gear.
When you take all of this into consideration, the TONE Free FP8 has some intriguing credentials. Is it just like every other pair of true wireless earbuds or does it offer something else?
Editor’s note: this LG Tone Free FP8 review was updated on October 28, 2021, to include battery testing results and update scoring accordingly.
Who is the LG TONE Free FP8 for?
- People looking for moderately customizable true wireless earbuds will enjoy playing around with the mobile app.
- Commuters who want an easy-to-use, portable set of earbuds might want to slip the TONE Free FP8 into a pocket.
- People concerned about sanitization can ease their anxieties (a bit) with the UVnano case.
What’s the LG TONE Free FP8 like to use?
The LG TONE Free FP8 has a sort of AirPods Pro silhouette, crossed with the OnePlus Buds Pro with some of the playful jewel sheen of Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. The FP8 looks familiar, but still its own thing. Portability is the main priority, as the buds are quite light, and the case is impressively small and pocketable. Equipped with Google Fast Pair (Android 6.0+) and Swift Pairing (PC), getting connected and listening happens quickly for a Bluetooth product. To pair initially, open the case and press on the left bud until the case light flashes blue. Under subsequent uses, it pairs automatically.
I don’t find the fit especially secure. The LG TONE Free FP8 buds don’t sit deep enough to feel locked in. With that said, the buds feel very comfortable by virtue of not fitting too tightly. You can wear these earbuds on a bus without issue, but you should avoid going for a run despite the IPX4 rating. LG provides three different size silicone ear tips, and markets them as if the hypoallergenic nature is a feature of the FP8. If you suffer from skin sensitivities, know that silicone is already hypoallergenic.
Touch controls on the TONE Free FP8
Each earbud uses touch controls that trigger a satisfying, yet subtle, click sound to indicate the tap was registered. Out of the box, it’s fairly intuitive: one tap to pause/play, two to adjust volume (louder for the right ear and quieter on the left), and three to skip forward. You can change most of these assignments in the app, more on that later.
Like many true wireless earbuds, a poor fit with the FP8 means that sometimes a command will accidentally trigger when you adjust the earbuds to remain in place. That said, the touch controls are not hypersensitive like the Samsung Galaxy Buds series. If this happens often, change the setting in the app so that every command requires at least two taps to minimize mistakes. When intentional, the touch commands work pretty responsively. Meanwhile, auto pause/play in-ear detection generally works with ease.
Does LG’s UVnano case really clean your earbuds?
One of the selling points of the LG TONE Free FP8 is the special charging case. Its UV sanitization eliminates 99.9% of bacteria (apparently independently tested) after five minutes in the case. The caveat here is that it only works on the speaker mesh, and not the whole bud. Additionally, sanitization only works when the case itself is connected to a power source, like charging via USB-C or on a wireless charging pad. If you’re out and about and replace the buds into the case it will only charge.
I have no qualms with making fairly intimate and difficult to clean technology more sanitary, even if it seems gimmicky. If you share, it’s nice to know you won’t be picking up someone else’s ear infection. Having worked in settings where the public shared items like headphones, I welcome such developments. Make no mistake though, you still need to manually clean your buds of debris. Ultimately, the area sanitized by the case is tiny.
There are a few caveats to the FP8 case's sanitization feature.
When you open the case a helpful, pleasantly dim blue “mood light” illuminates to bring some fanfare and function to the experience. Since it’s already there, I wish the light came on when the case is empty. This would help anytime you put the buds away at night. Speaking of putting the LG TONE Free FP8 back in the case, the buds don’t always fit inside perfectly which requires you to nudge them into place. While hardly dire, even cheaper buds have managed to lock in without wiggle room for awhile.
Less unusual, but still informative is the presence of LED charge indicators. Think traffic lights: red means 20% charge or less, yellow means anywhere from 20% to 80%, and green is 80% or more. When plugged in, red is charging and green is charged—pretty basic. The blue indicator light lets you know the case is sanitizing, and blinking means Bluetooth pairing mode is on.
How is the Bluetooth connection?
No matter the operating system, the LG TONE Free FP8 remains connected to a phone well over seven meters. You get the basic AAC and SBC options with the LG TONE Free FP8, which is equipped with Bluetooth 5.2. iPhone users should stick to AAC for best results, while some Android users will notice a more consistent connection using SBC.
The TONE Free app has a specific EQ preset called 3D Sound Stage, which is geared more toward video content. Over AAC and also SBC, using an Android device, I can barely detect any latency with video streaming. If I look for it, I can find some delay, but not enough to affect the viewing experience negatively. However, bothering to make an EQ preset for video really makes me think an even lower latency codec, like aptX Low Latency could have made it better.
The TONE Free app has a TONE Free LAB section with features still in some stage of development. This includes a Game Mode, which offers lower latency at the expense of sound quality. Why not just use a lower latency codec, LG?
How good is the noise cancellation on the LG TONE Free FP8?
You get the options of Noise Cancelling and Ambient Sound. Under each are two levels of intensity to choose from. With ANC you get high and low modes, and in the Ambient Sound setting, you get Listening mode (to hear your environment) and Conversation mode.
High noise cancellation hushes my clothes dryer significantly, though occasionally some drones turn into strange new noises. If you look at the chart, you’ll see that some noises, for example around 400Hz only receive about 10dB of total attenuation, while at about 1000Hz it’s a 35dB attenuation. This means that sounds that span across a number of frequencies can end up getting reduced, but not evenly, leaving you with the occasional weird din. In any case, LG’s inclusion of a low and high setting helps individuals who want just a little bit of silence, but not total isolation.
What’s the battery like?
Five minutes in the case yields an hour of play. Wait an hour to fully charge the FP8, and two hours to fully charge the case. In our testing with ANC on the FP8 lasts 6 hours and 2 minutes, which is basically spot on for what LG claims. This is a pretty impressive and healthy battery life for ANC true wireless earbuds. Meanwhile, the case supplies an additional 15 hours of battery life (with ANC on).
Should you get the TONE Free app?
When you initially pair the LG TONE Free FP8, a pop-up card prompts you to download the app. This removes one extra barrier in streamlining the experience—no app store searches. In the app, there’s a full suite of options. You get thorough instructions on the touch controls, auto play/pause toggle, noise cancelling options (high or low), in addition to Ambient mode, as well as Find my device options, and phone call touch controls. For basic things like updates, you need the app too.
In use, two issues crop up. I choose to keep Find my device off, but every single time I open the TONE Free app, it reminds me to change my settings—Take a hint, LG. Secondly, sometimes the app freezes, necessitating shutting down the app altogether and trying again. This review uses version 1.12.1.
One of the more interesting features in the TONE Free app includes EQ presets and an extra two user-created EQ settings. Unfortunately, you don’t get a visual frequency response graph of the presets, though you get descriptions. For users less familiar with frequency response charts, the descriptions offer some guidance, even if they don’t tell you much. If you create your own preset, the app shows a flat EQ that you may adjust. However, not seeing the presets represented in any visual form means making adjustments requires a little bit of blind guesswork for most folks.
How is the surround sound?
For movies or complicated music recordings, a wide soundstage or surround sound offers a more immersive experience. Put on a podcast, and you may desire a narrow soundstage, so you can focus on the hosts. LG and Meridian Audio supply a single surround sound preset. The 3D Sound Stage EQ has some inter-channel (left to right and right to left) driver crosstalk simulating a true (as in many speakers) surround sound system. I only wish the EQ was adjustable while maintaining the surround sound. Because the bass emphasis of the 3D Sound Stage preset overwhelms other frequencies, it is not super useful.
While Apple and Samsung have versions of this with Spatial Audio and 360 Audio, the OS, device, and streaming-agnostic nature of the FP8 is refreshing. Mind you, it is less technologically impressive, because it doesn’t use anything like Dolby Atmos or head tracking. That said, as a listener using any particular device or service won’t hamstring you. Kudos to LG here for the baby step, let’s just hope this capability gets expanded.
How does the LG TONE Free FP8 sound?
Through testing we discovered the Treble Boost preset most closely mirrors our house frequency response. It sounds good, with little to no auditory masking. The preset almost one-to-one matches through the bass, mids, and lower treble. The sub-bass receives a slight bump between 30-40Hz. In the highs, the EQ receives about a 5dB under-emphasis around 3kHz and again around 10kHz. Generally, this frequency response provides a fairly conservative curve, which means you’ll hear your sound source without issue.
Above is a bonus: because the presets don’t give anyone a strong sense of how LG and Meridian Audio have configured the EQ, we’ll show you what’s what. Remember the cyan curve is the FP8 and the pink is ours.
Highs, mids, lows
With the misnamed Treble Boost preset, the TONE Free FP8 manages to clearly reproduce Brett Anderson’s falsetto in No Tomorrow by Suede. Meanwhile legitimately trebly guitar, which makes up the majority of the song, does not mask the bass or drums.
The TONE Free FP8 effectively reproduces any engineered left-right pans, and yields what some may refer to as a wide soundstage for earphones. It’s easy to detect which guitar is playing. In fact, bass sounds pretty close to exactly the right relative volume, with a good amount of oomph to carry the rhythm section. Owing to the healthy decibel bump in the highs, cymbals and snare sounds cut through too.
Can you use the LG TONE Free FP8 for phone calls?
Equipped with three microphones, the LG TONE Free FP8 definitely works for phone calls. In testing, six different people hear me without issue using the FP8. The voice comes through clearly enough, however, it does not sound especially accurate, capping off treble and bass artificially.
LG TONE Free FP8 microphone demo:
Should you buy the LG TONE Free FP8?
The TONE Free FP8 has so much potential with its comfortable fit and good sound quality. The stable connection and good battery life of the TONE Free FP8 promotes it as a strong candidate for your collection, as does the fast pairing. However, it still ultimately falls short, inspiring a wish list of improvements or features: a fix for software freezes and more surround sound options, among others. I’ll cross my fingers that LG keeps updating the TONE Free app to really bring out its best, because in many ways it’s so close to great.
Aside from the software slowdowns, let’s just agree that instead of a sanitizing gimmick that only works on a few millimeters of each earbud, maybe LG should just make a bud that’s easy to clean. Even still, some shoppers will enjoy how the case can clean the small grille on the earbuds, and if that’s worth it to you, happy listening.
What should you get instead of the LG TONE Free FP8?
If you have a budget and a very specific need, chances are the right product exists. If you own a Samsung device, it still makes sense to buy the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. You can take advantage of Samsung’s proprietary low latency codec and the 360 Sound feature. ANC and isolation are a hair worse than the FP8, but sound quality is a touch better. Plus, you can buy the buds in purple.
To heck with noise cancelling, you say? Try the Jabra Elite 3. With a good mic and aptX support for around $80 USD, the comfortable IP55 rated TWS buds suit Android devices very well. Interestingly, Jabra dropped the AAC codec support, leaving Apple users to look elsewhere.
If value is what you prize the most, consider the outlier TCL MOVEAUDIO S600. For under $100 you get decent ANC and a great default frequency response. The fit lends you more confidence in a workout scenario as well. Sure, it looks a lot like the AirPods Pro, but why not mimic what’s tried and true? By the way, iPhone users might still want to get AirPods Pro for Spatial Audio and the H1 chip.