2020 has been the year of the TWS in-ear and 2021 has only started with a Big Bang. LG and arch-rival Samsung have launched their new offerings almost in tandem.
There’s OPPO in the fray as well with tuning by famed audiophile brand Dynaudio, while LG has deployed the services of British specialist Meridian and Samsung has dug into its ownership of Harman and got the boffins at AKG to tune the latest iteration of the Galaxy Buds. While the OPPO is being reviewed separately, I’m going to distil what the LG and Samsung bring to your inner ear sanctum.
(Prices: Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro - ₹15,990 | LG Tone Free FN7 - ₹19,990)
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro - Having silicon ear tips is a huge step up from the Buds Live that I reviewed last and they instantly fit better, more securely. They still are an odd, shapeless form, but wearing them properly isn’t so much of an issue as putting them back in the case is. Since they fit in either the L or R cradle, you’ll be trying to shut the case close, ineffectively many times until you have to swap them the right way. The touch-sensitive surface on each earbud is generous sized and easy to master with basic controls that can be activated via multiple taps or a long tap.
LG Tone Free FN7 - Almost identical in size as far as the case is concerned, the FN7s are much more conventional-looking, which is to say, AirPod-ish. The touch controls are still on the earbuds and not on the stalk and they work just as well. They too are tipped by silicon, so the fit is easy to get right, although the Buds Pro feel less intrusive and overall, comfier. Where the FN7 differ is the UV Nano case that claims to kill 99% of the bacteria from the ear tips and mesh. This process happens only when the case is being charged and while I didn’t suffer from any ear-related allergies during the course of this review, I’m not sure if its a scientific enough test of the UV Nano protection. But, let’s take LGs word for it.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro - Compared to the Buds Live, which were meant to let in ambient sound for a “live” effect, the Buds Pro aim for a complete seal so it’s important to plug them in and twist them around until you find the snuggest fit for your ears. Samsung claims its ANC is 99% effective against cutting out background noise and while this is a tall claim, it was pretty impressive. You can also control the level of ANC and even activate the auto voice detect function that will automatically switch to ambient mode if you start talking. Rhye’s latest album sounds full, lush and tonally even, marking a huge improvement over Samsung’s previous attempts at TWS. The two-driver system consists of an 11mm bass driver and a 6.5mm tweeter and it makes its sophistication heard in the dynamic range and effortlessness of delivery. It only helps that the Buds Pro are comfortable enough to wear and forget for long periods of time. There are EQ presets but no control over adjusting individual frequency bands and setting the desired curve. The active noise cancelling is pretty impressive too, cutting out a large part of mid-to-high frequency noise from the surroundings. Thanks to its tight seal, it even trumps the AirPods Pro.
LG Tone Free FN7 - With a single driver, the FN7 cannot muster the similar depth of the soundstage as the Buds Pro and comparatively, sounds flatter and more forward. The Meridian tuning is offered as four presets - Immersive, Natural, Bass Boost and Treble Boost but only Immersive manages to sound anywhere close to balanced while the rest tend to exaggerate any one portion of the frequency spectrum, sounding either sibilant or muddy. Even the supposed ‘Flat’ setting sounded lifeless and dull, nudging you towards Immersive as the default mode. You have control over a manual EQ but I was unable to extract an open sound that didn’t have chestiness to it. In isolation, the FN7 might be passable with a comfortable fit and an aggressive sound that listeners of hip-hop and rap might enjoy. But, in comparison to the Buds Pro, they lack the refinement and smoothness. Its ANC performance is on par with the Buds Pro though, which is to say, very good indeed.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro - 5hrs on a single charge and another 13hrs is the claim and honestly, I haven’t even had the Buds Pro with me long enough to test these claims yet. We shall update this story in the coming days so watch this space. Samsung offers IPX7 water resistance which is pretty generous for a high-end TWS. Both have wireless charging compatible cases and a quick 5-min top-up feature that can give you an hour of lease.
LG Tone Free FN7 - 7hrs on a single charge and another 14hrs is the claim that LG counters Samsung with and while these are figures with ANC on, they will certainly be bettered with ANC off. LG offers a lower IPX4 rating, though these are semantics which doesn’t matter in real life unless you intend to stay out in the rain all your waking hours.
The Buds Pro clearly gives preferential treatment to Samsung phone owners with more customisation options, auto-switching between Galaxy devices, even the Wearable app is available only for Android. That said, ironically the Buds Pro sounded better through an iPhone than when paired with a Galaxy Flip, even though iPhone and Buds Pro together don’t unlock the higher codecs of BT transmission. Either way, the Buds Pro fit better, are more comfortable and sound better than the LG Tone Free FN7 and if you aren’t concerned about a few thousand bacteria living rent-free in your ears, I think the choice is clear.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro ★★★★★
LG Tone Free FN7 ★★★✩✩