Don’t forget to wash behind your ears.
It was good advice when your mum gave it to you all those years ago and it’s still good now, but how often do you wash what goes in them?
LG reckons that your earphones are a veritable breeding ground for bacteria that can cause ear infections, so its Tone Free FN6 true wireless buds come with a special UV charging case that’s designed to kill any invisible nasties that could be living on them.
But do they sound equally clean? Or will they make you reach for the cotton buds to check things haven’t got clogged up?
Design and features: So fresh, so clean
The FN6 come in a case that looks almost impossibly small. Just 5.5cm in diameter and 2.8cm tall, the compact puck is pocketable to the point of seeming almost too tiny to house its contents.
The case has a softish feel to it, with a light on the front that illuminates to indicate how much of its 12-hour battery remains when you press a button on the side: blue means it’s above 80%, red means below 20%, and violet tells you it’s somewhere in between. A bit vague, then, but with up to six hours in each earbud, it should give you enough of a warning before you get caught out.
That gives you a total of 18 hours of charge, which is significantly less than half of what you get from RHA’s new TrueConnects, seven hours less than Urbanista’s cheaper London buds, and six less than a pair of standard AirPods. Must try better, LG.
Fortunately, keeping them topped up is easy. There’s support for Qi wireless charging onboard, but if you want to make the most of the FN6’s killer feature, you’ll want to stick to good old-fashioned wires. Plug a USB-C cable into the back of the case and a 10-minute blast of ultraviolet light kills 99.9% of any E. Coli and S. aureus bacteria that might be hitching a ride on the speaker mesh of your buds. At least, that’s what LG claims, and without a friendly bacteriologist on hand to verify it you’ll have to take their word for it. Don’t be fooled by the blueish light that shines from underneath them every time you open the case either – it’s just for show.
It’s got to be said, the design of these earbuds is a bit on the bland side. They come in shiny black or AirPod-aping white, with a matt section running down each stalk to indicate the touch-sensitive control panel.
Getting them in and out of the case can be a touch on the fiddly side, partly because they’re such a snug fit, but it’s also hard to get any real purchase on the stalks.
Interface: Touch and go
As with most touch controls on headphones, contact between your digit and the surface has to be very deliberate in order for it to register. That’s probably better than being too sensitive, but the FN6 are pretty picky over how they’re touched (aren’t we all?). Only the very top of the stalks respond so you have to be very precise with the part that you prod.
A single tap pauses whatever you have playing, but rather than hoping that you get it right first time, it’s usually easier just to take one out, which does the same thing automatically within a couple of seconds. A double tap adjusts the volume (use the left bud to turn it down, the right one to pump it up), three taps skips a track, and a long press toggles Ambient Sound mode on or off.
LG’s Tone Free app isn’t required to use the FN6 but it allows you to check the battery life of each individual bud, choose different equaliser settings, and customise what the double and triple taps do. There’s also a ‘Find my earbuds’ function that won’t be much use if you left them with your phone. It also only works when they’re not in the case, which would seem to limit its usefulness even further. The SOS each one sends out just isn’t that loud either: we dropped one down the side of a sofa cushion and its cry for help was hardly deafening.
Performance: Great expectations
LG does make its own soundbars, home cinema systems, wireless speakers, and some slightly retro-looking hi-fis, but it’s not the first name that comes to mind when you think about sound quality. Meridian might not be either, but the company’s pedigree among audiophiles is undeniable, which is why LG has tapped into its significant know-how to tune the FN6.
If you think that means the kind of high-end performance that has landed Meridian’s tech inside the cabin of Jaguar and Land Rover cars, you might want to lower your expectations a tad. These are solid performers rather than spectacular. The sound is well-balanced with vocals a highlight, but they often lack any real sense of dynamism or excitement. That’ll be good enough for many, particularly those used to bundled buds, but other true wireless pairs offer better for the same price.
There’s no full-on noise-cancelling for music, just calls, but the mics on each bud can be used to let some of the outside world in. Ambient Sound mode has three levels, and while it’s certainly helpful when somebody wants to get your attention, it is prone to amplifying wind noise and your own coughs. From a safety perspective it’s handy to have, though, as the sound isolation is pretty effective.
The buds themselves are incredibly lightweight so they feel safe and secure in your ears, although the lack of any extra scaffolding means you’re relying purely on a tight fit to stop them coming loose if you wear them while running or working out.
Connection is rock steady, too. In fact, it can be too strong. Occasionally one of the buds failed to shut off and stayed connected when put away, which improved after a recent firmware update but didn’t disappear completely. That means you need to be vigilant when closing the case, or you could end up with a prematurely dead battery.
LG Tone Free HBS-FN6 verdict
As a package LG’s Tone Free HBS-FN6 true wireless earphones are very appealing: a pocketable case, neat buds, and a suite of extra features.
When it comes to the basics, though, nothing about them makes them stand out over the almost never-ending list of alternatives. UV cleaning is a neat trick, but only the most paranoid germaphobe would consider it a deal-breaker.