True wireless earbuds used to be a luxury, and one that came with a hefty price tag. That’s no longer the case with uncountable no-name companies selling mediocre true wireless earbuds on Amazon. The best audio experiences cost more, but that doesn’t mean every expensive set of true wireless earbuds are worth it. Sony’s $230 WF-1000XM3 earbuds are definitely worth the price, but I can’t say the same for the new LG Tone Free earbuds. At $200, I would expect excellent sound quality, design, and features. These earbuds check precisely zero of those boxes.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
I initially liked the Tone Free earbuds when I took them out of the box—my feelings changed later, but they make a great first impression. The puck-shaped case is small enough to slip in a pocket, and the soft texture makes it nice and grippy. The lid feels solid and has a satisfying click when you open and close it. There’s a USB-C port on the side for charging as well.
The earbuds themselves are compact and easy to take out of the case. Each earbud has a touch-sensitive button—one to play/pause, and one to switch between EQ presets. When you need to recharge, they’re just as easy to drop back in; there are magnets that ensure each earbud lines up with the charging pins. There are two small UV lights down at the bottom of the case to sterilize the earbuds, but I’ll get to that later. The body of each earbud is elongated with a microphone at the end similar to the Sony buds (just smaller). I expected the Fone Free fit similarly to the Sonys, but they’re much less comfortable.
LG’s earbuds don’t use an in-ear design, so they sit in your outer ear rather than going in the ear canal. Some people prefer this, but the shape has to be perfect to be comfortable and secure. The LG Tone Free miss that window by a mile. In the promo images, you can see people wearing the buds with the microphone pointing forward along the jawline. However, that orientation puts the speaker in the wrong position to pump sound into your ear canal. You have to point the body of the earbud more downward to make them sound right, and that is not comfortable—at least it isn’t for me, and I assume for many others.
The Tone Free also have wear detection, allowing them to pause when you remove one or both earbuds. That’s usually a feature I appreciate, but the fit was so fiddly that I constantly paused my music just trying to get the buds seated comfortably. The earbuds come with three different silicone eartip covers, but none made the Tone Free any more wearable. The only other thing you get in the box is a (very short) USB cable.
Audio and features
At $200, I’d expect top-tier audio performance, but that’s not what you get with the Tone Free. Even when I get the earbuds lined up appropriately to direct sound into my ear, the volume seems extremely low compared to other earbuds. Part of this is because these are not in-ear buds, but they’re still annoyingly quiet. I have to max out the Bluetooth volume on most phones to make them usable.
Compared to the Sony WF-1000MX3.
Even with the volume maxed, the sound you get from these earbuds is flat and drab. The lows and highs sound restrained, and the mids seem strangely quiet. I missed so much of the range in music, and spoken words were muffled. There is no app for the Tone Free earbuds. Thus, you’re stuck with the built-in EQ settings. You can cycle through the three settings by tapping the left earbud button, but none of them make the audio any better. The sound was more acceptable for phone calls, but it’s nothing special. People could hear me, but it was obvious I was using a headset of some sort.
The lack of an app means you can’t change the button functions, and they’re almost useless with the included settings. You can play/pause with the right earbud, and as mentioned previously, the left earbud switches between EQ modes. You can press and hold the right earbud for Assistant, if you’ve set that up. However, there’s no way to change volume or even skip tracks. Frankly, this is unforgivable on $200 earbuds. It’s probably the worst control setup I’ve ever seen on such a device.
The UV LEDs are tucked away at the bottom of the case.
LG’s big gimmicky selling point here is the UV lights inside the case. When you plug in the Tone Free to charge, the UV lights come on to sterilize the tips. LG points to research that says that will reduce the number of bacteria on the earbuds. That’s fine, but I don’t see this as a benefit to users. Sterile is different than clean–you can kill bacteria on the earbuds, but they’re just going back in your ears with all the earwax still attached.
Should you buy them?
Definitely not. The LG Tone earbuds make a good first impression with the compact design. However, it’s all downhill from there. The audio quality is not what I’d expect from a $200 set of earbuds, and the fit is atrocious. I have yet to find a comfortable orientation that lines up the speaker with my ear canal, and that’s with a lot of trial and error.
The lack of features is also galling here. It’s rather surprising that I can’t skip tracks with the Tone Free buttons. All you get are EQ toggles and play/pause. If LG had an app with additional settings, that might be a saving grace, but nope. I cannot recommend anyone purchase these earbuds when there are so many better options.
Buy them if…
You only buy LG products for some reason.
Don’t buy them if…
You would prefer better, more comfortable earbuds that cost less.