The LG Tone has been a really niche product for a while now. The Bluetooth neckband has retractable earbuds at the tips, allowing you to listen to music by yanking out the buds — hey, they won’t get lost, right? At CES 2017, the company is demonstrating two new models, and they’re just as clever as the original.
The LG Tone Studio is a really interesting choice for home cinema enthusiasts. It has four speakers — two on the top and bottom on both sides. The top speakers make sense — they fire sound upwards to your ears — but why would you want speakers facing away from your ears? Those are for the vibrations! The Studio brings a whole other sense to the mix. LG demoed the Studio with an action movie and a video game, so we could feel rumbling during crashes and gunfire. The vibrations felt a little random at times, but they added a fun dimension to the experience.
But, it’s not all gimmick. The sound is very good, even if there’s the tiniest bit of distortion at higher volumes. Better yet, they’re almost inexplicably good at blocking out background noise. Despite not having anything in your ears, the surround sound coming from the speakers creates a sort of sound bubble around your head — while I was testing them, I could barely hear people at the same table I was sitting. LG worked with DTS to produce the sound, which explains why they performed so well when used with movies. And, like with the original Tone, you can start listening privately by pulling out the earbuds from the ends of the neckband.
LG is also saying that the Bluetooth latency issues that usually throw audio out of sync with video are non-existent. I didn’t experience any problems during my demonstration, at least. LG reps acknowledged that there could be some latency issues with older TVs, but they said they’re working on a Bluetooth dongle to help address that issue later.
LG also had the Tone Free, their first true wireless earbuds. Available in black instead of silver, the Tone Free have the same neckband form as the other Tone products, which means that LG actually has the best means of storing true wireless earbuds we’ve seen yet. One of the problems with true wireless buds is the concern they’ll get lost — unless you put them in their charging case, they’re small and can fall out of pockets without being noticed easily. On the Tone Free, they’re affixed to the ends of the neckband like the retractable buds usually are, coming out with the push of a button. The buds should have a battery life of about three hours, while the neckband charges them about two or three times over. LG has a separate charging case that can provide another eight or nine charges, too.
LG reps told me the two buds connect to each other and to the phone using a Bluetooth connection — that tends to not be as stable as NFMI connections between buds, as used by Jabra, Skybuds, and Nuheara. LG didn’t demo these, so we’re not sure how they sound, either. They’re about in the middle in terms of size and fit — not as sleek as Earins, but not as huge as the fitness-leaning buds from Samsung or Jabra. The neckband can also provide smartphone alerts through vibrations, a cool feature that isn’t on a lot of true wireless buds.
The LG Tone Studio and Tone Free are still in the shop, so no word on price or release just yet. But, both look pretty compelling, so we’ll keep our eye on them!