There’s ‘ubiquity’ and then there's ‘true wireless earbuds’. They’re everywhere, aren’t they? Cheap pairs, pricey pairs, great pairs, rotten pairs – your choice gets wider every day.
Naturally, LG has tried to make its HBS-FN7 in-ears stand out just a little, by deploying the Holy Trinity of pricing, specification and performance. Get all three disciplines right, and acclaim and sales must surely follow.
It’s the ‘getting it right’ that’s the real trick, though. LG has thrown the kitchen sink at the HBS-FN7 – but is it enough?
Shopping directly with LG in the UK means a pair of HBS-FN7 will set you back £149, while American customers who do the same should prepare to pay $179. LG’s Australian division, meanwhile, is looking for AU$249 per pair. At the time of writing, you can, however, score these LGs for less through third-party retailers.
So LG has pitched the ToneFree HBS-FN7 right into the thick of the action. Similar money buys some proven designs from the likes of Cambridge Audio, Panasonic and Sennheiser (to name but three) – so the HBS-FN7 have their work cut out from the get-go.
As far as pure build quality goes, you really should know what you’re getting here. LG’s product portfolio is enormous, and everything in it – from refrigerators to OLED TVs – is constructed pretty much flawlessly. So rest assured the HBS-FN7 are built to last.
The design is the ‘pointy stem’ design popularised by Apple and subsequently slavishly followed by any number of brands. At least LG has had the decency to keep the stem reasonably brief, though the apparent trade-off is a rather chunky in-ear portion.
The finish is just as accomplished as the build quality. The shiny plastics look good, right until the moment they’re dulled by fingerprints, which they surely must be, given they have quite a lot of touch-control functionality. The finish of the tidy little (55mm x 28mm) charging case, all mildly grippy and soft-touch matte plastic, is more successful.
Despite the unpromising appearance of the business end of the earbud, though, the HBS-FN7 prove perfectly comfortable, even for longer listening sessions. A 5.6g per ‘bud weight is a good start, and the selection of silicone eartips means it’s easy to get a fit to suit your own individual ears.
There are more overtly sports-orientated designs around, of course, but the LG can be positioned so securely that breaking into a run won’t dislodge them. And their IPX4 rating means they’ll be fine even if you work up a mild sweat, though submerging them in water is strongly advised against.
Wireless connectivity here is via Bluetooth 5.0 with SBC and AAC codec compatibility. That’s fine for handling even the biggest high-resolution audio files from any of the streaming services that offer them, but nevertheless, it’s not quite at the cutting edge.
We’re always happy to see aptX Low Latency involved if for no other reason than a lot of us tend to consume video content while on the move – but LG hasn’t quite got around to it yet.
Once the audio information is on board, it’s dealt with by a pair of 6mm full-range neodymium drivers, the tuning of which has had significant input from British hi-fi pioneer Meridian. It’s not the first product on which these companies have collaborated, but it nevertheless brings quite a bit of audio credibility to the HBS-FN7 proposition.
Battery life, with active noise-cancelling switched on, is an entirely unremarkable 16 hours or so, all in – that’s five hours in the earbuds themselves and another couple of charges in the case. That figure rises to more like 21 hours if you turn noise-cancelling off.
The charging case itself has a party piece, of course: it uses UV light to clean the earbuds free from bacteria when they’re inside and the lid is closed. Until we see a wireless speaker with an integrated hand sanitiser dispenser, this is the product feature that’s most appropriate for the times.
Charging is possible via the case’s USB-C input or any Qi-certified charging pad. A couple of little LED tell-tales on the case let you know what it’s up to.
Drivers 6mm full-range dynamic
Frequency response 20Hz-22kHz
Bluetooth version 5.0
Battery life 21 hours (without ANC)
Weight 5.6g (each)
Control of the HBS-FN7 is via the integrated touch-controls or LG’s splendid Tone Free control app. Each earbud has a responsive raised capacitive surface which can be tapped to take control of ‘volume up/down’, ‘play/pause’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’, ‘noise-cancelling on/off/ambient sound’ and ‘answer/end/reject call’. Each earbud has three mics taking care of those last two suites of functions.
The Tone Free app offers you the opportunity to rearrange the touch-surface settings if you fancy. It’s also where you’ll find a selection of Merdian’s EQ settings (‘bass boost’, ‘treble boost’ ‘natural’ and ‘immersive’, none of which need much explanation) plus the place to store a couple of your own.
You can also switch between ‘low’ and ‘high’ noise-cancellation here, as well as activate ‘find my earbuds’. This last feature puts a strident chirp through the ‘buds if you’ve temporarily mislaid them.
It’s a clean, good-looking and usable app, well worthy of mention in the same breath as the Bose or Sennheiser equivalents.
With the Meridian EQ set to ‘natural’ (who doesn’t want their music to sound natural, after all?) and a Qobuz-derived 24bit/88.2kHz file of A Tribe Called Quest’s We The People… playing, there’s more than enough sonic talent on display to make the HBS-FN7 a decently engrossing listen.
Bass sounds (of which there are plenty here) are textured and carefully hefty, with more than enough detail available to make the difference between actual instruments and machine-derived sounds obvious. There’s plenty of control on display, too, so the tune rumbles forward at the correct sort of pace – there’s no overhang and, as a consequence, the tempo is convincing.
The LGs don’t manage the rhythmic aspects of the recording with quite such assurance, though. They don’t quite have the fluidity the tune demands, and ultimately end up sounding slightly lumpy when they really should undulate.
Switch to something less rhythm-dependent, though, and the HBS-FN7 are on surer ground. Anna Meredith’s Unfurl communicates fulsomely through the midrange, with plenty of detail revealed and a politely judged degree of attack. It’s a similar story at the top of the frequency range too, where there’s gratifying bite but never any suggestion of hardness or flimsiness.
Without a rhythm to get tripped up by, the LGs are a confident and poised listen. They're far from the most dynamic-sounding pair of earbuds around, mind you – both the ‘crescendo’ stuff and the more subtle harmonic dynamics in both of these tunes are handled with great subtlety (if you like the LG style) or are rather understated (if you don’t). For our money, this reticence makes the HBS-FN7 a less engaging listen than they otherwise might be.
Noise-cancellation is a success of the slightly qualified kind, too. Set to ‘high’ there’s an unarguable reduction in external sound, though nothing like as comprehensive as, say, Sony’s WF-1000XM4 can achieve, let alone Bose’s spookily effective QuietComfort Earbuds. Set it to ‘low’ and the effect on ambient sound is negligible. But call quality is good – incoming callers sound crisp and complete, while we have no complaints from people in receipt of our phone calls either.
Even if you’re not a germaphobe, there’s plenty to like here. The LG HBS-FN7 earbuds are well made and finished, are simple and quite pleasant to control and, in the right circumstances, are a very easy listen indeed. But their lack of rhythmic ability and rather ordinary noise-cancelling mean there are more compelling options around.
- Sound 4
- Comfort 5
- Build 5
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Read our Sony WF-1000XM4 review