LG Tone Studio - Innovative or Irrelevant?

HBS-W120 LG Tone Studio

LG seems to be a company with a strong focus on innovation, providing many products over the years which have given them a point of difference. Some of these innovations have been well received, such as the curved displays of the LG Flex mobile phone series a few years back. Others have been not as well received, like the modular design of their G5 flagship smartphone.

The LG Tone Studio (HBS-W120) Bluetooth headset is another of their latest creations which goes one step further than their already innovative neckband-style earphones range. It not only provides amazing battery life for a Bluetooth headset, but also includes a 3.5mm aux input, along with its stand-out feature, four small external speakers on the device. These speakers turn your headphones into a personal boombox that aims to deliver an amazing sound experience to the listener, without too much disturbance to others.

Will it be remembered as another of LG’s game-changing innovations? Or just the next irrelevant technology fad that never really takes off?

First Impressions

The first thing you notice when unpacking the LG Tone Studio is that it’s a chunky unit – compared with previous generations, that is. It still remains smaller, more lightweight, and more portable than over-ear and on-ear headphone alternatives, but the Tone Studio has lost much of that sleek, discreet appearance that was becoming more and more a part of the design language with LG’s higher-end neckband earphones. It’s almost like having three of the last generation LG Tone Platinum’s hanging around your neck. It’s hard not to notice the bulk wearing them out and about. Coming in at around 125g, it’s a heavier headset than previous generations as well. You won’t necessarily notice the weight though, as it’s very well balanced and comfortable to wear – even for long periods.

Audio Quality

The first word that left my lips after connecting the Tone Studio and listening briefly to a few different tracks was “Wow”. I’ve had many pairs of over-the-ear and on-ear headphones that don’t sound half as good as these. The clarity and separation between sounds is excellent. It provides a clean, separated sound with details clear and present. Individual instruments can easily be picked out and vocals are very pleasing. Some of the previous Tone headsets have tended to sound a little “tinny” on the vocals and high-end, but the Studios maintain a pleasing tone all the way from pass to treble. The overall sound has warmth and richness with mid-tones that aren’t recessed and don’t get lost in the treble or bass frequencies. Acoustic and folk music becomes a blissful listening experience.

Bass response is exceptional and the best that I’ve heard from LG so far. It’s bold, punchy, has power and weight behind it, but doesn’t distort. The bass also doesn’t encroach on or overtake the mids, as is often the case with base-centric headphones. Listening to pop and electronic music is enjoyable and easy to listen to for long periods.

It also has three different sound modes which can be switched between by holding the volume dial, giving you the choice between “normal”, “treble” or “bass”. You’ll notice more warmth in the normal and bass modes, with more clarity in the treble mode for vocals and percussion instruments. For my ears, treble starts to sound a little too bright.

There’s no sign of sibilance here, even in the treble mode – no hissing “s” sounds as you tend to hear in a lot of bluetooth earbuds.

Features

What immediately sets these neckband-style earphones apart is the inclusion of four external speakers. Two facing upwards, two facing downwards.

There’s also a 3.5mm aux-in port should you run out of battery or need to switch off your bluetooth connection. Personally, this is a great inclusion as I’m always failing to notice the remaining battery level of headphones. It’s also extremely handy if you want to take these on a flight and plug them (using an adaptor) into the aeroplane headphones jack. For me, it means carrying only the one pair of earphones instead of one bluetooth and another non-bluetooth pair.

The LG Tone & Talk can also be installed on your phone and is fairly handy. It lets you to receive voice readouts of text messages and call announcements, along with voice notifications for apps which you can select or deselect as you like. It’s actually pretty cool hearing the latest Facebook post read out to you when you’re travelling, but can get annoying. The app also shows your current battery life and lets you switch between the “normal”, “base”, and “treble” sound modes. It even gives you illustrations of the headset’s functions and even has a link to download the product manual, should you need it.

Connectivity

Connection strength is fantastic. Catching a train every day, there are quite a few other bluetooth and wifi signals around. I’ve never experienced drop outs or interference as I have with other bluetooth headphones in the past. This is something which has been excellent with the all three LG Tone devices I’ve used (HBS-900 LG Tone Infinim, HBS-1100 LG Tone Platinum, and now the Tone Studios).

Connecting two devices at the same time is extremely simple. Connect the first device, then connect the second device. That’s it.

Battery life

This is a true strength of the LG Tone Studio. Travelling 1.5 hours to work and back on public transport each day, I was looking for something with amazing battery life – and I found it. They lasted just shy of 3 weeks on a single charge, which equates to around 40 hours. Quite a bit over the 35 hour earphone listening time quoted by LG. Using the speaker mode significantly reduces battery life, with LG quote that at 6 hours. Admittedly, I’m yet to run the Tone Studios down purely on speaker mode – simply because the earphone sound quality is so good.

Portability

Being a neckband-style pair of earphones, they’re still lightweight, compact and easy to slip into a backpack without taking up half the storage space. The only real negative here is the size of them compared to other, more sleek neckband earphones. Coming from the HBS-910 Tone Platinums, it was a bit of a readjustment. They won’t easily fit under any collar as the Platinums did, but some collars they will. If you’re wearing a jacket, there’s no real issue. But be aware they’ll look a little odd tucking them underneath a jumper. The other solution here is just to wear them over the top of clothing, but again, they are a bigger and more noticeable than other iterations. If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like having an obvious piece of technology hanging around your neck, you way want to consider a more discrete solution.

The Downsides

Most obviously, the bulk of these will be a problem for some – especially if you have a small neck, or were hoping to hide them underneath a collar. They just don’t maintain the same discrete, lightweight design that the LG Tone series has built itself on.

Strangely, I haven’t been able to get the aux-in cable function working with the earphones. They seem to work fine when switching to the external speakers on the Tone Studios, but sound just doesn’t want to play through the earphones when using aux-in.

The Verdict

This an excellent sounding bluetooth neckband with the added bonus of external speakers which create an effective “sound bubble” that still lets you hear what’s going on around you. The battery life is outstanding and connectivity is simple and maintains a strong connection.

The sheer bulk makes them a feel a little awkward for travel on public transport, but if you’re looking for a bluetooth headset or earbuds to use at home, they’re a definite winner. Personally, I would have liked to see a product with half the size and battery life that were more portable.

Although they’re not the first headphones or neckband earphones to feature external speakers, LG have managed the implementation really well and they feel and sound like a premium product. Unfortunately, being not as “travel-friendly” as previous LG Tone models, they may have a limited audience.

Will you be hunting down where to buy LG’s latest bluetooth earphones innovation? Or waiting for something more travel-friendly with the same, excellent sound quality as the LG Tone Studio?