The LG Tone Free T90 incorporate pretty much every feature you could wish for, but some are implemented much better than others
- Dolby Atmos with Head Tracking
- Bluetooth retransmission
- Bacteria-killing case
- Disappointing ANC
- Average call quality
- Mixed musical presentation
The LG Tone Free T90 are LG’s most advanced true wireless earbuds to date and the first of their kind to support both Dolby Atmos and Dolby Head Tracking.
Those may be their headline features but they’re by no means the limits of the T90’s capabilities. Adaptive noise cancellation, multipoint pairing, a charging case that functions as a Bluetooth transmitter and kills bacteria, support for high-resolution audio and other useful features position them among the most comprehensively equipped earbuds on the market.
But while they look fantastic on paper, they’re not quite the supreme all-rounders their specifications would have you believe. Noise cancellation falls short of the standards set by similarly priced competitors, call quality is inconsistent, as are the buds’ touch controls, and the various sound modes are hit and miss, too.
LG Tone Free T90 review: What you need to know
The Tone Free T90 are part of LG’s revamped range of true wireless earbuds for 2022 and the flagship model in a lineup that also includes the LG Tone Free Fit UTF8, which are designed for exercise, and the more affordable LG Tone Free UT60.
Like the LG Tone Free FP8 and LG Tone Free FN6, the T90 come with a charging case that houses UV lights designed to kill bacteria and reduce the risk of ear infections. Their sound profiles were created in conjunction with premium UK audio manufacturer Meridian.
But with so many true wireless earbuds to compete with, LG has gone all out to set the T90 apart by cramming in a suite of features that puts most of their rivals to shame. I’ll delve into the full list below, but suffice to say, you’ll struggle to find another pair of earbuds with quite such a comprehensive offering.
LG Tone Free T90 review: Price and competition
The Tone Free T90 retail for £200, which is becoming an increasingly popular price point in the true wireless world. The superb Sony WF-1000XM4 are currently available for the same price and are our favourite earbuds overall, thanks in no small part to their Adaptive Sound Control technology, which adjusts sound settings and noise cancellation based on your actions and location.
That tech gives them a slight edge over the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3, which were crowned best wireless earbuds of 2022 at our Product of the Year Awards: Technology, though that title may have gone to the Apple Airpods Pro 2 had they been released a month or two earlier. That said, Apple’s ubiquitous earbuds are a more expensive option at £250.
A couple of other alternatives worth considering are the NuraTrue and the NuraTrue Pro, both of which received a five-star rating and our Recommended award. The base model costs the same as the T90, and while they’re not as stacked with features, do offer Nura’s sound personalisation, which works extremely well. The Pro model will set you back an extra £100, but justify the additional expense with support for lossless Bluetooth streaming, a spatial audio mode and various other improvements over their predecessor.
LG Tone Free T90 review: Design and features
The Tone Free T90 are available in either black or white and come in a pebble-shaped case of the same colour that weighs 40g. The case provides up to 20 hours of battery life in addition to the nine hours the earbuds offer if you’re not using ANC, ambient mode or Dolby Atmos. With ANC active, you’re looking at closer to five hours of use before the buds need topping up, with the case adding a further 16 hours of playtime.
But the case isn’t just for storing and recharging the earbuds; it has two extra abilities. Located inside the case are UV lights that LG says kill up to 99.9% of bacteria in just ten minutes when the case is closed and the earbuds are charging wirelessly or via USB-C. UV coverage has been expanded to clean the entirety of the eartips, rather than just the outermost edge as was the case with previous LG earbuds.
The other ability sees the T90’s case function as a Bluetooth transmitter when connected to a non-Bluetooth source via the included USB-C to AUX cable. LG calls this “Plug & Wireless” and it’s very easy to use: once hooked up, all you need to do is flick a small switch on the case and you’re able to enjoy audio from things like in-flight entertainment systems and other audio devices lacking Bluetooth connectivity.
It’s not the first time this has been incorporated into the case of true wireless earbuds – the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 brought the feature to market in 2021 – but it’s a welcome inclusion nonetheless. It’s worth noting, however, that you won’t be able to use the headphones to make or take phone calls when connected in this manner.
The buds themselves weigh 6g apiece and have short stems that protrude from your ears. Three different-sized pairs of medical grade silicone eartips are included in the box to help you achieve a secure fit and they’re ribbed for extra comfort. I used the largest of the trio and certainly found them very comfortable to wear, although the fit was looser than I might have liked and their ability to isolate sound suffered as a result. An IPX4 rating certifies the T90 splash and sweatproof, so you won’t have any issues using them in the rain or at the gym and they’ll automatically pause when taken out of your ears, which is handy.
Like many of their contemporaries, the Tone Free T90 let you control audio via touch controls. Four main actions are supported: single taps, double taps, triple taps and touch and hold. You can assign a range of commands to taps in the LG Tone Free app but touch and hold is reserved for cycling through the earbuds’ noise cancelling and ambient sound modes. I found the touch controls a little frustrating. You need to be very deliberate with each tap and ensure you hit exactly the right spot on the buds to ensure your commands are registered.
The T90 operate wirelessly over Bluetooth 5.3 (the latest version) and connection stability was highly impressive, even in congested areas such as Liverpool Street Station. Multipoint allows you to remain connected to two devices simultaneously, while the five most recent devices you’ve connected to are displayed and easily switched between in the T90’s companion app. Codec support extends to AAC, SBC and aptX Adaptive or Snapdragon Sound if you’re using a compatible device. The latter supports 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution streaming, making it the optimal way to enjoy audio on the T90.
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The final features of note aside from Dolby Atmos, Dolby Head Tracking and noise cancellation, all of which will be discussed in greater detail below, are found within the Tone Free Lab section of the companion app.
There you’ll find a toggle to have the case perform UV cleaning when not being charged. This will only work if the case has over 40% battery and is probably best left off unless you’re particularly hygiene conscious. Game mode reduces the latency between video and audio signals at the cost of connection stability in high-traffic environments, while “Whispering mode” provides a novel way of tackling phone calls. With it active, you’re able to use the right earbud as a mini microphone, holding it close to your mouth to converse in a more private manner than you would with the buds in your ears.
When using the T90 for calls in the traditional manner I found call quality to be rather disappointing. The earbuds picked up a fair amount of background noise and those at the other end of the line reported an echoey quality to my voice. Whispering mode actually works well, however; I was surprised by how effectively the mics picked up my voice even when speaking as faintly as possible. Background noise was still evident on calls and in recordings but not to too severe a degree.
LG Tone Free T90 review: Sound quality
LG has had a partnership with audio firm Meridian for a few years now and the T90 offer five EQ presets tuned by the UK company: Immersive, Natural, Bass Boost, Treble Boost and 3D Sound Stage. The bass and treble boosting modes work as intended and the Immersive mode does a reasonable job of broadening what is otherwise a relatively constricted soundstage. The 3D Sound Stage mode proved too artificially processed for my liking while listening to music, adding incongruous spatial effects to tracks, though that’s to be expected given it’s designed for use when watching films and sport.
Natural mode is the best balanced of the quintet but I actually found using my own custom preset (created on the in-app eight-band graphic equaliser) most satisfying for general use. Without any tuning, the T90 are a bit overzealous on the bass front and don’t deliver the level of detail and accuracy to let vocals truly shine. On “Gotta Move On” by Diddy, Bryson Tiller, Ashanti and Young Miami, the very different qualities of the artists’ vocals weren’t articulated with the definition you’d expect of £200 earbuds. The T90 are also slightly sluggish in reproducing shifts in tempo, which is something that can’t be remedied using the in-app EQ.
Their Dolby Atmos presentation is impressive for a pair of in-ear headphones, however. You obviously don’t get the sense of height you would from a sound system incorporating upfiring drivers but positional cues to the left and right are convincing and the virtual soundstage is engrossing when watching films with an Atmos soundtrack. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I felt like I was front row at Salem ScareFest as the witches of Hocus Pocus 2 belted out Blondie’s “One Way or Another” but I did start to forget I was sitting on my sofa in Romford.
The Dolby Head Tracking effect is very well defined but perhaps to too great a degree – you get a distinct sense of directional sound but it isn’t particularly nuanced. Sound jumps quickly between the left and right buds as you turn your head, rather than smoothly transitioning between the two, which can be off-putting.
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LG Tone Free T90 review: Noise cancellation
The Tone Free T90 use adaptive noise cancellation that LG says optimises ANC in real-time based on the buds’ positions in your ears and the level of sound around you. This should, in theory, go some way to rectify any issues caused by the somewhat loose fit I mentioned earlier.
In practice, however, I found their noise-cancelling capabilities lacklustre compared with options from Sony, Bose and Apple. When you engage ANC on the Apple AirPods 2, it feels like a huge proportion of the external sound around you is sucked out of your environment. The effect is clear as day. With the T90, rumbles of machinery and cars take a hit but in environments like the gym, I was still overly aware of the goings on in my surroundings.
The two ambient modes are more effective. Listening mode is your more traditional transparency option and allows you to clearly hear your environment without a distracting buzz. Conversation mode further prioritises the enhancement of vocal frequencies and, while the effect is pretty subtle, it’s impactful enough to make it worth engaging while chatting away in the office.
LG Tone Free T90 review: Verdict
It’s hard to not be impressed by the number of features LG has managed to squeeze into the Tone Free T90, particularly more unusual ones such as Bluetooth transmission and the bacteria-killing UV technology. Unfortunately, a lot of those features come with caveats.
Dolby Atmos adds a reasonable level of immersion but there’s only so much a pair of wireless earbuds can do to deliver a surround sound format designed for multi-channel speaker systems. Dolby Head Tracking also works well but isn’t subtly implemented and is best saved for the consumption of video content.
Without those audio processing technologies at play, the LG Tone Free T90 deliver a reasonable audio experience but lack the balance, dynamics and insight of premium offerings from the likes of Sony, Sennheiser and Bowers & Wilkins. Where they really fall flat, however, is in their implementation of noise cancellation. Low frequencies are attenuated to a degree, but not to the level you’d expect at this price, and there’s little reduction to the impact of sounds further up the frequency spectrum.
This leaves the T90 in a tricky spot. Their breadth of handy features and customisability are to be admired but they fail to deliver the performance that would secure them a wholehearted recommendation.