LG TONE Free T90 BT, ANC, Dolby Atmos earphones – spatial sounds good (AV review)

The LG TONE Free T90, Bluetooth, ANC earphone is unique in many ways. LG claims it is the first to offer Dolby Atmos spatial sound with Dolby Head Tracking, and LG’s UVNano kills 99.9% of bacteria in 10 minutes of charging.

Additionally, the case can act as a Bluetooth repeater (takes a 3.5mm analogue signal and broadcasts over BT) and a VPU (Voice Pickup Unit) in addition to MEMS mics for great hands-free use.

Australian Review: LG TONE Free T90

WebsiteProduct Page
RRP$399 for black or white
FromLG Online or most quality CE retailers
Warranty1-year ACL
Made inVietnam
LGLG (formerly Lucky-Goldstar from 1983 to 1995) is a South Korean multinational conglomerate. It makes electronics, chemicals, and telecommunications products.
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We use Fail (below expectations), Pass (meets expectations) and Exceed (surpasses expectations or is the class leader) against many of the items below. We occasionally give a Pass(able) rating that is not as good as it should be and a Pass ‘+’ rating to show it is good but does not quite make it to Exceed. You can click on most images for an enlargement.

What is Dolby Atmos (DA)?

DA has up to 128 sound objects that movie-makers and musicians can place left/right/up/down/around and behind you. That sound is then downmixed to the speakers’ capability. Typically a discrete DA soundbar must have 5.1.2 for basic DA effects.

  • Left/centre/right forward-firing and left/right surround side-firing (5).
  • Sub-woofer (1).
  • Left/right up-firing (2).

We think 7.1.4 is the minimum, with the addition of dedicated rear left/right surround (5+2=7) and up-firing speakers (2+2=4). And don’t get us started on all-in-one DA soundbars that have to bounce the sound off the ceiling and walls to get faux, virtual DA. Most of us don’t have the right room for that. Read Five Tips for better TV sound – Dolby Atmos for beginners (guide).

So, how can a 2.0 stereo earphone do Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos content has metadata that is decoded via a DA-compatible smartphone, TV, or computer – the LG TONE Free T90 can’t decode it. Then, via psychoacoustic trickery, it delivers this downmix over Bluetooth to stereo 2.0 left/right earbuds.

In short, it hacks your ears via crosstalk, sound delays, reverb, and other tools to sound more like spatial audio. The LG TONE Free T90 is ideal for this because of its 11mm graphene drivers (nearly twice as large as most buds).

Now the Dolby Effect depends solely on the genre and how it was originally mixed. While our test tracks give it a solid workout, Dolby’s test tracks show what it can do under ideal circumstances.

In our tests with DA content, we found the following:

  • Movies: Front-centric for limited 3D height effects. You could hear some overhead sound, but it did not clearly move overhead (e.g., a jet flying over). The left/right surround was also quite front-centric, with minimal sound from behind. When tested with a Dolby Test track, the surround was more pronounced.
  • Music: Almost no 3D height effect for music, but we find that DA music mixes tend to focus on 2D immersion. There was a stronger surround effect that reinforces the music – kind of reverb from the rear, and I think that is good. Music has always been about listening to the performer on the stage as if you were there.
  • Games: We did limited testing on DA games, and the low lag and improved directionality make these suitable for games. The 3D height effect was more pronounced with a little more surround directionality.

If you don’t have a DA decoder in your smartphone, at best, you may get some faux, virtual surround sound minus the 3D spatial height, and again that is better than plain stereo.

What is Dolby Head Tracking?

Stereo is easy – sounds come from 2.0 channel left/right. You can play Dolby Atmos (DA) decoded content on almost any headphones and earphones and get limited DA effects.

Dolby Head Tracking is about the degree of immersive sound.

LG uses IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) sensors to detect head movement in relation to the music source. IMUs use a combo accelerometer, gyroscope, and optionally an eCompass to provide multi-axis motion tracking. LG states that it uses a three-axis pitch (heard left/right), yaw (head up and down), and roll (head back and forwards) in relation to a fixed source (always in front of you). It lacks the eCompass that records body movement (walking), so you must stay in one place for the best effect.

It adjusts the directionality of the sound in real time. For example, if you are watching a DA movie, you expect the dialogue to come from the screen (front on). But as you move your head, the sound stage also moves with you.

If it is well done, as LG has mostly achieved, then great. If not, it can cause dizziness and be nauseating. The trick is gentle movement, and don’t keep turned away from the screen.

Summary: Turn it on for DA movies and optional for music. It is not a gimmick nor the sole reason to buy.

How does it sound? Exceed

LG collaborates with British sound tuning experts Meridian. It provides Headphone Spatial Processing (HSP) for a wider ‘out-of-head’ soundstage and Perfect Balance technology to achieve a consistent tonal balance at any volume. Meridian does much more, and the sound stage is wider than most in-ear canal buds.

The native signature is neutral (flat – good), with bass starting at about 30Hz and treble going through to 20Hz.  In simple terms, it neither adds nor subtracts from the source music.

Having a native neutral sound signature means you can recess any segment of the 20Hz-20kHz sound spectrum. The App has an EQ with pre-sets for

  • Immersive – an expanded sense of space (not DA)
  • Natural – authentic, balanced sound using the neutral sound signature
  • Bass Boost – perfect for headbangers and really picks up bass as low as 30Hz
  • Treble Boost – clarity for vocal, jazz and classical music
  • 3D Sound stage – this is 2D surround sound and will up-mix 2.0 content to 5.0
  • There are Custom 1 and 2 settings, where you can adjust eight bands ranging from 64Hz to 8kHz.
  • Dolby Head Tracking and Virtual Sound – you must have Dolby Atmos content and a host device to decode it. It really opens the sound stage and has 3D height characteristics.

The EQ presets, especially the Immersive and 3D sound stage settings, make a slight difference. The Custom settings are great, allowing you to really hone in on clear dialogue. The last used pre-set is downloaded to the buds.

Sound Summary

Bass is punchy, treble is there for crisp high notes, volume is good, the sound stage is outside your head, and the buds have a relatively neutral sound signature, so the EQ works well.

Try the Dolby Atmos test and Manhattan Transfer in our guide How to tell if you have good music (sound signature is the key).

Adaptive Active Noise Cancellation and Ambient Noise– Pass+

Not quite as high-end as Sony or Bose, but it allows LG to have a more expansive sound stage. Fit for the purpose and fine for travel, work-from-home, or office use.

Ambient mode lets about 70% of the external noise in, which is fine for conversation.

Battery life – Pass+

LG claims 5/9 hours ANC on/off. All claims are at 50% volume. We found that 70-75% is more appropriate. We got 4 hours and 47 minutes ANC on at that volume.

The case holds a further 20 hours charge and takes about an hour to charge via USB-C and 2 hours for Qi wireless charge. There are ANC buds that have an hour or two longer ANC On times, but these are quite acceptable for long-haul flights.

Comfort – Pass+

They use a Semi-pod stalk style created in collaboration with POSTECH Ergonomic Design Technology Lab with an optimised shape that feels better in the ear.

The only caveat is using the right medical-grade gel cap (S/M/L provided) fit for effective ANC. This also ensures they stay in during exercise (IPX4 sweat-resistant). I like the small POD stalks (I hate dorky Apple PODS) – they are practical handles to insert the buds and have a beam-forming mic in each for hands-free.

Our test was for continuous use, and they remained comfortable with no heat build-up.

Hands-free – Pass+

It has three mics – voice, ANC outside, ANC inside and a VPU (Voice Pickup Unit). Voice is strong and clear with minimal external noise, even in windy conditions.

Unique features – Interesting and valuable – Pass+

UV Nano disinfects your ear tips with UV light during a 10-minute charge. It does not clean or remove ear wax.

The 3.5mm (3-pole does not support a mic) to USB-C AUX-in is surprisingly useful for listening to music from USB or 3.5mm devices like a PC or aeroplane. The case acts as a BT transmitter.

Snapdragon Sound Technology Suite provides up to 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution audio using the aptX Adaptive codec.

Controls – Pass+

Up to 3 functions for each side (single, double, and triple tap). These can be reallocated in the App.

ANC/off/ambient sound – Pass+

First, you must ‘Test my best fit’ in the App to ensure that your medical-grade, hypoallergenic ear gels are the best size for effective passive noise isolation.

The earphones cut down the lower frequencies to a large degree, but the mids pass through. Compared to Sony WF-1000XM4 and Bose QC II, these are perhaps 90% as effective.

The Real-Time ANC Optimizer automatically adjusts ANC performance by analysing the actual position of the buds inside the user’s ear via the internal microphones.

Inbox – (ecological packaging) Pass+

  • Buds
  • Charger case
  • USB-A to USB-C charger cable
  • 3.5mm to USB-C case BT cable
  • 3 sizes S/M/L medical grade ear gels

Tone Free LAB – Beta and experimental functions

  • UVnano control – always on (engages UVNano on battery charge, not just USB-C cable charge)
  • Game Mode – reduces latency at the expense of bandwidth)
  • Whispering mode (right earphone) – hold the right bud near your mouth to speak into it like a handheld mic.
  • High Quality or Low latency (similar to games)

CyberShack’s view – The LG TONE Free T90 is pretty  well perfect

My point is that everyone has a preference, be it brand or style.

It ticks so many boxes

  • Very good ANC (not too far off Sony/Bose)
  • Qualcomm aptX Adaptive codec (Sony does not have this)
  • Neutral sound signature allows the EQ to work best (Sennheiser sounds a little better)
  • Dolby Atmos and Dolby head Tracking (no other major brand has this, but Sennheiser can play DA content)
  • Decent battery life (all are pretty much similar) and Qi charge (Bose missing this)
  • BT dongle charge case (unique to LG).
  • Hi-Def music (LG and Sennheiser)

It is the premium class leader in most categories and is worthy of consideration. Yes. I would buy it, but I am pretty rusted on to Sennheiser Momentum 3 sound quality.

Great value for what it offers.

LG TONE Free T90

   PODsmall stalk – conch design
   BudsIn-ear canal
   Sports (with wing)No
    IP ratingX4
   Ear tip typeSmall/Medium/Large medical-grade Gel
   ColourCharcoal Black/Snow White
   CabledHas 3.5mm-USB-C to AUX-in to the BT transmitter case.
      CodecsSBC, AAC, and aptX Adaptive
      A2DP, AVRCP, HFPAll
   True Wireless (Qualcomm)Can use either (mono) or both buds
   Google Fast PairYes
   Windows Swift pairYes
   MultipointYes – up to five in the App
   Weight each (grams)5.3
   Dimensions W x H x D mm22 x 28 x 25mm
   TypeTouch – Play/Pause, Volume, Skip Track, Ambient Listening and adjustable
   Auto pauseYes
   ANCYes – Adaptive offers best ANC for the external conditions
  Ambient passthroughYes
   Conversation modeYes
   Game modeYes
   Speaker size mm11mm Graphene – huge
   Frequency response20Hz-20kHz
BATTERY (unless cabled)
   mAh in each bud51
   mAh in case390
   Case charge type (USB or Qi)USB-C and Qi
        Case size/weight55mm x 30mm x 39g
   Charge voltage rating5V/.5A/2.5W – will use any USB-C PD or Qi charger
   Battery time excluding case ANC on/off5/9 (Test 70% volume 4 hrs and 47 mins)
   Additional battery time in case hours20
   Charge time case5m for 60min (ANC/off)
MICS for hands-free calls
   Number on each budFour, including VPU (Voice Pickup Unit)
   OtherWhisper mode
   TypeGoogle, Alexa and Siri via phone
APPLG Tone Free
   EQImmersive, Natural, Bass Boost, Treble Boost, 3D Sound Stage
   Find my budsYes
   OtherMeridian sound effects
   SpatialMeridian up-mix
 OS supportAndroid and iOS
UV Nano case kills 99.9% of specified bacteria after 10 minutes – wired or wireless charging.
The case acts as an AUX-in BT dongle – with no mic function.

Pro, con rating

   Warranty12-months ACL
   FromLG Online and approved retailers
Accessories includedUSB-A to USB-C charge cable
3.5mm to USB-C AUX-IN
Nothing – full-featured
PRO 1Great looks
2Superb sound
3Excellent hands-free
4Premium noise-cancelling with the right size gel TIP
5Charge time is accurate.
CON 1AUX-in does not support MIC, or app pre-sets
2Battery life is effectively 60-70% at normal (not 50%) volumes
3Critical to get a good fit for comfort and ANC
It has everything
At the upper end of the scale but more than comparable with Sony and Bose
Its ANC is not quite as good as Sony and Bose.
Ease of use9.00
Fast pair. You must use the right-sized gel.
Comfortable, well made, and I like the short stalks that make it easy to fit.
Score /109.1
 An excellent score and gets our recommendation.

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