LG TONE Studio Review – Wearable Surround Sound System
I seem to be on quite a bit of a Bluetooth headphones roll recently. First, there was a set from Sony, then JBL, then JBL again, iHome, and finally an upcoming review of a decibel friendly set from Puro Sound Labs. Today, I’m taking a look at the LG TONE Studio. It’s a $230 wearable personal speaker system from LG. It shares some attributes with other headsets I’ve reviewed. But it charts its own course with speakers that broadcast sound rather than simply directing it into your ear canals. After using it a bit I’ve got some thoughts on its usefulness.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the way the LG TONE series looks. I just never got into the whole neck-straddling, tethered earbuds thing. That said, I think the LG TONE Studio looks pretty good. I guess the purpose of the device forces me to look at it differently but as a wearable speaker it is pretty slick. It looks similar to LG TONE devices of years past with the slightly bulky arms that hug your neck and shoulders and a flexible connector that rests at the base of your neck.
There are retractable earbuds for times when you don’t want to broadcast whatever audio you are listening to. It’s nice that they’re there and they definitely extend the usability of the speaker. Throughout my time testing the TONE Studio I felt like I was going to break the earbuds every time I used them. The retractable wire that secures them is precariously thin. Nothing bad ever happened so they did prove sturdy enough. LG includes three caps so that you’re sure to find a size that fits your ears comfortably.
There are retractable earbuds for times when you don’t want to broadcast whatever audio you are listening to. Just pull the earbuds out and flip the headphone/speaker toggle. It’s nice that they’re there and they definitely extend the usability of the speaker. Throughout my time testing the TONE Studio I felt like I was going to break the earbuds every time I used them. The retractable wire that secures them is precariously thin. Nothing bad ever happened so they did prove sturdy enough. LG includes additional caps so that you’re sure to find a size that fits your ears comfortably.
The shell of the device is all grey and silver plastic. It is attractive enough. It sports a low profile and slides easily under a collar or coat. In general, I like the look of the LG TONE Studio much more than I thought I would. Out in the real world its a pretty cool looking set. It actually feels quite comfortable when I wear it. All of the edges are rounded so there’s nothing poking or prodding you. It isn’t heavy at only 4.4 ounces so weight was never an issue for me. The LG TONE Studio is plenty wide enough to easily fit around my chubby neck. I will mention that my wife and daughter both said that the speaker did bit into their collar bones a bit. So, the skinnier and bonier among you need to be aware.
The LG TONE Studio is unique in that it works as an open-air speaker and earbud headphones. The speaker system is DTS-tuned to theoretically provide a surround sound type experience. In practice, it works pretty well. There are four speakers on the TONE Studio – two pointing up toward your ears and two toward your collar bone. The speakers do a pretty good job of emulating surround sound, especially for surround encoded videos. Watching movies from a source like Google Play is a joy.
You lose some of the benefits when just listening to music but they still sound good. LG markets the downward speakers as Wearable Bass. In my experience bass was the weakest part of the listening experience. It just isn’t as deep and rich as I’d hoped. But, the overall effect is pleasing. The speakers do get plenty loud. Most of the time I used them at half-loudness or lower.
The earbuds surprised me with how good they sound. I was really expecting them to be a throw-away feature but I actually liked them quite a bit. They’re very comfortable in the ear and sound great. Definitely comparable to the JBL E25BT set I recently tested. Maybe even slightly better. Once they’re snug in your ear there’s little outside noise that gets in. Mids are good and bass is rich.
The LG TONE Studio can also make phone calls using the speakers and built-in microphone. Mic quality is good but only one speaker plays the other caller’s audio. It’s a little disconcerting at first but is something you’ll soon get used to if you use it to make phone calls often (I didn’t).
The built-in battery lasts a long time. I got about six hours using the speakers and it’s rated 30+ hours when using earbuds. You can easily get two feature length movies worth of audio out of the LG TONE Studio. I wasn’t able to push the headphones to their 30+ hour limit but it seems like a reasonable number based on the speaker performance.
WHAT’S THE POINT?
In discussing the LG TONE Studio with a few people reactions vary from “Wow! Tha’s cool!” to “What’s the point of those?” There are some very specific use cases where the LG TONE Studio makes a lot of sense. They’re great for working out – privately. You don’t want to be the jerk in the gym blasting your workout playlist for everyone around you to hear. They are also a safer alternative to wearing headphones while driving (which isn’t even legal most places in the US). If your car isn’t Bluetooth equipped then the LG TONE Studio is an easy way to add it to your driving experience. The primary use for me was to watch videos on my lunch break at work. It’s a pretty cool way to enjoy “surround” sound on the go.
The speakers are pretty pricey at $229 but they work great. It’s hard to give a straight-up recommendation to something so expensive but if you have the money and the need you won’t be disappointed.