Wayne Thorp will speak at the 2015 AAII Investor Conference this fall; go to www.aaii.com/conference for more details.
A wireless stereo headset with enhanced audio and noise reduction.
I have reviewed a few different Bluetooth stereo headsets over the last several months and my experience has been varied. In general, the sound quality has been above average, but the design and execution of some models has been severely lacking. The LG Tone+ headset had caught my eye on several occasions at various electronics stores, so I was pleased when I was given one to review. It is the best-designed Bluetooth stereo headset I have run across thus far. However, as has been the case with other models, the Bluetooth performance is somewhat frustrating.
The LG TONE+ definitely wins when it comes to design. The other Bluetooth headsets I have reviewed have either been over-the-ear “earmuff” style or in-ear earphones with a dangling control pod that you clip to your shirt or wear on a lanyard (a terrible design, in my opinion). The LG TONE+ is a behind-the-neck style, or what the company calls “Memory Flex Neck Strap.” It looks like a horseshoe and you put this strap around your neck and from it run two wired ear buds, which snap into magnetic slots on the tip of each end for transport. The strap itself then has all the control switches and buttons. After a while, you aren’t even aware you have something around your neck. If you aren’t keen about drawing attention to yourself, the TONE+ is also relatively low-profile. The neck strap measures 5.34 inches by 6.59 inches by 0.67 inches and the unit weighs 1.13 ounces.
Included with the LG TONE+ are two additional sets of ear buds of different sizes to help get you the best fit possible. In addition, there is a USB charging cord. Bucking the current trend, LG actually ships a charger with the TONE+, not just a USB charging cable. However, you can also charge the headset by plugging it into a power USB port on a computer or using a third-party USB charger.
As I mentioned, all of the controls are on the neck strap itself. On the left side are rocker buttons that control volume as well as the call button to answer and disconnect calls. This is also where you will find the micro-USB charging port and a dedicated on/off switch, something I really wish more Bluetooth devices would have so you know for sure if the device is on or off in order to conserve battery life. On the right side is the play/pause button for audio playback as well as rocker buttons to forward/reverse audio control.
Getting started with the TONE+ couldn’t be easier. Begin by making sure the Bluetooth on your mobile device is on and then switch on the TONE+. If the headset has not been paired with another device, it will automatically enter pairing mode, which is a nice touch. It should appear on your device’s list of available Bluetooth devices; selecting it will finish the pairing. Then, going forward, the two devices will automatically pair (assuming the TONE+ is powered on and Bluetooth is activated on your device). The device supports Advanced Multipoint, which means two Bluetooth-enabled devices can be connected to the TONE+ at the same time. The headset supports call waiting between two handsets; during a call, the users can accept an incoming call from another handset while placing the first call on hold.
The positioning of the controls with the TONE+ does take some getting used to. The biggest hindrance is that you can’t actually see the controls. So, you need to remember which controls are on which side of the neck strap. From a button size-and-feel standpoint, the controls are actually the same on both sides. This led to more than a few accidental dials and hang-ups before I got a feel for things. For me, this is an acceptable trade-off, as the design is the most functional and comfortable I have seen so far.
The biggest complaint I have with the TONE+, and pretty much all Bluetooth stereo headsets, has to do with the Bluetooth connectivity. However, as I am learning, this may have more to do with Apple’s iOS than the headsets themselves. Bluetooth, in general, is supposed to have a line-of-sight range of roughly 30 feet. I understand that the signal isn’t meant to go through walls and such, but I have yet to find a Bluetooth stereo headset that can stay connected to my iPhone 5, or previously, my iPhone 4S, with it in my pants or coat pocket. There are times I have to carry my iPhone in my hand in order to maintain a constant connection to listen to music. After reading an Apple Support message board and seeing other TONE+ users experiencing the same problems, it appears that the issue may be tied to iOS 6, as users did not experience the same problems on iOS 5.
The LG TONE+ certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to audio quality. LG touts the enhanced audio and bass response of the TONE+, and it is evident from my testing. The bass is the fullest of any Bluetooth stereo headset I’ve reviewed, but it isn’t overpowering. The audio clarity is very good, even with the occasional connection issues. The audio performance doesn’t distinguish itself from the other headsets I’ve reviewed, nor does it draw negative attention.
Bluetooth headsets such as the TONE+ are, in my mind, intended for audio and not hands-free calling. Generally speaking, the call quality of these devices pales in comparison to the audio playback quality. That being said, I thought the TONE+ performed admirably. The device’s noise reduction capability scans the call audio and removes any sounds that are outside the range of the caller’s voice. Since the microphone is built into the neck strap, be aware that it may be covered when wearing a coat. I ran into this problem, which made it difficult for the person on the other end of the line to hear me.
LG claims the TONE+ delivers 10 hours of music listening and 15 hours of talk time, which is significantly higher than some of the other Bluetooth stereo headsets I’ve reviewed. Depending on your mobile device, it may display a battery meter for the TONE+ to give you an idea of the remaining battery life. The device itself also provides an audio indication of the remaining battery life.
I am a fan of ear buds and found the TONE+ to be very comfortable to wear. Having different sized tips ensures a custom fit, which cuts down on the “ear fatigue” I have run across with ill-fitting ear buds. The around-the-neck style is a winner in my book, offering the greatest level of comfortable and convenience I have found with a Bluetooth stereo headset.
The LG TONE+ has become my new go-to Bluetooth stereo headset. While the audio quality isn’t spectacular, it is definitely above average. What really sets it apart for me is its design. The around-the-neck design tops the other devices I have reviewed. It is very comfortable to wear and doesn’t leave you looking for somewhere to clip it. I was a bit disappointed in the Bluetooth connectivity, but my research seems to point to a problem with iOS 6 and not the headset itself. The battery life is also impressive, given the battery life of other headsets I have reviewed here. Lastly, the LG TONE+ retails at less than $80 and can be found through many retailers for under $60. For everything the TONE+ provides, this is also the greatest value I have found. So when an item is top in design and cost, it’s difficult not to give it a hearty recommendation.
LG TONE+ Bluetooth Headset (HBS730)
$79.99 (Currently $51.48 from Amazon.com)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.