LG Tone™ Active - Product Review by Audiosplitz

To say the LG TONE series has been successful is quite an understatement. As of July 2015, it has chalked up some impressive stats - selling in excess of 10 million units worldwide and being the top wireless Bluetooth headset brand (by units sold) in the US.

Recognizing that the sports segment has huge potential, LG announced the worldwide rollout of the LG TONE Active (HBS-850), a sports oriented unit, in that same month. We were fortunate to check out its Singapore launch held in Dec 2015, grab a unit and now, deliver a full review! 

Design
Out of the 4 colors to choose from - Lime, Orange, Blue and Pink, we obtained the Lime version, which actually dazzles in a bright yellowish veneer.

Now for the unboxing experience. 
You can feast your eyes at the product instantly through the transparent blister. 

Taking the top lid off gets you full access to the TONE Active, but not before peeling off a plastic fastening tab. There's a small box flanked on the top and a big one smack between HBS-850.

The big one includes the user guides while the small one bundles all the relevant accessories.

Taking everything out, the full packaging contents include:
- LG HBS-850 
- 2 x Ear gels (S / M)
- 2 x Stabilizer tips (S / M)
- Charging cable
- User guide

Let's talk about the LG HBS-850. Choker? Collar? Whatever you may name it, the LG TONE sure is a looker. Wearing it around the neck as fashion accessory is certainly an option. For practical purposes, it holds around your neck and doesn't fall off easily. Its design is undeniably striking, sporting bright colors that accentuate this notion. The retractable earphones are really convenient too - pull them out to slot in the ear and pull again to stash it back into storage. This is more apparent if you try to insert earbuds of other sports earphone types such as clip-ons or over-ears with one hand.

It weighs a pretty meaty 51g, not light compared with other sports earphones like the Jaybird X2 Wireless (13g) or the Beats Powerbeats 2 Wireless (24g). However, there's a purpose for the weight that we'll look at later.

Features
The TONE Active has an IPX3 rating. This is basically a International Protection Marking system that rates the degree of protection afforded against the elements. Nutshell - it's supposedly water and sweat resistant. 

Running on the Bluetooth 4.1, promising longer battery life, pairing is a cinch. Just hold the power button, activate your device's Bluetooth, select 'LG HBS850' and that's basically it. All this done with accompanying voice prompts and flashing LEDs to clearly indicate the pairing progress statuses.

The playback controls are found on both the left and right sides. The right has the volume up / down. On other selected Bluetooth earphones, holding the '+' will skip to the next track. On this unit, when you hold the button, it will do the reverse ie. jump to the previous track. No worries 'cos you get used to it in a jiffy. The left side has two buttons - Power and multi-function button.

There are two features that are not immediately obvious but add great value to the product - 
1. Built-in equalizer - There are 3 modes and this is changeable on the go by holding the multi-function button for 2 seconds. The default is a Bass Boost setting. Pressing again in a cyclic manner, will give you Normal and Treble Boost modes. Our preferred mode for jogging or traveling was the Bass Boost. In the office, Normal did great. Thankfully, your last setting will be remembered whenever you turn off the device.

2. LG Tone & Talk App
You can get this app on Google Play. The handy part is it can read out messages or notifications from different apps and it does have different language support. Curiously, I did not see this same app in the App Store.

The micro-USB port is hidden by a rubber cover on the inner ring. When charging, the indicator displays a solid red light, progressing to violet once hitting the 80% mark and blue at full capacity.

Performance
And now for the jog! 

I took the LG TONE Active for a 2.15km run at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I tested out both the Medium-sized issued silicon tips and Comply Foam Isolation Plus (Tx-400) tips (purchased separately) for jogging. We split its usage evenly during the run while the equalizer setting was at Bass Boost.
Besides the zig zag lines at the end of the jog, the GPS worked erm...fairly accurately.

1. Default Silicon Tips (M-size)
These tips are functional - they do their job in delivering quality sound. The isolation does a decent job but you can still hear the grass cutting through the music. The fit is great 'cos unlike the traditional under-ears earbuds (eg. Jabra Sport Coach), there's nothing that tugs the earbuds downward so they are always kept in place.

2. Comply Foam Isolation Plus (Tx-400) (M-size)
You are practically jogging in a world of your own. The default tips were good but the noise isolation on Comply Foam is considerably reduced to the extent that you'd get a little worried for your safety if you're jogging with road traffic closeby. Fit remains the same, but probably psychologically more assuring as the foam expands to lodge in the ears. The bass is actually upped an ante with these tips, something that worked perfectly fine for my run with Armin Van Buuren's Take Me Where I Wanna Go pounding my ears.

I'm not the kind that drenches the product in sweat after jogging. From my perspective, what can be said is the product still works perfectly fine. The sweat points are mainly around the black rubberized section surrounding my neck. The visible surface dried off pretty quick though you may wanna note that you may need to open up the stabilizers as some residual sweat may gather there.

Wearing them around the neck feels comfortable. Sure you feel something there, but it doesn't intrude into your physical activities that you consider it a hindrance. 

There's absolutely no cable rustle at all ie. no mechanical vibrations due to the LG TONE HBS-850 that get transmitted to your ear during the jog. The reason is simple - the ultra -thin earphone cable is never overly stretched when you jog. This is a actually a great feature. The only impact is actually the sensation of the tips of the LG TONE that throb up and down intermittently (like probably 10% of the entire jog) against your collar. 

To test the sound quality in detail, we sat in an office setting. The first sensing was that the quality was actually not too good - at least until we realized that the default setting was Bass Boost. Once Normal was activated, Keane's To The End Of The Earth suddenly took on a new dimension. The balance was struck by a piano accompaniment that felt more dramatic while the low frequencies came through with resolve. Simply put, use Normal (or Treble Boost if you love even more detail) in your office and Bass Boost when jogging. 

The TONE Active's 180mAh Lithium-Polymer battery can last for a decent 9.5 hours of music playback for less than 2h of full charge. Once powered, it boasts a healthy 13h talk time or an equivalent of 430h of standby. The battery life of the Jaybird X2 Wireless (8h) and Beats PowerBeats 2 Wireless (6h) is less, likely due to a more compact form factor. 

Overall
We enjoyed using the LG HBS-850 very much. The really convenient placement over the neck and ease of slotting the earbuds to fit was great. The almost non-existent microphonics, the great sound quality and adjustable equalizer really sealed the deal to make this an excellent choice for joggers.

Audio Sources
Take Me Where I Wanna Go - Armin Van Buuren, VanVelzen (Tidal 1411kbps FLAC) on Samsung Galaxy S4
To The End Of The Earth - Keane (Tidal 1411kbps FLAC) on Samsung Galaxy S4

Credit to Leader Radio Technologies and Hearing Components for review units.
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