Functions as both earphones and a speaker. Fairly comfortable.
Expensive. Personal speaker can perturb people around you. Mediocre sound quality from both speaker and earphones.
- Bottom Line
The LG Tone Studio is a poorly conceived idea that combines wireless earphones with a personal speaker, and neither option sounds very good.
When it comes to wireless headphones, gimmicks need to be one of two things in order to be successful. They either need to be functional and compelling, or they need to be easily ignorable and not impact the price. LG's $229.99 Tone Studio fails on both fronts. It's a pair of Bluetooth earphones that double as a personal speaker, with four drivers that provide individual surround sound in addition to the earpieces. Unfortunately, the speaker function is mediocre for the listener and disturbing to everyone around them, and the earphones don't sound very good either. For the price, you can get a quality set of Bluetooth earphones and a good, portable Bluetooth speaker, and still have change to spare.
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The Studio takes the neckband earphone design of the LG Tone series and blows it up into a big, goofy-looking gray horseshoe. The U-shaped neckband is thin and cylindrical in the middle, but quickly expands into inch-wide silver-colored wings that sit on either side of your neck. These wings are necessary to hold both the Tone Studio's earpieces and speaker drivers, but they look ridiculous.
The earpieces are small earphones mounted on the end of very thin eight-inch lengths of wire, and retract into the neckband's wings when not in use. Upward-facing speaker drivers sit higher up on the neckband, positioned just behind and under your ears, while downward-facing drivers are just in front of your shoulders.
The left wing of the neckband has a volume wheel, a pinhole microphone, and a micro USB port facing out, and a power switch, call answer/end button, and an indicator LED facing in. The right wing features a track navigation rocker and a 3.5mm aux input facing out, and a play/pause button and headphone/speaker switch facing in. The outward-facing ports are covered with rubber doors to protect them, and the inward-facing controls sit just forward enough on the neckband's wings that they can be easily reached.
Despite its cumbersome-looking design, the Tone Studio is fairly comfortable to wear. The neckband has enough flexibility that the wings don't push inward on the sides of your neck, and at just 4.4 ounces, it doesn't weigh down your shoulders, either. The only real cause for concern is that the earphone wires are so thin they feel like they can rip or stretch out with a slight yank, and getting each earphone to retract cleanly into its recess is a bit finicky.
The good news is that when used as earphones, the Tone Studio shows no appreciable distortion when playing deep bass at maximum volume levels. The bad news is that it lacks much power at all in either mode, no matter how high you turn things up. While the kick drum hits and bass synth notes in The Knife's "Silent Shout" have no crackle or popping, they also come through as little more than gentle tapping. This bass weakness is apparent in LG's Tone Pro and Tone Ultra earphones as well, but they respectively cost less than a third and half as much as the Tone Studio.
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Skid Row's "Youth Gone Wild" fares only slightly better through the earphones. The heavy metal guitar riffs and screeching vocals can be clearly heard, though the kick drum loses most of its force and only comes through in the attack. Synth-heavy sounds get the best treatment here. The steady drums and poppy melody in Erasure's "Chains of Love" receive just enough presence to stand alongside the vocals and produce a pleasant, balanced mix, even with little sense of low-end.
The speaker mode is intended to be used by just one person, providing a strange form of surround sound with its four drivers. This means you are still wearing the Tone Studio just as if you were using it as earphones—not off and sitting on a table like a traditional Bluetooth speaker.
Speaker mode offers more powerful (but not more clear or balanced) sound than the earphones, at the expense of neck-tickling vibration and drawing the ire of anyone near you when you wear it. And the sound is simply sound anemic when it isn't around your neck; stand more than a few feet away, and any surrounding noise will drown the Tone out. The surround sound effect is dubious at best, especially when the Bluetooth connection doesn't actually support dedicated surround sound and the earphones rely on their own audio processing to handle anything beyond stereo separation.
The Knife's "Silent Shout" doesn't get any more bass response through the speakers than it does through the earphones, giving no sense of low-end to the kick drum hits or bass notes. "Youth Gone Wild" and "Chains of Love" don't fare any better, sounding shrill and unbalanced across the board. And again, I can't really imagine a scenario in which you'd want to listen to personal speakers that will perturb those around you.
The LG Tone Studio is an interesting idea, but not a particularly good one. A personal speaker you wear and use to blast out audio that only sounds remotely good to you won't make others nearby happy, not to mention the Tone Studio's performance both as earphones and as a speaker is simply mediocre. For the same price, you can get the Jaybird X3 wireless earphones and a Harman Kardon Onyx Mini speaker, both of which are Editors' Choice winners in their respective categories. Or, if you simply want very good wireless earphones, the B&O Play Beoplay H5 is a feature-laden, accessory-filled pair that sound magnitudes better than the Tone Studio.
By Will Greenwald Senior Analyst, Consumer Electronics
Will Greenwald has been covering consumer technology for a decade, and has served on the editorial staffs of CNET.com, Sound & Vision, and Maximum PC. His work and analysis has been seen in GamePro, Tested.com, Geek.com, and several other publications. He currently covers consumer electronics in the PC Labs as the in-house home entertainment expert, reviewing TVs, media hubs, speakers, headphones, and gaming accessories. Will is also an ISF Level II-certified TV calibrator, which ensures the thoroughness and accuracy of all PCMag TV reviews…. More »
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