One of the most comfortable earbuds I’ve tested aren’t made by Apple or Bose

LG Tone Free T80 earbuds open lid in front of laptop screen.

Max Buondonno/ZDNET

ZDNET’s key takeaways

  • The Tone Free T80 are LG’s latest wireless earbuds for $199. 
  • They’re a solid value with all the features you’ve come to expect from a pair of buds: ANC, transparency mode, and wireless charging.
  • In a market crowded with great earbuds, they don’t particularly stand out. 

It’s hard to find the perfect pair of earbuds these days; new models are seemingly announced every day. Case in point, LG is the latest brand to add their own to the mix with the Tone Free T80 earbuds, and I’ve been using them for just over two weeks to see whether they’re worth $200. 

With head-tracking spatial audio powered by Dolby Atmos, noise cancellation, and up to 36 hours of battery life, they definitely show up to the party with a bunch of features. That being said, there are so many great earbuds out there in this price point, and they’re all competing for the top spot despite the overlap in their offerings. 

Also: The best earbuds you can buy: Expert tested

I admit, I went into the review comparing these earbuds to my personal favorites, the Nothing Ear 2 earbuds, which have a cooler design (but lack spatial audio) for $50 less. Regardless, I wanted to give the T80 a fair shake. 

View at LG

Right off the bat, I was a fan of the T80’s design. LG shaped them to sit comfortably in your ears for long periods of time, and they don’t feel one-size-fits-all in the way that Apple’s AirPods do; rather, they conform to your ear canal, similar to Samsung’s Galaxy Buds. 

LG also gave the buds an IPX4 rating, protecting them from sweat when you’re working out. You also get extra ear tips in the box to get the perfect seal for blocking out external noise.

Also: Your Apple Watch is getting an upgrade – here are the coolest features in WatchOS 11

The charging case they come with is a little bulky, but it serves its purpose well. I’m particularly happy it comes with wireless charging; I lean on Qi charging far more for earbuds than I do with my phone, and love being able to put them on the charger I keep on my desk when not in use.

LG Tone Free T80 earbuds playing Post Malone.

Max Buondonno/ZDNET

Audio quality on these earbuds is already quite good, but the LG Tones app (available for iOS and Android) offers a wide selection of features to optimize further. The earbuds’ reinforced graphene drivers reduce vibrations, resulting in audio that’s clear and full of life. The bass is well defined and has enough punch for everyone from EDM fans to hip-hop heads, and the buds deliver solid performance, even at higher volumes.

Also: Why I ditched my AirPods Pro for Nothing’s new transparent earbuds (and don’t regret it)

If there’s one area that I was unimpressed with, though, it’s podcast audio. Voice-only content sounds fine most of the time, but at high volumes, it can get a little tinny. Luckily, there are plenty of EQ settings in the LG Tone app that let you tweak the audio to optimize it. 

Because spatial audio and head-tracking are all the rage nowadays, LG made sure to include Dolby Atmos support and Dolby Head Tracking, two features designed to make audio more immersive by creating multi-layered soundscapes that support audio from all angles. 

But if you’re anything like me, I can’t really listen to audio on this setting for more than five minutes at a time. Admittedly, there are some songs that sound decent when you play their Dolby Atmos mix, like George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.” But I have yet to find a single song that sounds better with the Dolby Atmos mix turned on, let alone an entire playlist of them.

Then there’s the head-tracking component which I simply just don’t enjoy. This isn’t the fault of the T80s, it’s my own. I simply don’t like drastic changes in the way my music or movies sound when I turn my head slightly to the left or right. I always turn off head tracking when I test new headphones, and that didn’t change with the T80s.

LG Tone Free T80 earbuds playing Post Malone on YouTube Music.

Max Buondonno/ZDNET

I tested the T80s while traveling, and had a chance to put the active noise cancellation to the test while at the Philadelphia International Airport. Sure enough, the ANC works well on these buds. It doesn’t block quite as much noise as my AirPods Pro (2nd-generation), but it blocks enough that the noise of fellow travelers won’t get on your nerves.

Also: The best noise-canceling earbuds you can buy: Expert tested

There’s also a feature called Whisper mode that lets you use the right earbud to have private conversations while the other person’s voice is slightly amplified. Conversely, Conversation Mode helps voices stand out while you’re wearing the earbuds so you don’t have to take them out.

These features are nice additions to the Tone Free T80s. No, they aren’t reasons to rush out and buy them, but they add to the experience in meaningful ways. Plus, you can cycle through them by touching and holding either bud.

LG Tone Free T80 earbuds with the lid open.

Max Buondonno/ZDNET

Regarding the battery life; it’s good, but not quite as good as advertised. LG says the Tone Free T80 earbuds can last up to nine hours on a full charge and up to 36 hours with the charging case. That’s competitive with today’s wireless earbuds, but in the real world, it’s much less enticing.

The battery life on the T80s is measured with the ANC off. When you turn it on, those estimates drop to five hours on a full charge and 20 hours with the case. In reality, I was able to get between 3.5 and 4.5 hours of battery life with ANC on, around six hours of battery life with it off.

ZDNET’s buying advice

The LG Tone Free T80 earbuds offer a solid feature set for $199. I enjoyed their comfortable design and good sound quality, as well as the surprisingly solid ANC. Battery life could be better, and I’m still not sold on the whole Dolby Atmos spatial audio thing. But overall, I was surprised by how much I liked the T80s.

That being said, they can’t match the pair of $149 earbuds I recommend to everyone: the Nothing Ear. The earbuds by Nothing offer a much more unique design, better audio quality, and stronger ANC for less than the T80s. You won’t get spatial audio support, though, so you’ll have to decide if the tradeoff is worth it. 

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