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I tested LG's new Dolby Atmos earbuds against AirPods – and they're wild

(Image credit: TechRadar)
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Perhaps you know of LG's lineup of competitively-priced true wireless earbuds, called LG Tone (followed by a letter and some numbers). Even if you haven't yet had the pleasure, you need to hear more about the company's new flagship LG Tone Free T90, because the head-tracked Dolby Atmos is wild. 

Historically, and despite offering various novel special features, (the LG Tone Free HBS-FN6's case promised to kill almost all of the bacteria living on your buds with UV light; the LG Tone Free FP8 follow-ups added noise cancelation and Analogue Spatial Processing, a 3D audio filter to rival Apple's Spatial Audio) LG's Tone offerings have never quite hit the best true wireless earbuds sweet-spot to become the AirPods rivals LG is hoping for. 

But that may have just changed. 

Why? LG’s Tone Free T90 buds are the first wireless earbuds to use Dolby Head Tracking. Using this feature and its built-in Dolby Atmos support, these earbuds can track your head movements and alter the soundstage of the film or video game you’re playing to keep you immersed in the scene – yes, a clear rival to Apple's popular Spatial Audio feature with head-tracking. But here's the thing: Apple's head-tracked solution only works on its top-tier AirPods Pro, AirPods 3 and AirPods Max, using an Apple source device. LG's solution is far less fussy. 

And the price? The LG Tone T90 will arrive by the end of the month and will be priced at $230 (around £190 or AU$330). The keen-eyed will note that this undercuts the AirPods Pro nicely, which currently retail for $249 / £239 / AU$399. 

I'm testing this feature – and I'm not judging its other merits in this article – on an iPhone, directly comparing it to head-tracked Spatial Audio from a set of AirPods Pro. And the difference is remarkable. 

Opinion: this is ballsy, affordable, device agnostic head-tracked Dolby Atmos 

LG Tone Free T90 (left) and Apple AirPods Pro (right): both offer head-tracked 3D audio – but only one really lets you know it's happening (Image credit: TechRadar)

Cueing up Frank Sinatra's Fly Me to the Moon on Apple Music (I'm choosing Apple's own Spatial Audio curated playlist for this test) and ensuring 'Head Tracking' is selected under the Dolby Atmos tab in LG's Tone Free app, I turn my head to the right to wave as one of my colleagues walks past and inadvertently yell "That's wild!" because Ol' Blue Eyes' dulcet tones have just concentrated in my left ear. As the Chairman of the Board sings "you" at the very denouement of the song, I make certain it is sung into my left ear alone. 

What follows over the next few hours starts with a head-weaving exercise to rebalance the sound, then purposefully unbalance it again. Audio swerves between each ear. The exercise ends with me spinning around in my office chair, just to see if I prefer the bass in Elton John's Rocket Man to come more through my left ear or my right. And because your source device is the focal point for movement, you can even dance along to the swooshes within the track and encourage them to glide past each ear! Turn your back to your phone and with LG's Tone Free T90, it truly feels like the gig is behind you. 

Apple's Made For Spatial Audio Dolby Atmos playlist continues to The Rolling Stones' Start Me Up and I'm truly imagining I'm on Eel Pie Island, watching Jagger run past me as he belts out "Don't make a grown man cry!" – although yes, I do know the track came out in 1981, and the Stones performed at the Eel Pie Island Hotel in 1963. This is Dolby Atmos land, anything is possible. 

Switch to the AirPods Pro and vocals are slightly further back and the experience is altogether more subtle – which is to say that it is less fun. Certain musical passages are slightly more detailed and expansive through the AirPods, but personally, I miss the madness of turning to face the music. It isn't necessarily an audiophile experience (and I'm not commenting on the sound quality) but for actually being able to physically focus audio to a certain part of my skull, LG has beaten Apple here. 

For want of a better phrase, LG lets you know it's happening, and I like that. 

Check back for a full review of LG's Tone Free T90 soon. If you need me, I'll be going through the Beatles' back catalogue in Spatial Audio on the LG Tone Free T90. I want to try to hone in on McCartney's bass riff in Something… 

Senior Audio Staff Writer

Becky is a senior staff writer at TechRadar (which she has been assured refers to expertise rather than age) focusing on all things audio. Before joining the team, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.