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LG HBS-900 Tone INFINIM - Review

The LG HBS-900 Infinium Bluetooth stereo headset is the top of the line of a group of Bluetooth stereo headsets featuring a comfortable around the neck/on-collar design, long battery life, good to superior sound quality, and a unique multi-point Bluetooth connection that allows the headset to be connected to two devices at the same time, where one connection is to a primary device. Compared with the other models in the range, the HBS-900 INFINIM has the best sound quality -- provided by harman/kardon, a premium appearance, and earbud cables that conveniently retract with a press of two buttons -- one for each earbud, when not in use, maintaining a neat and premium appearance. The INFINIM is not moisture resistant, however, as is the HBS-850 Tone Active.

The LG website states an MSRP of $149.99 for this headset but it is currently available at Best Buy for $129.99. I took advantage of Best Buy's price match policy to get them for the same price as on Walmart's online store -- $81.94. I also purchased Best Buy's extended replacement warranty because I know the headset will not last two years.

Overall the purchase is money well spent for a comfortable headset, and subjectively speaking, excellent sound quality with the convenience of Bluetooth -- multi-point no less -- that doesn't require frequent recharging.


Introduction

I purchased this headset as a replacement for the LG HBS-750 TonePro, a lower end of the previous generation of LG's series of around-the-neck/on-collar Bluetooth headset. The 750 finally succumbed to a level of build quality not suitable to longevity after a year and a half of heavy use. After about a year, the earbud sound engine would separate at an assembly seam and would have to be snapped back into place. Eventually it separated and fell on the foor without my knowledge and somebody stepped on it, deforming it such that it would not snap back securely. It was over for the headset at this point. When things like this happen, it is a reason to get something newer and better, and I'm glad I got the HBS-900.

I stll get the same great convenience of a stereo Bluetooth headset as with the HBS-750 but without having to recharge frequently as I had to with the Plantronics BackBeat Go 2, which I returned to get the 750s. But I also get better sound, more comfort, and the wire management system which stows the wires and docks the earbuds. Another improvement over the 750s is that a somewhat annoying periodic aerodynamic 'whooshing' sound heard when walking while listining to something quiet does not exist with the HBS-900.

Pros

  • comfort
  • battery life
  • advanced multi-point
  • sound quality
  • value

Cons

  • build quality
  • not water resistant
  • gradations of battery level not precise in battery level information announcement

Three characteristics stand out with respect to the HBS-900. The first is the comfort of the headset. The headset -- with the exception of the actual earbuds -- are imperceptable; when wearing a collared shirt, the shirt collars are actually more perceptable than the headset. The HBS-900 are much better in this regard among others, for example, than the Plantronics BackBeat Go 2 in that the Go 2 would be annoyingly noticable when turning my head because the 'grippy' surface finish of the cable connecting the two ear pieces would rub on clothing.

Battery life also stands out as excellent. The HBS-750 are rated at 14 hours music playback, whereas the 900s are rated at 17 hours of music playback. This is much better than the 4.5 hour battery life offered by the Plantronics Back Beat Go 2. I imagine headsets with a similar design to the BackBeat Go 2 and powerbeats2-- with two earpieces connected by a cable worn around the neck -- will also have short battery life due to the lack of volume for a large battery. This type of design also decreases comfort because the weight of the substantial portion of the headset are carried by the ears and not the neck or collarbone.

The truly unique feature of the TonePro line, never mentioned in other reviews I've seen is the multi-point Bluetooth connection which allows a simultaneous connection to two devices -- one primary device and a secondary device. This comes in handy for those with two phones or for those who would like to connect to a phone as a primary device and maybe a tablet or laptop as a secondary device for audio playback.

Features/Design

Advanced Multi-Point

Advanced multi-point is the term used by LG to refer to the ability of the headset to be actively connected -- not just paired -- to two devices at the same time. One of the connections will be the primary device and the other will be a secondary device. The primary device is the one that will be activated when pressing the call button on the headset. In my use case my HTC One M8 for Windows is always the primary device as that is the one I use for phone calls and texts, and one of a Motorola Droid Maxx, a first generation Surface, or an old laptop with an integrated Bluetooth radio is the secondary device, where either the primary device or the secondary device is playing music or podcasts while the primary device is also available for phone calls and queries to or interaction with Cortana.

The advanced multi-point always works perfectly, judged by the primary criteria that:

  • even if playing audio on the secondary device, the playback is interrupted to receive a phone call from the primary device
  • even if playing audio on the secondary device, pressing the "Call" button always activates Cortana on the Windows Phone
  • even if playing audio on the secondary device, Cortana will announce text messages and interact to read and reply to messages
  • the volume and previous/next buttons work as expected no matter which device or app is providing the audio

aptX

The headset also includes aptX -- an advanced audio codec compression method that was initially used in broadcasting then in other professional applications especially with wireless transmission, but has only recently been increasingly used in consumer electronics. It is an improvement over the previous method of compression in Bluetooth providing CD quality or near CD quality sound in Bluetooth streaming. This feature requires the device paired with the headset to be capable of streaming with aptX.

Even today this feature doesn't seem to be common; a cursory look at the powerbeats2 and the BackBeat Go 2 product documentation doesn't provide any indication that these headsets have aptX.

Voice Feedback and Prompts

The headset also features voice prompts for pairing and announcements when connection is lost and for battery level feedback. An annoying quirk of the low battery warning announcement is that the warning occurs only a few minutes before the battery completely dies and and the unit powers off. This seems like a detail that LG should have and could have easily designed better. Another related annoyance is that when the battery level is announced, at the user's request -- and not the automatic warning -- by activating the volume jog button, the available battery level gradations are only "high", "medium", and "low". I, and maybe others, would prefer a percentage in increments of 10%.

Build Quality/Design

Controls/Jog Buttons

The headset has:

  • two buttons to retract the earbuds, one on each side of corresponding to the earbud on that side
  • a jog button on either side that slides in two directions, the left button for volume, the right for previous/next. The jog dial can be pressed continuously to make a continuous change, an improvement over the HBS-750. the behavior of the previous/next depends on the app providing the sound.
  • a 'Call' button to activate the voice dialing. When Windows Phone is the primary device this activates Cortana. I assume it would activate OK Google if I used my Motorola phone as the primary device with OK Google. An app is available for Android phone that handles text message interaction (a feature built in to Windows Phone through Cortana). If neither OK Google or Cortana are enabled it will redial the last number called.
  • a 'Play/Pause' button. pressing briefly pauses/resumes, pressing longer stops media playback. Pressing this button twice in rapid succession switches the preset equalizer mode.
  • a power switch

The buttons are also capable of more functions besides these basic ones, including enabling the vibrate alert, muting, transferring a call among others. There seem to be other specifc functions when using the Android LG Tone & Talk companion app as indicated by the button markings such as one indicating text messaging.

The low build quality is primarily evident in the buttons. The volume jog button, for example, doesn't reseat itself where it should after activation and the cutout beneath it is visible allowing the charging indicator light -- normally visible from the other side of the headset -- to leak through.

Retractable Earbuds Wire Management System

The wire management system that automatically retracts the wires and docks the earbuds is another truly unique feature of the Infinum. Simply pressing the button spools the wires and docks the earbuds magnetically.

Sound Quality

The sound quality is on of the best features of the headset. Many headphones strive to enhance the bass so music sounds good, but I prefer to hear accurate detail accross the entire spectrum, and this headset delivers this in the default equalizer preset mode. The headsets do also provide a very effective enhanced base preset, which I don't find necessary, in addition to an enhanced treble preset.

The only flaw I've found with respect to sound quality is a rare static pop in the quite period between songs, but it only happens when there is no actual music, so it is not bothersome.

I highly recommend this headset. It has great sound quality, great comfort, excellent battery life, and the unique multi-point Bluetoothe connection. Before spending $50 more for the powerbeats2 -- based on MSRP -- and almost twice as much -- based on the lowest price of the HBS-900 and the powerbeats2 -- for 11 hours less battery life and the lack of some advanced features try the LG Tone Infinum (HBS-900).

The only area where the HBS-900 lacks is in build quality. I think it is likely that the power switch and the jog buttons will loose their firmness over time. I also guess that the parts that lock the wire retraction mechanism may become loose. The lack of moisture -- or sweat -- resistance may also be an issue for some (there is an HBS-850 Active which is a ruggedized moisture resistant version with retractable earbuds). But considering the price of the product for the savvy shopper and a worthwhile two year replacement warranty, the build quality, moisture resistance, or longevity should not be an issue compared to the other excellent characteristics.