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LG Tone INFINIM (HBS-910) Review

The LG HBS-910, the current iteration of the Tone INFINIM Bluetooth stereo headset, is near the top of the Tone line of Bluetooth stereo headsets, featuring a comfortable around the neck/on-collar design, long battery life, good 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 primary. The Tone line of headphones is comprised of -- from the top line -- the Tone PLATINUM, the Tone INFINIM, the Tone Active, the Tone ULTRA, and the Tone PRO.

LG has recently introduced the Tone PLATINUM as the top of the range, displacing the Tone INFINIM at the top, removing some features from the Tone INFINUM that had been available in its previous incarnation, the HBS-900, such as the accurate sound reproduction over the full audio spectrum, opting instead for an emphasis on bass in the Tone INFINIM and for an emphasis in the most accurate sound reproduction in the Tone PLATINUM. The design of the HBS-910 has been completely changed over the HBS-900, which in my opinion resulted in better build quality. Other changes in the new Tone INFINIM are the removal of the three preset equalizer settings. This may be understandable considering the marketing rationale in the allocation of features among the various Tone models, but interestingly, this feature has not been included in the new top of the line Tone PLATINUM.

Overall this is a quality Bluetooth stereo headset with good sound -- for those who prefer emphasized bass, long battery life, and innovative features, a good value considering Amazon's current (2 October 2016) price of $89.99. For those who prefer an accurate sound reproduction with as much detail as possible should probably consider the Tone INFINIM, currently designated HBS-1100.


Review

I acquired this pair of at Best Buy taking advantage of its price match policy, matching the Amazon price of $89.99, a considerable value when compared to the MSRP of $149.99.

Before I put on the new Tone INFINUM, currently designated HBS-910, I noted the ostensibly improved build quality that came with a redesign, and to my sensibility, a better look. After putting them on, I noted that this version was more comfortable; the headset seemed lighter, smaller, and more flexible. But this is where the positive impression of the redesigned INFINIM ended, the impression informed by my taste in the character of the reproduced sound..

If you read my review of the previous version of this model, you know I was impressed with the excellent sound quality, so I assumed that because this is just a newer version of the previous model, the current INFINIM would provide at least the same level of audio quality and character. However, as soon as the first song started to play, I was disappointed to hear that this version of the INFINIM was nowhere near as impressive as the previous version, this version producing what seemed to be a limited dynamic range concentrated in the lower part of the audio spectrum, without as much detail in the music or as much texture in individual instruments.

At first I thought my perception of this difference in sound quality, also informed by my preference for more accurate reproduction of detail and nuance in music as opposed to strong bass, was because I had used the previous version's preset equalizer -- which apparently is not available in this version of the INFINIM. But upon visiting the LG website, I learned that the emphasis in this version of the INIFINIM is on bass.

Despite the stress on base -- a negative only for those who want more accuracy and detail in the sound -- the current Tone INFINIM still has the innovative features of the previous Tone INFINUM, such as the apt-X wireless streaming compression method for Bluetooth, multi-point connection -- allowing two connections at the same time, and retractable cords.

One noticeable improvement is the build quality. The seams between the parts of the main body are so imperceptible, at first I thought it was a single part. Also improved is a flaw in the previous INFINIM where the opening through which the volume and track jog buttons extended were not always fully covered by the button after returning to the home position.

What hasn't improved over the last version is the annoying battery level notification system. As mentioned in the review of the HBS-900, the gradations of battery level in the notification announcements or the indicator light are not adequate, as they notify of only three levels -- high, medium, and low. Not only are there only three battery levels, where, for example, ten levels could be provided, with announcements at each 10% decrement, but the three levels do not seem to cover equal ranges of battery level, such that when the headset is first used after charging, the level is high and continues to be high and then medium for a long time, then very suddenly there is an announcement that the battery is extremely low and that the headset should be recharged. After just a few more minutes of use the unit shuts down.

Pros

  • comfort
  • battery life
  • advanced multi-point
  • apt-X
  • value (depending on retailer and the listener's preference for emphasized base)

Cons

  • not water resistant
  • gradations of battery level not precise in battery level information announcement or in LED indicator
  • no preset equalizer in this version


Select Features

Advanced Multi-Point

Advanced Multi-Point is one of the truly unique features of this Bluetooth headset -- as far as I know, not found in any other similar product. While two devices can be connected at the same time, one must be the primary device, or the one that responds to the CALL button. It works fairly well considering the imaginable complications of controlling two devices with the same set of controls. The key to successfully using this feature is to connect he device that is to be the primary device first, then the secondary device. It is also important to know that at any time an app running on either phone will have an exclusive interface to all of the buttons with the exception of the CALL button.

In my use case I conncect my HTC One M8 for Windows first to make it the primary device, then my Blackberry PRIV or Motorola Driod MAXX. As a specific example of how Multi-Point works in practice with this setup, consider the scenario where I may be using Google Maps to navigate on the PRIV but want to access Cortana on the Windows Phone. Whenever a voice guidance announcement is made by Google Maps, the app has exclusive control of all buttons except the CALL button but only during the announcement. I can at anytime press the CALL button and interact with Cortana. Another typical use case with the same devices as primary and secondary is listining to podcasts on the PRIV and interacting with Cortana using the CALL button. Lastly, if two audio sources have been started on both of the devices and then stopped, pressing the PLAY button will restart the audio from the app on the device last used for audio. This device will have exclusive interaction with the VOLUME up/down, TRACK forward/reverse, and the PLAY buttons.

These are just a few examples of how this feature works well. There are also some other minor delights with respect to Multi-Point. Unfortunately, there is a situation in my configuration in which it fails. This involves interruption of playback on the secondary device by an incoming call on the primary device or by the interaction with Cortana when a text messsage is received. In these situations playback is not autommaticlly resumed on the secondary.

apt-X

From the descriptions I have read about this codec, it seems like it is a contributor to the excellent sound quality of all of these headsets. At the time I wrote the review of the HBS-900, neither Beats or Plantronics headsets had apt-X. It does require that the connected device supports apt-X.

Voice Feedback and Prompts

There is a somewhat useful announcement when powering on the headset that provides a notification of the current battery level. This is only somewhat useful because, agian, only three battery levels are possible -- low, medium, and high. The usefullness is in that the user does not have to remember which of the jog buttons must be pressed and in what direction to activate the announcement.


Build Quality/Design

The current Tone INFINIM has been completely redesigned not only in terms of the sound reproduction charactersitics, but also in terms of physical design. The form of the headset has completely changed.

Controls/Jog Buttons

Where the previous model had large prominent buttons for PLAY and CALL, one on each side of the headset, on top of the somewhat flat lobes of the headset, the new version has moved them to the sides near the volume and track jog buttons. Maybe because of the overall form of the new INFINIM these button are now narrower and longer as opposed to the previous round. The new location and shape of the buttons has degraded the usability of the device for a new user as these buttons may be confused with the jog buttons.

The build quality with respect to the control buttons has improved, however. Wheras in the previous INFINIM the similarly shaped jog buttons did not completely reseat to the home position after activation such that the holes from which they protruded were not completely covered.

Retractable Ear-bud Wire Management System

The wire management mechanism seems increadibly flimsy, and when first seeing them, one would think that they would break easily. But in eight months of using the previous version on a daily basis, the cable management system has not given me any problems. Of course, the cables should not be pulled past the mechanism's resistance.

Comfort

The new Tone INFINIM is noticeably more comfortable than the previous version of this headset. It is both lighter and smaller; the comfort that derives from the first characteristic is obvious; the second characteristic's contribution to comfort may not be because it depends on the wearer's head dimensions. My experience with the Tone PLATINUM illustrates how the size is important to comfort because the PLATINUM's larger lobes -- the ends of which almost touch eachother -- are so far away from my ears, whenever I turn my head in one direction, the cable, on rare occasions might coil around the end of the lobe or snag on the end of the lobe, causing the headset to be tugged by the action of turning my head. As a result, I have developed the habit of sometimes extending the cables and running my fingers along the cables to make sure they are not twisted. The cabes geting caught by the ends of the headset actually happens rarely so it is not an issue at all.

Recommendation

The most significant impression I have of the new LG Tone INFINIM is that its development was completly driven by the desire to create a new high price point for the Tone range with the introduction of the Tone and by modifying the feature assortment in the lineup. Maybe LG should have kept the audio characteristics of the previous INFINUM -- at least the preset equalizer to accommodate different tastes in audio character -- and justified the higher price point in the new top of the line PLATINUM solely with its own new features, such as the 24bit support in the improved apt-X HD and the included NFC tag.

With this modification, I imagine LG is capitalizing on the positive reception and popularity of previous versions of the line. This is understandable, as LG is a business, but for the value conscious music lover who appreciates high fidelity audio and convenience this new INFINIM is not desirable and the PLATINUM should be considered for its higher fidelity -- although it is less of a value at the MSRP.