When it comes to wireless headphones, you can group them into 3 popular categories: one with a full size over-ear design heavily promoted by rap stars, the other intended for sport activities with little earbuds connected by a short cable, and the third one with around-the-neck wearing design. For a comfortable everyday use, you can probably cross the first two off your list because they are either too bulky and awkward to wear or hang loose around your neck when not in use. With the last one a lot of companies tried to come up with an ultimate solution, but only one succeeded with a design that has been recognized with multiple awards. LG Tone series took wireless headphone world by storm with their very popular HBS-700 and later follow up with HBS-730. In hope to continue this streak of success, LG introduced a new LG Tone Ultra under model HBS-800. I just had a chance to test, to review, and to compare it to HBS-730. Here is what I found.
LG Tone Ultra arrived in a very nicely packaged box with a clear full size image of the headset on the front and detailed functional description with specifications and additional features on the back. I actually did appreciate the functional description since it served a purpose of a quick start guide. You might ask why would I need one while being quite familiar with HBS-730? HBS-800 was not just a refresh similar to 700 -> 730 but actually a redesign with some significant changes. You still get the same memory flex neck band design, earbuds magnetically attached to the end ports of the neck band, and individual controls for supported functions, but HBS-800 has been refined to the next level with an updated distinct look.
Starting with around-the-neck flex band, now it features a better defined body contoured fit where it stays put even while you move around. Don't expect it to be "glued" to your shoulders as you jump up and down or do decline bench press, but as you quickly turn to the side it moves more in sync with your body. The top has been uncluttered by moving volume buttons down the Call side of the band, and song transport buttons down the Audio Playback side of the band. For a diehard fans of HBS-700/730 these changes probably going to take a little bit of time to get used to, but I found them to be an improvement in ergonomics because now you can control these buttons with your thumbs. The next big visible change was Call and Audio Playback buttons. What used to be a round generic button with a blinking light, which I found to be distracting on a few occasions, now is a beautifully crafted buttons in a shape of a phone handset and play/pause symbols. That really added a touch of class to the headset, and also made it convenient to distinguish button functionality by touch even in a dark. Another big change was an update to where you attach earbuds. Though it's still at the tip of the neck band, now it's completely covered from the top. I found this change to be both a step back and forward at the same time. This change makes it more difficult to "park" earbuds by simply bringing them close to the ends of the neck band like it was with 700/730. Now, you need more effort to make sure they are positioned correctly before attaching them. But the benefit is that design looks cleaner, and you don't have to worry about knocking them down by mistake. That was actually one of the minor issues I had with HBS-730 where half of the time I found earbuds hanging after I accidentally knock them down.
The light indicator also got relocated down to the inner side next to the power switch. I was very happy LG kept the physical power switch considering so many other headphone manufacturers prefer to consolidate multiple controls into multifunction buttons. Here, there is no confusion when headset is on or off which also controls pair up with your phone. To my surprise, closer examination of inner side of headphones revealed another power switch. As it turned out, HBS-800 added a new feature with active Ambient Noise Cancellation (ANC) functionality. Using a basic principle of sampling ambient noise and negating it with an inverse soundwave, this feature was cleverly implemented to work independent of headphone being on or off. This way you don't even need to turn your headset to pair up with your phone, and instead just turn the ANC control on to use HBS-800 as noise canceling earplugs - great for saving the battery. The same with power on, if you don't require ANC feature, which introduces a slight hissing background noise, you can turn it off and enjoy your music with a highest level of signal-to-noise ratio. Also to note, the charging power connector remained a standard micro-usb so you can use any of your phone/tablet charging cable. Or use the included high quality usb to micro-usb cable to charge your headset from any PC or external battery or wall charger. Full charging from zero shouldn't take more than 2 hours, and battery life remained stellar at 10+ hours.
Moving on, pair up with a phone was flawless and headset got connected to the phone and media audio within seconds with an audible confirmation. As with a previous models, HBS-800 supports all the major BT3.0 standards such as HSP, HFP, A2DP, and AVRCP. I also appreciate how turning the headset on tells you the battery status, which also can be accessed later by pressing volume button down. In addition, I tested multi-point connection where I paired up Note 2 and S5 without any issues. I was able to stream audio from my Note 2 while a call to S5 paused it and then resumed playing music after I was done with a call. This becomes very useful, for example, when you are streaming audio or watching video wirelessly connected to your tablet and can also pick up the call from your paired up phone without taking headphones off and manually pausing your tablet activities. Speaking of calls, I actually did some testing being outside in a wind, and everything sounded crystal clear on both ends of the connection.
And speaking of crystal clear, I'm saving the best for last. With a release of Tone Ultra, LG teamed up with JBL using their patented Harmon audio drivers. One thing a lot of people don't realize, you need to treat HBS-800 just like any other in-ear headphones, which means you have to start by selecting a proper eartip from the included selection of S/M/L pairs. The proper eartip fitment will make or break the sound. That is why I see so many people writing their comments about not noticing a sound difference between 730 and 800. Without a tight seal you will not be able to appreciate a new rich warm sound with a deep punchy bass and a clear detailed mids and highs. Don't get me wrong, these are not audiophile quality headphones, but with enhancement of new JBL audio drivers and support of aptX which reduces compression of wireless sound - these actually sound very good! By default HBS-800 is set to bass enhanced mode which can be changed to a more balanced/normal sound or treble enhanced sound. To me, the sound improvement was one of the main changes stepping up to HBS-800 model where I finally was able to enjoy some decent bass! And just like with 700/730 models, the separation of volume and song transport controls (to skip next/prev as well as rewind forward or back) enhanced the listening experience where unlike with some other wireless headsets you no longer have to remember to short or long press volume buttons in order to switch between volume and track control. Google NOW worked flawlessly as well.
Overall, while being a big fan and a long term user of HBS-730, I approached this review a little cautiously trying to figure out if the price premium of HBS-800 will justify choosing it over recently reduced in price HBS-730 model. After a closer look and continuous use over the weekend, I was able to fully justify that. The redesign with an improved ergonomics, including neck band shape and a more logical relocation and change of buttons, the addition of independently controlled ANC (though might not be necessary for some, a bonus for others), and the improvement in sound quality (as long as you choose a correct silicone eartips), made a significant enough improvement in overall decision to move from HBS-730 to HBS-800 which I'm planning to do. Without a doubt YMMV and for some creatures of habit not every change will be welcomed, but hopefully my review will be able to guide you if you are thinking about the upgrade or just looking to purchase your first set of LG Tones. Also, be careful when you are shopping around especially on Amazon where there is a number of look-a-like low quality knock offs.
Here are the pictures.