Since Apple released its conspicuous wireless earbuds at the end of 2016, the true wireless earbud market has exploded. Tons of companies are releasing their own versions. Even Ray-J, of reality TV’s Love & Hip Hop, has a couple of pairs he sells via his Raycon website, rayconglobal.com. The segment is very competitive.
HELM Audio, a company founded by audio industry veterans, is hoping to make some waves in this segment with their very attractive HELM Audio True Wireless earbuds. A glance at their website highlights the high-quality sound, enhanced ergonomics, and extended Bluetooth range of these earphones, and after about two weeks of use, I pretty much agree with this assessment.
Upon opening the box, you will find the standard stuff associated with true wireless earphones. There’s the charging case, a short charging cable, two earpieces with pre-fit ear tips, three sets of spare silicone ear tips, and one set of comply ear tips. There’s also a quick start instruction manual and registration card.
The wireless earpieces are quite striking, with a glossy diamond cut pattern on the front face. Fit and finish are excellent, and inspire confidence for their longevity. They are also pretty comfortable with a secure fit enhanced by the rubberized rear surface that makes contact with your inner ear, and the soft non-removable fin built into the top of the rear plate. The shape of the rear plate also fit the contour of my inner ear very well. The only issue I had was with the overall size of the earpieces. They are a little on the large size, so at first, it felt like there was a little excess pressure on the inside of my ear, but after a few minutes I got used to them and I didn’t notice the pressure anymore.
The rubberized rear surface also facilitates IPX4 water resistance, which means they are sweat and rain approved.
Just like all the true wireless earphones I have used in the past, charging the HELM True Wireless is a matter of charging the charging case via USB, then dropping the earpiece into the case to charge.
You can check the charge of the case by pressing the button on the inside of the case which illuminates between one and four lights on the front of the case. Four lights is a full charge, and once you get down to zero lights then the case needs to be recharged. It takes 1.5 hours to charge the case back up, and it can recharge the earphones up to 5 times before it needs to be charged again. The earpieces last for about 3 hours of playback or 100 hours standby, after a two-hour charge in the case.
Pairing the earphones with my phone was pretty easy, but not as easy as some other models I have used in the past. Some True Wireless earphones have auto pairing. With auto-pairing, the buds automatically turn on when you open the case, then once you remove the buds from the case, then they automatically pair to the phone and each other after the initial pairing.
With the HELM True Wireless, even after the initial pairing, you have to hold the buttons on both earpieces for about 15 seconds, and if they are in your ear, each one will announce with a voice prompt that they are turned on. After a couple of seconds, they will announce that they are connected to each other, and then finally after a few more seconds, they will announce they are connected to the phone. This is a little more tedious and takes longer than auto-paring, but the voice prompts are a nice touch since they guide you through the process.
Bluetooth version is 4.1, no AAC or Apt-x codecs, connections are very stable, I was able to walk all around the house upstairs and downstairs with my phone laying on my desk on the 2nd floor of my house, and there was very little dropout or disconnection of the buds from each other. Phone calls were decent, I was able to hear the person on the other end, and they were able to hear me as well with no problem.
Speaking to the ergonomics, I must say that I really like the placement of the buttons on the earpieces, which is important since this is really the only tangible user interface you have. On some True Wireless models, the button placement is really bad, making them hard to operate, but on the HELM Audio version, the buttons are placed at the top and on an angle which really made the easy to use.
The sound quality is probably the best part of the HELM True Wireless package. The overall sound signature is tilted to the bass, with a definite accent in that area, but it’s quality bass, being deep and articulate, not boomy. It drives the rhythm with authority. The Treble is easygoing yet detailed enough to keep things interesting up top, and the mids while recessed, are rich and natural, without a lot of honkiness or boxiness.
Listening to “Touch” from Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” was a nice experience on the HELM True Wireless. The results were very musical, and while there was definitely some sparkle taken off the top, evidenced by some dullness in the cymbals, the midrange was sweet, and the male vocal sounded great. The bass also had a nice thump to it, and while I would have like liked it dialed it down a little bit, it wasn’t out of control at all.
They don’t have a reference audiophile sound, but they have a nice non-fatiguing, fast and rich presentation, which brings enjoyment to just about any type of music you listen to. That is what you want from earphones that you are wearing for a hard workout, or on a long train commute.
I like the HELM True Wireless for the most part. The build quality and looks are excellent. Fit is comfortable and secure as well. The only thing I would love to see is some sort of auto-connect feature incorporated instead of having to turn on each earbud separately. That would’ve turned a good product into a great product. However, if you’re good with that, the sound quality is really good for True Wireless at the under $100 price point. They have a good, rich, all-around sound that plays well with just about any music you throw at them. Another popular model out there is the $49 JLab Audio JBuds Air True Wireless, which has the auto-connect features that the HELM Audio lacks, but doesn’t have the same build quality, and doesn’t sound nearly as good.