Back in April, I reviewed the original HELM Audio True Wireless Headphones, a pair of TWS earphones that had both good looks and notable sound, but seemed a little behind the curve when it came to features.
They didn’t have things like auto-pairing, apt-X, and Bluetooth 5.0, stuff I like to see on a TWS set at this stage of the game, especially on a pair priced around $100.
Well HELM just sent me out a pair of their new and improved TWS earphones, the $129 HELM True Wireless 5.0. They look and feel just like the original HELM True Wireless Headphones, but they incorporate the features mentioned above, making them a more attractive option. I think they made the right move since they already had a beautiful design. They only needed to upgrade on features. That’s precisely what they did.
Build and Features
As I said, the exterior design of the HELM True Wireless 5.0 (Hereafter TW 5.0) is the same as their predecessor. That means the earpieces have the same glossy diamond-cut pattern that I liked the first go-round, along with the same first-rate fit and finish. The comfort is also still there since they maintain the same secure fit and rubberized rear surface of the originals. IPX4 water-resistance is again part of the package, which means they can handle sweat, rain, and mud.
Just like all the other True Wireless Earphones out there, charging the HELM TW 5.0 is a matter of charging the charging case via USB, then dropping the earpieces into the case. Again, just like the first HELM True Wireless, you can check the battery level by pressing a button under the lid.
It still takes 1.5 hours to charge the case back up just like before, and it can recharge the earphones up to 5 times once again. But this time, the earpieces last for double the time of the first version which is 6-8 hours of playback.
Button operations for switching tracks, adjusting volume, or calling up the virtual assistant on your phone are also the same as the last time, with single, double, or triple presses performing all the various functions.
The functions are easy to pick up, but triple presses for the Volume Down on the right earpiece were hard for me to get right. Getting the right cadence of presses was hit or miss, and I found it easier to reduce the volume on my phone — the same thing with triple presses on the left bud for selecting the Previous Track. I had no problem with single or double presses.
The big story regarding the TW 5.0 are the enhancements over the old HELM True Wireless. The new Auto-Pairing feature makes operation a breeze, and the connection is fast. Once you take them from the case, they connect to the phone almost before you get them in your ears. Voice prompts let you know you are ready to go. On the old ones, you had to press a button on each earpiece then wait about 10-15 seconds for them to startup and pair to each other.
Bluetooth is 5.0 instead of 4.1 and the new version now has both AAC and apt-X codecs for CD-quality sound. Due to the upgrade on the Bluetooth, connections are even more stable and hold up over longer distances. Phone calls were decent, meaning I was able to hear the person on the other end quite clearly, but unlike the last time, I found I had to raise my voice for people to hear me periodically.
I want to make a quick point on the apt-X and AAC codecs. When I switched between apt-X and AAC on my LG V40 Android phone, I found the apt-X had a slightly crisper sound, but the LG for some reason defaults to AAC. I have to switch to apt-X manually every time I make a connection.
If you have an Android phone that supports both codecs, I highly recommend learning how to put your phone in developer mode so you can see which codec the phone is using and switch if need be to get the best sound. Just be careful because there are a lot of settings in there that can make your phone act screwy.
Thanks to the AAC and apt-X codecs, the TW 5.0’s sound quality has an openness and crispness that I didn’t hear in the original HELM earphones. I’m not saying the sound is reference quality, but the sound is crisp and open enough to make an audiophile happy while at the gym, or commuting to work.
The overall sound signature is what I call “U” shaped with a slight emphasis on the lows and highs along with a slightly recessed midrange. The highs are rolled off at the very top, causing a tad bit of dullness, but the presence range is boosted a little giving you a sense of clarity without causing fatigue. Mids are also clear but a little subdued.
Just like on the first HELM TWS earbuds, the bass ends up being the star of the show, driving the beat forward with its deepness. On Jazz or Acoustic music it may come across as a little exaggerated, but it’s never sloppy. The bass is nice and controlled and works well on EDM or Hip-Hop.
For example, on Daft Punk’s “Within” the piano is not the most transparent, but it’s still full of life and has a good amount of detail. The vocal is a little pushed into the background, but it also has detail and presence. The bass drum punctuates things with a pretty articulate rumble.
While the tuning probably suits EDM the best, the TW 5.0 is not a one-trick pony. When listening to Shelby Lynne’s “Just A Little Lovin”, the cymbals were reproduced with a lovely metallic realness, and the vocal soared in a way that was quite engaging. There was also an excellent sense of space, more than I would expect from a pair of TWS earphones.
While their first attempt at building TWS Earbuds for audiophiles was admirable, their second one is right on the money. The first version already nailed the looks, fit, and comfort, but the True Wireless 5.0 has taken that formula to the next level with great features like BT 5.0 for better connections, and apt-X for clearer sound. They also added auto-pairing, which makes them a lot easier to use. Kudos to HELM for taking a good product and making it exceptional.