This is a brand we are new to, making their True Wireless Earbuds our first impression of their product line–which thus far, consist of just two products, including these earbuds and their Studio Planar headphones (an over-ear design) which looks kind of interesting.
We have had to take a little longer with these, giving us time to pass them around and get some different opinions from others around the office before coming to a conclusion. This also allowed multiple users to pair them to their favorite styles of music and preferred listening levels.
Their design seems to be in-line with what you’d expect to come from a pair of true wireless, including a bud size as well as a charging case, with an exception to the texture design of the outer side of the each bud that features a diamond-like (or strawberry-like, per a few others here) pattern.
The case doesn’t feel (or look) larger in size than needed, keeping the footprint small like most of your good models out there, and easy to slide into a space as small or tight as your pocket (although, the bulge will be quite noticeable if you are one of those who like to run around in skinny jeans).
Material is pretty much plastic for everything, with the exception of the silicone tips and ear hooks. The latter of which (hooks) can be removed from the buds if you choose to not use them. They come already equipped with the hooks and do not offer additional sizes.
I wouldn’t recommend removing the hooks (or wings as some call them) from the buds though since true wireless earbuds are bulkier than your average earbuds (mostly since each bud has to contain its own battery and hardware), making the hooks a bit necessary for keeping them secure in your ear. That, and the way they so nicely wrap around the bud, it kind of feels like you’re peeling of the cowl of a superhero (it’s just not right). Keeping it serious though, they do remain in your ear with a big help to the hooks.
You are given the option of four (4) different pairs of (silicone) tips to get a nice custom fit with, including a bonus 5th pair that is Comply foam (which grip and form to our ear). Which you choose all depends on your own preference, but I stuck with silicone and one of the larger two sizes to capture as much range as possible. However the largest tips, although they provide the best range when it comes to sealing in your lows, also create a suction feeling when you remove the buds, that can get a little annoying to your eardrums.
The box does point out that there are three tip sizes, so we might have received a unique scenario as our unit wasn’t an unopened retail one.
Pairing them led to having to pair each one individually, which was a bit strange. This might not possibly be the case for brand new coming out of the box, but the unit we received seemed to be an open item for the purpose of benchmarks, so this might have had something to do with it.
When we first took them out to pair them, we triggered the power button on one by holding it down for so many seconds. It went into pairing as soon as it came on and the device caught it immediately as the left bud (they pop up with L or R next to the name for each). We waited for the right one to automatically do something but nothing happened. So we powered it on and did the same. As soon as the right one paired, the other dropped it’s pair to the phone and they paired together into stereo mode. Again, a little unique but in the end, everything worked.
Once you get through the pairing process, you only have to turn one of the two buds on, and the second seems to automatically come on and pair to the other within so many seconds (that’s better!). At least, usually. At times it didn’t work and only the one came on. In that case, you just manually turn the other one on too and they will bounce around until they pair within a few seconds and you’re good to go (a little confusing).
As for the rest of the connectivity, we are going to have to break things down because it continues to be a bit odd at times.
When you place them back into the case, they will not automatically turn off every time. We had cases where the phone still showed them as connected. However, if you place only one of the two in the case, the other one will switch to mono mode (mostly for taking phone calls or if you only want to listen to music in one ear). Pop the other back out and they will pair back together. Another odd mix of variables when it comes to connectivity.
If you take a phone call (simply press the button on either bud as the call is coming in) while listening to music, they will drop into mono mode. They seem to default to the right side unless you already have the left ear going in mono mode by itself. After the phone call, it brings you back to stereo and the music you were listening to (note: all of this was tested using an Android device). This part was a win as you don’t need stereo for phone calls.
When you place the buds in the case, they also don’t automatically begin to charge. In order to get them to charge, there is a button between both buds on the case. When you hit the button, they begin to charge and the LEDs on the front of the case will light to show you the current charge of the case. The extra step is another odd variable in the mix of things but isn’t terrible.
The range in sound is pretty good, although these are not something you’d use solely for lossless or other fancy music sources. You could if you prefer such tracks/sources no matter what you are listening with, but these will not deliver the reference experience you’d find in a nicer pair of headphones. They simply sound good, and that’s it. Great all-around basic listening that you can enjoy, especially if you are listening to any form of rock.
They obviously sound better when your sources are lossless or better. You almost can never go wrong with this no matter what you are listening with, as the difference can almost always be deciphered immediately. However, they are definitely average when it comes to general compressed (MP3), radio, or stream listening (unless you’re streaming lossy/lossless like Tidal or your own media server).
The connectivity range (distance) is fantastic for a pair of true wireless earbuds.
They make it the average distance for a pair of regular non-true wireless earbuds. Around 25-30 ft from your device. Where a lot of other true wireless solutions will fall short of this (great!). They do advertise a claim of 80+ ft, but that would have to be in perfect conditions, with no obstacles or nearby wireless radio traffic I guess. We did all of our own tests in real life situations such as walking between rooms, around corners and so forth, and then considering bird’s line of sight (or “as the crow flies”) from there vs steps taken. Still, our results are better than some of the other true wireless models. Update: We stand corrected. Something necessary to point out, is that the connectivity heavily depends on your environment. It seems worst case scenario, these will perform on the average level for wireless earbuds. An example would be our building. They perform around average here due to the sheer amount of wireless interference (we have a LOT of digital toys and networks and all sorts of wireless solutions here. Because of this, it seems their range was dampened by this.
However, taking the headphones on a field trip after the initial review had already been completed, we found we saw better results. In many situations we were able to get around 80 ft or so from the paired device (phone) just fine. Given, as soon as you make it to that distance, various things can cause it to finally begin to drop in and out. Like which direction you are facing and objects moving in between the path creating temporary barriers. For true wireless earbuds, this was fantastic.
It seems when in stereo mode, the right bud maintains the connection to your device. we could tell this since at enough distance, when you turn so your head is in between the phone and the right bud, you begin to experience some of those drop outs (at the max distance mostly).
We found this to be a fantastic update to the story as well as a boost in score due to this as well as the following paragraph.
Giving our new findings and the fact that is has “some” kind of water resistance (IPX4), we decided to give it one of our favorite and most difficult to pass tests. Usually reserved for anything rated IPX6 through IPX7 as well as boasted specs when it comes to distance. We took it to the gym, where we like to leave the phone in the locker (locker room) and try to make it to the other side of the pool area where the steam room is. We always choose a locker against the wall nearest the pool/spa area to be fair, as the wall is littered with nice tile on the other side (so you have a wall/tile/metal locker barrier + distance + heavy water exposure). These buds beat out our (previously) top performing wireless buds (Anker SoundBuds Slim) in distance by about 6-8 ft (we always thought it was odd that nothing was able to beat those headphones in distance, despite their price being so low in comparison to many of the ones we test). Not only did they make it further while maintaining a decent connection (given your right ear has to be exposed to the direction of the locker room at this point), they lasted over 30 minutes in a water-dense (and hot) steam room without any troubles. IPX4? I think they might underestimate themselves a little. Needless to say, this caused a well-deserved rise in their score.
Battery life is ok with case included, although you have to let them charge here and there. They only offer up to 3.5 hours at most worth of listening before having to go back into their case for a refresh. With the charge of the case, you should be able to get up to 15 hours before everything needs to be recharged. It takes under a few hours to charge it all when the time comes.
Honestly, we are surprised that they didn’t go with Bluetooth 5.0 vs the 4.1 route they took. It might have upped their game a bit for battery life. Thankfully for them though, with the performance we’ve seen during these tests, they will survive just fine for now.
They sound good and work very well for rock music and similar genres. If you have ever attended a concert at a House of Blues location, that could be a good way of describing these as long as you’re using the right tips (minus the chest pounding bass of course). Not audiophile/reference, but definitely have a lot of “umph” to them. They have a bit of focus it seems on the mid-lows and lows, with enough highs to bring in the definition you need. The range just isn’t detailed much beyond that. For a true wireless solution, I think that’s just fine. If you want something better, you may want to look at a pair of wired earbuds within the same price range (or go over-ear instead of earbuds). They excel heavily when it comes to distance from the connected device as well as exposure to humid/moist environments. Not only are these now one of the top performing headphones we have tested for distance, but they also endured a much higher torture to moisture than their IP rating leads you to believe.
Connectivity with your device and each other, as well as how they handle going in or out of the case is a bit off from what we are used to seeing. I think this should be a highlighted focus for their new generation model when it comes to needed improvements. Other than that, they are an great start for a new brand. We definitely look forward to learning more about HELM Audio in the future, and where they go from here with their products.
|Buy from HELM Audio|
*Average price is based on the time this article was published
- Product Name: HELM True Wireless Headphones
- Type: Wireless In-Ear
- Wireless Range: 80 + Feet
- Note: We got around 30 ft or so, with doors and walls in the mix.
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth V 4.1
- Wireless Type: EDR+Bluetooth
- Music Play Time: 3-3.5 Hours
- Charging Time: 1.5 hours
- Play Time With Case: 15 hours
- Sensitivity: 88+/- 3dB
- Resistance: 16 ohms
- Standby Time: 100 hours
- Water Resistance: IPX4
- Driver Type: Dynamic
- Microphone: Yes
- Smart Button Control: Yes
Note: This was a co-author effort, featuring Jeffrey B. and Ryan S.
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