Outstanding sound, Charging Case and True Wireless Experience.
Growing up, my father had an impressive home stereo system. This setup was nothing like modern systems, as the speakers were like end tables and the equipment filled an entire cabinet. The earphones looked as if he was Maverick/Goose trying to land the F-14A on the USS Enterprise. Yes, the cans were that big. Do not misunderstand, this was the norm of the era. Car stereo systems were typically mediocre, but home systems were robust and a source of pride. Our component system had an 8-track, cassette player, record player, and receiver, to allow my family to enjoy music through a variety of media. As a Xennial (1977-1983), a term coined by Sarah Stankorb, we represent those that do not quite fit into Generation-X, nor the Millenials. We have a select advantage of experiencing the technological explosion, unlike any generation before or after us. Born into an analog/early digital world, yet experiencing the birth of modern tech, we likely appreciate the advancements in technology more than the Millenials. From Cassettes, to CDs, to current digital streaming options, there have been significant changes in a relatively short time. Many services like Napster, popular while I was in college, came and went, and trail-blazed a path to the multitude of streaming options present today. Our smartphone tech has advanced drastically and with unlimited data plans, people can enjoy music like never before.
When you consider modern earphone options, you can enjoy over-ear, on-ear and in-ear styles, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The latest trend, wireless earbud systems, has allowed the technology to shrink but at a cost. Often you sacrifice battery life, deep bass, balance or comfort. To even consider a system worthwhile, it has to first pass the comfort test. I do not care about outstanding sound, if the in-ear system feels like you are being stabbed in the head with an ice-pick. Unfortunately, the comfort/fit tends to be a personal one due to differences in ear anatomy. This cannot be any more evident when you compare my review of the HELM Audio earbud system with that of my good friend Robyn Oglesby, https://macsources.com/helm-audio-true-wireless-headphones-review/. Even though we are joined by a common banner, and enjoy similar things, our experiences were unique. If you have not had the opportunity to read her review, I would encourage you to do so. With a slightly more comfortable fit within my ear canal, I can truly understand her point of view. Not the most comfortable pair of earbuds that I have used, nor anywhere near the least comfortable, the HELM Audio did work for me and garnered an 8.5/10 rating from me.
The HELM Audio earbuds arrived in a modern 2 3/4 inches wide by 4 inches long by 2 3/8 inches tall black retail box. Using the power of contrasting colors, the cover proudly displayed the company title “HELM AUDIO” in bold white font. Using the same white font, the front and back panels detailed the “TRUE WIRELESS” nature of the earbuds and the left/right panels had “HELM” in black glossy ink. The bottom panel provided a list of the package contents (Helm True Wireless In-Ear headphones, charging case, micro USB cable, 3 sets of silicone Ear Tips S/M/L, Comfort Foam Ear Tips and a quick start guide), typical product manufacturing marks and a nice little paragraph from the company. Lifting the lid off of the main box, I found the 3 1/2 inches long by 2 1/4 inches wide by 1 1/2 inches tall HELM AUDIO charging case with included ear buds. Beneath the cardboard divider, I found the twelve panel instruction manual, the 12 1/2 inches long micro-USB to USB-A cable, and a small bag with four pairs of ear tips (3 silicone and 1 soft foam).
The instruction manual proved to be quite useful and was organized well. With the instruction manual open, I noticed a title panel followed by a labeled diagram of the case/earbuds. The panel showed the small activating button placed between the two earbuds, the clear plastic cover, and the bank of four LED across the front of the device. Each of the LED represented 25% power and displayed full power when all four were illuminated. To activate the earbuds remove the right earpiece from the charging case, place it into the concha cavum of your ear, and then rotate the earbud forward. The stabilizing hook should rest between the superior and inferior crus, within the triangular fossa. I tried the preinstalled tips and did not like the feel. Similar to the story of Goldilocks and the Bears, I tried each of the included tips before finding the perfect fit; the small tips seemed to work best for my ear canals. Once placed into the ear, I pressed the small button along the top for about three seconds and heard a female voice announce “HELM ON.” The process was repeated with the left device, heard the same “HELM ON” announcement and then “Connected, pairing.” Once both devices were active, I navigated to settings, Bluetooth and selected “HELM True Wireless R” from the list and the female voice announced “HELM Pairing successful, second earpiece connected.” The setup was easy and each time that I removed the earbuds from the charger, pressed the power buttons for three seconds, the earbuds quickly reconnected to my iPhone XS Max.
Flipping the manual over, the HELM Audio controls were laid out in a tabular format. A single click of the right earbud allowed me to play/pause music or to answer a phone call. A double click increased the volume, a triple click decreased the volume, a short hold activated Siri and a three-second hold turned off the earbud. The left earbud utilized a similar button combination as the right earbud. A single click allowed me to play/pause music, a double click advanced the track, a triple click reversed the track, and a long press turned off the device. There was no short hold function for the left earbud. The earbuds communicated with my iPhone XS Max via Bluetooth 4.1 +EDR and seemed to work up to about 20 feet from my phone. Internal walls of my home caused connectivity issues but I had no issues as long as the phone was within about 10 feet. I was pleased that jogging, riding my Trek Bicycle, jumping rope, nor jumping jacks, dislodged the earbuds from my ears. I was able to place my phone in my pocket, into a Nite-Ize hip holster, and onto a bike mount, while enjoying solid Bluetooth connection. The batteries within the earbuds allowed for a full, uninterrupted, 3-hour listening experience (manual stated 3-4). Once the battery was depleted, I heard a double beep and then a female voice announced “Battery Low.” This process repeated twice, followed by “Helm Off.” The charging case promised 15 hours of playtime, which was actually a little disappointing. For example, I recently tested the PaMu Slide earbuds that had a 60-hour playtime. Placing the case onto charge at 7:15 am, it was fully charged by 9 am.
If you have used many wireless earbuds, then you know the frustration of losing connection when you move the iPhone around your body. Like the snail from Moana, I like the bright and shiny (newer tech). I was thus a little disappointed to see that the HELM Earbuds utilized the older Bluetooth 4.1 tech; many of the current systems utilize Bluetooth 5.0 technologies and better AptX/SBC/AAC decoder formats. Despite the older tech, I did not lose the connection between earbuds. Over the past two weeks, the HELM Audio earbuds have been my focus. I watched several videos on YouTube, Netflix, Movies Anywhere, Amazon Prime, listened to music on Pandora, Amazon Prime Music, iTunes music, and listened to The Inheritance cycle with Audible. I used them at home, at work, at the gym, but dared not use them while swimming due to the limited IPX4 rating. I found the sound to be well above average and surprisingly clear. The earbud did not jut out too far from the ear, which allowed me to lay sideways upon my pillow. To improve fit, there are several tips to choose from, to include a pair of foam tips. After three hours of non-stop listening, I did not experience any ear canal fatigue.
On my recent voyage from Elizabethtown, Kentucky to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, I needed a pair of headphones to last roughly 4.5 hours. I was disappointed that the Helm Audio Earbuds were unable to last. Luckily the Helm Audio earbuds only took about 30 minutes to charge. This setup was more akin to quick trips, quick flights etc., and then replacing the earbuds into the charging case. Unlike the PaMu slide with a 60 hour battery life, the HELM Audio 15 hour setup required more frequent charging. If you have read any of my headphone/earbud reviews, you know that my audio tests are very similar. To test the sound output/frequency, I utilize the audiocheck.net website. I start with the Low-Frequency Response and Subwoofer Audio Test (10-200 Hz) and then use the High-Frequency Response and Hearing Audio Test (22-8 kHz). The frequency range was listed as 20Hz-20kHz, but I was able to hear sounds from 30Hz-15kHz (many adults cannot hear above 13-14kHz).
To test the bass, I love to utilize “Train Song” by Holly Cole, “Bright Lights Bigger City by CeeLo Green, and the “Ring of Fire” cover by Home Free. If you have never heard the song, turn up the volume and you will both hear and feel the ending low F#1 growl. To test higher frequency sounds, I typically utilize the Far and Away Soundtrack, Queen “Somebody to Love,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” To further test the sound placement/staging I love to use Radiohead “The National Anthem,” Bob Marley and the Wailers “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” “Hurt” and “Man in Black” by Johnny Cash, “Carribean Blue” by Enya, and the “Dragonborn” Skyrim Theme by Jeremy Soule. The Helm Audio earbuds had great sound and lived up to my expectations.
The Helm Audio earbud experience fell somewhere between an 8.8 and a 9.1 on a 10.0 scale. I did not mind the fit of the earbuds and enjoyed the ability to select amongst several ear tips. For enhanced customization, they should have allowed the user to change the wings as well as the tips. Alas, the wings were fixed. It was a little uncanny for the earbuds to rest vertically, as most earbuds rotate into a horizontal position. Despite all of the positives, my biggest complaint was with the battery life. The audio output provided good bass, with well balanced mid and upper frequencies. As I cranked up the sound, the battery life dwindled. I was disappointed that they did not use the latest Bluetooth 5.0 and that they used micro-USB instead of USB-C. I read many of the Q&A on Amazon and the reviews and found my experience to be spot on. The sound quality was worth the near $100 price tag, but many felt that it was difficult to obtain a comfort fit. I did not mind the single earpiece phone calls, nor did I experience any lag/connection issues between the earbuds. I was also pleased that there was no lag between video/audio with Amazon Prime Videos, Movies Anywhere, Vudu, or YouTube. 78% of Amazon users gave the earbuds a 4* or 5* rating; I would definitely consider these earbuds if you are on the market for a sub $100 pair of wireless earbuds with great sound.