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Helm Audio True Wireless 5.0 – Proceed with Caution!

Pros –

Huge bass with excellent extension, Rock solid fit and isolation, Good battery life, Tactile controls

Cons – 

Very large housings won’t suit all ears, Large charging case, Highly sculpted sound not for the faint of heart

Verdict –

The TWS 5.0 is a well-executed bass-focussed earphone with very impressive driver quality and an excellent fit perfect for the gym or commute.


Introduction –

Helm Audio is a British-American company recently formed from the core folks at the very renowned 1More. They aim for the same sense of value with a more audiophile focus and a different design aesthetic. The True Wireless was their first product, a TWS IEM sporting a very unique design and an affordable asking price. The TWS 5.0 is its successor, and though similar in name, its shares only the original’s excellent design and fit. Inside lies new circuitry boasting BT5.0 technology including Apt-X and AAC support alongside almost double the battery life as its predecessor and dual mics for stereo calls. The TWS 5.0 implements alloy-enhanced dynamic drivers to provide visceral bass, a headline feature of this model. I’ve spent a good week with Helm’s latest TWS offering and from preliminary analysis, this is another fine addition in the exciting TWS market! See more info on Helm’s website here and purchase a pair for yourself here.

 

Disclaimer – 

I would like to thank Helm Audio very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the TWS 5.0 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

 

Accessories – 

The Helm 5.0 TWS is nicely packaged within a small hard box containing the earphones nestled within their hard-charging case and suit of accessories. Alongside the earphones, Helm includes 4 sizes of comfortable Sony Hybrid-style ear tips and a micro-usb charging cable. The silicone jacket can be fully-removed for cleaning, however, other sizes of wing tip stabiliser are, unfortunately, not included.

 

Design –

The TWS 5.0 has a very distinct design combined with large dimensions. Contoured faceplates draw the eye while a silicone jacket covering the internal face of the earphone, extending to a stabiliser fin ensure a comfortable and stable fit. The earphones also use their size to their advantage, sporting an ear-filling design that further contributes to their rock-solid fit and provides one of the most locked-in sensation of all the TWS in-ears I’ve tested. They also appear to be fully sealed, with driver flex apparent but not distracting or damaging to the driver in my testing. As such, they also provide very strong passive noise isolation.

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The Sony hybrid-style tips included in the box surely contribute, forming a strong seal. Wide physical buttons on each faceplate are easy to manipulate when on the go and avoid accidental presses. As the earphones are quite large, completely filling the outer ear, those with smaller ears may want to look elsewhere.My main caveat is the charging case. It’s made of cheap-feeling plastic, uses micro-USB, is hard to open (though I’m told this will improve with use) and is, frankly, enormous. Conversely, it’s lightweight and offers 4-5 charges which is more than most competitors though no wireless charging is to be found.

 

Usage –

The pairing process is very intuitive with the earphones automatically entering pairing mode when first removed from the case and auto-connecting to the previous device on subsequent removal. It’s also easy to reset and add additional devices by pressing the button on the carrying case. Once connected, the Helm’s provided a mostly reliable connection, with only a handful of dropouts when travelling in the interference heavy Sydney CBD. They quickly reconnected with sound fading back in under a second. Range is also respectable I was able to walk into the next room and a mostly stable maintain connection, they also held a strong connection to my Shanling M0 which has notoriously short BT range.

Utilising BT5.0, the Helm’s are able to pair independently to the source device. Battery life is rated at 6-8 hours with an additional 30 hours from the case (~5 charges). Listening at medium-low volumes, I found battery life to be closer to 6hrs consistently though it was hard to judge the charges offered by the case as I didn’t fully-charge the earphones on each cycle. This puts the TWS 5.0 within the upper echelons in terms of longevity though it is still bested by new generation BT 5.0 earphones like the MW07’s that offer 10hrs of playback time.

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They also sport an IPX4 water resistance rating making them splash proof and suitable for exercise if not complete submersion. Each earpiece has a microphone offering smart assistant control in addition to servicing calls whether paired in stereo or individually. Call quality was good, delivering solid volume and good intelligibility to listeners on the other end. The quality is not the same as premium offerings such as the WF-1000XM3 and Momentum TWS, especially in noisy environments where callers reported that background noise was not well suppressed.

 

Sound –

Tonality –

The TWS 5.0 is one of the most V-shaped earphones I’ve heard in a long time and, as a result, it will alienate some listeners. What is does offer is immense, physical sub-bass, huge mid-bass and a sharp drop off into the upper-bass and lower-midrange to provide some separation and avoid veil and bloom. Mids are clearly recessed but vocals have greatly enhanced clarity due to an aggressive rise through the upper-midrange that ensures they aren’t overshadowed. Meanwhile, highs are very energetic, raised almost to the same level as bass. This is observed in the form of twin lower and middle-treble peaks that bring details to the fore and enhance headroom. Though not balanced or natural in the slightest, the 5.0 exemplifies a bombastic, consumer V for those chasing an exhilarating audio experience.

 

Bass –

If you want bass, the 5.0 should be a high priority. The level of emphasis and sub-bass extension here is immense and will certainly challenge the notion that the microamps in TWS in-ears are incapable of driving big bass. It has very substantial emphasis which extends to the mid-bass, delivering enormous notes with huge rumble and slam. Meanwhile, upper-bass is less present to avoid congestion of its sound and continues reduction in emphasis into the lower-midrange. Lows are a bit muddy and boomy, especially on already bassy tracks. Bloat is also present due to the sheer level of quantity. That said, as the mid-bass doesn’t steal too much attention, the sound isn’t too humped or woolly.

I was quite pleased with the driver quality on the 5.0 which helps to rein in their enormous emphasis. In fact, control is very good for a TWS earphone which helps to retain detail; and it’s clear this isn’t a low-cost implementation as with some cheaper models that can sound rather one-note and lacking definition. Though not exemplary, the 5.0 does have modest levels of detail retrieval and definition. Don’t expect quick decay and a highly textured sound, however, fine details are smeared by bloat and timbre is not accurate in the slightest. What the listener does receive is huge quantity with sub-woofer like slam while retaining nicely defined mid-bass notes. This is a bass lover’s earphone through and through.

 

Mids –

In lieu of the bass, Helm had quite a challenge tuning the midrange to sound natural in any way. And yet, they have mostly succeeded. The midrange in its entirety is recessed and vocals are reasonably laid-back, but not as much as one may think given their level of bass. Male vocals on most tracks are rather full-bodied with a warm tone that permeates from the bass, though never did they become muffled or muddy as a result of their aggressive upper-bass/lower-midrange trough. The 5.0 then begins a steep climb to upper-midrange peak which imbues great clarity and enhances intelligibility and definition. As such, female vocals almost always take precedence within their presentation and vocals nonetheless, achieve sound cleanliness and openness.

Such a tuning may theoretically fatigue, however, the upper-midrange isn’t especially forward by comparison to the bass and the lack of lower-midrange is well counterbalanced by enhanced low-end body. The lower-treble has also been brought forward, creating that aggressive V and lifting the tone out of warmth in the higher ranges. This further aids vocal extension and clarity to some degree while a small 4KHz dip mitigates the effects of over-articulation and peakiness to an acceptable level by enhancing density and smoothness. Like the low-end, timbre isn’t accurate, however, vocals are very clear and mostly clean without becoming too raspy or thinned out either. Given the level of emphasis in the bass and treble, Helm has achieved a respectable balancing act with the 5.0’s midrange.

 

Highs –

Highs are quite enjoyable too, clear and not overly sharp which will be sure to please listeners. Lower-treble has a moderate peak, enhancing foreground detail presence and crispness. There is a sound level of detail retrieval and energy, providing nice contrast to its warmer and fuller low-end. As the treble emphasis isn’t to the same extent as bass, the earphones don’t sound peaky or bright, treble is rather brought to similar prevalence in the sound and instrument clarity is increased. Timbre isn’t ideal as the isolated 6KHz emphasis creates rather thin instrumentation. However, as the middle-treble isn’t overly present, treble isn’t brittle or splashy.

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Extension is clearly limited, there is no apparent micro-detail or soundstage expansion as you would expect from a wired model with prevalent roll off through the middle-treble. A small bump around 8KHz redeems some air and headroom though the background remains dark in general. This contributes to a semblance of cleanliness, however, as there is no detail within this region, the Helm doesn’t produce a wide and layered presentation. Rather, there is good detail retrieval and clarity within the highs combined with enough energy to lift the clarity and tone of the midrange. It does so all the while avoiding fatigue and over-brightness.

 

Soundstage –

The soundstage is average, remaining within the head in terms of both width and depth. Separation is just modest due to the earphone’s pervasive warmth but there is ample separation between the three core frequency bands, leaving vocals, strings and bass clearly discernible. Imaging is sound, vocals have a strong centre image and instruments reside across the sides. There is some layering, especially between vocals and instruments, however, there isn’t much going on in the background leaving the presentation fairly two-dimensional. Directional cues are sharp, however.

 

Comparisons –

 Lypertek TEVI ($90): The TEVI provides a substantially more balanced and linear sound and a more technical high-end. The Helm has better sub-bass extension and a lot more bass quantity. Meanwhile, the TEVI’s low-end is neutral and highly controlled, giving the TEVI a lot more detail retrieval at the cost of quantity. The Helm still has good definition but also has hugely more rumble and slam so it will depend on what style of sound you’re looking for. Through the midrange, we observe a similar trend; the Helm being substantially more sculpted, the TEVI, more neutral. The TEVI has less body and also less clarity, but its vocals are more balanced with the rest of its sound.

The TEVI also has a more consistent timbre between tracks where the Helm can sound warmer or thinner depending on mastering due to its sculpted nature. Within the highs, both are crisp and nicely detailed. The Helm has more foreground detail presence at the cost of sounding thinner while the TEVI has more detail retrieval and a little more extension into the middle-treble. As such, it has a wider stage and its imaging is more immersive though the Helm has more treble clarity and attack suiting those wanting more engagement.

Momentum TWS ($200): The Momentum TWS offers a similar V-shaped sound, but is considerably warmer and fuller. The Helm has better sub-bass extension and considerably more emphasis throughout its entire low-end, delivering more slam and rumble. Meanwhile, the Momentum has more definition and detail retrieval. The Momentum has a warmer tone as its upper-bass and lower-midrange are more present in its sound, though overall it is more linear sounding more accurate in terms of body and timbre. Conversely, the Helm implements large upper-midrange emphasis to produce a clearer and more vivid sound.

The Helm has large detail presence and crispness, it sounds a bit sharp and is clearly bright but also well-detailed and engaging. The Momentum is more composed and has more separation. Neither have exceptional treble extension, the Helm has a darker background and less headroom, with sharper roll-off through the middle treble. The Momentum has a more nuanced soundstage with more accurate imaging while the Helm is more simplistic in its presentation with small but clear central vocals and huge instruments to the side with little layering.

 

Early Verdict –

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Looking through these impressions and comparisons, it’s clear that these earphones won’t appeal to those valuing balance and transparency. However, they seem to me, a well-executed bass-focussed sound with very impressive driver quality for a more affordable TWS earphone. Sure, its sound may be bombastic. However, such a sound in culmination with large, physical buttons, excellent noise isolation and fit stability, water-resistance and longer 6-8hr battery-life all make this is an excellent workout bud. They also work just as well for commute, where their fullness effectively combats the drone of suburbia. Is this a new champion of TWS? I’m not convinced, but a not-so-guilty pleasure bass-head earphone without the wires, I haven’t seen it done much better than this. The Helm Audio 5.0 TWS isn’t apologetic about its intentions, that is, to deliver head pounding sub-bass and a high-energy top-end. It isn’t nuanced or subtle but brash, bold and engaging. Audiophiles, proceed with caution!

The Helm TWS 5.0 is available from on Amazon (International) for $99 USD at the time of writing. Please see my affiliate link for the most updated pricing, availability and configurations.

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