Traditional styling with progressive engineering.
The HELM Audio TWS 5.0 are my favorite pair of IEMs for the gym. They are a bass-thumping, unapologetically v-shaped, powerful grin generator. Given HELM’s affinity for power and presence, I am excited to hear if the F2 IEMs deliver the same.
Their official name is ‘F2 Planar Magnetic Dual Driver Wired Headphones’.
Founded in 2017 by a team of industry veterans passionate about delivering better sound quality across all mobile devices, HELM Audio Inc. is a British-American award-winning audio innovation company providing transformational audio products. They are US-based, with headquarters in Minnesota and offices in Texas.
- Style: In-ear with a permanently attached downward-hanging cable
- Drivers: (1) 10mm dynamic coil + (1) 6mm planar magnetic
- Impedance: 32 Ohms (+/-15%)
- Sensitivity: 103dB/mW
- Frequency Response Range: 20Hz – 20kHz
- Total Harmonic Distortion: < 1% @1kHZ
- Max Power Handling: 10 mW
- Plug Type: 3.5mm TRRS
- Cable Length and Type: 1.2m (4 ft) with inline volume controls and microphone
- Color: Gunmetal/Silver
- Weight: 22g total (including cable)
Small, simple, neat, and efficient. Packaging and accessories are basic, providing the bare minimum, except for HELM Audio’s well-made carrying case.
In the box
- HELM Audio F2 headphones
- Three pairs of silicone ear tips (S, M, L)
- Soft storage/carrying case
- Quick start guide
The 1.2m cable has a fabric weave from the slightly angled 3.5mm plug to the chrome splitter. There is no sliding cinch. Above that are permanently attached rubberized wires leading to the headphones. On the right side is a plastic-housed microphone with volume controls.
Microphonics, a product of the interaction of the cable and the shells, is prominent and irritating. They take away from my enjoyment and immersion in the music. Small movements transmit noticeable noise unless I sit as still as a gargoyle.
Build & Design
HELM Audio products are designed in the USA and manufactured in China, and in my experience, they feel solid and premium. The F2 are no exception. The substantial all-metal (my guess is aluminum alloy) bodies are composed of multiple circular pieces that fit tightly together and feel durable. The distinct shape piques my curiosity about the driver layout.
Fit and finish are well done. The knurl feels good and helps with grip and insertion. The permanent cable connection feels more robust than it looks. The nozzle is shorter than many IEMs, with a thick, notched collar to secure the ear tips.
The F2 are small-medium-sized and fit me well. The shells feel substantial in hand. Thanks to excellent ergonomics, the body makes no contact with my outer ear, and they do not feel heavy in my ears.
The headphones stay put with a good seal, though their downward cables are easy to disrupt with no ear hook. The nozzle angle should fit most ears well, even without long nozzles that insert deeply.
The F2’s hybrid drivers are purpose-built for the F2. The dual drivers are:
- 10mm dynamic coil
- 6mm planar magnetic
HELM Audio F2 Sound
For evaluation, I listen to a great variety of music through numerous sources, including:
- Sony DVP-S7000 CD Player
- LG V20 & LG V60 phones (both have Quad DAC and headphone jacks)
- Samsung A71
- Google Pixel 7 Pro
- Lenovo IdeaPad 3
- Khadas Tone2 Pro
- Khadas Tea
- S.M.S.L SP200 Headphone Amplifier
- HIFIMAN EF400 Headphone Amplifier
- HELM Audio Bolt and DB12 AAAMP
- TempoTec Sonata E44
- FiiO M15S Digital Audio Player (DAP)
With a higher-than-usual impedance of 32 ohms and a high sensitivity of 103db, the F2 are easy to drive. Insertion depth is average and will yield above-average passive sound isolation with properly seated and sealed ear tips.
With the provided tips, I was surprised by what I heard. While the sound is clear and has fine detail, the sound is more balanced and tamer than expected. With a dedicated dynamic driver for lower frequencies, I expected to be smacked in the eardrums with bass.
With the F2, the wider the bore of the ear tip, combined with less restriction on the flow of sound through the tube, results in a heavier bass response.
With the right tips, the F2, like the Helm TWS 5.0, are small battering rams. More blunt force than high refinement. There is no bass roll-off – the F2 have their most robust frequency presence below 100Hz.
The only equal is at 4K, followed by a significant drop from 4-6.5kHz. The glide from the bass to the midrange is beautifully smooth. The rise from 1K – 4K is also relatively smooth, followed by a drop between 4-6K, thereby avoiding perceived sibilance.
The F2 sounds more U-shaped than the graph would lead me to expect.
Despite the graph insinuating a lack of treble and “air,” that’s not what I’m hearing. Treble is smooth and inoffensive while sounding energetic and delivering better detail than most dynamic drivers can manage. I love it.
The soundstage presentation is of average intimacy, and stereo channel separation is good. Vocals are clearly centered. Timbre sounds accurate, and the overall delivery is clean.
For this review, I visited the following artists and locations:
- Poland: D.N.A. by Justyna Steczkowska
- Austria: Master the Hurricane by Visions of Atlantis
- Canada: Before This War is Over by LEAH
- Australia: Tarantella (feat. Sooshi Mango) by Joel Fletcher x Orkestrated
- Armenia: PreGomesh by Sirusho| Սիրուշո – ՊռեԳոմեշ
A fascinating collection from several continents, these diverse musical productions range in ethnic origins, musical styles, and explorations in audio.
Can you say, “rave?” Bass is prominent and authoritative when called for. For trance, drum and bass, EDM, etc., the F2 are a blast!
The bass is controlled enough not to cause rapid fatigue, ear itch, or blur your vision.
The bass extension is deep with no roll-off. I heard no distortion when listening at moderate to loud volumes (for testing). Resolution and texture are virtually perfect for my ears for natural instruments such as cello and upright bass.
The mids are slightly shy, sometimes a touch muted, and harder to find at the party. Some bass bleed can subtly muffle the lower mid-frequencies. The midrange does sound natural and shines through well enough when it’s prominently presented in the mix.
If you primarily listen to vocal-centric music and prefer vocals featured right up front, the F2 are not your best choice.
I am impressed with the treble tuning and capability. Hearing past the graph is advisable here. The F2 do not sound like they are lacking high-end. Clarity and sharp detail are excellent for this price range. Despite the high resolution, the F2 do not suffer from sibilance or a piercing presentation from the planar driver.
Where to Buy
Let’s get this party started! The F2 are fancy enough with their shiny metal shells and hybrid drivers to appear at a black-tie event. The difference is the F2 would show up in a tuxedo t-shirt.
This new hybrid configuration and tuning from HELM Audio works for me. The distinct detail and clarity of the planar driver add liveliness, while the dynamic driver presents powerful bass without sacrificing much midrange quality.
If you are a fan of this earphone style and want something unique, the F2 are easy to recommend. Moreover, if you want to party, you’ve found that fun friend who’s always game to go clubbing. The fixed microphonic cable is the only significant downer.
Even when the F2 are recovering from all that partying, their clarity, resolution, and technical capability will ensure they stand out from the crowd of competitors. Plus, they’re wearing a tuxedo t-shirt.