Review: Helm DB12 AAAMP

Despite growing up with warnings from parents and teachers about the dangers of listening to music at extreme volumes through headphones, there are circumstances when the sound coming through a headset just isn’t loud enough. It could be a noisy environment, low quality headphones or just a low volume audio source. Helm Audio has a device that works as a solution in these settings and that’s the Helm DB12 Achromatic Audio Amplifier (AAAMP) mobile headphone amplifier, which claims to the currently be the world’s smallest portable Hi-Fi headphone amplifier. It is advertised as being an amplifier for smartphones and mobile devices but works with any headset with a 3.5mm input jack, making it a viable game audio enhancement device.

The DB12 AAAMP is a small plug and play device. When active it can increase the volume up to 12dB with an optional bass boost of 6dB. The device itself is maybe two inches in length, with a two inch cable on one end with a female 3.5mm input and a twelve inch cable on the other with the male 3.5mm jack. When turned off, the audio signal bypasses the amp and things sound like they would through whatever headset is being used, and flipping the switch on increases the volume, and possibly adding some low end thump if the user opts to turn on the bass boost. The amp is charged with a USB Type-C cable and has an active internal battery life of about six hours.

The DB12 AAAMP basically makes headphones louder and also does enhance sound quality. The increase in volume happens without any unwanted distortion and also brings up the individual tracks that can remain buried in the mix. The optional 6dB bass boost brings up the lower frequencies, adding a nice thump to the audio source that remains distortion free.

Because it’s 3.5 mm input, the DB12 AAAMP was tested with a variety of headsets that ranged in general quality and available features. The general opinion after trying this mobile with several headsets is that it does make a noticeable difference in sound quality. It won’t make a pair of $20 budget earbuds sound like a $600 audiophile headset, but there’s noticeable improvement beyond simply making the audio louder. THX has been known for high quality audio for decades and this product lives up to the name. The boost provided by the amp isn’t the same as just increasing the source or headphone volume. It increases the volume and clarity of the mix, making whatever headset it’s paired with sound slightly better.

The Helm DB12 AAAMP does generally improve the sound quality of whatever headset it is paired with and can help get the best possible sound quality out of them. Whether it’s gaming, movies or music this amp does make things sounds better. There are some specific instances, however, where this device is more practical. Situations where it will be almost essential are during times of public transit where getting any extra volume boost to drown out the outside world is desirable.

HELM Audio
THX Certified
Amplifier: THX’s AAA amplifier
Material: Aluminum
Input: Stereo TRRS 3.5 mm male connector
Output: Stereo TRRS 3.5 mm female connector
Frequency response: +0.01 / -0.2 dB 20 Hz – 20 kHz with 32 ohm load
Output impedance: <0.4 ohms
Output power: 109 mW at 16 ohms with <0.1% THD (watts per channel,) 111 mW at 32 ohms with <0.1% THD (watts per channel)
Output impedance: < 0.4 ohms
THD: -102 dB, 16 ohms, 10 mW: 0.0008%
THD: -102 dB, 32 ohms, 5 mW: 0.0008%
THD: -109 dB, 10 Kohms, 0.049 mW: 0.00035%
IMD: -70 dB, SMPTE 70 Hz + 70 kHz, 16 ohms: 0.03%
IMD: -80 dB, SMPTE 70 Hz + 70 kHz, 32 ohms: 0.01%
IMD: -80 dB, SMPTE 70 Hz + 70 kHz, 10K ohms: 0.01%
Crosstalk: – 91 dB, 10K ohms: 0.0028184 %
Noise (A-wt): 10 uV, potentiometer at nil
SNR: 114 dB, 300 ohms, <1% THD
Gain: +12 dB (full range), +12 dB and +6 dB on 60–100 Hz frequencies (Bass Boost)
Power supply: Internal USB rechargeable battery
Battery life: 6+ hours in use
Weight: 1.08 oz (30.55 g)

Closing Comments

The Helm DB12 AAAMP is a device that really only does one thing but does it exceedingly well. It makes any 3.5 mm input headset louder and does so without any distortion. Using the amp to increase volume compared to just increasing the master volume through the headset controls or audio source did add some fullness to the sound along with bringing out some of the undertones that are often buried in the mix. Whether or not this is an necessary acquisition is up to the importance an individual places on sound quality and how satisfied they are with their current set up, and the MSRP of $199.99 puts the amplifier out of the impulse purchase price range. But for people who want to try to achieve the next level in audio quality this is a good way to push your current rig just a little further.