Even though most of the products I have no longer have headphone jacks, when I want to know that I’m going to get substantial audio quality from anything, then I want to be able to add an excellent mobile amplifier. Luckily I had the opportunity to check out the Helm Audio DB12 AAAMP Mobile Headphone Amplifier. Considered the world’s smallest portable HiFi headphone amplifier for both smartphones and mobile devices, the DB12 is a THX-certified amplifier that provides a 12DB volume gain. This adds fantastic audio quality when you’re listening to music, watching movies, or — in my case — listening hours and hours of podcasts.
Before I received the Helm DB12 AAMP, when I thought of THX products, I loosely attributed them to expensive equipment to make already good audio that much better. So to see that Helm Audio managed to join forces with them to create an amp that can easily be paired with mid-range headphones to get even more robust audio quality was pretty amazing.
As a heavy bass person, I’ve looked at amplifiers before that promised to bring the boom, but the DB12 AAAMP truly does that. Even though most of us haven’t been to a concert in months, this headphone amplifier can make you feel like you’re in the front row at your favorite venue. Compared to other amplifiers on the market that require some additional software or an app, the DB12 AAAMP is plug and play, needing no additional downloads to bring you better sound. If your device doesn’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack, you will need to use a USB-C or Lightning dongle, however. Unfortunately, neither is included in the box.
One of the things that I thought Helm might do is better explain how the device works to give the sound it does, but unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information. Instead, what is said is that the product boasts THX’s AAA (hence the name of the product) Amplifier that not only gives low distortion but makes for high fidelity, all with a long-ish battery life of six to eight hours. This is great if you want to hop a flight, or if you intend to get through the day with Tidal-like Hi-Fi Audio without the subscription model. Inside of the box, you’ll receive the Helm DB12 AAAMP, a soft carrying case, USB-C cable for charging, and the quick start guide.
The cable length is roughly 12″ long, with the distance between the cable to the adapter being about 2″.
The amplifier comes with in-line volume controls and playback control, something I enjoyed using, especially when using it with a dongle on my iPad, as I didn’t want to summon the control center to advance to the next track or turn down the volume.
The amplifier is made of brushed aluminum, and it takes a no-frills approach with its male and female components to connect it to your headphones and the corresponding device. On one side of the DB12, there’s a USB port for charging; on the opposite end, there is an on-off Bass switch.
Pressing the Bass Boost option will take your sounds up to a max of 6 decibels. Now it’s worth mentioning that the Bass Boost doesn’t have superpowers, so if you’re expecting it to take your $20 headphones and make them sound like you paid $299, let me be the first to tell you they won’t. While you certainly get a difference in the bass, depending on how you like your music, it won’t sound as good as just buying better-quality headphones. But if you have better quality headphones, this amplifier can make them even better.
Although Helm Audio says you’ll get six hours of battery life, bear in mind this is at a moderate volume when playing. If you get a bit into the groove of your music and turn it up more, the battery life will obviously be affected. Once the battery dies, of course, your headphones will return to their normal volume as the DB12 then goes from being an amplifier to a pass-thru for your audio.
The Helm Audio DB12 AAAMP is an excellent solution to less than great audio, making the sound your device puts out that much better. If you’re into bass, this is the product for you.
The Helm Audio DB12 AAAMP Mobile Headphone Amplifier retails for $199.99, and it is available for pre-order directly from the manufacturer.
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample
What I Like: Great bass regardless of the headphones you use; Easy to connect; Easy to control; Up to 8 hours of battery life; Moderately priced compared to other amplifiers and digital audio converters that I’ve seen
What Needs Improvement: Requires a 3.5mm dongle for USB-C or Apple devices that is not included