Some niggling start-up points apart, the Helm Bolt is a satisfying plug-and-play DAC that’s accessible for a comparatively cheap quantity. Its headline function of MQA has been mitigated by Tidal’s current transfer to FLAC, however PC and Android customers will nonetheless be capable to profit from MQA rendering from the Helm Bolt.
- Clear, balanced efficiency
- Compact dimension for cell use
- Plug and play operation
- Reasonably priced worth
- Some start-up points mar its efficiency
- Slightly wanting element and sharpness
MQA rendererCan full the unfold require for increased high quality MQA playback
THX licensedLicensed to play audio with low distortion and discount in crosstalk
ImpedanceMechanically senses headphones’ impedance and units the extent required
Nowadays there are many methods to enhance your audio expertise. You may subscribe to a high-quality service music, however that solely achieves a part of what you want. To finish the circle, you’ll want a DAC.
And with the Helm Bolt DAC, it’s a digital-to-analogue converter that goals to provide your audio a giant increase with out the necessity for a giant funding because it’s now accessible for simply shy of £100 / $100. This places it alongside the likes of the Earmen Eagle, a DAC I preferred rather a lot after I reviewed it. Can the Helm Bolt finest its efficiency?
- Compact design
- LED indicator for sampling fee
- USB-A adapter
The variety of plug-and-play DACs out there has grown in recognition just lately, the sort of small, handy amplifier that might be used at residence however simply taken outdoors of the home with a cell machine.
The Helm Bolt is one such DAC. It’s small at solely 95mm lengthy and a width of 11.7mm, with a compact major housing that connects to USB-C enter through a versatile cable. It’s a lot smaller than a comparable plug-and-play DAC just like the Astell & Kern HC3.
The construct high quality is sweet for its small proportions, the versatile cable offers some leeway in the event you’re connecting to a supply in a good house, and it comes with a USB-A adapter to hook up with a laptop computer, PC, or non-USB-C-compliant supply. It’s solely sufficiently big to incorporate a 3.5mm output to hook up a wired headphone.
There’s an LED that showcases file kind and frequency sampling fee, in addition to a mushy carry pouch for transport, and that’s it for the Helm Bolt DAC’s design. It retains issues easy, which can enchantment to these occupied with boosting audio with minimal fuss.
- MQA renderer help
- THX certification for low distortion/crosstalk
- DAC shielded from electromagnetic interference
The LED exhibits three kinds of file/sampling fee. Purple is MQA, utilized by the likes of Tidal music streaming. Purple refers to HD tracks larger than 48kHz, and Blue equals SD tracks as much as 48kHz. The Helm Bolt can playback PCM and DSD as much as 384kHz and 5.6MHz respectively.
The Bolt makes use of an ESS Sabre DAC with a three-oscillator design claimed to be higher than a single oscillator design on account of its “superior frequency lock”. The DAC is positioned in a shielded headphone connector for optimum EMI (electromagnetic interference) to isolate it from the USB and cut back crosstalk distortion (the place a sign on one channel leaks into one other). The shielded cable additionally helps to enhance the conductivity of the sign from supply to the DAC in addition to isolate from EMI.
It’ll additionally robotically decipher a headphone’s impedance and set the output ranges, both at 1V for headphones’ impedance at lower than 150ohms or 2V for greater than 150ohms.
There’s THX certification (just like the THX Onyx), and compatibility for Android and iOS cell gadgets, in addition to macOS and Home windows 10. The Helm Bolt acts as a renderer for MQA music information, so when paired with a decoder (the Tidal app), the Helm Bolt can carry out the ultimate ‘unfold’ and unlock the data throughout the MQA stream for the best high quality playback.
- Clear sound
- Balanced however dynamic efficiency
- Niggly start-up points
A barely peculiar trait I’ve seen with the Helm Bolt DAC is that it doesn’t all the time play audio when linked. Whether or not it’s a compatibility subject or the DAC not absolutely working, I’m undecided. It has a thoughts of its personal, working tremendous on some events or refusing to on others, the system recognising it as “ESS USB Audio” as an alternative of “Helm MQA”. It may be very fussy.
However catch it on an excellent day – you possibly can inform it’s within the temper when it goes via its correct start-up sequence of pink/blue flashing lights – and the Helm Bolt DAC strikes a clear and balanced tone with audio performed via a Sivga Robin SV021. There’s no apparent try of the DAC so as to add or alter the audio sign via processing whether or not via heat or crispness. It feels that what I hear is coming straight from the music streamer’s servers as supposed.
Take a monitor like Bear McCreary’s Rodan from the Godzilla: King of the Monsters soundtrack (Tidal) the place there’s loads of power to the percussive beats, a surging ahead momentum and large-scale dynamics, and the Helm Bolt reproduces it in an unflustered method. The drumbeats carry loads of weight and energy however not in a way the place it turns into the main focus of the monitor.
The sense of surging momentum is carried effectively via the track, although maybe with not as a lot readability or element as anticipated – with some tracks Tidal sounds hotter than different providers, and a subsequent hear on Apple Music reveals a sharper sense of element and readability, in addition to a greater sense of small and bigger scale harmonics, plus a wider soundstage to take pleasure in.
However that speaks to what I wrote earlier in that the Helm Bolt doesn’t add its personal traits, it merely accentuates no matter is offered within the stream.
With Avishai Cohen and Huge Vicious’ Hidden Chamber (Tidal), there’s a delightful richness the Helm Bolt extracts from Cohen’s trumpet efficiency. It additionally exerts tight management over the track’s dynamics, astutely capturing the smaller, quieter moments that enable the extra expressive elements to face out extra. It’s a presentation that sounds fluid, dynamic, and energetic, but additionally pure.
With Tidal including FLAC to its service, it’s grow to be more durable to search out MQA information, particularly on iOS, which somewhat nullifies the headline function of this DAC in 2023. A swap to PC and a hearken to Air’s Alone in Kyoto presents the identical form of management as earlier than on the subject of monitor’s dynamics.
The brightness of the excessive frequency notes is introduced out with some good extension and readability: there’s an excellent firmness to the piano notes, the width of the soundstage is properly described, whereas the waves that crash within the background in the direction of the monitor’s finish add neatly to the monitor’s total atmosphere. The Helm Bolt knits it collectively in an easy method. It does depart some element and sharpness on the desk when in comparison with the Earmen Eagle, which if I have been to decide on between the 2, the Eagle can be my most popular possibility.
Must you purchase it?
It’s plug and play simplicity
The Helm Bolt DAC is exceedingly easy to make use of with its plug and play operation that allows you to get on with having fun with your music.
Niggling start-up points
It really works tremendous with the Home windows PC, Android, and iOS gadgets I’ve linked it to, however there are different events the place it simply doesn’t wish to work.
As a transportable DAC the Helm Bolt works successfully to amplify audio with out leaving any apparent hint of processing. It’s easy to make use of, and its plug-and-play operation means you will get straight to listening to music with out fuss.
Or at the very least there wouldn’t be fuss if it weren’t for some niggling start-up points that find yourself with no sound performed. The Helm Bolt went on sale in 2020, and this subject doesn’t appear to have been resolved. What the foundation of it’s I’m undecided, nevertheless it’s frequent sufficient to annoy. I’ve discovered connecting the Bolt to a tool through the USB-A adapter or simply plugging it out and in can treatment the difficulty, however not all the time.
However, if you wish to extract a greater efficiency out of your music streaming expertise, the Helm Bolt is an efficient and reasonably priced alternative. The good thing about having MQA has been whittled down, however whichever music service you subscribe to, the Helm Bolt will assist extract the next high quality efficiency than with out it.
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We take a look at each DAC we overview totally over an prolonged time period. We use industry-standard exams to match options correctly. We’ll all the time inform you what we discover. We by no means, ever, settle for cash to overview a product.
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Examined with a number of streaming providers
Sure you would as it is a plug and play DAC with a USB-C connection. These with older iPhones should use the Lightning to USB-C adapter to attach.
Whole Harmonic Distortion + Noise
Helm Bolt DAC
Wired, USB-A adapter
MQA, DSD, PCM
iOS, Android, macOS, Home windows 10