In some ways, the advancement of technology can be measured by how many gadgets we don’t have to buy. Smartphones have mostly eliminated the need for small cameras, GPS devices, camcorders, music players, and even wallets. With all this efficiency, it can be difficult to justify purchasing a device that has a narrow purpose – why buy a new thing when you already have another thing that does the same thing? The answer: when the new thing does it better. With its Hellas ($119), Urbanears makes a pretty good case for owning an extra pair of headphones.
The Hellas is a wireless Bluetooth on-ear headphone made specifically for working out. They’re available in four color combinations. Hellas is extremely simple in its design, with no buttons and only one tiny LED. The cups and sizing mechanism are made of thick plastic with a distinctly “toyish” look and feel. Contact points (headband and ear pads) are made of a coarse mesh, and the two sides are connected by a pair of metal wires, which are about the same thickness and strength as a wire shirt hanger. The whole package folds in on itself for easy storage. Included in the box is nothing more than a charging cable and mesh storage bag. Clearly, minimalism drove Hellas’ design.
Hellas is Bluetooth-only, as no headphone cable is included. Pairing mode is activated with a long press on the right ear; our initial pairing to the iPhone took a bit longer than expected, but connection and re-pairing were problem-free after that. All of the Hellas’ functions are operated by touch on the right ear, and they’re dead simple – swipe up or down to control volume, forward or back to control tracks, and tap to play/pause. Though we like that the Hellas’ volume is linked to that of the iPhone, we would have appreciated a battery indicator on the phone.
The Hellas is well-suited as an exercise companion. It’s light and compact enough to stay out of your way, and it survived several sweaty workouts. The touch interface is a great choice, since the lack of button holes means fewer places for sweat to leak in. The key differentiator here is that the headband and earpads pop off for easy washing. This is a great feature, but it comes with a compromise in comfort. In order to make the ear pads machine-washable, it appears that Urbanears had to use a rough mesh that, when clamped against your ears, can become irritating. While this made the Hellas somewhat impractical for long-term listening sessions, it didn’t deter us from using from using them for 60-90 minute workouts.
When we first saw the Hellas, with its low price, plastic construction, and minimalist design, we didn’t expect much out of its sound. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the Hellas sounds pretty good. Bass response is right where it should be for workout music without overpowering the rest of the range. Users should not expect a high degree of isolation, but that is common for on-ear headphones. Nothing about the Hellas’ sound signature or detail was offensive; in fact, we wish they were more comfortable to wear for longer periods. Call quality was good, and battery life was great — our Hellas lasted over 14 hours on a single charge.
Our biggest concern with the Hellas, especially as a workout headphone, is its long-term durability. The first threat comes from the headband, which looks like it could easily be kinked in a workout-related accident. The sizing mechanism is also problematic — a metal spring pushes against plastic notches, grinding away some of the plastic every time. Even in our short testing period, we noticed some buildup of plastic shavings in that area.
Overall, we like what Urbanears has come up with in the Hellas. We don’t think they should be your “all-around” headphones, and some users might find the coarse ear pad material to be uncomfortable. Other than those caveats, we think the Hellas is a solid choice for nice-sounding, low-cost workout cans.
Company and Price
Compatible: Bluetooth iPads, iPhones + iPod touches