What is the Helium 510?
The reality is that the Amphion is rather more interesting than the specifications suggest and the product of a company that is itself a little different from many rivals. Amphion is unusual in that they have reversed a frequently seen trend of speaker brands starting in the professional arena and then going domestic. They instead started making domestic speakers and have proceeded to enjoy a fanatical following with their professional offerings
Of course, history and brand story are great but you have to deliver on the day to day business of sounding good too. Is this little standmount speaker a modern classic that balances the accuracy of the pro world with the refinement of the domestic, or just another bookshelf? Time to find out.
Specification and Design
For Amphion, waveguides matter. There has never been an Amphion speaker without them and, in the past, when I’ve inquired about how they calculate them, I’ve been told that they are sufficiently instrumental to the overall performance that there’s no way at all they’re giving much away. Suffice to say that the shape and depth is emphatically not chosen by chance or for aesthetic reasons.
The tweeter at the centre of the waveguide is a 25mm titanium dome, protected by a small grille. This is almost a standard fitment across almost every Amphion speaker. It is joined by a 130mm doped paper cone - a slightly unusual but not unheard of combination and one that also makes up the rest of the Helium range. The unusual aspect of how these drivers are implemented is down to the presence of the rear port. This isn’t an unusual fitment but Amphion ensures that the flow relationship to the mid bass driver is maintained by placing the port directly behind the bass unit.
These two factors are combined with a relatively narrow and deep cabinet to give the Helium 510 a fairly distinctive aesthetic that is largely governed by functionality. The most notable operational quirk of the design is that, thanks to the port being on axis with the driver, the terminal panel sits at the top behind the waveguide which looks a little odd but shouldn’t make any real difference when the speaker is in place.
One area where Amphion has to be commended is the thought that has gone into some aspects of the design. The first is that while the review pair is black and white (and I have to say, much as I’m never going to love white speakers, it looks really good), you can also have black, completely white and white with black grilles (but a white waveguide insert). Then, if that wasn’t enough, you can specify the grille and waveguide indent in grey, red, blue, turquoise, violet, green, yellow and - yes - brown. The clever bit of this is that having too many versions (SKUs) of a speaker is a big issue for companies. By having two colours and then changing the trim details. Amphion gives you a bewildering amount of choice without suffering from this.
Neither does the clever thinking end there. The Helium 510 has the option of a full grille to cover the complete frontage of the speaker if you want and an optional wall mount that can be used to avoid guessing what aftermarket model might work. One final interesting feature is that as far as Amphion is concerned, the Helium 510 is sold in single units for people who aren’t fond of dedicated centre speakers, this offers the chance to have identical speakers in every (non height) position in an AV setup. Not all UK dealers have this option listed but it does seem to be there. No less importantly, the Helium 510 is really beautifully made. There’s nothing showy about how it is has been put together but everything feels solid and considered and likely to work indefinitely.
How was the Helium 510 tested?
On the assumption I know this already, I don’t really want to be reminded of it each time. I simply want to enjoy it for what it is. The Amphion is a fascinating counterpoint to the idea of a monitor because it is has crossed over from the other direction - domestic to pro. The way it handles Break on Through is indicative of this whole ethos in two minutes and twenty-eight seconds. The Amphion manages to accurately point out the limits of the material at hand but the manner in which it does so is so apologetic that you largely won’t care. The Helium 510 is one of the true masters of balancing what you need to know with what you don’t.
Working out why this is the case is not completely straightforward but there are some clues in the design. First up, that waveguide really does work. The Amphion is fairly unfussy about placement but if you do give it a little attention, it images beautifully. There isn’t a sweet spot to the presentation but instead a sofa sized area of three dimensional cohesion that manages to offer both a seamless stereo soundstage from left to right and the perception of depth too. It is rare to find a small speaker that is as happy generating such a large image and what is no less impressive is that you have to be, say, pretty much on top of them before this imaging space collapses.
And more than any of these things, it’s fun. That speed and cohesion isn’t something that solely works when you’re at the whistles and glowsticks end of the BPM spectrum. It’s the ability to make any piece of music flow in a way that makes it utterly self-explanatory that is to be celebrated. With a track like 2BU by Wild Beasts that inverts the track around the percussion in the opening minute, the effect with many speakers can be jarring and somewhat unsettling. Here, it manages to make perfect sense on both sides of the inversion. There isn’t anything I’ve thrown at the Amphions in their time on test that has truly unsettled them.
The performance with TV material is no less effective. I binge watched the entire ridiculousness of Netflix’s Hyperdrive with the Amphion in situ and they did a fine job of capturing the impressive death ride of the eventual runner up’s Nissan. That unforced ability to create a ‘sweet space’ lends them an immersion that isn’t always available in stereo viewing and their consistent ability to ensure that dialogue is clear and easy to follow means that when you do watch something where the dialogue is of more than passing relevance, the Helium 510s hold their own.
So, what’s the catch? Depending on how you intend to use them, there genuinely might not be one. The Amphion’s ability to deliver the contents of a recording comes with the ability to tell you what the electronics are up at the same time. This means that while they can be driven on the end of relatively low powered equipment, it will show up the limitations present. On the end of the ATC amp in particular - the Amphion has delivered excellent performance and the NAD is barely less effective. If your electronics do have some traits you aren’t fond of though, it is highly likely that the Amphion will let you know about it rather than curing them. Like a good few speakers we have looked at in recent months, the Amphion is not a shortcut to greatness in any situation.
- Accurate, detailed but entertaining sound
- Very well made
- Useful optional extras
- Very revealing
- Need a reasonable amount of power
- Looks won't be to everyone's taste.
Amphion Helium 510 Standmount Speaker Review
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