Urbanears Hellas: Full Test Review

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Credit: Courtesy of Urbanears

When I wasn’t assigning and editing news and features at Bicycling, I was testing bike gear. Here’s the full, unedited version of one of the last pieces I wrote for the site, about a pair of wireless workout headphones. You can find the edited, abridged version here

The Urbanears Hellas Is Your Pain-Cave Secret Weapon

After one memorably sweaty trainer session, I worked my wireless earbuds out of my ears and gave them a good look. When was the last time I cleaned these? Have I ever cleaned these? CAN you clean these?—never things you want to question of gear you put in your body every day. It was shocking to consider just how much “workout residue“ could have crusted over them in the year that I’d used them.

It’s annoying enough to have audio transmitted directly into your ear canal (though safe for your hearing, with proper use), but this was the last straw in my ambivalent relationship with earbuds. I was ready to try a different method of listening to music on the bike—without advertising my taste in music to my entire apartment building.

It wasn’t long before I stumbled across the Urbanears Hellas: over-the-ear, machine-washable (!) sport headphones. The Hellas headphones are for cyclists who dig in best when they’re powered by music, and value high-quality sound and sleek looks. They thrive during trainer time, but also enjoy cross-training in the gym.

After months of regular use, I’ve learned that not only do the Hellas headphones easily withstand the rigors of bike trainer use (plus cross-training exercises like running and strength circuits) and the washing machine, but they also make listening to music during exercise more comfortable and less complicated—while providing better sound quality than much of their earbud competition.

Credit: Courtesy of Urbanears

The perks:

The Hellas wireless headphones offer high-quality sound—they’re rated at 103dB sensitivity and 32-ohm impedance, which is within the standard for DJ-grade headphones that can work well with small electronics—while paired with features that make appreciating that sound easy for athletes.

For one, they come in a very lightweight (130g) package, meaning no heavy neck when you’re bent over in the pain cave. Key to this is the frame of parallel wires connecting the two earcups. The wires, by merit of being flexible, also make it harder to break the Hellas, so you can stuff them into a gym bag carefree; and make it possible for them to fit lots of head widths.

Once you ratchet the frame down to the size of your head (just pull or push the ear cups away from or toward the wire frame, respectively; they’ll stay put), it only takes a few seconds to pair the headphones and your smartphone, tablet, or other Bluetooth-capable device and start listening. This is thanks to one of the Hellas’ main selling points: a touch interface on the right ear cup. Simply press and hold the centerpoint of the ear cup to turn the Hellas on, then hold it a little longer to activate pairing mode.

The touch interface also comes into play while listening. Rather than fumbling for your phone to pause a song, jump forward or backward in a playlist, change that volume, or take a phone call (and answer it, with the built-in microphone), you can do all that from the ear cup by tapping or swiping across the interface. There’s about a half-second delay between adjusting the volume or switching songs, and a second-long delay when pausing or restarting a song. (You need to use a bit of pressure for a swipe to register once you’re a bit sweaty.)

The sound quality itself is awesome across the entire volume range. No matter how high I cranked my fan or how hard I revved my trainer’s freewheel, the Hellas could crank higher, safely. The sound, even voices and acoustic instruments, is always crisp, with a warm, full tone. In off-bike testing (I wore these daily at the office, too), I only noticed a bit of bass reverb at the loudest end of the volume spectrum.

For those who like to dance on the trainer: While it takes a LOT of front-to-back headbanging to shake off the headphones, shaking your head side-to-side can fling them off your head. But I used them while doing burpees, too, and never had any issues. The headphones hug your head just the right amount.

There are so many things to love about the Hellas, but what really makes them stand out from other wireless headphones is that they’re washable. When you’re done with your workout, toss the detachable machine-washable headband and ear padding into the provided laundry bag, and clean the water-resistant headphone frame with a wipe. You never have to worry about bacteria buildup near your ears, or a lingering scent of sweat. The ear padding and headband on my test Hellas have retained their shape, without pilling—they still look new.

Depending on your workout length, you might not even have to immediately charge the Hellas afterward. One charge produces 14 hours of audio playback, which easily gets me through a week of indoor cycling and strength training. (Just remember to press and hold the right ear cup’s centerpoint to turn the Hellas off!)

Something Left to Be Desired: 

There really wasn’t much that annoyed me about the Hellas. The first few times you use them, the ear cups might feel a bit stiff—but after a couple washes, you forget all about that. The right ear cup interface can also be too sensitive. Sometimes, when pushing an errant piece of hair back behind my ears, I’ve accidentally paused a song.

Bottom Line: Endorsed

The Hellas wireless headphones offer high-quality sound in a very lightweight, easy-to-use package, and I would absolutely recommend this product to its intended user. The headphones are bombproof, intuitive to use, and provide sound quality that rivals over-ear headphones made for daily use. Plus, this is the first pair of workout headphones I’ve ever confidently worn outside the gym or off the bike: My test pair came in ‘Trail,’ a beautiful navy blue, and they look great worn about the neck.

Basic Specs: 

  • Brand Name: Urbanears
  • Product Name: Hellas
  • URL: https://www.urbanears.com/ue_us_en/hellas
  • Gender: N/A
  • Price: $119
  • Weight: 130 grams
  • Sizes Available: One size
  • Tester Name: Hannah Weinberger
  • Months tested: 6
  • Test conditions and locations: During indoor workouts both on- and off-bike

Notable Tech Info: 

  • Reflective cord (in the event you wear it outside)
  • Machine-washable headband and ear cushions (replaceable)
  • SUPER light at 130 grams (For comparison: Beats Solo3 Wireless = 215 grams, and $300.)
  • Comes with Micro USB connector for charging
  • Built-in touch interface (right ear cover)
  • LED indicator of battery life
  • Built-in microphone for taking phone calls
  • Comes in four colors: Black Belt (all black), Trail (navy blue with gray padding), Team (white with blue padding), and Rush (gray with orange padding).
  • Cool construction: Cutouts in headband improve ventilation and provide spaces to insert detachable headband fabric; two-wire headband frame decreases weight and makes reflective cable visible; headband size is easily adjustable by running ear cups along two-wire rails, which is easily done but the ear cups stay in place
  • 98db sensitivity and 60-ohm impedance, which is standard for DJ-grade headphones in terms of how much ‘loudness’ can be generated at a certain power level (aka efficiency with power), and voltage needed to perform optimally.
  • 14 hours of playback battery life (still waiting on how much Urbanears suggests is an average charge time)

Why it’s cool, TLDR: 

  • The Hellas wireless headphones offer high-quality sound in a very lightweight package.
  • The machine-washable headband and ear padding provide comfort and sweat protection—you never have to worry about water damage to your headphones, or bacteria buildup near your ears.
  • One charge produces 14 hours of audio playback, which can get you through a week of indoor cycling and strength training.
  • The built-in microphone makes it easier to take a phone call without pausing your workout.
  • You never have to worry about fumbling for sound and phone call controls, as they’re easily accessible on the outside of your right ear cup.

What would you like me to write about?