Here is everything you need to know to get started on Bluetooth Intercoms for Motorcycles, how they work, and which is best for you.
Starting at the very top, Bluetooth intercoms are one of the most prevalent technologies riders use to stay connected to each other. Whether its to talk to your fellow rider, listen to GPS directions or simply listen to your favourite tunes, these helmet attachments are packed with innovative features to make communication between your pillion, fellow rider or friends easier.
Among the most popular brands out there are Cardo and Sena, with devices to fit an all manner of needs, designs to fit seamlessly into your lid, and a bunch of technical jargon that may go over your head, even if their functions are quite simple.
DISCLAIMER: When it comes to intercoms, there are a wide array of units to consider with various features and prices, and as motorcyclists, we all have different needs and budgets, so there is never one definitive answer to "the Best Motorcycle intercom". Sometimes more expensive intercoms are required to achieve what you want, while other times a cheaper unit will be more suitable for you.
The one thing we'd recommend you do before you buy anything: DO YOUR RESEARCH. This article is intended to give you a head start on motorcycle intercoms with a particular focus on Cardo and Sena intercoms, but there are a much greater number of units on the market from brands such as Interphone and Twiins that may be better for you. If you have any questions on our intercoms and products, our in-store staff will be able to personally assist you and provide the best advice on the intercom for you.
But anyway, let's get down to the basics...
How do motorcycle intercoms work?
Essentially there are three main types of intercom: Rider, Rider + Passenger, and Rider-to-Rider.
An intercom for a single user, used only to connect with your phone or sat-nav device.
A single rider unit is perfect for commuters and solo riders, giving you the bare necessities of a Bluetooth headset and shedding the communication features you likely won’t use. You will be able to receive sat-nav instructions, listen to music, as well as make and take phone calls for a much lower price point.
If you’re new to helmet intercoms, this is a fantastic place to start and to give you a taster for what they have to offer before committing to something with a bigger price tag.
➤ Rider + Passenger
An intercom for two users to communicate on the same bike, and to connect with your phone or sat-nav device.
This kind of intercom offers the same features as a single rider unit, but the main feature here is the ability to communicate close-range with your pillion and is perfect for any couple travelling together.
No longer will you have to decipher hand signals, jacket tugs and just plain shouting to each other. With these units, you can actually have a normal conversation with each other about the next stop, interesting points in your journey or simply catch-up with how bewildering that last episode of Tiger King was...
An intercom to connect with us multiple riders (up to 24!) up to 1.2 miles away, and to connect with your phone or sat-nav device.
Alternatively referred to as ‘Bike-to-Bike’, a Rider-to-Rider Bluetooth intercom allows its user to interact with other bikers from a distance, so is perfect for riding groups and tours. Different brands and products use a variety of systems and frequencies to connect with each other, but most Bluetooth intercoms either use a standard “Daisy-Chain” system or a newer ‘mesh’ system.
Traditional Intercom Systems
Conventional intercoms consist of a 'Daisy-Chain' system of linear pairings between intercoms in order to form group communication, where one rider is paired to another rider, who is also paired to another rider and so on – like a daisy chain (see diagram below).
As each link acts as a bridge to the next headset, keeping this link is vital for maintaining communication between the group (pictured in stages 1 and 2 of the diagram). Within smaller distances and typically groups consisting of 4 riders, communication can be stable if a group maintains their distance throughout the journey (pictured in stage 3). However, if a single link leaves or goes out of range, communication between the other riders is dropped and the group intercom collapses (pictured in stage 4).
In order to re-establish communication, everybody would then need to be repaired, which would require pulling over and rebuilding the connection. If you foresee this happening, these kinds of intercoms may be overly complicated or fragile to use over larger distances or more users.
Dynamic Mesh Systems
More modern and advanced intercoms adopt a newer self-healing, adaptive system of communication, dubbed 'Dynamic Mesh’ system, which does away with the linear daisy-chain system and so, can’t be ‘broken’ in the same manner (see diagram below).
In mesh systems, a connection is established between all riders within a certain range called a “Pack”. If a single link leaves or goes out of range, communication between the remaining members of the Pack is maintained, and group intercom can continue (pictured in stages 1 and 2). Using this method, a smaller group could split off and form their own Pack between each other and can regroup with the main Pack later in the journey (pictured in stage 3 and 4 of the diagram).
The technology in this system has expanded, where it is now possible to retain a connection to riders over 1.2 miles away and with a maximum of 24 participants! Cardo refers to this system as “Dynamic Mesh Communications” or DMC, whilst Sena label their units with “Mesh 2.0”, but essentially, they use the same technology but only compatible with their own systems. (For examples of products that use Mesh technology, see the Cardo Packtalk and Sena 50 units below.)
All universal units are fitted to your helmet with either a clamp or sticky pad and are the easiest and most popular type of intercom. They come with a set of speakers and microphone (wired or boom style) although cheaper options may forgo the mic if you plan to just listen to your audio. Buying another helmet? You can easily transfer a Bluetooth intercom onto your next helmet as the universal units will fit pretty much every lid out there.
What type of intercom do I need?
Have a look at what’s on offer, there is no right or wrong product except those that don’t the features you want or have too many features to justify the price. Typically, the more features you want in a unit, the more expensive the unit will be, but it will also be more versatile to more uses.
Whichever motorcycle intercom you end up going for, make sure you get the basic necessities of the unit you’re after. So if you’re not planning on speaking to other people while you ride, you may want to consider whether having a microphone is worth the money.
All Bluetooth helmet intercoms will have the ability to connect to your phone/sat-nav or other Bluetooth devices for playing music, listing for directions, or simply taking a call without taking off your helmet. Building onto the basics, some units have a built-in FM radio so even if you can’t reach your phone, you can still listen to Eagle radio without the hassle.
Oh and one more thing to note as well – if you see the words ‘Solo’ or ‘Duo’ in the name of the product, this refers to the number of units inside the box (solo being one and duo being two units). This is perfect if you want to go halves with a mate for an intercom or if you have a regular pillion rider.
If you want to have a look at what’s available, you can get yourself some fantastic units for the price.
One of the best “does it all” intercoms on the market, the Cardo Packtalk Bold/Slim is a top of the range, Rider-to-Rider unit packed with a plethora of features, modes and Dynamic Mesh Communication technology for the ultimate multi-party experience (also available in Duo kits: Bold/Slim).
The Packtalk has an IP67 waterproof rating that shrugs off rain, sleet, hail and snow without impacting performance, and features high-performance JBL 40mm stereo speakers for full-range, immersive audio, balanced bass, crisp treble ad noise-cancelling algorithms with self-adjusting volume according to rider speed and ambient noise. The unit features dual-core, wireless technology that retains a stable, active communication network whichever setting you use with up to 13 hours talk-time.
The device’s Bluetooth 4.1 network allows for Rider-to-Pillion communication, full backwards compatibility with other Cardo models and non-Cardo Bluetooth headsets, connectivity to a GPS, motorcycle or smartphone, but what sets the Packtalk apart is the inclusion of the latest Dynamic Mesh Communication. This technology expands Bluetooth connectivity across long distances whether you ride in a duo, small group or a pack up to fifteen riders!
This seamless technology offers high-quality, auto-adaptive mesh communication that retains connection without interruption irrespective of the environment or situation and remains unaffected by members leaving or joining and a range up to 1600 metres or 1 mile between each rider.
The device features multiples methods of control to operate the Packtalk Bold/Slim intercom, FM radio, calls and A2DP. This includes a unique roller-wheel interface and control panel for intuitive operation with even the thickest winter gloves, connectivity with Cardo’s smartphone app: Connect, that enables you to set up and control the device remotely, as well as advanced voice control technology, for complete hands-free control over the unit’s functions.
The Packtalk comes in two models with varying degrees of design: the standard Packtalk Bold and a lower profile, Packtalk Slim. Both models are almost identical in features, but a couple of differences separate them. As the name suggests, the Slim model features a slenderer profile than the Bold, measuring just 6.5mm in width as compared to the latter’s 25mm.
To compromise for this size though, the Slim features a separate, low-profile battery pack that attaches to the rear of your helmet. The Bold, however, has a longer range of communication, covering a range of 1.6kms or 1 mile of distance, as compared to the Slim’s 1.2 km radius (0.75 miles). You can’t go wrong with either model but do take this into consideration if you’re choosing between the two.
Cardo Freecom 1+ / 2+ / 4+
If your budget is more moderate, or you’re not so bothered about the latest DMC system, you should consider the Cardo Freecom+. This mid-range intercom comes in 3 models with varying degrees of use: Freecom 1+ (Rider), Freecom 2+ (Rider-to-Passenger) and Freecom 4+ (Rider-to-Rider), but all units are compact and durable, IP67 waterproof and dustproof, and features Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity to your phone, GPS, other Bluetooth headsets and older Cardo intercoms (also available in Duo kits: 1+/2+/4+).
The Freecom units also come with voice control technology, adaptive speaker volume, connectivity to Cardo Connect smartphone app, as well as voice-control, so you get a lot of the same features that are found in the Packtalk models, but the key difference is the absence of Mesh technology. This results in the Freecom units having a smaller radius for Bluetooth connectivity, and the units cannot take advantage of the adaptive mesh group intercom.
This isn’t to say that the Freecoms are inferior, in fact, they still stand above a lot of other comms units in terms of technology and build, and they’re far more affordable than the Packtalk too! The Freecom 1+ is an entry-level unit and is perfect as a single rider or a rider-to-passenger Bluetooth kit. If you only plan on using the headset for GPS and smartphone connectivity and occasional two-way communication between a rider and to your pillion, the Freecom 1+ is perfect for this.
Above this, the Freecom 2+ and Freecom 4+ are advanced units for rider-to-rider communication, but a few key differences separate their compatibility other than price.
The Freecom 2+ is a two-way intercom device with a slimmer, more aerodynamic profile than the Freecom 4+, measuring just 16 millimetres thick. With a max range of 500 metres (0.3 miles), bike-to-bike communication is possible between two Freecom 2+ units, albeit limited in range, the device is far more suitable for Rider-to-Pillion communication and audio sharing. If you’re more likely to use an intercom for rider-to-passenger communication, want a less bulky headset or have a tighter budget, the Cardo Freecom 2+ is the smarter option.
The Freecom 4+ is the higher-spec model of the two, as the Rider-to-Rider intercom allows for four-way communication between 3 other riders (4 people in total) with bike-to-bike conferencing within a range of 0.75 miles, but can also ensure seamless communication between a rider and their passenger. The unit also features built-in JBL stereo speakers, so the Freecom 4+ offers a greater audio experience while talking or listening to music or the radio. If you are an audiophile, care about rider-to-rider communication, or travelling long distances in small groups – we recommend the Cardo Freecom 4+.
Sena are another brand on the forefront of communication technology between riders. New to 2020, the Sena 50 series features their most low-profile design and advanced Mesh 2.0 intercom technology to date. The Sena 50R and Sena 50S units are both glove-friendly, water-resistant units with in-helmet High Definition speakers that provide optimal audio performance with boosted volume, bass and clarity as well as being extremely comfortable over long periods.
The device features multiple intercom settings, including next-generation Mesh intercom including Group Mesh and Multi-Channel Open Mesh. Group Mesh allows you to create a single, private group up to 24 riders over a range of 8kms or 5 miles (minimum of 6 riders within 1.6kms or 1-mile intervals). Whereas Multi-Channel Open Mesh allows you to communicate with other riders within 8kms of the network radius, and in the same channel.
With nine channels available, you can switch between frequencies for conversations with multiple groups within the network. The 50 series’ also supports the latest Bluetooth 5, with significantly increased speed, range and broadcast messaging compatibility.
The device supports short-range and long-range connectivity to standard Sena and wireless headsets and connection with smartphones and GPS devices, while the kit also features advanced noise control reduces the effects of ambient noise during intercom conversations, and audio multitasking allows you to communicate with other riders while also listening to GPS directions, music or the local FM radio station. The units support connectivity to the Sena 50 Utility app as well as support to your smartphone’s Google or Siri digital assistant without the need for preliminary commands or buttons, for full control over the intercom’s functions and settings.
The 50 series consists of two units: the 50R and 50S are similar devices, but a few differences separate the two. For one, the 50R is a lower-profile model than the 50S but omits a few of their functions.
The 50S uses an improved Jog Dial similar Sena’s previous models and can be mounted onto a helmet using the included clamp kit or Glued Surface Mounting Adapter. The 50S has a slightly larger battery, with a talk time of 9 hours in Mesh intercom and 14 hours in Bluetooth intercom, and comes packed with 3 different microphones: boom, wired boom and wired microphone. The 50S also includes an AUX port for a non-Bluetooth MP3 player, which is absent from the 50R, as well as a built-in 3.5mm headphone jack so you can use your own earphones.
The Sena 50R is a slimmer unit with a simpler 3-button design and can be mounted to a helmet using the packed in hook and loop fasteners, double-sided adhesives or the clamp kit. The 50R only includes 2 types of microphone: wired boom and wired microphone. The 50S has a slighter smaller battery, with a talk time of 8 hours in Mesh intercom and 13 hours in Bluetooth intercom.
Alternatively, if your budget is lower, the Sena 10S is definitely an intercom you should consider.
As an improved version of the Sena SMH10 system, the 10S features a slim profile with One Touch Group intercom up to four riding companions with crystal-clear HD audio, covering up to 1.6 km (1 mile) of distance. The Bluetooth 4.1 unit is universally compatible with all Sena and other third-party Bluetooth headsets, connectivity to your smartphone or GPS device, and a built-in FM radio (also available as a Dual Kit).
All the basics are present and accounted for, this Rider-to-Rider unit is compatible with Sena's Smartphone App and has voice control for hands-free operation, while the device itself is water-resistant and dustproof, has a simple jog dial operation, ports for MP3 and earbuds, and includes Boom and full-face microphones that are condensed into a single clamp connector, minimising the number of cables for reliability.
If you're after something with a bit more range and variety of usage, the Sena 20S Evo unit is for you. The 20S Evo (also available as a Dual kit) is a mid-range Bluetooth kit built with Sena’s innovative design and stable intercom. As an upgrade of the original 20S, the Evo comes with a sleeker design that’s more aerodynamic to wind buffering and is equipped with a new fixed, shark fin antenna that allows for more stable intercom over long distances (this was later adopted onto the higher-end models).
The Bluetooth 4.1 headset supports up to 8 users on a multi-way group intercom, with a coverage up to 2 km or 1.2 miles in distance, and can be universally paired with another intercom, and supports smartphone/GPS navigation compatibility with apps, music and the accompanying Sena app for complete control of the unit's functions. The unit also features 13 hours of talk time, audio multitasking, HD quality sound, and a built-in FM radio tuner.
In comparison with the Sena 10S, the 20S Evo is slightly bulkier and comes with a higher price-tag. but otherwise comes with all the features present in the 10S along with three key features that the unit lacks.
Firstly, the unit gives you up to 2kms (1.2 miles) of coverage as compared to the 10S unit's 1.6kms (1 mile), giving you a bit more legroom in distance. Secondly, the 20S Evo supports up to 8 users on a multi-way group intercom, which is 4 more than the Sena 10S, so if you have a bigger group of friends to ride with, this will appeal to you. Of course, if you're not likely riding in larger groups than the argument would be why not stick with the cheaper Sena 10S?
Well, the last key difference between the two is Audio Multitasking, found in the Sena 20S Evo unit. This allows the device to isolate audio channels from your sat-nav, radio or group intercom, dipping and increasing the volume of these separate channels so you don't miss critical GPS directions while you're listing to your pillion or jamming to your favourite tunes. This is a feature a lot of users swear by, so if you reckon you'll be listening to multiple sources of audio at once, this is another aspect to consider!
If you're after a bit more punch, the Sena 30K is undoubtedly an upgrade on the previous two models. While they utilise Bluetooth 4.1, the 30K unit (also available in a Dual kit) is integrated with Mesh communication technology, which can connect and disconnect with other riders without affecting the network. Also featuring standard Bluetooth connectivity for smartphone pairing and to older intercom units, voice command, Sena app compatibility and advanced noise control.
The mesh intercom allows for open groups for up to 16 riders (including yourself) with a range of up to a whopping 5 miles (8kms!) as well as closed mesh with unlimited users over 1 mile or 1.6 miles, so for larger groups, the Sena 30K is far superior. However, one downside to the 30K's mesh technology is it takes up more battery than the 20S Evo, with a shorter talk time of 8 hours as compared to the 20S Evo's 13 hours. The battery life can be extended by turning off the Mesh network function on the 30K, but you also lose the fluid communication so bare this in mind.
It's worth noting that if you own the Shoei GT-Air 2 or Neotec 2 helmets, the Sena SRL 2 communication system is a modified Sena 20S Evo unit to seamlessly integrate these helmets. Coming with all the functions of the Sena 20S Evo, the unit is virtually undetectable from the outside of your helmet, with the components and cables tucked into strategic spots of the inner liner, and a 3-button control panel that can be accessed from the bottom left of your helmet.
Coming in a single kit or dual kit to give to a friend, if you own a Shoei helmet, we recommend you invest in the Sena SRL2.
AND THAT'S IT!
You know now the basics of motorcycle intercoms! Remember: there are a lot more units on the market, so make sure you do your research before you commit to buying any headset.
All of these items are available to purchase online and in-store. If you have any particular questions about any of the products featured on this list or any other item on our website, give us a call on 0800 130 3377 or email us directly at [email protected] and we'll do our best to answer them.
Why shop with Infinity? Well, simple - you're buying from a trusted dealer with 20 years in the business. We're hugely competitive with our prices and offers so if you see something cheaper elsewhere, we'll aim to match it! And if you're spending more than £280 on motorcycle clothing or accessories at Infinity Motorcycles, you can take advantage of our interest-free credit and spread the cost over 6 months!
This article was written by Jonah Son, and edited by Aaron Thomson.