Wireless Bluetooth motorcycle bike-to-bike headset/passenger intercom units continue to improve. New technology advances the breed and the pace of progress quickens.
But does the ad hype on the box accurately describe the real-world performance of the gear inside? The Sena SMH10 incorporates some of my wished-for improvements: more volume, the possibility of earbud audio and two mic design types—a boom mic for flip-up helmets, or wired mic for full-face models.
The boom mic design and speakers were easily clamped onto and installed in my Arai in 2-3 minutes. You can also stick the main unit on with the included adhesive pad if desired. Two simple controls manage everything, a phone button and the jog dial, and once understood are a snap to use.
Bike-to-bike the claimed range is 900 meters, or a little more than half a mile. To test it we used an SMH10 Dual Pack with two units; my companion stopped on the roadside and began counting out loud into his, while I rode on until I lost his audio. A quick odometer check showed a real-world range of just under half a mile on flat, unobstructed terrain. Static and garbled words preceded the link loss, as in all systems, yet whenever distance broke our link the SMH10 seamlessly reconnected once back in range. This would be moot, of course, using the Dual Pack as an intercom, with a passenger seated right behind you.
The SMH10 works flawlessly in both voice-activated and “open” mic modes, allowing us to switch back-and-forth as the amount of conversation changed. It linked easily with my Garmin zumo 550 and Droid2 Global Verizon phone. I was able to call up my address book and voice-dial outgoing calls as well as accept incoming ones—when stopped, of course. Stereo music can be supplied via Bluetooth audio device, a GPS MP3 library or by 3.5mm audio cable, and multi-pair communication is available for up to four headsets for group rides. Sena claims a talk time of 12 hours and standby of 10 days, neither of which we were able to accurately judge, as the units’ batteries always lasted longer than we needed. Who talks that much?
Wind noise is usually a problem for motorcycle communicators above a certain speed, eventually masking intelligible speech. Thanks to its greater volume output, though, the Sena’s performance is quite good at highway speeds from most audio sources, the exception being my Garmin zumo 550. Above 65 mph or so the GPS prompts were barely audible. Even after upgrading the SMH10 to its latest firmware version 4.0 via my laptop (another great feature!) and cranking the zumo to max volume, the verbal prompts were weak. Is it the Sena or is it the Garmin? Further fettling may solve it, and improved audio might be available through the Sena accessory SMH-A0303 helmet clamp, which allows riders to use earbuds. Check local laws regarding the legality of fitted buds.
All things considered, the Sena SMH10 is a fine system. The jog dial is simple to use and works well with gloves. No small buttons, no fiddly “trees” of settings and calibrations. The volume and fidelity are the best of any system I’ve tested. The single SMH10 kit retails for $219, and the SMH10 dual pack goes for $399.
Sena’s new budget-priced SMH5 system omits some high-end features like auxiliary input and conference pairing, has shorter range and battery life and only comes with a mini-to-standard USB cable. You can charge and update it from the computer, but it lacks the AC/DC and cigarette chargers that come with the SMH10. This reduces the price accordingly—the SMH5 single pack sells for $129 and the dual pack is $249. Visit the website to compare system specs and find the right one for you.