I put a Gold Wing GL1800 on my dream-bike list back in 2001, and finally snagged a used ’01 last year. But I quickly discovered that one of the features I was so eager to get—a factory stereo—came with speakers so anemic they had to be cranked up to ear-bleed volumes before I could hear them at speed, with the added benefit of annoying everyone within 150 yards.
In-helmet sound was the obvious answer, but buying even a used Wing had flattened my budget, so I turned to Rule No. 1 in the cheapskate manual—improvise—and found a few small, inexpensive products that helped me stretch my meager budget to the high end of audio performance.
I already had a Bluetoothed HJC SyMax helmet, but how to connect it to the Wing’s audio system? The answer came from the Aerostich catalog, where I found a small Chatterbox stereo-to-Bluetooth adapter (p/n 2303, $59) and an intercom system adapter plug (p/n 3900, $19) that plugs into any five-, seven- or eight-pin audio cable on one end, and accepts a standard 3.5mm audio jack on the other.
Using the adapter plug as a go-between, I connected the stock Honda headset cord to the Chatterbox unit, synched the Chatterbox with the SyMax Bluetooth module (also made by Chatterbox), and was rewarded with a cordless connection between the bike’s stereo and the helmet’s speakers. Plugging my iPod into the auxiliary audio-system jack inside the left fairing pocket brought my own music straight to my head. In case you don’t have a Gold Wing handy, it’s also possible to plug the Chatterbox transmitter straight into any MP3 player and transmit the tunes to a Bluetoothed helmet.
The Aerostich adapter plug has another use. I have a set of very small ear buds for my iPod that I wore while riding before I had helmet speakers. Whereas before I plugged the buds directly into the iPod, now I can plug them into the Wing’s audio system and hear the stereo, weather band and CB, too, as well as the iPod through the auxiliary jack in the fairing, and control it all with the switch pod on the left handlebar.
Some people are put off by synching and charging Bluetooth components, and prefer hard-wired connections between the bike’s audio system and helmet speakers. There are times I feel that way, too, like when I’m getting ready to go for a ride and discover one of the little battery-powered gadgets is out of juice. So I put aside my Bluetooth SyMax and outfitted my Shoei Neotec with an IMC Microphone and Speaker Kit for Gold Wings (p/n GHS35-USB, $75) from Whitehorse Gear.
The IMC kit comes with two speakers, a microphone and a cord, along with some hook-and-loop and zip-ties to help with a clean installation. The cord plugs into the stock Honda headset plug on one end, and has a USB-style connecter on the other end that plugs into the short pigtail coming off the helmet headset.
It took about 15 minutes to get everything arranged in the helmet. After that, it was a simple matter of plugging into the headset cord on the bike to get sound to the helmet. You don’t have to charge or synch the IMC headset, but you do have to remember to unplug it before you get off the bike—if you do forget, it’ll remind you fast.
Although I used a Gold Wing as the test mule for these products, you can use some of them to bring sound to any bike. The Chatterbox Bluetooth transmitter can be plugged into an iPod in your tank bag or jacket pocket, and the IMC headset kit will work with three types of comm plugs. It could be, too, that there are other small, inexpensive audio accessories out there that’ll give your Gold Wing sound on a scooter budget, no matter what you ride.
(This Gearlab article was published in the November 2012 issue of Rider magazine.)