Cardo Systems, Inc. has revamped its popular Q-line of scala rider Bluetooth helmet communicators, which now includes the Q1 TeamSet (two headsets) rider-to-passenger communicators; the Q3 (one headset); and Q3 MultiSet (two headsets) bike-to-bike communicators. Compared to the G9 PowerSet that Eric Trow tested in our May 2013 issue, the Q3 MultiSet offers less claimed range (up to 3,200 feet vs. up to 1 mile) and allows communication between fewer riders (four vs. nine), but it’s also a more compact, less expensive ($389.95 vs. $499.95) device.
The Q3 MultiSet includes two pre-paired communicators, plus corded and boom microphones, wired speakers, two sets of mounting plates (clamp and glue), MP3 and USB cables, and a wall charger, all in a handy zippered storage case. If you don’t need the MultiSet, a single Q3 is available for $219.95. Redesigned to be more sleek and aerodynamic, each Q3 communicator has two large buttons—intercom (IC) and music/mobile (MM)—separated by a prominent ridge that makes it easy to locate and identify the buttons with gloves on. The back edge of the Q3 has two small up/down buttons that control volume and several functions, as well as a port for the MP3/USB cables. The USB cable can be used to recharge the Q3 via the wall plug attachment or connect to a PC or Mac; the MP3 cable connects to a non-Bluetooth audio source. Setting up a free Cardo Community account and registering the Q3 allows you download software updates, change device settings online and connect with other Cardo users.
Installation of the Q3s in a pair of Shoei Neotec flip-up helmets was straightforward and took only about 20 minutes. The speakers fit perfectly within the Neotec’s recessed ear pockets; neither my fiancée Carrie nor I detected any difference in helmet fit or comfort. Pairing our iPhones to the Q3s was easy, allowing us to enjoy our own playlists via A2DP Bluetooth stereo, and a new music-sharing feature allowed us to both listen to the same playlist. Automatic voice prompts let us know when the Q3s were connected to each other and to our phones. Sound quality was very good in either intercom (full duplex) or audio mode, and the highest volume setting was occasionally too loud. Automatic gain control increases volume as higher ambient noise is detected (more wind at higher speeds).
There is a learning curve when using any Bluetooth communicator, and complexity increases as more devices are paired to it (e.g., smartphone, MP3 player and GPS), but Cardo has done a good job of ensuring that scala rider communicators are user-friendly. The instruction manual is concise and easy to follow, and voice-guided menus and spoken status announcements minimize confusion. Transitions between modes—for example, when a call comes in while listening to music—are seamless, though short delays sometimes occur.
The Q3 has too many features to describe here; a full list is available on Cardo’s website. As long as I followed the correct series of steps, everything worked properly, from selecting tracks on a play-list to changing between preset FM radio channels to accepting phone calls. Cardo claims up to 8-10 hours of audio and talk time on a full charge (up to 1 week standby), and we always got a full day’s use. Cardo also claims that the range for bike-to-bike communication is up to 6/10ths mile, but with a clear line of sight we lost the connection between 2/10ths and 4/10ths of a mile. One feature I didn’t test is Click-to-Link, which allows one scala rider user to connect to another within range without pre-pairing. Should your riding buddies have other scala rider units, the Q3 is compatible with the G9, G4, Q1, Q2 PRO and Schuberth SRC-System.
For more information, call (800) 488-0363 or visit cardosystems.com.
(This Gearlab review was published in the November 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)