If you’re a person that only likes to hear the sound of your engine and exhaust, I understand! No distractions, clearing your head and letting the raw noises hypnotise you into a Zen like state while smoothly cutting through corners. Better then meditation! HOWEVER, if you’re more of a social rider wanting to talk to buddies in the group, or simply would like some musical distraction during the boring highway parts, I understand you too. This article is for you!
Right of the bat you need to make some choices. Choices that hugely impact the kind of products you should be looking for and the budget you should have ready. Talking about budget, let me start with price… for the range you see in the below graph you should think around $50 to $500 dollar.
So, let’s talk about this graph. All the way at the top you see the first and most important decision you need to make. Are you looking for just sound (from you GPS app and/or your music app)? Or do you also want to communicate with someone else (your passenger and/or other riders in your group)?
If you only need sound you’re in luck from a budget perspective. You just need some earbuds or helmet speakers. Now, don’t be mistaken, there’s still a huge range of products to choose from in each category, but still, you’ve eliminated all the full-duplex com systems.
Let’s start with the Helmet Speakers. There are simply too many out there to discuss them all. I suggest to find a respectable brand and then look for online reviews about them. Also check if they fit your helmet. One tip I’d like to give you… go for a bluetooth version. I’ve used a cabled version in the past, but not for very long. Why? Because the speakers were installed in my helmet and wired to my iPhone which was mounted to the handlebars. When I got of my motorcycle and tried to walk away with my helmet still on, I got ‘reminded’ that I was still connected. This is not such a big deal if you keep your phone in your pocket of course.
The wired vs bluetooth argument is the same for earbuds, so won’t repeat myself on that. Other then that, make sure you get earbuds that don’t fall out and don’t irritate you after a while. The pressure of the helmet on your ears might amplify any discomfort you feel without helmet. Earbuds will also help you protect your hearing against wind buffeting and other noises from wind and engines. There are also third party ‘noise cancelling’ buds (so, the foamy part) for sale that help protect your hearing even more. They are made of memory foam so will adapt their shape to your ears as well.
The below video, by FortNine, shows you some options for earbuds, 3rd party ‘noise cancelling’ buds and helmet speakers.
Sound and Communication – Motorcycle Com Systems
If you want to talk to your passenger or someone in your group then you’ll have to spend a minimum of about $100 dollars. In the graph I’ve divided the Helmet Com Systems in 2 categories: low/mid end and the high end ones. In reality this is more of a grey area. While there are a lot of brands and ‘white label’ products for sale in this arena (just search Amazon), I recommend to get one from a respectable brand like Cardo or Sena. Not only does that ensure good support, but also you’ll have a lot more chance of finding riders with the same system. So, chances to find someone to talk to is bigger. I won’t go into detail on each and every set out there. In stead I’ll talk about some of the most important features and differences between the low/mid end and the high end systems.
Range is the maximum distance the ‘other person’ you want to talk to can be away from you and still have the com system work. Typically, the higher end the model, the farther the range. Ranges typically vary from 200 meters to 2 kilometers more or less.
# connections to other sets
Basically, the lower end models can only connect to 1 or 2 other riders, while the highest end models use a ‘Mesh’ network, enabling connections to many riders at the same time. You’ll be able to talk and listen to 8 or even more people at the same time.
# bluetooth channels
The cheaper sets might only have the ability to connect one other bluetooth device (like your phone as a music player), while most mid and high end models will connect two or more bluetooth devices. This is important because your phone usually already takes 2 channels (one for music playback over the A2DP protocol and one for handsfree phone calls over the HFP protocol ) and maybe you want to connect a 3rd device too, like a stand-alone GPS Unit like a Garmin Zumo or TomTom rider.
Although the above 3 are the most important differentiators between the low/mid and high end models, there is more to consider. For example the very low end models might not have noise cancellation (pretty important if you want to have a conversation under your helmet, while going 60 mph). Also the control buttons and such can vary a lot between models. Some have a ‘remote control’ which you attach to the handle bars, while others have the control on the unit itself. Pay special attention to how easy (or difficult) it is to control with gloves on.
Once again I’d like to refer you to a FortNine video. His reviews are very detailed and give a good overview (I have no affiliation with FortNine). The below video is a review of some of the most well known Motorcycle Com Systems out there:
One more thing I’d like to add to this. Be aware of ‘drag’. I personally am not a fan of units you attach to the outside of your helmet. I have mostly ridden naked bikes and bikes with small wind screens, therefore the wind against such a unit can cause a drag, especially at higher speeds, causing unwanted noise and even neck pane on longer stretches.
Finally I’d like to mention that more and more helmet manufacturers are starting to offer integrated systems that you buy together with the helmet. These systems are specifically built for your helmet and are very often based on the highest end model of a well known brand. For example, Schuberth offers it’s SRC system, with is actually a Cardo com ‘under the hood’. While these integrated units take you to the very highest price range, in my opinion they are worth the money if you can spend it.