Commuting everyday to and back from work on the bike can get a bit boring, especially when the only noise you hear through the helmet is the sound of the wind and engine. Don’t get me wrong, the outside sounds are very important to keep you alert of the things going on around you, but a little background music would also be nice.
Obvious choice were the motorcycle specific communication devices. These kits usually consists of a pair of speakers, a microphone, and a Bluetooth controller module. These multi-purpose devices main purpose is to enable rider to rider communication, but can also be paired with other Bluetooth enabled devices such as a mobile phone to make and receive calls, gps units for voice directed route navigation, and media players for music playback.
As my primary goal was just to listen to music, I thought I’d research some other (cheaper) options to achieve this.
A simple solution is to use a set of wired in-ear headphone into my iPhone and plug them in my ears before putting on the helmet. The main problem with this is that most in-ear headphones, and mine are no different, is that they’re designed to isolate outside noise as they fit snug into the ear canal. Noise isolation is great when you’re relaxing on a flight and want to drown out the plane noise and screaming kids, but not so good when you’re riding, as you actually want to hear the traffic around you.
Another option was to buy a pair of slimline wired/wireless speakers that I could insert into the helmet, this would allow me to hear outside noise whilst also enjoying my favourite track – however looking around for said speakers proved very difficult, and the few that I found were quite expensive and rated poorly by customer feedback.
Finally I came back to looking at motorcycle communication devices. There are plenty on the market, but the Sena range of systems seem to be the most popular, not only in Australia, but worldwide, with good reviews.
I narrowed down the options to two: the SMH-10 and the SMH-5FM.
The key differences between the two are:
|Talk Time (hr)||7||12|
|Max. # of Multi-way Intercom||2||4|
|Intercom Distance (m)||700||900|
|Cost $ (AUD)||155||215|
As I didn’t care about the SMH-10s’ long range ability or conference facility, I based my decision on the other features, which were fairly identical. The SMH-5FM with it’s smaller form factor and built in FM tuner swayed my choice and I purchased it online.
I attached the SMH-5FM to my Shark S700 helmet using the included 3M sticky pad, I did try the mount option, but it didn’t sit too well and the base of the mount protruded from the base of the helmet, not a problem when you’re wearing the helmet, but could easily scratch and damage the unit off the bike when the helmet is stored on a flat surface. The speaker and mic installation is very easy and the sound quality is adequate – obviously not as good as in-ear headphones, but perfect for riding, when you need to hear the noises around you.
I’ve had the unit for over a month now and I must say I love it. It’s paired to my iPhone 4s which is loaded with my music collection. The jog dial is very easy to use, even with gloves on – tap the job dial in for 2 seconds to start the music, 2 seconds again to pause. Quick tap the jog dial to answer incoming calls and tap again to hang up. Turn the jog dial either way to increase or decrease the volume, even going to the next and previous tracks is easy to navigate simply by tapping and turning the jog dial. There is a whole host of other features which I haven’t tried or found the need to, but they’re all accessible using a combination of jog dials taps and rotations.
On one of my little rides, I used the iPhones map application and punched in the destination, started the route navigation and put the phone back in my bag. The iPhone turn by turn voice navigation worked flawlessly through the unit and into the speakers. I was even able to listen to music whilst it gave me the next direction.
What I’m especially impressed with is the battery life. I commute every day which averages about 1 hour and 20 minutes each day, music playing from start of journey to the end, and I only charge the device once a week, that’s about 6.5 hours per charge, and when I checked the battery level before plugging it in, it was only half used, personally I think it’ll last over 12 hours between charges – that’s impressive if you consider the units small size.
All in all, I’m more that happy with this device and would recommend it to anyone looking for a simple multi-function communication system that just works.
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