While for many, motorcycling is about isolation and distraction from the rest of the world, many like to stay in touch, either with their sat nav, their smartphone for calls or to listen to music.
Or they are going on a ride with some friends and want to be able to communicate with the rest of the group – or indeed, a pillion - without messing around with mobile phones or random hand gestures. For them, an intercom fitted into their helmet is essential and this one from Cardo is packed with features.
First and foremost, it’s an intercom designed to not only pair with your smartphone and extend its audio capabilities – music, calls and so on - but also, it will pair with any standalone sat nav you have or the bike itself (for connected bikes) and will also communicate with other intercoms, either from the same manufacturer or other manufacturers.
Fitting an intercom can be a pain or a doddle depending on the intercom itself and how easy it is to disassemble your helmet. The Packtalk is straightforward; it’s based on a main unit that's connected to the speakers and microphone via a cradle that either clips or sticks to the helmet.
So far, so good. All charged, all fitted and pairing with the smartphone is simple – press and hold, search and pair and instantly it appears as a hands-free headset with music control via the buttons and volume roller.
The speakers themselves are made by audio company JBL and for their size, are heavy, suggesting a decent-sized magnet and hopefully, good sound quality. These initial thoughts are borne out – it sounds superb.
Music quality is fantastic; clean, detailed and powerful as long as you don’t have a really noisy helmet. You can cycle through music easily with the buttons or use voice control, including Cardo’s own-brand as well as Siri (for Apple users). Using the button controls is easy, though, even wearing thicker gloves.
The unit will allow you to make (using voice-dial, obviously) and take calls while on the move and sound quality, both for you and the person on the other end, is excellent. You can also pair with sat navs or the bike’s dash to get instructions which can over-ride music, for example or calls depending on your needs.
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Control is also possible with the Cardo app, which is intuitive and simple to use and gives all sorts of extra functionality and options for use. There’s an FM radio built-in, too, if your playlists are just not up to it.
All of this is great and makes it a great helmet headset but it’s also a genuine intercom to allow you to connect and communicate with your passenger or other rides. It uses both Bluetooth and MESH connections to offer a variety of options. For example, for basic operation, it can connect using Bluetooth to any other Bluetooth headset.
However, it also uses Dynamic Mesh Communication (DMC) to connect to up to 15 other riders in a ‘net’ of communications which has a range of up to a quoted 1600m in ‘perfect conditions’ and seamlessly re-connects if you drop out of connection or range and then, come back into range.
When I tested this, I found that it connected perfectly with excellent sound quality with another matching unit with a range of up to around 800m but much past that and it began to deteriorate. However, for all the group riding I’ve ever done, it’s plenty far enough.
The Packtalk has a huge range of other useful options, too – call merging so you can share a phone call with the other riders you are connected to, music sharing and ways to choose what has priority; calls, music, directions or intercom.
I’ve been using this intercom for a couple of years and thanks to the availability of additional helmet fitting kits, I have been able to add the microphone, speakers and mounting cradle to several helmets and use the same communications unit.
I have been massively impressed with the sound quality of music – I listen to a lot when I’m on longer runs and the quality is on par with a decent branded set of in-ear ear buds, for example, even with earplugs in.
I have always found it really easy to use, particularly the buttons, The voice control can be a little hit and miss; Siri tends to only work when music is playing, much like any headset but Cardo’s built-in voice control can also be a bit temperamental.
This tends to match a lack of sensitivity with the microphone which, when I can’t get the voice control to work, also doesn’t seem to work for voice calls. I can hear the other person but they can’t hear me.
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This is more prevalent on bikes with little or no wind protection so, perhaps as the most exposed element of the system, the mic struggles to tell the difference between wind noise and voice.
Another thought is that it may suffer with moisture; it’s just in front of the mouth – obviously – and I know I generate a lot of moisture inside the helmet, from experience with various helmets and bike-screen combinations leading to misting inside the lid.
So it is possible it doesn’t like my nature. A change of mic – it comes with one for full-face as well as a boom for open-face helmets – tends to cure this and swapping back after a while also works. This is more of an issue in winter, backing up the potential moisture theory – it’s much less of an issue in drier and warmer conditions.
The unit sticks out of the side of the helmet so you can control it and while you can notice a difference in noise inside the helmet if you shield it and move your hand again, it has never made a difference enough to warrant comment in its own right. It’s waterproof – obviously – and the battery has always lasted at least as long as my butt can on a ride, charging quickly via a USB lead.
I love this intercom – as a headset, it works and sounds great and on the few occasions I have used it as an intercom, it was done what I asked of it. The odd microphone issue aside, it has worked perfectly and I wouldn’t be without it.
Excellent sound quality with JBL speakers
Works as both a headset and intercom
Mesh connection with up to 15 other users
Occasional microphone pickup issues