While many of us enjoy riding motorcycles because of its solitary nature, group rides are also a source of great riding memories. Once you’ve ridden with a group of friends and been able to talk to each other during the ride, you’ll understand why Bluetooth helmet communicators have gotten so popular. You can remind everyone of an upcoming turn or give a warning about a road hazard. Or, if you’re riding with John Burns, be serenaded with an endless list of song snippets. Never a dull moment here. But there’s more to these gadgets than that. How about touring and actually being able to hear music without frightening the horses in the nearby fields? Or maybe it’s just something as mundane as having Siri whisper directions in your ear. Parents can adjust their child-rearing logistics on the fly. After a while, a helmet communicator will become an essential part of your riding kit.
When choosing your helmet communication device, you should consider how you plan on using it. If you’re a lone wolf who never travels in a pack, a simple system that connects you to your phone will likely suffice. If you’re regularly part of a gaggle of riders, you should probably stick to what the rest of the group already has in order to maintain maximum compatibility.
You should also take a look at your helmet to make sure that it has speaker pockets. Most current-generation helmets do, but it’s always a good idea to check. Even if your helmet doesn’t have dedicated speaker pockets in its physical structure, it is sometimes possible to fit the speakers inside of the padding that forms the ear cut out in the liner.
The helmet type will determine the kind of microphone you use. An open face or modular helmet requires a boom mic that sits on an articulated arm mounted under the cheek pad. A full-face helmet will need a mic stuck to the inside of the chin bar. Some helmets even offer recessed mounting points for the microphone and wiring, too. In fact, a recent trend is to pair a helmet with a specifically-designed communicator for that model. (See our reviews of the Shoei Neotec II Helmet + Sena SRL and the Shoei GT-Air II + Sena SRL2.)
When looking at Bluetooth helmet communicators, you’ll notice that some of them can get pretty pricey. You should avoid the siren song of the cheap, no-name knockoffs as they typically lack the reliability and durability of those of the major players. Instead, if you’re on a budget, shop by the features you’ll need. Below, you’ll find a selection of the best communicators available, arranged by their MSRP. Click the links for discounted pricing.
Cardo FREECOM 2 PLUS – $170
With a shortened range of about 0.3 mi., the FREECOM 2 PLUS is perfect for the solo rider who wants the benefits of connecting with their smartphone or the ability to communicate with a passenger at a bargain price. As with the rest of Cardo’s communicators, the 2 PLUS has a slim line and sleek aerodynamic waterproof design. Sized at only 16mm from top to bottom, the Freedom 2 PLUS won’t add any additional bulk to your helmet. Sound comes from a pair of thin but powerful 40mm speakers. In addition to being able to stream GPS directions, music, and phone calls from your phone, the built-in FM radio with RDS for automatic selection of the strongest signal allows you to listen to the radio if you prefer. Other nice features include: automatically adjusting sound volume based on the outside ambient noise and to answer calls, make calls, and control your mobile device either with the touch of a finger or via voice control.
Sena 10R – $239
The Sena 10R is a slim but full-featured Bluetooth helmet communicator for riders who don’t want bulky units hanging off their helmet. This low-profile Bluetooth motorcycle communication system – just 2.8 in. x 1.4 in. x 0.5 in. – lets riders make hands-free phone calls, listen to music, get GPS directions, and have full-duplex intercom conversations with other riders in crystal-clear audio quality. This four-way Bluetooth intercom has a claimed range of up to 0.5 miles.
Cardo FREECOM 4 PLUS – $250
Filling the gap between the budget Bluetooth communicators and the premium models, the Cardo FREECOM 4 PLUS improves upon the features of its smaller sibling by adding value with dual hands-free profiles, which allow the simultaneous connection of two Bluetooth-enabled mobile devices or GPS. The stereo Bluetooth (A2DP) enabled MP3 player works with smartphones for wireless music streaming, and the rider and passenger can listen to the same stereo music via A2DP. Parallel audio streaming lets users conduct intercom conversations and listen to music, radio, or GPS instructions at the same time. During phone conversations, music and radio are muted while the GPS instructions continue. With the FREECOM 4 PLUS, bike-to-bike communication plays a bigger role, with an intercom range of up to 0.75 mi. for two to four riders. A Cardo-JBL partnership delivers improved sound from the speakers for maximum enjoyment.
Sena 20S EVO – $299
The Sena 20S was the unit that initially won MO editors over to the Bluetooth communicator way of riding. Now, the Sena 20S EVO offers an improved form factor, while still retaining the same cradle used by Sena’s upscale 30K. The 20S EVO delivers HD-quality audio allowing riders to listen to music, GPS, and make or take calls. Utilizing Advanced Noise Control, wind noise doesn’t interfere with incoming or outgoing audio from your phone or other sources. The intercom allows you to talk with up to 7 other riders at distances up to 1.2 miles away. Multitasking technology allows you to have motorcycle helmet intercom conversations while simultaneously listening to music, FM radio, or GPS. The clever round controller allows for easy mode-switching, and voice control technology lets you do it hands-free if you prefer. Read our review here.
Cardo PACKTALK BOLD – $340
While the Bluetooth connection to your smartphone or other devices stays the same, the Cardo PACKTALK BOLD brings bike-to-bike communication to the next level by offering Dynamic Mesh Communication (DMC) to improve your group-riding experience. DMC allows up to 15 other DMC communicators to drop in and out of the mesh without upsetting the communications of the other members. On top of that, you get improved range, up to a claimed 1 mile or even 5 miles for the entire group! Never fear, you can still communicate via Bluetooth 4.1 to riders who don’t have DMC units to keep them in the conversation. The BOLD also offers natural voice operation, allowing the rider to say “hey, Cardo” to activate the unit’s command set, like checking the battery or starting the intercom. Additionally, the voice commands give you direct access to Siri or OK Google for smartphone control. Premium sound is provided by 40mm-wide, high-definition speakers by JBL. The battery boasts up to 13 hours of talk time and a week of standby for daily riders. Read our review here.
Cardo PACKTALK SLIM – $340
If you want the high-powered features of the PACKTALK BOLD in a smaller form factor, the Cardo PACKTALK SLIM is the communicator you’re looking for. Measuring just 2.7 in. x 1.5 in. x 0.25 in., the PACKTALK SLIM does have some helmet fitment requirements for the controller and battery. So, check the Cardo website first.
Sena 30K – $329
The Sena 30K uses mesh technology to connect you to other 30K users within a mile range. This connection is more stable than previous Bluetooth ones and automatically reconnect to each other when radio contact is re-established – all without impacting other members of the group. On top of that, the 30K offers all of the standard device connection features – music streaming, FM radio, GPS integration, voice command, and phone calling ability – that you expect from a high-quality helmet communicator. Sena says the 30K will give you 13 hours of talk time so that you can enjoy a full day out on the road. Owners of the venerable Sena 20S will appreciate that the 30K’s helmet cradle matches the 20S for upward compatibility. Read our review here.
Sena 10C EVO Motorcycle Camera & Communication System – $399
If you’re a budding vlogger or simply want to take helmet cam videos for personal enjoyment, Sena 10C EVO combines the features of Sena’s stand-alone Bluetooth helmet communicators with those of an action cam – all in one compact package. Record video on-the-fly with the press of a button, or when activated, Sena’s Video Tagging feature allows you to automatically record select instances with a press of a button, too. When activated, Video Tagging saves 60 seconds of past, present, and future footage to give you three one-minute clips that capture the event and the context in which it happened – a great feature for highlighting key sections of your ride. Thanks to the microphone used for the Bluetooth communicator, you can also narrate while recording your ride. You can even have the music you listen to embedded in the video.
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