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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Best Bluetooth Motorcycle Intercom Review: Bike To Bike Range Test Report

Goal

To test actual usable range for Bluetooth motorcycle intercoms in both an in-town environment and a rural environment and access their ability to reconnect after being out of range. Test is not designed to determine bike to bike range in all conditions but it should represent the two most common conditions when riding with a Bluetooth motorcycle headset.

Conditions

In-town - Test was performed along Hwy 70 East in New Bern North Carolina. This is a small town commercial environment with stop lights, gas stations and car dealers etc. All intercom models were tested at full battery charge. Weather was clear and 75 degrees.

Rural Environment - Test was performed down a straight dirt road about ½ mile from the closest house and several miles from stop lights or businesses. Test was line of sight as there were no corners for 0.8 miles. There was however a radio station tower about 1 mile away (which we learned after the test) and we were 8 miles from a Marine Corps Air Station (Cherry Point) which no doubt puts off some radar and other signals. Weather was clear and about 72 degrees. All intercom models were tested at full battery charge.

Bluetooth Motorcycle Intercom Range Test Procedure

In-town Environment Bluetooth Motorcycle Intercom Range Test - Each test was performed with one non-moving headset in the open at 3-4 feet high beside the straight access road. A 2nd identical headset was installed in a full face helmet and used while slowly riding a motorcycle in communication with the static unit. Distance was called out every 0.1 miles on the odometer and audio was recorded to verify quality and repeatability. There is one stop light about 0.25 miles away from the start point in each direction. After the usable range of the intercom was reached and the connection was lost the motorcycle was ridden back slowly (30 mph) to see at what point the intercoms reconnected. The test was then repeated in the opposite direction and through a different intersection / stop light.

Rural Environment Bluetooth Motorcycle Intercom Range Test - Each test was performed with 2 non-moving headsets. Initially we tried to get audio recordings of all headsets back to back at a specific distance but having 4 Bluetooth headsets powered up in close proximity compromised the signal of SOME of the units so instead we tested one headset at a time at 0.1 mi, 0.2 mi, 0.4 mi etc. At each distance the communication was tested at stand still with no motor or other noise. We tried to isolate this test to just the range, not noise canceling and other abilities.

Test Samples (Product Models)

HBC200 by UClear (initial release firmware)

Interphone F5 - by Cellular Line

Scala Rider G9 by Cardo (initial release firmware V 1.2)

SMH10 by Sena Bluetooth (V 4.0 firmware)

UClear HBC200

Claimed Intercom Range - "up to 700m / 0.43 miles" with 2 headsets

Notes - Unlike the Sena SMH10 the UClear HBC200 seems to use VOX even when music is not playing. Rather than having a hot microphone it appears to completely silence the speakers except when someone is talking. This is nice in some regards but rather than waiting for 20 seconds of silence before muting it does so almost immediately after the person on the other headset stops talking. This can cause some irritation when the first syllable gets cut off. The annoyance factor definitely goes up as you get further away where it seems like the conversation gets started and stopped very quickly and many syllables get lost. UClear claims their use of Super Group Technology and Multi-Hop feature will allow "up to 10 or more" HBC200 headsets can be linked. Unfortunately we only had 2 headsets available for testing so we could not confirm if this would extend the range or not.

In-town Direction 1 - The communication was clear at 0.1 miles and functioning at 0.2 miles but then went completely silent when passing the intersection with a stop light before 0.3 miles.

In-town Direction 2 - The connection was clearer at 0.2 miles in this direction and even 0.4 miles seemed to be usable. At 0.5 miles the connection was lost. The HBC200 headset units did not automatically reconnect upon the return trip and the intercom conversation had to be re-initiated by pushing the headset button. While the UClear's audio features are top notch this failure to reconnect could be the HBC200's biggest flaw. Uclear confirmed that the conversation does not automatically restart and that this was not user related. We hope their first firmware update will address it.

Rural Environment - we were quite disappointed in the acceptable range found with seemingly no interference around. At 0.2 miles the speech was clear and there was no static but we had issues with the VOX cutting off syllables. At 0.4 miles the intercom was not usable. We are not exactly sure why some of the headsets worked as well or better in town than in the rural environment but the HBC200 did not appear to benefit from being out "in the sticks."

Interphone F5

Claimed Intercom Range - "up to 1300m or 0.8 miles" with 2 headsets extending up to "2400m or 1.49 miles" with 6 headsets spaced perfectly apart.

Notes - The Interphone F5 does a good job of muting the speakers when the other headset's microphones are not in use. However, during speech there is some slight static noise (scratchiness) in the background of the voice. This immediately disappears when the other person stops speaking.

In-town Direction 1 - The Interphone F5 was clear at 0.1 miles and usable at 0.2 miles. It transferred a lot of noise around the stop light and although it was trying to transmit and communicate at 0.4 miles the speech was completely unintelligible. At 0.5miles it notified via voice prompt that intercom was disconnected. Coming back it automatically re-connected the conversation and gave a voice prompt stating "intercom connected" when we were at 0.1 miles apart.

In-town Direction 2 - The F5 intercom conversation was distorted as we went through the intersection at 0.25 miles and a lot of interference which sounded like a synthesizer playing music was heard / recorded. This noise was not heard in the headset on the bike because nobody was talking to them at that time. However, the intercom stayed connected through the intersection and speech was intelligible at 0.4 miles. At 0.5 miles the intercom again disconnected and the connection was re-established when we came back to within 0.1 miles of the other headset.

In-town Direction 1 with a 3rd F5 headset - Interphone claims that having more headsets in the group will extend the range of the group. We set one headset at 0.15 miles and ran the same test as above. The stop light intersection still scrambled the signal and caused a lot of digitized music sound so that it was mostly unusable on the other side of the intersection however we were able to go to 0.6 miles and turn around without encountering the "intercom unavailable" message and the relay effect seemed to help clarity more than hurt it. The urban environment may be a better test for this feature of the Interphone F5 so we will repeat it again in our next test without stoplights and businesses around.

Rural Environment Range Test Interphone F5 - This is where the Interphone REALLY shined. After testing it out in the country there was no question it was the best Bluetooth intercom for long range conversations. Very little static was heard and the speech was completely intelligible at 0.8 miles. At 0.9 miles it notified via speech that the intercom connection was lost. Upon returning we were notified at 0.4 miles that the intercom was connected and speech was immediately clear.

Sena SMH10

Claimed Intercom Range - "up to 900 meters / 0.56 miles"

Notes - While the SMH10 has a VOX feature available when there is a music source we did not use music during this test and instead chose the "open mic" intercom call. Basically once started the mic is always hot. The SMH10 therefore transmits everything and while connected there is a slight hum even when nobody is talking. The slightest engine or wind noise would drown it out but it is an indication that you are connected. As you get further apart the hum tends to turn into digitized musical static.

In-town Direction 1 - The Sena SMH10 was clear at 0.1 miles and turned to a digitized static at 0.2 miles and onward.

In-town Direction 2 - The Sena was clear at 0.1 decent at 0.2 miles but became obscure as we went through the stoplight at 0.3 miles. It stayed connected and was usable at 0.4 miles but at 0.5 miles there was no audio signal transmitted. When returning the SMH10 units were still connected and usable at 0.4 miles apart.

Rural Environment Range Test Sena SMH10 - The conversation was clear at 0.1 miles and mostly usable at 0.2 miles however there was definitely static affecting the conversation. At 0.3 miles there was no signal transferred. Similar to UClear HBC200 the Sena SMH10 worked as well or better in town than in the rural environment.

Cardo Scala Rider G9

Claimed Intercom Range - "Up to 1 mile"

Notes - The Scala Rider G9 does a good job of isolating and removing the unwanted noise / static and distortion from the signal. While the SMH10 tends to let too much through the Scala Rider G9 and UClear HBC200 may isolate too much, allowing only perfect speech through and muting everything else. No doubt some will appreciate this but some compromise of static for extra usable range would be nice. (In-town test was performed without raising the antennae while the rural test was performed with the antennae raised.

In-town Direction 1 - We had great hopes that the Scala G9 would be able to overcome the interference but it was not the case. The Scala Rider G9 was clear at 0.1 miles and completely quiet at 0.2 miles.

In-town Direction 2 - The Scala Rider G9 was clear at 0.1 miles and completely quiet at 0.2 miles.

Rural Environment Range Test Scala Rider G9 - Similar to the in -town condition the Scala Rider G9 was clear at 0.1 miles and then quiet (no voice signal transferred) at 0.2 miles. However, the headset did not notify us that "Rider A unavailable" until we reached 0.9 miles (and rounded the corner out of line of site). Upon return the headset never notified us that we were again connected but at 0.1 miles the mic was active and the conversation again could be heard. So Cardo's claim of breaking the 1 mile beerier is technically true because they were still "connected" but also completely false because they are not usable at 1.0 miles even with line of site and low interference.

Conclusions

In the city environment you are likely to be riding closer together and at slower speeds so the relatively short range shouldn't really hamper the use of these units for communicating bike to bike. In large groups where you could have several vehicles between and possibly get stuck at one light while the other bike continues the interference noise and shorter range will certainly cause some annoyance. The Sena SMH10 and Interphone F5 seemed to have the best usable range and ability to stay connected even when interference prevented them from communicating clearly. They did however, cause / allow the most distorted noise / static to come through while the UClear HBC 200 and Scala G9 prevented that from coming into the headset.

Winner Bluetooth Headset Range Test - Interphone F5 - If bike to bike range is high on your priorities for Bluetooth headset features you should seriously consider the Interphone F5. In the rural environment nothing else comes close and adding more headsets to the group only extends the range. Of course, you could choose one of the others and then connect it to a GMRS radio or buy a ChatterBox X1 Slim to get more range but we doubt you will have any complaints with the F5.

Jonathan Clark is owner of Spoiled Biker, a motorcycle intercom and accessories shop in New Bern North Carolina. Spoiled Biker strives to provide accurate real world test reports to help you decide which products best meet your needs. All of the Bluetooth motorcycle intercoms described in this report are available with free shipping and guaranteed lowest price from Spoiled Biker.


3 comments:

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  2. I'm currently looking for a motorcycle intercom and came to your site. After some more research on other sites, I think that the Cardo Scala G9 is the best bluetooth headset currently. Do you agree or do you have another which you recommend? Thanks, Paul.

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  3. It took me some time but I finally bought a motorcycle intercom! I've got the Cardo Scala Rider G9 and after a few rides I'm loving it!
    Paul.

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