We review and test the Sena 20S communicator.
Some people like to ride in total silence, some like to listen to music, others like to talk to another person—the Sena 20S is capable of all of these things. Now the question is how well does it do any of these things? We put some miles down to find out.
We can hear it now: "This is nothing but a distraction and all distractions are dangerous." The Sena has so many features backed into a tiny package that it takes heavy manual reading before you fully grasp everything it has to offer and how to actually use any of it.
Sena offers a quick guide which we often take with us on any ride. If you're riding along and start to fiddle with the different buttons without fully understanding or without playing with it stopped in your driveway, then it will distract you from the road. However, if you have a firm understanding of the controls, they are in fact simple, easy to use, and quick—meaning less time with your left hand off the bars. We experienced a finicky response to our initial controls once in a while, but the system had a type of rhythm we became accustomed to. Like, exactly when to let go from holding the main button or how long to wait for a response.
Several members of the staff have been able to use the Sena 20S (so look for more in depth reviews and add-ons soon), and William Connor especially loved the new voice commands. Say, "hello Sena," and the unit is primed for your voice commands. It will not recognize this when you're already in a feature. You cannot initiate a phone call when on the intercom using voice commands. The unit is firmware upgradeable, so this may be improved in time.
Use and Features
Of all the communicators that have graced the side of our helmets, the 20S is the most feature packed and the easiest to control, all while combining excellent battery life. It was honestly hard to keep up with all of the functions. Like finding a $20 in your old jacket, we'd open up the Sena quick guide and find a new feature we'd forgotten about.
The 20S has your standard features: VOX communication, Bluetooth connections to your phone, GPS, plus FM radio are all available. Want to share music between users? Want to have a multi-person conference? Want to connect to other brand headsets? How about voice over a video recording? Want to combine these? Then the 20S is the unit you want. Besides being arguably the best intercom clarity in the business, it now sports the ability to combine these features and share music, directions, and more with other riders.
For people who sometimes want tunes on, but need to talk to your passenger, it'll smoothly lower the music to allow another channel to come in louder. It's also nice to just be able to have your passenger simply tell you they need a bathroom break without a punch in the kidney.
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One of the staff members reported difficulty pairing headsets the usual way, and had an issue with the new motion control. The solution is to shake two units near each other and they will pair for intercom. The pairing of the units is the best part of the feature.
If you're paired to your phone, Sena has a simple and small app that allows you to turn things like Voice Command and Audio Boost, on/off, and low/high.
Sena has been known for making clear communicators and the 20S has lived up to its level of quality. It's loud enough, but the speakers produce a soft, smooth tone that is easy to hear without the risk of hurting your ears.
Unfortunately, the 20S, like so many others, is only as good as your helmet. If you're helmet is noisy, than your mic will be noisy. When one of our staffers first used the communicator, it was with the Arai XD-4, which is a moderately quiet helmet. He had completed a few phone calls to friends who had no idea he was riding. But when he switched to another helmet that had a visor issue, it became noisy in the mic. On one long road trip, the noise occasionally would end a phone calls early. The same went for a friend of RideApart Greg Anthony's decade old off-brand helmet that produced noise in the speaker despite our best attempts at relocation.
Sena has options for even 3/4 helmet mics, but we haven't played with that yet.
One of the most impressive features was the battery life. We don't have any hard numbers or hours collected, but we took a pair on a road trip from LA to San Francisco using Hwy 1. If you've ever taken this route then you know it's about 8-12 hours depending on your leisure and traffic. The headsets works for right at about an hour before arrival, and this included times we forgot to turn them off at lunch, pairing them with the new Sena Prism camera, listening to music, and leaving them on a constant stream with one another.
The unit is very aerodynamic and small for a unit packed with so many features. It mounts easily to a variety of helmet shapes and despite being smaller, it's easy to use with gloves on. Using their jog dial control is wicked simple to operate.
The speakers are small, powerful, and easy to put into any helmet. We have mounted this unit on a Shoei Qwest, Arai Signet Q and a Scoprion 900X with zero issues.
Sena mounts to the underside of the helmet lip and gets sandwiched between the interior and the helmet shell. In past units, this often times left them well below the bottom edge of the helmet and they would catch on my jacket when turning my head. This unit is tucked up a lot nicer and out of the way.
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The mounting system of the 20S is also customizable. There are different size pads to help offset the mount from your helmet—depending on the curve of the helmet sides. It is also important to do this properly so that removal of the unit is easier. When I first installed it, I did a poor job of selecting the right pad and the tension ended up cracking the housing. The unit has good durability if you don't mistreat it, and once I fixed the mount I've had no other issues.
The single module runs around $274 and a dual set priced at $449; the 20S is smack dab in the thick of prices for all of the players in this category. We would argue that the 20S is one of the absolute best communicators you can buy. Throw in all of the other features the Sena 20S packs in, and it becomes harder to not place it at the top of the list.
What communicator do you use?