Moto comms are great to have items that can help you out on your ride whether you’re alone or in a group. Having a good system can not only keep you connected while you ride, but it’s also great entertainment to ride and listen to your favorite playlist, podcast, or radio station. 

Jamming out to some tunes is great, but being able to connect and communicate with your riding buddies is also another thing that not only keeps you alive and awake during a ride but also safe. Safety advocates and road captains (in the official or the unofficial capacity) leverage the use of communicators to tell the group what’s up ahead and whether it is safe to do a pass or overtake among other things. However, in a sea of options from the well-known to the lesser-known, is the cheap stuff worth considering, or is the expensive stuff worth saving for? 

What do you really need? 

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As an experienced motorcyclist and serial user of comms systems, I tend to use Bluetooth to stream music from my phone and the communicator function whether it’s mesh or the old Bluetooth standard. As far as I’ve experienced, a good comms system must be able to stream music stably while on a ride and connect well to another communicator, whether of the same brand or otherwise. 

So it goes without saying that the comms device must stream music and communicate, though if basics are covered, then why go high-end? 

High, Mid, and Low

Cardo PackTalk Edge - Helmet (Table)

Low-end moto comms systems often entice you with the ability to stream music and to connect to other similar or not-so-similar communicators via Bluetooth. Systems will either be advertised as “water resistant” with or without an ‘IP XX’ rating attached, and they can go for cheap. Low-end comms are typically priced between $100 USD to about $200 USD. Over the $200 USD mark to about $300, that’s where a mid-range comms device would usually sit. From $300 USD to $400 USD, that’s the high-end of the spectrum where all the brands push their best most cutting-edge tech. It’s usually at the high end where you will find all the features you need, and the low end has all the basics covered whereas the midrange will cover all the same, but add a few high-end features into the mix. 

Packtalk Custom

Cardo introduced the Packtalk Custom, which is priced like a mid-range device but with the most-used high-end features in the mix. It’s a relatively good argument that allows riders to join the conversation mid-ride, but it foregoes a few more premium features like the Air Mount system and the JBL speakers. This is only one example that’s in the market today, and one that caused a bit of a stir because the device employs a subscription service. 

Sena Quantum Series

Moving over to the high-end segment of the comms market, we see mesh technology, premium audio, and other features that help create an ecosystem that can span more than just one helmet. Other than that, brands like Sena even pioneer a camera on the unit, allowing it to record rides and also provide ‘dashcam’ functions for the rider. Low-end comms will cover Bluetooth and basic comms functions. 

Support 

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Things like the helmet kit refresh kit from Cardo, or even the additional kits that expand the communicator’s use outside of just riding, are all great value-adds that are compatible with only certain lines and it’s usually the high-end stuff that gets all these goodies. For this, you don't need to go with a high-end system to get the support as is the case with Cardo's Freecom line which has additional helmet kits as well, though availability will depend on the retailer you buy it from. Other than that, Sena also has additional kits and accessories for either its ST or Quantum lineup. 

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Brands that support their products are often priced higher and should give you a better experience. However, if you're going with a lesser-known brand, know that additional accessories like helmet kits may not be readily available all the time or at all. For convenience, going with a name brand that supports its products is going to net you a better overall experience even if there is a bit of a price premium. 

Cardo Packtalk Edgephones 5

Apart from that, the mounting system for helmets will typically be separate from the actual device itself, allowing you to transfer it seamlessly from one lid to the next without needing to install and uninstall a device. Of course, you could argue that this is more than what you need, but if you ride a lot, maybe have a ton of helmets, or have helmets that are for different types of rides, then being able to attach your system onto a different lid without uninstalling a set of speakers and a mount is a premium convenience (albeit something that you pay more for). The question of whether is it worth it depends on how many helmets and how much patience you have to prepare your gear before a ride. 

Cardo Releases New Voice Recording Feature For New PackTalk Communicators

Finally, the biggest thing that sets apart a known versus a lesser-known brand is the support that they roll out. Good brands will have accessories support and software updates for their units. Also, consider the warranty that comes with your unit in case you end up with something that is faulty. 

Audio 

Cardo JBL Speakers

If you’ve tried cheap earphones or headphones and then went over to a high-end set, you might know what I’m talking about. Cardo and Sena are both partnered with JBL and Harman Kardon, respectively, and their units promise big gains in terms of audio quality and fidelity. Now, you won’t get audiophile levels of quality by going with a high-end system, but going from the low to the high nets a noticeable difference in terms of audio output and quality. 

Parani M10 Backed By Sena

Cheap comms will come with a set of basic speakers that either plug in via a 3.5-millimeter jack or a proprietary digital connector. Either that or it connects via a USB port of some kind, whether the B or C standard. Either that or the speakers are hard-wired into the unit, which leaves no room to replace speakers in case one or the other were to conk out. The thing is, being able to replace a set of speakers is rather underrated, and the fact that you can buy specific kits from Cardo, Sena, or otherwise is a great thing if you happen to wear a set out after a while. 

Features 

KTM And Cardo Systems Join Forces For New KTM PackTalk Edge

High-end comms will come with more features compared to their low-end counterparts. The thing about technology is that if you buy the best stuff, you won’t be left out of the party just because your system cannot handle it or doesn’t have the features to back things up. 

Parani M10 Backed By Sena

However, the argument there is that, do you need all those features? The thing with high-end comms is that it comes loaded with a ton of capabilities, but the question is, what percentage of those features will you use? In my case, I use the communicator functions on my system all the time for group rides, but otherwise, I’ll just be connected to my phone and play music. In the rare case that I have to connect to another brand or a non-mesh communicator, I can still join the party or bridge another device (I’m on a Cardo Packtalk). The ability to connect to a myriad of devices is good to have. On top of just connecting to a phone, you can also connect to other devices like a GPS system, another device to share music, and more. The flexibility and the ability to connect and adapt as needed are more or less native to high-end communicators. 

Why it isn’t worth it to go high-end

Shark Spartan RS Carbon Skin

Let’s zoom out a bit. Moto comms are expensive and some units can get more expensive than a lot of helmets in the market. For about $400 USD or more, you will be paying a lot of money for something that is basically a Bluetooth headset for your helmet. However, that’s just the basics covered. 

I can see that nearly all riders will be fine with a basic comms device so long as it is from a brand that knows what they’re doing and has the necessary items to support said product in the low or mid-range. Let’s say that you don’t go on group rides and all you want is a system that will allow you to listen to music while you ride, then a basic comms device will do that for you. Either that or if you have someone else who will go for a ride with you and needs to connect to you via the intercom, then you can get picked up by someone with a high-end communicator via a bridge function to join the party, or you can figure out the intercom pairing mode for the basic communicator if it is compatible. Otherwise, you can resort to calling your friend online via a chat room. There are workarounds if you are on a budget. 

Why it is worth it to go high-end 

Cardo PackTalk Edge - Helmet On

On the other side of the fence, however, I have to admit that the grass is greener. I once thought that all I needed was to listen to music and join an intercom party from time to time, so a basic communicator was all that I needed. I was really on a budget before, and group rides weren’t a part of my “needs” at the time, so I invested a little budget into a Parani M10 (which used Bluetooth Sena software). It was good, that is until I started meeting more seasoned riders. 

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The thing is, the more I rode, the more I “needed” to be a part of the high-end communicator game. When it comes to communicators, the main draw for the high-end is the amount of adoption that a certain system has. For example, if everyone around you has a Cardo device, chances are it’ll be worth the premium to go for the high-end system. Cross-brand compatibility is often hard between systems so what system is better will depend on who you ride with. 

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However, regardless of your group’s brand allegiance, you will notice that the higher-end a comms system is, the better and clearer its connection will be, especially with mesh technology. Even the process of accessing the high-tech features will be made easier and clearer. In my case, as experienced as I am with motorcycle communicators, it’s not that easy to pair a Bluetooth-only system, compared to a widely-used mesh system. Apart from the ease of use, the brand that makes your system will encourage and take the time to teach its users how to use their system, whether it’s at their authorized dealer or online. 

Parani M10 Backed By Sena

The final nail in the coffin for me was the fact that I was going to end up with a high-end communicator anyway. Hindsight is 20:20, and looking back I know that I could have just gone straight to the high-end system at the time and saved a good amount of money, but that’s because I knew that I would be using it long-term. 

Verdict: Think of it long-term

Sena Releases Quantum SRL-Mesh And SRL-EXT Comms Systems

As to what camp is better, I think that high-end communicators will be more worth it down the line, especially if you ride a lot in groups and perhaps appreciate the convenience, support, and experience surrounding a high-end system. In my opinion, saving a buck or two on a low-end or middle-priced communicator is good in theory if you consider what you need, but if you are a committed rider, or if you see yourself riding for a long time without the notion of quitting, then go straight to the high-end. 

Dedicated riders should go for the high-end communicator simply because it’s going to be the most optimal choice in the long run. However, that depends on how dedicated you are to riding if money is an issue. The short of it is, if you see yourself riding long-term, then it only makes sense to buy a high-end comms system. If you ride a lot, your cost-per-use will go down by a lot, effectively making it "affordable" over a long period. 

Cardo PackTalk Edge - Black

As for the systems that I recommend, I think that Cardo makes a great all-round high-end system in the Packtalk Edge. Other than that, systems like the Sena ST series and the SRL 50C with the in-system camera all seem to be worth it for group rides or certain niches. Other than that, which camp you should go with depends on what your buddies run. 

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