24 July 2011

Review - Sena SMH10 Bluetooth Intercom

We had been planning the rafting trip for a bit and as we knew we would be on some longer rides to get there and back, we also thought about how to communicate. So far, we have been doing this with hand signals, stopping and shouting (we both wear ear plugs whenever we ride) or just not communicating at all.

This got a little bit annoying as we like to ride together but then it is more as we are both on our own. Therefore, we were thinking about a communication system for a while now.

These were the options we thought about:
  • Cardo Scala G4 - sophisticated, fancy, seems to work pretty well and does about everything
  • Sena SMH10 - does not as much as the Cardo, but with a two button user interface it's dead simple to use and really easy even with big gloves
  • Schuberth C3 helmets with SRC systems integrated (basically a G4 build into the C3)
The Schuberth system was very appealing but also very expensive as it comes with a $700 helmet ... not an option right now. The Cardo would have been great but I really wanted the simple use of the Sena. 

So, just in time to get it for our weekend trip, I ordered a dual set of the Sena SMH10

Installing them on our Shoei Multitec helmets was done in about 15 minutes per helmet and setting them up was about one more minute.

And what can I say - they work like a charm! We had them setup for voice activation which means you swear a little bit in the helmet and a few seconds later a channel is open to talk to each other. Or you blow into the microphone, or yell "heeeeeeellooooo". It always takes a while to react and then it takes some time to initiate the Bluetooth connection. I don't know what the norm is there, it felt a bit slow sometimes, nevertheless I think it's normal that it takes a bit to open a Bluetooth channel.

The other option of activating the connection is to press the big jog dial just once and again, a few seconds later a channel is open. Easy. 

When activated by voice, the system takes a 20 second quiet time to go back to sleep, when activated with the button it stays open until one presses the button again. This worked really, really well. We left the communication open for most of the time last Sunday, which meant about  seven hours moving time. Batteries held up well, but we don't know how much longer they would have worked. For really long trips it might be better to use the voice activation and have them off and go a bit on your own. Just remember that a yell "CAREFUL! Dirty Road" needs a few seconds activation time ... so when on really tough roads, just keep the channel open.

The voice and communication quality was absolutely stunning. We could talk and understand each other incredibly well, while riding, at a gas station, stopped for photos and so on. Incredibly good communication quality. And they work over quite a distance as long as you have visual contact - as soon as large chunks of rock get in the way (like for example in the Sierras on Highway 49), you hear some static when loosing sight of each other. We never lost contact though, even when Andrea was two or three corners back. 

Usage was also incredibly simple - either activate by voice or press the big jog dial, channel comes up. Hold both buttons for a second, system turns on. Press both buttons for a short time, system turns off. The jog dial is also for volume adjustment and I have to say - this is how it should be. Great tactile feedback, easy to do even with the biggest winter gloves.

For example I have no idea how I am supposed to find and press the correct button on some other systems like the Schuberth SRC:

It'll work, but the big jog dial and the one button at the rear are just so much easier.

We have not tried the other features, like listening to music while riding or doing phone calls. I have absolutely no interest in either, therefore I really don't care. The main feature, talking to my riding partner while having helmets on, ear plugs in, and riding the bikes is working perfectly, that's all we need and want. It makes riding together an even more enjoyable experience and gives us more "time together" when on the bikes.

So, conclusion is a big thumbs up for Sena - this is how a communication system should work!


  1. Very helpful review. Not sure yet if we want to try it out just yet. So far gestures (or using the horn) have worked well, and I admit it, for me part of the charm of riding a motorcycle is the not-talking. On the other hand, an early warning system does add to safety. However, from group riding I know quite a few signs that are faster to do than waiting for the intercom to spring to live. Anyhow, we will keep that in mind.

  2. It is similar for us, too. We both enjoy the riding - but on a really long day and sometimes long stretches it's really nice to have the ability to communicate.

    The voice activation is nice for exactly this: it's off when you are just riding, but you can turn it on without letting go of the handlebars. It works well, is fast enough for "hey, I really like to take a photo here" or the "I'm hungry, let's check for a spot for a break".

  3. Nice write up. Thanks for the info. I have friend looking at getting a setup for his bike.

  4. Btw: We have used the intercom now for a while and are still absolutely happy with it. It just works, voice quality is very good, usage is incredibly easy. Much easier than pressing small buttons with gloves.

  5. I use the Sena SMH-10 and find it works well. that said, regarding the "For example I have no idea how I am supposed to find and press the correct button on some other systems like the Schuberth SRC"... just looking at the picture provided there are two sets of buttons, one group of two toward the back (left obviously since you are on a motorcycle) and a set of three toward the front. you would be a moron if not able to figure that out quickly enough. artic winter gloves might be a problem but short of that there shouldn't be an issue.

    1. It's plain not intuitive. The ridges are hard to feel, the groups aren't intuitive and you have to learn something where you'd never should have to learn it. There is absolutely no question, even if you gave me mittens, on how to use the Sena. That's how such a system should work. I have better things to concentrate on than hitting the right button while I'm riding my bike.