Wednesday, September 19, 2012

SENA SMH5 Bluetooth Headset & Intercom product review

Hello everyone!  I'm excited to tell you about a new product I'm reviewing, the SENA ( SMH5 Bluetooth Headset and Intercom.  These retail for $129.00 for the single unit and $249.00 for the pair.  I did see the dual set on sale at an online retailer, for less than $190.00.  These are sold through local m/c shops and SENA has a full list of retailers on their web site.  Find one near you and support your local retailer.

Here's howdescribes the product:

"The SMH5 is a Bluetooth 3.0 stereo headset with Bluetooth intercom designed specifically for motorcycles. With the SMH5, you can call handsfree on your Bluetooth mobile phone, listen to stereo music or voice instructions of GPS navigations by Bluetooth wirelessly, and have two-way intercom conversations in full duplex with a passenger or other motorcycle riders.

Thanks to the latest Bluetooth 3.0 and the advanced digital signal processing technology, the SMH5 offers the best sound quality for both incoming and outgoing sound in its class. Also, the easy-to-access and intuitive button operations make the SMH5 a perfect companion for motorcycles."

First, let me say that my neighbors really must think we're a couple of kooks.  First, there's the whole biker thing.  They probably don't get it but, that's okay, because YOU do get it.  But when they see me out riding the lawn tractor with my full-face helmet on, it must seem a little weird.  And when they stop and ask me what I'm doing and I tell them to "Hang on a second, I'm in the middle of a phone call." well, that REALLY perplexes them.

These headsets are great.  My wife and I are doing a lot more riding together lately, each on our own bike, and having these intercoms is a great way to share the experience.  When I'm riding solo, I have no one to worry about but myself. Sure, in a group ride, I keep an eye on my fellow riders but, when I'm out with the love of my life, well, that's a bit different.  In that situation, there is a whole other level of concern.  It's great to have a means for instantaneous communication.  ME:  Is your bike running alright?  Do you want to take a break? What do you mean I don't need more ice cream???

We've been enjoying the ability to chat (or not) as much as possible.  The SMH5 provides a very clear stereo sound for voice, mobile or music.  And, if you have a Bluetooth-enabled GPS, it will connect to that too, negating the need for additional ear buds or speakers.

Installation was simple and SENA provides all the parts you need (and then some).  I had lots of extra Velcro pieces to use later.  We ride with full-face ARAI helmets, so the set we got has a mic that sticks in place, right in front of your mouth.

The units themselves are compact, with self-contained antenna, unlike other models I've seen.  There are only two buttons to control the until, the round jog dial, reminiscent of a rotary phone (Yes, I am THAT old) and the red on/off button.  Simple! One minor complaint was the length of the mic wire.  I suppose I could relocate the mic to the far side of my chin bar but, I wanted it right in front.  As a result, as you can see in the photo to the right, I had extra wire that I looped around the unit.

The quick-start guide was enough to get me out on my first ride but, I definitely recommend downloading the full User's Guide from SENA's web site.  You will thank me later!

The units pair easily and will also find other bluetooth devices (cell phone) to pair with quite easily.   One of the many benefits with the SENA product is that it allows you to pair with more than one rider.  The SMH5 can connect with up to two other units for intercom but, for clarity, can only be in duplex mode with one unit at a time.  SENA's SMH10 can connect with with up to 4 people via intercom at the same time.  So, if everyone one in your "gang" wants to stay in touch, on a long ride, now you can. Just choose which device suits your group. Perfect for those long rides to Sturgis, the Saddlesore 1000 and more!  SENA also offers a product called the SR10, which allows you to connect via Bluetooth to two way radios/short range "walkie-talkies".

Each headset came with a USB charging cable.  I have lots of ports on my PC so I was able to charge both units at once.  Still, I would like a converter or connector so I could charge these from a wall socket.  I see that SENA offers that as an accessory, on their site:   I'd pay a few bucks more just to get that as part of the set.

Range is good.  SENA says that you can expect a quarter of a mile. We did some testing just this past weekend and found that the sound quality did not diminish greatly at 1/10th of a mile.  Bear in mind that these units work best in line-of-sight.  I topped a hill and the unit cut out on me.  Once wifey had passed the same point, we were back in contact.

One feature I like is the ability to turn the intercoms on or off and use just the Push-to-Talk (PTT) feature.  I know that this will save my batteries and we never had an issue of running out of juice,  on an all day ride.  Of course, you can keep the mics open and listen to your partner breathe, if you're into that.  I found the wind noise from the helmet a bit annoying so I quickly got into the habit of tapping the jog dial once and waiting for the units to connect.  It did so quickly.  PTT is the way to go, if you have a long day of riding.

The sound quality is amazing.  The speakers sit deep in the helmet, attached with Velcro and I was thrilled by the sound quality upon streaming music from my smart phone.  Now I can stream  Pandora to my helmet as I burble down the road.  It's amazing what the right tune will do to augment your mood, while riding.

Sound quality is equally good with the phone.  You can voice dial (the default setting), if your phone is capable, or you can dial from your phone and toss it back into your pocket and ride on.

Overall, I think this product is probably the value leader in this category.  At the entry price, everyone in your club can afford to buy one and make your rides safer and more fun.  The units work as advertised and are not overly complex (see my earlier review of a competing product). I do wish the range was better but, the SENA SMH10 offers a better range AND can connect to these units.  So, you have lots of options.  

Here are the headsets for open face helmets, for my cruiser buddies.  These have a boom mic, which you can move about as needed.

For the price, the SENA SMH5 can't be beat.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments.  I love hearing from you and will respond here or on Twitter.  You can find me there as @JoeRocket.  Until then...

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket


Marc said...

This is a great review. Do post a pic of you mowing the lawn with this helmet. I'll circulate it around the net. As I was mentioning earlier, what's great here is as a newer rider I'm not even thinking about communicating with other riders. But isn't the simple idea of using "Walkie Talkies" in the woods when we were kids applicable here, in a more sophisticated sense? Not only that, but to be honest - these look COMFORTABLE. It's not like I've got tons of wires and peripherals jammed into my helmet. A simple snap on solution. Worth checking out. Thanks for posting!

Motorcycle Riding Schools said...

You did a good job of writing all these information /review. It pretty explain everything one should know about this gadget.