The world of helmet electronics is constantly improving, and one company that is clearly on the cutting edge of that technology is Sena.
Sena’s new SMH10 bluetooth stereo headset and intercom for motorcyclists (and skiers, snowboarders, hunters, and fishermen, for that matter) sets the bar up another notch from the competition.
There was a time when on-board units that were permanently attached to your bike and transmitted wireless signals to your helmet provided the best audio quality for everything from phone calls to MP3 players, GPS and bike-to-bike intercoms. However, the SMH10 calls that thinking into question because of its phenomenal sound amplification for a helmet-based unit.
It also calls into question any volume boosters that are out on the market. You definitely do not need them with a Sena unit. I will admit to a slightly tinny sound when listening to music that had a thin production but overall, the sound had a nice tone. Sena has clearly kept an ear to the ground with regard to users’ wish lists for a helmet comm system experience. Their built-in audio boost effectively delivers as much volume as you could desire and the clarity was impressive.
Other communication units I have tested had buttons for things like volume control that were a little tricky to operate, especially with gloves on. Make those winter gloves, and the problem was compounded and sometimes impossible.
Struggling to operate a unit while riding is not safe. Thankfully, the SMH10 has a big Jog Dial button that controls much of what you do and it is both easy to locate and use with any kind of glove on. At first I was not sure how I would like using that big jog dial button, but it was just the right size for gloved hands. Bottom line? The jog dial offers a brilliant interface for this comm system and Sena executed it perfectly.
Smart thinking like that also extends to Sena’s upgradable firmware feature. Are you tired of buying hi-tech gear only to have it become obsolete moments after you purchase it? Worry not-you can upgrade to the latest firmware and still retain the original physical unit. I was lucky enough to go through this experience myself and it was a breeze.
After downloading, I got the additional features of 4 way conference intercom (up from the previous 3-way,) Phone-intercom conference, ability for 2 HFP devices to be paired to one SMH10 (Multipoint pairing, and Voice prompt which once again means more time with your hands safely on the grips. This upgradability feature is very valuable if yout ask me.
If you ask anyone else who has ever used an e-helmet system, they’re likely to tell you that one of the main areas that could use improvement is the install and attachment and ongoing maintenance of location of the speakers. As I mentioned, the SMH10′s speakers are compact and powerful but it is their quick installation that further polishes their existing shine. That was a huge relief for me, because I was worried about spending valuable time just doing the install.
Two screws tighten the holding clip to the helmet easily and the rest is just routing the speaker wiring and finding the right speaker spots through a couple of trial and error placings. The best part though is that the Velcro backs on the speakers grab the helmet lining with authority. That’s all it takes, aside from adjusting the position of the microphone, making sure your control unit is charged and then clipping it on. Sena also makes a wired boom microphone that they were good enough to send me and that one offered an even better fit inside my full face helmet.
Another feature of the SMH10 that I liked was the recall of volume settings when you switched between things like a wired (or bluetooth if ya got it) MP3 device or an iPhone or bluetooth GPS or even the intercom. The last adjustments made to volume in any of those modes is how it comes back to you when you switch back to that mode. The less time you spend pressing buttons when you are riding, the better if ya ask me. Not having to readjust those settings each time you switch modes is actually a very safe feature of this comm system.
For certain, there are many times I just shut down my comm system to be in that solo “all you hear is wind in your ears” mode but when I ride with friends, it is crucial to have bike-to-bike communication and that is a stone cold fact. Whether it’s to alert one another about potential hazards, inform of a need for fuel or food or just to comment on the scenery, being able to communicate completely alters your riding experience. I’ll even admit to singing songs in three part harmony with two other riding buddies. It transforms your ride into a completely new experience. Sena makes that experience an easy one to attain and one that really delivers in quality and ease of use.
The distance rating on the SMH10 is 900 yards and that was fine for when I used it with another rider though we extended beyond that and lost signal a couple of times. When you come back into range you automatically reconnect. Again-no need to press buttons. More props to Sena for safety there as well.
If you need more examples that further emphasize the benefits of a Sena SMH10 you need look no further than Red Bull’s YouTube docuseries “Chasing Summer” that features award-winning motorcyclists, four-time Baja 1000 winner Quinn Cody of the Santa Ynez Valley in California and Kendall Norman of Santa Barbara, Calif. In 12 days the pair covers 2,800 miles of the most picturesque, yet roughest terrain of the Baja peninsula.
During the ride they wore SENA Bluetooth SMH10 Headset & Intercom systems. The wireless communication devices allowed them to stay in close contact with one another, producers and photographers in via mobile phone and more so through intercom. Crucial stuff if you ask me.
Quinn Cody says: “Using the SENA SMH10 was a huge help on our Chasing Summer trip. They allowed us to keep moving all day without having to stop every time we needed to talk. I was also very impressed with the durability of the units.
“We tested them in one of the harshest environments on the planet and they worked flawlessly the entire trip.”
If that is not an endorsement, I do not know what is.
Marc Woo (President of SENA Technologies, Inc., North & South America) says: “We think it’s pretty cool these accomplished riders chose to use SENA’s products on their ride, documented so well by Red Bull and able to be seen around the world on YouTube.
“These expert riders not only talked with each other while on their journey, they also used the SMH10 to easily talk with photographers filming from the helicopter overhead, as well as with producers on the ground. It adds another dimension to the production value of the docuseries we believe.”
The “Chasing Summer” docuseries can be seen here.
The SMH10 goes for $219 for a single and $399 for a dual set. There is also a newer SMH5 that is more limited in terms of accessories but it will get you up and running with most of the same features. The SMH5 sells for $129 for a single and $249 for a pair.
The SMH10 is well worth the extra scratch but if you simply do not have the cash, at least do yourself (and whomever you use it with) a favor and buy the SMH5. It will also elevate your riding experience. Learn more about Sena’s whole line of communication products at: senabluetooth.com.
Alan Tecchio is a freelance writer based in the NY metro area who has interviewed hundreds of celebrities. He is an avid motorcyclist and active Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCoach. Alan also wrote a weekly motorcycle column for twelve years in an entertainment magazine. He is the lead singer of the rock band Autumn Hour (autumnhour.com) and sings for the heavy metal band Hades (myspace.com/hadesusa) Seven Witches and the musical project Minds Mirrors (myspace.com/mindsmirrorsproject).