Midland Radio BT Next | Motorcycle Communicator Review
Midland Radio BT Next Motorcycle Headset
My quest for the perfect Bluetooth headset continues with Midland Radio’s BT Next units, part of the company’s extensive line of communication and Bluetooth equipment spanning a variety of business, personal and sporting uses.
I will spend some quality time with these nicely made, rubber covered, waterproof gadgets. As always, my goal is to connect my helmet to a smart phone and its MP3 music player, listen to FM radio, talk by intercom to one or more accompanying riders, and have my GPS or radar detector chime in when required.
Modern helmet headsets can do most or all of these jobs, but they each operate differently and have different setup constraints. Some are more easy, intuitive and efficient than others.
Let’s take a look at Midland Radio’s BT Next headset:
Midland Radio BT Next Features:
- allows Bluetooth connections to mobile phones, stereo MP3 players and GPS devices
- intercom up to 6 riders
- two HFP (hands-free profile) channels to allow phone and 2-way radio or two phones (for passenger)
- range up to 1 mile (1.6 km)
- automatically adjusts the volume based on ambient noise and driving speed
- FM Radio receiver stereo with RDS – six station memory
- VOX Activation: hands-free intercom and make phone calls with voice dialing
- Programmable via USB (set up the unit and update the firmware)
Midland Radio BT Next Setup
Unboxing a new kit is always interesting. The first impression on digging into the twin pack is positive. Midland has done a nice job of organization and includes the items needed to install the unit on just about any type of helmet configuration.
Mine installed in 15 minutes on a Shoei RF-1100, and the process was pretty straightforward. I like to mount the unit on the helmet with the clamp rather than the included high-strength tape, but either way is good. I place it a bit behind the ear where the helmet curves because I have the notion that this will reduce possible wind noise. Also, the cleft in the helmet’s lining is here and the attendant cable from the unit to the interior of the helmet disappears right there.
The cable on the BT Next is high quality, thin, flat and easy to hide. I recommend that you charge the unit the night before you install it. Midland includes one wall charger with cable and one USB cable with two plugs. Connection is by mini-USB and, while not my favorite micro-USB, is still in the family. This helps me keep the number of cables needed for traveling to a minimum. Also included is a well written manual and some stereo cables to plug in a non-Bluetooth MP3 player.
Working on the inside of the lid is easy, though I always worry that I won’t be able to get it back together properly. Truth is, you only have three things to do in there and a good light is all you need. Once you straighten out all the thin wires you have the two speakers and either a boom mic for open face and flip-up helmets or the button mic for full-face helmets. Take a careful look and route the components.
Shoei makes it easy with perfectly placed speaker indentations. The wires also run under the liner with plenty of access and are held in place by undoing a few strategic plastic snaps, pushing the wire behind them and re-snapping. You might consider a few pieces of tape but I didn’t and all pieces are secure. I donned the helmet and found a location for the microphone near my mouth that would not bother me. I ran the wire and attached it with the peel-off tape. For boom-mic applications, it’s about as easy once you find the best spot.
Midland Radio BT Next Operation
Unlike some units, the BT Next operated flawlessly. Pairing to my Android phone was as easy as holding the center button for seven seconds, releasing it and pressing it again for three seconds.
The devices recognized each other quickly and the pairing was complete. So was pairing to the BT Next in the second helmet. When purchased in a twin pack, the units are pre-paired together. But I unpaired and re-paired just to check it out and the operation was the same as pairing the phone, only to a different button for the second press. During our entire test we experienced no dropouts with the phone or the intercom. Even after going out of range, the units picked up one another without any complications once closer together.
Switching between Intercom, FM radio and Phone modes requires a simple three-second press of the center button. When playing the radio or music from the phone, the intercom always cut in when needed to allow us to chat. There is a button to start a conversation manually but why? The VOX (voice operated actuation) was spot on and only took the first word spoken to kick in and allow full duplex operation, just like a telephone, with both riders able to speak at once.
The radio yields solid reception and has six presets available for programming your favorite stations. One nice feature is RDS, which automatically drops the weakening station you are listening to in favor of a stronger signal. This wasn’t ideal for riding locally as I had my favorites stored in the presets, but the RDS feature would be optimal on a trip.
We did not have the opportunity to connect the BT Next to either GPS or radar detector. Provision has been made for these connections, and I have no reason to suspect that they would not operate as described in the manual.
One limitation of the headset is that you may pair to five other riders, but speak to only one at a time. There is no conference call function as exists in some other brands but, some say, this is a benefit and not a detriment.
Uniquely, the BT Next claims their Talk-to-All feature allows pairing to any other Bluetooth headset brand by emulating a phone, although we did not try this feature.
Your partner, in this situation, would be required to use his headset’s Bluetooth phone channel to make the connection, eliminating his ability to pair to his own phone. As with most Bluetooth devices, given the differences in their electronic engineering, there will be trade-offs in subtle features. I am reminded of words I wrote recently predicting a day when the manufacturers get together and create common standards, like they did with cell phone chargers. That day has not yet come.
I found the audio quality to be high for music as well as the spoken word. Phone calls were clear, as was the intercom, which varied in range depending on terrain. We found that at the quarter-mile range all was reliable. We did push it to about a half mile but the units produced some static as distances grew. We never did get to the claimed one mile range.
As with all headsets, helmet acoustics and wind noise are issues that greatly affect performance, so choosing an inherently quiet helmet is imperative. Unfortunately, the SHOEI RF-1100 is not the quietest choice, but I’m not being fair as it’s not exactly designed for touring. Speeds under 50-60 mph are optimal, and I could understand conversations better at 75 when crouched lower behind the windscreen.
All told, I am impressed with Midland’s product. I find the features important to me (music from my phone, good intercom and ease of use) are reliable and work well. Speaking to many riders, the one thing I have learned is that each has a unique list of requirements and priorities for what makes their perfect headset. If a conference call feature isn’t too high up on your list then I highly recommend the BT Next.