Gear / Parts Sena SF1 Review: For Rider-to-Passenger Communication

Sena SF1 Review: For Rider-to-Passenger Communication

Sena’s SF series is the company’s most basic line of devices. With the SF2 taking care of rider-to-rider communication, the SF1 is for rider-to-passenger communication. It also works for solo riders wanting to have helmet Bluetooth connectivity to the phone and GPS. Sena describes the SF1 as being for the “specific needs of certain riders.”

There are just three buttons: +, –, and the main button in the middle. All are glove-friendly. Phone calls, listening to music, and GPS connectivity all work as advertised on a single unit. There is even a feature to have your GPS turn-by-turn alerts to be at the same volume as your music, rather than drop the tunes to the background.

The box comes with the low-profile SF1 unit and two mounts—a quick clamp that slides between the shell and the liner, if there is room, and a glue-on surface-mounting plate. There are two low-profile speakers with ample wire for any helmet size and type. There are two microphones—a boom mic for open face and modular helmets, and a stick-on mic for full-face helmets. The boom mic adheres via hook and loop fastening and is plenty secure, even on an open face helmet.

Charging is done with the supplied Micro USB cable. Like most small electronics these days, no wall charger is supplied. There are five individual language quick start guide pamphlets, plus a sticker inside the lid—also in five languages—that suggests you download the full User Guide from Sena’s website. I recommend doing so, as the quick start is light on details.

Sena has a free Sena SF Utility App for smartphones to configure the headset. It is a whole lot easier than pressing buttons and stepping through menus on the control unit like in the ‘old days’.

I tested the control settings, and I turned off the Vox feature. Just sitting in my office, I would have to yell into the mic to get it to switch to intercom, and I tried all the sensitivity settings. I am comfortable with pressing the main button—short for intercom, longer for music, and a little longer for “Siri” or “OK Google”. I suppose you could get used to yelling “Hey!” into the mic to activate the Vox switch from music to intercom, but that is not me. If you need both hands on the bars—splitting lanes on a Los Angeles freeway at rush hour on Friday evening, for instance—then the Vox feature could be helpful.

My first attempt at setting up the SF1 right out of the box was easy and straightforward. I pressed the Main and + buttons to turn the unit on. Then, I held the main button for ten seconds, five seconds past the “intercom pairing” prompt to get into the configuration menu. Next, I pressed the + one time to hear “phone pairing” and set my iPhone to Bluetooth pairing, and they paired instantly.  Sitting in my office, I made phone calls and listened to music. All was right with the world.

Next, I mounted my second SF1 to my wife’s helmet for intercom pairing. I tried over-and-over, but met with no success. The 50-page user manual refers to the SF2 intercom pairing, so I was following those instructions.

I give myself a 10-minute limit for attempting unsuccessfully to follow simple instructions. If I know I am doing “it” correctly and getting the wrong outcome, I call for help. I phoned Sena tech support and got right through. The friendly and knowledgeable tech advised me that the firmware version my units were shipped with did not have two-unit pairing capability, so I would have to download the latest firmware using the Sena Device Manager application. I did as instructed, and successfully paired the headsets.

We took off for a test ride starting in intercom mode. While riding at 40 mph the few miles to the freeway, we switched back and forth from our own music to intercom and back again—no problem. We could hear each other speaking, but the quality of the intercom voice was not as clear as I was expecting, as I am a long-time user of Sena’s SMH10 units.

As I accelerated to 65 mph with my modular faceshield open behind my shorty windscreen, I spoke my speed for my wife to give me a report on clarity. At 65 mph, we could not understand a word the other was saying. My wife had her three-quarter helmet, open-face shield in the down position, and the mic just a quarter-inch from her lips—all garble.

We switched to our own music—she was on comedy radio—and we could both hear what was playing from our phones, but the sound quality was simply lousy.

I called my daughter for phone quality testing, as she is accustomed to hearing my voice from the motorcycle. At 40 mph with my shield down, she immediately told me she heard a lot of background noise. When I opened my shield, she told me that the background noise increased, and she was hearing a lot of wind. In the past, I have called her from I-15 in Utah cruising at 80 mph using my Sena SMH10, and she didn’t know I was calling from my motorcycle. The noise cancellation on the SF1 didn’t work at all, and I confirmed it was turned on.

Back at home, we did an intercom distance verification—the tech specs say up to 110 yards maximum distance in optimal conditions. Walking away from my wife, our voices started to get garbled at just 10 feet. By 30 yards with no obstructions, we were unintelligible. The 110-yard claim is definitely optimistic, and I would expect less drop-off after only 10 feet, even with a unit described as being for rider-to-passenger, which as close quarters as it gets.

When I got back into my office, I tried every configuration I had gadgets for. In between each configuration test, I unpaired the phones, did a factory reset from the configuration menu, pressed a paper clip into the fault reset hole, and told my phones to forget that Bluetooth device.

I was able to get Music Share from one phone by pairing the SF1 units first, then pairing one unit to the phone. For that session, it worked—press the main button for intercom, press and hold for a few seconds to get Music Sharing, and press again for intercom. I turned off both units, turned them back on, and what just worked, didn’t work anymore.

I then Bluetooth-connected both SF1s to the same phone and to the SF Utility App. I could change from intercom to music and back again by pressing the icons on the app. The most reliable intercom and music sharing happen when using the phone app.

The phone app is excellent for changing unit settings—Vox, sound overlay, and others—but not convenient for switching from intercom to music or to phone when riding. I also tried connecting two different phones—iPhone and Android—to the same SF1. In that configuration, I was able to switch between them and control either from the main button.

After much experimentation, I discovered that the original combination of one SF1 connected to one phone and then pairing to the second SF1 gives the most consistent outcome. This setup stayed consistent, although it did take several button-pushes each time I turned the units on to finally get both intercom and music to work on both units.

The Sena SF1 Bluetooth communication system will connect to multiple devices as advertised, but call quality and music quality is not up to what I consider to be Sena standards, even at under 40 mph. Over 40 mph, poor sound rendered the intercom useless with our helmets/motorcycle combination. I experienced inconsistent intercom pairing, and only 10 feet of usable talk distance. On the upside, battery life is impressive at around 12 hours.

For riders in urban areas—say someone or a couple who gets around on a scooter—the Sena SF1 could be a viable budget option at $139 for each unit. However, for motorcycle riding at anything approaching highway speeds, you will want to move up to the Sena SMH10, which is $209 for a single unit and $379 for a pair.

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