This is the story of Neil and the three Bluetooth communication devices. Once upon a time, I spent a ton of money on a rider to rider/passenger intercom when the technology was still developing. It worked, but consistently the music sharing was inconsistent. Music sharing is actually more important to my wife than the intercom, and 50 percent of the time, the music wouldn’t share.
Being the loving husband I am, I would switch units with her so she could have the music off my phone. I would happily listen to the purr of my Yamaha’s V4 and the serenade of my Metzeler ME 880 Marathon front tire singing in sweeping turns.
After many, many years of frustrating intermittency, I selected an entry-level rider-passenger communications device. However, it turned out to not be designed for my type of riding. I then researched and landed on the Cardo Freecom 4+. It is exactly what I was hoping for in rider connectivity at a moderate price point.
The Freecom 4+ is one of five current Cardo communication models. The Freecom 1+ is Cardo’s entry option for a single rider or rider to passenger communicator with only close proximity capability. They scale up through four models by adding JBL sound speakers, greater range between riders, and a 15-rider group conference capability.
The Freecom 4+ can connect with up to three devices from other major brands, a unit-to-unit range of three-quarters of a mile, built-in FM radio, the ability to connect with two Bluetooth devices, and a claimed 13-hour operation time between charges. If you did run low on battery life and still need to make a phone call, hear your GPS, or communicate with other riders, the Freecom 4+ will continue to work while plugged into a portable power bank in your pocket or your motorcycle’s power outlet.
As a wireless connectivity device, the Cardo Freecom 4+ did take a bit of time to get my phone, GPS, voice commands, music, and intercom to all work together, and perform all features all the time. Of course, it had to be that, initially, music sharing wasn’t being consistent, and neither was the convenient Always On! voice command feature. Cardo tech support told me to start over by deleting everything, factory resetting, reinstalling, and reprogramming. Tech support was correct; that fixed all consistency issues.
The Freecom 4+ Duo box, which includes two devices, has both a physical installation quick reference guide and the function/connectivity quick installation guide inside. Both are very clear and easy to follow. Assuming my first unsuccessful attempt at connectivity was a fluke, the second time certainly went quicker, as I already knew what to do.
Also, when you receive an electronic device that can be firmware updated, do that first. Sometimes the product you get was in a warehouse when the latest feature set was released. The ability to do firmware updates means the manufacturer can add feature sets, and your product staves off obsolescence.
The box has two of everything—Freecom 4+ units; base plates; slip-on clamps; glue plates, boom mics for open face or modular helmets; corded mics for full-face helmets; JBL speaker pairs; micro USB cables; and alcohol wipes. However, there are six Velcro stick-on patches and a solitary Cardo bumper sticker.
In doing selection research, I had already been on the Cardo website, so I had noticed the prominent Support tab before. To update the firmware, select Freecom 4+ and download the very easy to use Cardo Update application. It guides you through the process of updating the firmware inside each unit to the latest version.
Before installing the units in my helmets, I like to set them up on my desk. I paired one unit to my iPhone and then paired the same unit to my GPS. Next, I paired the units to each other and installed the Cardo smartphone app (available for Apple and Android) on my iPhone 7.
Cardo’s Always On! voice recognition is a built-in, always-available voice control system. It provides you with 24 verbal commands you can make to the Freecom 4+, so you don’t have to take your hand off the bars to touch a button. There are 4 buttons on each unit and, although not difficult to navigate, just saying “Hey Cardo,” followed by an approved command, is a welcome feature.
Besides calling up Siri or Google Assistant, you can answer or ignore an incoming call with your voice. You can invoke preset phone numbers, control volume, start and control music from your smartphone, call up the intercom, and control the built-in FM radio. I had seen the FM radio in the specs and didn’t think it would be something I would use. However, I have discovered that on long rides, having alternatives to my personal library of 24 hours of eclectic music can be refreshing.
After finishing the install process for the second time, I actually caught myself saying out loud, “Okay, let’s try this again.” I said into the iPhone-paired mic, “Hey Cardo, music on,” and the music from my iPhone library started playing. “Hey Cardo, volume up,” and the music got louder. “Hey Cardo, call intercom,” and the music stopped and the intercom was open. “Hey Siri,” and I heard the familiar Siri tones and told Siri to dial a number. “Hey Cardo, radio on,” and the FM radio came on, announcing “107.5.” Because I couldn’t get the FM radio off the default 107.5 frequency, I downloaded the full manual from the Cardo website. The manual explained how to set the available five preset stations and a whole bunch more good info packed into 26 pages.
It turns out that the smartphone app gives you a whole lot of programming control—not just on FM presets, but also mic sensitivity control and automatic volume control. Depending on the ambient noise as you speed up or slow down, the unit adjusts the volume automatically.
How many times have you heard a fellow biker come to a stoplight or into a parking lot with their stereo blasting? They didn’t have auto volume control! Although I didn’t see it on my initial review of the app, one control item is Vox ( voice activation) control, which helped me out on the first test ride. I left both units in their default settings, per the manual suggestion.
The big test was music sharing. When my wife and I are motoring along a scenic byway, and I interrupt her musical enjoyment by switching to intercom to point out to her a turkey vulture I just saw, I will usually get a loving response of “Music, please.” That is my cue to switch the music back on. It needs to work.
I held the center button for two seconds and heard “Music sharing.” That is music to my ears. I checked all the documentation, including the smartphone app, and I could not find that music sharing can be a default.
I emailed Cardo tech support, and they acknowledged that every time you switch to use the intercom, you have to press the center/ intercom button for two seconds to go back into music sharing mode. They assured me it is on the list of future firmware improvements. It is not a deal-breaker, but does require one tap for intercom and then a two-second hold for music sharing every time.
One simple workaround is to pair each Cardo Freecom 4+ to its own smartphone. Then both the rider and the passenger are responsible for starting and stopping their own music. This would be the case if you were connecting to another rider. In my case, my bride wants me to handle all the “technical stuff.”
All the kinks seemingly worked out, I installed the JBL speakers and boom mics in both our helmets. I have a modular, and she an open face. I used the stick-on bases, as the slip-on bases wouldn’t slide up inside between the shell and the foam.
The JBL speakers, which I looked forward to hearing, are a bit thicker than standard quality speakers. However, they fit nicely into the ear detents in both helmets. I have heard several non-JBL speakers in my helmet, and I can tell you the JBL speakers are awesome. I am not an audiophile, but even to my old ears, the music and intercom sounded so much better than any other speakers I have used.
We headed out for an hours-long ride that incorporated freeway, highway, and two-lane country roads. Wind noise has been an issue with my wife’s open face helmet and intercoms, as some intercoms do better than others on noise cancellation.
Heading to the freeway at 45 mph, the Cardo Freecom 4+ was as clear as talking in a quiet room. On the freeway, accelerating from 55 to 65 mph, the conversation definitely had wind noise, though it is comfortably tolerable, even for a long ride with a lot of conversation.
I asked my wife to fully cup her hand over her mic, and almost all the wind noise disappeared. If she wore a full-face helmet, background noise would be a non-issue due to the built-in noise cancellation capabilities of the Freecom 4+. The mic being as close as possible to her lips when talking made a huge difference in my listening clarity.
We chatted for about 10 minutes to get a full experience of freeway noise cancellation and then hopped off the freeway and onto some country roads. I reached up and pressed the front-most button, which is the media button for start-up and toggling between smartphone music and FM radio.
The music from my iPhone started playing, and then I pressed the middle button for two seconds to start music sharing. I got a thumbs up from my wife. Unfortunately, the music began to break-up immediately, staccato-like, as the microphone was kicking in and out, but we were off-intercom. I had a strong suspicion that it was all that wind keying her mic, causing the music playback issue. My experience with voice actuated intercoms was telling me that we probably have her mic set to Vox.
I pulled over and paired her Freecom 4+ to my iPhone and then opened the Cardo app to adjust the settings—you can personalize the settings of each unit from the app. I went to Voice Control and then selected Off from the default Natural Voice Operation. The other choice was Vox Intercom.
We pulled away from the curb and sped back up to 40 mph. I again said, “Hey Cardo, music on,” and the music started on my helmet. I reached up and pressed the center button for 2 seconds and heard “music sharing” and got the thumbs up again from my wife. This time there was no skipping or staccato. Problem solved. She just can’t say “Hey Cardo…” due to the amount of noise the mic is picking up from the wind.
It is entirely possible that a different windshield setup or passenger riding position would not result in the same issue we had. Happily, the problem was solved with no degradation to her user experience. I doubt she would ever want to say “Hey Cardo” anyway.
True to the ability of the Cardo Freecom 4+ to connect to both my phone and my GPS, I heard turn-by-turn instructions while on intercom and music. This is a beneficial feature for times when glancing away from the road to look at the GPS is not safe.
The Cardo smartphone app can duplicate the actual function buttons on the unit, if your gloves can operate your phone. The app will turn on music, open a speed dial call, turn on intercom, start music sharing, and connect you to any of the other three units you previously paired with.
The Cardo Freecom 4+ does everything it is designed to do and does it all well. I can’t think of any other function I could use that the Freecom 4+ doesn’t already do. I will be using this pair of Cardo communicators for a long time to come.
Cardo Freecom 4+ Specs
- Height: 1.9 inches
- Length: 3.1 inches
- Depth: 0.8 inches
- Weight: 1.2 ounces
- Speaker diameter: 1.6 inches
- Speaker depth: 0.4 inches
- Bluetooth intercom maximum range: 0.8 miles
- Bluetooth protocol: 4.1
Warranty: 2 years
Cardo Freecom 4+ Price: $250 MSRP
Cardo Freecom 4+ Duo Price: $450 MSRP