Sena brought breakthrough technology to motorcycle communication devices in 2020 with its mesh intercom software. This year, the Irvine-based company has updated its 50 series intercoms, utilizing Harman Kardon
speakers and an improved microphone to step the listening experience up an audible notch. Firmware updates, which used to be bothersome to keep up with, are now automatic with a downloaded app. These improvements might seem subtle, but they improve the user experience significantly. With various motorcycle helmet communications options at our disposal, the Sena 50S has established itself as an elite intercom unit.
How many times have you eagerly anticipated a ride with your buddy (or buddies), gotten geared up and out of the garage, only to find yourself standing in the driveway repeatedly reciting, “Test. Check. Check. Can you hear me?”
Nothing tamps down enthusiasm faster than struggling to pair your communication devices—especially when it’s hot and you’re standing in your leathers. With the mesh intercom software in the Sena 50S, this just doesn’t happen. Ever.Once the Sena 50S has been switched to mesh from the default Bluetooth mode, it connects seamlessly to other Sena 50 devices. Yes, the other unit must be in mesh mode and on the same channel, but that’s easy. It takes one push of the mesh button on the top of the unit to switch from Bluetooth to mesh (indicated by a green light). By default, the unit will be on mesh channel 1. Now you’re talking—literally.
If you’ve got several riding partners and one has an older Sena unit, let’s say a 20S, you can still connect everyone. Return to Bluetooth mode by pressing the mesh button, and the light switches to blue. Now you can pair your 50S with the 20S using the same pairing procedure you remember from your pre-mesh days. Press the jog dial and phone button simultaneously on both units for six seconds until they start flashing quickly (pairing mode), then press the jog dial of your unit once. After a few seconds, the two units pair, and their lights return to a slow blue flashing rhythm.At this point, your 50S unit can be switched back into mesh mode—just one press on the mesh button—where you are automatically connected to your other mesh-enabled buddy. What’s cool is that your Sena 50S brings the 20S unit into the mesh group. No extra buttons to push—the 20S just tags along, and all three units can talk between themselves.Mesh takes care of pairing—our biggest gripe about communication units. What else bedevils us? Sound quality. All communication devices sound good at neighborhood speeds, but once you pick up the pace, clarity drops as wind noise increases. The new speakers from Samsung Electronics-owned Harman Kardon are a noticeable improvement.
On most devices, turning the volume up to max to get on top of freeway-speed white noise creates its own problem—distortion. The new Harman Kardon speakers deal better with this issue than previous efforts. Credit, too, goes to the new HK microphone.You can use the Sena 50S in the open mesh or group mesh mode, with the former being the default setting. On one recent Ultimate Motorcycling
test ride, we were discussing the quickshifter, or lack thereof, on one of the bikes. As we passed several riders going the other direction, in addition to getting the universal two-fingers-pointed-down acknowledgment, one of the riders said, “Hope you get the quickshifter issue worked out!” Hah, that was our first experience encountering other Sena 50S-equipped riders using the communication in open mesh mode. We loved it! Later the same day, we encountered another pair of riders in open-mesh mode and enjoyed a quick “Hello! Fine day for a ride!” exchange.If you’re heeding your mother’s advice to not talk to strangers, you and your riding buddy can create a group mesh rather than going open mesh. Group mesh requires holding down the mesh button on both units for five seconds. Once you hear the “mesh grouping” verbal confirmation, you can talk privately, even if you’re riding through Daytona Beach during Bike Week. The mesh grouping option allows a private conversation amongst up to 25 riders.
The Sena 50S responds to voice commands, though not as consistently as I would like. Sometimes asking, “Hey Sena! Check battery,” resulted in the status of the battery, and sometimes not. Additionally, you will want to familiarize yourself with the recognized voice commands. While most are intuitive, “Music off” is not the same as “Stop music” (the former is a Cardo command; the latter is Sena’s version).If you pair your smartphone to the 50S, you can access Siri or Google Assistant. This opens up various features, such as auto-dialing phone calls or asking for directions to the nearest gas station. Although I’ve had a rocky relationship with Siri, I found her more reliable in following instructions than Sena.Having said that, several mysterious trigger words wake the digital assistant. In the middle of a conversation with my riding partner, the Sena voice unexpectedly interrupts to respond to an unasked request. At this point, it overrides the intercom function, which is highly annoying. I have to give the Sena
a few seconds of the silent treatment, as I haven’t figured out a way to tell the digital assistant to butt out.
Although the Sena 50S is not a physically small unit, the design is clean, with only a few buttons to push. While the large jog dial is easy to find with a gloved hand, the light action of the dial makes it hard to finesse. More clearly pronounced clicks through each incremental step would provide more feedback and better control.Communication devices benefit from firmware updates, and I’ve been guilty of only plugging in for an update when my unit has an issue. With the Sena 50S, my unit always has the most up-to-date firmware because I don’t have to do anything! I use the included Wi-Fi Adapter cable to charge the unit’s battery, and the smart cable automatically downloads any updates and installs them.To utilize the automatic firmware update feature, you’ll need to download the Sena 50 Utility app to your smartphone, connect the Wi-Fi adaptor to a USB charger, and then find the Sena network on your smartphone. You may need to delete your home Wi-Fi network to find the Sena Wi-Fi. Don’t worry; you can reconnect to your home Wi-Fi network afterward. The process is a bit fiddly, but have patience! It’s a one-time exercise, and it’s worth the effort.
When the Sena 50S is fully charged, it is claimed to be good for 11 hours of mesh intercom talk time—add an hour if you’re using Bluetooth. We have used the units extensively, though never for a full 12 hours, so we haven’t run the battery out on a day’s ride.Should you be on a long ride and chattering nonstop, there are two ways to handle a depleted battery. You can use the units while charging, so an external battery in your pocket or the powered USB port on your motorcycle can be connected to the Sena 50S. Using the fast-charge feature, you can also top off quickly at a lunch stop. If you bring a USB-C charging cable and have USB outlet access, 20 minutes of charging gets you two hours of additional talk time.Installation of the Sena 50S is straightforward. The unit slides onto a base mount that is either clamped to the side of the helmet, or affixed via adhesive. Your helmet’s design will dictate your options, as the clamp mount needs access to slide between the shell and the inner liner.
Speaker installation is the usual exercise. Start by finding the “ear pockets” in your helmet. Next, secure the speaker with the provided Velcro-adhesive mounts directly to the helmet’s interior, or nestle them into the cheek pads. Again, this will be determined by your helmet. Should you need to get the speakers closer to your ears, spacers are included. Run the wires under the comfort liner to keep them in place.A boom mic is attached to the 50S unit right out of the box, along with two options—a wired mic, as well as a mic with a short wire and short boom. Two thumbs up for Sena providing some many options.Helmet-to-helmet communication greatly impacts enjoyment and safety while riding. Sena has moved the needle again with improved features to the Sena 50S. The pain-free unit pairing, the enhanced sound, and the ease of updating the firmware make us big fans of this latest version.Sena 50S SpecsELECTRONICS
- Talk time: Bluetooth, 12 hours; mesh, 11 hours
- Battery charge time: 2.5 hours (fast charge: 20 minutes of charge provides two hours of talk time)
- Battery: Lithium polymer
- Mesh intercom working distance: Up to 1.2 miles unobstructed (5 miles with six riders or more)
- Bluetooth working distance: Up to 1.2 miles unobstructed
- Bluetooth: 5.0
- Speakers: Harmon Kardon
Sena 50S Prices: $359 MSRP (Dual pack: $639)
- Height: 2.2 inches
- Width: 4.0 inches
- Depth: 1.1 inches
- Weight: 2.26 ounces
- Speaker diameter: 40 mm
- Speaker depth: 7.2 mm
- Warranty: 3 years