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Review: Sena's SMH10 universal Bluetooth helmet intercom

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December 2, 2012

The SMH10, mounted on an Arai XD3 helmet

The SMH10, mounted on an Arai XD3 helmet

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I'll admit I wasn't looking forward to testing another Bluetooth helmet system. My experience in the past with Nolan's old N-COM unit on an N102E helmet had set my expectations: the installation would be a pain in the bum, pairing it to a phone would be a hit and miss affair, it would be confusing to use, the battery would fade quickly and I'd have to remember what a bunch of different beeping sounds meant in order to know what the heck button I'd pressed or what the thing was doing at a given time. I'm glad to say, with Sena's SMH10 unit, it looks like things have moved along a bit!

Firstly, let me say this – if you're remotely interested in getting yourself one of these, budget for two or more – because the SMH10 is so quick and easy to fit to most helmets that you'll want to keep a spare to throw to your riding buddies when you're going out with them.

The Sena SMH10, clamped to the helmet shell

Installation

To install the kit, you just push the clamp up in between the helmet shell and liner, and tighten a couple of hex screws. You then velcro the earpad speakers into the ear holes in your helmet liner and tuck the wires away. Job done, ready to ride. I've stuck this jigger on half a dozen lids so far with only one failure – that sadly being my favorite lid, the Nolan N104, which has an oddly shaped piece of padding that won't let me get the clamp in. I had no similar trouble with an older N103.

On one particular low-sided lid, I found the slightly chunky headset was restricting me from making left-side headchecks on a sportsbike. This wasn't a problem on other helmets or more upright bikes – or even for another rider wearing the same helmet on the same sportsbike. And it wasn't a huge issue – I just had to be aware and lift my chin a bit when turning my head left.

Once installed, the Sena headset is simply a joy to use. I had it paired with iPhones and Android phones in a matter of seconds. The intercom pairing process is a little fuzzy – you're not quite sure if it's working. But for most other things, the SMH10 gives you little voice prompts like "phone connected," "battery level: low," or "media connected." Such a simple thing to add, but these voice prompts make a huge difference to the unit's usability.

Likewise, the controls are fantastic to use with gloved hands. There's one button on the back, and one big jog dial/combination button on the side. The back button does phone stuff, the side button does intercom stuff, and the jog dial handles volume. You can push the intercom button in and rotate the dial at the same time to switch tracks on your music player. The basic functions are incredibly simple and easy to get used to – this is in direct contrast to other systems (coughNCOMcough), where I often found myself hunting for buttons, and unsure of what I'd pressed.

Noel McKeegan models the SMH10, mounted on an Arai XD3 helmet

Bluetooth helmet intercom function

It's amazing how far apart you can be and still have a Bluetooth connection these days! You can connect up to four headsets as an intercom conference, although that could get pretty confusing on the road. I only ever had one other helmet connected, and I found it an absolutely transformative riding experience.

For starters, if you've got a pillion on, you can suddenly hold a conversation that consists of more than just hand signals, leg squeezes and repeated kidney punches.

If you're out riding with a buddy, you no longer have to stick together or wait for each other in traffic – if they get caught at a red light, or stuck behind a bus, or they freak out, or see a particularly attractive pedestrian, they can tell you immediately.

Riding with a less confident rider, you're able to watch them and give them feedback and advice in real time, which I found super helpful. It accelerates learning, builds and reinforces confidence very quickly, and gives learners instant insight into what a more experienced rider is seeing in traffic patterns or technique issues. Just be prepared to say "cancel your indicator" a zillion times.

Sena advertises the SMH10 as having a 900-meter (980 yard) range in open terrain. Our test showed more like 500 meters (550 yd) with line of sight, but we were testing in an urban environment, and one of the headsets was getting low on battery. Either way, the intercom range is extremely useful. If you get out of range or pass behind a large building, the signal gradually degrades into a messy digital soup, then cuts out altogether. But it instantly and automatically re-pairs when back in range.

The Sena SMH10 Bluetooth helmet system

Phone functions

When paired with a smartphone, the SMH10 works pretty seamlessly. If somebody calls you mid-ride, you can answer the call by simply making a noise into the microphone, or hitting a button. You can access Siri or voice dialing by tapping the rear button once, and the mic quality is good enough to make the voice dialing process usable on the road.

Likewise, you can use navigation or audio players on your phone with ease. You can also pair with a range of other Bluetooth devices like GPS units and the like, or plug a non-Bluetooth audio player into the 3.5 mm audio jack recessed into the clamp unit. The SMH10 runs these devices in priority sequence – phone calls take precedence, while music players are least important.

The Sena SMH10 Bluetooth helmet system

Audio quality

In a word, extraordinary. At highway speeds in an open-faced or full face helmet, road and wind noise on your microphone is almost magically eliminated. You can still hear the revving of your partner's motorcycle engine, but the voice quality is so good that people on the other end of phone calls will frequently tell you to stop yelling, they can hear you just fine. At 80 km/h (50 mph) and above, I found myself speaking so quietly that I couldn't hear my own voice – and yet the Sena unit transmitted it quite clearly through the phone or intercom.

The speaker units deliver a surprisingly loud volume when cranked up – ear-splitting at a standstill but perfect if you ride with earplugs in. With a full-face helmet you can hear very clearly even when you're traveling a freeway speeds. With an open face, the external wind noise starts to make things difficult to hear at about 100 km/h (62 mph).

Music sounds pretty good too – still nothing on a pair of ear molds or a car stereo, but not bad.

The one combination I found that didn't work was taking a pillion with an open-faced helmet. I suspect it was the turbulent wind coming off my own helmet that confused the Sena unit's noise cancellation, but either way, wind noise built up until we had to switch the intercom off.

One other nifty feature is that each audio input – say, phone, intercom, and music – retains its own volume setting. So if you have to jack up the volume for a quiet song, you won't blow your eardrums out when you get a phone call. And yes, the speakers can be so loud that this is a genuine concern.

British natural beard, styled moustash champion Matt Brown enjoying the Sena SMH10 mounted...

British natural beard, styled moustash champion Matt Brown enjoying the Sena SMH10 mounted on an RXT open-face helmet

Battery life

The SMH10 is rated for a massive 10 days' standby time and 12 hours of talk time off a single two-hour charge. We ran one of the headsets down quite low within a couple of short rides – but I suspect my missus may have left it on, constantly pairing itself with whichever phone walked past, for several days in between rides.

The longest single jaunt I've taken it out for has been a two-hour ride of constant intercom talking, and that didn't seem to make much of a dent in the battery life. Either way, you charge the units through USB, whether it's off a computer, a power adapter (not supplied) or through a cigarette lighter attachment. So I fully believe that if you remember to switch it off when you get off the bike, the SMH10 is good for a full day's chatting with your ride buddies on tour – and maybe two days, depending on how much time you spend on the road.

Overall

The Sena SMH10 has really changed my mind about helmet Bluetooth systems. It's simple and intuitive, its audio performance is truly impressive, the intercom function is brilliant and device integration almost seamless. It's actually quite a lot of fun to use, and it adds a lot to your riding experience.

Best of all, you can throw an SMH10 on your buddy's lid in three minutes flat if you're going out riding together. I wouldn't mind betting a few of your mates will go pick up a set for themselves after trying it.

Currently, you can pick up a pair of SMH10s in a dual pack for less than US$300 brand new on eBay. That's US$100 cheaper than some stores are selling a single Nolan N-COM unit for. It's also considerably cheaper than the Scala Rider G9 dual set – although the Scala system is advertised to have a significantly longer Bluetooth range (1.6 km (1 mile) vs. 900 m (980 yd)) and a slightly longer battery life (13 vs. 12 hours of talk time.)

Either way, I think most riders will enjoy using the SMH10 – and without the benefit of long-term, long-ride and bad weather reliability testing, our early impressions are that this is a fantastic gadget.

Product page: Sena SMH10

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz loves motorcycles - at the age of two, he told his mother "don't want brother, want mogabike." It was the biker connection that first brought Loz to Gizmag, but since then he's covered everything from alternative energy and weapons to medicine, marital aids - and of course, motorcycles. Loz also produces a number of video pieces for Gizmag, including his beloved bike reviews. He frequently disappears for weeks at a time to go touring with his vocal band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
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8 Comments

Do you know what one of the many joys of being on a motorcycle is for me? Getting away from the 24/7 contact culture we now have. I switch my mobile off ( I know OFF!!!!!) and stick it in my pocket and then ride for as many hours as I like. Last thing I want when carving through some lovely twisties is a call from someone trying to reclaim my misold PPI , change my tarriff, the boss wanting to run some ideas by me " I know its Saturday but...."

Clever technology but NO!!!!

ihateorange
3rd December, 2012 @ 04:12 am PST

@ihateorange

I would use it to hear the GPS on my phone and as an intercom but yeah I'd probably be better off not knowing when I have a new text.

Diachi
3rd December, 2012 @ 07:04 am PST

@ihateorange: I believe that's what the "do not disturb" feature on your iphone (I'm assuming android and windoze have similar functions). You turn it on, define emergency contact conditions and away you go. Your bluetooth intercom and your music player functionality without the boss chiming in.

Bryan Paschke
3rd December, 2012 @ 12:24 pm PST

We have three of these things.

They are, at best, disappointing for the money.

In fact, I've returned them from whence they came, after a polite but wholly inconclusive interchange with the manufacturer's help-desk: to be able to upgrade (ie, 'fix') these units via a USB cable, you have to disable ALL other Bluetooth devices within range. This meant finding a cabled key-board and mouse... after several attempts, with various cables and on several days - the Device Manager still couldn't 'see' our Senas.

What was I trying to find a workable solution for?

1. Disappointing range: the advertised 900m is a complete fiction: at anything over 500m, speech is unintelligible noise;

2. Constant interference, even when within touching distance; this is tiring past about 20 minutes and potentially distracting - and therefore dangerous, even for highly experienced riders; in an attempt to eliminte possible causes, we wandered around a field, away from any metallic objects to see if something on our bikes was causing it. The issue remained.

3. An ear-shatteringly loud CLICK when a third party 'drops in' to join an existing conversation; Loud enough to cause the two existing participants to shake their heads violently - again, distracting and dangerous.

While phones and iPods seamlessly pair with the Senas, I never did get any of my GPS units (3 different ones) to pair with it - either directly or via an add-on dongle - but that's probably not a Sena-issue - but it was a disappointment.

The Sena is, however, very good when used with a mobile phone - some callers were utterly oblivious to the fact that I was on my bike. Whther this is down to the Sena's good design or merely the extent to which my fat head fills my helmet is unknown.

For 30-something years, my wife and I have communicated bike-to-bike with hand-signals: if this is the best the electronic world can offer, we're better off with hand-signals; we might drop by in another 30 years and see if things have improved any.

Precis
3rd December, 2012 @ 01:43 pm PST

@ihateorange - why is the functionality limited to just cell phone calls? I love riding in groups and have a few friends I'd love to be able to chat with without having to stop every turn or every few miles to ask where we're heading next. I ride frequently with someone else and we're always yelling at the stop light. This way we'd be able to chat without worrying about getting lost or having to stop at a gas station every time we wanted to change directions.

i think the bluetooth pairing is really just a bonus if I wanted to make phone calls or listen to my music or like someone else mentioned, pair for GPS. That's actually a great idea.

adrianKeith
3rd December, 2012 @ 03:51 pm PST

I switched to a Sena after 10 years with a hard wired Autocom. I just got sick of replacing the cables on the Autocom at $40 a pop. They may be alright for normal use, but we ride 50K a year and stuff wears out. The BIG problem with us for the Sena is that the Garmin GPS can only be linked to one of the sets at a time. This means that the co-pilot and navigator can't hear the directions. This is not a good thing. The rest of the capability is fine, but for its main function of letting us chat while we ride, it is no better than our old wired system. Regards, Mike

teamelephant
3rd December, 2012 @ 04:54 pm PST

I recently bought two SMH10 headsets, and an SM10 wireless dual stereo receiver/transmitter, and they're brilliant!

Teamelephant: the SM10 (or the SR10) used in conjunction with your headsets is what you need. Plug the Garmin into it, and it offers dual, prioritised transmission to both headsets. The SM10 is a very small and water-resistant unit, with inputs for two wired devies plus bluetooth ones. You could for instance be using your SMH10 to talk to one another, while listening to the same music source, and whenever a direction comes in from the Garmin the music volume will be reduced so you can both hear it.

viffer
6th December, 2012 @ 04:26 pm PST

All,

I log my Sena system. It is not perfect, but I love hearing music when I ride and my job--at times--demands that I can be contacted whenever necessary. This makes the Sena ideal for me.

Sound quality. No a great quality sound in my opinion. It is a good quality. I wear ear plugs and I can still hear the music fine.

Phone calls are a breeze. Vey easy. Do I like getting them, no; however, as stated it is part of my job that I can be contacted whenever and wherever.

As far as style...not so much, but I don't care. I works and works easily.

I can understand previous comments. I have heard about some systems not working correctly. I got lucky. however, luck is a four letter word spelled work. I did my research. Not plugging here, but Revzilla.com will take the system back if it does not work. Too easy.

All in all. I strongly recommend. I love it!!

Richard Lewis
27th December, 2013 @ 09:56 pm PST
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