How the world has changed! I remember as a youth the awed fascination I had for a cheap set of walkie talkies. They seemed like pure magic, alien artifacts. Contrast that rough science with the Sena SMH10 helmet communicators, the truly space-age gizmos that I currently have installed on two of my helmets. Could two contraptions that perform the same basic tasks be more different?
The Sena SMH10 is the fulfillment of the promise made by early helmet communicators. Remember those brick-sized conglomerations, hairy with antennae, that were the state of the art only a few years ago?
Now, with the SMH10 and its contemporaries, we have a complete communication system in one small, sleek package. The SMH10 consolidates helmet speakers, bike-to-bike communication along with mobile phone and GPS integration. With one of these gizmos you can ride along listening to music, take instruction from your GPS lady, chat with your riding buddy (they support up to four communicators in a conference), and place a call to your stock broker should the need arise. Imagine that!
The functions offered by the Sena SMH10 are offered by several other manufacturers. What makes the Sena unique, and of special interest to me, is the availability of an optional base module that allows the use of external headphones. For most of my adult life I’ve been an audiophile, and that means I’ll go to great lengths to find new ways to accurately reproduce music.
So the first thing I did after I installed the SMH10 on my helmet was plug in my Shure SE215 In Ear Monitors (IEMs) and take a listen. IEMs seem like they’re made for motorcycling. They almost completely isolate the rider from outside noise, and, when seated correctly, block out all wind noise and can support stupendous amounts of bass.
For the purposes of this review I used the SMH10 with my Samsung Galaxy Nexus as a phone, GPS and music source all in one. After I updated the software to the latest version (which replaced the Sena’s male voice with a sexy computer lady) I headed out on the road.
I didn’t have high expectations for sound quality via Bluetooth, as it adds another layer of conversion and compression that you don’t need with a wire. The SMH10 has an auxiliary input for a wired connection to a portable player, but I didn’t want any additional cables; the IEMs alone add a cable that’s somewhat annoying to manage. So, I used the Bluetooth connection for music, and its sound quality surprised me greatly. While I could still tell that the music was somewhat compressed, it didn’t have an annoying digital edge. Cymbals retained their shimmer and female vocals didn’t pick up any additional edge or grain.
The Sena’s built-in amplifier has plenty of juice and it drove my Shures to more than sufficient levels. It’s also a reasonably competent performer. I have a purpose-built stand-alone headphone amplifier that I use while riding, and while it sounds better than the Sena, it doesn’t exactly blow it away. The Sena’s amplifier mostly commits sins of omission — it’s very listenable, even though it doesn’t provide the tightest bass nor the cleanest treble. Imaging (the ability to place instruments clearly in space) was reasonable also.
But to put my nitpicking into perspective, the combination of my smartphone, the SMH10 and the Shures transformed the act of riding into a floating, surreal experience. Now I was shooting forward into the music, without a scrap of wind or road noise. Phone and intercom conversations and GPS commands were present, clear and easily understood. It was a revelation.
I must state though, that I’d be reluctant to use IEMs in an urban environment. And this is for two reasons: first off, it’s a fiddly proposition for short trips, what with the ear insertion rigmarole and the
cord management issues. For city and short-haul use I’d choose the supplied speakers even though they’re thin-sounding in comparison, with little bass and a tipped-up treble. I had to add significant EQ to roll off the treble — the EQ curve looked like a ski jump.
Much more important is the complete isolation from external sound that’s offered by IEMs. With music playing you probably wouldn’t hear an emergency vehicle shrieking toward you, or an 18-wheeler locked up and sideways on its way to mow you down. And that’s unsafe. On the open highway however, I personally don’t see a problem with it.
There are so many other possibilities for, and so much functionality offered by the SMH10 that I’d need ten times this space to even scratch the surface of its setup options. For those who are interested in the full potential of the SMH10, I suggest you head get onto your favourite adventure riding website and search out some of the extensive SMH10 threads available. For the rest of you who just want to hear some good music, communicate with your riding partner or call home late for dinner, I strongly recommend them.
Retail price of the SMH10 is $219 for a single unit or $399 for the dual pack. The optional helmet clamp kit with attachable boom mic and wired mic lists for $39.95. Visit www.senabluetooth.com for more info.
– By Jason Thorpe