Editorial – We now have said for a while, Bluetooth is the future for two-way radios and headphones. With so many different incarnations of this tech to try and adapt it for that walkie talkie market, no one has yet got it sufficiently little to use covertly enough. This analysis from a motorcycle website may give us an indication of how the technology is progressing.
Sena SR10 Two-Way Radio Adapter Review with Midland Radio BT Next and Midland Two-Way Radio
I’m an admitted tech addict and enjoy looking for and finding new gadgets that enhance life’s experiences. This is especially the case for moto-related kit and, lately, Bluetooth (BT) gizmos. While writing our recent BT headset reviews, I became interested in pairing a two-way radio to my helmet’s headset.
Some riders to whom I’ve spoken eschew the use of any newfangled item that could distract them or in some way diminish the riding experience and I respect that.
Personally, I find only enjoyment and an extra margin of safety in being able to communicate with other riders, listen to music or FM radio, GPS instructions and make or take the occasional phone call.
Until now, to communicate with my buddies I’ve used the intercom function built into virtually all BT headsets on the market today. Most offer full duplex operation (like a telephone, all parties can talk at once without having to press a push-to-talk (PTT) button) and a line-of-sight range up to a mile but, often, much less.
I read that some headsets allow pairing to a two-way radio which offers not only greater range but the ability to have an unlimited number of participants on the conversation, unlike headset intercoms that have a limitation on the number of pairings.
Also eliminated would be the need to stop and pair the headsets to one another in advance. Wouldn’t it be great if our group did this and agreed upon a certain radio channel? We could shout out to one another when heading to a meeting and converse during the ride. Changes in plans could be made on the fly without waving hands in some, often misunderstood, hand signals. Then there’s “that guy” who always takes the lead on a ride just when there is a critical turn to make and he doesn’t know the way.
The solution is easier than you might think. All you need is a two-way radio and a BT adapter since no consumer priced radios to date have BT built in (that’s on the way but not yet). For this review I used Sena’s SR10 BT adapter along with Midland Radio’s BT Next headset and GXT1000 FRS/GMRS radio.
The SR10 adapter connects to most popular radios via a short cable unique to each brand, so check Sena’s list to make sure they offer one for the radio you want to use. As an added bonus, the SR10 has two AUX ports that enable you to connect non-Bluetooth devices such as radar detector, GPS navigation and non-BT MP3 player but I didn’t try that for this review.
Once all your devices are charged up the SR10 (which utilizes a micro-USB cable – my favorite for simplicity’s sake) pairs easily with the headset with just a few key presses. One important caveat to note here is that the SR10 must pair with a BT channel that supports Hand-Free Profile (HFP) on the your headset. All headsets have at least on HFP channel but that is usually paired to the phone. Some headsets, like the BT Next, have more than one channel supporting HFP and that is a key feature, allowing the two-way radio to coexist with the phone and music player. If your headset only has one HFP channel you may pair it with the SR10 then pair your phone to the SR10 as well. I tried this and it worked but I could not use the music player built into my phone. There are often trade-offs to be made in the world of BT.
For this review my buddy Rick and I each placed a radio and adapter in our tank bag. The SR10 offers VOX (voice-actuated talk) but also has a wired PTT switch included. During our initial testing we found that the VOX worked well but usually required several loud spoken words to switch over so we opted to use the PTT buttons. We zipped our tank bags to allow the antenna to peek out and the PTT cable was routed to the left handgrip and attached with the included rubber strap.
We liked the ease of use with the PTT button which allows quick back-and-forth conversations. The GXT1000 produces a soft beep upon releasing g the PTT button and advises others that you have closed the connection. Better than having to say “over” each time you end a sentence.
Priorities are important in BT as they instruct the headset as to what devices override others. In this case, when receiving from the other rider, the headset quieted the FM radio or music player to allow us to hear the other rider.
As with all BT and other moto devices, my advice is to set them up, test and get acclimated to them before going near your bike. Once we were done with that we rode the freeways for 10 miles to some hilly back roads. Operation was easy and I let Rick head out while I waited near the on-ramp. At a range of about a mile or more I started to lose him even though the radios were set in high-power mode. This is still a far greater range than the intercom but illustrates the limitations of UHF radios. In our canyon segment of the test, range was reduced further but was always better than the intercoms.
The GXT1000 is rated to 36 miles range but Midland advises that this is greatly affected by the surroundings and we proved that. I chose this FRS/GMRS static-free UHF radio because of the relative quiet as compared to CB radios.
Range can be improved by mounting the radios higher up on the bike or by buying a radio with a connector to a better, permanently mounted antenna. CB, on the other hand, while producing more audible noise, is affected less by terrain due to the characteristics of the frequencies in which it operates.
When asked about range limitations, Midland’s Emily Frame replied, “While they (FRS/GMRS radios) do have the capability to be used with the BTs, we find this is not our customer’s first choice. Our CBs are made more for use in vehicles, such as trucks, and are great for communication on the road.” Live and learn.
Our BT to two-way test was, everything considered, a success. We proved that one does not need a degree in electrical engineering to make this technology work for you. I am going to try to get my hands on a pair of CB radios and, when I do, I will do another review, hopefully, extolling their virtue.
Look for more reviews on BT headsets and gadgets in the coming weeks with Uclear’s HBC200 Force headset with boom-less microphone technology scheduled for my next review.