The biggest problem with many Bluetooth helmet intercoms is the poor quality of sound, but the new Sena 50R and 50S raise the bar on sound quality to a new level.
I’ve reviewed many intercom systems over the years and my go-to unit has been the Sena 20S for reliability and quality.
But my new favourite is the 50R slimline model that Sena Australia sent to me for review.
Sena’s new 50 series consists of the 50R and 50S which cost $545 in a single pack or $965 for a dual pack.
The main difference between the Sena 50R and 50S is that the R is slimmer and has three buttons instead of the jog dial and has slightly shorter battery life.
Its slimline look is discrete and it probably reduces drag and wind noise, but I would be lying if I said I could discern any differences.
I thought I would miss the very convenient jog dial which has long been a feature of Sena models.
However, the 50S includes an automatic volume adjustment (or “Smart volume control”) that raises and lowers the volume as ambient sound changes.
In other words, it gets louder as you go faster and drops the level when you pull up at the lights so you aren’t blasted.
Consequently, I have never had to touch the volume buttons anyway.
That means you can have subtle changes in volume or quite dramatic changes. I wouldn’t have thought this would be a significant feature, but it is.
The 50 Series will also connect to digital assistants such as Siri or Google using standard voice commands of ‘Hey Siri’ or ‘Ok Google’.
So you can use that to control volume, tracks, make and receive calls, etc, so there is no need to ever touch the controls.
Another significant update is the slimmer and therefore more comfortable speakers with more bass and 7% more volume.
Not only are the speakers slimmer, but they are bevelled so they fit even in the tightest of helmets and don’t hurt your ears which is important on a long ride.
In fact, I didn’t even need to fit the supplied foam speaker covers.
Sound quality is also greatly improved.
Many helmet intercoms sound fine when you are stationary, but when you hit about 80km/h the bass is drowned out by the wind noise.
However, these still have a full and rounded sound with plenty of bass, even at highway speeds.
They are also louder.
Now Sena don’t want to deafen riders, but they acknowledge that many riders use filtered earplugs with their intercoms.
I use the Alpine MotoSafe which filter out harmful wind noise, but allow you to still hear important sounds such as sirens, screeching braes, car horns and, of course, your music, albeit at a slightly reduce volume.
With most other helmet intercoms, I have to run them at or close to full volume when I’m wearing earplugs.
Thanks to my filtered earplugs, it’s not deafening, but it does introduce distortion at those high levels.
Since the volume of this unit is louder, I don’t have to turn it up as high so there is less distortion.
That not only makes music more enjoyable to listen to, but also conversations on the intercom and phone are clearer.
The unit comes with thick and thin speaker pads to move the speaker closer to your ears, but I found the higher volume meant I didn’t have to bother.
Another great feature is the 30% faster battery charging time and longer battery life.
The 50R is rated at 13 hours of Bluetooth talk time and eight hours of Mesh intercom use.
From dead flat it charges in a couple of hours and when fully charged the standby time is more than a day.
I’ve found I can charge it to full and a week later when I switch it on, it still says 100% battery.
I’ve used it on long trips and it has never run flat.
On one recent multi-day trip, I forgot to charge it overnight and it still operated all the next day without going flat.
The app allows you to see how much charge remains. If you do need to charge it while out on a ride, you can plug it into a USB charger on your bike.
I found it was fully charged again by the time I’d stopped and had a 20-minute coffee and toilet break.
Consequently, I no longer have “range anxiety” about my intercom.
However, this can be difficult when you’re out on the road unless you have your laptop with you.
The 50 series now comes with wifi capability allowing you to automatically download firmware updates with the special charging cable.
Just plug in the wifi charger and connect to a nearby wifi source such as your phone’s hotspot.
Mesh is an intercom software system that allows multiple riders to connect even when some riders are out of line of sight.
It’s not a system I use much, but for group rides it is very convenient and is a vital safety feature. (In fact, on one occasion, a rider behind me yelped and I knew straight away he had gone down even though I couldn’t see him.)
Critics say the Mesh software is unreliable, but Sena claim the flaws have been fixed.
I haven’t found any difficulties at all. In fact, there is less “crackling” interference from surrounding obstacles such as blind corners, trees, buildings, trucks, etc.
Sena says the intercom range s up to 2km in open terrain, which is about right by my tests.
I haven’t tested its full capacities with a “virtually limitless” number of riders in Open Mesh and 24 riders in Group Mesh intercom. (I don’t have that many friends!)
However, I have no reason to disbelieve Sena’s claims that Mesh extends range up to 8km (5miles) between a minimum of six riders.
Sena 50R tech specs
- Price: $545 (single pack), $965 (dual pack)
- Warranty: Two (2) year from date of purchase on manufacturers defects
- Dimensions: 97mm x 48mm x 27 mm (3.8in x 1.8in x 1.0in)
- Speakers: 40mm diameter, 7.2mm thick
- Weight: 65g (2.29 oz)
- Operating temperature: -10°C to 55°C (14°F – 131°F)
- Bluetooth: 5.0
- Working distance: up to 2 km (1.2 miles) in open terrain; Mesh extends up to 8km (5miles) between a minimum of 6 riders
- Bluetooth Intercom: 4 riders
- Open Mesh Intercom: virtually limitless (9 channels)
- Group Mesh Intercom: 24 riders
- Microphone Noise Cancellation: Advanced Noise Control
- Codec: Built-in SBC Codec
- FM Radio: 76 ~ 108MHz, 10 preset station memory
- Battery talk time: 13 hours (Bluetooth intercom), 8hrs (Mesh intercom)
- Charging time: 1 hour
- Quick Charge: 20 minutes of charging equals 6 hours Bluetooth intercom or 3.5 hours Mesh
- Battery: Lithium Polymer