Sena BlueTooth vs. StarCom 1

OK, since 2007 I’ve had an intercom system in the bike.  StarCom1 Advanced to be exact.

AdvanceFlatF_small

It allows me and a wired passenger to talk.   The intercom part of the StarCom has always been a bit of an issue for me.  Mostly tuning it.  To get the VOX just right, so that we can talk clearly w/o wind noise holding the conversation open when not necessary.

Fortunately or unfortunately I haven’t had to use the intercom portion all that often since Claudine just doesn’t ride with me that much.   When she does they are normally short trips and not worth messing with the intercom.

That being said, I use the StarCom every day on every ride.

It is my audio interface to my GPS (Zumo 550, then 665) and it’s my entertainment center (mp3’s from the Zumo and formerly XM via the Zumo) and when appropriate Radar detector audio.

At one point it also served as my interface to the phone.  Both times, phones connected to the Zumo via Bluetooth and the Zumos hard-wired into the StarCom.

Previous to the StarCom I simply used a MixIT, to be a portable amplifier for iPod/XM and to Mix in the radar detector.

  mix-it2_sm

The Mix-IT worked well, but created a mess of wires going into the tank bag where I kept it.  When I decided I wanted an intercom I passed it on to a friend and he still uses it today.  My dad still uses one as far as I know.   (Great product).

The Starcom has a number of advantages for me:

  1. Central mounting location, on the bike.   No longer in my tank bag.
  2. One nice cable to my helmet, no mess.
  3. Intercom capability
  4. Above average volume and sound quality.

The disadvantages are:

  1. It’s not cheap, it’s not super expensive but it’s not cheap.
  2. Starcom cables don’t seem to last a long time.   The Shielded cables for Radar and phone seem to break down.   When you’re talking a $82.95 microphone/audio cable. This is a problem to have to replace it every year or so.  (Two cables actually MIC-02 and MUS-04) if you want Stereo sound, which I do.   And, no, you can’t use cheapo Radioshack cables.  You can, but you won’t be happy.
  3. Tuning the Intercom can be a pain.
  4. Headsets aren’t cheap, now about $75 per helmet.  Figure two helmets for me, one for the wife, one for the kids that equals 4 helmets/headsets.   That is cheap compare to say a J&M system.  
  5. The headsets aren’t easy to shuffle around so you need to mount it in your helmet and leave it there.
  6. Along with the cables I’ve found headsets if worn year-round tend to break down as well, usually the microphone is the first to go.

So what brings me to this review?  Well about two years ago I lost the phone/microphone  capability with my StarCom again.  It actually works if the bike isn’t running, but if it is, well the noise or interference is so bad nobody can hear you.

I replaced the headset, and the cables (again), and re-routed them to get them away from as much stuff as I could to avoid the interference.   It worked for a while but now it’s back to being fubar again. 

All other audio functions work just fine.  It’s the cable from the Zumo to the StarCom that is the issue.

So I decided to look at what else is out there.  

Back in the day before I had the Mix-IT, I did play with one of the first CARDO BT systems for motorcycles and it was pretty good.  At the time it was mono only and phone only.

After searching, the Sena Bluetooth SMH10 seems to be the most recommended at this time.    Also the idea of my riding buddy having one and being able to talk to him was attractive.   So I ordered up a pair.

I unboxed them, charged them, upgraded them to the new 4.0 firmware.

Paired up my Zumo and iPhone and went out of a test ride.

First thoughts:

1) Sound quality from this is HORRIBLE.   Streaming MP3’s from the Zumo 665 is about AM quality at best.   It’s certainly loud enough.  I ride with earplugs so it needed to be loud enough to overcome.   But even at lower volumes w/o earplugs, on a scale of 1-10 it was a 3 maybe a 4 at best.   (Versus the StarCom which I would rate an 8.5-9)

(And yes, I am painfully aware of the need to make sure the speakers are centered in the ear).

2) Phone call testing.

For the first test I used what Sena calls Case 3:

sena_case3_01

I called my wife who was happy to play along, and she said no.  This is unacceptable.  I was barely legible if at all.

Now knowing that with my windshield down, it can be quite turbulent, I stopped an put the plastic microphone mask on the front side of the mic as suggested and included in the box.

No real change in quality.

I stopped again an switched up to what Sena calls Case 2:

sena_case2_01

For this the phone call quality was better.  Wife said she’d call me and talk to me in an emergency, or take a call from me in an emergency, but no, she would not talk to me like this for 30 minutes to keep me awake.

It was not as good as the StarCom when the Starcom works.

In this configuration, MP3 streaming form the Zumo was still bad, though GPS prompts sounded pretty good.

At the end of the day I decided I listen to music 98% of the time and talk on the phone 2%.   I’m not willing to give up the music audio quality in favor of what turns out also to be a lesser phone call quality.

The wireless features and Bike-To-Bike capabilities *could* have possibly swayed me.  But even those scenarios are less than 10% of my total ride time and aren’t likely too.

So with some frustration, the Sena gets shipped back today.   

I have ordered the StarCom1 BT-02 module.  If that rectifies my cable issue, then I’ll be a happy camper.  If not then we’ll figure out what to do next.

If you have a sure-fire bike to bike system that provides great audio (with ear plug) and uses or doesn’t use the StarCom system.  Please let me know about it or how you have it set up.

5 Replies to “Sena BlueTooth vs. StarCom 1”

  1. OK, so it turns out that my buddy who talked me into the Sena in the first place was still using a first Gen unit. When he swapped out to the newer 2nd Gen unit with 4.0 software, he too experience crappy audio, and poor call quality. So here’s hoping it’s something that can get fixed with an update and I’ll be willing to try them again.

  2. OK, fastforward to now, May 2013, now that Sena has released version 4.2 of the software I’m trying this again. Having better results but not perfect. So far I’ve had to downgrade my Zumo 665 firmware from 2.9 to 2.8 to get better audio quality. iPhone based phone calls are iffy, but the intercom system is the bomb so far.

  3. Bump . . .

    Hy Matt,

    Just read over your review of the Sena Bike Comm vs Starcom1 systems.

    I’ve been using a Startcom1 Bike Intrcom since 2016 and love it. And a BikeComm System prior 10 years earlier, never used a Sena system.

    The primary reason I brought the StarCom1 System, was for it’s constant 12v power hookup, as I can be on the bike for up to 8hrs a day and the fact I could wire it into my BMW’s on board Radio/Audio system.

    After reading your review, I was a bit surprise and relieved the StarCom system sounded like the better System. Apart from a recurring helmet cable issue, I can’t fault the system, can listen to Audio at 110klm/h and take phone calls, still love it.

    Just wondering if you have had any luck in connecting up your StarCom1 to Sena systems to be able to communicate with Sena users during group rides?

    Cheers

    Grant
    http://www.facebook.com/EMFRMedic/

    1. So that blog article was really old. Since then I’ve purchased and sent back a Sena, then once they got their firmware straightened out, have moved to Sena ONLY and haven’t looked back. The wireless aspect just works. I don’t ride two-up so rider to passenger intercom isn’t of interest to me anymore, though I have the Sena 2 Pack. I use it for Phone audio, Music from the phone, and pair my GPS for XM/and directions. I also pair with other riders from time to time if on a Rally or just a weekend ride. In 2019, you’ll probably never get me wired to the bike again. Hope that helps.

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