Sena BlueTooth vs. StarCom 1

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


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.


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:


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:


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.

Garmin Zumo is the shizzle.


As indicated, I’m participating in a rally this weekend. Because my right hand man at work will also be unavailable (out of town) this causes a small dilemma. We need to be reachable, because it seems that Murphy always shows up when we go somewhere together.

Previously I had the Scala-Rider Bluetooth headset that I used so that I could be reachable. I don’t like to ride and talk on the cell phone, there’s already enough going on that I just don’t like it, but it is hands free so that’s a plus.

Last fall I migrated/upgraded my onboard entertainment to a StarCom1 intercom with iPod music input, as well as Radar (when needed) and the GPS audio. This system just rocks. For the rally my GPS was getting a bit dated. The Garmin Quest 1 is fine, except that it’s internal storage for maps isn’t all that large. I couldn’t load enough maps to potentially cover the rally area. I lucked into a Quest2 which holds all the maps for the US, but man is it slow.

That brings me to the Zumo. This brilliant GPS is designed for bikers. It’s designed for gloved touch screen use, can interface with XM, and has bluetooth.

After reading a few reviews on the FJR board, and doing a little digging it became apparent that this was the way to go. This baby puts me back into a situation to be reachable on the bike as well as upgrades my GPS considerably.

The unit is mounted on a Tech Mount Stem Mount, audio and mic cables are plugged in to the StarCom1. Audio isn’t ‘perfect’ but similar to most of the bluetooth head sets I’ve used with the Treo 700p which has a crappy bluetooth implementation anyway.

With this I have crazy fast and accurate GPS, 2gb of mp3s for it to play (as well as my iPod pumped into the StarCom1), and now bluetooth connectivity for my phone. I mounted everything tonight (had to wait on cables for the StarCom1) and it works great!.


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One other thing, the Zumo motorcycle mount is brilliant. It’s water tight, and has this crazy magnetic cover to cover the contacts with the Zumo is out of the mount.

To keep your Zumo, there’s a ‘security’ screw that you screw in. The basically keeps the mount from releasing your Zumo from the bike. It’s just a funky screw with a funky screw driver. You’re supposed to mount this on your key ring, but the brilliant minds at Garmin didn’t realize that they put the hole on the wrong end. Basically the screw driver stayed attached to your keys which made it darn near impossible to use. (It’s a really tiny screw).

I fixed that by drilling an identical hole in the cap and attaching that to the key chain. We’re good now.

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