- Reflective Motorcycle Jackets: Are They Safe? - June 1, 2023
- Storing a Motorcycle Jacket Without Ruining It - May 28, 2023
- Cheap and Easy Fixes for Motorcycle Jacket Zippers, Snaps, Tears and Holes - May 26, 2023
Have you seen the prices on a Bluetooth headset lately?
As much as I love to laugh at my friends for trying to touch knees on a Honda Click, I’m not willing to sell a kidney for that right.
Sena and Cardo seem to think motorcyclists are made of money. Or maybe they realize whenever we do find money laying around, we spend it on our bikes!
I’m here to bring you the affordable Bluetooth headsets and intercoms. Not the crappy knockoffs that just don’t work, but the reliable equipment that just won’t bankrupt you.
Do me a favor and spend what you save on a better helmet. That is the best insurance policy against a nasty hospital bill.
2023 Holiday Gifts for Riders Guide
Ever wondered what your favorite motorcycle rider actually wants? Here’s our guide, compiled by real riders to help you this holiday season. Let Keanu Reeves show you around the perfect garage…
To research for this article I spoke to my penny-pinching friends about the intercoms they’ve tried and loved that were priced under $200. Here’s what I have for you:
- Affordable headsets from the big two: Sena and Cardo
- Quality Bluetooth headsets from lesser-known brands
- High End Bluetooth headsets (for big groups)
You decide which is best for you based on battery life, number of intercom participants, sound quality, and cost.
- Best Budget Bluetooth Headsets from Sena and Cardo
- Lesser Known Budget Bluetooth Units That Don’t Suck
- Pushing the Budget for a Motorcycle Headset
- Frequently Asked Questions
Best Budget Bluetooth Headsets from Sena and Cardo
The absolute cheapest headset is your own voice, yelling in to the void. These picks from Sena and Cardo aren’t as cheap as that, but they’re close. And importantly, they’re actually reliable. I personally own a Cardo Spirit, and I have a few friends with the 5S who have used it for years without issue.
Music will not sound like a concert hall with these. Intercom will not reach to the moon and back. However, you’ll get the basics covered: decent sound quality, easy controls, and reliability.
Budget Bluetooth Headset from Sena: The 5S
Sena’s high end headsets sell for over $350. Who can afford that?
Thankfully their low end 5S headset doesn’t suck and can be had for around $150. While it’s not my favorite, some riders I know prefer it to a Cardo unit. I’ll get in to why down below.
The Sena 5S is basic, but still packs a lot of capability. You’ll be able to chat with one other rider or passenger up to 0.4 miles (700 meters) away.
Did you spend too much upgrading your bike, and now only one rider in your gang can keep up with you? This is the right headset for you.
You get Bluetooth v5 in this puppy, which is usually reserved for high end headsets. That means this small device gets 7 hours of battery life and can connect to any other Bluetooth headset. You can also charge this unit while in use which is amazing, and the charging port uses USB-C which is super common.
You also get an LCD screen on this unit. If you’ve ever set up a motorcycle Bluetooth unit, you know how annoying it is to not have a screen. It’s like hunting around in the dark for car keys. Almost no Bluetooth headsets come with a screen, so that’s a pretty nice feature.
That screen is one reason why a few of my friends prefer the 5S over every other headset on the market.
The second reason my friends love this headset? The audio quality punches above its weight. The unit is packed with 40mm speakers, which are right on with high end kits from both Cardo and Sena.
Controls are simple with a nice jog dial. You get voice controls too, however you do need to hit that red button on the back to activate them. The Cardo Spirit has voice activated commands! On the plus side, the 5S works with Sena brand controllers.
Two mics come in the box – a wired one and a boom for modulars and open face helmets. The clamp mic also makes it easy to attach this unit to a half helmet.
The 5S is a solid choice if you regularly ride with one person – whether that’s a passenger or another rider. You’ll get solid sound quality and a reliable intercom connection.
I’ll cover the Cardo Spirit next, which is my favorite budget Bluetooth headset.
Budget Cardo Bluetooth Headset: Cardo Spirit
Cardo might be less well-known than Sena in the Bluetooth headset game. If you ask me, they know the customers better.
Read the full comparison between Cardo and Sena here.
One simple reason I think Cardo gets us? All their units are fully waterproof. Including the cheap and simple Cardo Spirit.
First off, the Spirit is 78% CHEAPER than the Sena 5S, despite having similar features.
You get Bluetooth v5.2 (just had to stick it to Sena’s v5.0) that syncs up quick to your phone and other units. Range is a tad less than the 5S at just 0.25 miles (400 meters). I use this unit regularly, and as long as you’re within eyesight of the other rider the intercom never drops.
You can only connect to one other rider or passenger, just like the 5S. Battery life is improved over the 5S at 10 hours. You can also charge the unit while you’re using it. Charger is USB-C, super common.
Instead of the jog dial on the 5S, you get a couple simple buttons. Up and down for volume, rear for voice commands (“Hey Siri” or “Hey Google” work too), forward to skip song or pick up a call.
The only downside of this unit is the speaker quality. With 32mm drivers, they don’t output much bass and get tinny at high volumes. You can pick up a Spirit HD unit with 40mm speakers to put this on par with the Sena 5S. The HD unit is still cheaper than the Sena 5S.
The Cardo Spirit is also a Staff Pick at Revzilla. Pick it up at the links below:
Cardo Spirit (32mm Speakers) – cheapest
Cardo Spirit HD (40mm Speakers) – better sound
PRO TIP: Upgrade the sound quality SIGNIFICANTLY with the 45mm JBL speakers from Cardo. Sounds like a movie theatre in my helmet now.
Lesser Known Budget Bluetooth Units That Don’t Suck
Sena and Cardo are the top dogs of motorcycle intercoms. But you pay top dollar to get the top dog. And some of us just don’t have that money to spend.
Well my friends and I could fill a two-car garage with the number of flimsy, fake, cheap Bluetooth units we’ve tried. Here are two that have stood the test of time.
Yes, the name sounds like a communicator for Wookies. No, you won’t sound like a Wookie over its intercom.
With a price around a third of the Sena 5S, the THOKWOK BT-S3 still delivers a great communicator.
With Bluetooth 4.0 you can do everything you can with the Cardo Spirit and Sena 5S: pair to a phone and GPS, and chat with other riders. This unit supports 3-way intercom with any brand devices, over a claimed half a mile.
Take the manufacturer’s numbers with a grain of salt though – a buddy of mine gets around 0.25 miles out of this unit before the intercom breaks up. Sound quality is good at city speeds. However, this unit has the same problem as the Cardo Spirit. Small speakers mean the sound distorts once you hit higher speeds and higher volume level.
The small, flush buttons are also hard to feel with a gloved hand – so you might hit the wrong button from time to time. Both the Sena 5S and Cardo Spirit don’t have this problem.
Battery life is decent at 8-9 hours, and you get a warning when the battery is low.
In the box you get a boom mic, screw-on mount and sticky mount.
For music while riding in a city or with a very quiet helmet, the BT-S3 is a great choice to save some cash.
Fodsports M1-S Pro
The M1-S Pro is for you if you ride with a big group but don’t want to spend $250+ on an intercom unit. The highlight of the M1-S Pro is that it supports 8 riders over intercom.
That’s FOUR TIMES what the more expensive Cardo Spirit and Sena 5S can support. It’s almost like Cardo and Sena are purposefully holding back a bigger group intercom from their cheaper units to force you to buy the more expensive ones…
The Fodsports M1-S Pro packs 40mm speakers as well for loud bass and clear sound at high volume. If you’ve tried the ones included in Sena’s 5S or the Cardo Spirit HD, you know they’re not quite as good. However, they’re much better than Cardo’s 32mm speakers at both volume and clarity.
The M1-S connects to all brands of Bluetooth headsets. How about range? Fodsports claims a whopping 1.24 miles, but in reality you’re looking at more like a quarter or half mile across clear terrain.
Battery life is great at around 10-12 hours, given this unit has a larger than average 900mAh battery. One downside is the charging cord is bespoke – if you lose it, you’ll need to replace it with another one from Fodsports. Dumb decision by the company if you ask me.
You get both a wired mic and a boom mic in the box, but only one mount: a clamp.
The unit is also waterproof, though I don’t know anyone that’s ridden through a storm with it. Not sure how far I’d trust the M1-S to go, since build quality is often the first thing to go when cutting costs!
That said, this unit is fantastic if you ride in a big group and don’t want to spend $250+ on a similarly capable unit from Sena or Cardo.
Pushing the Budget for a Motorcycle Headset
The cheaper end of Bluetooth motorcycle headsets does have a reasonable range of functionality and there are quite a few to choose from. However, sometimes you want motorcycle gear with all the bells and whistles and you’ve got the budget to accommodate that.
At the top-end of Sena Bluetooth kits is the 50S. The features include:
- Bluetooth 5.0 with a range of 1.2 miles
- Connect with up to 24 other Sena Bluetooth kits for intercom when out riding, or connect with unlimited kits that are Mesh 2.0 enabled in an 8 kilometer range with at least six riders.
- A boom mic and a wired mic in the box, so it should work for any motorcycle helmet you have.
- Battery life for music of up to 14 hours or around nine hours if you’re using the Mesh 2.0 tech.
- HD speakers with good bass and volume to listen to music on a ride.
- Hands free use – you can use voice commands with Siri or Google Assistant
Best of all, Sena recently put Harman Kardon speakers in this unit. Might as well be a home theatre in your helmet with the Sena 50S.
For audiophiles or those riding with big groups of people, this is a great motorcycle Bluetooth headset. IF you’ve got the cash to spend.
It’s a Staff Pick on Revzilla as well.
Cardo Packtalk Edge
The top end of the Cardo line of Bluetooth headsets is the Cardo Packtalk Edge. With this headset you get:
- Bluetooth 4.1 with a range of up to 1 mile or 1,600 meters with connectivity for up to 15 riders (and private chat with just 1 member)
- Mesh 5.1 technology that should connect to any good brand of motorcycle comms kit.
- A wired and boom mic so it should work no matter your helmet style.
- Talk time of up to 13 hours.
- Voice commands with “Hey Cardo”
- With 40mm JBL speakers, the sound quality and audio output at bass, mid, and high levels are outstanding, providing sound almost as impressive as the 45mm set!
- Waterproof and dustproof. Great for off-road adventures.
- Easy magnetic mount
Additionally, we evaluated the Packtalk Bold and Packtalk Slim, which are very similar and slightly older models, and rated them as the best communicators for group rides. Given their exceptional performance in this category, it’s worth noting that the PackTalk Edge, being a newer model, is also an excellent choice for group rides.
This unit will last a whole day of riding and connect to your whole group.
Cardo also eliminated the hideous antenna they put on older models, with no affect on signal strength. No more looking like the 1920s idea of what the 2020s would look like.
You get what you pay for with the Edge: premium sound, effortless connection with a big group, and a durable device. If you have the money to spend, you can’t go wrong here.
UCLEAR Motion Infinity
While they don’t make anything that can fit in the budget end of the best Bluetooth headsets, UCLEAR do make good, top-end helmet communication products. The Motion Infinity comes with:
- Bluetooth 5.0 for phone connections and Mesh tech for intercom with unlimited connections between riders up to 0.75 miles (1,200 meters).
- Dual-microphone set up so you don’t need a boom mic.
- A battery with up to 18 hours of talk time, depending how you use it.
- Motion sensors so you can make hand gestures to control the device – no fiddling with buttons.
- USAFE crash detection to communicate to your fellow riders if you’ve gone down.
This kit really is top-of-the-line, with all the features of the best Sena and Cardo units. The reviews are a bit patchy with issues in build quality – “2 of the buttons broke off within the first month” and “Had to make 2 warranty claims, one for the speakers being defective, the other for the top button tearing off” are just two worth noting (8).
If safety is your top priority, you might want to go with UCLEAR given its innovative crash-detection system.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the best budget bluetooth headset for a motorcycle?
The best budget bluetooth headset for a motorcycle depends on your needs. For the basic functions of calls, listening to music from your phone or through FM radio, getting GPS directions, and two-way Bluetooth intercom, the Sena 5S is best. The Fodsport MS1 Pro offers a longer battery life, more riders through intercom and a long battery life, but you don’t get the support of big-brand customer service.
What is motorcycle intercom?
Motorcycle intercom is technology that lets motorcycle riders communicate wirelessly. It usually works through Bluetooth or Mesh technology, allowing a rider to push a button on a kit installed on their helmet and talk to one or more riders as they drive.
Can I buy a helmet with Bluetooth integrated?
Yes, there are a range of motorcycle helmets with Bluetooth integrated. You may find more Bluetooth-integrated helmets by Sena, expanding your options even further. However, our top pick among the Bluetooth-integrated helmets is the Sena Momentum EVO.
How do Bluetooth motorcycle helmets work?
Bluetooth motorcycle helmets work by connecting a device inside the helmet with a mobile phone, GPS device, or another Bluetooth helmet. Using this technology, music, phone calls, FM radio, and directions are sent to speakers inside the helmet and a mic inside the helmet picks up your voice to enable communication.
Think of it like a Bluetooth headset for taking calls or a pair of earbuds, but designed to fit snugly into your helmet.