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MD Product Review: Helmet Audio: Scala G4 Powerset

Some motorcyclists, when asked about doing the things they do in a car without giving it a second thought — like listening to some tunes or gabbing on the phone—recoil at the thought of doing those things while riding. They are wise. Those are distractions … distractions that can have much more serious repercussions than they would in a car. If you are in that group, we salute you. 

The rest of us think (maybe speciously) we can handle the mild distraction of listening to audio or the moderate distraction of maintaining a two-way phone or intercom conversation. To do that, there are three basic ways to wire your helmet for sound. You can use speakers and a microphone hard-wired into your helmet, you can use earbuds or earplug speakers, or you can try one of the many Bluetooth headsets on the market today.  I like BT sets because you can easily switch from bike to bike and not risk damaging your hearing with earbuds, which pipe very loud sound right into your eardrums. 

Speakers need to be positioned exactly over the ear canal. Luckily, the slim design and Velcro backing makes it easy to do.

I’ve tried a half-dozen Bluetooth headsets, and they all worked about the same — unsatisfactorily. That is because of two things; first, I ride a little faster than the flow of traffic in California, a rate of travel that may or may not be in excess of the 70 mph maximum speed limit in the Golden State. Second, to preserve my hearing (which is perfect after 22 years of riding, thanks very much) I wear earplugs. That means most Bluetooth systems sound like a tinny murmuring in my ears at freeway speeds unless I take the earplugs out and ride under 60 mph. So the BT sets are of little value unless I’m just running errands around town.

That’s what I was expecting when Cardo Systems sent me its latest product, the Scala Rider G4 Powerset. It’s an incredibly powerful bit of hardware, as it has a Bluetooth radio, an FM radio and a two-way intercom system. Included in the kit are two headsets (paired at the factory), all the mounting hardware you need, instructions and two chargers. It’s pretty light at just four ounces, and attaches to your helmet in minutes. Battery life is a claimed 13 hours of talk time and a week of standby. It’s fully charged in three hours, and you can use a cigarette lighter or USB port to juice it up.

Once you have it mounted and charged, you have to figure out how to use it, and that’s one of the G4’s weaknesses. It’s not as intuitive as some other products, and some of the buttons don’t deliver the solid feel and positive feedback you need for this kind of thing. My advice is to practice using it off the motorcycle for a while until you really figure it out.

The boom mike is designed for open-face or modulars, but it doesn't intrude too much in full-face helmets.

Once you do, you’ll discover a blizzard of functionality. It paired quickly and easily with my iPhone 4 (the G4 is set up for the A2DP/AVRCP protocol, which means you can use voice dialing, stream audio and perform other functions from your smart phone). The paired units work as soon as they sense they’re in range of each other, and the range is impressive—Cardo claims a full mile, though I didn’t really test it. A half mile is no problem, though. It will also pair with Bluetooth-equipped devices like a radar detector or GPS unit and you can even hold a three-way conference call with a person on a the phone and the person using a paired headset. Or you can pair it to two more headsets for a four-way conversation. And get this—if you see a cute girl (or guy) ride by with a G4, you can push a button and start talking to them. Everything mutes for phone or intercom conversations.

But the best part of the G4 is its audio capabilities. It’s equipped with automatic gain control, VOX (voice activation) and outstanding noise cancellation so that even with earplugs, going hmm-hmm mph on the freeway, on a naked bike, I could hear both podcasts (yes, I am an NPR nerd) and incoming phone calls with amazing clarity. There’s a caveat to this: the slim-fitting speaker must be placed so their centers are exactly over your ear canals, and the microphone must be right in front of your lips (both a boom version for open-face and smaller wired mic for full-faces are available, though I can wear the boom mic with all my full-facers) or it will seem just as crappy as lesser BT headsets. However, if you do get it right it’s like that scene in The Miracle Worker when young Helen Keller realizes there’s a whole new world out there to explore.

It’s not perfect. It is hard to figure out how to use, the FM radio isn’t the best, and I’ve had limited success with voice dialing (“Call Dirck Edge!” “Calling Eric Hedge.” “No, dammit! I said Dirck Edge!” “Calling Nostad Ismedridge.” “I will kill you!” “Calling Ira Pillview.”). But I’ve been able to have phone conversations at high speeds, and the callers actually don’t know I’m riding a motorcycle. Cardo has a solid product here, if a spendy one: the PowerSet is $490, and the solo setup is $296.

For more info head to your local motorcycle dealer or go to the Cardo website.

Flip-up antenna increases range for intercom, doesn't do much for FM reception.

34 Comments

  1. Gerry says:

    All I want is a good intercom between myself and my passenger. I don’t want telephone or radio. We currently use an older stype Blueant Interphone that is barely adequate. Battery life is about 6 hours and sound quality above 60mph is dismal. Is there a Scala Rider model that has the good sound quality and battery life without the other bells and whistles for less money?

  2. Mark says:

    One option not mentioned is “custom” molded in-ear speakers. They used to be expensive but mine cost less than $50, and fit is perfect if done correctly. I can’t remember the company name but they advertise in Cycle World and other mags.

  3. James says:

    Gabe, when you say that the intercoms half mile range is no problem did you actually test the intercom range to a half mile yourself? I’ve read other reports that the range is actually a quarter mile max under ideal conditions (world peace,good economy?) I’ve been using intercoms for almost 30 years starting with rider/passenger wired systems and in the last decade rider/rider GMRS now that the wife has both dualsport and street rides of her own but want to move back to a duplex (no PPT button) system. I find being able to communicate with my partner invaluable especially when dualsporting through difficult terrain (ie: stay left coming out of mudhole to avoid log, or watch out for redneck in pickup on wrong side of road). I have no use for cell calling as I have a 911 only cell (but 8 bikes).

  4. Ed says:

    My friend and I got these because we hate missing stops and turns. With these we can get each others attention, pass on information, crap in the road, fast car coming up, car pulling out, missed the turn, gotta go to the bathroom, and so on. When I commute I listen to the traffic reports, avoiding accidents, always looking for the alternate route. When riding by myself, I enjoy the silence and use ear plugs all the time. I feel like they were a great investment.

  5. Marc says:

    I would like to add to my earlier comment. I commute daily on one of my bikes and the time isolated from societies noise allows me to put my day behind me and by the time I get home I am less stressed even after battling SoCal rush hour traffic. I deal with technology all day and my commute is my time alone (except for everyone aiming for me on the freeway)!

    • falcodoug says:

      Ditto to that.

      • E-Ticket says:

        + 4,333

        I like the isolation on the bike. Be it commuting, canyon-carving, or on a long trip. We are *too* connected with our modern-day world. And the alone time on the bike is the perfect solution. In fact, when I asked the wife if she wanted to try radios for long trips (she rides her own bike) – she quickly replied, “no effing way do I want to have you yammering in my ear!” So that answered that question. (grin)

        Not to mention, that the quiet helps you focus on and avoid the various things on the road that are trying to kill you. You don’t want any distractions when you dodging cages, drunks, gravel, dogs, bambis, etc…

        • Old town hick says:

          “no effing way do I want to have you yammering in my ear!”

          You wife and mine clearly know each other and share their thoughts about these things.

    • GaryF says:

      I am fairly certain the device is fitted with an on/off switch. Perfect for shutting it on/off.

      ;)

      • Marc says:

        That is true but for 300 t0 500 dollars I’ll buy a set of Spec II expansion chambers for my RD400 Daytona which sound better than anything on the radio or a phone call. The great thing about riding is all the options we have today and while I personally don’t see the need for this product I can see how others do.

  6. Ze says:

    thanks Dirck, i’m in the 1st group, not for myself!

  7. Kentucky says:

    My friends and I have the previous version of this system, with many limitations over the new version (no 3-way conversations, no audio streaming over bluetooth) and we love them, battery life is unblievable at times, so good you forget to charge it and then the battery dies on you 2 weeks later! Phone is excelent at highway speeds, the only clue people hear is the vibration of a V-twin in your voice. FM-Radio is all but useless in our version.

    As far as distraction goes, sometimes good comunication between riders is a positive thing, (Gravel, Pot Holes, etc…) so you have to way the pros and cons, but I’m sold!

  8. GaryF says:

    Gabe: nice review … one missing piece is battery life. Did you confirm their claim for in-service time?

    To those who think you don’t need intercom/music solution: all it takes is one cross-country trip with your significant other. My wife loves it and so do I.

    But the Chatterbox BT solution we currently have is $hite. We will prolly giving this one a try.

  9. Mr. Mike says:

    I’m confused. Wouldn’t earbuds block out external noise AND give you better sound quality? I used a $20 pair of close-fitting earbuds wired to my ipod that I controlled from a $30 wireless ipod controller mounted on my glove on a cross-country trip and found the whole setup more than adequate, rarely having to turn up the volume more than half-way.

    • Gabe says:

      My experience has been different Mike. I found that to hear clearly, I had to turn the volume up to past where it was comfortable, which means potential hearing damage. But many people, like you, have found this to be a good solution. I’ll be doing a story on in-ear speakers soon.

      • Mr. Mike says:

        This may have a lot to do with how well the earbuds conform to the shape of the individual’s ear canal.

        • Dave says:

          Ya, if you had to turn up the volume, you weren’t getting any isolation form outside noise. Try a pair of Etymolic Er6i earphones. They sound fantastic, and come with a wide variety of different in-ear pieces to get the best combo of comfort and noise isolation.

  10. loadedmind says:

    (“Call Dirck Edge!” “Calling Eric Hedge.” “No, dammit! I said Dirck Edge!” “Calling Nostad Ismedridge.” “I will kill you!” “Calling Ira Pillview.”).

    Man, I laughed so hard folks around me wondered what the hell was happening! 8^)

    I agree, too pricey. Seems like for most folks where we only need a way to listen to our tunes and answer the cell (to keep the nagging at a minimum) that something much cheaper could be had that’s every bit as effective. Anyone?

  11. Zedrider says:

    My wife and I use the G4 system and upgraded to it from the older Q2. Both systems are very good, but the G4 is a step above. Excellent communication, easy music streaming (both over A2DP or by the physical jack), decent radio (although out in the boonies it does lack great reception), and overall easy integration into your ride. Gabe is right, in that the buttons take some adjusting to, but after a while they become second nature. I can’t endorse this system enough.

  12. falcodoug says:

    I see no use for this. Distracted rider = dead rider. My 4 cents

  13. Bill says:

    $500 for a pair is not out of line with other products. My GF and I have been using the Camos system but they’ve reached that point at which the batteries will not hold a charge. And the importer no longer imports the IMC/Camos line, so we’re out of luck at a replacement battery. This “sounds” like a viable replacement.

  14. Tim says:

    I wish someone would make a less expensive version of these. They all seem to be on the expensive side. The only time I really need one is on cross country trips, where it can be easy to get seperated.

  15. Wendy says:

    I will confess to riding while listening on the Slab. Except for the REALLY EXPENSIVE feature of this, it looks like a viable choice. Off the slab, It is regular earplugs and full attention paid, thankyouverymuch.

  16. Mickey says:

    My wife and I use the older Scala Teamset, but only as an intercom, and it works great whether we are riding on the same bike, or separate bikes. However an intercom is all we use it for. I have no use for a radio or telephone on my motorcycle which would only subtract from the experience of riding for me. I can check my phone when I pull over to get gas or check out a vista. It will actually tell me if I missed a call, or send a message to voice mail until the next time I can check it at my convenience. (that was sarcasm for those that don’t realize it).

    However there are those that have to feel tech connected to the outside world all the time, and it’s nice that they make something that works as advertised for those individuals.

  17. RRMAN says:

    I agree with everything in this article. FM radio reception is crappy. I have almost smashed this POS with a hammer on a few occasions because of the name dial feature. It almost never gets the name right.

  18. kpaul says:

    Agree with Marc and Old town hick and others. My rides are my special time with Ruby, my bright red Ninja ZX-6R. She sings a sweet seductive song. The song is sweeter the faster she, my fine race bred thoroughbred, runs. No need for any for any thing else. :) Good review though, Gabe! ;)

  19. Marc says:

    I ride to escape all the distractions I just don’t understand the need while riding.

  20. Tom says:

    Thank you. I’ve been waiting to hear a great review for one of these BT helmet systems. Work sometimes isn’t too cool about not responding to urgent repeated calls.

  21. Old town hick says:

    While it is kinda cool that this technology is now available, I don’t think that I will ever want to use this type of “convenience”. Anymore, my riding is strictly a three-way relationship between me, my bike, and the road. It’s a fundamental reason that I still go to the expense of owning and maintaining a motorcycle. I understand that others can enjoy verbally communicating with a passenger (I never travel two-up) or riding buddy, but having another human voice in my ear would make the experience just too crowded.

    • DB says:

      Sounds good, bike + rider + road with generous scoupful of curves = Smiles.

    • Stinky says:

      That menage a trois is a good bike ride. I’ve never really wanted to converse on a bike much, But,,, Getting separated in Louisiana from my partner in crime had me wishing I had one of these. I’d sure like to be able to use these with some custom earbuds instead of speakers as I ride naked bikes and have to use earplugs to keep my hearing. Might as well be able to communicate or listen to radio or music when feasible or safe. I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to hear speakers with a flip front helmet and no fairing.