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MD Product Review: Sena SMH10R

Riding distractions of any type may not be your thing, and we support that fully! Obey all local laws when riding. For those of us who do choose to ride with communication/audio entertainment options, we’ve reviewed this device.

Does your head feel heavy when you ride? Well, you may not just be tired. It might not be because your helmet isn’t carbon-fiber. It could be you’ve got too much stuff attached to your lid—camera, Bluetooth headset, Mohawk—and need to lighten your load.

Sena has just the thing. It’s the new SMH10R Bluetooth 3.0 headset, and I have to admit I’m impressed with the engineering that’s gone into this product. It’s compact, light and almost as easy to use as Sena’s other headsets.

Sena pulled out all the stops to get this little guy as small, light and slim as possible. It’s intended for riders who want the lowest-profile headset possible, and it delivers. The control unit is miniscule and incredibly light (less than an ounce), as the battery is in a separate module. The battle to shave precious grams didn’t end there—mounting is by Velcro or double-sided tape, saving the ounce or more a clamp adds to your head (new mounting kits are $7 from Sena). The unit also substitutes a more traditional three-button setup for Sena’s  thumbwheel control, saving more weight and possibly adding some durability and waterproofing as well.

Functionally, the headset is similar to other Sena products, including the SMH10 and SMH5 I tested last year. It uses the latest Bluetooth 3.0 profile and supports the AVRPC profile for audio devices—this means you can use play, pause, play next track and replay last track with the push of a button, whatever the device. You can also press a button and call up your phone’s audio command menu (AKA Siri for iPhone people, or ‘hey, you’ for Android-ers). Battery life is about 75 percent of the standard SMH10′s 8 hours of talk time and a week of stand-by (the same as the SMH5), but the intercom’s range and capability is the same—900 meters and you can pair with three other riders. Other features include a voice-prompted setup menu, multiple device functionality and conference call capability. One glaring omission is an FM tuner.

Installation is fairly easy. Sena provides the user with double-sided tape and Velcro to stick on the battery and control unit. The rest of the stuff gets hidden under the helmet linings and pads. The microphone is a very tiny thing that Velcros to the inside of your chinbar (a boom mic is also included) and the speakers, I noticed, are bigger diameter than the ones I got with the SMH5. Once installed, the system adds less than four ounces to your helmet. Better yet, since the control unit and battery are separate, the weight is better distributed on your head. One frustration with fitment: the battery is curved and fits best right over the DOT sticker on the back of my HJC RPHA 10, so I had to offset mount it to make sure I could stay legal in California.

Charging is by USB port. You can just plug the cord into the back of the control unit—no need to remove it from the helmet to charge. In fact, you can actually charge while you’re riding, if you use the accessory cigarette-lighter cord ($5), oir you can carry a spare battery pack ($22) and change it out. You can also plug the unit into your computer to update firmware or set preferences.

Learning to use the 10R isn’t as easy as it was with the 5—the 5′s Jog wheel was easy to figure out and offered better positive feedback (although was more prone to accidental inputs, especially when adjusting my visor or helmet vents). The three small buttons on the 10R are workable with gloves (once you get used to their placement), but not as easy as the old wheel. I think Sena prefers you rely on voice-prompted commands, and there is an extensive voice-command menu, but that means if you talk, yell, sing or scream in your helmet, as I apparently do with embarrassing frequency, you can trigger some command functions, which is annoying.

However, it’s easy to turn off voice prompts, and you can perform all functions with the buttons if you take the time to read the manual. Siri or Android voice command is available with a three-second push of the button, although in my experience Siri has a hard time figuring out what you want if there’s too much wind noise (“Call Dirck Edge.” “Okay. I’m looking up businesses to trim your hedge. Would you like a list of phone numbers?” “No! I said CALL DIRCK EDGE!” “Okay. I’m getting you directions to the mall so you can buy an album by Percy Sledge.”).

In use, I’ve decided that the 10R’s advantages outweigh its disadvantages. Battery life is good, sound quality and microphone pickup is outstanding (as good as the other Sena and Cardo sets I’ve tired) and I’m getting used to the interface as well—and I love it’s slim, unobtrusive style. As an intercom, I have yet to try it, but it works the same as the SMH10 so it should be satisfactory for group riders and riding couples. Of the several headsets I now have lying around, it’s my go-to set.

At $219, the SMH10R is priced identically to the larger SMH10 and represents a good value in a motorcycle Bluetooth headset.

35 Comments

  1. James says:

    So Jay, looks like you weren’t doing it on purpose. Well, whatever.

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  2. Jay says:

    That’s nice. But what does it do?

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      • Jay says:

        Well, I mean is it a radio? Is it a telephone? Is it a IPOD? Is it a intercom? Is it a satalite dish? Is it a tape deck? Is it floor polish and a desert topping? What is it and what does it do? Other than having something to do with sound quality, the article doesn’t say.

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        • James says:

          Well, as it is clearly called a Sena SMH10R it’s not Shimmer now is it. You might also note that it says it doesn’t have a radio, so no radio. Also mentioned is its bluetooth capability, (no its not a desert topping either) so it will do cell calls, (telephone to you) and audio with compatible devices as stated. If your 8 track has bluetooth than you will also be able to listen to it, given eneough match packages stuffed under it. If you stoke up the fire in your cave then you will see on the stone tablet that someone etched the article on for you that at least twice the intercom is mentioned. You could also click the link to the other article on the SMH5 and G9 so thoughtfully porovided by Gabe for more info, or God forbid, actually do some research yourself. I’m hoping you are purposefully trying to sound like an idiot, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

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          • Jay says:

            Hey, I didn’t write the article. Why would I go do research to find out what the product was that an article reviewing a product was supposed to tell me, without having to guess at it.
            What’s it to you if live in cave or mansion? Are only the elites supposed to read this website?
            You’re an idiot.

  3. FreeRider says:

    I have been using a Cardo G9 for over a year. It’s amazing and very safe. Looking down to check your instrument gauge is more distracting and dangerous than using your left hand to push a single button to use voice activation to play music or tell your riding partner your pulling over up ahead for gas….you never have to take your eyes of the road and your hand is off the handle bar for three seconds. No more distracting than flipping your visor up or down.

    For Azi…I wear ear plugs and crank up the volume. The clarity & tone is actually better than when not wearing earplugs, which results in wind noise and a tin high treble like tone. The G9 is fantastic.

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  4. Brian says:

    Hearing the sound of your engine is good music for maybe 30 mins, after that it is just annoying. My mind wanders, I hear all king of noises that are normal but it has me thinking if the valves need to be checked? do I need a tune up? is my chain out of adjustment Etc? So on my initial 1-2 miles I keep the speakers off to make sure I dont miss any mechanical problem with the bike after that I listen to music or talk radio. Just like when you drive it maintains a sense of relaxation on those long trips. It also allows me to use GPS with voice control, see who’s calling me so I can screen my calls. I can also communicate with a passenger and with a group if paired up. I have noticed that I stick to the speed limit with relaxing music, but I speed up to hard rock or other fast paced music, Who else does that?

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  5. Gronde says:

    I’ve been riding safe for 35 years….will this device make me a safer rider? Will this device make me more attentive on what’s going on around me? Will it enhance my commute or just provide another distraction that will make me a squishy goo on the bumper of the car ahead of me when I’m listening intently to Dr. Laura in city traffic? I think that for some folks that need additional stimulation while riding, go ahead and install it, it’s a free country. I’m guess I’m a crusty old f@rt that enjoys not being bothered with music, phone calls or idiotic conversations while riding my bike.

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    • Dino says:

      I agree, I am in a similar position. I have gotten along fine all these years without even a radio on the bike blasting through speakers. Sometimes, I need to stay “available” with the cell phone, but I want to ride the bike. That would be the time I would like something like this, and I have thought about it.
      It is a free country, and it is nice to have an option such as this. I would hope people just start using their cell phone on the bike like most do in their cars! It has been shown that Hands-Free devices are only slightly less distracting than holding the phone. It’s not what you are doing with your hands, as much as what your brain is doing (talking on the phone, instead of looking for dangers on the road)!

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    • motobell says:

      go back into your cave – ok i agree with distractions of calling may be too much for some us. I have wired intercom when I ride 2up with my wife and I am looking to purchase purely for the reasons of being to converse with her in the back seat – not music, not phone calls…just intercom and getting gps directions piped to my headset and not to fumble with anything else live.

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    • Mr.Mike says:

      On a cross-country, trip being able to listen to Patrick O’Brian sea tales on I40 in Oklahoma made the difference between staying engaged and dozing off.

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  6. Azi says:

    I am curious about helmet headphones but was wondering how people find them when touring at highway speeds. I find the wind noise from riding at these speeds quite intrusive (regardless of helmet model) and always use earplugs. Won’t that mean I have to ride without earplugs when using these devices?

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    • MGNorge says:

      I thought of that too when considering them. But several reviews I read mentioned that the testers wore earplugs also. The UClear models we have easily adjust their volume as ambient noise increases making it easy to hear over wind noise. So while the ride remains close to silent with good earplugs the audio comes across as if someone is softly speaking to you. I was just thinking of some of the ride review videos here that Dirck has done, the Norge 8V in particular. Listening to him speak while riding in the video is pretty much the way it is for me.

      http://www.motorcycledaily.com/2012/12/2011-moto-guzzi-norge-gt-8v-review/

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    • James says:

      You can still wear your ear plugs, of course if you havn’t been you wouldn’t need them, you would be deaf. I always wear mine. The G9 I use will crank up and lower the volume as speed (noise) varies, or you can turn that feature off and set it yourself. I imagine the Sena or any other quality unit will do the same. I’ve had no problems talking with my wife (on her own ride) at any speed up to stupid. I wear a modular (flip face) HJC.

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    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I use earplugs and find that you can actually hear the speakers better WITH them.

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  7. Mr.Mike says:

    My wife and I use a pair of Sena SMH5 units to chat while we ride two-up. I find it makes the ride much safer because I can easily communicate when I’m about to make an otherwise unexpected maneuver and we can plan our route or intended stops as we go. No more tapping on shoulders, turning back, yelling over the wind, and waving arms to communicate – much safer and makes the experience of riding two-up much more enjoyable.

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  8. Gary says:

    Ahhhh, yes … the never-ending debate over what is safe, what ain’t, and who gets to decide. What started with a simple review of a new BT intercom is evolving into a stern lecture. I don’t mind being lectured so long as you don’t care about being ignored.

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  9. Bill says:

    As the song goes, better shop around:

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  10. Jeremy in TX says:

    While I never want the distraction of a ringtone or phone conversation, I enjoy some good music, particularly on a lonely back road. Helps me focus on the ride and keeps my mind from wandering. Sometimes, I just want to hear the wind and engine, too, which is when the “off” button comes in handy.

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  11. RH says:

    I never wanted a headset, but after trying it once, I’m sold. For long-distance riding, having some music really helps me with fatigue and alertness. And being able to communicate with other riders in the group cuts down a lot of hand-waving and having to pull over and discuss things…

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  12. Ricardo says:

    Thank you very much but when I ride I like to hear the rumble of the engine, the revs going up or down, the gear changes and the smells, scenery and sounds of my souroundings, it is more pleasent for me to hear music in my house or car and talk to people in person. Too much texting and phone these days….

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  13. MGNorge says:

    Having ridden for many years I had been just fine without the added distractions of a communicator. Going through the gears, listening to the engine sing its song seemed to blend with my own personal thoughts and somehow melted concerns away. We all know that riding is medicinal. Well, my wife and I, along with a riding couple of ours, will be embarking on a long trip this summer and I just knew my wife would prefer being able to address me verbally rather than pointing and jestering, plus being able to talk to the other gal while on the way and sharing the experience as it happens would appeal. So off I went to looking over what’s out there. Having flip-up helmets seemed to present some added issues with the microphone booms, not that it couldn’t be dealt with. Then I saw a review, go to: http://www.webbikeworld.com/motorcycle-intercoms/ and have a read. To cut to the chase, we went with the UClear Boomless HBC 200 headsets, the microphones being at the leading edge of both speakers. How it works is interesting but that it does is what makes it different from having a boom with this kind of helmet.They work very well and I have to say that riding with some music streaming from Pandora, etc. is pleasant and could make a long trip better. Around town I have used voice navigation from my Blackberry and it automatically changes the volume depending on ambient noise. Do I use it all the time..No, because I like to hear the motorcycle below me. Do I think they are or can be too much of a distraction..maybe? But in many ways no different than listening to music in the car. Now if my wife was phoning me with a list of groceries to pick up on my way home..that would be a distraction! :(

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  14. motoguru. says:

    I don’t answer my phone when I’m not on my bike, so why would I answer when I’m on it? That being said, I ride all over this beautiful country of ours for work. I own a SENA SMH10 and a Scala G9 and have a mount for one or the other on all of my helmets. I CAN’T LIVE W/O MY MUSIC WHEN OUT ON THE OPEN ROAD! :)

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  15. Allworld says:

    I am not one for using these types of devises, I do agree there are benefits. My biggest complaint is that in order to use them within a group, everyone has to have a device by the same manufacture. If all brands could be paired together, then it would be a better investment and more useful.

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    • MGNorge says:

      You are correct and that’s the major problem with groups of riders. I have read of whole riding groups doing a group buy so that they all stay compatible. Too bad isn’t it?

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  16. Richard says:

    Knowing that my family can contact me in an emergency makes me LESS distracted while riding with a headset.

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  17. Tom R says:

    I’m with the no-electronics-in-the-helmet crowd. Not only do I want as few distractions as possible, the essesntial sound elements of motorcycling-the engine, exhaust, tires, wind-are far more attractive than even the BEST opera, jazz, rock…or ringtones.

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  18. James says:

    I’ve been using intercoms since the mid-80s when I bought a wired rider/passenger one for two up touring with my wife. We loved it, no more screaming at each other while at speed. In unfamiliar city’s she would spread the map out on my back and give me directions and if I got snarky she would just turn it off and let me fend for myself. As the years (and miles) have rolled by and she now has her own bikes we have gone through several different intercom systems since that first wired Nady. When we dual sport it is very handy is countless ways, from “look at the grizzly in the field on the left “to “I’ll do the water crossing first, oh-oh look out for the big rock I just hit, stay more to the left” or “look out for the redneck in the pickup on the wrong side of the road he almost got me”. In dusty areas you can space out and still know the other rider is still plugging along. On the street when looking for hotels, being able to talk, even when stopped, is great. Warning her of sand, or other debris on a corner is a huge plus, and my favorite is “RADAR AHEAD!!” On a recent trip to Spain and Portugal, being able to talk while traveling in a foreign country made the whole trip twice as good. Our latest unit is the Cardo G9 and we love it, yea it has some quirks but hey, don’t we all. We leave it on all the time so there is no delay when we need it and the range seems to be the full mile they claim. I don’t feel that there are any down sides, I don’t buy the distraction thing as we are both doing the same thing at the same time at the same place. If I didn’t have a partner on a bike I probably wouldn’t bother with one, but then again, they are intercoms, which to me is their primary function.

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  19. Butch says:

    My bike is the only place I find peace from the onslaught of calls, emails and texts. No thank you to a speaker in my helmet.

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  20. EGS says:

    Basic rule of life: Responsible people will act (and ride) responsibly, those who aren’t, won’t.

    I use a BT headset in my helmet to know when someone is calling me. If the conversation isn’t completed with a single word answer, I pull off the road to have the conversation. The headset also saves me the step of having to remove my helmet to have that conversation.

    I work for a wireless communications company. There are signs posted all over the garage and on our corporate email sight to ‘put the phone down’ and ‘illegal to use hand held mobile devices while driving’. We even give headsets away. That said, easily 50% of drivers are leaving the building with one hand pressing a phone to their head.

    Many people are just lazy, selfish and irresponsible. Can’t argue or legislate it away. May Darwin take good care of them.

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  21. ABQ says:

    Will your head feel heavy when you die? Well, you may not just be tired. It might not be because your helmet isn’t carbon-fiber. It may be because the culture in you area discourages the use of helmets entirely. Whether or not you load your helmet with distracting devices that take your focus off the road. Just get a good helmet without the devices, and wear it.

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