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Bluetooth Headset and Car Kit Reviews

Cardo Scala Rider

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Review posted June2006 by Michael Thwaite and Jay Elmore

The Scala Rider Bluetooth Headset is unique in being the first universal Bluetooth solution aimed squarely at the motorcycle rider. Sure there have been other Bluetooth solutions but they’ve been expensive integrated affairs like the BMW BT Helmet and the MOMO/Motorola collaboration. This is the Motorcycle Bluetooth headset for the masses.

Cardo or the Cardo group of companies is a diverse bunch involved in Internet start-ups, property leasing and even electric power generation. Cardo Wireless is the home of the Scala range of Bluetooth headsets. They have the regular Scala 500 model; a traditional in-the-ear design and the “Rider”, a totally different solution.

Design

The unit is big and chunky; it has to be that way to be used by a gloved rider. It’s a waterproof design that has to withstand the rigors of motorcycle life so there’s no room for wimpy froufrou buttons and connectors here. It feels solid and tough, the connectors are large and “automotive” spec. It’s not military spec. but close enough.

Scala Rider

  1. Wind-resistant microphone also works at high-speeds
  2. Quick-release clamp to attach or detach headset within seconds
  3. Super-slim speaker fits any helmet and adjusts volume automatically
  4. Large, easy-to-reach control button
  5. Volume control buttons

The main unit has a flexible boom microphone and a separate speaker on a short wire. Like the body, these ancillary parts feel tough. The unit is intended to be clamped to the rider’s helmet with the boom microphone near the rider’s mouth and the speaker placed inside the helmet on the lining; a Velcro backing holds that in place. The main unit is held firmly in place by a screw down clamp… it doesn’t fall off. The core of the unit does release though leaving the clamp wit microphone and speaker behind to allow for home charging off of the Helmet. We tried it with a couple of helmets without issue; they’ve taken care to design something that will fit universally.

 

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Pairing

The unit paired quickly and easily with Motorola RAZR, MS Smartphone and Verizon V710 by Motorola. Controls on the unit for voice-dial, pickup/cancel and volume are reasonably placed and easy to use in motion once you’ve practiced a bit first.

On the road

The key to the units success is its focus on the very different conditions that a motorcycle headset is subjected to compared to the relatively easy ride an ear-mounted unit gets; no pun intended!

Cardo Scala Rider

For a complete on-the-road test I solicited the help of a friend of mine, Jay Elmore to put the Scala rider into an everyday 40+ mile commute in and out of New York City on his 2004 BMW R1150GS Adventure.

Jay: "The Adventure has a good sized windshield so at slower speeds (under 55), much of the wind is blocked from getting to the helmet. Over 55 and especially at Freeway speeds, a significant amount of wind gets to the helmet. For those not familiar with the Arai XD, it is a hybrid street/motocross helmet, it’s louder than regular helmets at higher speeds since much more air enters around the neck and chin, keep that in mind if you use a full-face, more snug fitting racing lid.

Testing Conditions

Tests took place in winter during my daily commute from NYC to my office over an hour away in NJ. Temps ranged from 60 degrees Fahrenheit with rain and wind to 20 degrees and perfect calm. Driving through Manhattan and the Holland Tunnel also added plenty of outside sounds (fire engines, horns honking, etc). Both thick winter gloves and fall/spring leather gloves were used.

Highway Results

Initial results were mixed. Under about 60 mph, people I spoke to over the phone could hear everything perfectly. They were shocked when I told them I was talking to them while on my bike. The voice dial worked well and the controls on the device were easy to adjust. The sound quality from the speakers was crystal clear. As speeds went over 60, the sound from the speakers remained very clear but the people I spoke to couldn’t hear me nearly as well. They said it sounded as if I were in a wind tunnel, any faster and they couldn’t understand anything I was saying at all.

After a few adjustments to the mic, positioning more calls were made and results at low speeds were identical while results at higher speeds were vastly improved. In fact, several calls made with an open throttle were plenty clear on both ends to keep the conversation going (slight distortion from the mic but the speakers were still loud and clear).

Scala Rider

At any speed, the automatic volume control in the speakers worked so well that it felt as if the volume was directly connected to the speed of the engine. A smooth clear signal was heard from a dead stop accelerating right up to the limit.

City Results

Everything worked superbly through rough NYC traffic conditions. Only nearby sirens or horns were noticeable by the person on the other end of the line.

Controls

The volume, answer and on/off controls took a little getting used to but were relatively easy to use. They were definitely more difficult to use with thick winter gloves but no more than would be expected. They were very easy to use with spring/fall gloves and I imagine would be even easier to use with summer gloves or no gloves at all. Using the controls in the city was more difficult for the sole reason that less time is available because the clutch is used so much more.

Voice Recognition

Through city driving or lower speeds the voice recognition worked as well as speaking directly into the phone itself. At higher speeds, the phone would have a much harder time identifying the commands.

Battery

After the first full charge, the unit stayed on my helmet, in the top case of my bike for over a week before it died. About two to three hours of talk time took place during this time period. These results were a little better than I expected and as my talk time decreased after that, the length between charges got better.

Areas for improvement

As I frequently ride with a passenger, a direct link to another helmet would be ideal. This feature alone would make the units worth the price tag. Hands free controls that could attach to the handlebars would also make using the unit easier.

Conclusion

All in all the unit works great for someone who wants to make calls while on the road. The recreational rider may not find calls from a bike necessary but for someone who commutes, makes a living riding a bike or simply travels long distances, it breaks up the ride nicely. If it was capable of helmet to helmet functionality, I would rate it 5 out of 5 stars. As is, I give it 4 out 5 with the price being the only thing that knocks it down a notch. Otherwise, great product!

Pros:
• It works well
• Battery life
• Designed for the purpose
• The only universal solution
• Keeps you “Connected” whilst you ride

Cons:
• Inevitably more expensive
• Keeps you “Connected” whilst you ride

My take on the Scala; I think that it’s the only solution worth considering for motorcycle use and adds to rider safety but when I get on the open road and wind-on the throttle, I’m not there because I want to talk to the office.

Package contains:
• Mounting hardware with Mic. and speaker
• A host of Velcro™ pads and fixings
• Main unit
• Charger

Price: $149.99

Web site: www.cardowireless.com

Comparison Shopping: Where to Buy

 

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