Sena has further extended the capabilities of its popular motorcycle Bluetooth headsets with a pair of new 50-series helmet comms devices offering mesh networking, fast charging, automatic updates and louder, bassier speakers than the 30K.
The 50S and 50R are basically the same hardware with slightly different interfaces and battery sizes. Both clip onto the side of your helmet using Sena’s clamp mount system or a sticker mount, and both use the same new speaker systems and microphone options. The key differences are the controls (the S version gives you a jog dial, which we’re a big fan of, the R offers a more slimline three-button interface, which is fine) and a small difference in battery size, with the R having about an hour less Bluetooth talk time than the S’s impressive 14 hours.
Both handle all your regular phone, music and GPS system integrations, including multi-language voice commands and “hey Google” and “hey Siri” assistant access, using Bluetooth 5.0. A redesigned set of speakers promises to be easier on the ear physically, with a lower profile that might prove more comfortable over a long day on the road. They’ll also offer higher volumes, more bass and improved clarity, a response, perhaps, to the fact that a lot of people ride with earplugs in, and Dan Carlin routinely speaks way too softly in the dramatic bits of his Hardcore History podcasts.
Intercom-wise, there’s no upgrade to the maximum clear-space distance you’ll get between two riders at 1.2 miles (2 km). But once you start using the mesh intercom, a group of up to 24 riders can expand out up to 5 miles (8 km) from the lead to the tail rider as long as there are no gaps greater than 1.2 miles. A further Open Mesh option allows a “virtually limitless” cacophany of riders to tune in, and riders can peel off into up to nine private channels within that network if need be. However, mesh networking chews the battery life about 65 percent faster than straight up Bluetooth. A single click-to-connect option should hopefully eliminate some of the mucking around that tends to happen at the start of a ride with other Sena headsets.
Charging is now 30 percent faster, taking just one hour, and the new charger has its own Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing it to automatically download updates and apply them to the headsets as they charge. This is a nice idea; I can’t remember the last time I bothered updating my 20S or 10C, it’s just not the sort of thing I tend to think about.
The 50S and 50R retail for US$339 apiece or $599 for a twin set. That’s bang on the nose what you’ll pay for a Cardo Packtalk Bold, which is Sena’s key rival in the high-end Bluetooth headset stakes. The 50 series beat out the Cardos on claimed range, but only by 0.2 of a mile (320 m). Realistically, in open terrain riders tend to bunch up, and once you’re in the twisties, you lose line of sight quickly and drop out of communication unless you’re riding with people just about perfectly matched with your abilities.
The Cardo gear offers a JBL-developed sound system, which we’re led to believe is nice, as well as automatic volume control that raises and lowers the volume depending on the ambient noise. Battery life is identical between the Packtalk Bold and the 50R, with the 50S getting an extra hour, and the Sena gear uses Bluetooth 5.0 instead of 4.1. Without putting them back to back for a test, they look pretty close on a spec sheet, with the new Sena gear maybe ahead by a hair.
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