Cardo Systems has been in the communications business since 2003. Back then, they made bluetooth headsets for cell phones – but by 2004 they were working on the prototype for their hands free bluetooth headsets designed to be mounted in motorcycle helmets. Since then they have been perfecting their product line and WOW are there a ton of features on the latest Cardo Packtalk. Now we’re not going to dive into every single feature today but what we are going to cover the basics – and the first thing you should understand are the advantages and disadvantages of this system over a typical CB radio and intercom setup.
Most of us in the UTV world are used to mounting a race radio or CB radio in our cars to communicate with friends car to car, AND an intercom system to talk with the people in our car. These kits run anywhere from $1K – $2K and are permanently mounted into the UTV and pull power from the UTV. One of the big advantages of these systems is the range – and the ability to call for help on well known channels like the Weatherman when you don’t have cell coverage. But there are a few disadvantages – for instance you have to have power to the car to make them work, you have to press a button while driving to talk car to car, and only one person can talk at a time when speaking car to car. It’s very common on group rides for people to “step” on each other, in which case you hear nothing, and it then becomes really difficult to understand what’s being said. The guys in the street moto world have had some similar problems. Many use basic Bluetooth networks when riding in packs – but the range is spotty, they have to be close to each other, and anytime someone wants to leave or join the group they have to stop and reinitiate the whole process over again. It’s a pain in the ass. That’s where the Cardo Packtalk Bold comes in…
The Packtalk Bold is an “always-on” group intercom solution for 2-15 users that’s not reliant on anything but itself for connectivity and uses the Cardo Connect app to easily set everything up. They use Dynamic Mesh Communication or DMC to solve all the normal Bluetooth network problems. You don’t need to push a button to talk, and once you’re added to the group you don’t need to worry about a lengthy process to re-join the network if you lose signal. Their system has a mile of range so you have plenty of room to spread out, and they last 13 hours on a single charge.
Not only that – you can control your music and phone calls that only you hear on your phone like you normally would. You can also make your music available to someone else in your car AND you can even merge a phone call into the group! How cool is that? You can also single out a single user to talk to and temporarily mute the rest of the group. Lastly, it’s Waterproof and Dustproof, so you don’t have to be all delicate with it.
So imagine this – you’re riding in your UTV with three other people. There is a second UTV in your group with four people. All eight of you are able to chat hands free, without any wires, and without pressing any buttons. Each of you can take calls and listen to your own music. You can mute the group if you want. And each of you can single out another person in the group to talk with. How cool is that?
So what is the unboxing experience like? How easy is it to set up? The packaging for the Cardo units feels like you’re unboxing an iphone. There are setup instructions in six different languages, and a quick start guide in English which is perfect. All of the necessary charging cables are included and there are multiple mounting options for both your helmet, as well as the mic and speakers. In short – the products feel like quality stuff in your hands and the packaging reflects the quality. The Setup was very straightforward. We downloaded the Cardo app, charged up the Packtalks, fired everything up and simply connected to Bluetooth to get it all going. The app does most of the work for you. You do need to be sure each user has the Cardo app installed so plan accordingly. I put one of the Packtalks on my daughters helmet and she had it figured out in no time.
So what was it like to use the Packtalk? We tested the unit in a variety of scenarios. We ran it on our Can Am Commander shakedown shoot with four people in the car to test out the intercom feature. Then we tried car to car with a second UTV. Then we tried it as an “always-on / open-mic” solution for our production crew while shooting, and finally we did a range test between units, with one unit up on a hill, and one about a mile away. In every one of those scenarios we were really impressed with the Cardo system. The app is slick, self explanatory, and designed to work while wearing gloves. The audio quality of the transmission was pretty awesome – it sounds great. We were still able to use Siri and the Cardo assistant was cool for accessing all of the Cardo specific features by voice, making for a total hands free operation. Anytime we lost connectivity, when we came back in range we reconnected to the node without any issues, automatically.
We also tested the Cardo closed headphones which allow you to snap your Packtalk out of your helmet and into the side of the headphone unit. This allows for an easy transition from a helmet to headphones without losing connectivity with the group. This could be useful in many different scenarios from hosting group tours, to working in loud environments, and even military or law enforcement applications. It’s a really slick system.
Final impressions. Ok first and foremost – coming from a traditional radio and intercom experience we really loved how the Packtalk units worked. Not having to worry about what radio channel people were on, if their volume was turned up, was their radio even on, off, or stepping on each other when talking…man these system solves so many of those normal radio frustrations. Can the older analog systems handle smartphone integration? Yeah they can, but if you’re hooking your cell phone into your UTV to play music and take calls it’s almost silly to use an analog intercom and radio. You’re already halfway there. The Cardo system is just such a more enjoyable communication experience. You can hear each other clearly, the JBL speakers sound amazing. There’s no glitchy white noise or static in your ear. It’s just really really refined. Does it replace your CB radio altogether? No. We wouldn’t recommend pulling your radio as that’s a valuable rescue and recovery tool and still has its place in the car. But the Cardo system is an elegant add-on option for those who really want to chat with each other on the trail.
We can also see it being very useful for certain scenarios like teaching your kids to ride. Coaching them. Kids can’t possibly push-to-talk when learning to ride bikes, quads or small UTV’s. By having an always-on solution you eliminate that right off the bat. You can now coach them and be a reassuring voice in their ear without technology getting in the way. OR for film and TV production. We loved not having to fuss with a push-to-talk radio button while filming. So nice to be able to direct our camera guys softly and with more detail than what you would be yelling over a radio. It’s more discreet and professional. We really like that as opposed to handing our radios that maybe last 6 hours on a charge.
Now one important thing to mention is that Cardo doesn’t just make a single product. The Packtalk Bold is one of six units they make that range in size and capability from the Freecom 1+ which is designed for a single rider and passenger to communicate, all the way up to the Packtalk Black Special Edition which is a Packtalk Bold on steroids! Cardo even makes accessory packs for adding microphones and headphones to just about every type of helmet out there. So head over to their website and take a look at what they offer. With some many options you’re going to find the right solution in no time.
It’s very clear when you read reviews on the Cardo Packtalk that these guys have really nailed the design and functionally of these units. We would strongly recommend you check this out as a great solution for group rides. Whether it’s just for the family in the UTV, or a pack hitting the dunes, Cardo has you covered! Ask for the Cardo Packtalk at your local off-road shop or pick them up online at revzilla.com.