Sam Manicom reviews the Cardo PackTalk Bold Intercom

At one time, rider-to-rider intercoms were distracting, noisy and inefficient. But good news… motorcycle intercom technology has moved on dramatically over the past couple of years, and Cardo Systems are at the forefront of innovation.

A month on the road with my partner Birgit this summer was the perfect opportunity to review the Cardo PackTalk Bold. I fitted it into my new Shoei Neotec II and Birgit’s Shoei Multitec. I’m making a point of noting this, because flip fronts are noisier than full face helmets and that means an intercom unit’s abilities are going to be stretched hard.

First of all, fitting the equipment is logical and straightforward. The speakers have a shorter wire running to the control unit and a longer wire which connects the speakers together. This longer wire also acts as the antenna for the radio and it is easily fed under the lining of my helmet, with the speakers themselves fitting into the helmet cut outs. There are Velcro fasteners for the speakers, and pad inserts if your helmet’s cut outs for the speakers are too deep. It took me a few attempts to get the speakers in exactly the right place. Everyone’s ears sit differently on their heads so you’ll need to play with this a bit. Get them in the wrong place and you’ll be wondering why they are so rubbish, when they really aren’t.

The PackTalk Bold gives several options for fitting the microphone, depending on what type of helmet you have. Ours, being flip-fronts, took advantage of the boom mike, which fitted easily and firmly. You do need to pay attention to where you are seating the mike both for proximity to the mouth but also so that the fastening point is strong; it’s going to get a lot of movement over its lifetime.

To fit the waterproof main control and battery unit to the helmet is also very easy, and you have two options. One is a clip system that fits directly underneath the lining of your helmet. We tried this out on Birgit’s Multitec and it clipped on solidly. The other option is a stick on patch. You are provided with an alcohol cleaning pad for this and I must say that I’ve been impressed with how firmly this has adhered to my Neotec II.

I’m not a techie type of guy so setting the intercom up was not something I was looking forward to. I actually read the instructions and my first thought was how clear they were; lots of pictures! Thankfully they proved as easy to follow.

After pressing a couple of buttons, synching the two units via the DMC (Dynamic Mesh Communication) Intercom grouping option took just a couple of minutes. We could now talk. Using the DMC mode you can connect up to fifteen riders and the claim is a remarkable five mile range. This is achieved because in DMC mode the units piggy back on each other creating a sort of chain. You can also use Bluetooth to connect and if you ride in a group of four or fewer then the Bluetooth set up may be the one for you. The specs say that a group on Bluetooth is also a far less power hungry option. We haven’t actually tried either multiple connect option yet, but I don’t see why setting this up should be any more complicated than connecting one to one. Once your units have synched, unless you take them back to factory setting, they will instantly recognise each other when turned on and close together.

Syncing the units to our iPhones via Bluetooth for us to use our Co-Pilot GPS app was equally straightforward. The syncing also allowed me to listen to music from my phone. You can do such things as set up your PackTalk Bold so you can ask Siri to hunt Google for the nearest camping site or hotel, or to email someone and so on. I even know of one overlander who uses this option to email observations to herself as she rides. Others listen to music on Spotify or Pandora. A couple of friends in the USA listen to audiobooks.

When you start a day’s ride and you press two buttons, for literally a second, to fire the system up, Cardo rather pleasantly confirms that she’s awake and what you are connected to; as in to the other rider or riders, and your phone or GPS. You can connect to all three at the same time.

One of the things we really didn’t like about the old Q3 intercom we’d had, and others we’ve tried, is that the voice activation systems have been slow, awkward and unreliable. Don’t laugh (oh, ok, do). One set up we tried had a real activation problem. We found that the only way to get it going was to bleat loudly like a constipated sheep into the microphone. That was OK on the open road, but moving slowly in town had pedestrians looking round to see where the flock was! And even then, you had to wait for the activation to occur.

There’s no such problem with the voice activation of this set up. It’s instant and it doesn’t matter how much wind noise there is. Fantastic. The noise cancellation ability is superb.

The PackTalk Bold has voice activated instructions for the various possibilities. Volume up or down, radio on, music on, making a phone call and so on. You can even voice command a battery level check. Once I’d got used to the fact that this system is American, that I didn’t need to talk loudly to it to make it understand me but that I needed a slight American accent for some of the commands, it worked beautifully. “Hey Caardo, volume up.” Job Done. “Hey Caardo, music on.” Sorted. “Hey Caardo, baddery stadus.” Wow, still 50% after a full day’s riding and chatting. That’s great.

As a backup to the voice operation you can press buttons on the unit or there’s a very effective roller for volume levels, taking phone calls and so on. Talking of phone calls, you can even share calls to the whole group while you are in DMC mode. I haven’t tried it.

The battery life on the set up is spot on. We use the intercom mostly for comments such as “Hey, look left!” “I think Co-Pilot means the next turning.” “That café looks really nice; fancy a coffee?” “Yes, that tent pitch looks great. Sheltered from the wind and its going to get the sunshine in the morning but shade in the day. Let’s take it.” Battery level was still at 25% after two full days of riding and these sorts of comments. Music eats the charge though. I ride with custom made ear plugs and so have the volume right up and within a long riding day of music and chat the battery will be flat. I think that’s acceptable though. After all, I am making it work hard.

The charge up time, even from almost empty is incredibly impressive. Via USB cable either to the supplied mains adaptor, computer or to a backup charger, takes just minutes. We’d arrive, clip the units off the helmets, plug them in and start setting up camp. By the time we’d done that and both of us had hit the loos, the units were charged. You also have the opportunity to charge the units while riding and using them.

The max range on an open straight road was just over a mile. In the twisties but with no buildings or hills just trees, we managed about three quarters of a mile. In the city, with corners and buildings we’d lose each other at around half a mile. We were impressed! The flip up antenna does make a difference.

Birgit had dreaded the fact that I often sing in my helmet when riding. She found the mute button quickly.

PackTalk Bold Duo Price: £429 to £549