Gear Review: Sena SMH10 Communicator

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If you read the Scala Rider 9 review by Zac and Editor ‘arris, you’d think it best to wait a while before shelling out your hard-earned cash on an iffy communication system.

I’m happy to report however, that the wait is over! The Sena SMH10 system is a watershed product worthy of your consideration. Fatima and I have had the pleasure of using the dual system for over a year now and, for what we use it for, we are extremely happy with it.

There is a learning curve involved though, if you want to use all the advanced features, and you’ll require a cheat sheet to manage the various combinations of button/ jog dial presses if your brain’s hard drive is maxed-out like mine.

That said, if all you want to do is talk with your sweetie while riding, it’s a no-brainer with this set up, and it works superbly!

Here we are, happy campers with our Sena communication system.
Here we are, happy campers with our Sena communication system.

Okay, You Have My Attention…

I’ll start by listing below the key items that Sena says are possible with this system and then I’ll explain what we used the system for and how it performed.

So without further ado, here are the claims:

• Bluetooth 3.0 communication up to 900m.
• Communication possible with up to four different riders.
• Compatibility with other headsets from competing brands that have similar Bluetooth systems.
• The ability to listen to songs on your Bluetooth MP3 player wirelessly, or with a supplied cable.
• Can be connected via Bluetooth to your phone to receive calls, listen to navigation prompts, or listen to music (if you have some on the phone), etc.
• If you have a Bluetooth GPS system, again, getting the navigation prompts in your helmet is possible.
• The system is firmware upgradeable, as required via a USB port.

So What’s The Experience Like So Far?

To be honest, the primary reason we wanted this device for, initially, was for Fatima and I to be able to chat as we rode, as opposed to shouting at each other through our helmets.

Lots of bits in the box, even after the units are installed properly. Spares and extras aplenty!
Lots of bits in the box, even after the units are installed properly. Spares and extras aplenty!

To accomplish this feat though, we’d need to install all the Sena bits first. This required removing the guts from of our helmets in order to fit the main units, speakers and microphone.

Obviously, if you have a helmet with a non-removable liner, installing this unit will be challenging, if not impossible.

The packaging of the Sena system is thoughtfully and tastefully executed, not to mention the quality, fit and finish of all the components. The whole experience of unboxing instills confidence that this is a top shelf product.

Sena even supplies an actual paperback manual, which is excellent. Even I could figure most things out with the well-written descriptions and clear photographic illustrations.

With our Shoei J-Cruise open face helmets, the Sena head set installation involved attaching the boom microphones. The boom mic is fixed to the inner shell of the helmet via sticky back Velcro.

If you have a full-face helmet, you can opt for the smaller wired mic.  Both are supplied in the kit – nice to know should you replace your helmet with a different design later down the road.

There are two options for mounting the main communication unit; one is via a very sturdy clamping system, the second is by using a supplied adhesive mount. Sena stresses that the clamp is the better way to go, but I just couldn’t make it work on our Shoeis.

The speaker installation is quite straightforward. They simply Velcro in place.

Installing all the bits as neatly as possible and then reassembling the helmets took an evening for me and we’ve only had one mounting issue since. This was after Fatima got her foot caught on the bike when dismounting and took a tumble resulting in her helmeted head hitting the ground, communication device first.

Impressively, nothing happened to the unit other than a few scratches, and Fatima is well built, so she was okay too. The Sena unit did come loose at the weakest point though, the adhesive. I re-fixed it when we were back at home and everything has been fine since then.

That's the extra mic for full face helmets sitting on the most-excellent manual that aided me in successfully installing the units on our J Cruise helmets.
That’s the extra mic for full face helmets sitting on the most-excellent manual that aided me in successfully installing the units on our J Cruise helmets.

Pushing The Buttons, Spinning The Dial

Before fiddling with the units after the initial installation, I charged them via the supplied USB cables. This is accomplished easily as the units unclip from their mounts in a fraction of a second, so there is no need to lug the helmet to the charging point.

When charged, reinstalled and fired up, a simple process of button pressing is all that is required to initially connect the two Sena-equipped helmets via Bluetooth. Once this procedure is done, a single press on either jog dial connects the helmets, if they are in range of each other.

Later, if you don’t feel like talking anymore, again press the jog dial once and you are disconnected. Easy peasy.

If you need more volume, simply turn the jog dial and there you go. Simple and intuitive – lovely.

As far as range goes, based on our seat-of-the-pants, or rather helmet-on-the-head testing, we’d say about 300 meters of a snap-crackle-pop free connection would be about right (as opposed to the stated 900m).

It’s important to note that this range is based on line of site. If a building, or a forest, etc., gets in the way of the person you are communicating with, expect interference until you can see them again.

Who's the idiot wearing the helmet in the school yard?...
Who’s the idiot wearing the helmet in the school yard?…

This may sound like a bit of a letdown, but if you look at the pic above of where I am compared to where Fatima photographed me, when we just started to get a bit of interference noise during our testing, it’s still pretty impressive. And yes, I did wander through a schoolyard with my helmet on, looking mentally challenged. All this for you, our beloved readership.

To put this in perspective then, this will mean that if you are communicating with riders on other bikes, not spreading yourselves out too much will yield the best results.

For better range though, Sena’s new 20S model is said to be good for up to two kilometers, which may end up being about double of what we got with our units, all things being equal. This is purely speculation, of course.

As Fatima and I ride two-up, the SMH10 has more than enough range, so the additional cost wouldn’t be worth it for us.

Speaking of costs, with the recent introduction of the Sena 20S, the SMH10 dual kit that we have has now dropped in price to around $340 as of this writing. That’s about $200 less than the 20S kit.

Learning New Tricks

Just a dial and two buttons is all that is required to accomplish a myriad of tasks. The dial is actually the second button. Also note how glove friendly the unit is.
Just a dial and two buttons is all that is required to accomplish a myriad of tasks. The dial is actually the second button. Also note how glove friendly the unit is.

For a long time we were happy enough with the novelty of being able to easily talk with one another on the bike while riding two-up. Since then, we’ve figured out how to play songs wirelessly and get the phone’s navigation prompts.

We can even take calls on our phones if we want, although we generally make a mental note that a call or text has come in and deal with it when we’re off the bike.

Each new learning requires studying the manual, but I’ve yet to get into a cursing session as result of something not working, which leads me to feel confident that, if we take our time, we’ll eventually be able to perform all the tricks that this unit is capable of.

That bit snapped onto the mic is the additional wind blocker. Also note the fin just to the right of the mic. That's there to inform your gloved finger how to point the mic towards your mouth. Nice attention to detail here, and highly useful!
That bit snapped onto the mic is the additional wind blocker. Also note the fin just to the right of the mic. That’s there to inform your gloved finger how to point the mic towards your mouth. Nice attention to detail here, and highly useful!

One thing we discovered a bit late is that our communication between the two units could be improved with the small, supplied microphone wind blocker (see pic). I didn’t install it initially as the manual said that it is for truly open face helmets where the mic is hanging out in the wind, as opposed to being behind a face shield.

At times, I suppose there’s enough wind blowing around behind our face shields that it was causing more wind noise than we liked. Installing that piece of plastic improved things markedly. I’m sure our communication would be wind-noise free if we weren’t on naked bikes all the time.

As far as the batteries go, I often forget to charge them as they last so long. The specs say 12 hrs. of talk time and 10 days of standby time. I’d buy that, although my practice was to recharge the units every evening when touring.

Speaking of which, purchasing one of those multi-port USB chargers is a good idea for traveling, with having phones and the Sena units to charge. In fact, that is the only thing that doesn’t come with the unit, which I found a bit odd.

If you are an Iron Butter (that sounds wrong) you can even charge the units on the go with the supplied cigarette lighter plugs. I wouldn’t do this in the rain though, as the connection doesn’t look waterproof.

There are actually two ways to check the batteries, one by watching the number times the red light flashes when you turn the unit on (and try to remember what that means…). Or, with the helmet on, you can hold the jog dial pushed in for three seconds when firing the unit up, and the device will tell you.

By the way, the voice recording used to convey information and to say “hello” and “goodbye” is a lovely and soothing female voice. Gotta’ love the attention to detail here.

Final Notes

At this point I don’t what to say beyond, just buy one if you’ve been thinking about it. There’s nothing to fear here. The Sena SMH10 is a fantastic product and it should serve you well for many seasons of use. In fact, Sena warranty it for two years.

Perhaps I’ll finish with a bit about the aesthetics of the unit. I’ve heard some remarks about it looking slightly goiter-like. Sena tried to address this in their SMH10R which is a much more compact unit.

Works for me, both the gal and the Sena unit.
Works for me, both the gal and the Sena unit.

Personally, I like the look of the look of our units as they blend in quite nicely with Shoei’s visor system with its Pompidou style, exposed inner workings.

The unit’s size works to its advantage. The large jog dial/button and the single button at the back are easy to feel and manipulate with a gloved hand.

In fact, with their newest 20R unit, they’ve gone back to the proven jog dial set up, but made it slightly less bulbous.

One way for Sena to make the unit look even better is for them to work together with the helmet manufacturers to fully integrate the system into a new helmet design. Sena has already done this with Bell with their Mag-9 Sena. On this model, they’ve set the unit into the helmet making it more secure (presumably) than taping it on, and it also sticks out less.

However, such a fine unit deserves an equally fine helmet. I’d love to see the next J-Cruise with a custom fitted Sena unit.

If this happens, it would likely address the only minor irritation we had of the headphones shifting slightly over time and becoming uncomfortable, thus requiring a readjustment. If they were locked in position, along with an integrated microphone and main unit attachment, this would be a highly desirable set up.

Let’s see what the future holds.

Enjoy the ride.

Cheers, Mr.Seck

One thought on “Gear Review: Sena SMH10 Communicator”

  1. I thought I’d toss in my 2 cents since we’ve had this set for 2 seasons. Last year we did a couple long weekends and this year we did an 8 day tour and used them every day but 1.

    The first year the we quickly learned only one of you could bluetooth into the ipod so I bought a splitter and some cables so we could plug directly in. A bit annoying when you get on and off the bike. I bought the Sena accessory so we could plug the ipod into it and then send the signal to both helmets. This was very difficulty to sync to the helmets (just this side of giving up and sending it back) but has stayed synced. You loose the ability to pause the music while you talk but otherwise it works well. You can also plug a gps into this if it has the out put for it, ours doesn’t and I only carried it for emergencies this summer.

    This year it worked as expected until the last 2 days when the speakers in mine cut out so that I could talk and she could hear but I couldn’t hear her or the music. Eventually on the last day hers cut out completely as well. They were charged every night but may not have been getting to 100%. They did seem a little unreliable this year to me.

    The sound isn’t great but good enough to discuss which restaurant to stop at or if we need a rest but you won’t carry a conversation. Music seemed a little quiet but it does have to compete with the wind noise. Good enough for your favorites but I wouldn’t try talk radio programs.

    I’d still recommend these or if you can find a better competitor go ahead, it did make the journeys more enjoyable.

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