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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Motorcycle Bluetooth Intercom Systems, Review of the Chatterbox XBi2

He said... (Mark DT)
My primary reason for purchasing this ironically was not as an intercom. My lovely wife had bought me a really nice farkle for my birthday. My gift for turning the big 4-0 was a really cool Garmin Zumo 660 GPS. The Zumo 660 has the capability to stream wireless stereo sound via Bluetooth to devices capable of receiving A2DP, which in non-techno geek talk means stereo Bluetooth.
Why did I choose the Chatterbox XBI2At the time it was one of the very few wireless motorcycle intercom Bluetooth devices that used A2DP, and I was certain that I wanted a stereo feed. Reading consumer review sites like this one, the audio quality appeared to be quite good. So, I went onto the mighty consumer shopping mall, known as the Internet, and with a quick search came up with a good price and ordered.
A few days later two boxes arrived, (one for both my wife's helmet and my own). Time to figure out how to install and pair this intercom system. Kudos to the manufacturer: they used the magic of YouTube to give instructions on how to do everything. In reality, it is so simple to install the headset that it wasn't necessary, but it made the entire process even easier.
We both use full face helmets. The first helmet took around 30 minutes to install the full Bluetooth helmet speaker set. No doubt I read, and re-read the instructions three or more times, determined not to make any mistakes. The second helmet took only around 12 minutes. If I had to do it again I might make it in under 10 minutes. All that is involved is fitting the ear speakers, the microphone, tucking the wires, and installing the clip that holds the communicator. Between the clear included instruction guide, and their online video instructions installation is a snap.
Pairing the XBi2 to the Garmin Zumo 660 GPS was simple. Pairing them to each other, took me a few attempts. I ended up phoning Chatterbox's customer service number included in the directions and straight away my call was answered by a knowledgeable rep. He talked me through my mistake and bingo the communication units were magically paired up. Again two thumbs up to the manufacturer for having a real person answer the phone on the second ring, and getting my problem solved in under 2 minutes.
So how does it all work? Really, really well. On its own, if you buy this simply to use as a means to pair to a GPS or cell phone you won't be disappointed. Beautiful loud clear stereo sound. The microphone/speakers are of high quality. Music sounds great, GPS instructions are loud and clear, and telephone calls are easy to conduct. Right up to legal North American highway speeds, even with foam earplugs in, I am able to fully exploit all the functions within the GPS. On the track, at speeds above 130 km/h or 80 mph sounds remain audible, but the noise of wind etc on my semi fared bike do reduce the total audio experience. At high speeds the audio quality is more a function of your bike's wind management than anything else. No doubt those that use a quiet higher quality helmet will also have a better experience than those with a noisy lid.
Now how about as a motorcycle intercom. Again, it works really well. Stated communication range is half a mile or 800 meters, but I have found it will do even better so long as there is clear line of sight. The intercom is voice activated. Remember this when positioning your mic. Sound quality was excellent up to 115 km/h or 70 mph with it still being good above 130 km/h or 80 mph. Beyond these speeds one likely won't be too interested in chatting anyways, and the sound quality suffered due to insufficient volume to counter the rider/speed induced wind noise.
I often hear my riding buddies, (those whose wives don't ride), say that they would never want an intercom. I can say with all honesty I believe an intercom is one of the best safety enhancements to riding with a partner out there. Being able to communicate that there is loose gravel ahead, oil on the road, deer, moose, or even "sorry, missed the exit, we'll ride another mile before turning now", means that both riders are better able to focus on the road, and not have to watch each other as closely. That means both will better be able to scan for traffic and road hazards. Before when riding with my wife; I always felt a little bit handcuffed, checking the mirrors three times more than normal, and worrying about how she was doing. (Was the pace too fast, etc.) Now we can talk to one another as easily as if we are sitting next to each other in the car. I find riding together a lot more relaxing than ever before, and as a result I think we both have more fun with an increased margin of safety. She has also saved my bacon more than once by verbally warning me of dangerous cagers flying across multiple lanes or in my blind spot.
If you are lucky enough to have a spouse that rides, you owe it to each other to get a motorcycle intercom system. You will find that safety improves, and you both will be more relaxed and focused on the riding.
I am very impressed with the Chatterbox XBi2 and would recommend it without hesitation. There are other companies out there that make similar products, namely Scala and Sena and speaking with other riders that use them, all have had similar positive experiences. If I can leave you with any recommendation, it is just make sure that whatever you buy, make sure it will pair with whatever devices you use already (eg iPhone, GPS, etc.) Personally, I wouldn't consider buying an intercom that didn't stream in stereo (A2DP).
Being able be guided clearly by your motorcycle navigator, take phone calls, listen to your favorite tunes, and most importantly chat with your better half riding on another motorcycle half a mile away is a revelation. It is certainly worth a few hundred bucks, and is money I would spend ahead of many other farkles.
and she said... (Anne DT)
At first I wasn't sold on the idea of an intercom as I thought it was going to be distracting while riding. I was afraid that we were going to have long conversations like you would in a car and I was worried that this would distract me from focusing on the road. Reality is that we do not say that much to each other when we are riding, however, when we do, the comments made have often saved the ride from being a bad experience.
We can now point out dangers to each other, and I can now suggest that we stop somewhere instead of having to wait for my husband to make the decision. I always ride behind my husband and sometimes when you see something interesting you want to check out (read: ice cream shop!) it makes the ride so much more enjoyable when you can communicate this to the person you are riding with. No more waving arms and confusing hand signals when we are out riding together.
The installation seemed pretty straightforward. At least I didn't hear any swear words from the garage while my husband was working on this project. No requests for band aids either.
I feel a lot more at ease riding with my husband when I am able to communicate with him. Being able to let him know if I would like to stop somewhere and hearing his reassuring voice makes me a lot more relaxed and enjoy the ride a lot more than before we had the motorcycle intercom system installed.
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