Cardo PACKTALK BOLD Helmet Communications System
|Reviewed By:||Bruce and Jennifer Ross|
|Review Dates:||May 19th 2019 to July 12 2019|
|Price As Tested:||$359.99 USD|
Total Motorcycle endurance tests the new Cardo PACKTALK BOLD in challenging conditions in our 2500 mile Almost-to-Alaska motorcycle adventure. How did the units stand up and perform in rain, dust, grime and miles of construction day after day? Is Dynamic Mesh Technology a game changer? How far has Cardo come since we tested the Cardo Freecom 4+ recently and TeamSet PRO years ago? Read on…
Stay tuned for an upcoming extensive YouTube review and performance demonstration of the PACKTALK BOLD! For now, please enjoy our Long-Term extensive Cardo PACKTALK BOLD preview below.
LONG TERM TEST OVERVIEW
If you haven’t yet read our PACKTALK BOLD PREVIEW, please click HERE now.
With the CARDO PACKTALK BOLD communicators mounted up, my action cam paired to my communicator, the bikes loaded, and a couple of weeks of work freedom secured, we left town seeking lonely roads less traveled. The goal was to get to the west coast town of Terrace (British Columbia, Canada) to spend some time with family before working our way north on the long and lonely Cassiar Highway to the Yukon. From there we would loop in to Skagway (Alaska, USA) for an evening, before circling back to Whitehorse (Yukon, Canada) for a down day of hiking with more family, before making our way south back down the Alaska hwy. This is territory that I had covered just two years ago on a trip to Prudhoe Bay (Alaska, USA), but for Jennifer, although she has been in the Yukon a few times via airplane, this would mostly be an all-new experience. No matter how experienced and prepared that you can be, the sheer length of the trip, the absence of civilization along parts of the route and unpredictable weather, can humble even the most experienced rider. Preparation is crucial, and equipment must be in top condition. As we found out, it wouldn’t all be smooth sailing, but often things rarely are, especially when Jennifer’s touring ride of choice is a now-10-year-old 2009 Honda CBF1000.
“The quality of the JBL Speakers are a game changer…”
A great feature of the PACKTALK BOLD is the ability to connect with non-Dynamic Mesh Communication (DMC) and even non-cardo devices via Bluetooth. It wasn’t that long ago that when you wanted to purchase a helmet communicator, you looked at what your buddies were using and that largely told you what you had to buy – if you actually wanted to talk to your riding buddies. In the last couple of generations, the larger players have realized the limitations of this thinking and have opened up the ability to pair devices to those of other manufactures. For riders with large riding groups, this is a must when purchasing a communicator. For those same riders, the appeal of DMC and the ease in which it allows them to re-establish connection, is the lure that Cardo hopes will lead them to shelling out for one of their premium PACKTALK units.
Somewhat related to this is a potential opportunity to pair my action camera which happens to be a competitor brand Sena Prism, with the PACKTALK communicator. It was theoretically possible, by pairing the camera to one of the two available Bluetooth channels, and then activating the DMC bridge that I could record both sides of the conversation. Although an initial test at home in the kitchen proved the concept could work, we lost a lot of good footage, and gained a lot of frustration the first couple of days on the road trying to make it work consistently. Ultimately we ended up giving up on recording conversations on the trip but upon our return have managed to make it work – at least with two riders paired in DMC mode.
By the third day on the road we abandoned our efforts to video record our conversations and moved on to enjoying the ride and casually learning and enjoying the many other features of the PACKTALK BOLD communicators. With long days of extensive riding, the impressive performance of the JBL speakers allowed for quality sound at legal, and greater than legal highway speeds while wearing our earplugs to filter out the wind noise. This in itself is game changer vs. the marginal (at best) performance of our previous Cardo G9s with the lower end and smaller speakers.
In our initial product preview we expressed concerns about the longer term comfort of fitting the larger JBL speakers in to both our Arai and Shoei helmets, but those fears proved to be unfounded. Now we were enjoying quality sound and sufficient volumes to take the monotony out of the longer, and less interesting parts of the road. Jennifer could be rocking-out to the her music, while I enjoyed mine, and when either of us initiated a conversation the music volumes dropped, but stayed playing in the background. This is another feature we were somewhat skeptical towards going in, as we were not used to having the levels of audio quality in a helmet communicator that could support this. Our impression is that Cardo has done their homework, and it was quite enjoyable to have streaming music seamlessly fill in the voids between the conversations.
VOICE ACTIVATED CONTROL
Voice Activated Control is an example of technology that wasn’t quite ready for prime time in some previous generations of Cardo communicators, but in the PACKTALK BOLD is now highly refined. Using a protocol similar to “hey Google”, or “hey Alexa”, using “hey Cardo” followed by the standard list of voice commands proved to be quite effective. Typical commands that we tested and proved to function well are:
- “Music on”
- “Music off”
- “Next track”
- “Radio on”
- “Radio off”
- “Mute audio”
- “Un-mute audio”
The voice activated phone speed dial function also allows you to speed dial up to four preset phone numbers via voice command without having to open up your phones voice command function. Although we never had to use this on our trip, the ability to contact another rider who falls out of range by cell could be quite helpful. This essentially ensures that you will always be able to contact your friends whether they are in, or out of communicator range…..assuming that you are still within cell coverage areas.
“It’s reassuring to see that just about every area of these communicators has seen a thoughtful evolution…”
Also making a significant step change are the control buttons and their functionality vs. the older G9 communicators that we are well-versed in using. Initial impressions of the new buttons upon unpacking the PACKTALK BOLD units were that they were small and possibly difficult to activate with a gloved hand. In practice however there are only 3 buttons which are far enough apart and easily referenced with a gloved hand as well as a control wheel for volume control and various other push commands. With the older G9s there were 6 buttons that were somewhat difficult to reference and often frustrating to use.
The ergonomic layout and ease of use on the PACKTALK BOLD communicators however was very intuitive. The buttons were so easily referenced in fact that I would often use them vs. the voice command functionality just so my riding partner did not have to listen to me say “Hey Cardo….”. It’s reassuring to see that just about every area of these communicators has seen a thoughtful evolution, and have obviously been subjected to a lot of real world testing.
BATTERY LIFE AND DURABILITY
We honestly rode some very rough conditions day in, and day out on this trip. There was cold, wet weather, construction, dust and mud. As we noted in our Cardo PACKTALK Bold Product Preview the quality of the contacts between the PACKTALK BOLD units and the mounting bases appeared to be much improved, and I am happy to report that we had no issues whatsoever whereas with our older G9 units we most certainly would have. We also had a few 600 – 700km days streaming music most of the way, and while Jen received one battery low warning, her communicator never did shut down, which is much more impressive than what we are used to.
Customer service is another area of note to consider when shelling out this kind of money for an upper end product. We have all received automated responses from customer help desks stating that they would get back to you in (insert generic number here) business days, and even then it ends up being a snippet from a Frequently Asked Questions syllabus. When we were experiencing challenges with pairing our camera, a short submission to the Cardo online help desk had a full and detailed response by the next rest stop on the road.
I am admittedly not a tech-loving kind of guy, and this kind of service puts my mind at ease that I will not be left to struggle with issues on my own. Our previous Cardo G9 set also had one unit fail in the first few months, and Cardo was exceptional in how they responded and provided us with a new unit. This is the kind of customer service that creates loyal customers!
AREAS OF CONCERN
As noted above, there are numerous features that are new and very enjoyable, but not all are available for use at the same time. Pairing a Bluetooth camera for instance, seems to negate the ability to stream music at the same time we were recording. Upon contacting Cardo customer service they informed me that they had not yet solved the ability to consistently pair a Bluetooth camera and they were actively working on a firmware update and / or an additional hardware feature to allow this to occur. Ultimately, using information sourced from online forums I was successful in getting the pairing to occur upon returning from our trip (watch for our upcoming video on the TMW YouTube channel), but without a few of the key features mentioned above. This may, or may not be of concern to you, however in the premium price category that Cardo is charging for these units, competitors are already there, with one major competitor already having integrated communicator – camera units on the market. Again, it might be one of the features that you feel you do not require, but once you have had it, you may not want to go without it.
Of less concern and one that is easily addressable is the sensitivity of the PACKTALK BOLD units to the microphone location. Seemingly more sensitive than the two previous generations of Cardo communicators that we have tested, a slightly less than optimum microphone location dramatically affects the audio quality of the communication. Once this has been fine-tuned it is not an issue, unless you have a habit of picking up your helmet by the chin-bar as I do. The microphones are also susceptible to wind noise from chin vents, strangely not really transmitting this noise, but holding streaming audio levels down as a result. This likely was never noticeable on our previous versions due to the lower quality of the overall audio, but something to be aware of.
“However after testing and experiencing the features, the sound and the overall unit quality, even my cheap-self would spend the extra money a set of PACKTALK BOLDs”
Going in, we were honestly skeptical of the price point that Cardo is asking for the PACKTALK BOLD communicators. At just under $360 US each, this is a stiff price to pay when the FREECOM 4 units are available with many great features for under $250 US. However after testing and experiencing the features, the sound and the overall unit quality, even my cheap-self would spend the extra money a set of PACKTALK BOLDs if I was ready to purchase a new set of communicators.
We eluded earlier in this long-term review that we had experienced some reliability issues with Jennifer’s Honda along the course of this trip that provided its share of challenges along the way. When heading out on a multi-day trip you need reliable and quality gear, and small things that give trouble can compound to big frustration out on the road. In the case of Jennifer’s Honda’s electrical system, the PACKTALK units proved to be extremely helpful in allowing us to put our heads together in both troubleshooting and strategising in real time. They provided a higher level of performance and comfort on the road than we had previously thought possible, all while being reliable and feeling like something that was going to continue to perform as advertised for the long term.
We honestly anticipated losing at least 1 star off the overall TMW Product Rating based upon what seemed to be a somewhat shocking price point going in. However after experiencing the PACKTALK BOLD communicators and all the refinement and features and quality they bring to the table we can no longer justify any docking on price. These are state-of-the art communicators and well worth the asking price if you can both justify and afford them. If there is one area of concern, it is integration of a camera which may, or may not be an area of concern for you. Despite this minor concern, the Cardo PACKTALK BOLD communicators have earned 4 stars out of 5 stars on the TMW product rating scale.