We’ve told you about Cardo communicators in the past. Our first mention was when Cardo updated its Packtalk to the Packtalk Bold. The Packtalk Bold introduced natural voice operation capability and was a first for Mesh/Bluetooth communicators.
Cardo Packtalk Bold JBL
Fast forward and Cardo upped its ante by introducing the Packtalk Bold JBL. This new model came about as a result of a partnership between Cardo and renowned sound firm JBL. Cardo claims that the Packtalk Bold JBL delivers “explosive sound” through its high definition speakers and specially-tuned audio processor.
Having tested and used the Packtalk Bold in the past and found it excellent, we wondered how the Packtalk Bold JBL would measure up to its predecessor. So when we were able to get our hands on a pair for testing, we were excited to put them to the test.
Mounting the JBL speakers
Mounting and charging the communicators to our helmets was as easy as it was for the regular Packtalk Bold. We were able to quickly clip the communicator body to the left side of our helmets. By removing the helmet inner liner, it was easy to route the wiring to the appropriate locations.
The Arai XD-4 helmets we used for our test do not have dedicated speaker pockets so we positioned them the best we could inside the cheek pad liner. Other helmets do have dedicated speaker pockets so positioning the speakers in those cases will be a breeze. In all, installation took less than 15 minutes per helmet.
A quick test fit of the helmet had us moving the speakers around a bit for best fit and we were able to get them positioned properly after a few adjustments. One thing we did notice was that we could feel the speakers a little more than we could when we used the previous speakers. They aren’t uncomfortable, but you could feel them inside the helmet. As mentioned earlier, different helmets have different speaker accommodations so your helmet could be better or worse.
Ultimately, we chaulked up being able to feel the speakers due to a slightly thicker JBL speaker set. Better sound likely means slightly bigger speakers and we are OK with that.
One of the key features of any communicator is range. What good is a communicator if the range is poor? So once installed, we charged the units and were ready for our first test.
As some of you know by now, Kim and I live in rural and “mountainous” Vermont, USA. While our mountains aren’t huge by world standards, they are heavily forested. Our roads are curvy and they change elevation quickly. All of these conditions provide “obstructions” which pose significant challenges to any communicator.
When riding as a pair, Cardo claims a range of up to a mile (1,600 meters) or close to 1,000 meters in real-life use. We generally ride as a pair and can say that Cardo’s range claims are valid. In fairly open terrain, we’ve gotten range better than 3/4 of a mile. On our curvy and mountainous roads, we generally get at least a 1/2 mile range. If we are riding in the woods, then range is reduced further.
Our range estimates are without the benefit of Cardo’s mesh technology. With its mesh technology, the Cardo Packtalk Bold uses other rider’s communicators as “links” to help boost range. Each additional link can help increase overall range depending on conditions. Even better, Cardo claims that Cardo Packtalk Bold JBL can handle up to 15 riders in total. We don’t often ride in large groups so we can’t confirm that claim. Ultimately, we give the Cardo’s range capability an “A-“.
Next feature we tested was battery life. Again, this is a key feature for communicators. Adventure riding often means a long day in the saddle and having a communicator last a full riding day makes riding easier and perhaps even safer.
We did not perform a scientific test of battery life. But we use our communicators in real-world situations and think that these situations provide a good picture of what you can expect for battery life.
Cardo claims 13 hours of talk time. No matter how you cut it, that’s a lot of talking. In our use, we could easily get 10 hours of “use” time. What we mean by “use time” is the amount of time before the battery discharged to zero in “normal” riding.
We consider “normal” riding to mean chatting on and off for the duration of the ride. In addition, we may play music for a significant amount of time and receive navigation direction from google maps. Ultimately, that’s a lot of tasks for the communicator battery to service, so we feel 10 hours of “normal use” is excellent.
If you are the type of rider that needs more than 10 hours of capability, you can also charge your communicator on the go. Using the communicator’s charging port, you can connect to a battery pack or your bike’s 12V charger to keep your battery going.
We do note that the Cardo Packtalk Bold carries an IP67 waterproof rating, something that other communicators can’t match. But we would hesitate to try to charge the communicator while riding in the rain. Plugging the cable into the communicator’s charging port does not appear to be watertight. Nonetheless, we think the Packtalk Bold JBL’s battery life also deserves an “A-“.
So let’s get to the heart of the Cardo Packtalk Bold JBL and talk about sound. There’s no doubt in our minds that the Packtalk Bold JBL’s sound is superior to the Packtalk Bold. Its sound is clearer, smoother and more vibrant. It’s a definite upgrade and is significantly better than other communicator’s sound we’ve tried.
But we offer one caveat. The Cardo Packtalk Bold uses speakers inserted into your helmet, not into your ear. Naturally, once at speed, the ambient noise level increases. This additional noise reduces the sound quality experience. That said, its only natural that the rushing of air past and through your helmet will have a negative effect. Blame your helmet not your communicator on this one.
ADV helmets, by and large, are fairly noisy since they are designed to flow so much air, and have a peak that can generate even more noise. If you ride with a quieter full-face helmet, you likely won’t experience as much sound quality loss.
The alternative to helmet-mounted speakers is to use in the ear earbuds. But frankly, we’re not keen on them. We love the sound, but we don’t like the fact that much of the ambient environmental sounds are lost. There’s too much going on around motorcyclists not to be able to easily and clearly hear things like horns, sirens, approaching cars, etc.
So for us, helmet-mounted speakers are the way to go and Cardo’s Packtalk Bold JBL leads the way in sound for helmet-mounted speakers. Ultimately we give the Cardo Packtalk Bold JBL an “A-” for sound when stopped and a “B to B+” once at speed. That said, unless you go the earbud route, no other communicators we’ve tested have had better sound quality.
Packtalk Bold JBL features
The Packtalk Bold JBL has a host of other features, many of which we’ve already covered in previous articles (see links above). But we’d be remiss not to briefly discuss them.
One of the breakthrough features of the Packtalk Bold is its natural voice operation. Most features can be accessed without ever pushing any of the communicator’s buttons or rotary dial. You can just cue the communicator into action by merely saying “Hey Cardo”. That’s a very nice feature. If you have your phone connected, can make/answer/ignore calls, turn the built-in radio on and off, and play your own music. You can even access virtual assistants such as Alexa, Siri, and Google.
There is a Cardo app that also lets you control your communicator for phone, audio and intercom functions. This gives you the capability to use your phone to control the communicator as well. It’s a nice touch.
When all is said and done, the Cardo Packtalk Bold JBL is in our opinion, a premium communicator for less than premium money. Retail price is $339.95 for 1 or $599.95 for the duo (two) pack. But they are widely available with prices under $290 for the single unit and about $440 for the duo.
All photo credit: Cardo