A Feature-Filled Helmet Communicator
I purchased the Cardo Pactalk Bold before my cousin Dave “White Girl” Wensveen and I left for our two-week trip to cover the MotoAmerica races at Laguna Seca and can summarize this review with two words: buy one. It paid for itself in the first minute I had it.
“Hey Ted,” White Girl spoke into the Cardo PackTalk Bold’s microphone in his helmet, “is that your hat in the middle of the highway?”
Crap. It was. I’d left my tail bag unzipped when leaving Holstein’s Coffee in The Dalles, Oregon and its contents were blowing out onto the freeway. So over the intercom we agreed to pull over, communicating constantly for safety as I walked backwards on the freeway, retrieved my Dunlop Motorcycle Tires cap (ironically run over by a Goodyear truck tire) then remounted my bike and we took off. If it were not for our Cardo PackTalk Bold communicators, I would have strewn crap over Interstate 84 like Hansel and Gretel leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. After years of resisting helmet communicators, I was an instant convert.
The Cardo PackTalk Bold has a click wheel on the rear of the unit designed to be used with gloved fingers. Spinning the wheel forwards or backwards, as well has depressing the wheel, can access a myriad of functions. Three control buttons on the top, bottom and front of the unit are also easy to use at speed. The antenna can be raised or lowered, but we found much improved range with the antenna up.
Cardo’s best selling point is its “Dynamic Mesh Communication” technology. Range in our informal tests was at least 3/4 of a mile in line-of-sight with the antenna up, but diminished a bit around corners. If White Girl slipped out of range, our units used their DMC technology to re-pair flawlessly when we were back in range all the time, every time. Cardo’s DMC technology is the star of the show. Pure magic.
As a further test, we met up after our Laguna Seca trip for another ride. Our units had not been near each other for weeks. When I pulled into our meeting point, our units used their DMC to pair automatically before I even pulled into the parking lot- No hesitation, nothing for us to do, no buttons to push. Once our two units were paired, they always found each other. Of all the bells and whistles, Cardo’s DMC is the best selling point.
The unit is easily removed from the baseplate for charging by pushing on a single hold down tab. However, I never ran out of battery even on the longest days.
Some features of the Cardo unit I used heavily: playing music, adjusting volume, skipping tracks and making phone calls using Siri or the Cardo speed dial feature. All of them were done with simple voice commands like “Hey Cardo, music on”, “Hey Cardo, volume up”, or “Hey Cardo, speed dial.” The voice recognition was nearly 100% accurate as long as I gave a slight pause between “Hey Cardo” and whatever my next command was. The unit was never obtrusive and blocked wind noise during conversations so White Girl’s voice was always clear and perfectly audible. During long periods of silence I never noticed the Cardo unit was there until I needed it which, after all, is the best test of any piece of gear.
This is the base plate that attaches to the helmet. I used the 3.5mm audio output to connect to my headphones instead of the included JBL speakers. Back of the baseplate is the clip for easy attachment and removal from your lid.
Volume adapted automatically as I rode: louder as I sped up and quieter as I slowed down. That adaptability, and other audio settings, can be adjusted using the Cardo app. It is so intuitive that even I can use it, and I used the app to turn my music volume up and intercom volume down relative to each other (sorry White Girl). I ditched the JBL helmet speakers in favor of my noise insulating headphones which is the way I usually ride, so I cannot speak to their performance or quality.
The Cardo app allows access to phone, intercom, music and FM radio functions as well as fine tuning audio settings. Selecting quick access puts all of the functions on screen at once for easy use.
The only frustrating feature was leaving the conversation. I like to sing when I ride and unless White Girl wanted impromptu karaoke night, exiting the conversation was hard to get right at speed. I ended up holding the click-wheel for two seconds (still not sure if this is the correct way to do this) to leave the conversation. Then I would turn the unit off, then back on to rejoin. This is something that could be easily remedied with a firmware update.
We used the units daily and for two weeks and over 2,500 miles the battery always lasted through the day as we talked about where we were stopping, was it coffee time yet, did I leave my turn signal on, why is that dude wearing roller skates and you just taught me new swear words as we plowed over dirt roads on our VFRs.
There are slimmer offerings from Cardo, but despite the PackTalk Bold’s size, I never knew it was there.
I hesitated putting the unit on my precious Arai Corsair X Nicky Hayden replica helmet, but the unit can be slid on and off the helmet in 30 seconds using the plastic clip. Just slide it off the helmet, un-fish the wire and remove the microphone from its velcro attachment. The only hint that my helmet has a communicator was a tiny piece of fuzzy velcro on the inside of my chin bar. There is a two sided tape option, but I prefer to not have sticky tape on my precious lid.
There are a myriad of features I never used: the FM radio, trying to pair with a non-Cardo unit over Bluetooth or bridging to a passenger, so I cannot comment on those features but I can comment on this: the Cardo PackTalk Bold’s best feature is its seamlessness. Riding and playing my music I never noticed it was there until White Girl would tell me that my gear was spilling out onto the highway, that I left my turn signal on yet again or why are there yet more people on roller skates? Is that a thing now?
The Cardo PackTalk Bold is pricey at $339.95, but savvy shoppers can likely find one for less. It is worth every penny.
DMC pairs flawlessly, always
Long battery life
Crystal clear conversations
Leaving conversation (to sing) is tricky
Should have bought one years ago
*For comparison, check out our review of the Cardo PackTalk Slim