Cardo VS Sena: on Waterproofing, Range, Battery, and More

Evan Rally
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I once learned to appreciate the saying “Education is expensive, but ignorance is more so.”

My own ignorance of the Cardo VS Sena nearly cost me a rider.

Let me explain.

Once upon a time I led a motorcycle tour in Thailand for a bunch of Americans. Everyone in the group brought Cardo units that could connect together in a Mesh group. Only one guy, we’ll call him Rob, brought his own helmet with an integrated Sena system.

For this ride, communication was absolutely key – we’d be riding tight mountain roads without a straight section for hours. And we’d run in to a lot of traffic on both sides of the road, necessitating frequent passing. But I figured great, Rob will just bridge in to the group. And we’ll all ride off in to the sunset together.

I read a couple guides online and watched some videos. Seemed easy enough to connect one Sena unit to a Cardo Mesh group.

How hard could it be!

Everyone arrives. We’re excited to set up. I grab Rob’s helmet and get to work using the copious notes I took on how to sync a Sena with a Cardo Mesh group.

Right then, in a hotel garden under the hot sun, I slowly came to the realization that Rob’s device wouldn’t sync with everyone else’s. We tried every angle. Nada.

Needless to say, Rob wasn’t happy. And that ride? Too many close calls to count, because Rob couldn’t hear everyone’s warnings about oncoming traffic. So he had to make holeshot passes often.

Ignorance is EXPENSIVE. For me, it almost cost a life.

Bluetooth intercom devices makes riding more enjoyable and safer. But it’s easy to screw up your purchase and get stuck with a lemon that doesn’t do what you need.

Picking between Cardo and Sena shouldn’t be a stressful task.

There’s a right unit for every kind of rider – and I’m here to share what I’ve learned about which unit is right for you and your group.

Now let’s get in to it.

By the way, are you curious what the adventure of a lifetime, on two wheels, looks like? Check out the Ride of Passage

Quick Verdict: Should I choose Cardo or Sena?

I’ll be honest: I flat out don’t like Sena. They dropped universal intercom in all their units, making pairing a pain, and their units are only water “resistant” (read: Sena won’t stand by their durability).

Cardo consistently listens to customers: their units are easy to use, extremely durable, and simple to set up whether you’re riding alone or with a big group. So I’d say…

For solo riders, choose the Cardo Spirit HD (read my 2 years of daily use review)

For group riders, choose the Cardo PackTalk EDGE or Custom (and get your whole group on these)

Budget
Upgradeable
Best
Description:

Best for solo riders, pairs and passengers.

Description:

Best if your group has all latest-gen Cardo units

Description:

Best for riding in big groups

Pros:
  • Affordable
  • Waterproof
  • Music, Intercom, GPS
Pros:
  • 15+ rider intercom over Mesh
  • 10+ hour battery life
  • Half the price of similar units
  • Connects to phone for music, GPS
Pros:
  • 15+ rider intercom over Mesh
  • 4 rider normal intercom (any brands)
  • Bridges to Sena groups (anyone can join your Mesh group)
  • Magnetic easy mount
  • Everything in the Custom, unlocked on Day 1
Cons:
  • Max 2 Intercom Participants
Cons:
  • Upgrade required for Bluetooth intercom (only when connecting to old units or Senas)
Cons:
Primary Rating:
4.4
Primary Rating:
5.0
Primary Rating:
5.0
$177.66$143.96
$269.95$199.99
$359.96
Budget
Description:

Best for solo riders, pairs and passengers.

Pros:
  • Affordable
  • Waterproof
  • Music, Intercom, GPS
Cons:
  • Max 2 Intercom Participants
Primary Rating:
4.4
$177.66$143.96
Upgradeable
Description:

Best if your group has all latest-gen Cardo units

Pros:
  • 15+ rider intercom over Mesh
  • 10+ hour battery life
  • Half the price of similar units
  • Connects to phone for music, GPS
Cons:
  • Upgrade required for Bluetooth intercom (only when connecting to old units or Senas)
Primary Rating:
5.0
$269.95$199.99
Best
Description:

Best for riding in big groups

Pros:
  • 15+ rider intercom over Mesh
  • 4 rider normal intercom (any brands)
  • Bridges to Sena groups (anyone can join your Mesh group)
  • Magnetic easy mount
  • Everything in the Custom, unlocked on Day 1
Cons:
Primary Rating:
5.0
$359.96
07/03/2024 05:41 pm GMT

What is Cardo?

Cardo started out making those God-awful Bluetooth earpieces for office workers.

However, they soon got in to a cooler market when one of their employees had a bright idea. When he was riding his motorcycle to Cardo’s Texas office, he wondered how he could apply Cardo’s technology to his helmet.

Cardo infographic
Image Source: Cardo

Cardo claims it invented the first motorcycle Bluetooth headset in 2004, called the Scala Rider (1). They were there right from the start. And their product line shows it – Cardo understands the needs of riders well, from good sound to voice operation to waterproof devices.

Some other useful innovations from Cardo include:

  • 2007 – First rider-to-rider motorcycle intercom released
  • 2015 – First use of dynamic mesh communication (DMC) intercom that connected up to 15 riders
  • 2019 – Launched a partnership with JBL to build helmet speakers for their headsets

JBL really took Cardo’s audio quality to the next level. Their 45mm speaker kit puts out music, GPS directions, call audio and intercom voices loud and clear, without hurting your ears.

What is Sena?

If Cardo is Yamaha, Sena is Honda.

This one is a rivalry for the ages.

Sena was founded in 1998 and is also based in the US, out of California. Just like Cardo they started with boring office bluetooth things.

It took a while for Sena to move into the motorcycle communication network field – the first Sena Bluetooth headset was the SMH10 in 2011. They took the field by storm, however.

Sena is the household name these days for Bluetooth headsets for motorcycles. Plus, they even have a line of helmets pre-integrated with their top Bluetooth tech.

Sena infographic about Harman sound
Image Source: Sena

Other company firsts have included:

  • 2017 – The first ever half helmet with an integrated Bluetooth communication system was launched, the Sena Cavalry.
  • 2017 – Sena included mesh intercom technology into headsets for the first time with the Sena 30K. Mesh allows intercom connection to unlimited riders.
  • 2019 – The 10C EVO was launched as the first Bluetooth headset combining intercom and a 4K camera (5).

Just ask around, and you’re likely to find a lot of people carrying Sena devices.

How did Sena do it? For one, they make branded kits for Shoei, AGV, HJC and Klim helmets. Everything is perfectly sized for the helmet, right from the factory. That means less installation hassle and sometimes a slimmer headset. Some kits even hide the bulky battery inside the helmet itself.

So that’s Cardo and Sena’s history – but how do they compare?

Are you in search of a new helmet? Explore our helmet size calculator for a flawless fit right from the start.

Cardo vs Sena – Head to Head Comparison

There is no one-size-fits-all Bluetooth device.

Like Goldilocks and her bed, everyone has their own perfect device. It all depends on what you want.

Need a way to talk to your passenger without burning a hole in your wallet? Or talk to 15 of your brothers as you cruise the streets together? Those two cases require completely different devices.

Let’s take a look at what Cardo and Sena offer in four categories:

  • Intercom Range – when will connection drop out?
  • Connected Riders – how many riders can talk together?
  • Speaker Quality – can you hear (and enjoy) music and conversation?
  • Durability and Waterproofing – will these units survive a few rough rides or not?

Finally, we’ll review two of the top Cardo and Sena units.

Longest Range

The more distance you put between you and other riders, the harder it is for an intercom system to stay connected. Shorter ranges mean more confusion and wasted time spent reconnecting devices instead of carving the open road.

Took 10 minutes to get everyone’s Cardo Packtalk in one group, and the range (even on mountainous jungle roads) was enough to keep the group connected through the entire ride.

We all know advertised ranges for these devices are not very accurate.

In terms of Bluetooth communications, the website for the Cardo Packtalk Edge says it has a Rider to Rider Range of 1 mile or 1,600 meters (7). However, on a clear straight road in cloudy weather, one tester was able to get 3,600 feet or 1,100 meters range for Bluetooth and mesh intercom (8). Not bad, but not as advertised.

The same team – a British motorcycling group – did the same test on the Sena 50S, which is advertised with a range of 1.2 miles or 1,900 meters. On Bluetooth intercom, it worked at over 4,000 feet (1,230 meters). On Mesh, connection fell off at 3,400 feet (1,030 meters) (9).

So how can you tell without busting open the box and trying it yourself?

One rule of thumb is to look around on YouTube and retailer sites for reports like these. You can also use the Bluetooth version number to get a good guess.

Newer devices will be running 5.2 or 5.3. That should hold a strong connection over half a mile or 1 kilometer, even with some obstacles. Kits running Bluetooth 3 or 4, like some of the older units, won’t do nearly that.

So who wins out of Cardo and Sena on the longest range?

We have to look at the top of the line Cardo and Sena units, the Cardo Packtalk Edge and the Sena 50S. They’re just about equal, but technically the Sena 50S wins by extending to over 4,000 feet (1,230 meters) on Bluetooth.

But that’s only a difference of 11%. Even a tennis game has to be won by more than 11%!

If you’re riding in a big group or ever caught in the rain, you’ll want to look at the other categories before making a call.

Most Connected Riders

Whether you just want to talk to a passenger or a pack makes a big difference here.

Just want to talk to a passenger or one other rider? Any unit from Cardo or Sena will do the trick.

Need to talk to a big group? Now we have a debate on our hands.

Both Sena and Cardo use Mesh technology to extend range and the number of riders who can chat together.

However, not all Mesh is equal. Cardo’s Mesh can connect up to 15 riders together, while Sena’s can connect almost limitless riders together.

Mesh can connect multiple riders through the devices of riders in between them. Each device is like a router, carrying traffic through to other devices. That means longer range with mesh networks extending up to FIVE MILES if enough riders are spaced out in between.

Unless you’re using a Sena device, where’s its done in one tap.

That’s a huge plus for big groups of riders that spread out on the road. And it’s only possible with Sena.

However, Sena hasn’t won yet. There’s also the question of connecting to other BRANDS.

See, there’s always that one rider in your group that HAS to do everything DIFFERENTLY.

Everyone has a Sena, but he just HAD to get a Cardo. Can you all sync up?

With Cardo devices, you’re in the clear. Cardo’s universal pairing means Cardo devices can connect to any number of Sena, Cardo, or other devices over Mesh OR Bluetooth.

Sena removed universal pairing over Mesh in all their models since the 20S. Bluetooth connections are still universal. But remember the range test? Bluetooth significantly limits your range compared to the FIVE MILES possible over Mesh.

So everyone needs to be on Sena, or you’re back to stone age Bluetooth connections. The Sena 30 Series and newer units can only use dynamic mesh communication with other Sena-brand gear. 

Unless you’re a prospect of your local Sena MC chapter, I’d say Cardo wins.

Speaker Quality

Speaker quality is make-or-break here.

What use is a great motorcycle intercom system if you can’t hear a damn thing?

Bad audio quality or poor volume means missed turns, confused conversation, and annoying music all adding up to wasted money and a terrible ride.

A good set of speakers means a much more enjoyable ride.

My Cardo JBL 45mm speakers have been to hell and back. Still pumping tunes loud and clear.

So, both Cardo and Sena punch hard in this category – through partnerships.

Cardo put famous audio brand JBL in their corner. All Cardo units except their budget Spirit options include 40mm JBL speakers in the box that perform super well. They boom out clear sound and strong bass without creating any tinny highs or distortion at volume.

Cardo and JBL also sell the holy grail of helmet speakers: the Cardo and JBL 45mm kit. This is my daily driver.

Sena didn’t take this laying down, however.

In November 2021, Sena partnered with Harman Kardon, a renowned audio equipment manufacturer known for some banging car stereos. Harman Kardon’s speakers are now in the Sena 50R, 50S, 50C (with a 4K camera!) and Bluetooth helmets Impulse and Stryker.

We haven’t had the opportunity to test these out yet, but reviewers say they’re a big step up from Sena’s in-house speakers.

Until we’re able to road test the new Harman Kardon Sena speakers, Cardo wins on the audio quality front. The 45mm JBL kit is just TOO good.

Waterproofing and Durability

If you’ve never been caught in the rain on your bike, do you even ride? 

That time I told everyone they wouldn’t need a rain jacket…

Rain, road debris and tough conditions are part and parcel of life on the road.

You need a Bluetooth unit that won’t crap out from a shower. That’s like flushing $300 down the toilet. Sound fun?

Cardo and Sena units have been around for a while. There’s a reason they’re both popular with motorcyclists. That said, there are differences in durability – especially when it comes to waterproofing.

Every Cardo unit is advertised as waterproof. I can attest to this – I’ve never heard of a Cardo unit failing in the rain or even after swimming in a pool for a while (true story). Plus, making that claim means Cardo has to back it up if your unit does fail due to water damage.

However, Sena only claims their units are water-resistant. Very annoying.

They do have a habit of shutting down in heavy rain, likely due to water getting in between the bracket and the unit itself. However, Sena’s integrated helmets tuck away all the electronics and their connections – so no water issues.

Since Sena never says their devices are waterproof, you can’t come crying to them when you’re $400 Sena 50S craps out in a shower. What a shame. Sena – do better!

Motorcycle in a river
Image by Nandhu Kumar from Pixabay 

The waterproofing issue is a big one especially for off-road and adventure riders. It doesn’t even have to rain for you nutcases to get wet.

For waterproofing and durability, go with Cardo.

Now let’s get in to my recommendations depending on your needs.

Best Budget Option: Music, GPS, Calls and Maybe a Friend

Let’s say you don’t want to sell a kidney to get some music in your helmet. You want to pick up a call once in a while, and maybe chat with a passenger or a rider. What you should go with?

The Cardo Spirit – and here’s why.

Image Source: Cardo

Cardo hit the market just right with the Spirit. For under $100, you get music, directions, FM radio, and voice assistant access in your helmet. The connection is reliable, and can link up to your phone plus another device like a GPS.

You can chat with one passenger or other rider up to a quarter mile away (400 meters). Ever been to a drag strip? That’s a quarter mile.

The battery life is long, up to 10 hours. I commute an hour a day with this device. It easily lasts me all week. And every time I turn it off, it reminds me how much battery is left.

The only downside of this unit are the weak speakers, but a quiet helmet or the Cardo JBL 45mm kit fix that.

Best Adventure Option: Riding Trails with a Group

This one is for you riders that are always covered in mud. You love the smell of two-stroke oil in the morning, and you daydream in the office about hitting the trails with a couple buddies.

Which unit from Cardo or Sena will handle the off road with you?

I’d recommend the Cardo Freecom 4x.

Why? It’s in the middle of the price range (spend what you save on a neck brace), but it has most of the features of Cardo and Sena’s high end units. Most importantly, it’s waterproof unlike any Sena devices. It’s also easy to control with glove-friendly buttons, jog dial, and voice assistant access.

Chat with up to four riders over 3/4 of a mile, over reliable Bluetooth. Hear music and your buddies clearly through the 40mm JBL speakers. And go all day with 13 hour battery life. The two year warranty might also save you if this unit craps out in the mud.

Best Motorcycle Club Option: Chatting with a Huge Gang

Now we’re in the big leagues. You want to talk to your wife on the back of your monstrously large bagger, as well as your 25 other friends cruising down the highway with you. What’s the right piece of gear?

Pick up a Sena 50S.

Image Source: Sena

Why is this the right unit for you?

For one, Sena’s boom mic design makes the device work well in all kinds of helmets – including half helmets.

Sena’s device will also connect to limitless other riders over Mesh, whereas Cardo units all top out at 15 connected riders.

Sound by Harman Kardon means no scratchy sound or difficulty hearing – especially important if you ride with an open face or half helmet.

And you’ll be connected all day with a whopping 14 hours of battery life.

This unit comes in a single pack and a pre-connected dual pack (great for couples who ride together). Pick one up now and get back on the road!

Which is better: Sena or Cardo?

It’s all up to what you need. Both offer a wide range of devices for different needs.

That said, I prefer Cardo devices. I like that they all stick by waterproof housing and universal pairing with other Bluetooth headsets. I think Cardo just has a better read on what the market wants.

That said, Sena is a worthy competitor. They put a freaking 4K camera in the 50C unit for recording your rides! Plus they offer some amazing helmets with pre-integrated Bluetooth.

Take the Sena Stryker helmet – all the electronics are internal, battery life is measured in centuries, Harman Kardon home theater speakers, and a TAIL LIGHT.

Hard for Cardo to compete with that.

Let me know what you ride with – shoot me an email at [email protected]

Cardo Spirit HD VS Sena 5s and Sena SMH5

Who’s the winner? Hands down the Cardo Spirit HD. It has all the specs of a top unit – Bluetooth 5.2, fully waterproof, easy to use controls – just without the price tag. Sena’s budget units are all older, lacking the speed and ease of use you get with the Spirit.

Cardo Packtalk Edge vs Sena 50S

Now we’re in to the big leagues. While both of these units will support large group communications and all the entertainment and information needs you could imagine while riding a motorcycle, I have a preference: The Sena 50S. Here’s why.

For one, Sena’s boom mic design works with more helmets, especially half helmets. Their Harman Kardon speakers are also a big upgrade from past models (and on par with Cardo’s JBL 40mm speakers that ship with the Edge).

The Sena 50S is the way to go for most riders, unless you really care about waterproofing…

Where does the Sena 50S fail vs the Cardo Packtalk Edge? For one, the Sena 50S is only water resistant whereas the Cardo Packtalk Edge is fully waterproof. Both units will take a beating, but only Cardo has to replace their unit if there’s water damage.

Sena VS Cardo: Sound Quality

Before 2022 I would have said Cardo took this hands down with their JBL partnership. The Cardo JBL 45mm speaker kit is, I believe, still the best speaker unit money can buy for your Bluetooth headset.

That said, Sena just announced a partnership with Harman Kardon, and from what I hear their speaker quality is beginning to rival the JBL 45mm set in clarity, bass, and overall volume without distortion.

Comments

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  • Man

    1 year ago

    How can it be possible to “pair cardo to senas” but not the other way around? Just pair the cardo to the senas?

    • Evan

      1 year ago

      The Cardo unit has to initiate pairing with Sena, since it has universal intercom. So yes exactly, pair the Cardo to the Senas. And you’re better off connecting through Bluetooth (not Mesh) between Cardo and Sena – newer Sena models won’t connect to Cardo over Mesh.

  • Aaron

    1 year ago

    I’d love to see you review the UClear products since they try to come in cheaper but full featured like unlimited mesh, hand gesture, quality audio headset, up to 18 hour mesh use time, etc.

    • Evan

      1 year ago

      Thank you for your comment, Aaron. I will take a deeper look in to them. I’ve heard mixed things about their audio quality, but that’s all that’s coming to mind right now.

  • Howard Katz

    3 months ago

    I have a Shoei Neotec II with built-in Sena SRL2,which IMHO is now bricked (will NOT pair with my new cellphone – or anyone elses’ cellphone for that matter). Is it possible to replace the Sena unit with a Cardo – which is what all my riding buddies have?

    • Evan Rally

      3 months ago

      Sorry to hear it’s bricked! The Shoei Neotec II should fit any communicator, but the fit in your helmet won’t be as seamless as the Sena SRL2. You’ll have to take out the SRL2 microphone and speakers to replace with those that come with your new Cardo. I’d recommend getting the Cardo PackTalk Edge (mentioned in this article) to replace your SRL2. It has a great microphone, 40mm speakers (much nicer than the SRL2), and it will connect to any Cardo or Sena headset. I’ve used these on group rides and love them – connect to the group seamlessly, even after turning on and off.

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