MO Tested: Cardo 45mm Audio Set Review
Increased volume and dynamic range - for a price
While they may be called helmet communicators, I bet that most riders spend the majority of their time listening to music rather than talking with other riders. Because of that, the most common complaint we hear about these Bluetooth systems is that the speakers have tinny sound and lack the volume to be heard clearly at speed – particularly when wearing earplugs. Well, Cardo has heard you and responded with the recently released 45mm Audio Set, which consists of a pair of 45mm JBL-developed helmet speakers and the firmware to allow select Cardo units to get the most out of them.
The box for the speakers is surprisingly small, but it only needs to hold the 45mm Audio Set speakers, some hook-and-loop fasteners, speaker positioning pads (to move the speakers closer to your ears if necessary), and a pair of replaceable speaker covers. Be careful not to throw away the little instruction card, though. It has the QR-code that unlocks the JBL sound profiles.
Installation is a breeze. All I had to do was take out the stock speakers from my Cardo PackTalk Bold. If you haven’t paid attention to the best location for your speakers, now would be a good time. Proper placement pays huge dividends in sound quality. Because of their larger diameter, it took me a couple of tries to get the placement just right.
Once the hardware is installed, make sure that your Cardo device has the current firmware by visiting the Cardo Community website. The online interface is easy to understand, but Cardo loses points for requiring Chrome or Firefox browsers, forcing Safari users to switch browsers. While you’re connected to your Cardo device, you can adjust the settings to your liking. Next, if you don’t have it already, you’ll need to download the Cardo Connect app to your smartphone. With your Cardo connected to your phone, open the app, and go to the settings. You’ll find a menu option for Audio Profiles. Once you’ve scanned the QR-code, you’re good to go!
I was so excited about these new speakers that I didn’t even wait to go for a ride to test them out. I sat in my family room wearing my helmet, enduring the mocking gaze of my teenager, while I enjoyed some tunes. The difference with the original speakers is immediately apparent. The sound is fuller and more rounded in the Standard profile. The Bass Boost profile does exactly what the name implies, giving the audio a more boomy bass. The Vocal profile makes voices clearer and crisper, and I’ve found this to be good for listening to podcasts or just making phone calls. Otherwise, I mostly listened to the Standard profile because the Bass Boost colored the music too much for my tastes. Still, some music – say reggae or house – called out for that deep bass.
Around town, when I’m not wearing earplugs to damp wind noise, I really enjoy the improved fidelity of the 45mm speakers over the previous generation 40mm standard speakers (not the recently released 40mm JBL ones, which slot in between these two speaker sets in my experience of audio quality and volume level). They increased my listening enjoyment and my ability to communicate on the phone. At highway speed, the additional volume the speakers produce is appreciated, but aside from the extra bass, the increased clarity of the speakers is largely masked by the wind noise. I tested the 45mm Audio Set both with and without earplugs at highway speed and found that I enjoyed the sound more with the earplugs. (You can read about the Etymotic earplugs I typically wear here.) Without earplugs, the volume required to overpower the wind noise makes the whole experience overly loud. With earplugs to damp the wind noise, the sound level reaching my ears is lower and, to my ears, more pleasant.
Overall, the Cardo 45mm Audio Set improved the sound quality and volume level of my Cardo PackTalk Bold, and I would expect similar results for any of the Cardo communicators that allow for the use of the JBL audio profiles. I would like it if the “Hey, Cardo” voice commands had a way to change audio profiles so that I don’t have to stop, take out my phone, and change the profile. Now, I’ll set my profile at the beginning of my ride for whatever I’m planning on listening to, but if that changes during the ride, I just keep the less-than-optimal profile going. The retail price of the Cardo 45mm Audio Set is a hefty $89, and as I write this, it is only available directly from Cardo. So, no discounts can be found. Call it the early adopter tax.
That said, I haven’t blinked at dropping $100 for a pair of silicone-flanged earbuds, again from Etymotic, that act as my earplugs and headphones. The difference here is that the music doesn’t have to fight its way through the damping of the flanges to reach my ears, allowing for much lower volumes to be used and the full fidelity of the sound appreciated. Consequently, I tend to use in-helmet speakers for running around town or commuting, but if I’m touring and grinding out the miles, I’ll opt for the noise-damping, in-ear headphones every time. Although I recognize that I’m probably a rare case in this regard, I felt it was worth mentioning because it affects my review of the Cardo 45mm Audio Set.Learn more about how this works.