PRODUCT TEST: SENA X1 HELMET

Best audio & communication in a helmet

 

Have you ever been introduced to a new product or technology then wondered how you ever lived without it? Something that just enhances your experience so much and brings with it usefulness and usability. Mobile phones are an example of that kind of technology, especially smartphones. However, using a smartphone while driving isn’t very, well, smart.

When you’re riding, though, sometimes you want to communicate with others or listen to music. Having headphones in isn’t legal in many states and can suppress noise from the outside that is beneficial for you to be aware of your surroundings.

Sena is known for great helmet communication in the motorcycle world, and now they are bringing that technology to the bicycle world with their new X1 helmet. It’s lightweight, vented and has easy-to-reach buttons on the left side.

DOES IT WORK?

We first checked out these helmets at the company’s booth at the Sea Otter Classic this past spring. We were impressed by the sound quality and thought they’d be useful. At the time they were prototypes, and we couldn’t take any with us. Since then, they sent us three to test out to see what it’s like to live with them and see what they’re like in the real world.

First, trying them on lets you know that they are designed on a fit model with a round head. If your head is oval-shaped, you’ll not feel that it fits precisely. There is adjustment built in via the retention knob in the back, and via the chin strap. It turns out that even with the difference in shape, it’s comfortable on long rides.

The instruction manual looks like a set of flash cards as thick as a deck of cards on a ring. We suggest instead going onto YouTube and watching their instructional videos, or download the Sena app, which has an easier-to-understand guide. There are only three buttons on the side of the helmet to control it, and there are combination button presses to do various things. We found it far easier to watch videos or use the app than to try to understand their manual.

Once set up, pairing with a phone to stream music and such is straightforward and easy. It has a built-in FM radio and can play not only music from your phone, but it can also play GPS directions and cues from fitness apps simultaneously. The intercom isn’t fully hands-free; to communicate, you will have to touch the center button to engage it, then once again to go back to whatever it was set to before (music, not hearing you panting as you climb steep hills, etc.). There are options for handlebar-mounted controls so you don’t have to take your hands off the grips to press the helmet buttons.

It’s lighter than you might expect with all this technology, weighing in at 400 grams and offering 12 vent holes for airflow. It’s quite comfortable on longer rides.

CLARITY

When we first set it up, music started playing for a few seconds, and then a phone call came in. Upon answering, it was as clear as having a decent pair of headphones in, yet there was nothing covering the ears and the outside sounds were clear. The speakers are directly above your ears, and they’ve done their homework to create a way to play sound perfectly clear to your ears. The microphone for the system is straight up from your nose at the front of the helmet. It also does a fantastic job, even in wind while riding.

If you do like listening to music while you ride, it works well. We were able to listen to music and talk to other riders and hikers along the trail and hear them clearly without having to pause the music. There’s no issue with wind noise when bombing down a hill or on a windy ride, either.

Communication is easy to set up once you know how, and you can pair up to four helmets. The connectivity with the phone or with other helmets is done using Bluetooth 4.1. The crazy thing is that the Bluetooth 4.1 spec is able to cover a distance of up to 10 meters (33 feet). That’s perfect for a keyboard, a mouse or a wireless speaker at home, but on a bike? Four people within 33 feet? You might as well just talk amongst yourselves.

Yet, somehow, Sena has figured out how to make that range up to 900 meters! We think that might involve magic. However, they’ve done it, and it gets better. It can be 900 meters between each radio, and they all act as relays in between. That means there can be up to 900 meters between each rider. In practice, we found that the 900-meter mark was optimistic in town. It is good for a block or two before it starts getting crackly, but before that, the sound quality is outstanding!

Another cool feature is that you can share your music via streaming. If you and your riding buddies like the same music, this is a really cool feature.

The helmet’s battery is rechargeable via a MicroUSB port near one of the speakers. That same port can be used to connect the helmet to your computer in case of future firmware upgrades.

There is a version coming out with a video camera built into the front for vloggers and those who like to record their rides for safety, and a mountain bike-specific version as well. Prices haven’t been announced as this is written.

THE VERDICT

The helmet itself is fairly basic but comfortable and looks like it would provide the protection you buy a helmet for. The technology built into the helmet, however, is truly remarkable and innovative. This is our new favorite helmet set for rides. Being able to ride at different paces yet still communicate with crystal clarity is fantastic. Being able to clearly hear GPS, fitness apps, your friends and music all with the safety of being able to hear your surroundings is amazing.

The Sena X1 is available in white, grey, black or blue in medium or large for $199. For more information, visit www.sena.com.


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