So, you want a headset for your helmet, listen to some tunes, your SatNav or natter with your partner, friends or pillion. But, you’ve checked out the offerings from the likes of Sena, Midland, Interphone etc in the shops and probably come to the conclusion it’s gonna set you back quite a few bob or two. But ebay is littered with funny Chinese branded gadgets, just how bad can they be? Well, I took a punt on a pair of these and this how they turned out.
The first issue is narrowing down what your buying as you browse the glut of these intercoms on ebay. There’s seemingly dozens of subtly different variations, on branding, spec and revision. Ultimately, I just took pot luck on the cheapest from a UK seller, grabbing a pack of two FreedConn T-COM VB intercoms (800m range). Expect to pay around £40-50 a pair on eBay.
Spec wise, they tick all the boxes on functionality:
- Rider-to-rider intercom
- Bluetooth capable
- FM Radio
The box contained everything needed for two lids: two intercoms, two mic and headphones sets, two clip on bracket mounts, two sticky back velcro mounts, two USB (a proprietary UCE6 variant) charging cable, two mains adaptors and a single manual. The choice of proprietary USB plug is annoying and leaves me hunting for the exact charging cable supplied, rather than any one of the million other USB cables littered around the house.
Installation of the headsets is reasonably straight forward, but does require a little time and care. I fitted these to a Schuberth and a HJC, so your mileage may vary for other lids. You have a choice of mounting brackets: one with a sticky back velcro pad to slap straight on the side; the other a plastic U shaped bracket to slip around the lower edge of the lid.
This U bracket then has a couple of screws (two mini screwdrivers supplied) to tighten up to clamp it firm. I found this little more faff, it would always still slide about a little and the intercom doesn’t unclip very easily (such that I bust one bracket trying).
Next job, is fitting in the headphones and mic. This involves stripping back some of you helmets padding and threading the wires around. Your lid probably already has a bit of a gap in padding for your ears, where the headphones can be stuck on (more sticky back Velcro). Though a bit of trial and error is required to get them positioned just right. The mic is a more rigid boom extending from one headset which can be flexed to position it as required. Threading the wires sometimes needs a bit of thought to find the gaps where it can be poked out from around the helmets padding. Also, the right angle USB plug that goes into the intercom angles forward, which seems wrong as the cable needs to double back to the rear of the lid. Thankfully there’s just enough cable length to make things fit. The headphones are a bit chunky, so some comfort is sacrificed, Mary took a while to get her’s positioned such to avoid discomfort, but then she does have tonne of ear piercing, including conch and tragus!
The final setup step is the pairing of the intercom to one another and to your bluetooth phone and/orSatNav. This was the usually button holding combo shenanigans one expects, but thankfully the manually explained this well in pretty decent English. Pairing with our old HTC One phones, new Samsung and Moto phones and a Garmin SatNav posed no issues.
…but above 50mph wind noise started to drown out the headphones making it tricky to decipher voice or identify songs.
On the road, I found the intercom performed surprisingly well. Sound quality was perfectly acceptable. The dials and buttons on the intercom were easy to use while on the move and with gloves on, that is, once you remember which button to use. Volume is controlled by turning the jog dial and holding it. This could be a little awkward whilst on the move, but ok. The volume range is not huge, with minimum still just audible and the max not so loud as to deafen. Below around 50mph all was clear and easily audible, but above 50mph wind noise started to drown out the headphones making it tricky to decipher voice or identify songs.
Mary and I particularly enjoyed the rider-to-rider intercom function, definitely a novel experience being able to chat throughout an entire ride out. Even if a quick button press starts or stops chat, we’d just keep the channel open. With the SatNav hooked up, it would interject with directions, but continue the open chat channel afterwards, the other rider just gets a couple of beeps to indicate such. We encountered no issues with range, haven’t checked if they manage exactly 800m, but we only had them cut out once, when I left Mary at a red light and carried on for half mile round a few streets back home. The intercom channel audible deteriorates as you hit the limit of the range, rather than just suddenly cutting out.
I also found most stations way to chatty or full of commercials and plain distracting when riding.
The FM Radio function is a nice extra, activated with a button press combo and then using the jog dial to seek between stations. TBH the reception can be hit and miss, with static often creeping in. I also found most stations way to chatty, full of commercials and plain distracting when riding.
Slapping on some decent tunes via my phone was definitely preferable. The TCOM headset gave very reasonable playback via the standard A2DP bluetooth standard and a quick spin of the jog dial, skipped boring tracks. There was the occasional momentary cut out, which seemed to coincide with pulling up at red lights along side traffic, so I suspect it was down to interference with other nearby devices.
As for battery life, again no complaints at all, we’ve still yet to experience them running flat whilst out. Even with rider-to-rider chat non stop on a 4-5 hour ride out, listening to music or using a SatNav for an 8 hour ride to North Wales.
Overall, it’s really hard to fault the T-COM VB intercoms for the money. At £20-25 each we’re basically talking beer money, for a really useful gadget that performs pretty decently. Even if the built battery life starts to suffer in a year, I wouldn’t think twice buying another. Ditto, if I lost the stupid proprietary charging cable, just as cheap to buy another whole intercom. In perspective, even a replacement battery for a Sena intercom will set you back £35!