By March 23, 2009

Cardo Scala Q2 Bluetooth motorcycle intercom headset review

You encounter (or perhaps create) all sorts of new challenges when you ride a motorcycle more than you drive a car. There are obvious ones: dealing with rain by obtaining waterproof gear; adding a topcase and panniers for luggage capacity. But there are some creature comforts that you take for granted in a car that you don’t have on a bike. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to talk to someone you’re traveling with, and sometimes it’s nice to listen to something other than wind noise.

I tried using my old BMW K1200LTE’s onboard intercom and radio to solve these problems, but the concept of a wired headset seemed problematic. Furthermore, the “compatible” headsets I purchased were not, and I wasn’t interested in spending $260 for a pair of the approved BMW headsets. I wound up selling the KT1200LTE anyway, and I put my comm search on hold.

That is, until I found out about the Scala Cardo Q2 Bluetooth motorcycle intercom. They were wireless, had a built-in FM tuner, an AUX jack for an MP3 player / satellite radio, and a range of up to 500′. This meant that I could talk with my passenger, or perhaps another riding buddy. I am really glad I didn’t spring for those wired headsets now.

Would the Cardo Scala Q2 headset meet my expectations? Unfortunately there’s still a long way to go to make these live up to the hype.

Installation was very easy and straight-forward. The Q2 has a docking station that is held to the helmet via two bolts. Cardo was nice enough to provide both an allen wrench and two sizes of clamps in case you have a thicker helmet. You use hook-and-loop tape (velcro) to affix the two speakers to the inside of the helmet. The hardest part was making sure the soft padding of my helmets went back properly. Overall installation took about twenty minutes for two helmets.

I bought the “TeamSet” version, which comes with two headsets. One advantage to this is that the headsets were already paired via Bluetooth. Some people reported problems pairing their headsets; I didn’t have to deal with this at all.

Operation was as simple as the installation. There are two very large multi-function buttons that can be easily manipulated with a gloved hand. There are two smaller buttons along the posterior end of the headset for volume control.

The Cardo paired instantly with my HTC Touch. I was getting really excited at this point, because everything had gone so smoothly. I put my helmet on, forced Starbuck onto the back of Cylon, and off we went.

The headsets are voice operated (VOX) by default. However, neither one of us could reliably trigger the microphone. I knew from Internet reviews to expect the mic to activate on the first or second word, which meant Starbuck would hear “or not?” instead of “Stop here or not?” I attempted to prime the headset by saying “BREAK BREAK” but it still didn’t activate the mic. At one point I even screamed into the microphone. No luck.

We enabled full-time transmission modes. The microphones would go to standby if no one talked for thirty seconds in order to extend battery life. This mode made everything a LOT better. It was awesome being able to hear Starbuck, and it made riding a lot more fun. She helped me look out for traffic hazards, and it was fun to hear her squeal as we took a corner a little more sharply than she liked.

Unfortunately the volume was not nearly as loud as it should be. We both wear earplugs (I wear -33db earplugs, she wears -30db I think), and I am sure this is part of the problem. The Scala Q2 just simply does not get loud enough to hear each other at speeds above 60MPH.

This is a huge problem, as this is the bottom level of the speed at which we travel on the highway. I typically cruise at 75MPH+ when riding solo. One of the reasons I bought this headset was to listen to music and/or talk to people to break up the monotony of riding on the superslab.

Worse yet, the AUX jack is not powered by the headset, which means that your MP3 player or whatever is responsible for the volume. I tried three different audio devices at maximum volume, and the music was inaudible at speeds great than 45MPH. Since the main road near my house has a 45MPH limit, I can only listen to music during the five minutes it takes to get from my driveway to the main road, and the two minutes it takes me to get from the highway to work.

Lastly, the unit is not waterproof. I killed my first one during my rainy ride to Georgia, but Abe’s of Maine was kind enough to replace it.

I really wish the Scala Q2 was louder. I searched the Internet for tips, like using foam to put the speakers right next to my ears (didn’t really help) or replacing the speakers with headphone earbuds. The latter involves soldering, and I’m not too keen to do that. What an obvious design flaw to not power the AUX jack, but it’s irrelevant as the headset isn’t loud enough on the other channels anyway.

I’ll review it another time, but I tried an inline amplifier to boost the volume. It didn’t help, either.

Unfortunately riding without earplugs is not an option for me, so the Q2 is going up for sale unless there’s a firmware upgrade or hack to make it louder.

Not recommended.

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Posted in: motorcycling, review

10 Comments on "Cardo Scala Q2 Bluetooth motorcycle intercom headset review"

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  1. John says:

    I have a Scala Q2 and have worked through some of the problems you describe. I suggest that you might not have the speakers mounted directly over your ear canal. Take great care with mounting the speakers. Secondly, mount them with the least helmet padding covering them. I ride with my brother and we speak (rider to rider) with clarity at speeds well over 60mph, and my brother has a complete hearing loss in one hear, and is partially deaf in the other. My pillion pax also has a Q2 – not a complaint at all. My set is too loud on full volume. As for voice activating, I have found that blowing hard into the mike works every time. We often have 500-600km days of riding, and talk all day without a problem. I suggest you persist. It is worth it. As for the MP3 issue, I don’t listen to music while riding, but I do have a Garmin Zumo 500 which hosts my mobile and which is paired to the Q2. So that is three sources chanelled through my Q2. I can hear GPS commands and have hands free mobile conversations with complete ease, as well as talking to the pillion/other rider. The automatic priority system as between GPS, mobile and conversation works faultlessly. I have had at least one day of riding in driving rain (over 500km) and the Q2 did not falter or fail. I hope that persists, given your account. I ride a BMW R1200GS, and am completely happy with the Q2. The only occasional glitch is that from time to time, re-pairing of the units is required. This seems to be a feature of every bluetooth device I own.
    I remain a happy customer. Hope you get yours sorted.

  2. drfaulken says:

    Hi John!

    Thank you for your suggestions. I had considered the speaker placement to be an issue, so I optimized it as much as possible. They were directly in front of my ears. One this I (temporarily) tried was putting the speakers on spacers made up of memory foam. This put the speakers closer to my ears but made putting on / taking off the helmet a problem.

    Do you wear ear plugs when you ride? I imagine the volume might be tolerable if I followed your suggestions and did not wear plugs.

    I am glad you are getting good use of your Scala Q2 with your brother. I did enjoy using the communication feature when I had the set.

  3. douglas says:

    I am in the same boat as you drfaulken. Recently purchased and installed headset and mp3 music is impossible to hear at roughly 40 mph and I am not even wearing ear plugs, but still can’t make out the music. There is just to much wind resistance getting in the way. Not happy and am attempting to find a solution. I thought I would check out some other types of mp3 players but I dought that this will work, especially after you tried. I really want to find a way, this is one of the big reasons I wanted this headset: to communicate to by biker buddy and listen to music on our trips. Not that happy, but am happy in ease of use and quick install.

  4. Phil says:

    What about bluetooth pairing the mp3 player to the headsets? Does the volume work better when wirelessly connected (i.e. powered by the converter adapters) than when wired and not powered?

  5. drfaulken says:

    Hey Phil, that would probably help, but my MP3 players don’t have bluetooth capability and I wasn’t too keen on buying an adapter just to try it out — even though I had considered it.

    It’s weird, my Windows Mobile phone wouldn’t play audio over Bluetooth via Windows Media Player. I was really hoping to listen to music that way (or via the Pandora.com app for WinMo).

  6. Phil says:

    That’s not what I wanted to hear- I usually play my Blackberry’s pandora on a splitter with one earphone for me and my passenger.
    I just bought the Q2 “MultiSet”, and I’m not entirely sure how (if at all) it’s different from the “TeamSet”. I’ll have it in a week. I live in super-uber-windy West Texas, so I’ll let you know how they work with my flippy helmets. I just want them to work for my 3,000 mile trip later this month.
    Back to your phone, is that because of the lack of A2DP?

  7. douglas says:

    Well I have been doing a lot of research lately about the the sound of the cardo speakers when the mp3 is connected through the cardo mp3 jack. As I have mentioned earlier the sound is just not loud enough at speeds around 35 to 40 mph, sometimes even lower speeds, however the song type does matter. Only can hear load songs such as some R&B songs at 35 – 40 mph. What is a possibility and what will work is saudering earbuds. Have to cut the current cardo speakers off and sauder earbuds on. I have been to two different audio stores (Boomers & Ozcars) and theres a problem…(of course)…the wires from the earbuds are just to freakin small to sauder (as both companies have told me). After cutting my $50 dollar pair of sony earbuds to look at the internal wiring they said the wires are just to small to sauder. And of course I don’t know how to find earbuds with thicker wire unless I start buying and cutting them open to find out. This is very fustraing I hope I find a pair of earbuds with thicker wire so I can get this time soon…Im getting ready for a long bike trip from NY to Canada for a week in Mid June this year and want this fixed by then. If anyone has any ideas out there please let me know.

  8. Hetman says:

    Douglas-

    Solder on a jack for ear buds/headphones to the Cardo, then you don’t have to mess with the wiring of the ear buds.

    http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=386488

  9. Eileen says:

    I am currently looking for a rider to rider system with bluetooth capabilities and have been considering the Cardo Team Set but have some concerns. My husband wears a 1/2 helmet and it’s not clear if it will work with that type of helmet and also do BOTH headsets have bluetooth capability..in other words can each of us pair our own cellphone with our headset and can we both make and receive calls? I appreciate any advice. Thanks Eileen

  10. Emile says:

    I use the Cardo XL2 (teamset) with a Shoei Multitec on my ST1300A, with proper universal earplugs. Got the speakers positioned right over my ear canals (so not the earshell), meaning they’re at the most down and forward position, almost in the way of the mounts for the strap inside the helmet. In that position they work perfectly for me, very audible even at Autobahn speeds (160 km/h). The volume is at the max, but is enough. Calls work great too.

    Concerning Eileen’s question, yes that is possible. You can talk to each other full duplex all day long while still being paired to your own phone and / or GPS. And you can each listen to other FM radio stations.