December 18, 2019

SENA 30K Motorcycle Intercom Review

SENA 30K Motorcycle Intercom Review

 

I’ve been using the Sena 30k now for just about a year.  I’ve been meaning to write a quick review on it for a while now.  But, even now after about a year of use, I still feel like I haven’t learned how to operate this device proficiently enough to write a comprehensive review.  That is unfortunately, one of the 30K’s biggest weaknesses – its complexity of use.  However, on some levels its a great device and I have enjoyed using it.

If you’re not familiar with motorcycle headsets or intercoms, the basic concept is that you have a hands free microphone, speakers and transmitter/receiver installed in your helmet. Most intercom systems traditionally rely on Bluetooth to connect to each other.    You can connect to other riders in your group who have headsets and communicate back and forth conversationally.  You can also link your phone for the ability to make and receive calls and listen to music or stream GPS directions.  The ability to converse with other riders in your group is really fun.  An intercom adds a whole new dimension to riding and its also really useful in complex terrain or situations where you’re navigating, especially if you separated or out of sight of one another.

The 30K was Sena’s first intercom system that used Bluetooth as well as their proprietary “mesh” technology.  The mesh technology was to supposed to basically simplify pairing and connection of a group of riders by allowing the connections to self-heal and re-connect automatically as well as allowing the connections to daisy-chain for a greater range.  Sena also outfitted this unit with traditional Bluetooth to allow it to connect with Bluetooth only units as well.

The 30K is loaded with features.  Arguably too many.  It has voice commands, FM radio, phone pairing, gps pairing, music streaming, and numerous other functions.  It comes with a manual that is nearly 100 pages long!

The 30K is basically controlled with three buttons and the “jog” dial.

Each of these buttons has MULTIPLE features depending upon what mode the unit is in and how its depressed, tapped, held or used in combination with one of the other buttons.

Installation into your helmet is pretty easy.  Sena includes everything you need for just about any type of helmet.  You will likely have to remove some of your helmet’s padding to install the speakers and hide the wires.  The mount attaches via ahesive or a clamp depending upon the helmet you have.  I installed this unit on my Arai VX Pro3, which is basically a dirt helmet.  Installation was easy and took maybe 30 minutes.

 

Once you have the unit installed, then you have to learn how to use it.  Unfortunately, this is a real challenge.  As I mentioned above, the 30K comes with a 100 page user guide.  Learning to use the features on this unit is essentially like learning another language.  It requires you to literally learn or memorize (or constantly lookup) combinations of buttons to activate to use various features.  For example, your mesh intercom functions are controlled via the mesh button on the top of the unit.  The features such as creating, joining, leaving, or rejecting a mesh network are all accessed by how long you hold down the button.  A tap of the button, holding it for 1 second, 2 seconds, 3 seconds, 5 seconds and 8 seconds all access different features.  Trying to remember what they all do is not easy.

Here’s a couple of examples from the manual of other button combinations:

The controls get even more confusing when you have to be able to remember which combination of buttons to press, hold, tap, etc. are required to access other features.  Trying to learn all of the controls on this unit is truly like trying to learn a new language.  Just paging through the manual can be overwhelming.

Sena tried to make the 30K easier to use by adding voice control to it.  Unfortunately, I’ve found the voice command functions to be completely useless.  I have not been able to ever get any of them work.

Although the Sena 30K is far more complicated than it should be, it actually works pretty well as an intercom.  My riding partner also has a 30K installed in his helmet and we’ve found that they work well in intercom function.  Creating a mesh is easy and once an open or public mesh is created, the units connect easily.  The sound quality is excellent.  The microphones are great as are the speakers.  The noise canceling works great too.  You can have natural back and forth conversations easily.  If you fall out of range, they easily reconnect once you are back in range again.  The range is pretty good in mesh – better than I expected it to be.

Connecting to a Bluetooth unit is another story.  The 30K is supposed to be able to connect via Bluetooth to older Bluetooth only Sena units and it has a universal connection function to connect it to other brands of Bluetooth intercoms.  Unfortunately, these are not easy to use and the connections do not seem to be very reliable.  Trying to connect to a riding partner’s Sena 20K recently proved challenging.  Once a connection was established, if it dropped or we dropped out of range, re-connection was a challenge and they rarely re-connected on their own and would instead require re-pairing.  We were also unable to get the Sena 30K to connect with a Cardo intercom in universal mode, also disappointing.

Streaming music seems to work well.  The sound quality is great and I can hear the music over the bike and wind just fine, even through my ear plugs.  The music controls work OK when connected to an iphone.

The 30K has an iphone and android app that does allow you to control the device and adjust its settings.  But, it does you little good when you are riding and if you have gloves on.  However, its much easier to use than the combinations of buttons on the unit itself.

Sena has also made the 30K firmware updatable.  You have to install a device manager on your PC to upgrade the firmware.  Again, not the easiest process.  In fact, Sena’s device drivers are not windows friendly so you have to disable a windows security feature to get the drivers to load and the device manager to ultimately recognize the device.  Here’s instructions on how to do this that I found on helpful post on ADVRider:

To disable driver signature enforcement and install drivers that are not digitally signed, use the following steps:

1. Click the Start Start menu and select Settings.
2. Click Update and Security.
3. Click on Recovery.
4. Click Restart now under Advanced Startup.
5. Click Troubleshoot.
6. Click Advanced options.
7. Click Startup Settings.
8. Click on Restart.
9. On the Startup Settings screen press 7 or F7 to disable driver signature enforcement.
Your computer will restart and you will be able to install non-digitally signed drivers. If you restart your computer again the driver signature enforcement will be re-enabled.

Following these instructions worked perfectly and I was able to get the device manager to recognize the unit and ultimately update the firmware.  But, it was not as easy as it should be.
The battery life on the Sena 30k is good.  I’ve used it all day and still have life left.  It recharges quickly via mico-usb port.
Sena claims the 30k is water resistant.  I have used it in rain and wet conditions and never had a problem.
Overall, the Sena 30k is a good unit.  It communicates well with other 30k intercoms.  However, its downfall is the vast complexity of using its controls and functions.  I would recommend the 30k if everyone in your group is also using the 30k.  It should work great to talk to each other and communicate.  There’s no need to connect a phone to make it work and your whole group can chat and communicate on your ride.  Unfortunately, pairing this device with other intercoms is not easy or reliable.  Also, proficiently learning how to use its array of features takes patience, practice and commitment.
Being able to communicate with your group on a ride is a lot of fun.  I just hope Sena makes using its next generation of devices easier to use and control.

 

Happy riding and ride safe out there!