The Cardo Systems and JBL Partnership

Bringing High-End Audio to Motorcyclists


October 24, 2018

Recently Cardo Systems, maker of Bluetooth helmet communications systems for motorcyclists, and JBL, of high-end audio fame, announced an exclusive partnership to bring high-end Bluetooth audio to motorcycle communications.

I met with Dan Emodi, Cardo’s VP of marketing, and Bruce Ryan, engineering manager at JBL, during AIMExpo to discuss the details of this partnership as well as what this means for end-users. Both are very passionate about what they do and providing the best audio experience possible.

Teaming Up

When asked about the “how and why” of Cardo and JBL teaming up, Bruce, from JBL, stated “We come at it, and always have, in the art and science of sound and we come with a great passion for delivering a great audio experience.

“Cardo comes to their products in exactly the same way and the synergy was automatic when we had the first technical meetings, and the like, we could we could feel the energy and the overall roadmapping of where we can go and the possibilities were apparent.”

It’s hard to distill down what JBL and their parent company Harmon do to improve the audio experience but just one example of how highly regarded JBL is for their work: Ferraris have come with JBL systems since 2008.

Updates

Outlining JBL’s involvement Bruce explained that “what we did was we took the standard equipment that Cardo has made and we analyzed every single piece of it just to give us a good foundation, a good baseline where they are at.

Fortunately these guys had done a tremendous job, just beautiful architecture, beautiful component selection, tremendous. We had a very solid foundation. Then what we did was also again with Cardo and their rider group is we get a lot of information on what sort of sound field issues do riders have, so a lot of recordings, we take those and we go into our laboratories in Los Angeles and we did a matrix of experiments in measurements on the sound. What are the deficiencies that a rider could see? So we distilled all of that down to several main issues and that’s what this upgrade tries to address.”

The sound system update will include new JBL designed speakers and new firmware and software with updated  processing based on rider research, improving the rider audio experience.

“It’s a very inclusive sound revolution”

Soon after the release of the JBL powered Packtalk, Cardo will also release an accessory upgrade kit for current owners of the Packtalk and Freecom.

Dan explained that “We’re kicking off in 2019 with The Packtalk series, that’s our top-of-the-line mesh communicators, it’s the Packtalk Bold and the Packtalk Slim, all will come with JBL design sound systems already included in the box. That should hit the US stores around the beginning of riding season, early spring 2019.

“However, if you have purchased a Packtalk or Freecom, I’d say several years backwards, you need not worry because a few short months later we are going to introduce an accessory with the JBL designed speakers and matching firmware and software because it’s not just the hardware, as Bruce said, it’s everything in the flow of sound that will be available as an accessory, purchasable accessory, to everyone that has previously purchased Packtalk or Smartpack or Freecom. Which means it’s a very inclusive sound revolution, not exclusive”.

Audio Presets

The JBL updates will bring ‘EQ-like’ settings, including bass boost and vocal boost, to compensate for helmet fit and noise issues. Between the JBL designed speakers and being able to tweak the output with these new settings tinny and flat helmet audio should be a thing of the past. This should also help fix a problem I’ve had where audio sounded good in one helmet but not as good in another helmet model with the exact same Bluetooth communicator. The vocal boost also works for the communicator, not just for listening to music.

Bruce from JBL explained, “In the upgrade we’ve provided new presets, so we’ve changed the firmware in the actual units, the Cardo units, themselves. We’ve added some features, we’ve changed the tuning so the actual processing, whether it be music or rider-to-rider communications, you can now customize it through the app to compensate for bass boost. That’s primarily what a rider would lose just due to helmet fit. So now you can go in and boost just that frequency set that you’re loosing to try and regain that. It also works really well if you wear earplugs when you ride. Because with earplugs you’re losing the bass again. So now you can recover that with that setting.

“So now the other issue is that when it comes to vocal you’ll lose that out, you lose the effectiveness of the vocal track a lot of times just with road noise and traffic noise. It tends to be in the same frequency range as the voice so we did another preset where it’s vocal, so we’ve taken the vocal region of the frequency and boosted that so when you use that we’re attempting to bring it up above the background noise so you can choose that also for better communication. So overall we’re trying to deliver better and better music and communication.”

Trying the different settings on the demo unit, during AIMExpo, I was surprised by how much of a difference the presets made and how improved the speaker output was compared to Bluetooth communicators I had used. Everything was clear with good bass and didn’t sound thin or trebelly at all.

“Hey Cardo, play music”

Testing the Packtalk’s Natural Voice operation I found that controlling the unit with voice commands works perfectly. I didn’t have to repeat any commands, adjust my speech, volume, or anything. The commands are intuitive and easy to remember, much easier than using button combos or a handlebar mounted remote, you really can do everything with just your voice. Mike Tole from Cardo demoed all the features and mentioned that when he was using his Packtalk on a recent ride he didn’t have to touch any of the controls on the unit itself, he was able to do everything with only voice commands.

The voice control also works with your iPhone’s Siri or Google Assistant so you can “Hey Siri” or “Ok Google” on the fly.

Upcoming Review

Just from my brief test of the JBL unit at AIMExpo I expect it’s going to be a huge leap from current helmet audio as well as a shift from just being functional to bringing high-end audio to motorcyclists.

Keep an eye out for a real-world review on onlytwowheels.com of one of the Cardo/JBL units in 2019. I’ll be comparing it to an older model to see how much of an improvement it is.


In the meantime you can read more about hands-on with the Packtalk’s voice control from Liz over at onegirlonebikeoneworld.com

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