Getting in touch with other riders in your group has always been a long-standing difficulty for many. Hand signals have always been a way to send messages across, but more complex conversations would often necessitate a short stopover in order to sort out any necessary discussions. As such, motorcycle communication systems have always been offered as the solution for many. These gadgets attach to the side of the helmet allow riders to converse with one another without having to pull over to the side of the road and are often considered an essential piece of equipment for most modern-day riders. While these would help solve problems for riders, not all communicators are built the same. Many entry-level communicators come feature-packed but often lack in quality and capability. As such, investing in the right helmet communicator system pays dividends in the long term.
So here we have it: the Cardo PackTalk Bold. One of the most coveted communicator systems motorcyclists can get. While this specific communicator system is indeed one of the best systems you can purchase in the market today, there are a few things to watch out for as well. That being said, however, Cardo walks the talk with the PackTalk Bold.
In the box
The PackTalk Bold is available in two variants: the single pack which comes with one unit and the duo pack which comes with two communicator units. Both variants come in the same sized box, and the box itself is well-built to protect the unit and opens up easily to the contents of the package. Inside the box, you will find a surprising amount of items and accessories to help get you started on your installation: the sleek-looking PackTalk Bold unit dressed in black and silver, a JBL 40mm speaker set, a clip-on cradle, and an adhesive-based cradle for you to choose from, a wired microphone for full-face helmets, a boom microphone for open face and modular helmets, a micro USB cable for each unit, Velcro adhesive mounts for the speakers and microphones, speaker spacers in case the speaker pockets are too deep, alcohol pads for cleaning, and a spare sponge cover for the microphone.
Cardo surely didn’t skimp in providing riders with all the right accessories to help in installation for nearly any helmet. It’s important to note as well that the package will support installation for full-face helmets, open-face helmets, and modular helmets. However, riders with half-face and quarter-face helmets may need to purchase the smart pack Half Helmet Kit for appropriate installation.
Unlike many of the other communicator systems out in the market, Cardo thoroughly thought through the installation process and provided the necessary equipment to make it easy for nearly all to most helmets. We first removed all of the inner pads and liners of the helmet and started the installation with the speakers and microphones. The included alcohol pads were used to first clean the speaker pockets and chin bar for the velcro pads, then the velcro pads needed to be stuck onto the speaker pocket and chin bar. The speakers and microphones simply stick onto the velcro pads without any extra adhesives which will allow for easy removal and reinstallation between helmet washes.
Afterward, the cardo unit itself needed to be stuck on the helmet. You have the option of using the included adhesive cradle or the clip-on cradle depending on your helmet. Our installation made use of the adhesive cradle as we’ve found that this mount is more flexible in terms of placement. Next, we simply connected all wires together, tucked the excess wires in, and re-installed the pads. The whole process took less than 30 minutes and was not a difficult job. It is without question that the unit looks incredibly sleek, well built, and would undoubtedly look good on any helmet regardless of price, albeit a little bulky.
While the installation was relatively easy, we did have to manage the cables properly. The cables near the cradle had to be tucked behind the EPS foam so as not to be sandwiched by the cheek pads. Additionally, the installation would not have been possible if not for the appropriate helmet speaker pockets already involved in the helmet we tested. If your helmet does not have speaker pockets, you may need to purchase a lid with an already-equipped pocket for the speakers.
The PackTalk Bold unit initially looks quite bulky with quite a few buttons to manage, but is actually not a lot bigger than many of the other more affordable systems out in the market and is very easily operable. The unit comes with five controls: three buttons to operate the unit, one roller dial primarily for volume, and an additional button for the roller dial when pressed. Instructions to operate the unit were also available in the box through an instruction manual. The unit also comes with an LED flasher which, depending on the color, notes the respective mode of the unit when powered on.
The unit itself comes with two primary modes: the Dynamic Mesh Connectivity (DMC) mode and Bluetooth mode—both of which will be talked about in more detail later on. The PackTalk Bold can very easily be paired with your smartphone and motorcycle Bluetooth system as well, so you can listen to navigation directions and music while on the road. That being said, the 40mm JBL speakers do poke out of the speaker pockets a bit even without the spacers installed but aren’t uncomfortable. The speakers do hold up to their reputation though, being JBL units, and produce a very full and bassy sound for helmet speakers for a pleasurable listening experience.
While we won't go into the exact instructions of operating the unit, pairing the unit to your phone and other units was made easy due to the included instruction manual and an available Cardo app for iOS and Android devices. When paired to your phone, the app can be used to control the unit—pairing to other Bluetooth units or Cardo DMC devices, volume settings, sound equalizer profiles: Vocals, Normal, and Bass, battery status, and more. On top of this, the Cardo PackTalk Bold also comes with voice commands. Riders simply have to say “Hey Cardo,” and volume, track skipping, and call commands can be easily adjusted by voice without having to take your hands off the handlebar—even “Hey Siri” or “Hey Google” can be activated by voice commands which adds a lot more control and flexibility over what you can do while on a ride.
Connecting your Cardo PackTalk Bold unit to other devices is quite simple. Bluetooth mode can be activated by pushing the upper and lower buttons simultaneously until the flasher turns blue, then pairing can be initiated by holding the lower button for 5 seconds. When in pairing mode, simply find the PackTalk Bold unit on your phone’s Bluetooth pairing function and connect—it’s really that simple. On your next ride out, the PackTalk Bold also automatically connects with your phone provided that your phone’s Bluetooth setting is on. Now that you’re paired with your phone, voice commands to Siri and Google can be easily activated and music can very easily be played on your helmet speakers for enjoyable solo rides.
Cardo claims that Bluetooth mode can also be used on the PackTalk Bold to connect with other Bluetooth-only Cardo and non-Cardo helmet communicator devices. We tested this out by attempting to connect the Cardo PackTalk Bold to a Bluetooth-only Parani M10 unit and it did work properly. The pairing job was not as straightforward as the manual made it out to be however—the Parani M10 had to connect to the PackTalk Bold using phone pairing and not intercom pairing, which basically treated the PackTalk Bold like a phone. On the PackTalk Bold, we initiated Bluetooth pairing mode and connected quite easily. The whole job took about 10 minutes to figure out but worked quite easily. We did notice the connection to be slightly unstable (jumping on and off), which means that this mode would probably work best when connecting to a passenger due to proximity instead of connecting to fellow riders.
Cardo’s unique Dynamic Mesh Communication (DMC) system is what we tested next. Unlike Bluetooth devices which connect to one another in a sequential chain, Cardo’s DMC mode connects to other riders in the group through a mesh system, where every rider is connected to one another in all possible combinations. What this does is it creates a very robust connection system where riders at the back of the group can still sound crisp and clear to the riders at the front. Additionally, if one or two riders drop off from the group to take a detour, the remaining members of the group need not pull over to reset the chain—DMC mode automatically takes care of that and retains the connection within the remaining group. On top of that, when the riders who took a detour rejoin the group, DMC mode automatically connects the entire group together again very quickly and without any manual resetting. Quite a game-changer in the world of helmet communicator systems.
In actual operation, DMC mode worked incredibly easily. The PackTalk Bold can be switched to DMC mode by hitting the top and bottom buttons simultaneously until the LED indicator flashes green. Afterwards, pairing with a fellow rider or a group couldn’t also be more easy—all riders must simply press on the top button for 5 seconds until the unit goes into pairing mode, then the assigned group leader must press the top button once to establish the pairing across all riders.
At first glance, the Cardo PackTalk Bold may look difficult to operate. After all, it does come with a total of 5 buttons and inputs to manage. In everyday usage however, operating the PackTalk Bold is quite simple thanks to the “Hey Cardo,” “Hey Siri,” and “Hey Google” voice commands which worked as designed nearly all of the times we initiated it. We’ve used this feature quite a lot to pause and play music on the fly, skip music tracks, check battery status, initiate phone calls, and a whole lot more. The only downside of the voice-activated commands is that all riders in your group would hear you initiate the command. Not a dealbreaker in our opinion, but certainly something to be mindful of.
The Cardo App is also a great bonus for operating and customizing settings for your respective PackTalk Bold. There are quite a number of features available inside the app, but only a few worth noting. Firstly, volume levels for FM Radio, phone music, calls, microphone sensitivity, and more can all be adjusted independently in the app to tailor-fit to your preferences. Secondly, JBL also offers three equalizer settings for your speakers: Normal (default), Vocals, and Bass. We’ve found the Bass Boost mode to be our favorite setting as it produced a full and punchy bass note which worked well with a lot of modern music. Lastly, the user guide for the PackTalk Bold is also available through the app which means that your owner’s manual can be left at home. It seems that Cardo has thought of a lot to make things easy for the users and it shows with all of the inclusions and features of the unit.
We’ve also tested the unit in the real world across all pairing modes: Bluetooth mode for the phone, and Bluetooth mode to a different communicator system, and DMC mode. We had no major struggles when connecting to our phones—the Bluetooth connection to the phone was one of the most stable we’ve ever tried. Music didn’t chop on and off, “Hey Siri” and “Hey Google” worked as designed, and mobile calls were crisp and clear to both on the line. Bluetooth mode to other Bluetooth devices on the other hand was a little bit hard to set up and didn’t produce the most confidence-inspiring connection. As such, we recommend that the Bluetooth mode to other helmet communicator devices be used mostly for pillion riders due to the consistency and the proximity between riders.
While Bluetooth modes were quite usable and impressive in their own ways, DMC mode is where the PackTalk Bold came into its own. Again, pairing for DMC mode is relatively easy. The great thing about DMC mode is that riders from the same group that paired previously will be automatically paired during another ride. We were able to connect almost automatically during our test rides, and while we found the real-world range to be 500m to 750m—a fair amount less than the 1km range claimed by Cardo, the connection remained very stable and clear until it cut loose completely. DMC mode is without a doubt the most reliable and convenient communication configuration you can get in the market today—the automatic connection when meeting with your group, the flexibility of dropping off from the group and rejoining automatically, and the stability of the connection when riding.
Price and final thoughts
The Cardo PackTalk Bold is available locally at Ride Manila, Cardo’s official local distributor, for P16,950 for the single unit, and P29,950 for the Duo pack in case you have a relative or friend whom you can split with. While the price may indeed sound a bit steep compared to many other entry-level communicator systems in the market, you surely are getting what you pay for with the Cardo PackTalk Bold. It comes with one of the most complete installation tools and accessories, high quality JBL speakers, a well-built unit, and one of the most stable, reliable, and flexible communicator modes—Bluetooth connectivity for the phone and to other Bluetooth-only communicators, and the much loved DMC mode which will work smoothly, reliably, and seamlessly for group rides.
The only downside we’ve found to the PackTalk Bold would be the battery life. During a ride out, our PackTalk Bold units lasted from 5:30am to around 4pm, which is impressive in itself, but riders who plan to ride from dawn to dusk might need to take a powerbank around to squeeze in some extra juice on the PackTalk Bold during stopovers.
Given all that we’ve said, it might be the right time to now ask the question—should you buy the PackTalk Bold? If you plan on doing group rides often, need the hands-free commands, enjoy high quality audio, and need the flexibility and stability of the comms system, our vote goes to the Cardo PackTalk Bold for being able to satisfy all of these needs with excellence. However, if you are the solo rider looking for phone connectivity, helmet audio, and nothing more, then we are of the opinion that the PackTalk Bold may be a bit overkill for your needs. The PackTalk Bold will be of better value for money if you often ride in groups with fellow PackTalk Bold-equipped helmets and certainly should be the communicator to get given all the great features, fantastic build quality, and an excellent communication system.