Cardo Packtalk Edge review: king of comms?

The Cardo Packtalk Edge motorcycle intercom sits at the top of the firm’s range, featuring all the latest key technologies like Bluetooth 5.2, mesh connectivity for 15 riders and premium sound from JBL.

In reality though, what you want is a reliable connection to one or more motorcyclists, that doesn’t require a full-scale deconstruction of your helmet or a fiddly set-up at the start of every ride.

Can the Cardo Packtalk Edge’s high-tech innovations deliver on this list of basic requirements? We’ve taken a pair on a European tour to find out.

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Rrp: $359.96

Price: $319.96

Pros

  • Ease of use
  • Slim design
  • Audio quality

Cons

  • Several buttons
  • Voice sensitivity needs setting up
Dimensions Height: 46mm, Length: 84mm, Depth: 23mm
Weight 47g
Speaker diameter 40mm
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.2, dynamic mesh
Rider group size 15
Rider to rider range 1.6km/1mile
Battery life 12 hours

Installing the Cardo Packtalk Edge

As always, this a job made significantly easier by reading all the instructions and working out which of the bits you’re going to need before diving in, which I mostly did. You get two different mounts – one that sticks securely on the outside of the shell and one that clips under it. There are also two different mics depending on whether you have a full-face or flip-front helmet.

The only tricky aspects for me were finding a flat enough surface on the outside of my lid (a surprisingly sculpted Shark Skwal 2.2) to affix the big sticky pad to, and then space behind the lining pads to hide all the wires. Otherwise, it was pretty simple and easy to tailor the fit, thanks to Velcro booster pads that bring the speakers closer to your ears. The whole thing took about an hour tops.

Once you’ve got the mounting pad attached the actual communicator clicks onto it using magnets, which is very neat, and can then be slid off by pressing a tab and sliding the unit forwards. This isn’t particularly obvious at first but is easy enough once you know how. The USB-C charging port is protected by a rubber bung of sorts to ensure weatherproofness and this can be a bit fiddly to access with the Packtalk Edge installed on your helmet.

Cardo Packtalk Edge control unit

I did originally plan to install the Cardo in my Schuberth C5 modular helmet, but this has its own specific system that is already 50% installed (the speakers and wiring are all there, you just clip-in the mic, intercom and battery) meaning there was nowhere on the outside to mount the Cardo. It also would have meant pulling all the existing hardware out, which I didn’t fancy. It’s almost a Bluetooth helmet, you just need to buy a few components separately.

The final job was to pair the Packtalk Edge to my phone, which it did seamlessly, and download an over-the-air update. It’s worth doing this first actually, and then it can be sorting itself out while you install the speakers and mic.

Cardo Packtalk Edge performance

I gave this communicator a bit of a baptism of fire by installing it in my lid (and an identical one in my friend’s) the night before a four-day road trip through Europe. He’s a lot quicker than me and we were heading though the Black Forest, home to windy roads, dense woodland, and rubbish weather. All things that hinder comms performance.

Thankfully it went in without a hitch and worked (more or less) flawlessly for the entire trip. The audio quality from the 40mm JBL speakers while sat in the living room was very impressive, with lots of bass and very clear vocals. I don’t often listen to music on my bike but have previously experimented with wireless earbuds and the Cardo is a much comfier alternative.

On the move and especially with earplugs in, the quality obviously degrades slightly, but it’s good enough to enjoy on a long motorway ride and can even be tailored with different audio profiles that boost the bass or enhance voices on things like podcasts and audiobooks.

Cardo Packtalk Edge speakers

Most impressive though is the speed with which the thing pairs to your phone thanks to Bluetooth 5.2. Once you’ve turned it on and put your helmet on it’s basically ready to go, and the connection to my friend’s unit would follow a second or so later. It also did this every time without either of us having to think about it, which given the amount of faffery usually accompanying an overseas tour was a welcome feature.

The function buttons on the side are a bit fiddly (not the rotary volume control though, which is excellent) but once set up there’s not much you need them for anyway as most tasks can be accomplished by the excellent voice controls. I didn’t have much faith in ‘Hey Cardo’ but it worked every time for me, from answering a phone call to turning my music on and off.

What’s the voice quality and range like?

As you’d expect, best at low speed and over a short distance than when travelling quickly or split up. Cardo promises a mile of range when riding in a group (where it’s able to ‘mesh’ everyone’s signal) but it’s hard to quantify that distance when out on the road.

As a rule of thumb, you want to keep the other rider in sight – but impressively I actually found the Packtalk Edge reliable even when we were split up on windy forest roads, which is all that matters really.

The call is open the whole time (exposing my friend to quite a bit of singing when I forgot the Cardo was on) and if one member of the group drops out, they rejoin as soon as they’re back in range. The unit transmits speech when it detects it and from my friend’s perspective this worked really well, whereas occasionally I found certain messages would begin to come through, then drop out, and then re-establish.

Cardo Packtalk Edge mount

Cardo says are settings within the app to help tailor its sensitivity to difference voices and speech patterns, so we need to have another go, but I suspect it’s a fixable issue. On slower roads we could easily have a conversation with what appeared to be minimal delay in transmission. At motorway speeds (and certainly European motorway speeds) I found it a bit harder to understand what was being said. At this point it’s probably best to keep chat to vital comms only though.

Also, the earplugs I wear are particularly noise-cancelling and the tankbag on my Triumph Daytona was pushing my head right into the wind blast, so I suspect some fettling here would improve things. The Cardo is impressively loud to shout over what was a significant amount of wind noise. My friend was on an adventure bike with a tall screen which I suspect did wonders for his sound quality.

Battery life is a promised 13 hours following a two-hour charge – we managed to flatten both on our first long day, which involved a very early Eurotunnel train and then a whole day’s riding through France, so the official figure is pretty accurate. You can fast charge for 20 minutes and get two hours of battery time too, which was handy when we decided to check in to the hotel and then go back out on a mountain pass.

As an update to this review, I have since tested the Packtalk Edge in a quieter helmet (a Shark Spartan RS) and on a Triumph Tiger 1200 with a tall screen. Both of these things dramatically enhanced my ability to hear my riding partner’s voice.

Any downsides? 

Minor gripes really, it can be a bit fiddly to remove from a helmet when wearing gloves (a pretty niche use case) and I can’t remember what the three buttons on the outside do. But as I said before most of these functions are controllable by voice anyway, which is probably why I haven’t learned the physical controls.

Cardo Packtalk Edge wide

There’s a useful function that reads out the remaining battery life when you turn the device off – a great prompt when it needs a charge – but only reads out 75%, 50% or 25%. It might sound fussy but making this more accurate, even down to 10% increments, would be better.

The voice quality (from my friend’s perspective) was spot on so hopefully we can tune away his intermittent dropping-out – otherwise the Packtalk Edge is a true fit-and-forget bit of kit, which is exactly what you want on a long trip.

Price and competition 

Within the Cardo range there are cheaper options and it’s up to your use-case to decide what’s important. The most expensive is the Packtalk range (including the Bold we reviewed previously) and these all feature mesh comms for up to 15 riders. If you’re never going to use that function then the Freecom units still feature JBL sound if quality is a priority. Finally the Spirit communicators cut the budget even further but have standard speakers and the shortest range – ideal for pillion comms.

The consideration is whether you pick a Cardo or a Sena unit (the 50S/50R are the closest in terms of price and features) and this will largely come down I suspect to what the other people you’re going to be talking to are using. Although there is the ability to talk between Sena and Cardo units, you can’t mesh them together, so bear this in mind if you’re a group ride regular.

Cardo Packtalk

Verdict  

A lot of us retreat into a motorbike helmet precisely because it’s the one place where conversations can’t follow, but even I can admit there are times where it’d be handy to have a line of communication to the outside world that doesn’t rely on hand signals or semaphore.

In those cases, I want a device that is entirely distraction-free – I don’t want to have to remember to put headphones in before I set off, I don’t want to have to pull over because the connection has dropped out, and I don’t want to shout or strain my hearing.

On that brief the Cardo Packtalk Edge is extremely easy to recommend. To get the best out of it (and in fact any Bluetooth comms) I’d recommend investing in the quietest helmet you can and being prepared to experiment with different earplugs until you find the best possible combination, though.

Rrp: $359.96

Price: $319.96

Pros

  • Ease of use
  • Slim design
  • Audio quality

Cons

  • Several buttons
  • Voice sensitivity needs setting up
Dimensions Height: 46mm, Length: 84mm, Depth: 23mm
Weight 47g
Speaker diameter 40mm
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.2, dynamic mesh
Rider group size 15
Rider to rider range 1.6km/1mile
Battery life 12 hours

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