Full review of the Cardo Packtalk Bold (and Black) motorcycle bluetooth headset.

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Cardo Packtalk Bold and Black review. The Best Motorbike Intercoms money can buy?

The Cardo Packtalk Black and the Cardo Packtalk Bold are Cardo’s latest greatest motorcycle bluetooth headsets. I say ‘both’ because apart from the fact that one’s totally black and the other’s black and silver, they’re almost identical units (see below).

They’re designed to work on more or less any type of helmet with decent sized speaker pockets and offer everything that pretty well any rider is going to need, whether riding alone listening to music, taking calls or following a sat nav – or riding in a group of up to 15 riders and chatting.

cardo packtalk bold intercom fitted
Cardo Packtalk Bold fitted to my LS2 Arrow Carbon

I recently upgraded to the Packtalk Bold after a lot of online research and quizzing – of Facebook Reddit groups mostly – trying to find out which were the best ones to go for with my (limited) needs.

I really only need an intercom to chat to my bro on another bike and to listen to GPS directions – and that’s pretty much it. My old Ebaytastic V6 cheapy unit would let me do both, just not at the same time. So that’s what I was after – as much range as possible and seamless chat/GPS instructions.

Dead easy, you’d think. Turns out, not so much.

Anyhow, these groups overwhelmingly suggested the Cardo Packtalk Bold as being the one to buy so I duly bought a dual pack. It was a shedload of dosh compared to my old £40 per intercom cheapies but if it does all we need without any fuss, then maybe it’s worth it?

So, here’s the score. Not only based on my own experience of the Packtalk headset but, as usual, I’ve also trawled around lots of online reviews and ramblings to find out what other Packtalk Bold owners think of their headsets – and it’s all included in the review below.

But first up…

Cardo Packtalk Black or Cardo Packtalk Bold? What’s the difference?

To remove the confusion, you’ll find there’s a couple of different Packtalks to choose from. And there’s really not much difference between them.

cardo packtalk black
Here’s the Packtalk Black. Unit’s the same, only black. And it costs more.

The Packtalk Black is, well, black whereas the Bold is black and silver. But the units are exactly the same size and specification. The Black has 45mm wide speakers to the Bold’s 40mm speakers and the Black’s are 1.1mm deeper. Other than that, weirdly the Black comes with a 3 year warranty to the Bold’s 2 year. They’re the only differences.

Cardo Packtalk Main Features:

  • Max Range (Bluetooth) up to 1 mile (1.6km)
  • Max Range (DMC/Mesh) up to 5 miles (8km)
  • Connects 2-15 riders
  • Phone, Sat Nav, Music, Radio, Intercom
  • 850mah battery, 13 hours talk time
  • Full charge in 4 hours
  • Fully IP67 waterproof
  • JBL speakers
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • Main unit (attached to base unit) w87 x h50 x d34
  • It’s a big old unit!
  • 4.5/5 Sportsbike Shop (UK) customer rating
  • 4.5/5 Revzilla (US) customer rating
  • 4.5/5 Amazon customer rating
  • (Scores accurate at time of writing)
  • Expect to pay £240 (single) or £420 (dual pack)

Best places to buy a Cardo Packtalk Bold?

Please click below to visit the Cardo Packtalk Bold motorcycle headset pages at our recommended stores. And if you buy from one, we get a small sum from the sale at no extra cost to you – a massive THANKS! (it’s how we finance the site).

Buy from SportsBikeShop

Overall/Summary

Overall, the Packtalk Bold is a well liked and highly rated Bluetooth headset. With its DMC mesh mode and support for older-style Bluetooth connections, it’s at the cutting edge of where motorcycle headsets are at the moment.

It’s setup using a PC or Mac as well as a companion App which works well, if a bit fiddly at first. And it offers music/podcast streaming, has a built in FM radio, and supports both Siri and Google voice assistants to give you access to smartphone functionality on the move.

cardo packtalk bold kit
Cardo Packtalk Bold kit – including boom microphone attached, sticky mic not attched and JBL speakers

And of course it comes with JBL speakers – and they give excellent quality sound, even though they’re a bit on the bulky side (so check your helmet can accommodate them – see Installation section below).

It’s also nicely designed with a large jog wheel to easily access some of the more common functions like volume control – and is fully waterproof.

On the road, voice commands work well and the intercom is OK – I just wish it had more range when riding in groups of two, though I guess that’s more a technical limitation than Cardo’s fault? And if you ride in bigger groups, you should have plenty of range in DMC mode.

DMC’s ability to auto reconnect when you’re close is good though and an improvement on older Bluetooth systems.

Overall, I found the Cardo Packtalk Bold works reasonably well (though not as well as most other users seem to rate it – see the excellent user ratings above) but it didn’t fulfil all my needs and for the money (it’s one of the most expensive headsets out there) it probably wasn’t worth the upgrade.

But if you’re looking for all the latest bells and whistles from your next motorcycle headset and money’s not an issue, then I doubt you’ll be disappointed by the Packtalk Bold.

For more reading, you might want to check out our reviews of motorbike helmets that have been designed to integrate a headset or other helmets that are 3rd party bolt-on bluetooth communicator ready.

In the Packtalk Bold Box

In the Apple-stylee box, you’ll get the Packtalk unit with both a clasp mount or sticky sticker mount (to mount the Packtalk onto the helmet), a boom mic for use with open face or modular helmets, a stick on condenser mic for full faces, and a variety of sticky Velcro pads to help get everything tightly stuck to your helmet.

cardo packtalk bold in the box
What’s in the Packtalk Bold box? All this…

We bought the Duo pack since there are two of us gonna be riding, and a nice touch straight away was that they’re already linked together in DMC mode, so once fitted, you can turn them on and you can chat without any more faff.

I say without any more faff tho that’s not entirely the case as you ideally need to connect it to your PC to download the latest firmware update – but more on that below.

In the box, there’s also some very confusing fold-out manuals in multi-languages covering installation and basic use, though you’re best heading over to the Cardo website and grabbing the pdf manual instead (links below).

In a nutshell tho, there’s everything you’ll need to mount your Packtalk onto pretty well any helmet. Job 1 done.

Mounting & Safety

As per usual when installing a 3rd party Bluetooth headset onto a random helmet, you’ve gotta figure out the best way to mount it for yourself.

Cardo packtalk bold clamp mount
This is the Packtalk mount fitted to the clamp mount.

That’s usually a choice between physically shoving a mounting bracket up the inside of the helmet that’ll clamp onto the helmet shell, or using what’s essentially a really strong sticker.

With a fair bit of pushing and tugging, I managed to shove the reasonably formidable/chunky plastic bracket between the polystyrene helmet liner and shell of my LS2 Arrow C helmet. It’s a solid mounting clamp which is good for making sure the unit doesn’t come unstuck. But I’m not sure it’s great from a safety perspective.

The clamp is thick plastic, not metal like the printed manual insists. Still, It’s very secure and didn’t budge an inch for me on a 2500 mile high speed romp around Northern Spain.

If you need to go for the sticky mount, you’ll have to pull the mount off the clamp first as it’s pre-fitted in the box. Cardo thoughtfully provide an alcohol rubbing pad to clean your helmet before sticking it on too – though they less than helpfully disclaim any responsibility should the sticker damage the integrity of your helmet.

Which brings me quickly on to safety (and cable routing).

When mounting any 3rd party comms unit, you’re gonna have to tug out the comfort lining and route the cables as best you can around the liner, cheek pads, neck roll etc. Which doesn’t usually cause a problem and you usually can’t feel them when everything’s back together.

With the Packtalk however, the connectors may be an issue.

cardo-backtalk-bold-bluetooth-clamp-mount-fitted
And when attached to the helmet

Obviously, I bang on about helmet safety an awful lot, and most helmets are carefully crafted so there aren’t any hard plastic bits liable to press into your head in an accident.

Cardo though has made the connectors and assorted mic mounts really hard, large and difficult to hide without them being liable to cause a problem if you bash your head.

The speakers are pretty deep in the first place which could potentially cause issues. But the connector between the Packtalk and mic is an 8mm square of solid plastic and the speaker connector is about 50mm long and about another 8mm wide of plastic and metal.

I don’t want to be a party pooper – I mean you’ve gotta connect the whole thing together somehow – but it really looks like they haven’t tried very hard to keep the physical size of the connections to a minimum and really don’t seem to worry about the whole lot being stuffed into a piece of protective equipment protecting your very delicate and very precious grey matter!

It’s got more than a whiff of ‘that’ll do’ about the whole setup.

And that plastic clamp is very chunky and could well compromise the ability of the shell/polystyrene liner to do their thing.

cardo-backtalk-bold-bluetooth-headset-connectors
Some of the connectors are a bit too chunky for my liking…

I don’t suppose we’ll ever find out whether fitting a Packtalk will compromise our safety until that unfortunate time when we test it out on the road, and by that time it could well be too late. And while the new ECE 22.06 regs will test helmets with their first party accessories fitted (including OEM intercom headsets), it won’t cover 3rd party units.

So, from a safety point of view, if you would rather not leave things to chance, you might want to buy a helmet with integrated comms unit instead (though at the time of writing, because most will only be ECE 22.05 certified, they’re all untested with the comms units fitted too).

Or you’ll have to spend a lot of time fitting the unit so that the bulky plastic bits and pieces stay well out of the way.

Bleat over.

Installation

Other than that, I found installation of the Packtalk Bold no worse than most other units.

That means you pull out the comfort liner, install the speakers, stick on your mic of choice, route all the wires, push the comfort liner back in and bob’s your mother’s brother.

All in all it took me about 10 minutes.

The speakers themselves are high quality JBL audio jobs and as such they’re quite large. Not so much the 40mm width (Bold), but they’re 9.2mm deep (Bold) and they can push into your ears a bit if your speaker pockets aren’t very deep.

And apart from having to find somewhere to tuck in those large connectors – which I’m still not entirely happy with, though they do stay out of the way and hidden most of the time – installation was reasonably straight forward.

Next step, apps and software.

App and Software

Cardo Connect App

There’s a free Cardo Connect app that’s available for both iPhone and Android. That allows you to configure some of the settings of the Cardo unit such as audio settings, language, volume, mic sensitivity, voice control, noise cancellation and so on.

Cardo Connect App Packtalk Bold 1
Cardo Connect app’s well laid out with easy access to key functionality

It’ll also let you control phone quick dial numbers, radio presets, music app and intercom paring groups – so it’s a very useful control centre for your Packtalk.

Connecting to your phone is the usual Bluetooth pairing process. Set your Packtalk to pairing mode (hold down the phone button till it flashes blue/red) then go into your phone’s Bluetooth settings and choose Packtalk Bold from the menu.

Cardo Connect App Packtalk Bold 2
Cardo Connect settings lets you tweak lots of the Packtalk’s settings

They connect first time, leaving you free to twiddle with the settings in the app. It’s all very straightforward if you’re used to similar tech – and every user I came across reckoned it’s all easy to set up and install and works reliably.

Cardo Smartset App

You’ll also find a Cardo Smartset app on the various stores. Don’t bother with that as it doesn’t support either the Packtalk Bold or Black.

Cardo Update

So now you’re good to go. Only, quite a few folk reckon you need to connect the Packtalk unit to your PC/Mac first to make sure the firmware software’s up to date.

Remember the days when you could buy something and it just worked?!

Me too. Unfortunately, those days seem to be long gone – for tech devices at least. So, visit the Cardo site (links below) to download the latest Cardo Update software and install it on your PC or Mac. Then connect your Cardo Packtalk up to your computer using the supplied Micro USB cable (always use the supplied cable – for some reason Bluetooth headsets and GPS units often don’t get on with other Micro USB cables) then follow the software prompts on screen to update your unit.

cardo update pc app
Cardo Update let me connect and update the Packtalk firmware no problem… but it’s refused to connect ever since!

If you’re in the UK, you especially need to ensure you’re running the latest firmware as it (apparently) makes the voice recognition of your UK accent a bit more recognisable to the voice assistant.

Cardo Update worked just fine for me first time and the Packtalk booted up without any problems. But having said that, and having just updated the Cardo Update app itself on my PC, ever since, it’s been steadfastly refusing to recognise that my Cardo’s connected. Grrr.

Site Links (manual, app and pc software)

Cardo Packtalk manual

Cardo Update Software

Cardo Connect App (or search in your app store)

Connection & Pairing

OK, I bought my Packtalk app as part of a Duo pair and, as I mentioned, both Packtalks come nicely pre-paired in DMC mesh mode. Good one Cardo.

I’ve had cause to re-pair the units several times though, in both DMC and bluetooth modes too, and as long as you follow the manual carefully, they’ve both paired with each other pretty easily.

Pairing with an iPhone was just as easy.

That said, and like every other bluetooth headset, it’s all about pressing the fiddly buttons on the bluetooth in the correct way to get it in the correct mode to make things happen.

Don’t expect anything to be intuitive about any bluetooth intercom unit because they never are. And the Packtalk’s no different. The buttons on the unit are small and fiddly and you have to press combinations of buttons and watch out for different coloured lights to understand what’s going on.

Yes, apps and voice recognition commands do help with some of the operations – and indeed some simply wouldn’t be available without them. But don’t expect it all to be anything less than fiddly and needing you to run through the manual several times to set things up correctly before you start to learn which button combos do what.

Again, the vast majority of Packtalk Bold/Black owners reckon all the setup, pairing and other installation shenanegans works very well and gets you to the point of chatting, phoning or music listening very quickly indeed.

Best places to buy a Cardo Packtalk Bold Headset?

Please click below to visit the Cardo Packtalk Bold pages at our recommended stores. And if you buy from one, we get a small sum from the sale at no extra cost to you – a massive THANKS! (it’s how we finance the site).

Buy from SportsBikeShop

Key Operations

Rider-to-Rider Intercom

Rider to rider comms is the main reason I bought the Packtalk Bold.

As mentioned, this was pre-setup in the dual pack but it wasn’t that much hassle to pair units and get chatting by just following the manual.

Essentially, you have to ensure they’re both in the same mode (blue light means bluetooth, green light means DMC mode) and they connect.

Actually, in DMC mode they connect and reconnect automagically when you’re close enough, which worked very well. Bluetooth needs you to press a button everytime you want to connect when you’re close enough. And again that worked pretty well too though the tiny buttons meant gloves off every time.

cardo packtalk bold on modular helmet
Cardo’s expectation of where a typical Packtalk owner rides (actually, Northern Spain wasn’t far off for me!)

Cardo reckon that you get up to a mile range in bluetooth mode and up to 5 miles in DMC mode.

Both of these are theoretical ranges of course. In bluetooth mode, connection worked well but the range wasn’t up to much and seemed less than my previous V6 cheapy headset. My guess was about ¼ mile tops in a reasonably hilly landscape (a couple of other owners online reckoned about the same too) but the signal broke up after going round one bend in the mountains.

For DMC, the quality was good but again, the range was similar. And whereas Cardo quotes a max of 5 miles range, that’ll be when you’ve 15 riders connected to the network and spread over a nice hill-free straight 5 mile stretch of road, allowing the signal to daisychain from one unit to the next.

In practice on 2 bikes, I thought the range was pretty poor, though it did self-heal and reconnect when we got close to each other, which was useful – so we ended up leaving it in DMC mode.

But – and this is at odds from most owners who find the whole chat function very good indeed – we found it was far from perfect. Words and entire sentences could be cut off – and there was no indication when someone could or couldn’t hear which left both of us constantly repeating ourselves – and frustrated.

I suspect adjusting the noise cancellation levels in the partner app might help improve things here – but out of the box it could be hit and miss and left us in frustrated silence some of the time.

Universal Intercom

One useful function of the Packtalk though is if you’re wanting to connect to non-Cardo bluetooth headsets, Cardo reckons you can connect in bluetooth mode to most well know models. So that means your mate doesn’t necessarily have to upgrade too if you buy a Packtalk Bold and you might well be able to connect and chat to them. Potentially very handy feature that – though I guess you’ll only really know by trial and error as I couldn’t find a list of supported headsets.

cardo packtalk bold side view 2
Side view of the Packtalk Bold. Note there’s a small aerial neatly tucked away on the top of each unit

Thing is, we bought the (expensive) Cardo Packtalk hoping for great quality and excellent range. And while the audio quality was markedly better than cheapy units, range and voice detection wasn’t. And for the sake of not having to press a button to reconnect the units when back in range (compared to a cheapy unit running bluetooth only), I didn’t feel it was worth the outlay.

GPS

The second thing I needed from my Cardo Packtalk Bold was to feed me with audio directions from my GPS unit while chatting to my co-rider.

And while the internet assured me the Packtalk would deliver – it just… didn’t.

In both modes, the Packtalk would cut out conversations entirely to tell me to ‘take the second exit’ leaving both riders chatting on in silence. After a few seconds, chat would cut back in, only to disappear quickly again if the direction instructions came in thick and fast, like you find in the middle of a town. All in all, it was very annoying.

If you’re just wanting to hear directions and listen to some audio, it’ll do that OK and seamlessly. In my experience, just not while chatting to other riders.

Voice Activation

The Cardo Packtalk series has some pretty useful voice activation features to help you control things when you’re on the move without having to let go of the bars.

Cardo packtalk bold boxThere’s a list of 18 basic voice commands that start off with the ‘Hey Cardo…’ command to let you control stuff like volume, radio, phone dialling and battery status.

And it’ll also recognise ‘Hey Siri’ and ‘OK Google’ to let you control all the other stuff on your connected smartphone, giving you access to the endless possibilities of your smartphone (along with endless possibilities for distractions!).

But it is a flexible system that works well after a reasonably short period of learning the commands and repeating yourself a few times before you manage to get ‘Hey Cardo…’ to trigger more or less every time.

Music Playback

Music can be played back using the smartphone app or voice commands. I found connecting and commanding Spotify on my smartphone worked very well. The JBL audio tuned speakers give great playback quality too when you’re stationary.

Cardo-packtalk-bold-jbl-speaker-size
JBL speakers give great quality audio – though you’ll need some generous speaker pockets to accommodate them

Of course, when you’re on the move, wind noise gradually overwhelms everything and with my particular helmet setup, I found listening at anything over 50mph hard work and the music became lost. So that’d be OK for a slow urban ride but anything high speed was a no-no for listening to music for me.

Radio

On my test tour round Spain, I found the Packtalk radio turning on regularly by itself and at very random times. Sitting down for a break at a café, I’d often come back to the radio having turned itself on. And while it just took a ‘Hey Cardo, radio off’ command to shut it up, it was just plain weird.

Maybe it’s just my voice but there was more than one time when I cursed a car (as you do!) to hear Cardo happily pronouncing ‘Radio On!’.

That aside, I can turn the radio on/off very easily and, once you’ve preset the stations you want in the Cardo app, you can change channels by a ‘Hey Cardo, next station’ or ‘previous station’ no problem.

And again, it works up to approaching motorway speeds where I found wind noise too intrusive. Though your helmet type or speaker placement might improve things slightly.

Best places to buy a Cardo Packtalk Bold?

Please click below to visit the Cardo Packtalk Bold motorcycle headset pages at our recommended stores. And if you buy from one, we get a small sum from the sale at no extra cost to you – a massive THANKS! (it’s how we finance the site).

Buy from SportsBikeShop

Range

Cardo quotes up to 1.6Km or around 1 mile in perfect conditions when using it rider-to-rider – which of course you’ll never have.

In Mesh (DMC) mode they reckon it can reach up to 5 miles when you’ve up to 15 riders connected. Using mesh, each Packtalk relays speech to the next so you get a daisychain effect stretching across the network.

In theory there’s actually no limit to a Bluetooth mesh network, but I’m not sure anyone’s tested that many riders wearing Packtalks to find out how far you can connect between riders. But most owners I found reckon about ¼ mile range is about the max in the field. Which is Okayish but nowhere near Cardo’s figures.

Volume

Having enough volume on your headset is one of the biggest factors to making a set that’s properly useable on the road.

Thing is, headset volume’s dependent on lots of factors including speaker placement in your helmet (i.e. do your speakers line up perfectly with your ear holes), helmet padding as well as the volume control on your Packtalk and/or phone depending on whether you’re intercomming or streaming music from your phone.

Personally, I found that when you’re riding with ear plugs in and with the Packtalk volume up to the max, volume was adequate for sub-motorway speeds. Anything faster than that and wind rush drowned out conversations.

When playing the radio or streaming Spotify, I found anything above 50 made it pointless listening as any subtle features became overwhelmed leaving just a drum beat and the occasional vocal coming through.

Most other owners in my research seem to find something similar – and it became evident that volume perception is also dependent on the wind protection offered by your bike too. One guy one a faired bike reckoned they could listen to music at motorway speeds OK, while another reckoned on their naked he struggled to hear it due to wind noise.

Battery/Charging

The battery’s an 850Mah and we didn’t have any problems riding for a long day on either Bluetooth or DMC mode and chatting (intermittently) all day long.

Cardo packtalk bold side view
The Packtalk hides a decent sized 850mah battery that’s good for all day riding and chatting

Cardo reckon it’ll charge to full in just a few hours but in the real-world, you leave it on charge overnight and it’s fully ready to rock in the morning.

At one point, my co-rider ran out of juice because he forgot to charge it the day before. Usefully, Cardo say you can charge the Packtalk up as you ride and thankfully, he’d got a portable battery pack in his tank bag so gave it a go. Not quite so usefully, the output of the battery pack didn’t seem to be high enough and the Packtalk Bold would run out again after a few minutes.

I guess if you’ve got an on-bike USB or a higher output battery charger, that’ll probably be enough to do the job.


A couple of useful links…

Headset-ready motorbike helmets
Best ear plugs for your bike


Weather Proofing

One of the reasons I chose the Cardo Packtalk Bold over a high end Sena unit was because the Cardo’s IP67 waterproof. IP stands for Ingress Protection with the first number meaning fully protected against sand and dust and the second number meaning waterproof for 30 mins in shallow water.

I heard a few horror stories about Sena units not being rated as well and/or not being waterproof at all (on a motorbike intercom? Really!?) so obviously waterproofing is a must.

We tested it in the field in a proper downpour or two in the Pyrenees and the Packtalk didn’t mind at all, so it certainly seems to work.

Size and Weight

Like most folk, I want a Bluetooth headset that’s as small as possible. My old V6 unit was pretty slimline so I did check out some of the slimmer intercoms on the market first.

Thing is, if you want slimline, it generally means you have a slim controller but also a separate battery pack that you have to secrete somewhere around the helmet. That might be fine if your helmet comes with a battery compartment but mine didn’t, so I had to opt for a unit that contains the controller and battery together – and a big enough battery to last all day.

cardo-backtalk-bold-communicator-side-view-2
I think it’s fair to say the Packtalk Bold’s a chunky old unit…

It’s fair to say that the Packtalk Bold (and Black) is a hefty unit. You do get used to its size – and that size makes it more manageable when mounting it and finding buttons/roller dial on the Bluetooth when you’re riding. But it ain’t small.

You have to wonder if it’s a good idea having such a large unit mounted on your protective helmet if you have an off, but the way the Packtalk easily snaps in and out of the clip-on mount probably means it won’t cause too much damage.

I could be wrong but i’d expect it to snap-off if it were to impact during an accident – so I’m reasonably confident it wouldn’t dig in and cause my helmet to rotate.

When the Packtalk’s mounted on the mounting bracket, the whole unit is w87 x h50 x d34. It weighs 58g (that’s less than a satsuma if you’re wondering!) so it’s not heavy at all – and you really don’t notice any weight at all while you’re riding.

Packtalk Bold Issues/Problems

Other than the fact that all Bluetooth headsets can be a bit of a pain to pair and can be a bit fiddly to connect together – and can be less than 100% reliable in lots of little ways (such as conversations that don’t always get through) – I didn’t come across any common issues faced by Packtalk owners.

We had a stick-on microphone that stopped working – though Cardo were happy to replace that – and I took along a spare boom mic just in case so that came in handy and worked just fine.

Cardo Packtalk Bold Video

Here’s a useful 17 min vid from some guy who’s been using a Cardo Packtalk and really likes it.

Best places to buy a Cardo Packtalk Bold Headset?

Please click below to visit the Cardo Packtalk Bold pages at our recommended stores. And if you buy from one, we get a small sum from the sale at no extra cost to you – a massive THANKS! (it’s how we finance the site).

Buy from SportsBikeShop

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