Headsets have become an “essential” rider accessory, whether for rider-passenger chit-chat, bro-to-bro Gixxer jibber-jabber, music and turn-by-turn directions, or—ugh—vlogging.
I started riding with a headset nine or ten years ago so I could map a route and hear the directions, without having to look at a screen. It was many years before someone conned me into conversing while riding, and even today, my primary intercom use is tunes and directions, although the Wrecking Crew will often talk while testing bikes—not exactly the use case of the Everyman. We’ve formally tested many of these devices, from all the major players.
I provide this background so you can understand the context in which I tested the Interphone Tour and Shoei-specific Pro Sound speaker upgrade kit. I should also mention that I always wear custom-molded earplugs now, but only began wearing plugs on motorcycles about ten years ago, after many years of riding, playing in bands and working as a live sound engineer in my youth, also without plugs—so my subjective opinions of sound and speaker quality are tinged with tinnitus.
It’s impossible to talk about motorcycle-specific intercom systems without mentioning Sena, a brand that came out of nowhere a few years back and pretty much dominates now, with an almost ridiculously broad product assortment. Because we only had one Interphone Tour, we tested with it a variety of Senas—more on that in a moment.
The Tour is Interphone’s top of the line system, utilizing Bluetooth 4.2 and a low energy processor, and offering fast charge capabilities. Interphone says 60 minutes of charging gets your battery to 80%, and twenty minutes of charging will give 6 hours of conversation. The kit includes the “rapid release system” and two mounting brackets—the typical clamp and stick-on options. It also includes the intercom itself (duh), boom and stick-on mics, charger and USB cable, a power bank, and miscellaneous odds and ends like a funky little screwdriver for clamp installation.
The Pro Sound speaker upgrade kit is designed to fit Shoei’s NeoTec, GT-Air, and J-Cruise helmets, and includes upgraded speakers and microphone, and a similar mish-mash of helpful miscellany.
I was particularly excited about the upgraded speakers. Some may say that using louder speakers to hear better through already-damaged ears is just plain dumb, but I can’t hear them and don’t care.
The Tour is a mixed bag, metaphorically and literally. Actually, to be exactly, literally correct, I should say “mixed box,” but whatever. What I mean is this: the intercom unit itself is about the size of a Sena 20S and other units, and feels stout and substantial, but the mounting bracket is seemingly-flimsy plastic. The rest of the kit is similarly bipolar: wiring too bulky to hide easily, and two USB ports: mini USB for the speakers and micro USB for charging. It seems unnecessarily complex, and the 90-degree mini USB connector is strikingly large compared to the svelte wires and connectors of other intercoms. But the included compact power bank is a nice touch, enabling on-the-go charging even on bikes that aren’t wired with a charging port.
It gets better with the Pro Sound kit, though. The “stock” Tour speakers are typically sized, but the Pro Sound upgrade units feel substantial, like there are real magnets in there.
Situating all this stuff inside my trademark yellow NeoTec was straightforward, with three exceptions. The Pro Sound speakers are attached to thin, semi-rigid “straps” that are held in place by the helmet’s cheek pad snaps and fill the NeoTec’s speaker pockets almost completely—there’s no shifting the speakers around for better placement like with other intercoms.
The Pro Sound mic attaches using Velcro and a similar arrangement. It’s secure, and once positioned, doesn’t go rogue the way flexible boom mics do.
The exceptions I mentioned? First, the mic’s mounting surface is just thick enough to make snapping the cheek pad’s front snap rather difficult, and it pops loose now and then. It’s not the only snap, and I’ve experienced this with other intercoms, but it seems like an obvious oversight.
Second, the mounting bracket feels insubstantial and doesn’t get very tight on the lower shell of the NeoTec. It didn’t move around much after installation, but I don’t trust it and may ultimately switch it to the stick-on mount, although I don’t generally trust those either.
Third: the speaker wires are bulky and not easily tucked away, and there’s always a few inches of wire showing. Functionally, it’s not a big deal, but like the wimpy plastic mount, it seems out of place on what is in many ways a pretty bitchin’ system.
Here’s where it gets good, and I mean really good. The Tour’s stock speakers are about on par with the speakers in our benchmark Sena 20S Evo systems. I think they sound a bit cleaner than the Senas, but volume is about the same—and like displacement, there’s no replacement for volume.
The speakers in the Pro Sound kit, though, are a goddamn revelation. They’re WAY louder than the various Senas or the stock Tour speakers, and they sound good, with actual bass response and clarity well beyond anything I’ve heard from a motorcycle intercom, ever.
Side-by-side comparisons with a variety of music, from the very-produced blues of Joe Bonamassa to Propagandhi’s face-melting post-punk-prog-thrash-whatever, were laughable—the Pros were materially, substantially better in every case.
I’m not kidding—this is next-level shit. If all you care about is sound, go buy a Tour and Pro Sound kit, and go for a ride. You’re welcome.
The “head unit” has big, independent buttons for power, music (play, pause, etc), phone, radio, and separate buttons for volume up, volume down, track forward and track back. It’s kind of refreshing, although I have to admit I’m over-careful with the buttons because I’m afraid of tweaking or breaking the plastic mounting bracket.
That hasn’t happened yet, and I’ve even dropped my helmet with the intercom on it while trying to pull off an ill-advised photo opportunity. The head unit popped loose—it’s not nearly as secure as the near-industrial Sena clamp—but the bracket didn’t break. Ok, I guess I’ll stop complaining about that. For now.
The Tour paired with my iPhone quickly and core functions like making a call and starting music are as easy as they should be. But when I tried to connect to Fish’s 20S—I needed an update on the Softail situation—we were unable to connect, no matter how we tried.
Later, I discovered this was likely a firmware issue on Fish’s Sena. I was able to connect to a 20S Evo once I’d updated its firmware, although connecting to non-Interphone headsets uses the “other” unit’s phone pairing mode—not as good as the proper intercom connection you’d get from running two (or more) same-brand systems. Cross-brand connectivity is still pretty new, and this is not the only time we’ve run into issues.
Battery life is phenomenal. Every time I shut it down, the Tour speaks the current battery level, and it’s always “high,” even after hours on the road. I doubt an average user who plugs in after riding will ever even approach the limits of the Tour’s battery life, a claimed 15 hours of talk time.
There’s a lot more to the Tour, and Interphone’s other systems. If you’re interested, you should definitely check out Tour.Interphone.com for more information.
I’m still of two minds on the system, bouncing between thinking the bulky wiring and subpar mount are unacceptable for a near-$300 system, and that’s before adding the $69.99 Pro Sound kit. But while the combination of the Tour and Pro Sound speakers costs literally 3.5 times what I paid for my first street-legal motorcycle, the sound is so good I’m not sure I can go back.
And that’s what it comes down to. If the best available motorcycle intercom sound is what you’re after, this is it. It’s expensive, and some of the parts aren’t up the standards set by Sena, but if it sounds this good to my busted-ass ears, imagine how killer it’ll sound to people who can still actually hear well.
$279.99 for the Interphone Tour, $69.99 for the Pro Sound Audio Kit. Learn more and find out where to buy at Tour.Interphone.com.
This story originally appeared in our May 2018 issue.