Cardo Freecom 4X review | Bluetooth intercom tested

 

Date reviewed: April 2022 | Tested by: John Milbank | RRP: £235 | www.cardosystems.com

 

The new Cardo Freecom 4X on review here is the company’s top-of-the-range Bluetooth (not Mesh) intercom, thanks to its high-quality speakers and Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity.

Not being a Mesh intercom means it’s limited to up to four riders over a claimed range of three quarters of a mile (we’ll be testing that), so the Freecom is intended to sit alongside the Packtalks, which do have Mesh. I’ll explain all the features below, as I’ve been using the Freecom 4X for several hundred miles while it’s been attached to a Shoei NXR2 and a Schuberth C5

 

For and against
  • Fantastic audio quality
  • Waterproof
  • Easy to update
  • Some controls a little fiddly
  • Occasional minor connection issues
Cardo Freecom 4X review motorcycle intercom_02

 

Fitting

The ease of fitting any intercom will depend on the helmet you have, but there are usually recesses for speakers in the inner shell (or the cheek pads on Arais); the hardest part is tucking the wires out of the way.

Everything you need is included with the Freecom 4X – a boom mic for open-face or flip-front lids, a small stick-on mic for full-face, stick-on Velcro bases and packing for moving the speakers closer to your ears if you need to.

There are also two mounts – one that clips onto the lower edge of the outer shell of some lids, and a stick-on mount. This is the same bracket as used on the previous Freecom models (not the Packtalk range), and is very compact and secure.

The Cardo has a slim design that doesn’t look too out of place on the helmet, the only bulky part being the speaker connector, which takes a little more work than some to tuck out of the way inside.

You’re best off first pairing a phone to the intercom – just pressing and holding the rear button activates phone pairing mode, then select it in the Bluetooth list on the phone. A sat-nav can be added this way too by just tapping the button on the intercom once when it’s in pairing mode. Alternatively, you can pair a second phone instead of a GPS.

Once your phone’s paired, download the free Cardo Connect app for iOS or Android. This will allow you to run any updates to the Cardo via your phone, which is a great, simple process that doesn’t require any special cables or connections to the computer. My only gripe with this is that your phone must be over 50% charge, even if it’s plugged into a charger. Not the end of the world, but it’ll be irritating for some who’ve just got home at the end of the day and are eager to get their new toy set up!

If you don’t want to use a smartphone, you can connect the Cardo to a computer and update it that way.

 

Cardo Freecom 4X review motorcycle intercom_20

 

Connections

Once it’s all been set up, when turning the Cardo on, the connection to the phone is almost instant – way better than those I’ve used before – and streamed music and phone calls can be shared with others in your group. The TomTom takes a bit longer top connect, but this uses the older Bluetooth 4.

Bluetooth intercom systems are fine for two people, and pairing is quick and easy, but things get a bit more complicated when bringing more riders into the group. It’s best explained with this video from Cardo…

 

Freecom 4X intercom setup

Watch how to set up the Cardo intercom

 

If you regularly ride in groups, a Mesh system – like that used in the Cardo Packtalk range – is a much better bet as any number of riders can be added and it doesn’t matter if they change riding order. It’s far less complicated to set up and join, but keep in mind that Mesh systems are NOT currently cross-brand compatible (though there is talk of some bands doing it); what you’ll most likely need to be aware of is that Cardo and Sena Mesh intercoms will not talk to each other.

Another option is to connect riders via a data call, but more on that in the range test.

 

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The Freecom 4X will work with all other Cardos, but it’s also claimed to have universal connectivity. I’ve rarely had much luck with this – across any brands – but I’m pleased to report that I did have success this time. I paired a Sena 50R but putting it into phone pairing mode, then just connected the Cardo intercom as usual. The one small issue I had was that only the Cardo could open or close the intercom connection, but it can simply be left open while you ride as both do a good job of reducing noise.

If you use your phone as a sat-nav, directions are spoken over any music that’s playing; it’s seamless. If you use a separate GPS, like a TomTom, the music is paused while the directions are spoken. This is where I’ve seen a glitch with the Cardo Freecom 4X – you get a good few seconds of directions at a reduced volume before it comes through at full power, which means you don’t always hear what’s being said. I haven’t missed any turns as the tone at the end of the directions makes me look at the screen to check where I’m meant to be going. This appears to be a TomTom-related issue as the Garmin Zumo XT communicates fine, though it doesn’t happen when using the TomTom with a Sena 50R.

Occasionally streaming from my Android phone is very stuttered. This could be my phone’s fault, but it’s a connection issue that’s cured by turning the Cardo off then on again. It stops happening if I close the Cardo Connect app, so perhaps something for an app for firmware update in future.

 

Control

There’s a surprising amount of control on the Freecom 4X for such a compact and tidy unit – the three buttons can be felt through most gloves thanks to their ridges, while a wheel at the bottom rotates and is clickable.

There’s also voice control; Cardo calls it ‘Natural Voice’, and it’s activated by saying ‘Hey Cardo’. But this is no Alexa. You have to say specific phrases for it to work, and – depending on how well sealed your lid is – you tend to need to enunciate fairly clearly, for instance sometimes putting a bit of a kick at the end of ‘music’. Here are all the voice control options:

Answer an incoming call

"Answer"

Ignore an incoming call

"Ignore"

End a call

"Hey Cardo, end call"

Call the default number (configurable)

"Hey Cardo, speed dial"

Redial the last number

"Hey Cardo, redial number"

Turn on music

"Hey Cardo, music on"

Turn off music

"Hey Cardo, music off"

Play the next music track

"Hey Cardo, next track"

Play the previous music track

"Hey Cardo, previous track"

To share music

"Hey Cardo, share music"

Turn on the radio

"Hey Cardo, radio on"

Turn off the radio

"Hey Cardo, radio off"

Skip to the next preset radio station

"Hey Cardo, next station"

Skip to the previous preset radio station

"Hey Cardo, previous station"

Open the call intercom

"Hey Cardo, call intercom"

To close intercom call

"Hey Cardo, end intercom"

Access Siri

"Hey Siri"

Access Google

"OK Google"

Raise volume

"Hey Cardo, volume up"

Lower volume

"Hey Cardo, volume down"

Mute audio

"Hey Cardo, mute audio"

Unmute audio

"Hey Cardo, unmute audio"

Check the battery status

"Hey Cardo, battery status"

 

I did find the Cardo getting confused when I was riding a bike with a buffety screen, ‘Music off’ occasionally being interpreted as ‘Radio on’, but generally it works fine, with all the words chosen to sound reasonably different to the software.

Tapping the rear button on the Cardo Freecom 4X once activates your phone’s digital assistant, or you can say ‘Hey Google’ or ‘Hey Siri’. Fortunately, neither of these commands seem to get confused with ‘Hey Cardo’, but on the road I sometimes find it more effective to press the button on the intercom to get the assistant listening.

 

Two mics are supplied for use in any helmet

 

I have an Android (Samsung Galaxy S21), and if you want to use it to make calls you’ll need to unlock the phone before it’ll work. One way to get around this is to use ‘Smart Lock’ in the lock screen options in Android’s settings – this allows the phone to stay unlocked when any device you choose is connected to it. You have to unlock the phone yourself first, but then it’ll remain unlocked while the intercom – in this case – is turned on and within range. There is the potential for pocket dialling here, but if the phone’s kept dry and in a pocket it shouldn’t be an issue.

The voice recognition of the phone isn’t quite as good as the Cardo itself’s as it’s not designed to be used in roaring wind, but it really will depend on how quiet your helmet is, how close to your mouth you have the mic, and how fast you’re going. With the Schuberth C5 I’m able to use the Cardo’s voice commands while riding the VFR800 at 60mph without too many issues, but Google sometimes needs to be a little slower. It really does depend on the bike; sometimes ducking your head behind the screen will allow a perfect response.

Answering incoming phone calls on the Cardo Freecom 4X just needs you to say ‘answer’, or ‘ignore’ if you don’t want to speak to someone. Alternatively, tap the rear button to take it, or roll the control wheel backwards to ignore it. To hang up, press the wheel upwards.

This control wheel is pretty good, but I find it takes a little too much care to avoid pressing during rotation when you’re riding, especially with thicker gloves.

There are too many subtleties to the controls to fully list here, and like others you don’t unfortunately get a full owner’s manual in the box, so it’s worth downloading from Cardo. A quickstart guide is included, which gives you pretty much all you really need.

 

The app can be used as a controller

 

The voice controls work fine, and are particularly useful when you want to stop or start music while riding, but the buttons are easily accessible, and if you have your phone mounted to the bars of your bike, it’s possible to use it as a controller to access speed dials, radio, music and intercom. This works in both landscape and portrait orientation.

 

The 40mm JBL speakers give superb clarity and bass

 

Volume and clarity

The Cardo Freecom 4X audio quality is outstanding. Bluetooth 5.2 provides better audio quality, but thanks to the 40mm JBL speakers it really does sound exceptionally good. Of course it’s not reference quality, but this is the best I’ve heard on an intercom.

I always wear earplugs, and tend to use the £19.99 EarPeace M ’plugs, which have a filter in them that helps with hearing people speak, but still reduces the more damaging booming sounds of riding (Auritech offers a similar product for the same price).

You can adjust the volume using the control wheel or by voice, then the Cardo will adjust to suit the wind noise, but you don’t notice it doing it, and it’s always had enough grunt to make even Radio 4 clear and loud enough to hear when riding. The quality will depend on your earplugs and hearing, but comparatively, this is excellent.

There are three audio profiles that can be selected in the app; ‘Bass boost’, ‘High volume’ – which loses a little bass but still sounds excellent (and is louder) – and ‘Vocal’, which sounds fine, but I’ve stuck with Bass Boost as it’s really very good indeed.

Audio quality from you to another rider or over the phone will depend on your helmet to some extent, but again, it’s excellent on the Freecom 4X; I’ve had plenty of phone calls where the person on the other end doesn’t believe I’m riding a bike at 70mph.

One thing to note with any intercom is that the maximum volume of music might be affected by the volume set on your phone, so I use Bixby Routines on my Samsung to set the media volume to be at maximum when the intercom is connected.

 

Cardo Freecom 4X review motorcycle intercom_18

 

Cardo Freecom 4X range

While measuring the range of an intercom is far from a precise science, I use the same flat, straight section of road with all the products I try. In my testing, the Cardo Freecom 4X managed 790m before it started breaking up, and connection was lost altogether by 880m.

When riding back, reconnection was automatic at about 800m, but then it broke up, only coming back at 220m.

Weather conditions, the mounting position, helmet material (carbon fibre is not good for intercom range) and your head position will all influence the range of any intercom, be it Bluetooth or Mesh. The Freecom 4X is good, though in my testing it was no more exceptional than other premium products. It does benefit from very good audio quality but there are so many variables in the real world that I can’t say this has any range advantage over the Sena 50S, for instance, which on the day I tested that had one of the best ranges I’ve ever seen, at 1,230m.

Of course, throw in some other vehicles, hills and buildings and all intercoms reduce their range significantly, meaning what matters is an automatic reconnection.

Many riders will simply want the option to be able to easily speak with their pillion, and as you’d expect the Freecom 4X performs perfectly, noise-reduction meaning you only hear the other person when they speak.

If you want greater range, connect to your friends using a WhatsApp voice call, Discord or the new Ruroc Chain app; as long as your phones have data connections you’ll be able to speak no matter where you are and with as many people as you like. While you need to consider data usage, my testing of a WhatsApp call took just 2.1MB for five minutes. That means a two-hour ride would likely use only 50MB. Even a basic 2GB/month data contract would be enough for 80 hours of talk time.

 

Cardo Freecom 4X review motorcycle intercom_16

 

Radio

Sadly we’re still yet to see a DAB radio on an intercom, so the Freecom 4X has FM. Despite having RDS, unfortunately – like others – it can’t seem to hold onto a radio station when you travel long distances; fine for riding relatively locally, once you start moving across counties it tends to break up.

It was the old Interphone F5MC that spoke the radio station’s name, but that feature was removed with the newer models to allow space for various languages. It’s a feature that was really handy when scanning through channels as you knew what you’d found, but unfortunately I’ve not seen it on any devices since that old Interphone.

There are no special radio features here unfortunately, so enjoy it, but be prepared to retune on longer trips.

 

Cardo Freecom 4X review motorcycle intercom_05

 

Cardo Freecom 4X battery life

The Cardo Freecom 4X has a very good battery life – claimed to be 13 hours, I got 11 hours while playing streamed music at full volume. 

The unit can be charged while it’s attached to the lid and even when it’s being used, or it’s easy to pop it off and charge on its own, which is handy if you don’t want the whole helmet on your desk.

A full charge takes about two hours, assuming you have a decent USB charger (you just get a cable), and it’s great to see a USB-C connection on the Cardo as it’s the more common on modern devices. A 20 minute charge can give up to about two hours of use.

The battery charge remaining can be checked at any point, and is announced as you turn it off, which is a very handy reminder to charge at the end of a ride if needs be.

 

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Cardo Freecom 4X waterproofing

The Freecom doesn’t have a certified IP rating, but it is properly waterproof, something you would assume to be the case with all intercoms, but it’s not!

I’ve used the Cardo in all weathers, as well as tested it with a hose and not had any issues.

 

Ease of updating

Updating an intercom doesn’t get any easier than the Cardo Freecom 4X; turn it on, open the Cardo Connect app and update from there. You do have to have 50% of charge or more in the phone to start it, but otherwise it’s simple and painless.

This is a vast improvement on having to plug the unit into a computer and download some software, and more elegant than the current top-of-the-range Senas, which require a special WiFi charging cable when updating.

 

Cardo Freecom 4X review motorcycle intercom_01

 

Three alternatives to the Freecom 4X

There are a fair few options available in the world of intercoms, and it can get pretty confusing. Assume they won’t be easily cross-brand compatible, and consider how important things are like riding in large groups, listening to music, or just getting sat-nav instructions.

  • Cardo’s own Spirit intercoms are its budget-focussed range, with the Spirit costing just £87, and Spirit HD – with a longer range (though still not as far as the Freecom 4X), FM radio and better speakers costing £130. Both are only suitable for pairing with up to one other unit. Having tried the Spirit HD, the audio quality is very good. If you don’t need group comms, this is a great choice, if not quite as slick with it’s controls as the Freecom.
  • The Sena 50R is the company’s waterproof device (the 50S is the same internally, but isn’t suitable for proper wet-weather use). You can’t remove it from the lid for charging, and it’s more expensive than the Freecom 4X, but this is a Mesh device that seamlessly connects with any number of riders. I tested the 50S and found it to have the best range of any I’ve tried.
  • It’s a long while since I used an Interphone Sport, but battery life was very good. The Tour is the higher spec version that’s more readily available now and can be picked up for as little as £140 (RRP is £199).

These are just three of many alternatives – you can find all the intercoms we’ve tested here and be sure to regularly check for the discounts available through BikeSocial membership.

 

Cardo Freecom 4X intercom review: Verdict

Cardo has pioneered much of the tech we see in top-end motorcycle intercoms, so it must be frustrating for the team to see that Sena has such a strong foothold thanks to producing integrated comms systems for the likes of Schuberth and Shoei; those looking to ride with friends will often be led by what their mates already have.

Personally, I mainly use an intercom for listening to music, getting sat-nav directions and talking to my wife. It’s fair to say that a budget intercom from eBay can do this, but the audio quality from the Freecom 4X is outstanding; if you enjoy listening to music on the bike, the higher-spec Bluetooth, the processing and the 40mm JBL speakers can make it worth the investment, not to mention the two-year guarantee, excellent reliability and proper waterproofing.

As Bluetooth intercoms go, this among the best I’ve used, and it excels in some points.

The Cardo Freecom 4X should way outlast your helmet, so understand the limitations of this tech, think about how you’ll use it, and it could be a solid investment.