Why I was wrong about the Cardo Packtalk Custom: Full review

Cardo Packtalk Custom review intercom_01


Date reviewed: June 2023 | Tested by: John Milbank | Price: £245 | www.cardosystems.com


It was during Cardo’s presentation that I realised I’d been wrong about the subscription-based Cardo Packtalk Custom on review here.

When Marco Schinkel, European sales manager said “If you want all the features all the time, don’t buy the Packtalk Custom” I twigged just who this mesh and Bluetooth intercom was aimed at. And that it wasn’t the start of Cardo going for an all-subscription model that I feared it might be.

I’ve been using the Packtalk Custom for a couple of months to find out how it performs, and who should buy it…

UPDATE: For the latest Cardo and Sena intercom updates, including new cross-platform compatibility, GoPro control and voice recording features, check our updates feature here.


Pros & Cons

  • Mesh gives far better group comms than Bluetooth
  • Great audio quality
  • Option to upgrade at the times you need it
  • RRP vs street prices makes it a hard sell compared to others
  • Standard speakers, not JBL (though still good)
  • FM radio suffers usual weaknesses
Is the Packtalk Custom worth it?

A close look at the entry-level mesh Custom, and its competition


Cardo Packtalk Custom pay-per-feature subscription plans

As it comes out of the box, the Cardo Packtalk Custom is a relatively basic but quality Mesh intercom with the following features:

  • Mesh comms with up to 15 riders. This is a much better system than the Bluetooth systems of old, which we’ll cover later
  • High-speed and clarity Bluetooth 5.2 connection to your phone
  • FM radio
  • Over-the-air software updates
  • Compatibility with your smartphone’s assistant
  • Waterproof body
  • 40mm ‘high definition’ speakers
  • Boom mic for open-face/flip-front lids and Velcro-fixing mic for full-face
  • Helmet mount with self-adhesive and clip-on fittings
  • 2 year warranty

It’s important to note that, unlike most other premium-brand intercoms, the Cardo Packtalk Custom can only connect to one Bluetooth device (not an intercom) in its most basic state, which means you can’t have it paired to your phone for music and calls (and to access the excellent Cardo Connect smartphone app), as well as a GPS or sat-nav for directions. If you have a Garmin sat-nav, like the new XT2 reviewed here, you could get around this by pairing only with the Garmin, then using that to take calls and listen to music.

However, for those who use their phone for navigation – be that through Google maps or a dedicated motorcycle navigation app like Calimoto or TomTom Go Ride – this single point of connection won’t be a problem.

If you do want to use the additional features, you’ll need to pay for them. You don’t have to invest in any of them if the Custom does what you need at its most basic, but here are the pay-per-feature options:

Cardo Packtalk Custom Silver: £2.99/month or £19.99/year

  • Music sharing with your pillion
  • Audio profiles for higher volume, bass boost or vocal settings
  • Speed dial to quickly access a favourite phone number by double-tapping the phone button

    Cardo Packtalk Custom Gold: £4.99/month or £29.99/year

  • All the above features
  • Bluetooth intercom to connect to other Cardo Bluetooth comms systems. This includes a universal Bluetooth intercom to pair with a non-Cardo system via its phone-pairing mode
  • Second device connection to allow you to also add a sat-nav, second phone or your bike’s TFT dash

    Cardo Packtalk Custom Platinum: £6.99/month or £39.99/year

  • All the above features
  • Voice commands to access features like ‘Hey Cardo, music on’
  • Eco mode for up to 20% longer battery life by stopping Mesh constantly looking for a connection (you’ll need to connect manually if a connection’s lost)

At any point after purchase you can sign up to the Platinum package for 30 days free in order to trial all the features. This can be cancelled at any time and you’ll still get the full 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about getting billed if you don’t want it.


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Let’s look a little more closely at what you might be missing without a subscription…

Going with the Silver package first, I use intercoms to be able to talk to my wife when she’s pillion, but we never share music. It’s likely that she’d listen to her own tunes anyway, if she wanted to.

The audio profiles are nice to have, but the volume is good as standard (with filtered earplugs like these EarPeace ones), and I’ve rarely used bass boost or vocal.

Speed dial is handy, but with access to your smartphone’s assistant, I can easily call my wife anyway by tapping the phone button on the Cardo, waiting for the tone, then asking for the call to be made.

Jumping to the Platinum package, the voice commands are very good – and Cardo’s system does seem a little more reliable than Sena’s at the time of writing –  so while it’s something I appreciate in a premium intercom like the Packtalk Edge or Neo, I wouldn’t pay a subscription for it.

The only other advantage of the Platinum package is that is has ‘Eco mode’ to extend the battery life, but as the Custom lasts a full day’s riding anyway, it seems unlikely to be something you’d pay for.

It’s the £4.99/week Gold package that I think will be most likely used, maybe when you need to be able to pair with a Bluetooth intercom, perhaps to link up with a mate who doesn’t have a Cardo mesh system or to listen to sat-nav directions on a big trip. It’s this second connection being an optional extra that will perhaps be a deal breaker also for those who use a separate GPS every day.

Still, I guess if you’re only signing up for a week’s use on a trip away with mates you might go for the top option as it’s just £2 more.



Fitting Cardo Packtalk Custom

Fitting the Cardo Packtalk Custom is as easy as any other decent comms system, with a self-adhesive mount or a clip-on one supplied. Take your time to plan where you’ll put everything, then carefully take the lining out of the lid before making sure you position the speakers directly over the ears (I put these in slightly the wrong place on the LS2 Storm II I first fitted it to, making it seem a bit too quiet).

Cardo recommends running the wire connecting the two speakers over the top of the head, rather than behind it, as this also acts as the FM radio’s antenna.

Cleverly, Cardo always uses a 3.5mm TRS connector for its speakers, which means that you could plug in your own speaker-equipped earplugs instead if you wanted.

The mic and the speakers both terminate at a USB-C plug, which fits into the back of the unit, rather than connecting via pins in the mounting bracket. This means you’ll have to unplug it to remove it, but Cardo says that some riding instructors prefer this as they can simply drop the unit into a pocket, rather than have it attached to a lid.


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Connecting to your phone is very fast and reliable thanks to the Bluetooth 5.2 chip, and pairing is simply a matter of pressing and holding the phone button. To pair a different device (or a second with Gold or Platinum payments), tap the phone button again, then spin the roller forwards for GPS, or backwards for your bike’s TFT.

Pairing with another, or up to 14 other riders is simply a matter of pressing and holding the intercom button for five seconds on each unit, or by using the Cardo Connect app.

Note:While Mesh can allow mulitple riders to communicate much more easily than with Bluetooth, it's important to understand that the Custom only allows up to four people to speak at a time. They can all listen, but when the fifth person speaks their unit will beep, and they'll have to wait until the line is clear before they can talk. If the mics have shut themselves down that shouldn't be a problem, but with some helmets the wind noise could keep the mics active, limiting comms.

A clever feature is that one rider using any other type or brand of comms can join a group when added by the lead (or admin) of the group and accessing via a phone call – this means you could add a Sena owner, for instance. This doesn’t require any extra payment, though you could also add a rider via Bluetooth with Gold or above.

Once made, connections prove very solid, with no significant breaking up – they’re either there or they’re not. As standard, the mesh connection will be automatically reopened when riders drop out and come back into range, though if you have Eco mode turned on in the Platinum package, you’ll need to press the button to reconnect. If the devices have been turned off, reconnecting is quick with just a button press.

It's extremely important to understand that, while mesh is much better than Bluetooth for group riding due to the ability to have more riders – and because those riders can change order on the road without losing the group – it is NOT cross-brand compatible: Sena and Cardo do not play nicely. Midland and Uclear promise to be compatible with Cardo mesh, while Interphone and Sena should work together (at least on new models).

Truly universal communication can be had via apps like WhatsApp and Discord, or even just by connecting via phone calls if there’s only two of you, and I calculated that a two-hour ride would use around 50MB of data, meaning even a basic 2GB/month phone contract could be enough for 80 hours of talk time. These apps of course rely on having a data connection, which might be an issue in more remote areas. In testing, if connection is lost on a WhatsApp call, it will be dropped entirely after about 30 seconds if it doesn’t find a signal.

Note: Pairing Cardo and Sena via Bluetooth has been made pretty simple now (thanks it would appear to work by Cardo), and it is possible to create a Mesh link between them now, though I’ve not been able to thoroughly test it yet. You can find out more about pairing Cardo and Sena in this video.


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Out of the box, the Cardo Packtalk Custom is easy to control thanks to the three raised buttons (which can be felt through gloves), and the rear wheel, which can be spun forward or back to adjust volume.

You can also use the very good Cardo Connect app on your smartphone if you’ve mounted it to the handlebars, and access the large, easy to press ‘buttons’ (as long as you have touchscreen-compatible gloves).

Only if you have the optional Platinum package can you use voice commands, and while they are very good, responding reliably to commands at most speeds, I’m not sure many people will bother paying the extra for them. When you’re used to them through regular use on the other top-end Cardos, they become second nature, but if you’re only dipping in every now and again, I think you’ll be more likely to be used to just tapping the buttons. Here’s what you can say to control the Cardo Packtalk Custom if you have the Platinum package…



What to say

Answer an incoming call


Ignore an incoming call


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 previouspreset radio station

Hey Cardo, previous station

Open the call intercom (for Bluetooth Intercom)

Hey Cardo, call intercom

To close intercom call (for Bluetooth Intercom)

Hey Cardo, end intercom

Access Siri

Hey Siri

Access Google

OK Google or Hey 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

Mute microphone

Hey Cardo, mute microphone

Unmute microphone

Hey Cardo, unmute microphone

Check the battery status

Hey Cardo, battery status



Volume and clarity

While the Packtalk Custom doesn’t include the JBL speakers of the Neo or Edge, the 40mm HD speakers do give very good, clear sound. Using filtered earplugs, I find them loud enough for motorways speeds on a GS and a VFR800, and while you can’t expect over-ear hi-fi headphone sound, music is rendered well and still very enjoyable.

Quality will of course depend very much on the amount of wind noise caused by your bike’s fairing, and the fit of your helmet, but the basic Packtalk Custom has no noticeable disadvantages over other high-end devices.

If you did want the JBL speakers they’d cost an additional £90, or buying a complete second-helmet kit, including mics and mount, would be £140.


Cardo Packtalk Custom range

Any intercom’s range is limited by many factors, not least hills, buildings and trees. But the weather can have an effect too, with cloudy days sometimes providing an increase in range.

Without paying any additional fees, the Cardo Packtalk Custom is a full Dynamic Mesh Communicator (DMC), which means that the signal is relayed from the nearest rider to the next, regardless of the order they ride in.

Bluetooth group riding systems are typically limited to a maximum of four people, and are more complex to set up. Plus they rely on the riders staying in the same formation, whereas mesh is far more forgiving and much easier to get started with.

Once a mesh group is formed, each unit effectively carries all the comms, so every rider can relay the signal to the next. Basically, as long as each rider has a link to the next person along, everybody can stay in touch, from the front to the back.

During a Cardo presentation, we had the chance to ride in a group of about seven, and communication was very good between us. However, while the system is claimed to offer a maximum range of five miles between six riders, with up to a mile between each, we found that the signal could be broken between the group in less than half this when geography got in the way.


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My testing on a clear, straight road between a Packtalk Edge and Packtalk Custom on an overcast day showed a range of up to 1,100 metres (0.7 miles), which is pretty typical for most good quality intercoms. Signal was lost briefly at about 500 metres due to unknown interference (there’s a distribution centre at the side of the road here), with some minor glitching from around 800 metres.

On the group ride, the mesh worked very well, and while traffic meant the pack got split up, the two groups that formed could chat between themselves, then when they caught up with each other again, full comms were flawlessly tied back together.

If we’d been using the Eco mode of the Platinum package, anyone who’d dropped out entirely may have needed to tap the button to get back into the group.

During riding, I listened to music while chatting on the group, and the two were mixed very well by the unit. It’s also possible to stay part of the group but duck out of conversation by pressing and holding the scroll wheel to mute the mic and speakers.

The mic alone can be muted by tapping the arrow and intercom button together, or if you have the Platinum package enabled, you can use voice commands.

If you ride in groups, mesh communication is a massive step forward and I’d strongly recommend you and your mates opt for it. Just keep in mind that it’s not cross-brand compatible.



As is the case with all intercoms I’ve tested, don’t buy the unit solely for the FM radio, as reception can be very patchy, and is also affected by the construction of the helmet (carbon fibre can be very good at blocking signals, for instance).

The Cardo Packtalk Custom can store up to six frequency presets, which you can program yourself through the app, or have the device scan for the strongest then store them automatically.

While it features RDS, station names are not spoken or displayed, and automatic re-tuning isn’t that reliable (but this isn’t anything new), so longer journeys can see stations dropping in and out a lot.

If you really enjoy listening to the radio, as with all helmet comms the best bet is likely to stream the station via your phone.


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Cardo Packtalk Custom waterproofing

Rated IP67 waterproof, the Packtalk Custom is protected against dust and short periods of immersion in water. That means it’s also protected against high pressure water jets from any direction.

This might seem an obvious requirement in the UK, but not all intercoms are waterproof, so if there’s any chance you’ll be riding in heavy rain, be sure you consider this when buying.


Cardo Packtalk Custom battery life

In my testing, which involves streaming music at full volume to the intercom until the battery dies, the Cardo Packtalk Custom ran for 9 hours and 3 minutes, which matches the Packtalk Edge in not being the very best I’ve seen, but still good enough for pretty much any full day’s ride.

This was recorded in standard mode, which sees the mesh system constantly searching for a signal, so reducing battery life. The Platinum package offers Eco mode, which should give a claimed 20% increase in run time, but I was unable to test this as for some reason the audio kept dropping out during testing (this could well have been an iPad connection problem).

Perhaps worth noting is that having the speakers and mic plugging into the USB-C port at the back of the device means that you can’t charge the Packtalk Custom while in use. I’ve never had cause to it, but only the Packtalk Edge offers this in the Cardo mesh range.



Ease of updating

Updating the Cardo Packtalk Custom is wonderfully simple thanks to over the air updates via the app. When opened, it checks for updates then downloads and installs them if necessary.

Also worth noting is that Cardo has very good customer support in the UK thanks to its distributor, Pama. If you do have any difficulties, email support@cardosystems.com and your message will be routed direct to the team in Stockport. You can also call 0161 494 4340 to leave a message, which then gives the experts there a chance to look into the issue before calling you back.

The team has proven very knowledgeable and helpful, and also offers excellent warranty support for Cardos purchased in the UK.


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Three alternatives to the Cardo Packtalk Custom

The Cardo Packtalk Custom is a unique product in its upgradeability, but do think carefully about what you want from your comms. Here are three other options to consider…

  • The Sena Spider ST1 is the main alternative when it comes to entry-level mesh comms, and if you’re riding with other Sena owners it’ll be your best bet. With a street price of just £149.99 at the time of writing (RRP is £209), it makes the Cardo Custom seem particularly expensive, but while it does allow a sat-nav to be connected as well as your phone, it’s not got any pay-for-feature options if you need them (like Bluetooth comms). Sena’s mesh system allows unlimited numbers of riders, and is open to all by default (though you can set private groups. The Spider ST1’s not got an FM radio, isn’t wirelessly updateable and it’s not fully waterproof. Read the full review of the Sena Spider ST1 here.
  • If streaming music, a radio, single rider-to-rider or rider-to-pillion comms, calls and directions from a sat-nav are all you need then the £139 (£112 street price) Cardo Spirit HD would be my recommendation. Read the full review of the Cardo Spirit HD here.
  • Cheap intercoms from the likes of Amazon and eBay might provide all you need, and I know riders who’ve got on fine with them, but don’t expect high levels of audio or even build quality. And if an update to your smartphone’s OS renders it inoperable, there might not be a dev-team on hand, frantically working to fix it.

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


Buying tip: Save on your Cardo without a discount code or voucher

As you probably know, VAT isn’t chargeable on motorcycle helmets in the UK, but that also means that, in many cases, if you buy the OE intercom at the same time, you don’t pay the VAT on that either.

At the time of writing, several dealers are offering 16.66% off most aftermarket intercoms when purchased with a helmet, which takes the price of the Cardo Packtalk Custom RRP down to £204.33. And you don’t need to use any discount codes or vouchers.


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Cardo Packtalk Custom review: Verdict

Having reviewed many different intercoms over the years, it’s easy to take for granted some of the great features available, but only while writing this did I really step back and consider what I use most.

I want to be able to listen to music, take a call from my wife if she needs to get hold of me urgently, talk to her when she’s pillion and sometimes listen to directions from my phone. To be honest, Cardo’s Spirit HD does all of that for £139 RRP, and as I write you can find it for £112. It’s even got a good enough range for talking to a mate on another bike.

If I were riding in a group I’d really want us all to be on mesh, and the Packtalk Custom does that a treat, so in many ways this could be the best option for me, assuming that the other riders are using Cardo too.

The problem that Cardo has is that the Packtalk Neo, due to discounting on various sites, currently costs only £4 more than the new-so-not-discounted Custom. And for that you get all the features fully unlocked, and the even higher-quality JBL speakers. The only difference between that and the range-topping Packtalk Edge is that it doesn’t have the magnetic mount, and the speakers and mic plug into the back through USB, rather than connecting via the mount.
To be fair to Cardo we should be looking at retail prices, as that shows where it intends the Packtalk Custom to sit:


Packtalk Custom

Packtalk Neo

Packtalk Edge





The fact that you’ll see the street prices when buying can’t be ignored, but it’s inevitable that we’ll see fluctuations in the prices of all these devices, including – I’m sure – the Packtalk Custom in future.

The Cardo Packtalk Custom is not intended to be used with a regular subscription-type payment – the idea is that you only pay for extras as and when you need them – so with that in mind it has the potential to offer everything many riders really need from a comms system, and as an entry-level mesh device it has a lot going for it. If the price is right, and the core features are all you need, it’s well worth considering.

UPDATE: For the latest Cardo and Sena intercom updates, including new cross-platform compatibility, GoPro control and voice recording features, check our updates feature here.

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