Date reviewed: June 2022 | Tested by: John Milbank| RRP: £130 | www.cardosystems.com
With a street price of just £104.99 at the time of writing, the Cardo Spirit HD on review here is one of the most affordable intercoms from the premium brands, only bettered in Cardo’s range by the Spirit, which has a reduced range, smaller speakers, no radio and a slightly weaker intercom.
I’ve had the Cardo Spirit HD fitted to a Schuberth C5 for several months, riding a variety of bikes to find out if it’s worth the money…
Fitting is as simple as any other intercom, and it’s great to find a boom mic and a wired mic included with the Cardo Spirit HD, making it compatible with full-face, flip-front and open-face lids.
The intercom itself snaps securely into a compact bracket, which can be stuck to the side of the lid, or clipped on. My only minor complaint is that the speaker connecting plug is a little bulkier than some others, being a 3.5mm TRS audio connector (like those on wired headphones). Still, I even managed to fit this to the Schuberth C5, which is intended to take the brand’s own, Sena-made intercom, so you should have no problems fitting this to almost any lid.
Pairing my phone and GPS too a little longer than I’d hope, but like with so many devices, getting them all linked can be a bit of a chore; I’ve rarely found any unit has worked perfectly at the first attempt, and more often than not I’ve had to delete all my pairings, then try again. I found it helped to download the full Spirit HD user manual from here.
Once set, I’ve had no problems, and in fact I’m particularly impressed with how speedily the intercom pairs with my phone when it’s turned on. The Cardo Spirit HD uses Bluetooth 5.2, which is designed to offer better quality streaming audio quality, and also makes for very fast connections.
This is a Bluetooth-only intercom, and it’s limited to pairing to just one other rider; range is limited (see below for the test data), so being able to link to another biker should not be the main reason to buy this device.
There’s no voice-control with this Cardo Spirit HD, so you need to rely on the buttons. While small, the design makes them pretty easy to locate with gloves on, and once you’ve memorised the key options it’s fine. If you have your phone mounted on the bike, you can also use the app for music, radio, intercom, phone calls etc.
Some actions are spoken by the device, for instance “94.5” when starting the radio, but more usefully it’s the settings like “phone pairing” that really help.
I do have one problem with the Spirit HD though, and that’s the fact that to stop music, you have to tap the play and down-volume button together, which is just a little awkward on the side of the helmet. Starting music takes just a tap of the play button, so I’d have preferred a second tap in order to stop it, but instead that’s the next track button. Tapping it twice skips backwards. Pressing and holding the play button switches between radio and music.
Holding the down volume button for one second drops the music to minimum volume, but it does keep playing. That’s fine if you’re in a rush to shut the audio off, but I can’t help thinking that the operation of the four buttons could have been better. The older Cardo Freecom 1+, for instance, had the same number of buttons and functions but was more intuitive in their use, with no need to hold two at once for such common actions.
A boom and standard mic are supplied
I always wear earplugs when riding, and the Cardo Spirit HD’s volume is more than capable. It’s also very clear, with surprisingly good bass quality. In fact, I’d say it’s up there with the most expensive intercoms I’ve tested, being only a fraction behind Cardo’s JBL-equipped top-of-the-range units. And even then, the differences are negligible and easily lost in different helmets.
Bass is extremely good, especially in bass boost mode, which I tend to leave it in. There’s also a ‘high volume mode’, which is – unsurprisingly – louder, and a ‘vocal’ mode that I’ve not really noticed much advantage in.
The volume controls on the Cardo directly affect the phone you’re streaming from, unlike some other brands, which only adjust their own built-in amp. That means you don’t have to ensure your phone’s set at full volume before you ride in order to get the most power out of the speakers.
The 40mm speakers give excellent audio performance
I can’t really stress enough how impressed I am with the audio quality of the Cardo Spirit HD. Sure, it’s not like a pair of reference headphones, but considering it’s driving a pair of speakers inside a resin and polystyrene ball – and you’re listening through earplugs – it’s incredible at any price, let alone just over £100.
There is one glitch, and that’s the fact that sat-nav instructions from my TomTom sometimes come out quiet for the first 10 seconds or so. This might be a TomTom issue as it doesn’t happen with the Garmin, but the Sena 50R I also recently tested had no such issue.
Speech is excellent, be it between intercoms or via your phone, though you should make sure the mic is close to your mouth, and the quality will depend on how noisy your lid is. I’ve had no problem speaking on the phone at motorway speeds.
The Cardo Spirit HD is claimed to have a range of up to 600m, which is 1,000m less that what is claimed for the flagship Packtalk Edge. It’s also restricted to just one pairing, so you can only talk to one mate, not form groups.
In my testing though, the Spirit HD managed almost 800m before losing signal, automatically reconnecting at just under 400m. This was paired with the more powerful Packtalk HD, and the Spirit should have represented the weakest link in the chain, but over the years I’ve realised that there are a lot of variables in intercom testing.
While I use the same stretch of straight, flat road, with no traffic, the weather can make a massive difference, with cloud cover significantly increasing range.
The Spirit HD is great for rider to pillion comms, and if you’re close to the other rider, it’ll work for that. But if you’re serious about solid rider to rider conversation, it’s worth spending more. And if you want to have group chats, I’d suggest looking for a mesh-enabled model, but keep in mind they’re NOT cross-brand compatible at all.
Or, just pair your phone then open a WeTransfer call, or Discord, or the new Chain app from Ruroc to talk to any number of other riders regardless of where they are in the world, let alone on the same road. As long as they have a data connection, it doesn’t matter what intercom they use.
I’ve yet to find a great intercom radio, and the FM system fitted to the Cardo Spirit HD is no different. Despite having RDS, I found the radio worked for about 25 miles, then started to break up. It did come back in and got me about 50 miles into a journey before it broke up altogether; none of them seem to do a good job of holding onto even national radio stations.
Treat the radio as a bonus and on shorter trips – perhaps the ride to work – it can be handy.
Charging is via a USB-C port
The Spirit HD can be easily popped out of its bracket, making it easy to charge via the USB-C socket. No charger is supplied, but you can use any standard USB device, with a full charge taking around two hours.
The claimed 13 hours of battery life is in line with my testing; streamed music played at full volume gave a shade over 11 hours of use; impressive for something so compact.
Another brilliant feature of all the Cardos is that the battery level is spoken as you turn them off, creating a great reminder to charge it at the end of a ride if needs be.
While there’s no official rating, the Cardo Spirit HD is properly rainproof, so ideal for British weather. The connections between the unit and the bracket are well protected, and I’ve had no problems with water ingress creating any glitches or faults.
Updating couldn’t be easier – if the app shows the need for an update, just accept it and everything is done wirelessly; no need to plug into the computer anymore.
The Cardo Spirit HD is at the bottom of the price range of intercoms from the premium brands, but there are some other options…
I’m extremely lucky in that I get to test a lot of high-quality motorcycle intercoms, at a wide range of prices. While I’ve used them with multiple riders and over the maximum distances in my testing, all I personally want an intercom for is listening to music, getting my sat-nav directions and talking to my wife as a pillion. While I do ride with my mates, I’ve never felt the urge to connect to each other to talk out on the road, though I do fully understand why people would.
In many ways, the Cardo Spirit HD is my perfect intercom, being very competitively priced yet with outstanding audio quality. My only reservations are that the sat-nav instructions can be too quiet, and it’s a bit of a faff to pause music. Both of these issues would likely be cured through a firmware update, though I doubt the controls would be changed. Please consider it Cardo!
The Cardo Spirit may well be tempting at £87, and while I haven’t had a chance to try that, the smaller, 32mm speakers are extremely unlikely to offer the music quality of this Spirit HD. While it has its quirks, this is an excellent intercom that delivers sound that’s up there with the best.