High-end Helmet Audio

TheArchitect

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Any of these work with 2 way radios?
My son and I use Uclear Motion 6 units. They have an intercom function so we don't have to press any buttons to talk to each other. I'd love to find a way to use 2-way radios wirelessly to a BT headset but having done some research on this I haven't found anything that works. I've looked at cobbling together BT headphones, a BT button and radios but nothing gives me the hands-free (or close to that) functionality I want. The Motion 6 works well but the range is nowhere near that of 2-way radios.

I'm not a fan of skiing with music because I like to be able to hear people around me. I tried it a couple of times and almost got into a crash because I didn't hear someone passing by me. It's too bad because when I'm skiing alone I'd love to be able to listen to music.
 
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Noodler

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So "Santa" brought my new helmet and goggles yesterday. Today I got my first chance to start "playing" with my new toys while hanging around in the house. I'm not going to cover the SP Switcher helmet in this post; including info about getting the XSound3 audio speakers installed in the earpads. This will be strictly about the audio system itself and its interface with the helmet to achieve high quality audio performance.

The XSound3 instructions specifically state that your goal in the installation is to get the drivers as close as possible to your ears; ideally resting directly on them. They include a padding "system" to help ensure this type of fit. Unfortunately the SP Switcher helmet earpads have a "hollow" area for your ears which puts the audio speakers further away from your ears. To add insult to injury, the very bottom of the earpads press hard into my cheek bones while the main earpad section over my ears is pushed away. So I installed all of the pads included with the drivers to try to push them closer to my ears. This didn't fully succeed, but did help in moving them closer.

I'm going to try to find a way to reshape the helmet's earpads to move the drivers closer. (update: pushing in on the top of the earpads while pulling out on the bottom causes them to "buckle" in a manner that changes the profile of the earpads and results in a much better coupling to my ears. Will have to see if this "sticks" during helmet usage over time).

Note that I found that by squeezing the sides of the helmet above my ears I am able to get 3 things:
1. Closing of the gap between the speakers and my ears
2. Relieving some pressure on my cheekbones (for some strange reason)
3. Improving the helmet fit by making it tighter side-to-side and eliminating pressure on my front and back of head.

So I'm going to try to find a way to reshape the helmet itself. More fun. ;)

In my old Giro helmet that uses the Tune-Ups speakers, the earpads rest directly against my ears so the volume level achieved by the Sony SBH50 Bluetooth Receiver is more than sufficient. However, having the XSound3 drivers farther away and the fact that the SBH50 doesn't seem to have the power to drive the higher quality XSound3 speakers, leaves the output level quite lacking. So I had to find a way to drive the XSound3 with more output power.

I experimented with my Radsone ES100 Bluetooth Receiver/DAC Preamp and found that it easily drives the XSound3 speakers. The Radsone app on my iPhone provides tons of options to tune the audio and achieved more volume output than I need. Unfortunately I don't really want to ski with the higher cost ES100 hanging on my jacket and the ES100 lacks a lot of the nice-to-have features of the SBH50; like a screen that shows time, caller ID, and track names.

So I decided to purchase the FiiO BTR3 and BTR1K for testing. Another option would be to go with the FiiO A1 "micro" headphone amp and put it between the SBH50 and the XSound3 drivers. This theoretically would provide plenty of power boost and 4 EQ options. Of course this would mean another device to remember to charge, but its only $20 and would allow me to keep using the features of the SBH50 I like that aren't available on the other Bluetooth receivers.

On to the audio quality of the XSound3...

I spent about 2 hours listening to various music while indoors in a quiet room. I tested with Amazon Music HD, but unfortunately over the AAC codec (16-bit/44.1KHz) which we're all stuck with until Apple gets their head out of their a$$. I would love to see AptX come over to iOS devices. I went back and forth between the ES100 and the SBH50. I also switched back to my old Giro helmet setup with the Tune-Ups.

A few observations... its often stated in audiophile reviews how the "fog is lifted" and the muddiness is removed when describing the audio of different equipment. I hate to repeat that, but it's exactly what I experienced when switching between my old helmet and the new one with the XSound3 speakers. There really is no comparison between them; the XSound3 is just on a totally different level. The sound is quite lackluster with the SBH50 driving the old Tune-Ups, but with the ES100 running the XSound3 the audio response is just "off the charts" for helmet audio. Its smooth and nicely balanced across the full audio spectrum. More than sufficient bass without it being over-the-top and in your face; obscuring the rest of the music.

I hope that one of the FiiO units does the trick so the ES100 can stay home. If not, I may buy the newer Mark 2 version of the ES100 for my "travel kit" and use my old one for skiing.
 
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Noodler

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So I came up with a solution to the helmet fit issue that was affecting the audio performance...

20191226_223012260_iOS (2).jpg
20191226_222921021_iOS (2).jpg
 

Jersey Skier

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Noodler

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Gotta imagine that skiing with a vice clamped to the helmet at high speeds will add enough wind noise that you won't be able to hear the better audio quality you are seeking.
You didn't even mention the obvious headache potential. ;)
 

neonorchid

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So I came up with a solution to the helmet fit issue that was affecting the audio performance...
View attachment 88551
Either your idea of a joke? Or you were born prior to SIDS and your parents didn't make you sleep on your back as an infant so you don't have a head like Stewie as the majority of ski helmets on the market seem to be designed for, and you clamped then put in the oven or used a heat gun to modify helmet fit? I'm guessing the former;)
41nERqjLMcL._SX466_.jpg
 
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Noodler

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Either your idea of a joke? Or you were born prior to SIDS and your parents didn't make you sleep on your back as an infant so you don't have a head like Stewie as the majority of ski helmets on the market seem to be designed for, and you clamped then put in the oven or used a heat gun to modify helmet fit? I'm guessing the former;)
View attachment 88572
No heat. Did some research and landed in a bunch of motorcycle enthusiast threads. Many warnings about applying any heat to helmets to change fit. Instead there is a lot of discussion about shaving the foam and strategic use of padding.

I've done this kind of stretching/squeezing reforming approach with other stuff. I've been fairly successful at reforming gear to better fit and/or suit my purpose. So far after 24 hours of gentle squeezing, the helmet is beginning to retain the new shape. The clamp is squeezing it in more than needed and when released the helmet fit is improving. This may take days, weeks, months, who knows. I'm willing to store the helmet like this while not using it until I feel confident that the reshaping is permanent.
 
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Noodler

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This is an interesting idea: http://iasus-concepts.com/audio/ear3-micro-amp/
If it works it could be an answer to us who are music lovers but choose to forgo outside for various reasons.
The ability to blend outside environment sounds into the audio mix is a feature available on other BT receiver/amps too. My Radsone ES100 has this feature. Unfortunately it is almost "too much" and kind of "fake" sounding. When you take the outside world sounds in via a mic and then channel that into the drivers, it just sounds weird to me. The Aftershokz I use just leaves your ear canal open to be able to hear the world. That's a better approach I believe. I'm finding that the ear flaps on the SP Switcher helmet are very "open" and have much less of a "muffling" characteristic than my Giro Seam helmet. They let lots of the outside world in. Whether that's good or bad I have not yet totally decided.
 
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Noodler

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Maiden voyage today for the new helmet audio. Crazy cold, but the audio was fantastic. The improvement in the quality was almost as obvious on the mountain as it was sitting in my house. It really does add a depth of clarity and engagement that my previous setup lacked. The XSound 3 was well worth the investment. The jury is still out on the helmet. Fit was much better today and I've got the helmet back on the "rack" (clamped).
 

neonorchid

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^ Cool.

...idea, if the helmets earmuffs snap on and off for spring skiing/multi-use perhaps bring the helmet to a ski shop, try earmuffs from another model or brand to find out if any will also attach to your helmet, (may require some mods), and better fit the audio gear to you?

Alternately, you could go back to the x-mass tree, see if you missed a box ... maybe Santa bought you a new helmet to go with the new audio gear?
 
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Noodler

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^ Cool.

...idea, if the helmets earmuffs snap on and off for spring skiing/multi-use perhaps bring the helmet to a ski shop, try earmuffs from another model or brand to find out if any will also attach to your helmet, (may require some mods), and better fit the audio gear to you?

Alternately, you could go back to the x-mass tree, see if you missed a box ... maybe Santa bought you a new helmet to go with the new audio gear?
He did; Sweet Protection Switcher. Review to come. So far its been a love / hate relationship.
 
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Noodler

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Received the FiiO units and did some indoor testing/listening. I have the BTR3 and the BTR1K, both Bluetooth receivers, and the A1 micro headphone amp. I also included in the testing round-up my original Sony SBH50 and remembered to include the MW1. Listening source was once again Amazon Music HD stream because that's what I use when I ski.

Audio Power
I'm starting with this characteristic because this was the main concern that prompted me to buy the additional units for testing. My Radsone ES100 has more than enough power, but I wasn't thrilled with the idea of using that device for skiing. From the get go, it was pretty clear that both the BTR3 and BTR1K have much more power and a better mating with the XSound 3 drivers than the Sony SBH50 I've been using regularly. When skiing I found the SBH50 to be OK for use with this new setup, but after listening using the FiiO units, it's clear that the SBH50 is really lacking; not only in power, but also in audio quality. Between the BTR3 and the BTR1K I was surprised to find the BTR1K actually had more power and was a better match for the XSound 3. The BTR3 supports more codecs and is the higher line device, but I already have the ES100 and it quite frankly blows away the BTR3 (note that there is a new BTR5 in the works from FiiO that is supposed to be the ES100 killer, but it is not yet available for purchase and it will have a much larger form-factor).

So the winner here was the BTR1K... or so I thought. I decided for "shits and grins" to add the MW1 to my testing. I have only been carrying it in my jacket pocket as a backup to the SBH50. To my surprise, the MW1 was significantly stronger than the SBH50 and quite close to the BTR1K output. The MW1 has the same controls/buttons and display as the SBH50. I'm not sure when or where I decided to use the SBH50 over the MW1, but I know I didn't make that decision based on any extensive listening tests. So now I have two options still in the running; either the new BTR1K or the MW1.

Ergonomic Differences for Skiing Use
Of course since these units will be used for skiing, they have to be functional with gloves on. That's where there are clear differences between the FiiO BTR3 and the BTR1K. The buttons on the BTR3 are super shallow and tiny; with very little "feedback" as to whether they've been pressed. The BTR1K buttons are larger and provide a positive "click" feel when they're depressed. The BTR1K is just about as good as the Sony units in this regard; the buttons aren't quite as big, but they're placed well and they do double-duty; the main rocker controls both volume and track skipping. It's a bit odd that the volume-up button when long pressed is the track skip back and the volume-down when long pressed is the track skip forward, but I think my tiny brain can handle that. ;)

What the BTR1K is missing though is the display screen of the SBH50 or MW1. It doesn't show track names or caller ID, but I really don't look at the screen all that much; though its nice to have when I need to. If the BTR1K had a display like the Sony units the decision would be easy and this review would be done; as it has sufficient power on its own to beat the Sony units and good controls.

Throwing the A1 micro amp into the mix
I moved on to see just what adding the A1 amp into the mix would do. The A1 not only provides a significant power boost, but also 4 separate predefined EQ settings selectable via consecutive button presses. It has an input jack for the source device and an output jack for your headphones (nicely placed on opposite ends of the device). It has only 3 buttons; volume up and down, and a power button that also provides the selection of EQ mode. The device itself is VERY tiny (and quite thin). This is easily tucked into the breast pocket of my jacket right next to where I clip the Bluetooth receiver devices. It even comes with the cables you would need to "inject" it into your setup. One of the cables was the perfect length (about 4") and had right-angle connectors; exactly what I needed for my setup.

I charged up the A1 and while it was charging continued doing some listening tests between the BTR1K and the MW1. After about 30 minutes I added the A1 into the mix. I could have taken some actual measurements of the audio boost, but my anecdotal observations were all I needed. The A1 provides a significant volume boost and the 4 EQ settings make a noticeable difference in the bass levels. The first setting is a flat EQ to preserve the original signal. The next 3 settings provide increasing levels of bass boost. The XSound 3 only needed the first setting, as the next two were just too much bass and it started to muddy-up the audio. I tested the A1 with the old SBH50 too and found that the A1 definitely would make the SBH50 usable, but at this point I had realized that the audio quality of the SBH50 was more lacking than I realized and boosting that really didn't improve this concern. The BTR1K paired with the A1 is mind-blowing; almost literally. This is a lot of power and pushed the setup into some serious brain rattling territory. I would never ski with volume levels this high, but its good to know that at normal listening levels the system isn't being pushed anymore. The MW1 sounded just as good, although not quite achieving the same top-end volume level. The A1 is definitely a keeper.

Final Decision
So I'm still on the fence as to what to do for my skiing audio setup. I think I'm going to get some ski days in using the BTR1K paired with the A1 and see if the ergonomics play out well when on-slope and whether I really miss the display screen. If the lack of display turns out to be a killer issue, then I will have to decide on whether using the MW1 with the A1 is better or should I just return everything and buy a second ES100 for the superior audio quality. Of course the ES100 doesn't have the display either, so that may not make sense if I really need the display. Decisions, decisions... :)
 
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