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Review: AKE Powercom/Bluetooth 101

18
October
2007
  Posted at 06:31:15 PM
  File under  Bluetooth Gadgets Product Review
  Author: Mike Werner
  Location: Normandy, France

Read the special articles on Bluetooth and motorcycles:
Many of us like to be able to talk to our pillion passenger, listen to music, make phone calls, receive instruction from our GPS, even talk to our riding buddies via bike-to-bike walkie-talkies. All this has been in existence almost since we've had motorcycles. There are lots of communication hub providers on both sides of the Atlantic. All of them offer communication hubs that allow you to do all of the above.

German electronics manufacturer AKE Open link in a new window is one of these. They provide communication hubs with a very large range of options. Their Powercom range allows you to listen and talk using a very wide variety of devices. What very interesting is that you can now do it without wires, using Bluetooth.

Basically, what this entails is bolting one of their PB-HC2 Bluetooth connector devices to where you would normally hook up the wires that lead to your helmet. The PB-HC2 takes care of the rets.

Your helmet can receive the AKE Bluetooth Helmset 101, or you can use a 3rd party Bluetooth headset.

The following review is based on AKE's Bluetooth Headset 101 and the Powercom Innova, their top of the line communications hub. Function-wise, there's no difference which model Powercom you're using, the difference lies in the number of connections/input leads.

Since there are a lot of options and functions available, this is a VERY long review. There are lots of photographs, so allow some time to load it all. That's why there's a "click here to read on" after the first photo, if not the main site would take ages to load.

AKE shipped a box full of materials for me to play with. I tried getting them all in a photo, but there was just too much gear. This should provide you with an idea how complete their offering is... Chinese menu effect..

AKE Helmset 101
Figure 1 - AKE Bluetooth Helmset  101



The Bluetooth headset is called the AKE Bluetooth Helmset 101. The set consists of the following:

1-#1 The package everything came in
1-#2 The Bluetooth control unit
1-#3 The standard microphone (others are optional)
1-#4 Wall charger (220/110 V)
1-#5 Two earphone speakers (sound is stereo)
1-#6 Package containing wires, battery and velcro
1-#7 Instruction manual

AKE Gooseneck microphone
Figure 2 - AKE Gooseneck Microphone
Depending on the type of helmet you are going to use, you may want the gooseneck microphone. They're to be used mostly for flip-up and jet type helmets.

The package for the gooseneck microphone contains not only the microphone itself, but also a three point pin that you use to fix the microphone into your helmet, plus velcro and tie-backs.

The original microphone could be used in a flip-up helmet, but you'll need to velcro it to the chin. It can not be used in a jet helmet. They additionally have an optional mini spiral cord for flip-ups.

Installing the AKE Bluetooth Helmset 101


We'll now show you the simple installation of the AKE Bluetooth Helmset 101. Their design is radically different from other Bluetooth headset providers who always have their unit on the outside of your helmet.

AKE have opted to place their control unit on the inside of your helmet (the unit is rain proof!). What AKE also have done, because they wanted to keep the control unit small and flat, is remove the battery and leave it on a separate wire.

The disadvantage of an external battery is that you'll need to place it in your helmet somewhere. The advantage is when you need to replace the battery, it's a very simple operation. Or, you could have a spare battery with you when travelling on long trips.



AKE Helmset 101
Figure 3 - Installing the Helmset 101

Installing the control unit is simple in most cases. If you have a neck guard in your helmet (most do), just slide it in between the neck guard and the lining. The AKE control unit is very thin, so it should fit in no problem. I tested it with a Roof Boxer, Schuberth C2, BMW Evo 4 and BMW Enduro helmet. All accepted the unit no problem.

Loudspeakers


Fitting the loudspeakers MUST be done properly, if not you'll not hear much. The loudspeakers need to line up almost 100% with your ears. Best is to place a piece of scotch tape where you think your ears are, fit on the helmet, and with your finger move the tape right over to your ears.

Once you've found the right spot, place the Velcro with its sticky side in the place. Make sure you hold the glued side in place for a few minutes, and then place the speakers onto the Velcro. It should now hold firm. Repeat for the other side.

The interesting thing is that you don't need to open up the helmet lining to fit the wires (you could, but not need). Therefore, you could do the same with other helmets in case you want to swap helmets for different rides...

AKE Helmet battery
Figure 4 - Helmet battery
Battery

The helmet battery is a small rectangular box with a wire to the control unit. Find a place, either in the lining, or in the helmet, and Velcro it in place.

It's quite small and thin, so you should not have a problem placing it. As you can see from the photo, the battery is small (that's a Euro cent, about as big as a US cent).



Microphone


AKE Gooseneck microphone
Figure 5 - Installing the Gooseneck Microphone

For this example, I'm using the gooseneck microphone. The unit comes with a metal "trident" in which you place the microphone stem. The trident gets pushed into the side of your helmet. You don't need to wreck your helmet, there's always some space to place it.

The stem is flexible, so you can bend it to your mouth. There's additional Velcro to secure the holder in case you feel it needs strengthening.

AKE Flip-up helmet coil cord
Figure 6 - Coil cord
That's all that needs to be done. 5 minutes, and your headset is done.

You can also opt to use AKE mini spiral cord for flip-up helmets. The cord inserts between the Helmset 101 control unit's microphone cable and the actual microphone lead. It extends the length of the lead, giving you the flexibility to weave the lead through your helmet and to your helmet's chin unit.

Powercom


The AKE Powercom unit I used is the INNOVA model, their top of the line, with all bells & whistles.

AKE Powercom Innova
Figure 7 - the AKE Powercom Innova unit

As usual, there's a lot of Velcro...

7-#1 The Powercom Innova unit (other have the same shape & dimensions)
7-#2 Squelch and controls for each of the lines (6 in total for the Innova)
7-#3 Intercom leads (more about this later *)
7-#4 Line in for bike-to-bike, GPS, music, phone
7-#5 Power connector
7-#6 Wiring for power
7-#7 Velcro
7-#8 Instruction booklet

* The AKE gear can be used with wires. You do not need to have a Bluetooth headset. The intercom leads can be wired to your helmet. If at a later stage, you want to remove the wires, get the AKE PB-HC2 Bluetooth connector.


AKE Powercom Innova
Figure 8 - the AKE Powercom Innova controls

7-#2 is used to adjust your squelch (used to set the sensitivity of your microphone), or the volumes of your attached devices. Each one can be set separately.

7-#5 The power connector accepts the 7-#6 connector with wires. This is if you want to hard wire your Powercom to your motorcycle. If not, AKE have a 12V plug that connects with 7-#5, allowing you to remove the Powercom and bring to another motorcycle.

AKE Powercom Innova
Figure 9 - the AKE Powercom Innova connection leads

7-#4 are the leads used to connect to different devices.

9-#1 In the Innova case, there are 6 devices you can connect up, each with its own lead
9-#2 Each lead has a watertight "condom" that protects the wiring if you're not using the lead
9-#3 The lead is connected to whatever device (in the example to my iPod)

Installing the Powercom


I installed the AKE Powercom on my BMW R1150GS. I already had an Autocom unit there, so I stripped it out, and replaced it with the Powercom. Since the AKE stuff is a "loaner", I did not hardwire it to the bike, instead I used their optional AKE-12V plug which connects directly to the Powercom power block.

BMW R1150GS and the AKE Powercom
Figure 10 - Installing it on the motorcycle

10-#1 The Powercom Velcro's under the dash
10-#2 Audio leads tied back
10-#3 12V lead to 12V plug (over the tank)

The problem when you have some many leads for input, is where do you put everything? Thankfully, the BMW has lots of space up front to place items. Also thankfully, AKE supply a lot of Velcro (I guess they have shares in Velcro...).

With the Powercom installed (you'll probably need more time if you're hard wiring it in), we're ready to test the Bluetooth. Here's what it all looks like, with GPS, iPod and mobile phone in the tank bag.

BMW R1150GS and the AKE Powercom
Figure 11 - Ready to ride

The Bluetooth PB-HC2 Connectors


As stated above, you can run the Powercom gear with wires. However, new technology should make life easier and safer than being wired to a motorcycle.

AKE PB HC2 Bluetooth connector
Figure 12 - the AKE PB HC2 Bluetooth connectors

Since we'll be two people testing the gear, I needed two PB HC2 connectors. Both get connected to the helmet audio lead coming out of the Powercom hub.

If you order the Bluetooth Helmset 101 and PB HC2 together, you don't need to do anything; they are already paired, and ready to go.

The two connectors were Velcro'd (what else) to the motorcycle. They are waterproof, so no worries about water leaking in.

We're ready to run some initial tests.

Initial test - Startup


AKE Helmset 101
Figure 13 - the AKE Bluetooth Helmset 101 Control

13-#1 Multi-function button
13-#2 On/off/Pairing Led
13-#3 Not used (yet)

AKE recommend that you start your helmet before starting the Powercom. To start the Helmset 101, press the button in the middle of the control set (13-#1). I've noticed that even if it's hidden in between the helmet neck guard and the lining, you can still press it in the general area on the neck guard (you'll feel the click of the button). No need to remove it, but you can slide out the control unit and press. Keep pressing until you hear a buzz in the loudspeakers. That's all, it's ready. The main LED will turn blue (13-#2).

Now, start up the power on the motorcycle, which turns on the Powercom. The LEDs in the PB HC2 light up, and moments later the blue LED on the Helmset 101 turns on; - they are ready to use.

With the units and Powercom on, my wife started speaking into the microphone. OUCH!! The sound was very loud... Time to turn down the volume a notch or two (this is done either on the Powercom control unit, but it can not be done while riding, or on the 101 unit).

To change the volume on the Helmset 101, briefly push the multi-function button (13-#1) either to the left or right, for volume up or down.

Initial Test - Music


Next thing, I connected an Apple iPod to the music port (each item has its own port, depending on the priority, e.g. GPS navigation instructions have a higher priority then music, meaning the music will cut out when the GPS "talks"). I turned on the iPod, and we were both listening to music....

First thing I noticed was that the music was breaking up. It sounded scratchy. Then I realized that the squelch was wide open, so any surrounding sound cut off the music (the sound was fading). So by closing the squelch, the sound become crystal clear AND IN STEREO. You have to fiddle with the squelch to get the right level that allows you to talk, but that surrounding noise does not cut the music.

NOTE: The Powercom unit is full stereo, but currently only when you are connected by the wires. When using the Bluetooth option, the sound is "simulated" stereo, ie, not full stereo. The A2DP version will come, and according to AKE, you will be able to upgrade.

Pairing the Helmset 101 to a Mobile Phone


If your mobile phone is equipped with Bluetooth, you can pair (connect) it to your AKE Helmset 101 (or you can wire it to the Powercom). Pairing is easy. Press the multi-function button (13-#1) on the 101 for some 6 seconds, until the LED starts flashing blue/red. It's now ready to be "introduced" to your phone. Set you phone into Bluetooth discovery mode (as per your phone instruction). The Helmset 101 should show up on your phone as "3xxPlantronics". You can change the name if you want to (I suggest you do). Once you tell it to connect to the 101, you'll be asked to enter a password. The password for the AKE Helmset 101 is "0000". Once done, it's now loaded in your phone's memory and the 101, and you'll not need to repeat this process. If you mobile phone's Bluetooth is on, and your 101 as well, they will automatically recognize each other.

Receiving Calls/Making Calls via Bluetooth


Receiving a phone call on your paired mobile, causes the phone to ring in your headset, cutting down any music or conversation. Press the mutli-function button (13-#1) briefly. Since the control unit is hidden inside your helmet neck guard, just press the neck guard in the general area, the button is quite sensitive. I had no problem with my helmet since the control unit is located very much to the front of the helmet. But... others may not be so lucky, and you'll need to know more or less where the control unit is, especially when riding with thick winter gloves.

Making a call (you've stop riding .. right??), dial the number on your phone. Once dialed, just briefly press the multi-function button and the call is transferred to your headset.

AKE PBM-H2 Bluetooth mobile phone connector
Figure 14 - PBM-H2 Bluetooth connector
Using a Mobile Phone connected to the Powercom

You do not need to connect your phone to your Helmset 101!

You can connect your phone directly to your Powercom hub in two ways:

1. AKE have several leads for most popular mobile phones (handy if your phone doesn't have Bluetooth, or if you don't want to drain your phone's battery), allowing you to hook your phone to the Powercom.

2. Alternatively, you can connect your Bluetooth equipped mobile phone to the Powercom. For that you need the optional PBM-H2. This is a Bluetooth box that connects to the telephone lead on your Powercom and pairs with your mobile phone.

Riding Test - Part 1


Initially, the tests I performed were on my own on the BMW motorcycle. My wife would call me on the mobile phone after 30 minutes, while I was touring the beautiful Normandy country side, music blasting in my ears. The sound level test would be performed with and without earplugs.

I drove my bike on the country roads on a great and sunny day. My iPod was on, blasting blues, a slight wind and a gas tank full of petrol. Time to rock & roll!

I had initially left out the earplugs, but the sound can be so loud, that I decided to put them in.

Sound Level


On both country roads and the autoroute (90 and 130 kph respectively), the sound level was more than sufficient, even with earplugs in. The volume still has a bit to go to maximum, so you can really crank up this baby.

When transiting from country road to autoroute, increasing speed, and thereby the sound levels, the music came across no problem. The AKE system "measures" the external sound levels, or ambient noise, and adapts the sound accordingly. You can actually hear the sound level go up when the motorcycle picked up speed.

Sound Clarity


The music sound in the beginning was again a bit scratchy, ie, it faded. So I stopped and adjusted the microphone squelch a tad, and that cured the problem. It's a thing you'll need to realize when running a sophisticated system such as this, you're going to need some time to adjust the parameters. You don't install it, jump on your motorcycle and riding into the sunset. You'll need to fine tune it.

But once fine tuned, sound was really nice. It's great hearing Popa Chubby Open link in a new window singing "No Money Down" in stereo...

Mobile Phone


After a while my wife called me on the phone. Music sound dropped and the ringing of the mobile phone could be heard. Problem is that you need to fumble with the bottom of your helmet to accept the call! Although you don't need to press exactly where the multi-function is located, the general area will do, the area is big, and I did fumble about a bit. I guess you get used to the location of the button, but in the beginning it was not easy.

It would have been easier if AKE incorporated a voice activation like with other Bluetooth headsets. That way you don't need to take your hands of the handlebars at all.

UPDATE: AKE inform me that if your mobile phone has an Auto-Answer feature, this will work with their gear. In my case, I did not have it turned on.

Once the sound was transferred to the headset, I was able to have a conversation with no problems. Music sound was cut down. Once my wife hung up, the mobile phone connection was cut, and music resumed.

Multiple Devices - Priority


I had turned on the iPod, phone and GPS. The GPS has the highest priority and overrides music and phone. I guess that's normal.... when the GPS speaks, you pay attention. It's the same with your SWMBOShe Who Must Be Obeyed ... if she speaks.. pay attention! Doh Smiley

Riding Test - Part 2


The 2nd part of the riding test involved riding with my favorite pillion passenger (my wife of course). Here we'd be testing the sounds of the intercom.

Again the test were conducted on country roads and the autoroute, with iPod and GPS on.

Sound Level


Sound levels of the intercom were more than satisfactory, specially considering that I had earplugs on, while my wife didn't. She can manage her own sound levels.

Sound Clarity


Sound was crystal clear. I had adjusted SWMBOShe Who Must Be Obeyed's microphone squelch beforehand. The music was great (she didn't like the music type), but when one of us talked, the music cut down, which is what it is supposed to do. There was almost no delay, so you don't lose anything being said (another communication hub we had used, had that problem, that it would take away the first word said).

Multiple Devices - Priority


The intercom has one of the lowest priorities (apart from the music). GPS could be heard over the intercom. I'd guess that the bike-to-bike would cut over the intercom as well, but we could not test this.

Conclusion


The AKE Powercom and Bluetooth Headset 101 are really nice. They're not something you'd buy for occasional use. For people who want to listen to music, GPS, use the phone, or even talk to your riding buddies, it's great. If you're a long distance rider, and often have a pillion,, it's heaven sent.

If the number of cables you've seen in the photos scare you off, remember that this is their top-of-the-line unit, allowing you to connect everything except the kitchen sink. They do have models with less cables...

The AKE communications hub is not cheap, but worth your while if you fit in one of the categories above. It's robust and rain proof. If you don't want to wire the unit on to your motorcycle, use your tank bag, top case or panniers.

One of the biggest advantages, IMHO, is that you can expand on a basic building block. If you don't want to fool around with wireless, use the wired version. If after a while you're ready for Bluetooth, get the Bluetooth connector, and a Bluetooth headset, and you're in business.

If you're in the market for serious communication gear, AKE offer a good alternative to what's on the market today, but one of the only ones that offer a full Bluetooth option.

Verdict: Very Good

Click here to access the AKE site and find out more about their gear Open link in a new window.





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