I’ve been riding with the Sena 50S for a year now, and in that time I’ve come to find a lot to like about the latest intercom from Sena but there is one drawback that is worth knowing.
Before we get into the review let's lay the stage. The Sena 50S arrived on our doorstep from local distributors Whites Powersports to test for the Kiwi Rider Podcast, Kiwi Rider Magazine and here on onthrottle.co.nz. We didn't pay for the unit in any way, but we hope that our review remains impartial. That said, we feel it is important you, our audience knows the background to how we came by the unit in the first place and any unconscious bias we may have.
The Sena 50S arrived on the market last year alongside the Sena 50R. While the 50R takes a new approach from Sena's tried and tested docking mount and detachable processor unit with a single unit, the 50S is an evolution of the same Sena design we've seen for a few years now, and I quite like that familiarity.
Physically the unit is nearly identical to the Harley-Davidson re-branded 30K I've had since July 2019, but inside Sena have given the 50S far more functionality including the ability to use voice commands to tie in to either an Android or iPhone virtual assistant. It is by far one of the best features of the new unit and allows you plenty of hands-free phone use while on the go.
Annoyingly, however, the iPhone won't allow you to make a call through it unless the phone itself is unlocked, so this still means you have to pull over and pull out your phone if calling to check in with your better half is something you want to do on the road.
The other big upgrade for the 50S is in terms of sound quality, with high definition speakers now part of the package there is plenty of volume for even the noisiest of helmets. I've found this particularly useful on my Scorpion ADX-1 adventure helmet, which is noticeably noisier than my HJC i70, and the 50S' additional volume output means I can noticeably hear a lot more with the 50S mounted to the Scorpion than the 30K which now resides on my HJC helmet.
It is definitely not the most intuitive of systems when you're trying to pair with a non-Sena unit like the Cardo and seems to require either luck or haphazard guesswork to make work, but with use you do become more familiar with its ins and outs and connecting to Sena units like the 50R is a breeze thanks to the Sena 50 Utility app.
The 50S has both Bluetooth intercom and Mesh functions, with both able to self heal the network should you fall out of range with your riding companions so long as those riding companions are also on Sena units. While on the 2020 GS Rallye in Martinborough we linked the 50S and 50R we were testing for the Kiwi Rider Podcast together through both means and settled on using Bluetooth rather than mesh due to the better sound quality.
If you're riding in just a pair or as a rider and pillion, this is definitely the way to go as the sound quality through the speaker is noticeably clearer through Bluetooth. The downsides being Bluetooth uses more power (battery life has never been an issue on our rides) and if you are riding in a group of more than two you are better off using mesh – that is if your companions also use a Sena.
The range can be quite impressive, and while riding the Molesworth Station in the upper South Island it did seem like Sena’s lofty range claims rang true as I stood atop the Isolated Saddle and chatted with Ray who was way down in the valley below.
There‘s really not a lot to dislike about the Sena 50S, but if I have one complaint it is its wet weather performance.
Now, this won’t come as news to those who have been cross-shopping the Sena with its major competitor Cardo, but in real riding situations, it is a failing in the design of the 50S that is annoying - especially if you are caught in a heavy downpour.
Riding the first 110km home in the rain on my way back from the 2020 NZ GS Trophy saw the 50S start the flounder with odd garbled responses to voice commands and eventually it cut out altogether until I found myself riding in the sunshine again.
The unit still works fine after drying out, with the culprit for the failure probably that traditional Sena mounting system getting a little water in between the connections, but if I had paid the $599 for the 50S I'd be a bit annoyed I suspect. After all, it is designed for use on a motorcycle and we're not all fair-weather riders.
There are a few low-tech solutions to preventing this from happening again, with the easiest wrapping the unit in a plastic bag and a rubber band, but come on Sena we shouldn't need to do this! It's 2020 and the market demands an actual IPX waterproof rating for motorcycle electronics.
So who should buy the Sena 50S?
Well, the biggest thing for buyers is to decide what your primary use will be. If you're a fair-weather rider you'll find no issues with the 50S and with its scroll wheel and voice commands it does seem to be the easiest to use intercom solution currently on the market (the others all use a combination of buttons).
You might want to look at the 50R (which reports indicate is more weathertight) if you want the Sena system and ride in all weathers, but as our experience shows the 50S can get a drenching and still function normally after it has dried out.
To get the most out of it, however, you will want your riding buddies to also join the Sena family, as mucking about trying to connect to competitor products (while possible) is a bit of a pain in the butt when you're out riding.
So does Sena have the goods for Kiwi Riders?
I think so.
With the waterproofing the only chink in the otherwise solid performing Sena 50S, we still rate it highly. Not all riders are out to get drenched on their rides and most of us who ride for pleasure tend to avoid torrential rain days.
Being able to connect to all previous Sena products makes it a good upgrade and one that you don't have to learn a new set of commands for all thanks to its evolutionary over revolutionary design. Add to that the Sena 50 Utility app for back up whenever you forget how to work it and you really are well sorted.
Again, the biggest factor I would say when choosing an intercom is to see what your friends are using (if they’re using anything at all) and roll with that brand. That’s a big plus in the Sena’s corner as it is one of the more widely used systems in the market.