See Also: UClear HBC200 Review Part 2
The new UClear HBC200 "Force" Bluetooth intercom system uses the same "boomless" microphone design as the proven UClear HBC100 intercom (review).
The UClear intercoms are unique, because they do not have the typical boom or wired microphone found on other intercom systems.
This eliminates some of the wiring and complexity when using a boom mic to a full-face, open-face or flip-up helmet.
The microphones in all of the UClear intercoms are built into the speakers. This may seem surprising, but the system is based on the "Adaptive Beam Forming" technology used by UClear for the military communications systems they also manufacture.
The functionality, operation and helmet installation of the HBC200 intercom system is very similar to the HBC100 and other motorcycle intercoms.
The HBC200 has improved range over the HBC100; a pair of HBC200 intercoms can communicate in full duplex at distances up to 700 meters.
The UClear "Multi-Hop Technology" is also new. It allows multiple HBC200 intercoms to communicate in full duplex at up to 2 kilometer (claimed) range, with each paired HBC200 acting as a "relay station" to the next, down the line.
This is another technology that UClear has adapted from the military, reflecting the company's background in manufacturing helmet and intercom systems for military use.
HBC100 owners will feel immediately comfortable with the new system and the HBC200 also has the same excellent quality speakers and loud volume as the original.
The HBC200 dual-pack kit costs about 10% more than buying two HBC100 intercoms, so if you're planning on connecting more than a pair, the HBC200 may be the system to own.
I'll briefly describe the basics of the UClear HBC200 intercom system in this Part 1. The pair was then turned over to H.B.C., who performed the usual detailed evaluation and pairing tests and comparison with the HBC100 system. See the detailed UClear HBC200 Review Part 2 for more information and final conclusions.
The UClear HBC200 was introduced on webBikeWorld during the 2012 Dealer Expo (report) in this UClear HBC200 preview. It's amazing that here it is in December and we're still working through a backlog of products from the Dealer Expo, held last February! Before you know it, the 2013 show will have arrived...
The UClear products are different than other motorcycle intercom systems, because they do not have the typical wired or boom microphone. UClear makes communications systems for the military, and they have introduced that experience to motorcyclists with the "boomless" system, called the Adaptive Beam Forming Digital Microphone Array.
If you haven't read the webBikeWorld UClear HBC100 intercom review you may want to take a look, because it will give you some background on the unique technologies employed by UClear. For example, as you can see in the photo below, the microphones are built into the speakers on the UClear intercom systems. That little "hook" on the end of the speaker is the mic.
The speakers are placed in the helmet with the microphones pointing forward and the technology forms a sort of "cone" or "sweet spot" in front of the rider's mouth, which picks up the sound. Don't ask me how it works, because I couldn't tell you, but it does! There is more of an explanation about the UClear Digital Microphone Array Technology on their website.
For the motorcyclist, this means no boom or wired mic to worry about. It is liberating, no doubt about it! And the UClear HBC100 and HBC200 systems are tiny compared to, say, the Scala Rider G9 (review) and Sena SMH10 (review), which seem very bulky in comparison -- both in the size of the intercom module itself and the mounting system (and the boom mic).
Another advantage is that the HBC100 or HBC200 intercoms work with open-face, full-face or flip-up helmets with no other additions, accessories or different installation procedures (we have not tried either intercom with an open-face helmet).
The small size and light weight of the UClear intercoms (each module weighs only 36 grams) and the absence of a boom mic are the most attractive aspects of this intercom in my opinion.
This makes them easy to mount, easy to operate and combined with the light weight, this is all-around a stress-free system. This design philosophy of "keep it light, keep it simple" has definite appeal...and has attracted many motorcycling fans to the UClear brand.
Small, lightweight and easy to mount are nice features, but they don't necessarily make a useful motorcycle intercom system if the sound quality and functionality weren't also up to par.
For the UClear HBC200 (and the HBC100, for that matter), you don't have to worry. The system works well -- although it has a few quirks -- and the speaker volume is exceptionally good and better (or louder, anyway) than most other motorcycle intercom systems.
The excellent volume results of the UClear speakers was confirmed in a recent webBikeWorld review for the Tork XPro speakers (review), where I used a Extech sound meter to compare the sound levels of a few of the different motorcycle intercom systems to the Tork XPro speakers.
In the table published in that article, the HBC200 speakers were louder than the Sena and Interphone F5 (review) intercom systems, topped only by the Tork speakers and the Tork Mini-Booster amplifier.
Note, however, that at 7 mm thick and 50 mm across at the widest point (diagonal across to the mic tip), these are big speakers. The outer surfaces are hard, made with what feels like a metal or aluminum cover, and the presence of a relatively hefty magnet can be felt inside.
So the speakers may not fit in all helmet types, especially helmets with shallow or small ear pockets. You may want to try this first on your helmet or see if you can borrow a pair of HBC100 or HBC200 intercoms from a friend to make sure they'll fit.
The HBC200 system is very similar to the UClear HBC100 intercom system and the speakers appear to be identical. The HBC100 is in the hands of webBikeWorld evaluator H.B.C., who will do a direct comparison in Part 2 of this review.
Besides the additional features for the HBC200 described in this Part 1 review, both UClear intercom systems have identical buttons and they operate the same, so current UClear HBC100 owners will feel immediately comfortable with the new system.
The major difference added to the HBC200 is, in addition to the new "aerodynamic" intercom module shape compared to the square shape of the HBC100 is the "Multi-Hop Technology" capability included in the HBC200. This is another technology borrowed from the military. Unfortunately, since we only have a pair of the HBC200 intercoms, we can't fully evaluate it.
UClear claims that a pair of HBC200 intercoms have a range of up to 700 meters (your mileage will vary, of course) and a network of "up to 10 or more" HBC200's will support full duplex communication for around 2 kilometer distance. Each HBC200 acts as a sort of "force multiplier" for the others, relaying the communication signal down the line.
So it appears that if you're planning on using your UClear intercoms in a group of more than two people, you may want to opt for the HBC200 over the HBC100 to take full advantage of the new distance capabilities.
The other feature differences that are now available in the HBC200 include the ability to update firmware and also a type of automatic VOX volume/loudness control.
The HBC200 doesn't have the huge list of features you probably don't use anyway and again, the philosophy with this system is to keep it simple. The focus is on rider-to-rider and rider-to-pillion communication which in my opinion is as it should be for a motorcycle intercom system.
It pairs with a cell phone or music player with A2DP and AVRCP profiles, so you can control your MP3 player. I tried it briefly and it worked. It also easily pairs with a cell phone (the HBC200 uses Bluetooth 2.1) and I have made and received calls on it. But I have only used those features to try them out for the webBikeWorld review and mostly I used it as an intercom.
The simplicity of design is reflected in the owner's manual, which is refreshingly simple and easy-to-read. It's even printed in a small (4"x5") book format, so you can actually turn the pages! Not like those fold-out things you get with most electronic gear today or, worse yet, online-only copies.
The HBC200 immediately paired with everything I tried and this seems exceptionally fast with a cell phone. There are three buttons on the intercom module: the large on/off "Answer Button", which also has a small red/blue LED status display light. The up and down buttons to the rear control volume and the other functions.
It does take a bit of memorization to remember which buttons control which functions...but only if you're using the "advanced" features like making cell phone calls. Otherwise, the intercom is easy to use, even though it doesn't have the built-in spoken status announcements and help like the Interphone F5 and others. This is where the simplicity of the design helps; you don't really need the spoken assistance.
This is an intercom for what I would call "serious talkers" who need to whom communicating with a passenger or other riders is paramount.
The speaker/microphones connect with a mini-USB port in the rear of the HBC200 intercom module, so one more thing you don't have to worry about is a bulky helmet mount.
However, the spring metal friction mount that does come with the system might be considered a bit crude by some. It works best in helmets with room between the shell and the liner and not so good on those helmets with the large bottom gasket that prevents any type of motorcycle intercom mount from being used.
The mount for the HBC200 appears to me to be the same as the mount provided with the HBC100, but I'll have to leave it up to H.B.C. to tell us whether the two mounting units are compatible.
The bottom line here is that if the UClear mount clip fits your helmet, it works fine. It's very lightweight and once more, simpler may be better. It sort of fits with the petite size of the overall HBC200 (and HBC100) intercom system and design. In fact, the speakers are almost the biggest part of the system...
Just a few things I'd like to mention. First, although the buttons work well, are easy to find and the case is at least somewhat weather resistant, the buttons do feel a bit, well, flimsy compared to other intercoms I've used.
It's not that they feel like they'll break or anything; just that the membrane cover feels a bit loose from the top of where the actual button is hidden underneath, so there's a bit of movement of the membrane "skin" when you press a button. Some owners may notice it, while others may not. I hope it doesn't indicate a weakness or thinness of the membrane cover that will wear out over time.
Also, when wearing gloves, it's sometimes difficult to get a good "feel" for the buttons, where they are located on the intercom module and pressing them. There's a horizontal molded bar separating the up and down buttons, but overall the new "aerodynamic" shape, the slightly rubbery membrane feel of the buttons and the slightly slippery rubber surface can make it a bit tricky sometimes to get the button pushing sequence correct.
Background Noise and Feedback
The other quirk has to do with the Adaptive Beam Forming technology. I didn't get to use the HBC100 intercoms very much at all, so I can't comment on the comparison to this HBC200. But we did notice a few things.
There does seem to be a certain amount of echo sometimes; more noticeable in some circumstances than others. The "cone" or "sweet spot" in front of the rider's mouth that is picked up by the mics sometimes and somehow includes background noise, so we can hear this transmitted as one rider speaks to another.
In all fairness, this happens sometimes with boom mics also, although I don't think as often because the tip of the boom mic can be kept close to the speaker's mouth.
The extra sound occasionally causes a strange type of echo that both the rider who is speaking and the passenger or other rider who is listening on the other HBC200 unit can hear. There is also a certain amount of feedback noise that is apparent sometimes, especially at low speeds or if the rest of the outside environment is quieter than normal, like when you're standing next to the bike before starting it, talking with your passenger.
In fact, if the helmets are close enough, there can be quite a bit of feedback as one "cone" in front of the mics interferes with the other.
The sound quality of the HBC200 system also seems just a bit more "tinny" or "processed" to me. I'm guessing this is probably due to the noise cancelling technology and to what I assume is some pretty intensive sound processing for the Adaptive Beam Technology mics.
This is combined with a very brief pause before the first sound is received by the passenger or other rider. It doesn't really cut off much, but the first part of the word seems a bit choppy.
The counterweight to all this is the amount of volume that the HBC200 and the speakers put out, which is outstanding and mostly too loud for me, even though I and my helpers for this review wear ear plugs. In fact, a couple of times I couldn't get the volume to go low enough, which is a unique problem to have for a motorcycle intercom system!
The problems with echo and feedback aren't enough to scare me off from the other benefits of this system and in fact probably all motorcycle intercom systems can use improvement in these areas. Just note that there may be some different expectations when using this technology.
Even the box for the HBC200 intercom kit is a model of simplicity and some functionality. It can be used to store the intercom and accompanying gear and accessories.
This includes the charger, which is something of a bonus because it's a plug-in wall outlet USB charger that also works for charging other USB accessories. Thus, it's a "twofer" and it beats having to connect the intercom module(s) to your computer for a charge.
I don't know how long the battery lasts; I'll leave that also up to H.B.C. to find out. All I can tell you is that after the initial charging, which took about 2 hours (the modules were partly charged when I got them), I've used them for probably 6 hours total and they're still going strong. UClear claims a 10 hour talk time or listening to music and a 400 hour standby time.
In Part 2 of this review (coming soon), H.B.C. will provide an in-depth follow-up, with a comparison of the HBC200 to the HBC100 and other intercom systems and a report on pairing the HBC200 with other electronic devices.
I enjoyed my time with the new UClear HBC200 intercom system. The combination of light weight, simplicity, ease of use, talk time and the focus on communication, rather than other features I don't use, is what impresses me most about this system.
My feeling is that if you're more interested in having a motorcycle intercom that is easy to install, easy to set up, very transportable from one helmet to another and you aren't fond of the boom mic (who is?), this system is for you.
wBW Review: UClear HBC200 Intercom
|Manufacturer: UClear Digital||List Price: $449.95 (Dual Pack).
▪ UClear Intercoms at RevZilla
▪ UClear Intercoms at Motorcycle Superstore
▪ UClear Intercoms at Competition Accessories
|Colors: Black.||Made In: Singapore|
|Review Date: December 2012.||Star Rating (1-5):|
NOTE: The webBikeWorld intercom evaluators always wear properly fitted ear plugs while riding during the intercom evaluations and this is reflected in thee opinions on sound quality and speaker volume. Your experience may and probably will differ. Always wear high-quality, correctly fitted ear plugs when riding a motorcycle (more).
Note: Item was provided by a retailer, distributor or manufacturer with these Terms and Conditions.
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From "K." (December 2012): "Two weeks ago I purchased the dual set of HBC200s from UClear. The prospect of eliminating the boom mic as well as the umbilical cord to my Harley Ultra Limited was just too attractive.
UClear had a booth at the International Motorcycle Show with samples of their products for demo in the very noisy trade show environment. (A motorcycle stunt team show was in progress less than 100 feet from their booth making it very noisy indoors).
My friend and I donned a couple of helmets with the UBC200s installed and walked around the show floor. We were able to talk to each other via the units despite the loud environment. In fact, the received audio didn't seem to contain any of the background noise at all! Instead, from the helmet speakers all I could hear was my friend's crisp, clean voice. With the helmets on, the ambient noise in the building was muffled a little, but was still loud. Ear buds would have eliminated the ambient noise problem.
In fact, the UClear people at the booth had a set of their prototype earbuds that I tried. With them, talking with my friend was like being in a quiet room and carrying on a private conversation despite the loud environment. When the UClear was paired with an iPhone for music, the quality was as good as I've ever heard via earbuds; certainly good enough for entertainment while motorcycling on the open highway. That was enough to sell me (and my friend) on the product.
We each bought a dual Force 2/pk. So now, 2 weeks later, I've had ample time to play with the headset and make several un-scientific tests. Pulled the old corded set out of my Schuberth C3 (review) and installed the UClear. Installation took all of 5 minutes. I was reminded how difficult it was a couple of years ago when I installed the corded headset in the C3 flip-front helmet.
I put the helmet on my head and closed the flip-front. It was weird; no cord or microphone boom to deal with! If you've installed a corded headset with a microphone boom in a C3 helmet, you know how difficult it is; and how the mic boom always gets in the way of closing the flip front. All that is gone with the UClear set.
First task was to pair with my Garmin Zumo for music, routing directions, and hands-free telephone operation. (My iPhone is paired with the Zumo, I have been using a wired interface to the Harley's radio system for making or receiving phone calls using the HD radio in the AUX position). Pairing with the Zumo was easy and quick. Played some MP3 music from the Zumo and it filled my helmet with stereo sound. Same with routing directions from the Zumo.
Then while stationary on the motorcycle in the driveway, I initiated a telephone conversation to my wife in the house via the Garmin Zumo. She said that the voice quality was similar to a hands-free or speaker phone, but could not hear any background noise. We continued the phone conversation as I started the motor and began to ride. She couldn't hear the motor at all; just my voice. I announced the speeds, "10 mph", "20 mph", "30 mph" and so on. Got up onto the Interstate and kept increasing the speed 10 mph at a time, asking if she could still hear me at each increment. Her replies were always, "No change." or "I hear you fine."
Finally, at 80 mph I came along side a semi tractor trailer. As I slowly passed it, I asked, "Can you hear me now?" Got the same reply, "no change, I can hear you fine". I could barely hear her over all the road noise, but apparently the noise is somehow cancelled out by the UClear system microphones. She heard only my voice, no other noises. O.K., so now I'm really excited about the UClear.
All I need is to somehow create a Bluetooth link between the UBC200 headset and my Harley Davidson radio. I want to be able to use the Harley AM/FM/Weather/CB radio via the UClear headset. That's where we run into a little problem. Our Harley radios are not Bluetooth capable and no one currently makes a plug-and-play "dongle".
I contacted UClear for their suggestion. They have another product, a WT300 "Spider" (review) that will give Bluetooth capability to any CB, walkie-talkie, MP3 pod, AM/FM radio. But apparently any radio except our motorcycle radio systems! So in order to use the HBC 200 headset, one has to give up the Harley radio system. This is not good. There has to be a way to "Bluetooth" our Harley Davidson radio systems. Why is it so hard that vendors are not trying? There's a huge market for such a device.
I purchased a WT300 Spider Bluetooth Communication Adapter from UClear. My hope is that it will be possible to fabricate a cable adapter so that the WT300 can be simply plugged into the microphone jack on my motorcycle for receive and transmit audio. I foresee that eventually, Harley Davidson will have to include Bluetooth radio systems in their motorcycle radios to accommodate the ever-popular wireless helmet speakers. But in the interim, an adapter is the best we can hope for. I'm confident that receive audio will work.
Transmit (for the bike's CB radio) may be more difficult. I received the WT300 "Spider" Bluetooth Communication Adapter yesterday. Will write another review when/if I get it working with the Harley radio system. The HBC200 battery life seems astounding! I charged the UClear unit when I bought it over 2 weeks ago. Even after using it on every ride since (some rides of an hour or more each) and have never turned the unit off, it still pops to life and pairs every time I don the helmet and push the button.
The helmet speakers are fine for local riding around town, even for brief transitions onto the Interstate loops around Dallas. But for long distance riding, noise-blocking earbuds will be a "must". I'm on a waiting list for a set when they're released by the company. The ones I tried at the International Motorcycle Show were prototypes, not in production yet. I'm anxious to get a set.
The only negative is that it's not easy to find and push the buttons on the helmet-mounted unit. They're under weatherproof rubber membranes, one has to feel for their location; impossible with full-finger gloves. So I've been using the Garmin Zumo's volume control, instead; leaving the HBC200 on a full volume."
H.B.C.'s Reply: The WT300 "Spider", as reviewed, could provide a solution, but you still need an audio output connection from the H-D system to the Bluetooth adapter whether it is the WT300 or the Sena SM10 product.
If your H-D Ultra Limited onboard system has a DIN connector, an expedient solution might be the optional Sena SC-A0120 3.5mm Stereo Jack to 7-Pin DIN Cable for Harley Davidson Ultra Classic -- it might work.
Alternatively, if you have the ability to "tap" into the speaker wires at some point, then something like the Autocom Factory-type Stereo Music Lead, Part 2273 or 2275 (.pdf) kits allow you to add the necessary external audio output connector.
With an external stereo connector in place, either the WT300 or the Sena SM10 Bluetooth Adapter (review) would work.
Your comments about audio quality, particularly in high noise environments, reinforces my experience with the HBC100 and 120 units and soon, with the HBC200 units as I work on the Part 2 Follow-On. Let us know how you make out, and if you have any questions, send them in."
From "M.D." (November 2012): "Just before my last trip back to sea I got an email from the guys at Revzilla saying they had received, finally, a shipment of the new HBC200's. I have been waiting on that since I read your reviews!
I ordered one straight away (a set as in the link) and received it in time for my trip out west with the wife as a pillion passenger on my VFR 800. We rode two up along the entire Angeles Crest Highway and the freeways to and from the mountains on both sides as it was a trip to the California Superbike School and back at the Willow Springs Racetrack in Rosamond California.
All I can say is that the UClear units are the best thing since sliced bread for motorbike comms. We both had earplugs (foam) in, and at full volume while doing 80mph on the freeway I wished I had just a tad more volume. We both wear Scorpion full face helmets and we were on the VFR with a Double Bubble windscreen so not much protection there and the Scorpions are not the quietest of helmets either. But anywhere else you had to turn the volume down, and without earplugs in around town you had to turn it way down which is very easy with the glove friendly buttons.
My Dad phoned to see when we would be back from the track as we were guests at their house and he had no idea I was even on the bike, much less doing 65 mph it was that clear. All I can say is they work, better than advertised which is very refreshing indeed. Now I can't wait for the earbud adapters! Thought you should know."