Skip to Main Content
Common Tread

Motorcycle Bluetooth systems versus earbuds: Which is better for your ride?

Feb 15, 2022

One of the easiest ways to elevate your riding experience, without a huge investment, is to add a Bluetooth communication system to your helmet. 

A question riders often ask is whether they should buy a Bluetooth communication system or just use the earbuds they already have. You can probably guess from my opening sentence above how I’m leaning in this Bluetooth versus earbuds debate. Nonetheless, both options have their pros and cons. 

Listening to music while riding is probably the number one reason riders wear a pair of earbuds or add a Bluetooth system to their helmet. A Bluetooth communication system will allow you to listen to music, take phone calls, receive voice navigation from your GPS device, and a whole lot more. A pair of earbuds will pretty much only offer the benefits of music and possibly some communication abilities, if the earbuds have a very strong microphone. Even still, they’re generally not as effective or convenient for a motorcyclist when compared to the Bluetooth communication systems.

First, let’s take a closer look at what earbuds have to offer. 


When earbuds are mentioned, I generally think of a pair of Apple Airpods, as those are one of the most common earbuds on the market. They’re very low profile, they’re wireless and, assuming they fit your ears well, they are incredibly convenient for everyday use. 

Apple airpods are one of the most commone earbuds on the market.
I've used a pair of AirPods inside a full-face helmet a few times. They "worked," but when I made a test call, the communication wasn't nearly as effective as using a motorcycle Bluetooth system. Apple photo.
However, wearing earbuds inside a motorcycle helmet is a bit cumbersome. They tend to fall out when you attempt to put your helmet on and even if you get them settled correctly once your helmet is on, a few head checks later and they’re ready to fall out or they’ve shifted and the music no longer sounds brilliant.

To solve this problem, you could look into custom-molded earbuds but that generally kicks the price point up quite a bit and any well rated pair of earbuds is already around the $150 mark. Custom earbuds go north of $400 pretty quickly. 

Using earbuds also means you generally have to take your hands off the handlebar and pull your focus from the road ahead in order to make any adjustments to volume or song selection on your smartphone.

Personally, I’ve only found two concrete benefits for utilizing a pair of earbuds while riding a motorcycle. First, is the ability to utilize them both on and off the bike. The second advantage only applies if you wear a half helmet. Those lids require a specific half helmet Bluetooth unit, which limits your options.

Now let’s look at the benefits of motorcycle Bluetooth communication systems. 

Bluetooth communication systems

As previously mentioned, with a Bluetooth communication system such as a Cardo Packtalk Bold, you can listen to music, FM radio, take calls, hear voice navigation via GPS or smartphone, communicate with fellow riders who also have a communication system — the list of features and benefits is long. 

Another benefit for motorcyclists is the ability to use voice commands. Most of the latest Bluetooth communication systems on the market allow you to adjust volume, change songs, make calls, or communicate with a fellow rider or passenger without ever lifting your hands from the handlebar. This allows you to stay focused on the road and not get distracted trying to manipulate your smartphone while trying to ride. Sure, you could have Siri turned on with your earbuds, but good luck trying to get Siri to hear you over the wind noise when you're rolling down the highway. 

Speaker pockets are very common within full face motorcycle helmets.
While you don't always need speaker pockets to install a Bluetooth communication system, it certainly helps. RevZilla photo.

While earbuds are the most universal option, Bluetooth communication systems work with nearly every full-face helmet on the market. I’d just recommend double checking that your helmet or the helmet you’re hoping to purchase has speaker pockets. Since most lids these days include that recessed area to accommodate a BT system, it’s generally not an issue. And, since helmets are set up to accommodate these systems, they generally feel a lot more comfortable than having a pair of earbuds pressed against your ear by the interior liner. 

Let’s talk a bit more about the convenience factor. Do you ever walk out the door and realize you forgot something 10 minutes down the road? Like maybe your earbuds? That happens from time to time with me, too, but you won’t have to worry about forgetting your Bluetooth system because it lives in your helmet. Even when you’re charging the unit, you really don’t need to remove it from the helmet. Generally, you can even remove and wash your interior liner, put everything back together, and never need to remove the Bluetooth system. 

You can also find a few helmets on the market that have the Bluetooth communication system already installed. The only downside here is that the Bluetooth unit cannot be removed and transferred to another helmet, so replacing your helmet means replacing the Bluetooth unit, too.  

Frequently asked questions

Question: How do I know if the particular Bluetooth communication system I’m looking at will fit in my helmet?

Answer: As previously mentioned, motorcycle Bluetooth units are designed to be universal and fit almost every full-face helmet on the market. And, nowadays, pretty much all manufacturers are providing you with a recessed area on the inside of the EPS to toss in those Bluetooth speakers, so chances are you’ll be good to go.

The Sena SPH10H-FM Bluetooth System works well with half helmets.
The Sena SPH10-FM is specifically designed to accommodate half helmets. RevZilla photo.

But again, don’t forget that if you’re rocking a half helmet, you’ll want a half helmet Bluetooth unit

You can wear earbuds with just about any helmet. That doesn’t mean it’s always the best option or the most comfortable, but it’s simple. 

Question: Can I wear ear plugs and still hear my Bluetooth Communication system? Would a set of earbuds be better for reducing wind noise and still allow me to listen to music?

Answer: First and foremost, I recommend wearing ear plugs with your Bluetooth System. That may sound a bit counterintuitive, putting something in your ears designed to block noise so you can hear your Bluetooth system better. But, many riders I know, including myself, can confirm you can absolutely wear earplugs and still hear your Bluetooth communication system. I’d even say you can hear it better.

Without getting into all the nuances, ear plugs lower the overall volume by blocking out the bad sound (wind noise) and that lets you hear the good sound (music, GPS directions, etc.) better. Believe me, it works. 

When it comes to earbuds, unless you’re getting some fancy custom-molded wireless earbuds that also provide excellent noise cancellation, you’re just increasing the noise level by adding music on top of wind noise, so the combination of a Bluetooth system and a set of ear plugs will have the advantage. 

Ear plugs are a great way to reduce wind noise which will in turn help prevent premature hearing loss and rider fatigue.
Ear plugs are a simple and very affordable way to reduce wind noise inside a rider's helmet. This will not only help prevent premature hearing loss but can also allow you to hear your communication device more clearly. RevZilla photo.

Wearing ear plugs is especially important for long highway trips where the wind noise drones on and can be not only very uncomfortable and tiring but can also cause permanent hearing loss.

Question: Earbuds are often a bit cheaper than a Bluetooth System. I can also use earbuds outside of motorcycling. Are these moto Bluetooth units actually worth the money?

Answer: I’m sure you already know I’m going to say the answer is, yes, they’re absolutely worth it for moto enthusiasts and it’s worth discussing.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s quite a big range when it comes to the price for earbuds. You’ve got very poor quality wireless options around $25 and then when you start looking at custom-molded options with noise-cancellation capabilities, you can spend $1,400 in no time. Obviously, there are plenty of options in between but the point I’m trying to make is that they can get pretty expensive pretty quick. 

Bluetooth systems range from approximately $120 on the low end to about $500 for your more premium options. That $500 price range usually gets you a dual pack, which means you’re getting two units to accommodate two different helmets or to use with a passenger or a riding buddy.

You’ll also need to consider the “you get what you pay for” perspective. A middle-of-the-road Bluetooth unit for your helmet is often a lot better than a middle-of-the-road set of earbuds when being used by motorcyclists. Granted, I’ve not used every BT system back to back with every set of earbuds on the market, but I’ve used a few and I’m confident that most motorcyclists will be happier using a Bluetooth system designed for their helmet versus a set of earbuds.