Motorcycle Comms Units

Which Comms Unit is best?

...this is all my personal opinion:
Corded comms units are still the best option for bike-to-bike, because they offer active noise-cancelling.  Repeatedly sampling ambient noise from inside the helmet means that they are able to accurately cancel the frequencies that are currently causing all the ambient noise.  BlueTooth units do not offer this advantage – they use passive noise-cancelling.  Plus, BlueTooth units need batteries to work, so replacing batteries is always going to be necessary.  No pesky cords, sure... but pesky batteries, instead!
Which is best?  Most of my experience has been with setting up Autocom units, but I have worked on Starcom1 and RiderLink ST1 units, too.  Few riders in this part of the world use the Rider-Link comms unit, even though it seems to work okay, so it ranks in third place.  Most arguments here center on whether Starcom1 or Autocom is best.  The fact is that Starcom1 and Autocom offer just about identical features, at pretty much the same price.  There’s not much to choose between them – they both do a pretty good job, so it’s a dead heat...  Starcom1 seems to be very slightly more commonly used than Autocom, but this might be just a regional thing; local Dealers are an influence, since many riders prefer professional installation.
Starcom1 Summary:  Fragile plugs but easy radio connection.  The Starcom1 uses Mini-DIN plugs on all its cables, and these ARE prone to breakage if handled roughly...  pins get bent, then snap off.  If just the Starcom1 HEADSET cable plugs were full-size ones, that would eliminate the one major criticism of this otherwise excellent system.  The other plugs don’t get used very much, so they don’t need to be so solid.  The radio connector is just a simple cable, which is a big plus on the 2-way radio front, and the Starcom1 DOES have a dedicated PTT input.
Autocom Summary:  Good plugs but awkward radio connection.  All cables have full-size heavy-duty DIN plugs that are very robust.  But...  the Autocom was designed for hands-free operation using VOX instead of a PTT ( press-to-talk ) button system, so it does NOT have a PTT input.  With the disadvantages of VOX heavily outweighing the advantages, most riders want a PTT.  To get it, the radio connector cable must include a fly-lead for that purpose...  making it a Splitter Cable.  It all works okay, but elegant it ain’t.  Latest model Autocoms have TWO mics in the headset.  One is to talk into and the other is for sampling background noise...  so it continues sampling even when you are talking.
RiderLink ST1 Summary:  Fragile plugs, battery-only, but great price.  The RiderLink also uses Mini-DIN plugs on all cables, and they are not even heavy-duty ones!  There is also no provision for 12-V power input, which probably accounts for most of its unpopularity here, plus the fact that there are no local Dealers, so all installations are DIY.  They are very cheap, though, and if the frequently-used Headset cable plugs were replaced with heavy-duty ones, and a 12-V battery-pack bypass input was made to regulate ‘mains’ supply down to 5-V, the RiderLink should perform as well as a Starcom1 or an Autocom.

Connection:  Although running a comms unit on batteries is a sure-fire way to avoid interference from other electrical devices or ignition static picked up via the bike’s wiring, it is far more convenient to hard-wire them into the bike’s 12-V ‘mains’ so they just turn on and off with the ignition and you never need to replace batteries, which always seem to conk out at the most inconvenient moment.  Starcom1 comms units have to be hard-wired to 12-V, anyway, and Autocom comms units come with a choice of either a battery-pack or a 12-V input.  The Rider-Link ST1 comms unit is designed to run on a 3xAAA battery pack only, but a simple 5-V Voltage Regulator could be used to provide a 12-V input, and gain all the convenience that this brings.
When hard-wiring a comms unit, there are two important wiring tips:

I personally use a Chinese-made FDC 5-Watt radio, which is fully programmable and has a removable half-wave antenna.  With a full-wave external antenna that I simply plug into the radio, and an Autocom comms unit on my bike, I enjoy maximum real-world reception out to about 10km with crystal-clear transmission.  The FDC is very reliable and uses Motorola-spec plug pin-outs and wiring, so I was able to connect it to the Autocom with a standard Motorola-type cable.  Nice and simple...  although to keep my wiring more compact I did add a PTT fly-lead directly to the radio cable rather than use a separate 3-way splitter cable.
It is quite possible to make your own connection cable for the FDC 450A radio for less than $10, to suit either an Autocom or a Starcom1 comms unit.  Like most radios, it is supplied with a remote ‘ear-piece’ that includes a Motorola-style 2-pin accessory plug.  I have made several cables for different people by chopping off the ear-piece and using that radio plug on one end, with either a 5-pin 240° DIN plug to fit an Autocom, or a 6-pin Mini-DIN plug to fit a Starcom1 at the other end – see photo, left.  The fly-lead is to connect to a PTT, since this cable is for an Autocom.  Also pictured is the Jaycar AA3072 5-Amp Noise Filter used to keep the whole comms unit circuit free of ignition static and interference.  If you are using a different 2-way radio, and it came with an accessory ear-piece, you could use this method, too.
For those interested in soldering cables, here is a diagram of the Autocom 5-pin DIN plug used to connect to a radio, along with notes about wiring for the FDC 450A radio.  Note that the DIN plug used is a heavy-duty 240° type – you can’t buy those in ordinary electronics stores here, but they are available online from the UK.  Delivery takes about 2 weeks.
The Starcom1 radio connector cable is much simpler, and the Mini-DIN plugs are standard ones, available locally.  Standard plugs are even less robust than the ones used by Starcom themselves, but the radio connector cable doesn’t get plugged and unplugged very often, so a standard plug works well enough.  It’s the Headset cable that gets plugged and unplugged frequently, so those plugs are the weak point in a Starcom1 system.  Some Starcom1 users replace the two Rider headset plugs with full-size DIN plugs.  The Mini-DIN plugs used for the Starcom1 Headset cable are a 6-pin type, but the nearest full-size DIN plugs are 7-pin ( Why??? ).  If replacing these plugs, it is best to order heavy-duty ones from the UK, rather than use the standard ones you can buy at retail locally...  those ones are little better than the Mini-DIN plugs that cause all the problems in the first place!  Either normal 180° or custom 240° types like those used for Autocom cables are suitable.  Replacing headset plugs is also a sensible option for RiderLink ST1 users.
Finally, here is the ( very simple! ) Pinout arrangement for the separate PTT-button socket on the Starcom1.  Once plugged in, this cable would probably NEVER be unplugged!  It’s just a pity that the Autocom doesn’t have a similar socket...  It would be easy to pull an Autocom apart and add a simple fly-lead exiting the unit at the same place as the radio lead, terminating with a 4-pin Mini-DIN female plug ( like the Starcom1 socket ), but most owners would prefer not to modify the actual Autocom.  Modifying the radio cable to provide that PTT input may be a bit messy, but at least it works okay.
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