|Autocom Super Pro AVI Evaluation
Fred Harmon May 4, 2006
Autocom products can be ordered from the following supplier:
TopGear Accessories Limited
P.O. Box 1477
Slingerlands, New York 12159
888-851-4327, 518-449-8677, 518-449-8876 fax
More photos available here:
Autocom has recently released a new model intercom system and I have had the opportunity to test it over the past month or so. Let me start out by saying that I have used every model motorcycle intercom that they have made, and this is by far, the most feature rich and reliable unit I have ever used, from not only Autocom, but any manufacturer. And to make it even better, the price has not really changed significantly from the previous model. The Pro Avi kit 300 sells for $379 at Top Gear and this includes the riders headset, one extension lead, a cell phone lead, a music lead, and a bike fit kit. An additional passenger headset costs $79.99 and another headset extension lead is $19.99.
Since the microphones on the Autocom are normally off unless you are speaking, this means that you get no wind and road noise transmitted from the mics back to the intercom when you aren’t speaking. The microphones are then automatically turned on when you speak, and this is the job of the Voice Activated Circuit in the Autocom, or VOX as it is commonly referred to. The VOX circuit in any intercom is always the Achilles heal, as it has to respond fast enough that it doesn’t cut off the first syllable of a sentence, yet it has to be able to resist activating from wind and road noise. Autocom has always gone to great lengths to try to make the VOX operate as smooth as possible and reduce unwanted activations, but when you get in crosswinds or at higher speeds, even the best system will inadvertently trip the microphones on now and then. In designing the new Super Pro AVI unit, Autocom has taken yet another step to increase the accuracy of the VOX by adding a new background noise sensor in the helmet. This sensor is essentially a microphone that gets put in the rider’s helmet in a location away from the rider’s mouth. This sensor picks up wind, road, and engine noise and feeds it back to the VOX circuit. The VOX threshold is then automatically adjusted up or down based on the ambient noise levels provided by this sensor. This allows the VOX trip point to actually float, so that at higher speeds or in cross winds, the VOX sensitivity is reduced in an effort to prevent unwanted activations of the VOX circuit turning on the microphones. At low speeds or while stopped, the VOX point lowers so that you don’t have to yell to make the microphones operate, and as you speed up, the threshold rises. This means you have the best of both worlds, and I can tell you that this approach does indeed work quite well. This background noise sensor is also used to automatically adjust the music volume up and down based on ambient wind noise which is yet another new feature on this unit.
The Super Pro AVI has more inputs and outputs on it than any previous model Autocom has made. This makes the unit much more flexible and you can easily interface items like a MP3 player, XM radio, talking GPS, RADAR detector, cell phone and FRS radio. There are two headset output leads, rider and passenger, as well as a communication lead for connecting a FRS radio or CB to. In addition to this, four auxiliary input/outputs are provided as outlined below.
Aux 1 This is an input/output that can be used for a cell phone or GPS and/or Radar detector
Aux 2 This is a stereo input/output lead for your music source or MP3 cell phone
Aux 3 This is a stereo input lead for your music source
Aux 4 This is an input/output four pole plug that can be used to connect a FRS radio to or can be used as an input from a Talking GPS or Radar detector with the proper leads
The number of inputs and outputs on the unit allow you to connect a wide range of devices. In order to connect some bike-powered devices to the unit, they may have to be connected through an isolation device to prevent ground loops that can induce engine noise into the audio. Autocom has a wide range of connectors for everything from cell phones to GPS units to FRS radios at reasonable prices, though you should factor in spending some extra cash for adapters and lead that you may need.
New Background Noise SensorThe Super Pro Avi connects to your bikes electrical system for power, and it seems to be fairly resistant to noise from the alternator (which will appear as a whine in the headsets). The unit has good filtration on the power input leads and in most cases you won’t have issues with alternator noise. In the event that you do, Autocom supplies a power lead kit that connects the unit directly to the battery through a switched relay. By taking power directly off the battery, it will usually be less noisy as the battery acts like a sponge for electrical noise. I did not have any significant noise problems on either of the two bikes that I installed the system on (Honda GL1800 Gold Wing, and Yamaha FJR1300).
There are some other really useful features included on the Super Pro AVI as well, including separate Rider and Passenger master volume controls, and a music fader. The Rider and Passenger volume controls allow you to adjust the overall system volume levels for rider and passenger separately, which on previous units you couldn’t do. This is a big help for times when the passenger needs more volume than the rider due to the added wind noise on the back seat. When you adjust these volume settings, it not only increases the music volume, but also increases the overall intercom volume, and as such will make the volume of any devices routed through the Autocom change. The Music fader only affects the music or inputs on AUX 2 and AUX 3 connectors and fades the volume from rider to passenger. This allows you to fine tune the music level to suitable volumes for both users and really is a useful feature. My wife never seems to like the music as loud as I do, and sometimes when I ride with earplugs in, she is not wearing them. Having the master volume levels and music fader allows me to make adjustments so that my music doesn’t blast her out of her helmet. A VOX adjustment is also provided to allow you to adjust the sensitivity level of the VOX. I have found that in most cases, it works pretty well at the standard center position and I have not had to adjust mine at all.
I have been using both satellite radio and a MP3 player as music input. The inputs on the Super Pro Avi seem to be just a bit more sensitive than older units, so I am able to get more music volume out of the system and don’t have to turn my MP3 player up to full blast any more. Some MP3 players can tend to have anemic outputs, so this is a welcome change and it allows me to wear ear plugs and still get plenty of music volume at all speeds.
In addition to the external adjustments on the Autocom, there are several internal adjustments that can be reached by opening up the unit. Normally Autocom recommends you ask a dealer for help when making these adjustments, but they do give you a photo of the circuit card that shows you where each one is and what it does. I went ahead and opened mine up to look inside it and photograph it. There are two screws hidden under the label that you have to remove to get the cover off and then you have to extract the circuit card from the backshell of the case. There are three switch settings, one turns off the autovolume function on the music inputs for AUX 2 and AUX 3, another switch turns off the VOX control setting and puts the unit back to it’s factory setting, and the third switch is to disable the auto-mute function of the music (50% reduction in volume) when a signal is received from a GPS or RADAR detector like input device. There also several small volume controls (potentiometers) that adjust the output levels of the intercom that are sent out to the various devices like cell phones and FRS radios. These are useful if you have problems where another party is having problems hearing you, as you can increase the volume of your voice sent out on the signal from your FRS or cell phone by adjusting this control. The unit also has internal controls for the autovolume circuit that will affect how much the volume changes based on the level of noise picked up from the background sensor in the riders helmet. Additionally, there are internal jumper settings that allow you to provide DC voltage out to power items like handheld FRS radios instead of running them on batteries, which can eliminate some the cigarette lighter type adapters and associated clutter you sometimes need to power external items.
Headset installation into a helmet is fairly straightforward and can be done with little fuss in most helmets. The only added complication in this unit is that you have to find a location in the riders helmet to place the small background sensor. Where you place it will affect the function of the auto-volume circuit and the VOX, so you may have to experiment with a couple different locations depending on your helmet and motorcycle. In general, it seems to work best when placed at the edge of the seam in the helmet near your cheek, facing forward. The noise this sensor picks up will be used to drive the VOX threshold and music levels so you don’t want it too close to your mouth where it might pick up your own speech. Speaker placement with Autocoms speakers can be a bit sensitive due to the design of the speakers. You have to get the speakers lined up exactly with the center of your ear to get good fidelity from the music, and this is even more critical if you are going to wear earplugs. This is probably my only real complaint of the system, as it can be difficult to get the speakers exactly perfect, especially when installing a headset in a helmet for someone else. Expect to have to make some adjustments of speaker position during testing as you probably won’t get it right the first time. If I had one suggestion to give Autocom, it would be to increase the diameter of the speakers so that the “sweet” spot from them was larger and they were not so difficult to align properly. The microphone on the ProAVI is a powered electret microphone, and like previous Autocom units, it needs to be as close to your lips as possible when you speak. This enables the VOX to work properly and prevents the first syllable of your sentences from being cut off. If you are having problems with the VOX, you should first check microphone placement and make sure it is almost touching your lips. Once you get used to using the microphone you will learn to judge its operation from the sidetone signal of your voice that you can hear in the headsets. Some intercom units do not provide this sidetone, and it really is a good feature. It is similar to when you talk on the phone and you can hear yourself speaking in the earpiece. It provides the feedback you need so you can tell if you are speaking loud enough or not, and it tell you if the microphone is picking up your voice properly.
VOX operation on this unit is a thing to behold. The floating trip point that the background sensor provides virtually eliminates any unwanted VOX activations, and the VOX does not cut off the first word or syllable of speech. It activates very rapidly and is responsive to softer (female) voice inputs as well and does not require you to raise your voice level when stopped or at slower speeds to make it trip, as the floating trip point automatically adjusts the VOX threshold for you. This is by far, the best VOX system I have used.
Super Pro AVI mounted under seat on FJR1300Conclusion
When you ride with a friend who has an FRS or CB radio or ride two-up long distances, the benefits of being able to communicate can not be over emphasized. I have been riding with a friend for years who has an Autocom and FRS unit on his bike and it makes everything from planning gas or lunch stops to directions and route changes so much easier. We are also able to keep other apprised of hazards and are more able to work together as a team, as well as just keep each other company if we just feel like chatting about something on a long trip. The ability to make a cell phone call is also a nice feature when you are traveling and need to make a hotel reservation at the last minute without stopping, though I would recommend using a phone set up to dial via voice commands. My wife and I go on two and three week trips where we may ride 10,000 miles before we get back home, and I can tell you for a fact that we wouldn’t go if we didn’t have an intercom. It is really nice to be able to listen to good music while winding through Yosemite park and being able to talk to each other and point out interesting things we see along the way. It also provides my wife with an increased sense of control on a long ride, as she can easily communicate to me when she would like to stop for a break or is hungry or needs to use the bathroom. She does not feel so much like a prisoner on the back seat, and this allows us to take long trips in relative harmony. A happy passenger makes a happy rider, and for that reason alone, the Autocom is worth every single penny it costs, and more.
As I said in the beginning of this report, this is by far the best system I have used. While the VOX on previous Autocom units was pretty good, the VOX on this new unit is a big improvement. The ability to adjust the rider and passenger volume levels as well as the music fader and autovolume circuit are huge improvements and give you the ability to fine tune the unit to your individual needs. The leads and connectors are all high quality and have water resistant seals on the headset connectors to keep moisture out of them. The unit is resistant to electrical noise and interference and is built rugged enough to withstand the vibration and rough duty that it will typically see when mounted on a motorcycle. The inputs and controls are all clearly labeled and easy to use and connect and everything just works when it is all hooked up with little or no fuss. In my opinion, the one item that really makes the Autocom shine above other intercoms is it’s noise filtration. I have used their units at speeds that I don’t even want to admit to, and I can tell you this is by far the quietest intercom made and I have never had an issue with wind noise at any attainable speed, period. The active noise filters inside the unit, coupled with the noise cancelling mics, get rid of all nearly all the wind and road noise, and talking to another bike via FRS at elevated highway speeds sounds just like any normal telephone conversation. Many intercoms I have tried become unusable over about 70mph due to all the wind, road, and engine noise that they pick up and are pretty much worthless on the road.
Nothing is perfect, and even if it was, I could still find something to complain about. So here are my gripes.
1. I wish the speakers were just a bit larger in diameter so the “sweet spot” of them was wider making them easier to align in the helmet.
2. It would be nice if each input was isolated so that you did not need isolation adapters for items you power off the bike
3. While the controls on the unit are a great improvement, they are still under the seat, where I can only access them if I stop. In a perfect world, I would have a handlebar mounted control that had all the adjustments on it at my fingertips instead of having to remove the seat
4. Independent rider and passenger VOX setting would be nice