After owning a range of Sena units over the years, including the Sena 20S Evo, a trip from Alaska to Los Angeles and a new helmet meant new comms.
Among my few bugbears with the previous unit were wind noise from having a big comms system stuck to the helmet and an overly fussy jogwheel controller. So when I saw the slim form of the Sena SF4 I decided to give it a go.
It was billed as a cheaper alternative to the range-toppers and I wanted to know if it’d last the distance.
First things first, getting the comms fitted to the helmet. As with other Sena headsets, with the included instructions and tools it’s a doddle, even for someone as cack-handed as me.
Remove the helmet lining, position the speakers and wires into the recesses, thread the wiring round the front for the microphone and use the clamp to position the unit onto the side of the helmet.
Straight off the bat I noticed how form-fitting the SF4 was compared to older comms systems, and I was quietly confident wind noise would no longer be an issue.
Having ridden all across the globe and not been as religious with my earplug-wearing as I should be, I struggle hearing some comm systems even on their highest setting, so the inclusion of a secondary, HD-quality, set of speakers was a welcome addition.
The range of features on many comm units can be overwhelming but I’m fairly well versed in Sena stuff and using the quick set-up guide made pairing it to my partner’s old 20S a doddle and we were off in no time.
I’m a big fan of ‘less is more’ for comms buttons and the SF4 unit is a dream. With just three buttons I can always find what I’m looking for and the phone app allows me to configure more complicated stuff when I next stop.
The SF4 uses the newer 4.1 Bluetooth standard and while I didn’t notice the difference between the older 4.0 standard of the previous headset, it’s nice to have the latest version when you’re spending this kind of money.
Range is claimed at just under a mile (1.2km/0.8m) and in my experience this stacks up – quite often my partner and I will lose each other at traffic lights and we can make it a good distance before the connection cuts out.
Sena claims the operating temperatures to be -10°C to +55°C and while I didn’t quite hit the full extremes at either end, I can confirm it worked from -6°C in northern Canada right up to +46°C in Southern Nevada!
It’s also a really sturdy bit of kit. There were moments where the bike and I went off-roading in Alaska and it took a proper battering in the rain and snow in Canada; even through the dust of a sandstorm in Utah it never missed a beat.
The audio from the unit is one of its best features, both for music/calls and for rider-to-rider communication. The Advanced Noise Control feature might not be up to the spec of something like Bose earphones, but it does a great job of reducing wind noise, as does the fitment and form of the unit.
I like to listen to music while I ride but don’t want this to stop me from being in communication with my partner. This latest unit does a better job of the music sharing than ones I’ve had in the past; it’s still a little buggy and the quality could be higher but it’s moving in the right direction. The added Audio Overlay features means my partner and I can listen to the same music but also stay in touch at the same time.
I rarely take or make calls from my helmet but I have my phone set to allow calls from certain numbers that may need me in an emergency when we’re touring. Over the two months of the trip I took two calls from riders we were with (one of them warning us of a bear on the road a few miles further on!) and it worked flawlessly.
There’s a nifty four-way intercom feature on this unit, which is essentially the same as the larger group intercom options on high-end devices that allow 8-12 users.
Unless you ride in very large groups who need to all stay in touch continuously an SF4 should serve you fine. I tested it on a ride into the Californian desert with friends and it performed as expected, although the range seemed lower than when used one-on-one and the quality was a little reduced.
The smartphone app has more options than you could comfortably shake a stick at and though I barely used it, it is handy on occasion to drill down into the various features. The app also makes connecting to other headsets a dream, especially compared to doing the shuffle of multiple button presses required on some systems.
One of the SF4’s final draws for me was the claimed battery life as I quite often end up spending the night in remote places that don’t have power for a recharge. Having the ability to use it for two full riding days between charges has been a dream.
Maximum talk time is listed as 13 hours, which feels about right, but this one also has a new fast-charge feature allowing you to get four hours of talk time with just a quick 30-minute charge.
This is great while on the go as I can top it up in a cafe at a rest stop or with a USB battery pack if you’re organised enough to remember to take one.
I also like the fact I can clip the unit away from the helmet to charge it, meaning I can stick my helmet out of the way rather than taking up space with all the other gadgets that need charging at the same plug!
All in all I’m really pleased with the purchase, which shows you don’t need to go for the most expensive feature-rich option and that Sena are still leading the way for easy-to-use and reliable comms systems.
The SF4 has all the features I would want and more although for those wanting larger group intercom support or the newer MESH communication setup there are a few missing. Its spec will be high enough for 99% of riders, though.
Ease of fitting
As with all Sena equipment there are a wide range of different fitment options in the box with microphones and speakers of different types and all the tools you need to fit them. The instructions are clear and fitment took me just a few minutes.
Ease of operation
I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is easier to use than past units as it only has three buttons. It comes down to personal preference, but I’d always opt for simplicity and ease of use whilst riding and leave the complicated functions to carry out on the phone app when I stop next.
The smaller form factor means less noise and less chance of getting it caught on a jacket or knocking it on things when taking the helmet on and off. Two different sizes of speaker and a number of spacing pads mean speakers jammed into your ears are also a thing of the past.
If I was basing this purely on one-on-one intercom chat I’d say it was perfect but as the quality is reduced on the group intercom, and this is one of the features Sena promotes as a selling point for the unit, it needs to lose a few marks here.