What! What! What!  Yeah!!! (Dave Chapelle)

So it's March and the planning for the 2006 Central Coast trip is on.  It appears that there will be at least 10 of us this year and there will be no support vehicles.  As with last year, most of the bikes are sport bikes and Eugene and I are the only enduros in the group.  Nonetheless, I'm the pack leader and the one organizing the entire trip.  The trip is scheduled for May 5-7 and we'll be camping out at two different camp sites on two different nights.

Last year everybody had radios of one form or another but they weren't too effective.  It could be due to the bad microphones and ear piece or it could be due to the bike's ignition system.  Any way you slice the cheese, I didn't want to repeat last year's poor communication ordeal.

This year I planned on going all out and install a good or excellent audio system.  I've been researching the net and ended up with two finalists, Baehr and J&M.  It's a toss up.  Price wise they both come in at about the $800-$950 range.  Pricey.

The J&M Integratr IV is $449.99 but with all the cables, helmet
speaker system, and other necessary accessories the system still comes out to $900+.

The Baehr Verso XL comes with a set of helmet speakers at $699.95 but
with all the necessary cables the system still ended costing about $890+.

There are other cheaper solutions like the HJC ChatterBox but I didn't want to mount the radio/intercom system directly on the helmet.  There was also the MotoComm Audio Boss AB-1M.  I didn't like the idea the AB-1M was not water proofed.  Who knows when you might get caught in the rain.  Also, the ChatterBox, J&M, and AB-1M doesn't have auto volume adjustment when you increase your travel speed.  The other concern for me was whether my 12GS had enough juice (alternator power) to drive everything from my Wunderlich aux lights, Nav system, Radio, future heated vest, etc.

Good news.  I called the service department at Pomona BMW (Brown Motor Works) and they said the 12GS comes with an alternator that outputs 50A at 700W.  WOW!  Like the service person said, "It can power a refrigerator."  That's a funny notion but that's also awesome to hear.  He mentioned something to the effect, "I don't think you have enough room on the 12GS  to mount everything and take up all the electrical power."  Suffice to say, I'm very pleased with this news and I'm planning on tying everything to the bike's power.  Everything I have and things I'm planning on having will probably come to about 10 amps max for power consumption.  That means the 12GS has plenty of power left to do whatever it needs to do, and some.

Tangents aside, I have been stuck in a rut between purchasing the Baehr or the J&M.  The cool thing about the J&M is that it's portable and the intercom system follows you as you get off your bike.  It doesn't need bike power to operate.  However, considering the paragraph above, that's not an issue any more.  My navigation hook up is via Bluetooth so there are no cables to attach to the TomTom.  This is cool since it means the intercom system can be completely independent of the bike.  No wired hookups.  On the other hand, the Baehr is a completely hands free system.  Once you have the unit tuned to the correct audio level, you can forget about pushing any button to communication in whichever manner you want.  Hands free is nice because you don't have to fidget with anything to be able to communicate.

$1300 dollars on plastic and a week later, I took possession of the Baehr Ultima XL intercom system from A&S BMW.  I favored the Baehr since I know I don't have power issues and it's a completely hands free system.  The other thing I noticed is that BMW has installed equivalent Baehr intercom systems on their other model motorcycles (R1200RT and K1200LT).  BMW's choice has to account for something, right?  I also chose the Ultima XL over the Verso XL because there are more universal connectors on the Ultima XL.  The other excuse, the 12GS will be my final bike until it falls apart so I might as well go the high-end.

It doesn't look much different than the Verso XL but in reality
it's a much more refined unit.  After all it cost an additional $300+.

For more detail and trials and tribulations on installing the Baehr Ultima XL,  go to the links below.

Update 1 [April 10, 2006]
Clarity is all I can think of.  The Baehr is so clear.  I was testing out my cell phone connection the other day and the people on the other end can't even tell I'm riding.  The noise cancelation software and the foam around the mic does the job.  Even Russell can't believe the clarity of the audio when he spoke to me on the phone.  Even thought the $1300 hurt the pocket book, it's worth every penny when it comes to being able to hear what other people are talking about.  For those that can put up with the cost for an intercom system of this quality, I highly recommend Baehr.  I give it a 5 out of 5.

Update 2 [April 17, 2006]

After much procrastination I finally created a mount for my Palm TX to serve as my MP3 player on long trips.  I installed a new 2GB SD card on the Palm and downloaded two CDs onto the SD card (Juno Reactor's Bible of Dreams and Long Way Round sound track) as a test.  I ripped the CDs at 256kHz sample rate and accepted that I'm loosing sound dynamics (quality) in the process.  I was anticipating the wind noises and all that while riding so I didn't think the sound quality needed to be that great.  Also, I thought the Baehr headphones are good but didn't think that they would be able to output anything worth praising about.  Boy was I wrong!  Even at 256kHz sample rate the Baehr speakers were spectacular.  The audio came through with quite the fidelity.  The audio was crisp and clear.  The low end DB sounds weren't as low as a bass could be, but hey, that's what I get for being spoiled with my computer's sub woofer.  Bottom line, the head set speakers are really good.  Again, I haven't changed my mind about the Baehr and still give it a 5 out of 5.

Update 3 [September 17, 2006]

After the recall work that was done on my bike (34 005 06(028), 34 004 06(027), 61 001 05(058)) I had a situation where the auxiliary power was cycling power on my bike.  This caused the Ultima XL to power off and on every 10-20 seconds.  At one point or another, I elected to moved the Ultima off of the auxiliary power and go directly to the battery, with a power toggle switch.  It would have been nice to have the CAN bus power everything on and off but it didn't appear possible for me after the recall work.  Anyway, once I got the Baehr off of the auxiliary power, the unit is much happier.  However, I'm noticing that I'm not getting any audio at all.  I can hear the white noise on the headset speakers, that is normally associated with the Ultima being on, but that's it.  The MP3 player plays but the headset doesn't pick up any music.  Likewise, my navigation system talks and my cell phone is plugged in but there is no audio from either.  My initial reaction was the Ultima is damaged from so many power cycles.  The curious thing is, the 1A fuse is not even burned out.  Also, the fact that I get that white noise is an idication the Ultima is getting power and is working.  Being such an expensive unit, I can't help but be a little irate at BMW even thouh the recall work is an absolute necessity.  Suffice to say I wasn't happy about the Ultima's apperant demise. Why was I mad?  The Ultima was working fine before the recall service.  Now, it's having issues.  Knowing it's a loosing battle with BMW, I decided to just suck up the cost and get the Ultima working again.  I finally decided to contacted the Baehr help desk to see if the Ultima can be fixed.  Tom introduced himself and the ball started rolling.  All I can say about Baehr USA (www.baehrusa.com), they're awesome people.  They're ever so helpful and are very pleasant to deal with.  Tom asked me to send in the unit to have it verified and make sure it's not something else that is wrong.  At this point I had done a little troubleshooting on my own but can't figure out what the problems was.  I was still under the impression that it is the Ultima that's having the problem.  Since I had a trip coming up soon, end of September, I was impatient about the entire situation and kind of lost it.  This that and the other thing, I didn't send in my Ultima but instead ordered another Ultima XL.  At one point I almost purchased the J&M intercom as a replacement unit but Tom talked me out of it.  Thanks Tom!  No I'm not made of money but I'm definitely impatient.  After a week or so I received the new Ultima XL.  I went ahead and installed the new unit.  Guess what?  It did the same thing.  I was stunned.  That means my original Ultima was perfectly fine and there is something else that is wrong.  I had rulled out the headset being a problem, after Tom suggested connecting the headset directly to an audio source to verify its viability.  The headset was good.  Everything was starting to point to the cables as being the problem.  Amazing, how can cables be the problem?  I then remember the cables have noise filters on them and it's possible that the resistors or whatever is in them might have blown.  The good deal is that I don't regularly connect my 2-way radio to the bike, unless I'm going on a long trip, so those cables are not effected because they were sitting in my home office.  So I pulled out both of my FRS cables for the numerous FRS radios that I have, and started troubleshooting again.  What do you know, all 4 of the priority audio ports and the auxiliary audio port work fine.  I can head the noise and chirp of the FRS radio on the headset.  Proof that the cables are the source of the problem.  I have since returned the second Ultima XL and purchased all of the replacement audio cables.  Once I received the 3.5mm stereo cables, I plugged it in and verified that I can get audio from the MP3 player.  I can hear the sweet sounds of Depech Mode on the headset.  It all works fine now.  Thanks to Tom and Carl from Baehr USA for helping me figure this out.

Update 4 [ February 3, 2010 ]

Talk about leaving the story hanging... this one has been hanging for a couple of years.  Thank god this is a private non-commercial site.  If this was a commercial site, I would have fired myself a long time ago.  Anyway, now it's time to finish up.

Flash back to the past... some 3 to 4 years...

Unfortunately for me, the Ultima XL is broken.  Tom was right.  The cables had nothing to do with the problem.  It's a case where the XL was working intermittently and made me think the intercom was OK.  When I dissected the cable, there was no type of filter or noise impeding gadget at all.  Talk about bad assumptions.  The big square blocks are just protectors to prevent damage to the cable where different cable types are mated together.  In the end, in the interest of time for the trip, I went to the J&M website and order the Integratr IV.  The unit is still pretty pricey but has dropped to $250.  With all the cables and speakers it wasn't too far short of the Ultima XL.  Fortunately for me, J&M is fast.  I get everything in just two days.  It's nice that J&M is HQed in Arizona.  But I made a mistake in ordering some wrong components.  The upper connecting cable was wrong.  I had to go back to the site and order a different set of cables with over night shipping.  Once again, it speedily arrived in the mail and everything is a perfect fit.  It's sad that I spend such a short time with the Ultima XL.  However, that short time showed me the superiority of the Baehr intercom system.  There's a reason why it cost as much as it does.  If you don't want to compromise on your audio quality, stick with Baehr.

Flash to the present... some 3 to 4 years later...

At present I've been using the J&M Integratr IV for at least 3 years and the original unit is still working perfectly fine.  I have also purchased a replacement/backup unit (the price has dropped on the base unit from $250 to $120) in case this one finally decides to give up the ghost.  However, it looks like it's still going strong.  I have the intercom mounted on my Givi T422 tankbag with a lot of Velcro.  Because it sits at an easily accessible location, it's a cinch to adjust the volume.  I've used the Integratr IV with AAA, Li-on, and bike power.  By far the best setup is the Li-on battery.  There is no power noise to contend with.  The only thing you have to worry about is having to recharge the battery after several days of use.  As a brief comparison between the Baehr Ultima XL and the Integratr IV:

Baehr Ultima XL


J&M Integratr IV


As of this writing, I checked the J&M site again and it appears the Integratr IV has further dropped in price.  The base unit is now only $70.  That's amazing considering I spent at least $250 for my original unit.

As with everything in life, it's a trade off.  If you want the fidelity, you have to pay money for it.  However, the Integratr IV being priced the way it is nowadays, I don't think the Baehr Ultima XL can compare.  If you break the Integratr IV into millions of pieces, you're more likely to go surfing the web and purchase yourself another unit.  In the Ultima XL's case, I think I'd be crying once again.  The other unfortunate news is that Baehr USA is no longer with us.  They might have been a victim of the current economic depression in the USA.  Whatever the reason, it's sad to see a fine bunch of people gone.

In the end it is a matter of subjectivity and convenience.  You have to pick which ever intercom system that works for you.  Some like Autocom.  Others like ChatterBox.  As for me, I have found my groove and will stick to the J&M Integratr IV.  The price is even cost competitive against a ChatterBox nowadays.  You didn't ask for it but my personal bias says, "...don't bother with a ChatterBox."  Trust me, I've experienced it first hand and I'm definitely not impressed.

Baehr Ultima XL installation Part 1 (Preliminary stuff)
Baehr Ultima XL installation Part 2 (Installing the electronics)
Baehr Ultima XL installation Part 3 (Putting the speakers in the helmet)

Written On: March 15, 2006
Last modified: February 3, 2010