This may be useful for those looking for helmet audio ideas.
I rode in the past with ear buds but didn't like the pressure of the helmet ear pads pushing them into the ear.
I picked up a Smith Maze which has zippered ear pads for speakers and wiring between them. There is a little, round removable piece of padding in the earpads if you want to put in speakers (or you don't need to remove it if you want extra warmth; I've run speakers w/ and w/o the extra ear padding).
You can buy a speaker kit (~$35) but being cheap, I was looking for other ideas & less wires. I also need to be able to take calls on the hill/mountain so I was also looking at mics and maybe handheld radio integration.
Here's a few ideas I experimented with.
You can probably remove the foam insert and stick earbuds into the helmet ear pads and away you go, but I couldn't see the audio quality being any good so if you're really cheap and want crappy sound you can try that. I didn't bother.
You can buy a speaker kit made by Skullcandy for Smith audio and just put it in. But that's expensive and too easy.
You can find RED ear pads with integrated audio pretty cheap. On the Maze you can pull out the ear pads and clip these in but the fit isn't the best (there's a youtube video on it) and the pads aren't as nice as what is on the Maze.
You can also pick up for less (paid ~$9) the RED ear pads in an XS (that's why it's cheap) and pull out the audio. They are held in with some adhesive but come out pretty easy. With the kit I picked up, it has a mute button and an inline volume control.
See pic at the bottom, 12 o'clock.
I put them into the Maze pads and they worked fine, but the drivers are pretty small and cheap. I am no audio expert so I'll just say they sounded fine but felt I could do better. The speaker setup is probably the same for all sizes (the wires are long).
They have a female 2.5mm jack which you line up with a wire hole in the Smith earpad for this purpose. It came with a cable w/ volume control (2.5 on one end, 3.5 on the other). Or use an adapter and run a 3.5mm cable from your audio source up to your helmet. You can buy cables with a mic so you can get your phone calls going.
I wanted to explore wireless though since I didn't want the mess of routing wires up to my helmet and them getting in the way when taking my helmet on/off. Stealth is cool. So here's a few BT options:
The original (old) grey Logitech BT audio headset. Some of you may have these kicking around, most likely broken since they would crack right at the midpoint of the headband and break the wires. Nice unit, with large drivers and comes with a little BT transmitter for hooking up to any audio source with a 3.5mm jack.
All the circuitry is in one earpiece and just the battery and driver in the other earpiece, so 4 wires running through the headband.
Cut off the headband at the drivers (hey, they were broken anyways - now you can use them again). With basic soldering skills you can run 4 wires. I chose indoor telephone wire -- it has 4 wires in the casing and each wire is multistranded & ~22 ga which makes it nice and flexible. Don't use solid core wire as you need some flexibility. It's about 10.5" exposed, driver to driver.
See pic, 3 o'clock, white earpieces.
I like this setup. The sound is way better (wider freq response) than the RED speaker kit -- not surprising since the drivers are larger, better quality, and have their own power source.
Audio hookup: I have paired this headset with an old Samsung phone, old Moto phone, and my PC, but it will not pair with an iPhone 3GS. But to me this isn't a big deal since BT drains the phone battery big time, at least on mine. So I used the BT transmitter that came with the headset instead and just plug it into the analog output jack on the phone. Small enough that it's no big deal.
But I didn't want that jack dangling off the phone so I just used a small mp3 player and the transmitter and put it in a little pocket I have on my jacket sleeve near my wrist. What I like about this setup is the headset and transmitter have their own power sources so it will last all day w/o any big drain on your mp3 player or phone.
You can easily control the volume buttons on the earpiece when wearing your helmet with your gloves on just by touching your earpad. If you're paired with a BT audio source, you can also use the track up/down buttons.
For phone calls, if you're hooked up to your phone you get the audio but no mic so you either pull out your phone or have a separate mic. If you aren't paired to your phone then you can use a little adapter that splits audio and mic from a single 3.5mm jack to two -- one for your BT transmitter and one for your mic. It works.
See pic, 10 o'clock, white.
2nd gen Logitech BT headset
If you're like me and your 1st gen Logitech broke while under warranty, Logitech probably sent you the 2nd gen as a replacement.
See pic, 3 o'clock, black earpieces.
This works the same way and with the more flexible headband, is a direct insert into the earpads after you pull off the ear loops and foam.
This setup is it is more compact and takes up less room in the earpad than the 1st gen. Sound quality is about the same as the other Logitech setup. Also, this one will BT pair with an iPhone. The downside is the controls are harder to work through the earpad and the on/off/pair button is on the top of the earpiece and not on the front as in the first gen design, so it is harder to access.
other BT headsets
The problem with my Logitechs is that they were audio only and to me the ideal setup was with an unobtrusive mic. So I went looking for something cheap with a mic and found this one for ~$23. What I like about this unit is it has a mic, a micro SD card slot, and even an FM radio.
See pic, 6 o'clock.
This one fit right into the Maze, no problem.
Sound quality was just fine. I just loaded up an SD card and let it play all day on the hill. Lasted for about 8h (no BT connection). It's a little harder to use the buttons as they load up a lot of features onto them but once I got the hang of it, I could easily vol +/- and track +/- with my gloves. I like the FM feature too.
It pairs to anything. But the mic sounds muffled. This is a consequence of the build quality and having the mic near your ear I guess. Surprisingly, people on calls didn't notice much of a difference with audio quality with it in or out of the helmet. But the muffled sound was enough to discourage me from using it as the main mic source for calls. For personal calls it would probably be ok but I wanted something for work calls and so want better quality (no one needs to know I am out riding).
If you have any other BT solutions, share them. I know there's others out there but are $$$ and not stealth.
From above, you can see my main problem has been what to do for a mic. Here are a few things I considered/tried (though not on the hill yet -- I do try to minimize calls when I'm out riding).
If you go the wired headset route and use your phone as your audio player, then you can get a cable from your phone to your helmet with an integrated mic, like these ($8):
See pic, 7 o'clock.
Keep it hidden and pull it out when you need to. 3.5mm on both ends. You might need a 2.5mm adapter depending on your speakers.
If you're using BT speaker-only, or want to split speaker and mic, you can try a mic only setup like this (~$2):
See pic, centre.
The mic works fine but I am not that crazy about having to run the wire and clip it on to something. There is probably something out there like a sound tube or boom that could work but to me that's overkill - you'd look like a doofus and then ram it up your nose when you crash.
handheld radios (walkie-talkies)
I've used them before when out with family and keeping tabs on other parties on mountains. Nice where there is no cell coverage. I'm mixed on their use. Either you can't get the signal because you're on the other side of the mountain or you can't hear it over riding noise. But they have come in handy when trying to round everyone up.
Skullcandy had a 2-input setup for their headset kits that I have heard being used with a radio (one plugged in to music, the other to a radio). I got one for free so I've been playing with it a bit but found the music audio would get picked up by the radio and broadcast to all the other radios. I think that was just the voice sensing on the radio that I could shut off. But this is a low priority for me so I haven't played around with this setup enough to see if there is some that works well.
what I did
I like the wireless setup, but I don't like the BT drain on the phone, so my preference is either use the Logitechs with the transmitter or the headset with the SD card. The SD card/FM radio setup is nice in that it is the smallest/less obtrusive setup (no tx needed) but with the Logitech one, I can plug it into to my phone if I feel I need to hear every email/text/phone ring.
That said, I pretty much concluded I don't need to be wired for a mic for immediate access when on the hill -- I can wait for the lodge or chairlift or top/bottom of a run to whip out the phone if it's important enough. My callers can wait a few min. I figure this is better than running a cable just for a mic.