Sena's Tufftalk M headsets.

Can You Hear Me Now? Testing Mesh Headsets in the Workshop

Oct. 20, 2021
After dealing with communication frustrations way too long while woodworking, Sena's mesh intercom headsets brought a new level of efficiency to this weekend hobbyist.

About two years ago now, my husband and I bought our first house out on the outskirts of the suburbs. Well, we like to think that anyway since our backyard looks out onto a barren field surrounded by trees, encapsulating us into feeling like we're on our own little compound. In reality, we're about two to seven minutes away from pretty much anything we need or want. So, not really on the outskirts of the suburbs as much as just in the suburbs.

Our house is fairly small, but what sold us on it (or rather my husband) was that it came with a decent-sized barn, and oh boy, did those wheels start turning the moment he set his eyes on it. He imagined all these great things we could do with it and I was just like, "yeah, ok—I'll believe it when I see it". I'm much more of an observer and a detailed person, so I was focused on all these tiny quirks around the house. I wasn't even thinking about this giant barn on the next lot. He was thinking big picture—a man cave, a party barn for entertaining, our own storage container, etc.

What we landed on—and what gave me pause—was woodworking. A woodworking shop. Something that neither of us has ever dabbled in before and that we would have to furnish all on our own.

The thought behind this was that we were sick of the price of furniture (even before the pandemic) that was made out of cheap material and would only last us a few years. By making our own, we could ensure quality and make it to our liking instead of having to go with one of the three styles that every furniture maker offers based on the current trends. So, fast forward to today and we have a pretty well-furnished woodshop with most of the amenities. (If anyone is giving away a bandsaw for free, we would love to know.) We have made bookcases, cat perches, picture frames, cutting boards, a miter station, a router table, nightstands, coffee tables, end tables, and now we're working on making a TV stand.

Over the years, one big pain point we've repeatedly had over and over is in relation to PPE—not the equipment. We both have our own set of noise-canceling earbuds so we're not bored out of our minds when sanding or gluing or sawing, and also to protect our precious hearing. My husband uses Raycon earbuds which are a bit better than my Sony ones in relation to noise-canceling and comfortability; I can still hear the whir of the saws and the booming suction of the vacuums and usually have to readjust a few times. But the real problem is once you get your earbuds in and the saws and vacuums start going—you better know what you're doing because flailing hand gestures never seem to cut it. This always results in having to stop, turn off all the equipment, discuss, and then put all PPE back on, turn all equipment on, and get back to work. Not only does this waste a lot of time, but it's just annoying and downright inefficient. And I absolutely hate when things are inefficient.

Enter Sena: a leading innovator in the motorcycle and outdoor sports communication market who also is proving itself in the industrial sector with reliable, high-performing Bluetooth and mesh technology communication solutions. By some luck of the universe, Sena reached out to me about testing out a pair of its mesh communication headsets. Little did they know that they were offering a solution to the problem we've been having for two years. Suffice it to say, I jumped at the chance to try something out that would eliminate our wild and ineffective hand gestures that were slowing us down.

Sena sent me two Tufftalk M headsets which are designed to help plant personnel protect their hearing while enabling hands-free communication. I received the over-the-head style which incorporates a 26 dB noise rating and Bluetooth and Mesh communication technology that allows natural communication across multiple people/teams, using high-definition audio to eliminate hand signals and mask removal (insert angelic choir sound effect). Users can also opt for the hard-hat integrated style.

When I first received these, they came in nice packaging with the headset, a charging cord, 2 foam covers for the boom microphone (one for replacement), and a manual for instruction. Sena also offers an app that gives the full specs and details of whichever device you have, along with radio functions and Bluetooth pairing for phones. Additionally, the Bluetooth technology enables users to connect up to four other headsets and offers a range of about 1/4 of a mile. The Mesh technology enables a virtually limitless number of users and offers a range of up to .7 miles.

The Intuitiveness Test

The headsets took me a few minutes to get acquainted with them; I had to read through to see which buttons did what and how to pair my phone and turn on the radio. A note with these headphones is that you need to toggle between communication mode and listening mode for music, podcasts, radio, etc. But there are only 4 buttons and they're in an easy pattern to remember. And, once you know the buttons, it's super easy to switch between modes without taking them off. I've even got the radio control method down.

All in all, it took me about ten minutes to get up to speed—including pairing my phone and connecting with my husband's headset so we could get to talking. The app is just as easy to navigate with a menu to choose which device you have and need to set up and then four large buttons for pairing, settings, a quick guide, and a user's guide.

The Fit Test

Tufftalk M offers a very snug fit while also being surprisingly comfortable for long stretches of time. I honestly wouldn't expect that something so snug on my ears and head wouldn't end up bothering me, but after a few hours, I didn't feel the need to take them off and give my ears a rest. I can see why they fit so snug—you can't be wearing headsets in a facility that might fall off and compromise the worker. That's just safety 101.

The Hearing Test (or Lack-Thereof)

When putting them on, before even being turned on, I noticed that they block a lot of noise instantly; It's hard to even hear someone speaking at a normal volume. This is probably also partly due to how snug they fit. Once turned on, they basically block all outside sound which means I finally found a pair of noise-canceling headphones that actually canceled out the background noise from our tools and equipment. I was hoping they would automatically pause any music/radio/podcasts when speaking, but it's not a deal-breaker and I can certainly understand the safety aspect of this feature when working in a manufacturing facility. If you're going to be communicating on the job, you can't have interruptions of music or talk radio distracting you.

The Communication Test

Time for the final test. When we're working in the barn, we wear full Darth Vader dust masks, not just cloth masks or n95 masks. I don't have allergies at all, but the second I'm around sawdust all bets are off—not to mention that sawdust is extremely terrible for your health when inhaled. When we got all of our PPE on, turned the intercom on, and started up our tools, it was awesome. The sound quality was crystal clear, even through all that noise and our dust masks. Sena says this is due to its use of full-duplex technology which is a point-to-point communication system that can communicate both ways. The mic does pick up some background noise, but it doesn't interfere at all. Unlike a two-way radio or walkie-talkie, once you turn the mesh intercom on, you don't have to keep hitting a button to be able to talk—you just talk completely hands-free.

The headsets offer a Bluetooth range of up to about .7 of a mile, which is pretty good considering my Sony's only allow for 10 feet before cutting off all sound. This was a welcome feature that I haven't had the luxury of yet as I usually have to either be glued to my phone when using Bluetooth or have the Bluetooth device glued to my phone. But with the Tufftalk, I could leave my phone in the house if I wanted, with music playing, and it wouldn't skip a beat. I also love the fact that I don't even need my phone all the time since it has a built-in radio.

There is a tiny delay when speaking, and I mean tiny. And honestly, that probably has more to do with my working proximity to my husband rather than the headsets themselves because, in a facility, you're apt to be in an even louder environment and/or at a greater distance from your coworkers. But other than that, there was not a blip of interference or skipping words. You do need to ensure that the microphone is positioned closer to your mouth to get it to pick up the sound flawlessly. I'm naturally a soft speaker—or as my husband likes to say, a mumbler—so I needed to position it closer for him to hear me clearly. Otherwise, you'll find yourself shouting (which just isn't in my nature).

We finally had a solution to our problem and were able to work uninterrupted for a few hours, getting so much more done in a day than we ever have. All due to just being able to communicate freely.

Check out more of Sena's communication solutions here.

The Usability Test

As I mentioned before, Sena offers a Smartphone App that gives instant access to customization options. Users can change settings like turning on Mesh Intercom, adjusting channel frequency, setting up speed dial options to take and make calls, programming FM station preferences (you can preset up to 10), and more.

I've turned to instinctively choosing the Tufftalk M whenever I go out in the barn now to work over my Sony earbuds. It's not just the communication aspect, but also the length of the charge life, the noise-canceling, the Bluetooth range, and the ability to listen to the radio, music or a podcast. I know I could download a radio app on my phone, but I've never thought to and now with these, I can just preset my favorite station and go. They take about 3 hours to fully charge, which considering how long that charge life lasts (Bluetooth offers 13 hours while Mesh offers 8 hours), isn't an issue at all. They also offer the option of a quick charge: 20 minutes for 3 hours of intercom usability.

All in all, I was extremely surprised and pleased with the Tufftalk M headsets. I honestly can't imagine going back to any other headset while woodworking and that's a first for me. I'm not super into tech and gadgets, but I think Sena might have converted me on this. 

Even though my husband and I are not workers in an industrial setting day in and day out—Sena has hit the nail on the head for how to solve the hands-free communication problem of workers everywhere. And if you're not currently looking for communication solutions at your plant, Sena offers a ton of communication options for outdoor enthusiasts that are worth checking out.