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It’s rare to come across a device that is literally breathtaking. The Oculus Rift Development Kit 1 – my first foray into virtual reality back in 2013 – was one such device. The SubPac M2 is another.
The SubPac M2 is a $350 wearable tactile transducer for bass and sub-bass frequencies. In layman’s terms: it’s a bass-shaker, or a subwoofer that you strap to your back.
So why would you want to strap a bass-shaker to your back? Awesome question. It has a couple of key markets; the first being music producers, DJs or just those with money to burn who want to actually feel the bass track from their music, similar to how it might feel at a live concert if you were standing dangerously close to the speaker stack. The second is for gaming experiences such as flight and racing simulators, first person shooters, and more recently, the emerging technology of virtual reality.
For simulators and virtual reality, a tactile transducer – whether in the form of a wearable such as this or something bolted to your chair – really enhances the feeling of immersion. You can feel the gunfire and explosions in a way that simple rumble packs on your controller can’t hope to compete with. It vibrates to your very core, in a way that isn’t just “rumbly” – it’s more nuanced, with each gun type or gear shift unique. It can also be quite … overwhelming, on maximum intensity.
The SubPac M2 is the wearable offering; a slightly cheaper S2 model ($300) is also available, which straps to the back of a chair instead. If you only want this for studio use or cockpit games, you might consider the S2 instead purely for ease of use – the M2 needs to be strapped on your body each time you use it. While this probably isn’t a huge effort for anyone familiar with wearing a head-mounted display like the HTC Vive, regular (seated) gamers or music producers may find it tedious. However, I would recommend the more expensive M2 device purely for versatility: not only does it work with room-scale gaming, but you can of course sit down when wearing it for seated experiences, or lie down for listening to music.
- 2300mAh battery
- Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP streaming
- Stereo headphone and stereo audio-in socket
- 5hz-130hz frequency response
The device has two shoulder straps, as well as a chest strap and waist strap – all adjustable. I had no problems fitting the device to either myself or my wife.
Coming out of the rear of the device is a coiled wire that leads to the control pack and battery. As well as a power and intensity dial, it features Bluetooth 4.0, line in, and line out stereo sockets. With an included stereo cable, this makes it incredibly simple to setup in most cases. For anything you already plug a pair of headphones into, you can just place this in between the two. For mobile devices, Bluetooth from the device then a wired pair of headphones into the SubPac is easiest.
What does it actually feel like?
When we first tested by pairing it with some psytrance tracks, my wife described it as “like a back massager chair”, and that’s a fair assessment when set on the standard (medium) intensity. On maximum intensity, which isn’t recommended for regular use, it is literally quite breathtaking. Like, not in the sense of “oh, that’s a beautiful view of the mountains” kind of breathtaking, but in the sense of not being able to breath. But in a good way?
After cranking it up for a round or two of Battle Dome on the HTC Vive, opting for a machine gun most of the game, I was left feeling quite shattered. It’s not quite the same experience as having a strong recoil mechanism in your hands, but it’s ridiculously good fun being able to feel the explosions and gunfire.
I also tried some Eve: Valkyrie, a space combat game. Setup is a little more complex with the Oculus Rift since the headset has built-in headphones with no aux out, so you need to run an additional bit of software to mirror the audio stream, but after getting it working, the effect was again quite stunning. It’s nicely suited to cockpit experiences, where every explosion causes your cockpit to shake violently. My previous setup had been to simply sit close to the subwoofer, but this is on a whole other level.
If you’re exclusively into racing and flight sims, you may prefer to get a ButtKicker style of transducer instead, which will shake the whole structure of your chair or simulated cockpit; the SubPac is very much a localised to your chest and back.
It’s not a perfect match for every game, however. In Valve’s Longbow wave shooter, for instance, I found the bass thuds came fractions of a second after the arrow had left my bow, which just felt too slow. With AudioShield, a musical game, the tactile thumps rarely lined up with hitting the on-screen orbs, which are automatically generated to match a range of frequencies, not just the bass. In Rec Room’s Paintball, the measly little sound the guns make just isn’t substantial enough to trigger any effect at all.
In summary: engines, guns and anything that goes boom are a perfect match for gaming with a SubPac.
Should You Buy a SubPac M2?
First, let’s be clear: this is obviously a really expensive gaming accessory if you have no professional need of it for listening to music. It’s almost the price of a new console; half the cost of a VR headset. So before purchasing, it’s also worth considering your other options too. For cockpit-only or seated use – if you don’t anticipate ever playing room-scale games that involve moving around – you could either buy the cheaper SubPac S2 which straps on the back of your chair, a ButtKicker Gamer bolted to the chair leg, or even make your own with a bass-amp and some tactile “pucks”.
For multi-purpose gaming and room-scale VR, the SubPac M2 is just incredible fun. Whether you’re lazing on the couch playing some Call Of Duty, soaring through space in Elite:Dangerous, or frantically dodging laser rifles in Battle Dome – this is an awesome sensory addition to your gaming experiences.
I can’t really speak to it’s usefulness outside of the gaming environment, however. I don’t need to feel like I’m at a live concert when I’m walking the dog, nor do I want the effort of strapping on this thing just to listen to music while working. For music producers, DJs and such, I imagine if “feeling the bass” if something you actually need to do on a regular basis, then this is a fantastic way to go about it, without shaking the house down. But for most people if you don’t want this for gaming or VR, it’s probably a waste of time (but if you’re getting one anyway, do try lying on your bed and listening to some psytrance at some point).
An incredible but expensive gaming accessory.