By Cap Mason
For those readers with short attention spans...
I don't usually shortcut reviews this way but for those readers with short attention spans, I have just four words, "Go buy it, now!" And be sure to get your ButtKicker at the FlightSim.Com Pilot Shop.
For the rest of you with more patience and curiosity, please read on. You'll discover the "must-have" game hardware device of the year.
An exciting new way to get real with flightsimming, and much more.
My initial reaction to this force feedback gaming device was, "Well, ain't that one helluva kick in the pants!"
Things just got better from there. Simply put, ButtKicker, made by the Guitammer Company, is exactly what its name implies. It is a 100 watt subwoofer amplifier that ingeniously translates bass sound pressure into kinetic motion and applies it liberally to your rear end through the ButtKicker Gamer shaker device that attaches to your office chair. ButtKicker wowed the reviewers at the Consumer Electronics Show when it was introduced. That's why it won the Innovation Award at CES 2005.
Before I dive into the guts of ButtKicker and how I experienced it in FS2004 and FSX, let me start by saying that it added a powerful immersion factor that was missing from flightsimming, until now. You could spend around $20,000 for a full motion platform or you could spend less than $50 for ButtKicker and get a spectacular ride.
The ButtKicker Gamer is a small, linear motor, which reacts to an audio signal sent by an 100 watt amplifier. The unit comes as a complete kit with amplifier, shaker, cables and all the accessories you need to connect it to either your PC or game console.
The shaker is similar to a loudspeaker, but instead of moving a cone, and transferring sound waves through the air, it attaches to your seat column and sends low frequency sound directly into your body. The effect is amazing and extremely powerful.
A different application of sound pressure.
It takes two senses to perceive full range sound. We hear sound, but we also feel sound, especially low frequency. That's why Ludwig Von Beethoven could write magnificent symphonies even when he was stone deaf. He felt the music through his body.
Under normal circumstances, it takes huge speakers, moving tremendous amounts of air, to feel the low frequency of sound. I went to the recent Rolling Stones concert here at San Francisco's SBC Park and the huge blast of sound from that venerable group's performance surged through my body like a freight train. I wear hearing protectors at rock concerts, as everyone should, so as to not wind up like Maestro Beethoven, stone deaf.
Of course, sound levels like the Stones produce also triggered noise complaints from San Francisco's citizens for miles around the stadium. I think jets lifting off from SFO felt that noise. So, that's one way to rock your body, just crank up the volume. It's also why people love rock concerts because they want to feel the sound pressure in their bodies. As flightsimmers, we want to achieve something similar. We want to feel the airplane, sense the vibrations and feel what it is like to sit in the left-hand seat on the flight deck. One way is to crank the speaker volume so loud as to achieve body-slamming sound pressure. Of course, in addition to rattling the windows, you would be damaging your hearing and inviting noise complaints from neighbors. Sound at levels high enough to produce the body-slam effect needs to be cranked to over 100 decibels (dBA). Rock concerts blast away at 110-120 decibels. Airplanes taking off generate 140 dBA of noise and jets do 150 dBA. That's far above the damage level for human hearing. Noise levels above 85 dBA will harm hearing over time. Noise levels above 140dBA can cause damage to hearing after just one exposure.
Silent, but impressive
ButtKicker creates the body-slamming force feedback effect in complete silence. A person standing next to you when you use ButtKicker with a headset instead of your PC speakers – won't hear a thing. You, on the other hand, will feel every nuance of the flightsimming sound action. The best part is that the ButtKicker effect applies to any other sounds coming through your PC from other games, music, or DVDs. Try watching the attack scenes from Pearl Harbor with ButtKicker and you'll feel what it was like to be blown up by a Japanese bomb aboard the USS Arizona, and much more.
ButtKicker reproduces the feeling range of audio in a more direct way than through the air from sound waves at high decibel levels. The perception is actually better with ButtKicker and you eliminate any risk of damaging your ears. When using headphones, for example, with a ButtKicker, you perceive powerful, acoustically accurate, live-action audio, but no one else hears anything. The sound is completely isolated to the listener and you can listen at safe sound levels while still rocking your body from the vibration effects.
My first impressions was that I have never been so thoroughly immersed in flightsim action ever before. I tested ButtKicker using Voice Buddy 3, the Audio FX headset, and simming with FS2004 and FSX. They all worked flawlessly together. I tried using ButtKicker alone with my speakers but found the effect much less satisfying and much less immersive than when I slapped on the Audio FX headset. I also experienced perfect integration between ButtKicker and Voice Buddy without any interference. I could whisper my voice commands or speak in a normal voice and there was perfect recognition by Voice Buddy since ButtKicker does not interfere at all with what you hear through the Audio FX headphones or say through the microphone. I have customized my Voice Buddy command set for FS2004 to use natural language dialogs with ATC. So, this was truly the very next best thing to actually sitting in the left-hand seat and flying in the real world.