There is nothing better than being able to take your movie or video game experience to the next level. Let it be by wireless sound, 3D graphics, or of course virtual reality. We tend to take things here about as far as we can get them, generally trying to get as close to the real movie theater experience as possible, and then geeking out with as much added tech that we can dream up. From comfy seating, to more sound and video than you can shake a stick at, we’ve done it all. We even have a real commercial size popcorn machine, because no benchmark within the AV realm should ever be accomplished, without popcorn–that, and it makes for a great place to take a break. That is just one of our demo rooms (aka “labs”), where we test a lot of the stuff that comes in from around the world.
There are so many ways to expand on your setup to get more out of what you are playing or watching (or both if you’re into the whole Twitch scene), and one of these, which we get to focus on today, is immersion. This approach to adding to your experience is becoming ever more popular than ever thanks to brands like ButtKicker, Thundermod and now SoundShaker.
Now, due to our history within the realm of immersion, it is fair to point out that we had to promise ourselves not to allow any bias to get in the way, and to refrain from too many comparisons to certain other brands. So, for this story, we are going to solely focus on SoundShaker, and what we think about it as a solution.
For those who are aren’t familiar with immersion, this is the act of the adding feeling to what you are watching. A literal approach to setting up a 4D experience in your own home. If you have ever been to a theme park like Disney or Universal Studios, you most likely have been on a 3D ride or theater that did more than just show you something on a screen. They might have blown air or water at you or even rumbled your seats. This is what gives you a 4th dimension within your “dimensional experience” (you have to read that last part with the movie trailer guy’s voice in your head). You see, you hear, it’s in 3D, and it can also (insert effect here). For this effect, it will be “feel”, using the art of tactile sound.
This is accomplished by tapping into your AVR’s sub connection, and sending the signal to an amplifier that feeds power and signal to what are called tactile transducers (aka, bass transducers, or bass shakers). These transducers then begin to vibrate, allowing you to feel what you are listening to. You install these to your seating arrangement (couch, chairs, etc), and it turns them into seating you might familiar to the above mentioned theme parks.
What SoundShaker brings to the table is a somewhat wireless approach to doing this. It isn’t completely wireless of course, because that would be impossible sadly (batteries would be useless for this). So you do have to prep for wires running around the room a little.
The wireless involves the signal shooting across the room from your AVR. It starts off with a transmitter that comes with the kit that taps into your sub-out of the AVR. If your AVR only supports one sub connection, the kit comes with a splitter to solves this. If your AVR supports dual subs (ie, 5.2 channel vs 5.1 channel), then you simply come out of the second connection for the transmitter. The transmitter then transmits the signal to the receiver, which would more than likely be sitting near your seating arrangement (ie, on a side table or shelf…or floor behind a couch, etc). This is where the wires pick back up.
From the receiver, you have a long cable that comes out of it similar to outdoor string lights you’d hang around your patio. It allows you to connect up to four transducers (we’ll start calling them shakers from here) per setup. Signal and power is delivered to them from the receiver (which is their amp), and they then begin to shake.
There isn’t an unlimited length to the cable, so in order to use all four connections, you will want to make sure your seating is as close to each other as needed (ie, you can have chairs spread apart). It doesn’t matter where in the line you connect a shaker, so you can at least customize it up a little if you have only two seats to hit, with a little space in between.
The SoundShaker receiver also supports Bluetooth, which is a bit of a bonus. So if your AVR supports Bluetooth and can transmit to Bluetooth while still supplying sound to the speakers, you can remove the transmitter from the setup and have the SoundShaker receiver connected directly to the AVR. Since some AVRs may mute your speakers when you switch to Bluetooth, this feature won’t obviously work for everyone. In addition to Bluetooth, you can always come out of a stereo pair of RCA into the transmitter as well.
The receiver also supplies you with your controls for the shakers, which include the ability to select your crossover for when you want the shakers to begin responding to sound. The lower you set the frequency, the deeper you limit the shakers response to bass-wise. If you are coming out of a sub channel of your AVR, you should keep in mind that your AVR also has a crossover, which might limit your selection on the SoundShaker receiver, which is normal.
You also have the power control that turns the receiver on and acts as a sort of volume to the shakers. It is considered power though because there isn’t any volume since it is a vibration vs sound. So it’s the amount of power you are driving the shakers with, controlling the intensity of their response.
Pretty cool thus far, right? Now if you are watching the Avengers movie, and a building is coming down all over the place, it may actually feel like a building is coming down all over the place. This also make first person shooters that much more fascinating to play.
It does all come down to price, because that is a touchy topic. SoundShaker does come out as one of the more expensive options among what’s out there on the market. The benefit to it, is having part of your setup being wireless, as well as it’s easy to get your hands on without having to hire someone else to come install it for you. The disadvantage is that the starting price for a kit with one shaker will run you around $525, with around $125 for each additional shaker after that. The immersive market itself has already had the stigma of being an expensive luxury, so increasing the price doesn’t help too much. So this does limit the target audience a bit when it comes to who can afford it, and how much do they want it in their setup.
This doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it, because as long as you can afford it, once you go immersive…you don’t go back. The experience is unique and fantastic. Thanks to the demo room we have set up here, a few of us have found ourselves integrating immersion into our personal setups at home, because we couldn’t “shake” the temptation once we had experienced it.
In a final point I wanted to discuss, I felt the topic of delay needed to be brought into light. If you are an audio enthusiast of any kind, it is highly recommended that you use this with an AVR that allows you to control the delay settings to your speakers. Also, that being said, an AVR that does indeed offer dual sub connection, so that you can delay this separately from your main sub. The purpose of this is that they did not consider delay into the design of the SoundShaker receiver.
You have to consider both time delay and any latency caused by the wireless signal. With time delay, you can’t have the shaker hitting at the same time as your sub since they are not equally located from you. The sub is typically across the room from you where the shaker is generally a few inches from your butt. Therefore you can experience a discrepancy between what you hear and what you feel. As for wireless latency, if any, this can also cause a delay. So, with an AVR that allows you to control the delay, you can manually time it out so the shaker is hitting exactly at the same moment the sound from the subs is hitting your ears. This way, you have a natural/realistic experience.
If you can’t control the output to this separately, you may experience a (noticeable) number of milliseconds worth of delay. Also, if your AVR only offers one sub out, you then have no control since adjusting it will also affect the time delay of your sub (which would negate the purpose of adjusting anything).
In another example (this is where we got a good sense of any delay presence), we hooked it up to a PC and bolted the shaker to the bottom of a chair. We tapped into the sub-out signal coming from the soundcard using a simple 3.5mm splitter and a 3.5mm to RCA cable to hit the transimtter with. Since it is just a PC, we have no control over delay. We then pull up some bassey music that contains quick sharp beats, and could feel the delay between the sound and the shaker. Switching it to Bluetooth to remove the transmitter from the mix doesn’t help since Bluetooth on a PC will mute your speakers. So you won’t get as much use out of these for PC setups.
What comes in the box:
You will find mostly everything you need in the box to get it connected to an AVR. A simple kit comes with the receiver and transmitter, as well as one shaker. You get the cable that comes out of the receiver and supports up to four shakers. There is an DC to AC adapter for both the transmitter and the receiver (for power), and you get two RCA adapters to help you break out with from your sub-out (one for a mono sub out and one for a dual sub setup). Finally, you have an optional stand, in case you want to stand the receiver up vertically, like you see in all of the images used here in the story.
The SoundShaker setup is pretty cool. The only wires you have to worry about are those running behind all of the seats and the plug from the receiver to the wall. Setup is relatively easy (as long as you are comfortable with bolting things to your furniture at least), and the instructions map out everything you need to know in just a few pages. As we mentioned, there is nothing like adding immersion to your setup. So the fun factor is pretty high (and the next time you go to a commercial theater, you may find that something feels missing, when all you have are the speakers around you). The price is a bit high, and the competition will continue add pressure to this as additional solutions work their way to the market. Also, they should have added delay control to the receiver so that you can balance things out with, no matter the scenario of your setup. Hopefully they catch this on the next version. Regardless, it it’s a pretty cool approach (as any would be) to adding that 4th dimension to your theater.
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*Average price is based on the time this article was published
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