Buttkicker LFE Review

Without prior knowledge, you may think that the Buttkicker is some form of new-fangled electronic device which would kick your butt after you’ve been playing video games for too long. Alas, as good as that would be – you’re not far off from the truth. The Buttkicker is a tactile transducer which converts audio signals (especially deep bass) into rumbling or vibration for the enhancement of digital media, games and simulations. It’s essentially just a bigger vibration (rumble pak) that modern game controllers come with which you can strap to your chair, lounge seat or even your bed to provide the same experience to your whole body! It provides a much needed new level of immersion, intensity and realism to otherwise seemingly dull gaming experiences. But just to quell your excitement right now – No, it can’t be used as a ‘vibrator’… it would kill you.

Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig1. – A shot of my Buttkicker LFE’s.

If you’d like more information on buttkickers and how they work please check out my introduction to buttkickers article:
http://fluidicice.com/Blog/?p=518

Now that you’ve got the introduction and understanding of what they do, let’s jump into the most prominent question people face, which is price. It’s not for the faint of heart, or the shallow pocketed individual, but I believe it’s still reasonably priced to compete with the alternative solutions out there from manufacturers such as Clark Synthesis and Crowson Technology. You can typically pick up a single Buttkicker LFE, chair mounting kit and amp for about $995 AU packaged together which includes (almost) all the cables you need to get it set up. If you want additional transducers you’ll have to fork out another $339 each which doesn’t actually include the cables you need to power it either! If you purchase a second Buttkicker you may also want to add the chair mounting kit to avoid quite a lot of hassle if you’re going to mount it to basically anything.

Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig2. – The Buttkicker box everything came in.
Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig3. – A shot of the thick packing foam, these aren’t getting damaged.

Specifications:

ButtKicker® LFE Transducer
Dimensions: 5.375″ H x 5.375″ W
Frequency Response: 5 – 200 Hz
Weight: 11 lbs / 5 kgs
Nominal Impedance: 4 ohms
Power Handling: 400 watts min.

BKA1000-N Power Amplifier Specs
Dimensions: 12″ W x 12″ L x 4″ H
Weight: 25 lbs / 11.4 kgs
Power Handling: 1000 watts @ 4 ohms 1900 watts @ 2 ohms

Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig4. – The buttkicker amplifier.
Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig5. – The controls on the front of the amp.

Quality:

The construction of these babies is one major highlight, they are built like a rock, a rock that’s made of metal that you could seemingly throw off a two-story balcony and expect to survive. They have a built-in heat-sink which is visible by the fins on the outside to dissipate the heat when you try to make them work too hard or vibrate excessively for long periods. I’ve never had a problem with them getting too hot and I live in Australia, but then again I’ve never run them at maximum power for long durations on a movie of pure bass and explosions… Movies typically give them a chance to cool down between shakes as well which is a bonus, but honestly the shake is enough with them on 1/3 the power, but more on that later. These things weigh quite a lot, coming in at 25 lbs or 11.4 kgs for the kit, and about 5 kgs for a single LFE. You couldn’t mount one of these to one of those flimsy 5-wheel office chairs because it would basically fall over from too much top-side weight, and if you did the vibration would honestly move the chair across the room with ease assuming it don’t fall over first. Anyway the point I’m trying to make here is that you’ll need a solid base or chair in which to mount the unit, I recommend either a couch or Obutto Revolution Cockpit which I’ve currently got two mounted to. If you want to add vibration to an office chair I would recommend the Buttkicker Gamer 2 which has a purposely designed mount to fit on basically any chair you own, the vibration won’t nearly be as much, but it should be easier to feel with a smaller chair.

Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig6. – An LFE inside it’s box with packing foam.
Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig7. – My Buttkicker LFE.

If you’re interested in seeing how I mounted my Buttkicker LFE’s to my Obutto Revolution please take a look here:
http://fluidicice.com/Blog/?p=522

The amplifier appears to be of amazing quality, it’s solidly built with ventilation holes at the top and a wide range of audio switches on the front. To list them all there’s an on/off switch on the front left which has a very high quality click feel to it. Two boolean filter toggles for low cutoff and high cutoff which also have a very satisfying flick feel to them and two knobs on the right side for the high frequency cutoff and the volume/shake of the unit. On the back there’s the 240v input (in Australia) which uses typical 3-pin pc power cables which I like as you can find them almost anywhere. You’ll also find the speaker wire output which I assume can fit up to three-four separate wires for three or four LFE units, although I can’t confirm this as I’m only using two, but the manual recommends you use wire nuts instead of doing this. Then there’s a high level and line input ports for the input signal which is affected by the front controls.


Aesthetics:

The LFE’s are quite aesthetically pleasing to look at overall with a glossy black finish and a blue sticker on the top. As mentioned above there’s large metal fins covering the sides which are all rounded and filed to avoid damage to your hands unlike modern heat-sinks which seem almost purposely designed to slice your fingers. The first thoughts that came into my head when opening the packages were that these things were quite bigger and heavier than I thought, and mounting them would be harder. Although I always had the choice of mounting them using the couch set or physically bolting them to my Obutto. I wish they came with an additional mounting bracket for circular and square beams, this would ease the pain of having to drill holes in the couch kit to be able to mount it to other objects. Their size also makes them rather hard to mount, I managed to find two spots on my Obutto where they could be positioned barely touching the floor. After purchasing these I now recommend going down a level to the ButtKicker Simulation kit if you don’t mind a little less vibration, it would also fit much easier, although I’m not quite sure how you would mount those. Just a quick note – you should definitely test your Buttkickers before drilling anything as you may have a defective unit and it’s much easier prior to attaching it to anything. Also when testing them – just a recommendation NOT to sit on them.. that is all.

Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig8. – The inputs and outputs of the amplifier.
Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig9. – The LFE cable connection point.

Here’s the manual for the Buttkicker LFE if you’re interested:
http://www.thebuttkicker.com/downloads/manuals/BKA1000-N%20revised06%20manual-for%20US(80728).pdf


Setup:

The set-up was quite simple to do and only took a few minutes, I did have to research how to connect the wire to the banana plugs however. If you are unfamiliar with them you just unscrew the three sections, thread the wire through and spread it out over the cap slightly then screw it back together again. It took some time to figure out the settings on the amplifier and adjust it for a perfect bass-only shake but once it’s initialized you don’t need to change them again. I would have liked it if Buttkicker included some additional cables in the kit to allow easier setup, such as a coaxial to 3.5mm audio cable to be able to plug it into your pc easier without having to Ebay everything I needed. Currently I’ve got it set up in a much more complicated method where I take my Pc’s optical output and split it 3-ways which goes to my speakers, headset and a digital to analog converter which then goes into the Buttkicker. I found splitting the signal physically was easier then setting up the audio options for multiple outputs in Windows which somehow led to a delayed sound when using the stereo mix on my card – catastrophic for music production and YouTube video’s. I therefore recommend if you’re going to buy a Buttkicker to split the audio externally no matter if you’re a music/YouTube producer or not.

Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig10. – My two LFE units.
Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig11. – The 12 AWG cable and other accessories.

Usage:

Okay now to the bit you’re probably the most anxious to read, my overall thoughts of the Buttkicker as a whole. In general the Buttkicker experience is one you’re simply missing out on while watching movies in particular. The ground-shaking explosions, the car chases, the revs of the engines and the fire-breath of the dragon all seem to become real and kick your butt into this new ambiguous dimension you’re presented with. You can’t imagine the immersion and realism that’s invoked when you’re sitting inches from your screen, feeling everything that’s happening on-screen. And it’s not simply like your friend standing behind you shaking the chair whenever they see an explosion, this is far from it. The vibrations from the Buttkicker pulse extremely fast or slowly giving multiple different ‘feelings’ of effects. For example an explosion has a very random, powerful feel to it while an engine has a soft purr that feels like an actual car! It’s quite amazing what your butt can feel with this unit, and they’ve done an excellent job to re-create these sounds as physical manifestations.

I enjoy the vibrations in games from shooters such as COD, CS:GO and Fallout 3 to others such as League of Legends, Trine and especially racing games where you can feel the engine revving. Sure it’s not as good for games but it’s still an additional layer of immersion you can achieve, and if you’ve got it attached to your chair, why not just flick the switch and add it. I find it quite useful for music production as well where it helps me articulate the bass to make it punchier and more in-time with the beat as it sometimes sounds like it’s off beat slightly. Not to mention that you can basically use music DAW’s as a high-tech custom massage program, just drop in a bassy instrument, press a note and sit back while it makes you feel goooood… (In the non creepy way)

Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig12. – The couch/mounting kit.
Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig13. – The anti-vibration grommets and other accessories.

Quarrels:

A factor I dislike about the Buttkicker is the rattle it makes when the amplifier is turned up to a moderate to high level. Now don’t get me wrong, the actual unit isn’t making the sound, however anything it’s attached to less than firmly rattles such as the foot pedal. Being made of metal and less than ideally attached to the rest of the Obutto frame it makes quite the racket during large explosions, rumbles and any other sub-bass sound. This isn’t very noticeable when wearing headphones either so I often have to take them off just to make sure it’s within an acceptable threshold at night to avoid waking others. The buttkicker under the chair however is much quieter, being firmly attached to the rest of the frame and still providing a nice amount of shake on demand without all the rattle. I’m sure I could fix this a fair amount by tightening and adding bolts, however I would rather let you know now than let you find out after you purchase one.

I’ve heard a few stories about the amplifier failing on the buttkicker units, mostly surrounding the Gamer 2 but it’s still a little concerning when deciding to purchase one or not, however so far, so good. I haven’t ‘pumped’ them to the max ever, which is what I assume some of the other customers did before it failed and I’d rather not test that theory. (I do try some of them, such as putting my apparently waterproof $750 phone into water) I had a look at what the price would be to replace the amp, and came to the conclusion it would be between $700-$1000 for another good quality one that could handle the ohm’s required.

Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig14. – The bottom of the LFE, with various information.
Buttkicker LFE Review
Fig15. – Testing my Buttkicker LFE’s.

That’s all folks, take a gander below for my ratings.

Too Long Didn’t Read:

Buttkicker LFE Scores

Price/Value
Certainly not the cheapest option, but relatively competitively priced considering the vibration it puts out.
Price: 60%
Durability/Quality
A strong, sturdy and sleek build quality which should last a good 5+ years.
Durability: 90%
Size/Weight
These are some large and heavy transducers, but put out a huge punch compared to others. You’ll need a sturdy place to mount these.
Size/Weight: 70%
Features
Some additional features would have been nice on the amp and the unit desperately needs another mounting type for chairs and Obutto’s.
Features: 75%
Aesthetics
A nice looking unit overall with it’s black finish and fairly simple design which would look good in an office.
Aesthetics: 95%
Usefulness/Innovation
A very innovative product and honestly one of the best transducer manufacturers around, the best choice if you want maximum shake.
Usefulness: 100%

Total

Feel what you’ve been missing, is the only way to describe the Buttkicker LFE. It’s now my favourite part of watching movies, with it’s rather large LFE units, fair range of amp settings and few drawbacks. The only trouble you’ll have is setting up the audio input, and getting yourself out of your chair.

Total: 81.6%

Legend

0% – 25% = Terrible Item, The item will break shortly after purchase and will leave you with a paperweight only left for discarding.
26% – 50% = Meh Item, A very poor item that you would use and forget about after a few months of use, or may break quickly and degrade over that time.
51% – 75% = Good Item, This item would satisfy your needs for a long time but isn’t the best quality around and may need replacing or become outdated after a year or so.
76% – 90% = Fantastic Item, An item that you need but may either cost lots or wear out over time and may eventually need replacing after 2 or so years.
91% – 100% = Amazing Item, An extremely durable item that will suit all your needs for the device and more, as well as lasting many many years.

About fluidicice

Queensland, Australia.
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