Posted on , by Rob

Simvibe and the buttkicker


No this isn't some weird martial arts story, it is a review of two of the most important technologies a serious sim racer wants on their rig.  One is a piece of software retailing for $80, the other is a range of hardware items.

First I'll talk about the hardware option, the Buttkicker.  A Buttkicker is a device that acts off the sound output from your game (it works off any sound output but we're using it for games) to produce movement. It's a tactile feedback mechanism.  You attach it to your sim rig or chair and you’re then able to feel engine throttle, gear shifts, crashes, road texture, ripple strips and more.  

Plugged into your soundcards subwoofer channel and bolted to your rig, you can adjust the supplied amplifier to feel every ripple strip and road variation as a kick in your butt.  Its a perfectly descriptively named product.  The Gamer 2 option seems to be the most popular (and cheapest) amongst sim racers.  It's designed to bolt directly onto the upright of a chair or any other vertical bar of correct size and is powered by a 90W amp that is more than up to the task.

A more expensive option is the Buttkicker Simulation Kit, which uses the same 90W amp but screws into the base of a seat or other flat surface.

Both Buttkicker products come with a Y-adapter that allows you to simultaneously run the Buttkicker and your subwoofer.

I initially only purchased the Buttkicker Gamer 2 and mounted it to my GTUltimate 2 cockpit, which has a vertical mounting bar made specifically for this device.  The feeling was pretty darn impressive.  Fire it up and dial up the intensity a bit and I could feel the engine as my seat vibrated.  Yeah it’s a cool product, but there's something out there that can turn the Buttkicker from a cool product to a must have for a cockpit.  That thing is the SimVibe software.

SimVibe works by analysing telemetry data from your sim and transforming that into audio data the Buttkicker can understand.  Using SimVibe requires a second soundcard and this allows many Buttkickers to be supported.  My sole Buttkicker is hooked up to the front L/R channel on my Xonar DG 5.1 sound card.  If I want (more like when I can afford) I can add more Buttkickers to the other channels, for a total of 8!  Ideally I want one on each corner of the rig, one under my seat, one on the gear shift, one under the pedals and one mid-way on my rig.  

For now I'd be happy with one under my seat and one under my pedals.  Trying to brake while the pedals are shaking around would be very cool, especially with big jumps over bumps in the braking zone. I think it would add a lot to the realism.

The difference between telemetry and audio driven tactile feedback is definitely noticeable. The main point being you can adjust the effect of each "channel", where "channel" (there's probably a better word it than channel) is a particular in-car effect such as engine rumbling, road texture, road bumps, ripple strips, gear shifts, each corner of the car, brake lock ups, and more. I went through and isolated each, setting to the desired level on each channel before combining the various channels I wanted active. Definitely something you can't do with just the audio single from game sound.

It's a damn nice effect, driving with the seat shaking and just ever so slightly clunking when you change gear. The road texture thing is cool too and not felt much at all when using the Buttkicker without Simvibe.

What does this mean for lap times?  Well, I do believe it makes for a faster driver.  Normally the only sense you have for whether your car is approaching track limit is visual.  You eventually learn where the limits are by going off multiple times and realising where you need to line your vision up to get your car as close to the edge as possible.  You have a bit of warning audio warning if you're going over a ripple strip. Buttkicker is much more effective.  The vibrations in your seat change and as you mount the ripple strip the whole seat shakes rather violently.  You know you're at the limit.  Very cool. You can also tell when your car is running too low and bottoming out in key places in the lap. You can feel it. It's not something that is easily heard in game, but it's felt.  

SimVibe supports a bunch of games, such as Codemasters, rFactor (1 and 2), games built on rFactor, some others, plus of course iRacing. iRacing gives the most "channels" by far, offering a massive degree of customisation. I run gear shifts, road texture, road hard bumps, ripple strips, and crashes only. I think to run more you need to need to have multiple Buttkickers, ideally one on each corner of the rig to support the 4 wheels it supports. 

It's motion without having to pay for motion - the poor man’s motion they say. Truly is. If you've got a proper sim rig (and not just an office chair) you seriously really need to get a Buttkicker and SimVibe.

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