Subpac M2 hands on: does this audio accessory really take VR audio to the next level?

VR isn’t just about what you see before you,  it’s multi-dimensional experience that can simulate many senses beyond just sight and sound. For most people, it’s the sight and sounds that are probably the highest on the priority list, but there’s still the matter of feeling virtual reality. Yes, the controllers used in helping us interact in the VR space are crucial, as well as the tracking and performance of the headset, but there’s still more needed to solidify the experience. And that’s exactly what the Subpac M2 is aiming to deliver! It’s probably the last piece in completing that true, immersive experience because the Subpac is sound you can feel – not just hear!

So what is it exactly? It’s this backpack thing you strap on,  but it’s basically a wearable audio technology that converts the sounds you hear into high fidelity vibrations you can actually feel. Our best explanation of the Subpac is you’re wearing what’s essentially a subwoofer, which focuses on audio primarily in the lower ranges. So what you feel are enhanced sounds waves that pulsate and travel throughout your body. Don’t call them vibrations because it’s more to it than just that, similar to how Apple’s newer iPhones don’t necessarily vibrate when a notification pops up, but rather, it produces this taptic-like feedback.

And the best part? It doesn’t make a lot of disruptions, since the pulsations it produces are isolated to your body. That means you can use the Subpac M2 without disturbing someone in the room next to you, a nice touch if you want to continue using VR without having to worry about others around you. Sure, some of the pulsations can be a bit substantial, but trust us, it’s still relatively innocuous – so major disruptions are a rare occurrence.

When you use it in virtual reality, the experience is elevated by the pulsations that accompany the sounds you hear. For example, the rattle of a machine gun as you’re firing it off – you’ll feel that kind of feedback. Whereas without the Subpac, you do indeed hear the sounds, but the Subpac makes it more believable due to how it complements the action. And it adds a convincing level of feedback, like how punches impact enemies in a game, the feeling of being close to an explosion, or the rumble of a train crossing a track nearby.

Of course, it means having another piece of gear on you to enhance the VR experience. It’s battery powered, which is nice, but there’s a box that dangles off to one of it sides that has all the controls and inputs you’ll need for the Subpac to operate. You’ll attach the source audio into one of the ports, and then insert the jack to the headphones you’ll be using. There’s definitely some wire management needed with it, so just know that. While it works nicely with the Playstation VR and HTC Vive, since the headphone jacks are dangling off the headset, you’ll have a tougher time trying to have it work with the Oculus Rift. That’s due to its integrated headphones, which means if you want to use the Subpac M2 with it, you’re going to have to snake a long cable from your PC’s audio out port – it’s not ideal, but that’s probably the only way.

But honestly, it’s really nice how it complements the rest of the VR experience. Adjusting the power is done through the knob on the box, so if you really want to feel the hum from your high powered rail gun, you’ll want it on full blast. And they’re not simply vibrations, just because the effects reverberate through us. To really get the full effect, you’ll want to use the other strap that goes over your torso, since the tighter connection eliminates any gap that might reduce its effectiveness.

The Subpac M2 is currently going for around $299. That’s not cheap obviously, given all the other investments you’ll need to consider just getting started with VR. Well, to be fair, it goes beyond just VR, since it has other applications – like listening to music. It might be a tough sell for those on a tight budget already, but if you crave the utmost immersion, this might be worth getting.

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