Product Review - ButtKicker 2 Low Frequency Shaker - June, 2002
Power Recommended: Up to 1,500 Watts (No Less than About 400 Watts)
MFR: 5 Hz - 200 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms
Size: 5 1/2" Oval
Weight: 11 Pounds
Iíve written about transducers in the past, and Iíve become a disciple evangelizing the world to embrace the infrasonic world. If you do not have one, you simply do not have a complete home theater . . . end of story.
ďMan, this guy sounds pretty cocky to make a statement like that,Ē you may be thinking.
Well, itís easy for me to write it, because itís true. They make the difference between just being a passive spectator of a movie and becoming completely immersed in a movie. If you are watching a film, and something explodes, it is hella-cool if you really feel the explosion in addition to seeing it. Letís take for granted that "Star Wars Episode 1" was, to varying degrees, a disappointment. However, the movie becomes much more entertaining when you, for example, feel the pod race, instead of simply watching it. Iíve gone to excellent movie theaters (e.g., Paul Allenís lovingly restored Cinerama in Seattle) and visited friendís homes with some really high quality equipment, but I found the experience lacking without a tactile transducer kicking my can.
This is the second version of the ButtKicker and has some improvements over the first version. John E. Johnson reviewed the first version back in 2000 after that yearís CES. The first version went a bit lower in frequency, but below any point used by most sound tracks. The new version improves transient response because they have slightly reduced the mass of the piston (yep . . .thatís right folks, a piston) that rocks your world. This allowed them to improve the efficiency of the new unit, and manufacturing improvements have resulted in a lower price than the previous unit. For about $850 (the cost of the ButtKicker and powerful amp) you can have one of these systems installed, and in my book thatís a bargain (granted my chapter on home theater is pretty thick). I just love the relentless progression of technology.
In a previous review of the Clark Synthesis system, I wrote that it has a more full-ranged, nuanced approach to tactile transduction. That device has a purpose and appropriate use, but for the majority of home theater buffs (you can replace the fís with tís in that word) out there, the ButtKicker is the more appropriate choice. If you watch films with low-frequency sounds, the effect you get from the ButtKicker is stronger than the most powerful Clark device. Personally my preference has shifted to the ButtKicker because of the sheer strength of its effect. The device is aptly named and has the capacity to readjust your internal organs (and frankly itís about time your spleen enjoyed a movie).
The Details . . .
I have a Velodyne FSR-1800 subwoofer, and it is a great sub, but relatively speaking, an elephant compared to the diminutive ButtKicker. I want to make it clear that these are NOT interchangeable components. They are both necessary to accurately recreate the movie soundtrack. I am just illustrating that this is a case where size truly doesnít matter. As you can see in the photo at the top, the ButtKicker 2 fits in your hand, making it easy to mount underneath a platform or attach to the internal structure of your sofa. When attached to an extremely powerful amp, the effect is awesome.
Compared to the Clark Synthesis, the ButtKicker takes some serious juice to produce the desired effect. Like JJ wrote in his review, ďThe ButtKicker uses a magnetic steel piston that is suspended in a chamber surrounded by an electromagnet. Since the piston weighs 3 pounds (voice coil systems weigh much less), it takes a very powerful amplifier to drive the unit.Ē I tried the ButtKicker with their minimum suggested power of 400 watts, and frankly it was disappointing. Itís kind of like when Microsoft Windows XP says that it will run with 64 MB RAM. You can do it if all you want to do is turn the machine on, not run applications or anything. The ButtKicker needs 1,000 watts to drive it with authority. They can be the dirtiest, distorted 1000 watts you can find because frankly your butt is not really that sensitive to distortion. The most economical pairing is the Carvin DCM1000 (approx $370) which is thoughtfully referred to from the ButtKicker site.
The only conceivable downside of this unit (as with all bass shakers) is its installation. Subwoofers are big boxes that you tote into your theater room, hook up to an amp, and enjoy (okay I am oversimplifying its location a bit, but you get the idea). The ButtKicker must be thoughtfully attached to the appropriate surface to achieve the desired effect. Their website provides a well produced installation guide. Take a look for yourself at this quality document at http://www.theButtKicker.com/downloads/BK2_UserGuide.pdf.
Sofa, Platform or Floor Joist
In my case, the unit was mounted to an 8íx5íx1.5í platform underneath my sofa. The original purpose of the platform was simply to raise the level of the seating area so more viewers could sit in front without obscuring the line of sight of the sofa-sitters. The unintended benefit of the platform is that it serves as a perfect mounting point for the ButtKicker. This arrangement vibrates your entire body, not just your ďbuttĒ to use the saucy language of the Guitammer boys.
If the unit is attached to a sofa, the experience is strong, but since your feet are still squarely on a non-vibrating surface (the floor), the effect isnít as compelling. Motion is something your body processes at an almost subconscious level. When I initially tried this sofa-mounted configuration, I was impressed by the strength of the response. When I bit the bullet, raised my 150 pound platform, and installed the ButtKicker underneath; the experience changed substantially. Granted the effect is a bit more diluted since it has a bit more mass to vibrate, but the motions were more surprising and immersive. When your whole body moves, it kicks the effect up a notch.
I havenít tried installing the device in between floor joists, but I believe that the platform is the optimal installation method for the ButtKicker. The platform allows you to scope the shaking to just the sitting area, and not to any other objects nearby, like sensitive home theater equipment, or in my case, glassware in the kitchen at the opposite end of my house.
Kinetic Noise Isolators
In the last review of the ButtKicker, the good doctor and editor of Secrets had his ButtKicker attached to plywood sitting flat on a rug on a concrete floor. In retrospect, it requires a substantial amount of amplification to vibrate your seating area AND the concrete foundation of your house (although it does explain the increased incidence of tremblers in northern California). Proper installation requires the area to be shaken to be isolated from more massive and inflexible surfaces.
The ButtKicker installation guide recommends the use of Kinetics noise isolators and gives a technique for calculating the model required for your installation. In my case, I cut pieces from an anti-fatigue mat that cashiers stand on in grocery stores and placed them underneath my platform. I purchased this matt for ~$20 from Home Depot. I have not compared this solution to the Kinetics isolators, but I have been pleased with the results.
The Playing Field
I have direct experience with three different transducer systems: Clarke Synthesis (reviewed earlier in Secrets), the ButtKicker, and the Odyssee (another awesome, over the top, device I saw at CES a few years ago.
The Odyssee is a system comprised of a controller that controls four actuators under the corners of your sofa or platform that move according to a recorded motion profile for each movie. It supports dynamic creation of motion from unfamiliar movies, but this isnít nearly as compelling as the individually authored motion tracks. This is the most incredible experience I have ever had watching a movie. For example, in "Apollo 13", there is a section where the decision to stir the oxygen tanks results in a wire tracking shot to the tank (resulting in the explosion that drives the rest of the story). The motion track the team had authored for this section was like a virtual reality thrill ride, twisting and turning you at all the right places. Compelling? Yes. Expensive? Sweet sassy molassy . . . yes: $16,000 for the system (not including a subscription to the service that produces the motion profiles for movies and Dramamine to keep you from soiling your theater floor). If you want to read about this (and have a Bill Gates level of disposable income), take a look at: http://www.d-box.com/html_en.html.
In the real world, the ButtKicker offers a strong and compelling sensation of low frequencies at a reasonable price.
The Bottom Line
If you watch primarily Woody Allen films or romantic comedies and eschew John Woo or Jerry Bruckheimer films, you really donít need this clever technology. However, if you do like a good car chase, explosion or rocket launch, the ButtKicker will open up a new world for you. Itís simple: if you are in the market for a new style of speaker that will make your friends drool with envy, this is the speaker for you.
Repeat this phrase to yourself, ďMust buy ButtKicker . . . must buy ButtKicker.Ē When your wife is asleep, you can use this as a subliminal suggestion to facilitate the appropriation of necessary capital. You will not regret this purchase.
- Evan Upchurch -
© Copyright 2002 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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