You don’t usually see too many gimmicks at a Head Fi meet. The products on display tend to stay fairly true to their audiophile roots. One very interesting proposal presented itself at the semi annual Los Angeles area get-together in the form of the Subpac headphone supplement.
The basic idea here is that you plug your audio feed into a small box attached to this pad that looks like one of those massage chair pads that you buy at a truck stop. The pad actually contains two transducers that quietly vibrate in tune with the bass frequencies. Gimmicky sure, but I’m fairly certain there is an expanding, robust market out there for people who want more bass “feeling” in their headphone experience.
One of the very reasons that so many overly bass heavy headphones plague the mainstream consciousness can possibly be traced back to this lack of physicality from the whole listening experience, especially when compared to loudspeaker options. Still, a robust headphone experience is often called upon when time, physical or spousal restraints put undue restrictions on a loudspeaker listening session. The Subpack could indeed be a possible solution for those bass lovers who want a more visceral experience when the rest of family has gone to bed.
Subpac representative Brian Wallace let me know that the product has also been incorporated in a backpack variation and implemented in several silent discos around the US (here is a link for further explanation on what a silent disco is). The pad he was demoing at the show was a more full featured product called the S1 and features two tactile transducers that provide the low end vibrations that correspond with the headphone music.
The fairly small accompanying box is attached to the pad and supplies the necessary inputs and intensity adjustments. The battery supply is located inside the bottom corner of the soft backing and should last around 6 hours per charge according to the company’s website.
So what does the expiernce sound like? It is unusual and interesting to say the least. The most unexpected effect is what it adds to the actual headphone mix. It is more than just a vibration machine. More bass in general and more bass tones can be heard in your ears via bone conduction than when the effect is turned off.
Fearing only a upper bass feedback, I asked Brian if there was a lower limit to the simulated frequency. A new test track with a deeper presence revealed that floor was much lower than originally perceived. If the song called for low low bass, the Subpac could churn it out. If a song had a focus in the mid to upper bass range, thats what you got as well. Again, not only does the Subpac bring a physical feeling, you actually hear the additional bass in your ears through your body. Like I said, interesting.
Is a gimmick? Sure. Could it still be fun to the right crowd? Absolutely.
The Subpack S1 is currently available online and retails for $380 US and claims to reach down to 5Hz.