After hearing a lot of different opinions about bass transducers for home theatre, I finally decided to experiment them for myself by order a set of Buttkicker Mini LFEs.
The starter kit includes the BKA-130-C amplifier, which provides 45W into 4 ohms or 90W into 2 ohms and two Mini LFE transducers, rated for up to 250W of power input.
What are bass transducers
If like me, you didn’t know much about home theatre tactile bass transducers, they actually take the sound out of your AV Receiver, ideally from the LFE or .1 channel, and transform sound into vibration. To set this up, you install the transducers on your seats by fixing them directly to the seat structure and connect them with speaker wire to the provided amplifier. By using a RCA Y adapter or by using different LFE outputs from your receiver, you connect the subwoofer output to the amplifier.
There’s different size of transducers available, some of them are bigger and can shake a whole platform, in that case, as they name indicate, the Mini LFE are smaller units that should be installed to single seats. The advantage of that is that the amplifier comes with a wired (sadly!) remote that let you turn it on or off and choose the effect level it will output. As we’re connecting two transducers per amplifier, it means each pair of seats can be controlled. You could of course order separate amplifiers so that each seat can actually be controlled.
The provided BKA-130-C includes filtering for both low frequency bass (<25Hz) and for higher frequency, which you can configure between 40 to 150Hz. This allow you to decide which spectrum to send to the transducer, helping control when your seats will react to sound.
As stated above, the unit comes with a wired remote control. The advantage of adjusting each seats is important, and I’ll come back to this later in this review, but the downside is that forces you to have the amplifier near your seat. The company recommends putting the amplifier under your seat, but that wouldn’t work in my case based on how my seats are built. I would strongly prefer having the amplifiers in my AV equipment rack, but this would mean no more at seat remote control.
Note that in my room, I have six seats and I have decided to go with three kits and thus 3 amplifiers. I love the fact of having control on each pair of seats, but there is also a different option, which is using a larger subwoofer amplifier and wiring all seats together. ButtKicker usually sales such an amplifier, but it’s under technical refresh right now and their new unit will be released later this year. I’m looking forward to see the type of control it will offer.
The impact on movies
The important question of course is the effect the transducers add to movie watching. The first thing I have to say is that I usually watch my movies around 15db below reference level. This is important because it has to me the effect of having less tactile bass in my room, even if I have two large SVS PB2000s subwoofers. This is where I think the Buttkickers really shine. They add a physical elements to watching movies even if you’re not at reference level, thus recreating the punch in the chest effect you feel at the theatre.
When anticipating the effect, I thought the transducers would create gaming controller style vibration in loud scenes. They actually do that, but the impressive part is they do so much more. The most impressive part is how much they can physically represent the sound being produced. One example of that is with the german weapons in Captain America: The First Avengers, when they actually feel like feeling the weapon energy waves. The same goes for punches in a movie like Goon, where you actually start to feel the impact.
And more importantly, they don’t get in the way of the rest of the movies. They really play at the right time, which is critical to the quality of the effect.
A lot of adjustments
On the negative side, many times, I felt the Mini LFEs were over powered by the amplifier, which is a surprise as it is only pushing 90W at 2 ohms. A couple of times per movies, I could hear the transducers bottoming out and making a noise that you do not want in your theatre, going against the whole idea of having a great room. Usually, just diminishing the effect level with the amplifier wired remote is enough, but it then becomes complicated to find the right balance between enough effects and no unwanted noise.
Even after feeling like everything was setup correctly, changing the actual volume of the movie on the receiver has the same impact, so you need to adjust again the seats accordingly. This not a huge deal, but it means managing this at least once every movie.
Even with that slight drawback, I don’t imagine myself going back to watching movies without the Buttkickers and my wife and kids have the same opinion. I just wish The Guitammer Company, which is behind the product, will offer new options for amplification and control. Ideally, an amplifier with 4 or 6 distinct output channels with IR control would really entice me to update the setup.