When I was growing up my dad was obsessed with niche computer peripherals. We had a barcode scanner called the CueCat that would bring us to the website for any product you scanned, I don't know why. We had keyboards with weird layouts meant for playing Counter-Strike 1.6 that always just confused me. We had all manner of wearables like gloves and vests that were meant to heighten immersion by vibrating whenever you got shot. None of them really worked, but if it was a super specific gamer add-on from the early 2000s you can be sure we had it.
When I discovered the ButtKicker, an amplifier you attach to your desk chair, I knew I had to try it. Part of me was driven by nostalgia for a simpler time in my life, but I also couldn't help but sigh at the fact that goofy consumer "immersion" tech was still alive and well in 2019. As it turns out though, that goofy immersion tech has grown up A LOT in 20 years. I got it set up last week, launched Destiny 2, and I've been giggling like a school girl ever since. The ButtKicker does, in fact, kick butt.
The Buttkicker Puts The Biggest Smile On My Face
The ButtKicker attaches to any center post chair and delivers 90Watts of power straight into your body. It connects to your sound card and works like a subwoofer, turning bass into intense, vibrating energy. It can take some tinkering to get right, and in-game music can really mess with the effect, but once you get everything where you like it the ButtKicker adds a lot to your game.
Immersion is a word that gets over-used in marketing, and I think people have been let down by supposed "immersive experiences" a few too many times over the years. Nothing short of a full blown Ready Player One experience is going to make anyone truly feel like they're "in the game" at this point (and I can only imagine how today's gamers would complain about the littlest thing being "immersion breaking" even in the world of RP1). So, instead I'm going to avoid the term altogether and instead define the ButtKicker experience as Engagement Enhancing, which I think is pretty apt.
The engagement enhancing quality of the ButtKicker isn't simply in its power (which is pretty incredible) but in the nuances found within the feedback. You'll find the same thing with a controller in games that have really detailed vibration programming: it's not that your chair shakes when you play, rather, it's how your chair shakes in response to everything that happens in your game that makes the ButtKicker so much fun. The rapid-fire from a submachine gun, the nearby explosion of a grenade, a plane flying over head, and a melee hit all provide very different sensations that each makes the experience that much more engaging and exciting.
There's a boss fight at the end of the newest Destiny 2 raid called the Sanctified Mind. Throughout the fight I'm required to make a death-defying charge through swarms of attacking enemies, right up to the boss to escape through a portal underneath him. Every thrust from my jump pack, every bullet that hits me, and every stomp from the boss can be felt individually and all at once, building in intensity as I race right into the eye of the storm, everything getting louder, crazier, scarier, and shaking wildly until that moment I reach the portal and pass through it. For just a moment, everything is quiet, everything is still. I take a breath and get right back into the action. The ButtKicker makes thrilling sequences infinitely more exciting.
Setup Is A little Messy, But Not Bad
The ButtKicker isn't terribly difficult to setup, but it does add some clutter to your gaming area. You can use it with either a PC or console as long as you have a center post chair. The device mounts onto your chair with a simple bracket and then a cable runs from the device to amp. You'll then have to select the correct (included) audio cable for your setup, be that stereo or surround, and connect the amp to your sound card. There's also a controller you can use to adjust intensity and turn the ButtKicker on and off, but unfortunately, it isn't wireless. I have 2 new cables running under my desk now, with the controller Velcro'd underneath.
If you have a good speaker system, the ButtKicker works right out the box with no software needed. If you want to use USB or wireless headphones however, you're going to need to use a piece of software called Voicemeeter. Voicemeeter allows you to essentially send your sound to 2 different output devices, your speakers and your headphones. All you need to do is set Voicemeeter as your output device, then in the software set your speakers and headphones as your hardware out, and you're good to go... hopefully.
Voicemeeter does A LOT of stuff, so if something isn't working, you're going to have a hard time trouble-shooting with the manual unless you're pretty keen on audio engineering. I have some inconsistency problems with my wireless headphones and I've managed to find solutions through trial and error, but it can sometimes take awhile and be pretty frustrating. Voicemeeter isn't a ButtKicker product so they can't really help you with that either. I'm still using the ButtKicker with headphones and it's working, but it's definitely much simpler if you stick to speakers.
The Definition Of A Cool Gaming Peripheral
As fun as the ButtKicker is, there's one major consideration: my partner hates when I use it. She says it sounds like power tools and she can hear it down the hall in the bedroom and even downstairs in the living room under the office. With headphones on I can't hear it at all even when I'm sitting on it, but to be considerate of others, you might want to use it when you're home alone or somewhere secluded in the house.
Once the ButtKicker is installed, you never need to mess with it again. It has a quick release cable so you can move your chair away when you need to, and it can be turned on and off with the remote whenever you want to use it. I love using it and I love that there's no hassle of setting it up every time. Things like that ultimately end up back in the box in a closet somewhere, but with the ButtKicker, I can use it with the press of a button. I don't see myself ever taking it off my chair. It may not be "immersive", but I find the ButtKicker makes my games more fun to play. That's pretty much the best endorsement I could make.
A ButtKicker Gamer2 was provided to TheGamer for this review. You can check out the ButtKicker on their website.