The SubPac provided for review is the new S2, which looks a bit like a flattened backpack. It features straps that easily attach to your chair, offering a padded surface that rests against your back when you sit, like a firm cushion. A small black box clips onto the straps, providing the interface through which SubPac converts signals to vibrations. Via a minijack cable, you plug the output signal of whatever you're listening to—music on your laptop, phone, iPod or the outputs of your audio interface—before you then connect your headphones to SubPac's output. (You can also send signals to SubPac over Bluetooth.) Output volume is controlled from your own device, and the Intensity rotary dial on the SubPac black box controls the amount of vibration whenever sub-bass frequencies are detected. With this dial, you can modulate between barely-there physical reinforcement of low-end through to amounts that threaten to rearrange the internal organs of your body.
To stress, SubPac is made for use with headphones, and this is the clever part of its design. Many of us use headphones as a trusted part of our monitoring solution, but sub frequencies are particularly hard to manage without studio monitors capable of reproducing very low frequencies. Even if you have such monitors, they're frequently pretty antisocial beasts at certain times of day and night, leaving producers needing to accurately monitor bottom-end with a quandary. SubPac attempts to address that by supporting the low frequencies you can hear with a dial to control how much you feel them. You can then form a relationship designed to support the mixing experience and allow you to make better judgements about how much sub your mixes really need.
A glance at SubPac's website will also tell you that the company has spotted the crossover potential into home entertainment; many of us have invested in large TVs or projectors, Blu-ray technology and high-quality sound systems to watch movies at home and, again, why not enhance the experience of your favourite blockbusters by placing SubPac on your sofa? Equally, if you're a Saturday night clubber who wants to bring the experience home, here's your chance. (Further crossover potential is offered through the wearable M1 design, which you can strap onto your shoulders and theoretically take anywhere.)
SubPac has a long list of endorsees offering supportive quotes, and I have absolutely no doubt that there are producers for whom SubPac offers a worthwhile enhancement to the mixing and production process. I'm less sure than they are. Physically, SubPac quickly tires you out—the initial rush of feeling music physically is exciting, but it quickly becomes too much even at a low level. It's even capable of counterintuitive results, when you first start using it for mixing in particular. For instance, after a few minutes of listening, I found myself reaching to reduce bass to lessen SubPac's effect before remembering that I didn't need to—I could simply reach for the Intensity dial on the control panel instead, but not before my instinct was to turn down bass level first. Precision mixing requires constant vigilance, and just as surface vibrations below monitors can confuse the sonic picture, so physical vibrations while wearing headphones can have just as distracting an effect.
That said, we are now in an era where wearable technology is increasingly commonplace; alongside that, investment in branded headphone technology is all the rage. Put those things together and, as a lifestyle accessory, SubPac might just capture the moment and turn the heads of those seeking an even bigger buzz from the consumer end of the listening experience. This is really where I see SubPac succeeding. Going further, this concept could crossover to become implemented in cinemas to significantly enhance the experience of blockbuster movies or form a novel backbone to dedicated, niche silent disco-style club nights. (They've played a role in 4DSOUND's recent Techno Is Space events, for example.)
If you make dance music and feel that a bodily connection between you and your mixes would enhance your capacity to do your job, SubPac is a concept you should try, as there's nothing else out there quite like it. Otherwise, seeking out the more conservative—but tried and trusted— ways to keep bass frequencies under control should prove enough for the rest of us music makers.
Ease of use: 4.1