Contrary to what KCNitro07 suggested, I'm not going to make as elaborate a post on the results as I originally anticipated. Primarily because I don't think the differences between these units are that great. Carp at one point last night said we were splitting hairs trying to decide which one we liked better. There were times I felt the same way.
It breaks down somewhat simply in my opinion, however choosing a clear winner subjectively I did not find as easy. The Synthesis TST209 is probably the most powerful, the Aura is comparatively the weakest/cheapest (but is no slouch), and the ButtKicker is probably my favorite for watching movies, but is not perfect. I would likely have most enjoyed the Clark, but I found myself somewhat annoyed when every single sound on the LFE channel produced some level of vibration on the Clark Synthesis model. Watching a bass filled movie that gets to be a bit annoying. If there was a minimum wattage to initiate the Clark I would probably like it best, because I think it felt the most natural on several scenes, and seemed to have the most power handling despite the published wattage handling numbers showing the Buttkicker should. I never heard the Clark make a bad noise in all of the demoing we did.
I'll talk briefly about setup options first.
We had four transducers to test.
1 ButtKicker Mini LFE mounted to the back of a Berkline recliner powered by a Yamaha P3500S channel (there are two mounted on this chair, but only the back mounted transducer was auditioned)
1 Clark Synthesis TST209 mounted to the bottom of a Berkline recliner powered by a Yamaha P3500S channel
1 Aura Bass Shaker Pro mounted to the bottom of a Berkline recliner powered by a Inuke DSP 3000 channel
1 ButtKicker Mini LFE mounted to the bottom of a Berkline recliner powered by a Inuke DSP 3000 channelThere are about 30 more photos here:
We used a crossover of 80hz, with the LFE sub channel 2 on my Onkyo TX-NR1007 providing the signal. The LFE channel was allowed to use the full 120hz bandwidth as is often most recommended here on avsforum. Before we auditioned the movie clips we played with the distance settings while auditioning music and carp found that 25 feet seemed to be about right when compared to anything else we tried. Each transducer might have needed a slightly different setting, but 25 foot seemed to be more or less compatible with each as we moved seat to seat to test. We first listened to a bunch of music before the movie tests and we all pretty much agreed, that for the most part these transducers are better left off during most types of music. They are fun in a few types of music - like bass heavy dubstep, or something with clear heavy beats that are alright, but most rock, or other types of music was hit or miss on whether it was a plus or minus feeling the music.
Carp, KCNitro07, tatersly, and I rotated through each of the four chairs for each of the many clips we auditioned. I could have done this for a lot longer, but some of the other guys were getting bored and tired and wanted to hit a full length movie. My willingness to continue was based on the fact that I was having trouble detecting a clear victor. I'd like one unit, and then the very next clip like something else. We started the movie auditions with a very minimal level of tactile feedback --- enough to know the units were there, but hopefully/intentionally not be annoying. We upped the dB to +5dB and +10dB on the subwoofer channel at one point (marked on the scorecard) to see how each unit handled extra volume, even though it was not necessary at all to have more tactile feedback. At that point we collectively started liking the Aura more -- presumably because it was providing the least over stimulation at those levels with it's 50 watt limitation. (more on that later)
In the end - All three units are decent, and each has its own unique set of advantages and compromises.
Here are each of our scores and what we each preferred:ButtKicker Mini LFE
I think I've decided to keep the Buttkicker mini LFE's. I like them the most for movies because of that minimum 50 watt rating they are the only transducer doesn't constantly remind you of their presence. I wish they didn't bottom out so soon, because it's going to be a juggling act to keep them in their comfort zone with my personal tolerance to volume swings on the main AVR volume levels. I'll watch a movie at -12 which will be easy to calibrate the Buttkickers to, but then if a particularly fantastic demo scene plays through I'll rewind and go to reference or above for a bit of fun. I think these transducer's won't be happy working within a 12dB difference of max volume. Another failure is that even with a 250 watt limiter on the Inuke DSP 3000 that this Buttkicker model just doesn't like much below 35hz. If you try to allow frequencies below 35 hz, (even at reasonable volumes, relative to the other frequencies) then you can both feel and hear the transducers have reached their limits. (and it's not just one that had this issue -- all four did - right out of the sealed new box) These Buttkicker's work by throwing a piston around and you can tell the piston has reached it's excursion limit because it kind of nails/pings the side of the casing or something and it feels off balance. The sound can be a rather grotesque noise. That's very disappointing because most people buy transducers to supplement the lowest frequencies (that was my intent) --- however, of all the transducers we tried -- to me, these still felt like they were digging the lowest. They really start moving hard with the lower frequencies, where as with the Clark the feeling starts fading away at the lower frequencies. So finding that balance with the DSP and a 24dB per octave HPF filter from say 35 or 40hz might be the answer. We played with the HPF some, but there's more customization to optimize I'm sure.Clark Synthesis TST209
I like the Clark in that it felt the most tactile and seemingly had the most headroom. I never heard it hit its limits (of course we didn't really try), but it is a well mannered unit. I seemed to be the most natural feeling to me. Songs were okay on it when it was turned down very low (perhaps my favorite unit when really turned down), but if you turn it up too high it provides too much tactile feedback through a song. I find I don't usually like the fact that it is on all the time, that you feel most anything in the LFE channel --- music, gun blasts, background sounds etc. It's all there. One important note in the Ironman 2 Fireworks Intro with AC/DC music playing during our movie testing --- I really didn't like this transducer at all for this clip. The whole scene was providing feedback non stop and the other transducers, especially the Buttkicker was only providing feedback during firework booms, and moments of thrust from Ironman's suit. I don't want to feel all the other stuff in the transducer -- it's weird, unnatural, and takes me out of the movie and reminds me that something is violently vibrating my chair superficially, when my volume is only at -20dB from reference.Aura Bass Shaker Pro
The Aura is the cheapest in the group and yet it's not a bad transducer. It does seem to hit its limits slightly faster than the other two - but in no way does it feel 10x's weaker as the Clark advertising will claim, (at least at the volume levels we listened to and the tactile feel levels we were aiming for). We limited the Aura to 50watts using the Inuke DSP 3000 limiter function. With this limiter in place I never heard the Aura bottom out, and you'll notice in the scoring sheet that the Aura became more popular as we turned up the shaker levels. KCNitro07 hypothesized the change in preference to the Aura towards the end of the night probably having something to do with that limiter --- none of the four of us really liked excessive shaking and the limiter kicked in on the Aura while the ButtKicker and Clark just kept rising in tactile feedback. Overall the Aura did a good job.
I wouldn't be upset about owning it, or any of the other models. I, like the other guys, would probably prefer a higher end unit to any of these three - but I'm not willing at this point to pony up the money, so I'm going to tinker with the buttkicker mini LFE's with the DSP and try to get them so they just enhance deep bass, but don't distract!
One thing to note --- we ALL agreed that first and foremost just turning up the subwoofer seemed a more agreeable and enjoyable solution to these transducers --- however - that's not always possible. I live in a small house and my living, room, kitchen, and one of my children's room is immediately above the basement. My wife is becoming increasingly discontented with my subwoofer zeal, so my intent in ordering these units was to get some of that tactile feeling I crave without edging the subwoofer volumes towards reference in my concrete slab floor. For now -- I feel the price I paid for the Buttkicker mini LFE's is worth it. If I decide later that it is too gimmicky and I find that I leave them off - then I'll sure come back and report that too. In short I'm not as impressed as I'd hoped I'd be with any of these units - but I'm more impressed than I thought I might be.
For those on the fence, the Aura Pro Bass Shakers are on sale at parts express for $40 this weekend. Since the Aura is basically in the same league as these other two components then pick up and give a transducer a try. If you like what you feel and want a small upgrade, then perhaps the Clark or the Buttkicker are for you.