Feel everything with Buttkicker’s latest Gamer Plus haptic system

featured image: buttkicker gamer plus
Featured image: the Buttkicker Gamer Plus (installed under seat)

I hate to admit this, but despite the length of time the Buttkicker brand has been around in the sim racing community, I have never tried a rig with one installed.

Finally getting the chance to install and use it has been a revelation and, of course, I’m honored to be chosen to preview the new Buttkicker Gamer Plus haptic transducer before the official pre-order release on the 16th March 2022.

The unit will seem very familiar to those of you already using a Buttkicker but, there are many refinements all around. There are now several flavors in the series: the Gamer Plus and the Gamer Pro. The Gamer Pro is the bigger brother to the Plus, with the main differences being a larger transducer (approx 3x larger) and a more powerful amplifier (90w vs 150w for the Pro) for an approx $100 premium on the retail price.

Buttkicker Gamer Plus (boxed)
Today’s test unit has arrived: the Buttkicker Gamer Plus

Whether you opt for the Plus or the Pro, each amplifier brings completely revised electronics, with a digital display, remote control, and the Buttkicker Gamer / or Pro amps can run on the new Hapticonnect platform. The amplifier has a digital volume display that automatically remembers your last settings, and the transducer features a revised clamp and overall design. It looks the part and it’s so easy to install and get started.

250w Buttkicker Gamer Pro transducer
The big brother: the 250w Buttkicker Gamer Pro transducer

Today’s test is with the Gamer Plus, which I’m told will retail at $279.95 USD.

One huge new development in the product line is that the amplifier is now detected via USB and installed as a virtual audio device in Windows. Combined with the new Hapticonnect, you can avoid the complexity of becoming familiar with Simhub and skip straight to a set of working defaults in Hapticonnect.

Buttkicker in the box and ready to install

I’ve been somewhat vocal on the differences between full-motion, haptics and vibration systems in the past. And, for what it’s worth, this new Buttkicker really adds something to your driving. As a track driver myself, I really like the feeling of the engine in a stiff chassis like the Radical SR3. You feel every single RPM vibrate the car as a whole. Every gearshift has a kick to it as the torque curve is reset and the acceleration begins again. kerbs, especially on “old school” circuits like Oulton in the UK have violence to them that would make the nervous amateur reluctant to touch. This is where the Buttkicker excels, it creates the violence in sheer force that you experience as you’re hustling a real racing car around the track.

As I’ve reported back, this device is a no-brainer for any budget to high-end sim that isn’t already fitted with something like a (20x more expensive) D-BOX motion system.

Let’s take a look at installation and setup.

The Gamer Plus ready to install
The Gamer Plus ready to install – very heavy duty cable and connectors

The clamp fitted to the transducer is fiendishly simple to mount. Although it seems to imply that it will only fit tube-based rigs or under-seat crossbars, this isn’t actually the case. I mounted mine comfortably to a 40×40 aluminum profile bar under my seat:

mounted Buttkicker Gamer Plus ready to go
Nice and neat: a mounted Buttkicker Gamer Plus ready to go

No, the photo isn’t upside down! Mounting is as simple as loosening enough thread on the clamp that it will comfortably surround the profile bar, and then you reattach both sides of the clamp and tighten. It takes minutes! You can of course mount it to the rig itself with the three drilled lugs that sit around the perimeter of the transducer, but I didn’t feel that was necessary. After some hard use, I did double-check the clamp tightness – it hadn’t moved.

The cable is braided and thick. A thick cable for bass speakers and transducers is a must, otherwise, the frequency response can be affected. The cable itself has a very nice attachment to it that connects it directly to the amplifier.

Connecting the cables and getting setup ready to go is extremely easy. Just, connect everything together, and install the amplifier to a location where you feel comfortable accessing it for tuning. The instruction manual points out that it’;s unwise to power anything until all of the cables are connected:

The powered amplifier ready to rock

Then, it’s software time. Hapticonnect is new to Buttkicker. I asked about the advantages over the current usual setup option of integrating with Simhub:

The answer I got was that Buttkicker is taking more control of the output signal by tailoring the signals for each effect to leverage the performance and capabilities of the revised ButtKicker. Hapticonnect (pictured below) can do more advanced things like creating multiple harmonics for RPM that take into account the number of cylinders in the engine. Nice!

Hapticonnect was also directly developed with input from iRacing’s team (I hear there are lots of ButtKicker fans there) to refine each effect. Even in the week I’ve been testing the system a fresh update was released – Buttkicker is serious about getting the software right and making sure that we’re getting the best of what the transducers have to offer. I admit Hapticonnect is far simpler than Simhub, too – which will make it far easier for beginners to install and drive:

Hapticonnect, bundled with the Buttkicker Gamer Plus and Pro systems - more software plugins are coming for $2.99 each
Hapticonnect, bundled with the Buttkicker Gamer Plus and Pro systems – more software plugins are coming for $2.99 each

After some tuning, here are the settings I came up with for the new iRacing IR-04:

My Hapticonnect settings for the Formula iRacing IR-04

I was impressed by how quiet the system actually is. I was warned they can be “noisy”. I totally disagree with that – you get a lovely smooth response from your seat as you pull away, and the volume control on the amplifier can be adjusted if you’re say, racing at night and don’t want to cause too much of a fuss! But even at a low level, the feedback is instantaneous and very useful. Particularly for rumble strips, track detail, gearshift and wheelslip events.

If you don’t see your sim software in the list above just yet, I wouldn’t worry. Buttkicker is planning 16-20 supported titles by year-end with roughly monthly releases with new game support along with (free) software updates. While they can’t tell me much more, I’m also aware that they’re looking at a lot of additional products for the second half of the year and 2023. Very exciting.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to try the Buttkicker alongside the Sim3d pedal rumble kit as, having moved to the Simtrecs pedals, I can’t get support for a method to fit the rumble kit to each pedal. But no matter. My guess is that they’d compliment each other with some thoughtful tuning – perhaps two additional transducers at each corner would negate the need for a pedal rumble kit entirely.

Overall, I think having this system is a complete no-brainer – I especially love how well it works with the Formula IR-04 in iRacing. The system handles the gearshift in an extremely lifelike manner, literally like a kick in the seat. Conveniently, the clamp fits anything up to around 40x40mm although a few slide bolts can easily allow you to mount to any aluminum profile. For the price, I think this is a great product and gets my recommendation as an upgrade!

Feel everything with Buttkicker’s latest Gamer Plus haptic system