Last updated: December 1st, 2022
Featured image: Fanatec CSL DD
High-end direct drive wheels intended for sim racing were once priced upwards of £1000 for a complete kit, but times have definitely changed, particularly in the last year. So now we’re a few years on from the very first wheel intended for sim racing, direct drive wheels are getting cheaper, with Fanatec’s CSL DD being, price-wise, extremely accessible.
So, what’s on the market, and what’s the best direct drive wheel for your level of skill, budget, and experience?
Today, we’re taking a deep dive into the subject of all-things direct drive sim racing wheels.
What direct drive wheel is best for sim racers?
Before I get started, I’d like to tackle the default discussion among sim racers. If you ask for a recommendation in the majority of the forums, you will end up with a bit of a competition amongst owners to declare their wheel the best.
The truth is that with the force feedback properly set up, there is rarely any significant difference between wheels that would fundamentally affect your enjoyment or performance in the simulator. That’s not to say those different manufacturers have their own characteristics, but they’re such subtle differences that few of even the most professional and particular drivers would actually be bothered by them.
If you want to skip straight to the wheels, use the links directly below. Otherwise, read on!
What are the best-rated direct drive wheels for sim racing?
- Fanatec CSL DD
- Fanatec GT DD Pro (Playstation)
- Fanatec DD2
- Simucube 2: Sport / Pro / Ultimate
- Simagic Alpha Mini
- Simagic Alpha
- Simagic Alpha-U
- VRS DirectForce Pro Wheel Base
- Logitech G Pro Wheel and Pro Pedals
- SimXperience AccuForce Pro V2
- MOZA Racing R16 Direct Drive Wheelbase
Much of the development in the wheel technology is actually in the drivers and onboard DSP algorithms – the technology that interprets the output from the simulation package into force feedback, and the inputs coming from the driver’s actions.
This is a fluid thing, software and drivers are updated all the time.
So, there’s no such thing as a “best” DD wheel for sim racing. You could waste a lot of time trying to decide in fact. You could be singularly unimpressed by a wheel because it wasn’t set up by the owner correctly. You could waste more time lusting after a “better” wheel which would be time better spent on your own technique and tuning setup.
I’ve compared (extensively) the Simplicity SW20 vs the Fanatec DD2 vs the Simucube 2 Pro (the DD2 and SC2 I own). I can honestly say that the strengths and weaknesses in each product are more driven by external factors like the hub, wheel compatibility, driver software, and tuning menu intuitiveness.
Factors that are important to the typical sim racer
Critically, I want my DD wheel to work! If you’ve spent enough time in the sim, you’ll know that from time to time, things can go wrong.
If you’re quite technically inclined (perhaps you build your own OSW wheels or you’re just interested in the software and technology), then occasional problems aren’t a big deal. But if something stops working just before qualifying, it can be frustrating.
Mainstream equipment providers like Fanatec and Simucube are well-developed and ultra-reliable.
That’s because they’re not, particularly niche and offer good support. They’ve sold enough volume to iron out the problems. By comparison, we’ve found it difficult in the past to get support for lesser-known / smaller manufacturers, although some smaller manufacturers have better customer service out of the whole lot.
Hub compatibility might be an issue, too. As I own several Fanatec wheels, they’re only compatible with Fanatec wheelbases. My Simucube Formula Sport wheel is wireless, which is only supported by the Simucube 2. In particular, the stiffness of the Fanatec hubs bothers me when I compare them to the Simucube SQR hub. So much so that I found a modification for the Fanatec hub, called the Z-Ring, that fixes this problem.
What is a direct drive wheel?
A direct drive wheel is a sim racing wheel where the wheel itself is directly mounted onto the motor via a quick-release hub.
This is unlike belt and gear-driven systems where invariably there is a mechanism between you and the motor.
Belt and gear-driven systems generally have lower quality parts and don’t have the ability to deliver the same forces (some up to 30nm) that direct-drive systems do. In fact, the lowest budget systems barely have any force feedback at all.
Direct drive is simpler, mechanically, but the wheels have far more complexity in their electronics. They tend to be heavier, and built from what often feels like industrial-grade metalwork. They’re more expensive but offer advantages over low-budget systems.
Why is direct drive better?
Direct Drive wheel motors have no lash…. that momentary, if subtle relaxing and tensioning on a belt within most conventional belt-driven sim steering systems. The absence of lash in a direct drive wheel results in the ability to crank the steering weight up without losing any of the feedback quality. With sufficient time we can fine-tune the steering to achieve any level of expected feel.
To understand why direct-drive wheels are potentially better for sim racing, it’s a good idea to look at what makes a sim racing wheelbase, good.
All of the wheel movement is as intended by the simulation software. There’s less lag in the system and no mechanical play. The speed that a direct drive wheel can deliver feedback means you can respond more quickly to slides, so you’ll feel like you can handle slides and sudden events quickly and competently. Once you’re used to the forces involved with a DD sim wheel, you’ll likely feel more confident, make fewer mistakes and eventually find a sweet spot where you’re really enjoying the driving.
All wheels go beyond 900° of rotation which means that your steering input matches the simulated wheel rotation precisely. This has been a feature for a long time now.
Force Feedback strength and Force Feedback effects
Direct drive wheels can deliver higher peak and nominal (holding) torque levels. The Fanatec DD2, for example, has a holding torque of 20 Newton-meters (Nm) and a peak torque of 25 Nm. That peak figure is a lot – almost 5 times higher than the belt-driven Fanatec CSL Elite.
The availability of torque does open the opportunity to give more concise force feedback effects (see: what is FFB?) – as a driver, I like to feel when the car is losing its available grip, and I like that sensation to manifest itself through an opposing force, especially in the mid-corner. Direct drive wheels do this exceptionally well, whereas something like a Logitech G29 would barely let you know you were sliding by comparison.
Detail at high frequencies
I absolutely love feeling the track detail as I’m driving. Kerbs and rumble strips are there to tell you you’re on the track limit with your car. To feel the vibration through the wheel is great. By their nature, the motor and motor control electronics can operate the motor at very high frequencies. High enough, in fact, that the Simucube 2 Pro can beep at you simply by sending a high frequency through the motor.
This availability means saw effects like vibrations and track detail are reproduced in exquisite detail.
Rigidity and build quality
High torque loads and heat mean plastics are more or less out of the question. A proper direct-drive sim wheel will have at least 4 M6 threads for mounting into an aluminum cockpit. Everything has to be strong and tight to deal with 25nm peak torque.
Most DD wheels feel heavy, industrial by design, and as a result, feel like they’ll stand the rigours of time.
Defining Torque Characteristics
Torque is the most important aspect when it comes to direct drive systems. Manufacturers tend to talk about two types of torque values:
- Peak torque
- Holding or constant torque
“Peak torque” refers to the maximum output of the wheel motor in short bursts. You might experience peak torque when you drive over a high curb, during a high-speed direction change, or in a crash.
“Holding torque” refers to the strength of the motor in resisting rotation.
In sim racing the driver is regularly resisting the car’s self-aligning torque through a corner, causing the motor to heat up. High holding torque performance is crucial to a consistent driving experience.
“Torque ripple” is a very subtle vibration you would feel in the steering wheel during constant rotation
What’s inside a Direct Drive Wheelbase?
Most of us would never dream of unscrewing our wheelbase cases to find out what’s inside. Fortunately, YouTubers like Barry Rowlands at Sim Racing garage do regularly! Here he is taking a Fanatec DD2 apart.
In any DD wheelbase, fundamentally, you have a motor, a power supply, a motherboard, a digital motor drive and a USB converter:
Types of motor
You’ll encounter a few different types, arrangements, and manufacturers of the motor in a DD wheelbase. Here’s what you’ll commonly come across.
Conventional in-runner motors have the stator coils on the inside of the case, and the magnets are attached to a rotor in the center. The shaft rotates with the magnets. This is a typical motor arrangement found in a DD wheel.
Outrunner motors have their magnets attached to an outer casing that rotates around the stator.
The motor shaft when spun would also spin the outer motor case. The permanent magnets on the outrunner are placed on the rotor and the rotor spins on the outside case. On the inside of the motor are the stator windings which do not rotate, they are fixed in position.
Outrunners can produce more torque but have a lower RPM per volt. The Fanatec DD1 and DD2s use outrunner motors as their preferred component choice as they feel the outrunner can deliver more torque at low RPMs.
Stepper motors are DC motors that move in discrete steps. They have multiple coils that are organized in groups called “phases”. By energizing each phase in sequence, the motor will rotate, one step at a time. The advantages of step motors are low cost, high reliability, high torque at low speeds and simple, rugged construction that operates in almost any environment. The main disadvantages of using a stepper motor are the resonance effect often exhibited at low speeds and decreasing torque with increasing speed. (source)
A servo motor is not a motor type per se, but a motor that has an encoder built into its casing to measure position, torque and rotation. This is critical for fine control of the output rotation and sensing the driver’s inputs (resisting forces, steering inputs and so on) through the digital motor drive.
MiGE is a popular servo manufacturer in the sim racing community, and their products tend to form the basis of most OSW wheel kits. This particular item comes with an optional Fanatec hub adapter meaning that with a USB conversion board like this you could make a start on building your own direct-drive sim wheel quite cheaply.
So, if you have the right motor to hand, what would you need to build a direct drive wheel for your sim?
Digital Motor Drives
A digital motor drive is designed for driving servo motors and stepper motors. This product from IONI allows controlling motors with position control, velocity control, and force/torque control which makes it an ideal component for a self-build project.
Motherboard with a built-in Force Feedback controller
Simucube Once offered a motherboard (to seat the digital motor drive board) with a combined force feedback controller for the Simucube 1:
The Simucube board provided a slot for the digital motor drive, connectors for motor power, I/O, and USB adapter. With this device, you’ve got almost everything you need, except a power supply and a USB converter called a SimpleMotion V2. While this hardware is now sadly obsolete, it is how direct drive wheels first became more available to consumers and therefore it’s an important bit of history.
So, now we know how direct drive wheels work, let’s take a look at what’s available on the market today…
Fanatec CSL DD
Fanatec has rocked the sim racing industry with its new CSL DD wheelbase. As a sub $500 / 500EUR device, it plays directly in the usual stomping grounds of Logitech and Thrustmaster. As the CSL DD was launched, so was the Clubsport and CSL Elite range of belt drive wheelbases made obsolete. Fanatec has staked its future on direct drive-only equipment:
Fanatec is cleverly making direct-drive wheels more affordable, and, by getting to market earlier than its competition, there’s a good chance this little direct-drive unit will become the entry-level unit. If I were building a budget sim rig, I’d choose this wheelbase and a SimLab GT1 Evo sim racing rig making a strong starting point for barely more than $1000!
The idea of a $1000 wheelbase and cockpit would have been pure fantasy just a year ago. Yet, here we are. But, is the CSL DD any good? I had my doubts, but when I tried it I found it very smooth and surprisingly detailed for an 8Nm peak torque wheelbase. This is a brilliant starter wheelbase – and comes recommended by me.
Fanatec GT DD Pro (Playstation)
Just in time for the commercially busiest time of the year, our friends at Fanatec have released a complete direct drive system, CSL pedals included, for Playstation 4 and Playstation 5. It’s called the GT DD Pro:
This launch will be a game-changer for our console racing friends because it’s the first direct-drive wheel on the market that is less than £1500 (The Fanatec DD1 is also PS compatible but carries a higher price tag). It comes with a button layout on the steering wheel that will feel very familiar to Playstation owners – and it has been specifically developed with the developers of Gran Turismo, so it’s going to feel great out of the box with that software.
Fanatec DD1 and DD2
I’m a huge fan of my Fanatec DD2. It’s extremely easy to install and set up making it ideal for the first-time DD wheel user. In fact, I upgraded from a CSL Elite to the DD2 and have always felt that this was a good choice.
The DD1 is pretty much exactly the same device but de-tuned to deliver a peak torque of 20nm.
Fanatec’s outrunner style motor is unique in sim racing and allows for a really convincing torque delivery throughout the torque range.
I think their drivers, in particular, are very strong too. There’s a sense of realism I get from my DD2 which I find hard (not impossible!) to replicate in other wheels, especially in the MX5 and Ferrari GT3.
If you’re new to sim racing and want simplicity and a high-quality experience overall, this is a great wheel.
Simucube 2: Sport / Pro / Ultimate
I’m also a very happy owner of a Simucube 2 Pro. I like it for different reasons than the DD2, though.
Simucube’s Direct Drive brushless torque motor is super smooth, and you can absolutely tell that the build quality and componentry in this wheel is of an exceptionally high standard.
The SQR hub leaves absolutely no flex on the table, and there are just a bunch of amazing features including their latest ARM CPU and motor control electronics that make this thing so fast and responsive, it’s a surprise at first. I use my Simucube much more than the DD2 now. It seems to outperform the DD2 on the details and smoothness of the FFB. Personally, it’s the hub that does it for me. I’ve always found the Fanatec hub lacking in stiffness – there’s always a tiny bit of play between the wheel and the hub. The SQR quick-release system is literally rock solid, and I love it for that.
For more information on the Simucube 2 family, I’ve written a guide to this favourite direct drive unit including installation and setup tips.
Simagic Alpha Mini
Hot on the heels of the CSL DD release is another circa £600/$650 direct drive wheelbase: the Simagic Alpha Mini. The Alpha mini is the “baby” of the Simagic family, who, throughout 2022 has been extremely busy improving and developing their ecosystem. They now offer wheels, steering wheels, handbrakes and sequential shifters. This is the Alpha Mini:
The Alpha Mini offers a CSL DD beating peak torque of 10Nm and offers wireless functionality through a 2.4 GHz WLAN connection. As with most direct drive wheelbases, the Alpha Mini relies on a servo motor. The case dimensions are pretty tiny at 110mm x 167mm!
Simagic claim to have developed their already excellent physics models to improve the authenticity of their Force Feedback including an AI (artificial intelligence) feature for force feedback optimisation! This might be the go-to choice for those interested in drift racing too as Simagic provide “Exclusive settings for drift and rally mode”.
Technically speaking, for the money I think the Alpha Mini is one of the best budget direct drive wheels you can buy for sim racing. And, there are plenty of bundles available now for you to choose a wheel you like and still get a slight discount.
Simagic Alpha DD Wheelbase
At the slightly higher price range of £865.00 – £920.00 (approx $1000) Simagic’s Alpha is quite a favourite and definitely a good competitor to the Simucube 2 Sport with a 15Nm peak torque output.
This DD unit is obviously larger than the Mini and offers an additional 5Nm of torque. Again, it’s configurable via Alpha Manager, so firmware updates and tuning settings shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
There are some advanced electronics inside this Aluminium cased direct drive unit: a “3 CPU” tri-core acceleration smart base, Simagic’s own 3-phase servo motor, and a rapid refresh rate of 1000 Hz (or, 1kHz) for buttons and 40,000 Hz (40kHz) for force feedback. A high-performing unit, priced reasonably and a very nice thing to own indeed!
Simagic Alpha-U Wheelbase
This is Simagic’s flagship direct drive wheel, the Simagic Alpha-U. This is a feature-rich competitor to the best direct drive wheels money can buy:
Technically, the Alpha-U is very impressive. 1 23nM peak torque, <1ms response time and an encoder resolution of 262144ppr. I don’t think you’ll miss much while you’re driving this thing!
The Alpha-U’s direct drive servo motor is a custom 5-pole item with virtually zero latency. It features a CNC-machined aluminum housing, which is polished using sandblasting and anodized black.
The Force Feedback electronics themselves are also very impressive, with Simagic’s own CPU architecture, 262144 ppr encoder resolution, 40Khz response rate and a “3rd gen” filter with optimized algorithms. It supports wireless wheels and can be optimised in SimPro Manager.
Just to show you how good Simagic stuff looks, here’s one with the FX Pro wheel attached:
VRS DirectForce Pro Wheel Base
Retailing at around €899.00 the new VRS DirectForce Pro Wheel Base consists of the VRS controller, a 20Nm Small MiGE motor, 3m motor cables, a high-quality USB cable and an AC power cord.
The VRS DirectForce Pro is a high-end, competitively-priced 20Nm sim racing DD wheelbase and has so far received strong reviews.
The unit is available to order here and, I suspect this will be one of the most popular direct-drive MiGE-based wheels on the market over time. Since its original launch (now some 2 years ago) VRS has been working on improving the hardware and software thoroughly. There are also hints of including a steering wheel they plan to release sometime in early 2023.
Logitech G Pro Wheel and Pro Pedals
The successor to the G923, Logitech has finally gone direct drive. And they’ve gone big! Obviously, it’s a new design compared to the g923, for example, the casing, size, and button placement – it’s a completely revised beast.
There’s an aluminium brushed faceplate, and the wheel arrangement will feel familiar to Logitech owners, but this has certainly moved around with a much higher emphasis on ergonomics. On the rear of the wheel, you have paddle shifters that use neodymium magnets and the unit has dual analogue double dual clutch paddles which are configurable for dual clutch mode or you could use one as a handbrake if you’re playing a rally game, or if you accessibility needs are different for whatever reason.
The direct drive wheel unit itself is capable of an output of 11Nm of torque, which is kind of somewhere in the middle between a basic level CSL DD and a Simucube 2 Pro.
The size of the thing is pretty large, although it’s a base mounting DD wheelbase and therefore very simple to install and compatible with most sim rigs. You can also mount it on your desk with the desk mounts provided.
Connections-wise, it’s all USB now which makes things a lot simpler. The pedal cable connects to the base via a USB connection which I expect would work directly into the PC too.
Provided with the kit are the new Logitech G Pro pedals. Unlike their predecessors, they’re adjustable -just loosen a few hex bolts and you simply slide the pedals around to reposition them. There are different elastomers included if you want to adjust for pedal stiffness. Logitech’s True Force has been improved with this unit too; users report feeling far more detail on rumble strips and nice track detail.
For the money, circa £1000 this may all seem pricey, but the setup does come with a wheel and pedals. So cost wise when you’re saving hundreds on a wheel and hundreds on pedals, this one makes a lot of sense.
can stomach the price at around £3,000, this is probably among the best DD wheels money can buy.
SimXperience AccuForce Pro V2
The AccuForce Pro V2 from SimXperience is a comprehensive direct-drive sim racing steering system that combines a powerful wheelbase with a highly functional hub and button box to give you complete control of your car.
It boasts sophisticated technology to deliver an ultra-smooth driving experience, and its clever user-friendly design and intuitive software package allow you to refine force feedback settings without making things overly complicated. The system is also plug-and-play and ready to run straight out of the box.
The wireless wheel button box is a standout feature of the package, which contains ten machined aluminium buttons, adjustable aluminium shifters, two rotaries, and two toggle switches, all surrounded by a carbon fibre faceplate. The button box has up to 400 hours of battery life and offers multiple charging options.
The wheel rim hub has an automotive-grade quick-release system which provides a rock-solid connection between the wheel and the base, so you won’t get distracted by any movements or flexing when driving.
Additionally, the AccuForce Pro V2 includes SimVibe. This professional feedback software collects vibratory/tactile physics data from your simulator, such as engine RPM, road texture, gear changes, bumps, collisions, etc., and relays these elements as vibrations to increase your sense of immersion. It’s very similar to Buttkicker’s latest software; but if you own Buttkickers and still use a standard audio amplifier and Simhub with them, SimVibe might be worth investigating as an alternative.
MOZA Racing R16 Direct Drive Wheelbase
The R16 Racing is an aluminium alloy direct drive wheelbase from MOZA that delivers an impressive 16Nm of torque, making it a formidable piece of kit. Overall, it has a rock-solid build quality, and all of the materials used combine to give the wheelbase a sturdy yet well-refined finish.
The sleek design of the R16 is inspired by modern supercars, and the outer shell features a two-tone paint finish with stylish MOZA branding on the sides and front of the base. In addition, an advanced cooling system provides temperature control throughout the unit, ensuring all the components do not overheat, even after prolonged use.
One of the best aspects of the R16 is its zero-latency wireless technology which allows you to connect a wheel rim to the base without having any annoying or troublesome cables getting in the way. It also speeds things up when you want to change to an alternative rim for different motorsport disciplines.
Another state-of-the-art feature which makes the MOZA R16 stand out from its competitors is its ability to support mobile cloud-based commands. This lets you make on-the-fly adjustments to things like your force feedback or pedal settings through the MOZA mobile app, making it simpler than ever to fine-tune your wheelbase.