The biggest problem with big subs is that they disturb everyone around you. If you live alone in a house, a subwoofer makes sense (at least during the day). But if you have others living with you or if you live in apartment, bass can be a problem. Only being able to use your expensive home theater system during the middle of the day on days off sucks!
The Subpac is an interesting product that aims to solve that issue. While a subwoofer uses a speaker cone to fire bass everywhere, the SubPac uses a “vibro-tactile membrane” to transfer sound energy into your body. This gives you rib-shaking bass that doesn’t annoy everyone. It’s very quiet and simply sounds like buzzing if someone is in the same room as you. But to you, it’s like you’re standing near a sub.
The aim of the Subpac is to help music producers, music lovers, gamers, and pretty much anyone that can use some extra bass with their headphones.
This is the Subpac M2, made for on-the-go bass. The Subpac M2 sells for $349 (or cheaper on Amazon) and comes with the unit itself, a 3.5mm cable, all the necessary straps, a power adapter, and four international plugs. It straps to your back and looks a bit like futuristic armor. Also offered is the S2 that straps to your chair, as well as a regular-looking backpack that can hold the S2 on the go.
First, let’s talk about the “sound.” If you have it positioned right, it hits hard. It feels like a physical punch to the back. Even with bassy headphones like the V-MODA Crossfade M-100, the bass in the headphones disappears thanks to the powerful punch of the Subpac. It’s also very accurate and reproduces bass quite well. It’s hard to describe, but it can make sharp, buzzy, hollow, and every kind of bass that a quality subwoofer can. It doesn’t just punch you in the back.
Electronic music and pop with sharp bass punches feel great and the impact is powerful. Songs like “Me and Your Mama” by Childish Gambino have a crazy bassline, very weird and complex, but the Subpac handles it admirably. If you ever get to listen to a Subpac, turn the intensity knob down a bit and listen to that song. It’ll make you feel some crazy stuff.
The Subpac brings out minute details you may not have heard before even with quality headphones and an amplifier. Even with no headphones plugged in, you can feel interesting details in the bassline. It really is a cool new way to experience music. I often ended up just listening to music for hours when I had things to do!
It might be even better for gaming, though. Feeling every gunshot and explosion hit you is an amazing feeling, especially when playing competitive FPS games. I’ve played through much of Mass Effect: Andromeda with a Subpac, along with a bit of old school Call of Duty 4, and it has definitely improved the experience.
The Subpac M2 paired with E-MU Purplehearts
To use the Subpac, you plug your headphones into the headphone port on the amp and your audio source into the line in. It also features Bluetooth so you can hook up your device wirelessly. The amp hangs off to the side so you can reach the intensity knob. The halfway point on the knob is the full audio source intensity, and anything beyond that is boosted. I rarely find I have to go beyond halfway, though, and some bass intense music even feels better turned down a bit.
The amplifier is a weak point here. Both through Bluetooth and a 3.5mm cable, there is a persistent hissing. For music this isn’t a big deal (so it’ll be fine for mobile use), but for video games and movies, it doesn’t sound good at all. An easy way to get around this is to use a 3.5mm splitter, which allows the headphones to use the source signal rather than an amp pass through. It’s unfortunate that this solution is necessary, but it does fix the issue. For gaming, this is critical.
As for travel, the Subpac is fairly compact and lightweight. It’s made to accompany you on commutes if you want an extra bass kick on public transportation. Whether or not people want to wear this futuristic armor in public is up to them, but I’m sure some people could easily pull it off. However, it doesn’t quite look like everyday attire and will draw attention. It’s also a bit too thick to hide under a jacket and will look odd.
Positioning is key, so you’ll have to play with the way it sits on your back. You have to have it nice and tight. The removable (but very important) lower strap across your abdomen brings it together, holding it tightly to your lower back. The better the positioning is, the better the bass feels. This results in a device that’s not exactly comfortable enough to forget about. The straps are tight, but it’s shaped and padded pretty well to be reasonably comfortable even for hours of wear. The abdomen strap is stretchy, making it unobtrusive.
The battery life is rated at up to 8 hours, and depending on use, you’ll get that. Mixed usage (playing Mass Effect: Andromeda and listening to bass-heavy music) got me close to this estimate, if not a little over.
The Subpac M2 has a few flaws, and the amp noise floor flaw is a big one. It really hurts a primary function of the device. Thankfully, there is an easy workaround that’s not very inconvenient to use at home.
Despite its flaws, the Subpac is an amazing concept and an amazing device. It brings a new level of immersion and feeling to headphones. And even when you’re not using headphones, strapping it on during an Xbox One play session is great. It’s an odd sensation at first, but the more you use it, the more you love it. It’s not exactly like a subwoofer; it’s definitely different despite doing something similar. But it ends up being an experience you won’t want to end.