Picture this sexy cyborg future: Bored of headphones and hungry for bass, people roam the city with speakers strapped to their bodies. You don't listen to music any more; you feel it. Well, thanks to a partnership between musicians and engineers, this is all already possible.
What Is It?
Quite literally, the SubPac M1 is a subwoofer that you wear like a backpack. StudioFeed, the company behind the device, also makes the SubPac S1 (below) which is a subwoofer that you strap to the back of your chair -- but let's be honest, the backpack is more fun. It's roughly the size of a classic Camelback filled with water and weighs about the same. But the sound is huge.
It's tough to picture this as an everyday, walking-around-town kind of device -- more on this in a second -- but the SubPac is built for sound junkies with $US350 to burn. It's a hell of a tool for DJs and producers who need to experience the full range of music (read: deep, deep bass) they're working with. It's also a lot of fun for gamers and movie-watchers who really want to take take things to the next level.
Why Does It Matter?
In the age of earbuds, it's easy to forget what big sound really sounds like. As it says on the website, the SubPac adds "a physical dimension to the music experience" -- extra emphasis on "experience." After just a few minutes of using the SubPac, you'll realise very viscerally that you've never heard music like this before. After all, you don't really hear music with the SubPac. You feel it.
Again, this is a huge boon for music professionals. While the low frequency sounds shake your bones, the SubPac is (relatively) quiet to the outside world. That means you can stay up late laying down mixes or cutting up tracks without having to worry about noise complaints from your neighbours. It's also a wonder for the hearing impaired who might not otherwise enjoy the experience of certain types of music.
The SubPac M1 is a slim little thing for the most part. The neoprene exterior is soft to the touch, and it's designed to be form-fitting. There are two straps to hold it on your back and a third that awkwardly goes across your body to hold up the (annoying) controller. It's slim enough that you could wear a light jacket over the thing and nobody would know you were ever wearing it. The straps do leave something to be desired, though. They're nothing more than inch-and-a-half-wide strips of elastic with a simple buckle to adjust the tightness.
The main design flaw, however, is the controller. This bulky thing is roughly the size of two packs of cigarettes side-by-side and basically as sexy as a Walkman knock-off. The bulk of the component make pretty much everything you do with the SubPac awkward because it weighs down one side of the device and gets in the way when you move your arm.
It's also frustratingly low tech with two LED lights to indicate when it's on and when it's charging. There's one knob to adjust the strength of the bass that should never be turned up past halfway but no way of knowing how much juice you have left. This is also where you plug in your headphones and the cable to connect to your music player, and, yes, the wires will get tangled.
It's unclear why the designers didn't just build the controls into the pack or at least a sleeker module. An obvious explanation is that you wear the SubPac on your back where it would be hard to access the volume and power switch. But not that hard.
Sadly, it does not have any pockets for your trinkets.
This thing bumps. No really. It BUMPS. I strapped it on at Gizmodo HQ expecting a light buzzy sensation and almost immediately fell out of my chair. The bass surged through my body so intensely that my teeth rattled. It also made my belly jiggle a little, a nice reminder to go to the gym more often.
I quickly learned that not all bass is created equal, however. If you listen to a lot of, say, Bon Iver, you'll probably forget you're even wearing the SubPac even when it's cranked up. However, if you're a Diplo fan, you might lose control of your bladder. It's that strong. This thing is built for hip hop and, well, pretty much anything that you might hear in a club. The new Daft Punk album
sounds feels amazing.
Like I mentioned before, the SubPac is pretty quiet to those not wearing it. At least, it's supposed to be. When it's cranked up, the pack does make a bit of a buzzing sound, loud enough to turn a couple of heads in our quiet office. Then again, you don't wait to crank it up too loud because you might break a rib. You also probably don't want to flaunt this thing much in public. It looks pretty bad when you're adjusting dials on a vest-like apparatus with lights and wires everywhere while on the train. Like, really bad.
If you like bass, you'll love the SubPac. And I like bass. I'm also hearing impaired, so I really felt like I was experiencing something that'd I'd been missing out on for years. Even for you normals out there, however, the SubPac offers a totally unique experience. The best comparison to the SubPac bump would probably be a car with a sound system worth many thousands of dollars (and, hopefully, underbody lights.) That's not quite right, though, because your bones shake more with the SubPac.
Put simply, the SubPac M1 is a lot of fun. It's a novelty, of course, but it's hard not to smile the first time those sweet low frequency waves pulse through your body. The SubPac S1 is especially fun since it just sits in the back of your chair and doesn't require all the annoying straps and stuff. Of course, it's not mobile, but it's arguably more powerful than the SubPac M1. After using either of the SubPac models for a little while, music will sound a little empty without it.
OK, let's get real. This thing is ridiculous. A subwoofer you wear like a backpack? What's not ridiculous about that concept? At $US350, it's an expensive toy that you'll probably get tired of -- unless you're a DJ or a producer and you'll really use the thing like a tool. Plus, it can be pretty annoying to wear if you're going to be moving around at all. That battery pack is huge pain in the arse, and the nest of wires coming out of it is no fun to get tangled up in. You do sort of look like a dork wearing it too.
Oh and despite how fun it is at first, you'll eventually realise that teeth-chattering bass tracks are really distracting. I tried writing with this thing on and ended up staring at the screen waiting for the next thump and -- I'll admit it -- drooling a little. And so can you!
Should You Buy It?
Now that you know the perks and perils of the SubPac, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions. Do you really need to walk around with your own private nightclub strapped to your back? Or are you better off getting a really good set of headphones and saving that body bumping experience for Saturday night like a normal person?
Personally, I recommend the latter. The SubPac requires just enough work to make it inconvenient, and the price point is just high enough to make it not worth it. Once again, it's a neat utility for music professionals, and I can see some serious gamers having a good time with this thing. But if you're really looking to invest in some sound equipment, do yourself a favour, and buy a pair of these headphones. You'll look much cooler walking down the street. Plus: nobody will think you're a terrorist.