BlueSmoke - Review : Evergreen RumbleFX Force Feedback Headphones
|Date||: May 25th, 2001|
|Author||: Jin-Wei Tioh|
Now, Evergreen has begun to branch out with their RumbleFX line of consumer electronics products. Today, we'll take a close look at their first product sporting the RumbleFX name, the RumbleFX force feedback headphones. Here's a brief technical overview of the headphones :
|Evergreen RumbleFX Force Feedback Headphones Specifications|
|Frequency Response||5Hz - 28KHz|
|Sensitivity (SPL at 1KHz)||102dB|
|Nominal Impedance||32 Ohm|
(1/8" to 1/4" Converter Included)
Force Feedback Mechanism
Dual Diaphragm Construction
Driver Unit : 1.57" Diam. Dome
Diameter: 2.24" Diam. Actuator
Cord Length : Approx. 4m (13 ft)
Power Requirements : 3V
Battery Life : Approx. 30 hours
The RumbleFX headphones come in an attractively designed box, with the RumbleFX feedback controller, a headphone conversion jack (from 1/8" to 1/4"), 2 AAA batteries, a brief instruction guide and of course the usual legal brouhaha. Looks like a product that is all ready to hit the retail channels.
The feedback controller unit is a small plastic unit which contains the amplification circuitry coupled with a DSP. It takes 2 AAA batteries (included), and basically has a volume dial, a 3 position slider switch and a shirt pocket clip. The slider switch controls the level of feedback, alternating between "OFF", "I" AND "II". With "OFF" selected, you can still use the headphones (without force feedback) but the controller doesn't drain any power. Force feedback is active with the other settings, with "I" being the low and "II" being the high setting. This is one of the rare times that I've seen something sold with batteries included instead of batteries not included. According to Evergreen, each pair should last up to 30 hours. I've used the RumbleFX on and off for quite a few days, varying between the "I" and "II" settings, and did not managed to deplete the batteries yet. Lastly, the shirt pocket clip is handy, if the clothing that you're wearing has a pocket, that is. Otherwise, you'll simply have to let the feedback controller rest in your lap.
Compatibility is a non-issue. Virtually any equipment with some sort of audio output jack can be used with the RumbleFX. At most, you would need the appropriate converter, eg. the Creative Labs AWE64 Gold which comes with a RCA to 1/8" converter. As mentioned earlier, the RumbleFX package itself includes an excellent 1/8" to 1/4" converter with gold-plated jacks, which is the audio output jack sported by consumer audio equipment, such as the Nakamichi RE-3 used in this review.
Sound quality is where things really start to get funky. Without force feedback enabled, the sound quality is very good. Overall clarity and sound imaging are good, with the large ear cups providing a warm, "full" feel to the sound. However, there are still some faults. There is a very slight bass deficiency in the midrange, coupled with an occasional minor lack of clarity in some songs. All is forgiven when the force feedback mode is activated. Sound takes on a new dimension (as silly as that might sound). You are immersed and can "feel" gun shots, explosions, kicks, punches, the whole works. While it did not improve my frag count, the force feedback did add significantly to the overall enjoyment of games, lots more "fun factor". This is coupled with the universal advantage that surround technologies such as EAX and A3D frequently sound better on headphones, even though you have only 2 "speakers". I ran through an entire list of games, and Clive Barker's Undying, Giants, Heavy Metal FAKK 2, Descent 3, Evolva, Revenant as well as Nox really came alive. Even oldies such as Starcraft, Command & Conquer, The Pandora Directive and Full Throttle were a different experience on the RumbleFX. Of special mention is American McGee's Alice. Trust me, you want to hear Alice's music through the RumbleFX.
Whoever said you can't have too much of a good thing is a little off the mark. In games with lots of heavy bass action (eg. Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament), the constant vibrations were a little too much with explosions all over the place. To get the unit to a more pleasant level, I had to revert to the "I" force feedback setting, sometimes in addition to adjusting the sound card's equalizer to trim the bass down. Additionally, the bass level in some games simply did not make sense. In Unreal Tournament, the Enforcer sounds heavier than the minigun and explosions caused by the rocket launcher. Frankly, the games, rather than the RumbleFX were at fault here, but it does make you wonder what the game designers were thinking. The games that were tested (on a SBLive! and FrontX CPX equipped system) :
After a week of listening to music with the RumbleFX, I was hooked to the effect provided. The vibrations generated by the built-in transducers make most of the songs sound unique, and if I might venture, more enjoyable as well. As mentioned earlier, the midrange in some songs did not sound so clear and could at times be a little flat. But overall, it was a positive experience.
The last test was movie playback. Since movies are like games (ie. they have music as well as sound effects), I expected the RumbleFX to perform similarly. A Phillips DVD725 deck was used in conjunction with the following movies :
The RumbleFX did not disappoint, but it still did suffer from the same deficiencies as when it was tested with games. As examples, in Jurassic Park and Terminator 2, the recorded bass in some scenes (eg. the T-rex chase in Jurassic Park) did manage to overwhelm the RumbleFX, rendering the sound produced to be distorted and "splattered". The vibrations produced by the transducers would have easily measured 10 on the Richter scale, in short intolerable. Keep in mind that the RumbleFX, is well, head rumbling rather than chess thumping. If you want the latter effect, you would still need a proper subwoofer.
The bottom line? I was a lot more impressed with the RumbleFX than I thought I would be. The last time I got this excited about an audio product was when I first auditioned the Altec Lansing ACS-48 (which immediately lightened my wallet). The RumbleFX force feedback headphones offer very good pure audio quality (ie. with force feedback disabled), albeit with slight deficiencies in the midrange. While probably not rivaling the audio quality of better headsets such as the Sennheiser line, you have to look at the price delta; US$59.99 list for the RumbleFX, US$160 for the Sennheiser HD570. Several online retailers carry the RumbleFX for only around US$40!
If volume is an issue (with the headphones' 32 ohm impedance), you can opt for a headphone amplifier such as the Boostaroo or one that Evergreen will soon be releasing. Throw in the creature comforts, great aesthetics and the well implemented force feedback, and you have the portable (and private) equivalent of at least an ACS-45.1 that'll surely impress friends, colleagues, significant others (not too sure about this) and most importantly, yourself. This is definitely a great gaming accessory, and it performs well for music and movies to boot. You don't need to be Luke Skywalker to "feel the force".
The RumbleFX force feedback headphones get our excellence award for being an outstanding product. Congratulations Evergreen!
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