Today’s movie soundtracks, especially the action and sci-fi movies that we home theater buffs just can’t get enough of, often have very wide dynamic range with powerful, hard-hitting bass. The physical sensation of that bass, the thump you feel in your gut during a big explosion, is a key part of what makes the experience so compelling. In the quest to reproduce this, many HT owners add more and bigger subwoofers to their equipment chains, much to the consternation of their spouses and neighbors (and to the detriment of their wallets). What many people don’t realize, or may mistakenly dismiss due to misunderstanding of the purpose, is the benefit of adding a tactile transducer (a.k.a. bass shaker) to a seat. This is a relatively simple and inexpensive tweak that can enhance the bass impact of a movie soundtrack without actually adding more bass.
There’s a common misconception that tactile transducers are a gimmick that will jostle your chair around violently like a theme park ride. That’s only the case if you set them up and use them incorrectly. (If you want the theme park experience, get D-Box. But that’s a completely separate topic.) We’ll talk about how much bass shaking is too much in a moment. First, let’s discuss how to connect the bass shaker system to your chair. Honestly, it’s not very complicated.
Here’s what you need:
- Bass shaker
- Subwoofer amp
- RCA coaxial cable
- Coax Y-adapter (one male end, two female)
- Speaker wire
- Some screws and potentially a small plank of wood (more on this shortly)
What I personally use are the Aura Pro Bass Shaker (currently $45.80 at Parts Express) and a Dayton Audio SA100 100W Subwoofer Amplifier (currently $109.86). I’m actually using that amp to run two shakers on separate seats. If you only plan to add one shaker, you can probably get away with a lower wattage amp. Parts Express also has a 70W model for only $54. In either case, even with the cable, wire and other parts, you should still come in under $200 for the whole kit.
To start, plug the coax Y-adaptor into the subwoofer output on your A/V receiver. One end of the Y gets connected to the cable for your powered subwoofer. The other end will be connected to the new coax cable, which will then run to the subwoofer amp. From there, connect the speaker wire from the amp to the shaker. When turned on, the shaker will vibrate whenever there’s bass activity in the subwoofer channel. The deeper and louder the bass, the more it shakes.
Of course, you’ll need to attach the shaker to your chair. That’s what the screws are for. Exactly how you do this will depend on the specifics of your furniture. In some cases, you may be able to attach the shaker right to the seat itself. If not, what worked for me was to screw the shaker to a small particleboard plank, and then screw that to the support beams of my chair.
(You’d be amazed at how difficult it is to take a photo of something inside a chair without pulling the whole thing apart. I had to stick my phone in there and blindly bang out photos until I happened to get one aimed in the right direction. And don’t get me started on how dirty the shaker is. How often do you clean the insides of your furniture, huh?)
As for the subwoofer amp, I’ve simply hidden that on the floor behind my chair. I haven’t mounted it on anything. Your mileage may vary on whether you consider that acceptable.
The amp “Volume” should not be set very high. Your first instinct may be to crank up the setting to get some good shaking action. After all, you’ve just done all this work to attach the thing to your chair. Don’t you deserve the satisfaction of knowing that it’s working really hard? While that might be fun for the first couple of movies, it gets old really quickly.
The bass shakers are meant to supplement a subwoofer, not replace it. Properly implemented, the bass shaker effect should be so subtle that you don’t even consciously notice that it’s working. A bass shaker should enhance the physical sensation of good bass by adding a slight, non-directional vibration that corresponds with low-end activity in a movie soundtrack. If you can tell where the shaking is located, you’ve done it wrong. Turn down the amp volume a little bit at a time, and experiment until you find the right balance.
If it works, you shouldn’t need as much loud bass to get the same sense of satisfaction from high-impact movie soundtracks. I find that this is quite helpful in an apartment. And it wasn’t particularly difficult or expensive to implement.