In 2014, we did a roundup of wearable bass augmentation devices – which included the then-new SubPac M1. Late last year, the company upgraded the line to the SubPac M2, a more advanced take on the mobile bass backpack. Read on for a quick hands-on review from guest contributor Stu G.
What Are SubPacs?
The SubPacs are “tactile bass device(s) that transfers low-end frequencies into your body using bone conduction technology” or in simpler terms, a backpack that turns your body into a subwoofer. Get a sense of both units in my overview video below:
The unit transmits from 5hz – 130hz, with a fully adjustable bass intensity knob on the breakout box, which can either increase of decrease the amount of bass vibrations being transmitted into your body.
Set up for use is quick and easy. Either pairing the unit’s Bluetooth to a device, or attaching an 1/8 inch line in, then connecting your headphones to the headphone port on the breakout box and you’re all set.
The S2 is designed to be strapped to a chair – like in a studio, with more permanent placing.
The M2 is designed to be strapped to you – and worn wherever you go.
The Design + Revisions Versus M1:
SubPac M2 (left) vs SubPac M1 (right)
Compared to the earlier M1 version, the M2 looks like it is straight out of a Sci-Fi movie. While the old unit was a soft fabric design, the newer M2 has a firm, molded design with a rubberized exterior coating. On the rear interior, the M2 is slightly raised to ensure a firm press against the user’s back, an essential part of the proper bass experience.
The new shoulder straps are much wider than the M1, made of a cushioned nylon weave – overall, much more comfortable
M2 weighs in at about 5 pounds – well supported by the new shoulder straps
The M2 also includes an adjustable chest strap that sides up and down, and a much-needed waist strap (more on that later)
The battery also seems upgraded, offering a solid 4 – 5 hours of operation with a moderate amount of bass (intensity knob about 60% or less; the higher the intensity knob, the shorter the battery life)
M2’s aesthetic improvements add smooth and sexy lines, as well as significant contouring on the rear of pack. It’s clear that Studiofeed got an industrial designer onboard for the second pass at the unit. For some it might look a little cheesy, but overall the refined unit is a stylish, ‘futuristic’ design.
How Does The M2 Fit On Your Back?
Out of the box, the M2 needs to have all the straps adjusted to provide a snug and comfortable fit. The snug part of the fit is key for the unit’s ability to transfer the vibrations to your body correctly. While finding the right fit, there were a few things that stood out about the new design.
The height adjustment of the chest strap was difficult, to the point of having to take the unit off and give it some solid force to lower the height level of the chest strap. Although, when the chest strap is finally in place, it seems unlikely to budge.
The waist strap is a thin, elastic band similar to the older straps of the M1. This strap is the most uncomfortable part of the M2 but one of the most essential for fit. The newer modeled design of the M2 can feel a bit stiff; with the shoulder and chest strap snugly fit it pulls the top of the M2 against the upper back, leaving a gap between the bottom of the M2 and the mid-back. This is where the waist strap is used to counter and pull the lower half of the M2 into the mid-back. Since the M2 is rather rigid from the molded design, the waist strap required a significant amount of tension to pull in the lower half and if adjusted too tight, could be a bit irritating around the stomach.
After a few minutes of fine tuning the fit and finding the waist strap sweet spot, I found the M2 comfortable for extended wearing periods, as the new, padded shoulder straps work perfectly.
The Function: How Does A SubPac Work For Mixing?
The M2 finds itself at home in studios, silent discos, live performances, as well as Virtual Reality integration and assisting the hearing impaired feel frequencies. After a few weeks in the studio and on the road with some bass heavy, tech-house productions, the M2’s performance was very impressive:
Both the bass response and the mix translation were very accurate. The M2 gives music production and mixing a unique new physical side – you’re no longer just hearing the low-end, you’re actually feeling it through your body.
For those in studios without a subwoofer, or apartment studios where a subwoofer may result in an eviction notice, the M2 is a MUST.
After getting your ideal fit, play several of your favorite tracks and turn the bass intensity knob to the point where a suitable and comfortable amount of bass is passing through your body (around 70% on the intensity was perfect for myself). The M2 is capable of very high amounts of bass vibrations, capable of shaking the most demanding bass heads – it’s all personal preference.
Once dialed in, try an A/B test between a current track in production and a reference track and feel just how hard and intense the bass is hitting your body, then simply match it. This is a much-needed tool for anyone that finds that their mixes are bass heavy due to smaller monitors or headphone mixing. After a few days working in the studio with the M2, I felt incomplete when producing in headphones without it.
SubPac Fun Fact: When listening to music with the M2, try taking off your headphones and plugging your ears – you’ll still hear all the bass! This is due to the bass frequencies being picked up through your inner ear bone, not the outer ear drum, via bone conduction. It’s a very interesting sensation, as you essentially are listening to your body acting as a subwoofer enclosure.
SubPac Production Tip: On tracks that have a bass line sidechain compressed to a kick drum, you can slow the tempo of the track down and feel “hear” the gaps between the kick’s end and the compressors release. This allows you to fine tune the timing of the attack and release of the sidechain, ensuring that the kick and bass are “glued” together as tight as possible.
Is A SubPac Worth The Money?
From my time spent working with the M2 in the studio, on the road, and, with the recent drop in price, I would highly recommend the M2 to any producer that wants a microscope for their bass. It’s a new and innovative way of producing in headphones (or with monitors) while being able to experience the entire frequency spectrum; in a sense you feel like you’re in a massive club with a perfectly tuned low-end.
That being said, no product is perfect. The new design is definitely sexy but a bit rigid. If it had a slight amount of flex, it might adapt a bit quicker to the curve of the users’ back. But, this is not a deal breaker in any way, after a bit of fine tuning all the straps, the M2 rests firmly and comfortably on the back of the user for extended periods.
Is it worth it? I’d give it a “definitely”. The M2 is light and durable enough to travel with for many uses. This portability will be worth the extra money for many – even though the S2 has a battery as well, the added benefit of being able to wear the M2 like a backpack for just $50 more is a win. Think about how often you might want to stand up in your studio but keep listening to a track – if you have the S2, you’re confined to your seat if you want the low-end vibrations.
Especially for producers without a high-end subwoofer set up or who are on the road, a M2 is a secret weapon for dialing in your low-end frequencies.
This summer, Desperados knows where you’ll be, and if you have been out in The Netherlands over the past few years you know that you’ll surely see them too. That’s right, we’re talking festival season, which simply wouldn’t be the same without the Desperados brand.
Knowing that, Desperados wants to give you a chance to win up to 1000 festival tickets simply buy buying a six pack. Simply find the code under one of the middle bottles, go to Desperados.nl, select a handful of your favorite events, spin the wheel and hopefully you’ve won.
Participating festivals run the spectrum of dance music and include A Day at the Park, Amsterdam Open Air, Awakenings Festival, Decibel, Dominator Festival, Down the Rabbit Hole, Electronic Family Festival, Indian Summer Festival, Lowlands, Mysteryland, Pitch, Smeerboel, and Soenda Festival.
Pink Mammoth resident, Zach Walker, adds his tribal vibe to the WCP.
A musician, an engineer, a yogi, an event curator, a spiritual warrior, a lover – all these titles begin to describe that which is Zach, but Zach has never been one to limit himself by the meaning of words and titles. He has always lead the way carving his own path, blazing new trails, and creatively working outside of that which is too easily accepted. His journey into music really begun when he first attended the Burning Man festival at age sixteen. It was a profound initial experience in the world of electronic music and soon after he found himself immersed in the underground house music scene and culture of San Francisco.
Being in San Francisco so often, it’s not a big surprise that Zach found his true calling amongst the legendary Burning Man day party and brand, Pink Mammoth. His musical tastes resonated with the deep, funky, and soulful but eclectic sounds that the collective played and he quickly became involved in producing events and performing as one of their resident DJs. Learning from the best the scene has to offer, Zach has played nightclubs, festivals, and parties internationally. He is deeply passionate about creating that perfect vibe from behind the decks. Still so young, full of life and a love of throwing parties, it’s only looking up from here and you can expect to see Zach and the Pink Mammoth crew more and more across the globe.
West Coast Podcast 026: Zach Walker
* CLICK HERE if you do not see the SoundCloud player.
There have been vocal effects before – your vocoder, your pitch shifter, what have you. But the folks at iZotope set a more ambitious goal: be all the classic vocal effects. Put them a single plug-in full of modules. Then combine them in a way that makes them accessible, whether you’re preset surfing or dialing in your own sound. Encourage exploration without even requiring some advance knowledge. The result of that is called VocalSynth, and it’s out today.
And wow, is this thing big – big enough that I imagine I might spend the rest of the year playing with it.
I’ve had VocalSynth to play around with since an early beta a few weeks ago, watching as the developers gradually added in new modules and tuned controls while listening to feedback. And what’s compelling about it is that it combines sophisticated models of vintage gear – many of them hard to get in software form – with the more digital effects. It’s also a digital multi-effects unit good enough that you might sometimes insert it without the vocal effects.
You’ll certainly be interested if you want effects on your vocals, but despite the name, you’re likely to experiment with other sorts of signals, too (hi there, drums).
The easiest way to understand it is to take a tour of the modules. iZotope goes through these in more detail, but here’s the quick version:
Vocoder. Well, really, three vocoders: “vintage” (modeling classic hardware) “hard” (edgier digital version) and “smooth” (for a gentler, sophisticated effect).
Talkbox. This one is especially valuable, as it’s been tougher to get – and it means you can quickly make vocals as a non-vocalist, because you can route a synth or side-chained input and then make it talk. I hope you’ve got a notebook full of lyrics handy.
Polyvox. Polyphonic pitch shifter, good for you Imogen Heap wannabes. Actually, Imogen, I’m curious whether you like this!
Compuvox This models the 80s toys for a more retro effect.
Pitch correction. And there’s a pitch-corrector (aka brand name AutoTune) you can add – substituting this before one of the other effects can also produce unique combinations.
The pitch correction module sits at the top of the UI, together with a graphic representation of the sound. You’ll find the four primary effect engines below that, color-coded, which you can then mix together in any combination. That allows you to layer these four engines in variations subtle or extreme.
Each of these four modules requires pitch input, but there iZotope have found a unique solution. You can use MIDI input to control the modules – for example, playing harmonies and melodies on a MIDI keyboard. But if you’re not confident of your keyboard (or musical) skills, or you’re simply on the go and don’t have a convenient input, you can also switch to Auto mode. That lets VocalSynth automatically add chords/octaves/doubles according to your selections, leaving you free to sing or experiment or whatever.
The bottom portion of the interface covers more typical ground – a set of effects already paired with the VocalSynth engines.
Transform. This is actually the most important of these – it’s a convolution-based, modeled speaker so that you can emulate amps and speaker cabinets in a way that pairs with the different synth engines.
Distort. Wave-shaping distortion/overdrive.
Filter. This is actually also a module with multiple engines – a ladder filter model (dubbed “New York”), an aggressive resonant filter called “Scream,” and a “Combo” that combines high- and low-pass for sweeping effects.
Shred. Drawing from iZotope’s beat repeating stuff (whether you want to call that EDM or IDM I think is up to you), you get glitchy beat-synced effects. Bonus.
Delay. Stereo delay.
All of these combined modules of course mean there’s an extensive preset library. But playing with the various modules is equally enjoyable. Between the harmonic features and the simplified “just tweak this knob” interface, there’s plenty open to free experimentation and happy accidents.
Just a few of the loads of presets.
We’ll go more in depth soon with how the software was designed and created and what inspired it, and what sorts of sounds you can make with it (with some tips on how to explore all this terrain). In the meantime, here are just a few sound samples to give you a taste of what’s possible. This is really just some idea of the basics / historical sounds as a selling point, though; you could certainly warp this stuff in very different directions, and iZotope tells CDM they’re really hoping users contribute very different sound samples.
Also, thank you, iZotope, as you’ve given us a chance to turn again to the wisdom of Robert Henke, aka Monolake and co-founder of Ableton, regarding vocoders:
VocalSynth is available now for Mac and Windows for US$149 as a limited-time intro price, through the middle of June. After that, it’s $199. A demo is available. More:
Updated — here’s a great example of the sounds VocalSynth can make. The video may look like it’s from iZotope, but it’s not – it’s just another intrepid Internet user named Rishabh Rajan making some amazing productions (subscribing to this person’s channel now).
Set as a release for Claude VonStroke’s 10th Anniversary Remix EP, Marc Houle premieres his spaced out remix of the original classic with a crunchy percussive foundation.
Raised adjacent to Detroit in Windsor, Ontario, Houle grew within the same fertile music community that spawned his former label boss and mentor Richie Hawtin. Marc Houle is a seminal artist and proponent to the socio-defined minimal sound of the mid-’00s. He went on to transcend it with releases on labels such as Minus and Items & Things. His obsession with electronic sounds goes all the way back to the noise of ’80s video games and vintage synthesizers.
Claude VonStroke has built a reputable A&R roster for DIRTYBIRD, artists which include Justin Martin, JulioBashmore, Catzn’ Dogz, Breach, EatsEverything, ShadowChild and ShibaSan. Today, DIRTYBIRD continues to surprise and innovate in the underground dance scene, releasing an enigmatic combination of house, funk, dirty-bass and electronica. To tie in with this years Movement (Detroit) Festival the label have employed some of Detroit’s finest (Octave One, Visionquest) to give their takes on the classic.
Who’s Afraid of Detroit 10th Anniversary Remixes will be out 27th May via DIRTYBIRD.
swedish artist and close watergate associate la fleur celebrates five years of her power plant label with a new ep
the new ep features tunes from label associates old and new including circo loco residents acid mondays, jesper ryom, knutsson/berg with acid nord and hot pp newcomer justin massei. and then of course there’s la fleur herself, who offers up the soulful ‘caged’ after a busy run of gigs, shows on the mixmag lab and ahead of many more great singles and remixes.
her entry in the watergate mix series- the berlin club where she is resident – is still hot, too, and this latest ep touches on the usual deep house and slick tech you would expect of the label.
1) acid mondays – 4scan
2) la fleur – caged
3) knutsson/berg – acid nord
4) justin massei – diss ya
5) jesper ryom – chants