In all the time The Master Switch has existed, we’ve never given any product a truly bad review. Sure, we’ve had equipment with deeply annoying elements, or things that flat out didn’t work, but we always managed to find at least some merit in them. That time is over. Meet the Soundshaker, a product with virtually no redeeming features whatsoever, and the recipient of the worst verdict we’ve ever given in the history of this site. In this review, we break down the Soundshaker’s design, effect, packaging and accessories, specifications and more, as well as how it compares to other models. You can also check out our video review. God help you.
On the face of it, the concept behind the Soundshaker isn’t actually all that bad.
The idea is that it allows you to not only hear what’s going on in your movie or Netflix series, but also to feel it, with the low notes – like the thump of an explosion or the boom of a gunshot – vibrating directly through your body, thanks to a buzzing transducer that you stash under your couch cushion, and which is synced directly to your A/V receiver. It’s an intriguing prospect - one known in the home theater industry as a bass shaker - and one that we could, in theory, get behind (so to speak). But the way the entire package is put together is so bad, so utterly half-assed, that there were several moments when we thought somebody was messing with us.
The first thing you’ll notice once you open the package is that there are cables. Lots and lots and lots of cables. You need to attach a wireless transmitter to your receiver, as well as to a power socket. Then you need to power a separate amplifier, and attach the amplifier to the transducer itself. That’s four cables already. It wouldn’t be too much of a problem, were it not for the fact that the design and construction of the cables is some of the worst we’ve ever seen. They feel like they’re going to fall apart the moment you pick them up, with tacky insulation and, in some places, exposed inner wires. They do not, to put it mildly, inspire confidence.
And their design is unbelievably bad. Example: the connection between the amplifier and the transducer. The basic package ships with a single transducer – you’ll need to buy extra if you have additional people watching, as you almost certainly will, and we’ll get into the idiocy of the pricing for this box of delights in a minute. But the cable between the amplifier and the transducer has four separate connections, regardless of how many transducers you’re actually using. If you’re using less than four, you’re stuck with dangling bits of wire that you have to shove out of the way somewhere.
When part of the experience involves shoving wires out of the way, something has gone horribly wrong somewhere.
Then there’s the transmitter and amplifier themselves. You can transmit audio via Bluetooth or an internal network, although it took us quite some time to pair the amp and transmitter. And they do work, in the sense that they have buttons on them that do things, but that’s about the only good thing you can say for them.
They are made of plastic that recalls particularly low-budget medical devices. Generally, we have no problem with the use of plastic in audio products – we quite liked the AudioQuest Beetle DAC (review soon), which is entirely plastic. What we have a problem with is when it is used without any consideration for how it might actually look in the real world. Having these two plastic pieces of nonsense in your living room would be an embarrassment. The amplifier actually comes with a separate plastic stand that is, if anything, even nastier. In all the time we’d been reviewing equipment, we never come across something that actively repulsed us the moment we saw it. It happened here. The construction is vile.
Perhaps the lone bright spot was the transducer itself, which felt solid and weighty in the hand, and which wasn’t made of crappy plastic. It left us with a little bit of hope that maybe, just maybe, the actual effect would redeem the giant car crash of the design.
We imagine the idea here is that you shove the transducer under your couch cushion, and just forget about it. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Within an hour of using it, we wanted to tear it away and throw it out an open window.
The transducer is big. Big enough that none but the most squashy cushion is going to be able to disguise it. You never quite get away from the fact that you are sitting on something hard and lumpy, and that’s before it actually starts to vibrate.
Drawing from subwoofer technology, the amplifier lets you set the crossover frequency – the pitch where the transducer will start to vibrate. That’s an excellent idea – or it would be, if it actually worked. It doesn’t. The crossover is so badly tuned, so fluffy, that we simply couldn’t get the transducer into a spot where it was actually performing as advertised. Set it even a tiny bit too high, and it vibrates constantly, whirring away even in scenes where there shouldn’t be any significant low-frequency content, like those with straight dialogue. Set it too low, and you hardly get anything – just a vague buzzing when something exciting happens on screen. In the end, we found what passed as a just-right point, which amounted to mildly annoying constant vibrations, coupled with huge kicks whenever a gun went off or someone punched somebody else.
It’s actually quite astonishing just how bad the effect was. It’s as if the designers of the Soundshaker took a long, hard look at their goal, then turned and ran very fast in the opposite direction.
Even then, it would probably be bearable if it wasn’t so damn uncomfortable. We’ve had headphones in for testing with high frequencies that threaten to drill right out of our skulls. We’ve had speakers with bass drivers so badly tuned that they gave us nausea. But never in the history of audio equipment have we had something that gave us back pain.
In the month or so that we had the Soundshaker, we tested it under everything, proceeding with the kind of grim determination, sure that at some point, somewhere, we would be able to sit on it without wincing in pain. We put it on the couch cushions. We put it under throw pillows. We wadded up a comforter and sat on that. We put it under a beanbag. No joy. It was actually quite astonishing just how universal the effect was: mild discomfort, quickly transitioning into actual pain. The longest we lasted with this thing was on a beanbag, and that was about an hour.
So, short answer: no. Just no. We wouldn’t wish this on anybody. It barely works as advertised, and when it does get within sniffing distance of an effect we might actually enjoy using, it causes actual physical pain. This is not a recipe for a good customer experience.
It was only when we returned to the manual that we realised what was at the root of the problem here. Simply put, the team behind the Soundshaker have given absolutely no thought as to how people might actually use this thing.
It is the worst manual in the history of manuals: a messy, cluttered junkyard of obscure numbered references, unclear diagrams, instructions that seem designed to obfusticate, and a general sense that it was put together because someone, at the very last minute, realised that they might actually need a manual. It symbolises everything wrong with this particular device: a slapdash, that’ll-do attitude which cuts corners and refuses to actually put in the time to deliver a good experience.
And if you think we’re over-stretching ourselves here, getting irate about a manual, bear in mind that there are tons of wires and devices to wrangle out of the box, and a decent and coherent labelling system would have gone some way to making us feel less annoyed about the whole exercise. When we have to stop to wonder if the wire we’re holding is part 3120 or part 3032(M/2M), and then squint in appalled horror at this travesty of an instruction manual to find out where it goes, we are not going to be delivering a good review.
The product evaluations we do here aren’t just about the sound quality, or the effect a product has on our experience. It’s about everything, from the moment the package is opened to the moment we actually use the piece of equipment. Manuals count. Packaging counts. Experience counts. The Soundshaker fails all three.
Would you like to know how much this giant car crash of a product actually costs? Stick with us. This is where it really gets good.
For the basic amplifier/transmitter package and a single included transducer, you will pay…$564. For each additional transducer, if you happen to have friends whom you wish to torture, that’ll be an extra $125. You can, if you are so inclined, get a four-transducer package for a mere $939, at the time of writing.
We thought it was a joke when we first saw it. We thought we’d misread the Amazon listing. When we realized that it was for real, our disbelief gave way to annoyance, and then to genuine anger. We looked at the pile of junk on our testing room floor – the baby’s-first-amp, the dinky plastic transmitter, the tangled pile of wires that made us worry about fire hazards – then back at the screen, and laughed. We actually laughed: the kind of furious, incredulous laughter that precedes an almighty row. There is no possible way – at all, ever – that we would pay this much for this little, or recommend anybody else do so. The construction and build quality of the Soundshaker package is an embarrassment, but the pricing is an utter travesty.
Guys: don’t buy this. In fact, do us a favor. Let’s just pretend that it doesn’t exist. We are all so much better than this, so much better than this nasty, cheap, downright unuseable excuse for a piece of home theater gadgetry. It’s something you should only buy if you intend on sending a Christmas present to your very worst enemy.
In case we haven’t made it clear enough: avoid, avoid, avoid.
What We Like:
- The transducer could be used as a murder weapon at short notice.
What We Don’t:
- Tacky, nasty build quality and design.
- Unbelievably bad instructions.
- Uncomfortable to use.
- The worst manual in history.
- Absurd pricing.
You will need a separate subwoofer amplifier to give this power, but it remains one of the cheaper options available. However, you will definitely sacrifice power. It has only 50 watts of output, compared to the Buttkicker’s 400.
However, it does present a slightly more elegant package than the Soundshaker, and would recommend it to anybody who isn’t sure if this is something they’ll want to stick with; the price is cheap enough that you won’t have to worry too much about it if you decide not to
Generally considered to be among the best bass shakers available, the wonderfully named Buttkicker does a reasonable job of sending through the low-frequency content.
It can be a little difficult to install, and some reviewers have reported that but the very lowest notes don’t quite make it through. But it’s a much, much more affordable alternative to the dreck that is the Soundshaker.
The Clark Synthesis is a little bit different to a bass shaker. It’s what’s known as a tactile transducer, responding to sounds not just in the low frequency ranges, but also throughout the entire spectrum, meaning that you’ll feel everything that’s going on in your movie.
It’s an intriguing idea, and the company offers several different versions, so be sure to shop around to find the one you want.
|Device||Price||Low Freq.||High Freq.||Amp Inc.|
|Aura Bass Shaker||$45||50Hz||Unknown||No|