Should you add a Buttkicker to your Home Theater system?
By Samir Shahin
I would strongly recommend it. It is very inexpensive, works well, and its probably going to be the lowest cost component in your home theater. You will get a big bang for your buck, and a ton of fun from it.
A basic system with an Electromagnetic transducer (shaker) and an amplifier is lists at 450 dollars, and has everything you need. You can add an additional shaker for 230 dollars (list price). I liked the effect so much I got 2 amplifiers and 4 shakers for my one couch.
Do you remember your first subwoofer? It added something that was not there before. You excitedly called all your friends to come over, and you played the music with the deep bass, and DVD’s with big explosions, and marveled over how much is made everything seem so real.
The Buttkicker system was the first real big change in my system for many years. I have paid thousands of dollars for subtle improvements in amplifiers and preamps, but here for only a fraction of that I got a change that was so new that I had to get my friends over to try it out. You don’t have to say anything, just have them sit down and play your DVD.
Remember after you got your first subwoofer, you eventually got larger and larger ones, just to sweeten up the experience? I did the same thing with the Buttkicker system. One shaker was great for DVD movies. But I wanted MORE. I have large speakers and two large subwoofers, so trying to get by on one flogged shaker did not seem fair.
You adjust the “volume” on the shaker amplifier so that it won’t overload and rattle at the peak effects. I discovered I was a low effects hound.
There was plenty of room under the couch, so I got TWO amplifiers and FOUR shakers. This would retail for $1,380. Each amplifier can handle 2 shakers, wired in parallel.
The vibration was now crisper and effortless. It feels solid. I believe a normal person would be satisfied with one amplifier and two shakers, but I am glad to have twice that. It’s adjusted as high as it can go without overloading. I do not need a helmet and seatbelts.
When I first got the one amplifier, one shaker system, my friends came over, and we watched Fantastic 4. When the cosmic storm hits you can feel the gamma rays going through your body. When Ben walks in the bar scene, you feel the floor rattle. It’s an awesome effect.
That was with the one shaker. When I received the additional shakers and amplifiers, I enjoyed the space western Serenity. When the spaceships go by and dock, or get into space battles, you can’t help but smile.
Even my wife, who thinks everything about the home theater system is a silly affectation, cracked a smile when she sat on the couch. My mother’s comment is a classic. “In my entire life, I have never seen anything so ridiculous!” I think she just did not like getting woken up during a movie, she usually is asleep after 10 minutes.
Here are some tips and pitfalls.
The Shakers: are of excellent quality. The mounting pads work well ($50 list price each, they replace the couch leg).
The amplifiers: Keep in mind that they are under $400 each, and they work very well, so don’t get discouraged by the following. Out of the box they smell rank, a combination of drying epoxy and burnt plastic smell. If you can wait, put it outside in the garage for a week for the odor to dissipate.
The dials are black, and there is almost no way without a flashlight and odd angles to see any pointer. I made indicator lines by putting on a 1 mm strip of white label material for both the volume and the frequency adjustment.
I strongly urge you to use blue tack putty to keep the dials in place. They rotate very easily and that will affect the adjustment tremendously without you noticing. I also put a dot of putty on the high/low bypass switches.
The volume adjustment calibration is different for both of my amplifier units, one unit is indicating straight up, and the other one about an eighth turn farther for the same “volume”.
I played around with the frequency cut off. In my opinion 70 or 80 hertz was about right for movies.
I have not gotten used to it for music. I did not mind it as much if I turned the frequency cut off lower, but now I just turn it off. If yoru music is very bassy, you might like it.
Here is how I adjusted the “volume” of the shaker. If you have only one amplifier, then you can play your DVD at your normal level, and turn it to one of the more severe explosions or crashes. Adjust the volume so it just starts to overload (a distinct rattling sound that I am told is harmless to the unit). If it rattles too much during the rest of the movie, then turn it down more.
I adjusted two amplifiers by first turning one off and then adjusting it, and then switching to the other one. This was too imprecise for me, so I used test tones from my stereophile one CD. There is a definite resonance and rattle at 50 hertz. I would play one amplifier until it rattled pretty good at 50 hertz, and then switched amplifiers and matched the rattling. This is how I discovered that the volume indicator for one amplifier was not matching the indicator of the other.
Even with 4 shakers on one lightweight couch, I am still adjusting it so that I get the maximum effect without overload rattling on the biggest effects. If I had an electrical sub panel I might consider more shakers just to push the envelope, but 4 is really enough.
The good news is the amplifiers run cool. Not even warm to touch. I would NOT recommend plugging them in to switched outlet. They go into a sleep mode when they don’t get a signal, so that is fine. But if you have it in a switched outlet, and they power up from nothing, you will probably blow your 15-amp circuit. That is my experience with 2 Buttkicker amps on one switched outlet, I would blow the protective fuse in the outlet. But on an always-on outlet, there is no surge, and everything is fine.
The system is thoughtfully designed so that you can put one couch leg on the mounting platform for the shaker, and a ¾ inch extender (provided in the kit) on the other legs to even the height. I went ahead and removed my couch legs, and put a 1 by 4 inch board on the side edges. I pulled the dust cover back about a foot, and let the board rest directly on the Buttkicker LFE platform on all 4 corners. It feels solid and secure, but it felt fine when I kept the couch legs too. I would not suggest you remove your couch legs, I was overdoing it.
I had a problem with hum being introduced in the system with the amplifiers. The very first FAQ from the Buttkicker instructions recommends getting a Radio Shack part to isolate the ground in the subwoofer signal connector if you get hum, so this must be a common problem. I eventually worked out the hum by grounding to a common outlet, but just keep that in mind that you may have to work out a subwoofer hum initially.
The people at Buttkicker are first rate, excellent support, rapid e-mails and telephone responses, so they helped me through my learning curve. They seem to be having a lot of fun doing this, and like most young companies they are very passionate and dedicated about their product.
Krell FPB 600, Krell 250a/3
Martin Logan Requests, Theater center
Samsung 61” DLP TV
Denon 2900 DVD
(2) NHT powered subwoofers (Two 12 inch woofers per cabinet)
La Z Boy sofa
White indicator put on knob fronts
Putty to prevent knobs from being inadvertently turned
Putty on the switches as well to keep them set.
Blue tape to note where prior levels were set (ink mark on the tape)
Note: The volume knobs are at equal sonic levels, but
you can see that the indicator marks are not parallel.