Having worked in advertising, I’ve grown to hate the many clichés of this business with a passion — one which manifests in the form of an uncontrollable nervous twitch when faced with cookie-cutter marketing lingo. So whenever a Kickstarter project pops up in one of my feeds — especially when I’m being my sarcastic misanthrope self (read: before coffee) — in my head, Wolverine’s Adamantium claws go “SNIKT!”. This may be due to the impossibly clickbaity headlines (seriously, people: hire a goddamned copywriter) — but most of the time, it’s also the ideas themselves. Yes, I’m sure your revolutionary! belt with super-strong rare earth magnets sown in is a brilliant idea in the age of smartphones and digital wearables… just attach this game-changing! fashionable carbon credit card holder, and you can conveniently shred all your plastic money at once. Derp.
When news of the Basslet started appearing all over the place, I quickly dismissed it as yet another gadget. Since I use a Subpac M2, it’s an unavoidable comparison — one that, at first glance, doesn’t exactly work out in the Basslet’s favour. Luckily, that was just the initial impression which only lasted until I got it in for testing.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
The Basslet is a wireless, watch-sized wearable for your wrist that reproduces low frequencies by vibrating, thus transferring them into your body. Its sender unit goes between the 3.5mm port of your playback device and your headphones — simple enough. The frequency response is a little different from the Subpac, but the principle is similar — just in a much, much smaller package at about half the price.
IN THE BOX
Aside from the sender and receiver units, the Basslet comes with a tool for detaching the armband and a spare strap, which is great. A micro USB charging cable is included as well. The charging mechanic is solved in an aesthetically pleasing manner — there are magnetized contacts on either side of the sender and receiver, ensuring that you can’t really mess up the polarity when hooking them up. So, plugging the cable into the sender unit charges the receiver as well. LED indicators on both units let you know what the status of the battery is.
SUSPENSION OF BASSBELIEF
The Basslet definitely works. The underlying principle is rooted in psychoacoustics — in simple terms, it’s about how your brain handles various acoustic stimuli and sort of “fills in the blanks” to compensate for things your ears can’t necessarily process. A sound, as it is produced, isn’t the same as it is perceived in its final listening context. You know this effect from any dance floor — there are frequencies you physically feel, rather than hear. This is essentially what happens when listening to music with the Basslet. Once you’ve stopped being consciously aware of the fact that you’re wearing it — which doesn’t take very long — it definitely adds to the overall experience. It’s not as brutal as is it is with the Subpac, but the device itself is also entirely inconspicuous in comparison. I’ve worn the Subpac outside a couple of times as a joke, and it’s an image they used in their advertising a lot — but nobody does that in real life. You just look a bit too “augmented” with this bulky thing.
BIT ASYMMETRICAL, ISN’T IT?
Curiously enough, no. I’ve got two Basslets for testing here. You can daisy-chain the sender units, which works quite well, as they interlock magnetically with one another just like they do with the wearable receiver. However, wearing two Basslets gives you surprisingly little advantage over just using one, plus you’re probably going to wear a watch on the other wrist anyway. It has to be felt to be believed, but one is enough for regular listening — and DJing, as a matter of fact, as long as the monitors don’t lag behind too much. Just don’t wear it on your record arm, because the vibrations are stronger than you may think, and will transfer to the needle if you spin actual records with music on them. It’s not a problem with control vinyl — but I still wear it on my fader hand.
The reason I really wanted to test two Basslets is… a sort of “force feedback” experiment for finger drumming. The difference between playing pad controllers versus actual drums is obvious — you don’t get any sort of physical response from hitting pads, your body has nothing to resonate with unless you’re sitting on a monitor speaker. This is where, depending on your sample choice, two units can be a lot of fun — you’ll actually feel the impact of those drums as you play them. Really cool.
OVERKILL MODE: ENGAGE
Of course, I couldn’t resist going for the ultimate in silent low frequency punishment — combining the Subpac with two Basslets. The Subpac has bluetooth, so hooking the Basslets up to it allows you to go wireless with the whole package. The problem with bluetooth, however, is latency. Even if you got a standard bluetooth sender unit to plug into your mixer or audio interface, and somehow managed to pair it with the Subpac, it would lag behind the monitors and PA, making it entirely useless for live performance applications. It works perfectly when you use a cable though. The question is: would you go that far? Not sure, but it definitely was a fun experiment.
Keep in mind that both Android and iOS are equally dumb at handling audio output. If you use bluetooth headphones and plug the Basslet sender into your phone’s headphone out, it’s going to take over and there’s nothing you can do about it. You have to go wired to enjoy it. However, going through the sender has further drawbacks. Aside from having a rat’s tail of accessories hooked up to the phone or audio player (such as the noise-cancelling Bose earbuds I reviewed), I found that remotes and microphones worked whenever they bloody felt like it, and I’m still unable to nail the exact reason for that. Then again, when I’m out for a walk listening to music, answering calls is pretty much the last thing I care about — but sometimes you have to. However, unplugging a phone is no big deal, and you won’t have any of these first world problems when you use a dedicated audio player.
One thing that actually annoyed me slightly is that the Basslet’s vibration intensity, while adjustable, is also proportional to the strength of the input signal, and it seems to auto-correct in response to that signal as well. So you’ll be reaching for the “MOAR BASS” button every once in a while. However, the unit makes up for it with quite the impressive battery life — I’ve done a couple of long downtown trips accompanied by drum ‘n bass playlists, which really put it through its paces — and I’ve still only managed to run out of power once.
IDEAS FOR THE NEXT BATCH
The sender unit attaches to your mobile or audio player via a short, hardwired cable — a cable with a straight 3.5mm plug, rather than an angled one. I don’t like this design choice — whenever the next batch comes around, it would be good to just have two 3.5mm ports on the sender. This would allow more flexibility in hooking it up, and probably extend its lifespan as well. Since it’s already wireless by design, maybe there could be a bluetooth option enabling the sender to talk to the receiver and bluetooth headphones simultaneously.
The Basslet, while still kind of a gadget, is definitely a very cool one. It delivers on its promise, and if you’re a bass head, you’re likely to enjoy using it despite the small inconveniences. It works just fine for augmenting your perception of low end when DJing or finger drumming as well — and it looks pretty cool to boot.