HTC Vive’s Deluxe Audio Strap finally completes the high-end VR headset experience
What most people don’t know about virtual reality headsets could fill a holographic stadium, but that’s not slowing the competition between the leading VR headset makers. The latest competitive upgrade comes from HTC’s Vive VR headset in the form of a new audio attachment called the Deluxe Audio Strap.
To be clear, this isn’t so much an innovation as it is playing catch-up with the Oculus Rift, which debuted the commercial version of its VR headset with headphones built into the device.
Oculus was itself the first to play catch-up last year when it released the Rift without the dedicated Touch controllers, a fact that many Vive fans pointed out as they enjoyed the wireless wands used for hand presence with the Vive. Nevertheless, it seems like Touch was worth the wait, as many consider it a more natural solution for hand presence compared to the wands of the Vive and the PlayStation VR.
This isn’t so much an innovation as it is playing a bit of catch-up with the Oculus Rift.
But now that both the Vive and Rift are essentially on the same footing in terms of hardware, the question is: Did the extra time HTC had to develop an audio accessory pay off? After living with the Deluxe Audio Strap for a week, I’d say the answer is yes.
Although the add-on looks a bit unwieldy, reminiscent of the elaborate Cerebro headcap the X-Men’s Professor X dons to find other mutants, the truth is that, since the Vive is already fairly weird looking, the new accessory blends in perfectly.
It takes about 10 minutes to attach the audio accessory to the headset (it’s a surprisingly tricky process). Once you’re done, you not only have a built-in headphone system, but also, the rear-mounted strap adjuster knob makes it easier to fit the Vive to various head sizes.
The earpieces, which are covered in soft plastic instead of foam like on the Rift (a good choice for those long, sweaty VR sessions) can be adjusted vertically to fit snugly onto your ears. As for sound, the audio is clear and powerful enough to allow the add-on to serve as your primary listening device for the Vive. For those who have been relying on audiophile-level third-party headphones while using the Vive, the audio strap probably isn’t going to live up to your exacting standards. But for most, the Deluxe Audio Strap will sound just fine.
The only wrinkle in this otherwise flawless upgrade is the price: $99.99. Sure, for standalone, high quality headphones, that’s not an exorbitant sum, but when you consider that it suddenly makes the $800 Vive headset a nearly $1,000 purchase — without a computer — it becomes clear that this is a device primarily targeting only the hardest core VR users.
For the rest of you, saving $100 and using your existing headphones is a perfectly reasonable approach as you attempt to horde coins to pay for the relatively expensive apps that make the Vive such a great experience.