Review: HTC Vive Deluxe Audio Strap


A worthwhile splurge, but optional

It's been fun watching Oculus and HTC copy each other. First, Oculus backtracked on the bundled Xbox One controller with Touch. Then they sort of copied room scale (they call it 360 scale, and it's still experimental). 

HTC has indirectly finally acknowledged that their offering was the least comfortable, and have since released a curious update called the HTC Vive Deluxe Audio Strap. For $100, on top of the $~750 price for the room-scale kit, you can swap out the Vive's horse-feeder strap for something for a weight-balanced skull grip. It's also a straight-up clone of the Oculus audio setup, with build-in headphones replacing the ever-tangled stock Vive earbuds.

I picked up a pair and here's a review of how my DIY installation went.

Vive Deluxe Audio Strap (PC)
Manufactured by HTC 
Released: June 6, 2017 
MSRP: $99.99 plus $18.00 shipping  (Japanese version reviewed)

I want to call this a second-gen upgrade, but it's really the fourth iteration of the Vive strap (that I'm aware of, anyway). The first version had a giant HTC logo and had a single band going to the back of your head.  The (second) retail version shipped with the retail kit in 2016. It doesn't have that logo, but has cable management along the top and different branding. The third version also has a split skull strap and can be seen as replacement straps in the Vive store, which also shares some design elements of the deluxe audio strap without the adjustment knob. Then there's this thing I'm reviewing, which has the knob and integrated audio. It seems like a minor thing, but premium VR has a major comfort problem, not to mention the damn wires. 

I've been completely ignoring this product until I went to check out Mario Kart VR and noticed that the Vive headsets at the arcade looked far more futuristic than my home retail version. The "business" or "enterprise" versions of the Vive come with this stock, and it's been available as an upgrade for us plebeians for about a month now. After I tried it out at the arcade there was no way I was going back to the original strap. This thing is a billion times more comfortable, and the wire management actually makes sense this go around.

I'm reviewing the Japanese version, if there is such a thing. It doesn't appear to have any discernible differences to the US or EU version. The URLs for the how-to video seem to redirect me to the geo-location of my IP address to the purchase page. It's a 30 second video, no audio. The writing on the box is also in Korean, so maybe the US/EU/AS versions will be identical if not very similar. There's just something inherently cool about kanji on a videogame package though, like mom baked it herself. 

Pretty easy to install, but the process was terrifying

I googled "broke my vive" and "audio strap" and sure enough, there's one guy who didn't get it right. You must be very careful to slide the old audio strap downwards and wait for it to naturally release, not pop it off horizontally. Otherwise, the entire housing might pop-off and that seems very difficult to put back together. It's not particularly hard to do, you just have to read the instructions carefully and perform the operation gently. 

Here's what the Vive looks like when you've removed the old strap below. The entire time I kept repeating "You're going to regret this! You're going to regret this!" in my head, but luckily nothing bad happened. Maybe I was being overly cautious but if I broke this there's just no way I could afford to replace it any time soon.  

Have you ever taken apart a cheap plastic toy, knowing that if you tried it again those little plastic teeth might forever break? That's what that felt like. 

I didn't even know you could remove this thing safely because there are hidden weak-feeling plastic knobs under the audio strap that adjust the zoom/viewport inside the Vive.  Pulling something attached to that part is terrifying. I hope they make this part aluminum in the future, or replace it with something that feels like it was designed for this sort of maintenance. 

Once the scary part is over, you've got the cables to figure out. The instructions don't say anything about how to run the cables back through the front of the strap. There's a new cable management slot on the right side, but whether the cable goes in through the old pyramid cut-out or below it seems entirely up to you. On the promo photos they run it through the side, though it's possible to run it through the top. I tried it both ways and didn't find either method less comfortable than the other. 

Note the empty USB port on the left. If you really want to show off or just don't like the audio quality, throw a USB DAC in between the headphone jack for another $50-200. It's hard to find a USB bridge cable that will let you seal that compartment shut, though. Also, look! It's my fingernail. Is it getting enough moisture and care? Apparently not!

Once you get it all assembled you'll want to mess with the velcro strap at the top, and then turn the new grip knob on the back of your skull to get the full benefit of the weight-balancing that this provides. The old strap was the sort of fabric you might find on ski goggles, whereas this feels more like a professional sports helmet. There's a thick (and removable, for washing) foam T-shape along the back and a molded plastic outer ride that maintains the shape, even after you remove it.  The old strap would get soaked in sweat and then squirm into a sad spaghetti, and there was nothing you could do about it.  For the weight balancing alone this thing is worth the dough.

I was very concerned that I'd regret buying this and crave my older earcup headphones, but walked away with how these sounded back at the loud arcade, so I took the plunge. 

Audio Quality & Overall comfort

No complaints here. They're loud and responsive, and produced a convincing surround sound experience.  The bass and midrange levels are well above average, no cracking or buzzing even at full blast (and they're quite loud). You crank it up it's easy to tune out your next door neighbor's visceral failed marriage experience. I'd hesitate to recommend this to an audiophile, but for the rest of us (especially those satisfied with the old earbuds) this is a solid upgrade. 

The headphone entanglement or find-mah-bluetoofffs-blindfolded nonsense is my least favorite part of the Vive ownership experience. The Vive came with a pair of earbuds, which get the job done, but half the time I only used one or kept it at a minimum level so I could still hear my friends. I mean, you're either going to love or hate this: The headphones won't cover your whole ear, but it somehow doesn't take you out of the game. 

The ear pieces are very easy to adjust. You can slide them up and down, point them outwards, and articulate them roughly 180 degrees, and slightly outwards. I wouldn't say they're rugged, but the plastic feels firm and they give off a confident "I've snapped back into place!" clicking sound when you push them away.  

I put away the old strap but I might as well burn it like a bra. Even with excellent Razer Man-O-Wars I absolutely hated juggling headphones on and off, especially in a party situation where I'd be perpetually worried that my pricy headsets would get twisted and crack from the constant orgy partner swapping. I feel much better passing this bad boy around. It's really comfortable in comparison, easier to put away, and the comfort overall is significantly improved. It's not perfect though.

To be honest, the Vive still feels like a heavy piece of shit after one hour

For short play sessions, this is a dream. For long play sessions, you're reminded that the Vive is still uncomfortable. It is a significant improvement, and one I'm grateful for. I'm dreading the day where I have to sell this Vive for the next one, and if I can do that in pieces, then that's a sigh of relief. Like my smartphone (a now-ancient Nexus 5X, but running the latest Android 8) I hope to update my Vive perpetually until it dies a miserable death.

Still, for $99 bones I can't help feel that they cut some corners. There's budget-looking audio cables running along the outside of it, and the fabric on the headphones don't exactly scream "premium". The price feels 30-50% wrong, but HTC knows that anybody picking up this stuff is already coughing up PC Master Race prices. Nobody "needs" this, but it's a worthwhile splurge if you're playing so much Vive that the old headphones are an every day nuisance. 

I should mention that this isn't the only audio strap upgrade available. Every once in awhile I've spotted others that seem like at-home 3D printed anomalies coming out of China. If you find a solid 3rd party equivalent please post it in the comments.

Where is all this VR hardware nonsense going, exactly?

More high-end upgrades for enthusiasts, for one. The current VR market has more in common with luxury stereo systems than it does with videogame consoles. I remember being a teenager watching the Neo-Geo stuff go by in admiration with my savings pointed anywhere but. I imagine a lot of you see VR as that sort of pony, and you're right. That said, look at what VR-philes are also shopping for: Wireless and better optics. 

Later this year, once I've sold my second kidney, I may throw down on this $250+ insane Chinese TPCast or Intel WiGig accessory, which replaces the tethered HDMI cable for a likely cancer-inducing high-def wireless beam to my face. It doesn't totally remove the cable though: You'll still be putting a battery in your pocket. This wireless product is late to market, missing their projected Q2 release. For yet another $200+ there's also another fascinating third-party add-on that tracks your eyeballs and tells your computer to spend less time rendering the blurred parts, speeding up the game. Add it all up, without factoring in my PC rig, and I'm wading into Hololens territory. These stop-gap accessories, when frankenstrapped together, give us a blurry glimpse into what owning a Vive 2.0 might be like, today.  

It is weird to see the price for the "new" complete Vive kit going up while the Oculus price spirals into console territory. The fact that you can get the Oculus with the Touch controllers now for under $500 suggests that they've either really messed up the launch and are really worried about console-class VR. According to this report, Oculus (who has the best headset all-around, ironically) might have fallen in third place, while PSVR continues to outperform everyone despite having the least capable hardware. Meanwhile, nobody can afford any of this shit. What a disaster. If they're smart, Oculus needs to fuck with the Xbox One X, as both are falling behind Sony. In a market that's more concerned with price than quality I don't envy either. Does anyone even care about 2K gaming, much less 4k?

That niche appeal is holding strong, though. With less than half a million Vive kits sold it isn't exactly taking the world by storm, but for a premium product it does have a loyal fanbase, myself included. I just can't give up room-scale gaming, it's just too much fun. It's still the coolest magic teleportation portal I own. 

As for the audio strap, there's just no way I'll ever go back to the old one. Two thumbs up.

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reviewed by Niero Gonzalez


Niero Gonzalez
Niero GonzalezMeat Vessel   gamer profile

I keep Destructoid weird. Also I'm a playable character in Retro City Rampage, look: (along with the whole 2009 Dtoid Editorial team) Sometimes I have a villainous mustache My dog CoCo chec... more + disclosures



Filed under... #headsets #htc #reviews #Vive



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