Wearable tech so far has often tended to dresses that light up or wristwatches that act as remote controls for your smartphone. But what if wearable tech actually produced sound – and it wasn’t a pair of headphones?

That’s the question posed by SubPac. It’s a sort of backpack subwoofer aimed both at improving tactile bass response for consumers and allowing proper bass monitoring for DJs and producers – you know, when they can’t just try their latest mix on a big club PA.

We’ve covered wearable tech on CDM before – we’ve even hosted workshops and labs on the topic. But big consumer companies are finally picking up on the idea that if technology is going to get close to you, it’s probably going to get close to something else close to you – your clothes and fashion. And now none other Richie Hawtin is endorsing than in a video for Intel at top, as the chip company pushes the idea that we’ll buy tech all over again as part of our clothes.

Oddly, Hawtin says the kinds of things that you’ve heard the likes of rocker Neil Young say – that musical experience is suffering because of a lack of full-frequency sound – so maybe not what you’d expect from a techno icon. But once you see what they’re doing, you’ll see the influence of the world of clubs. This is about that pounding you feel in your chest. And as a result, Richie joins Kode 9, Mala, and Flying Lotus among other bass lovers. In practice, this “tactile” accessory could mean one of two things:

  • 1. Listening. Feeling sound – just to add the sort of tactile, sensational “thump” you get in a club. (Cough, Berghain, Funktion One, yadda, yadda.)
  • 2. Safety. Alerting users to threats, waking drowsy drivers or distracted pedestrians.

Not mentioned here, however, is an additional application: wearable speakers could open up new opportunities in club sound and sonic diffusion, an idea we saw in the 4DSOUND spatial system.

You can see how they describe it in the company’s own video:

SubPac | Bass, It’s the FEELING that Matters from SubPac on Vimeo.

To be honest, I’m surprised by the idea that you’d take this into a studio, but that’s the argument SCIENTIST makes. (Sure, if you only have small near-fields, you might need this, but that’s why studios typically have a second pair that can produce bass, or connect a subwoofer. Then again, if you don’t have this, I wholeheartedly endorse what he’s saying – and I am still curious to try it.)

SubPac | IN THE STUDIO featuring SCIENTIST from SubPac on Vimeo.

There are two products here – the S1, which attaches to your chair, and the M1, which you wear like a backpack – US$299 and $349, respectively, though at the moment sold out.

Whether you’d want this or not, it does seem to open another window into the possible avenues wearable technologists might explore. These aren’t just watches or sparkly dresses, though those are certainly included. Intel has done with The Creators Project a fairly rapid overview. It feels like a sponsored video to me (not only because of the Intel bits plugged in, but also because there’s a bit of a lack of any greater depth – it does feel like an ad for wearable tech). But I do know many of the folks here, and it isn’t a bad sampling.

I guess the question is this: which of these sorts of directions would you want to see CDM investigate further?

I might not adopt the blind optimism of a video espousing the merits of wearing your technology. But it does seem that technology has to learn something from the intimacy of fashion and garments if it ever wants to get closer to the body. And it likewise seems to me that the path there may be one of repeated, iterated failure – the criticism on this site of Imogen Heap’s Gloves Project (and the fact that it is fundamentally the same technology as was in use decades ago) being some indication of that.

But I find iterative failure interesting. If you do, too, let us know which kind of failures you’d like to see. (Ahem.)

Oh, and frankly, out of all of this, I think that lighting you wear on your face is kind of freakin’ awesome. I’d rather have that than the backpack subwoofer or anything else.

  • dustinw

    The S1 doesn’t seem that different from the old Butt-Kicker transducers. I’ve tried a Butt-Kicker on an electronic drum kit and really liked it … I think the S2 plus some in-ears would be awesome for playing Bass on-stage.

  • lala

    blinkenlights in my pants, rfid chips in my wig and some vibrating backpack so the bass can makes me sick, no thanks.
    who the hell is going to buy all that stuff? and for what reason? fashion?

    I haven’t seen one new wearable that makes sense to me. Its not like im anti-technology – I just can’t see myself using all this nonsense. they don’t fulfill a need i have. just because tec can be so small now there is no need to wear it on your body 😉

    • lala

      What I’d like to see is a real use case and not all this made up stuff.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yeah, I hear you. It’s interesting – actually, maybe one limitation is trying to do the speculative stuff all with prototyping. It’s possible the use case is there and the tech isn’t. Then, the issue is, if you do all your speculation based on available technology, you may get it wrong.

      Think about the number of speculative prototypes that were right precisely because they thought about the problem speculatively rather than trying to make a working prototype in literal form. And that’s doubly true with wearable, because the initial prototype may not be terribly … fashionable. (Examples: the original Dynabook got the iPad more or less exactly, but the team at XEROX PARC intentionally drew separate conceptual drawings of a tablet even as they needed a bookshelf-sized computer to run the initial software. Or the Star Trek designers got tablets, sensors, touch, all of that correct – and they were dummy props, because the tech to make that happen was 15-20 years into the future.)

  • bawb r.

    in the the time of techno…

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      HA! Well… that looks like an interesting application, anyway.

  • experimentaldog

    It’s quite annoying when someone’s earbuds or cans can be heard blaring higher frequencies all over the bus. Imagine feeling someone else’s bass too. A human transducer leaking bass resonance all over the bus. It also seems like a lot of new wearable tech has the “personal-experience” tag. Sure it may sound or look good for an individual, but couldn’t it easily become very distracting/annoying to others? Boom boom boom.

  • polarr

    Unless I am not mistaken on the characteristics of a normal human body, we carry on listening to music with two ears, and that is it. (*)
    So I am not sure whether our spine, armwrists or stomach will really benefit from being involved in the process of listening. So all of this is a gadget. Sorry Mr Hawtin.
    (*) yeah, ok, I see what one could argue with thi, i.e. people will claim that one can feel the (infra)basses through one’s body when they go to fabric, berghain or Rex club, but this is exactly the point of it : when one wants to move tha body all night long, dance one’s brains out, experience something truly new, well, then people go to clubs. THAT is a special experience. THAT is when one wants to feel the vibe. But apart from bass thumping, there is also light (or lack thereof), smell of marijuana, people dancing around you, etc… that make this an experience.
    Just imagine re-creating this very same thing during the commute by bus (without people dancing, lightstrobes, smell, etc…) or when one listens to radio in the bed, that seems totally… ludicrous.
    Perhaps I’m wrong, but, definitely, this seems to me to be a gadget for the 21st century nerd who prefers to buy junk-stuff instead of mingling with other people at 3am in a club somewhere in East End (which is where the real deal is, btw)

    • Treb

      U haven’t tried the subpac then? Try using your 2 ears with bass pulsing through ur body via the sub PAC then comment again.

    • polarr

      Treb > a real question then, as you seem to have tried this wonder : did it bring significant improvement to your listening experience ? How did you feel ? did you feel like you were at Fabric ? I mean Fabric, in your living room or kitchen ? would you spend (loads of) money to have a portable version strapped to your back while travelling on the train to work ?
      In short, what is the point of all of this ? Consumerism ? Or something better ?

    • dustinw

      @polarr … I haven’t tried subpac, but I have tried the “butt-kicker” transducer (which is similar to the S1) with an electronic drum kit, playing bass and hooked to a couch watching a movie. In those scenarios it really did enhance the experience. Significantly so in the case of the e-drums … but only a little with the movie.

      I could see how the S2 would provide real value to a bass player on stage using in-ear monitors, or a DJ who is trying to listen to the track he is queueing up while the bass in the club from the current track is literally shaking him/her.

    • polarr

      @ treb and @dustinw : thanks for this gentlemen.
      So wearable tech, from what you tell me, is not my cup of tea. I find it a no go, as it would, for me, bring no added value to what I already do with other means, namely a good old pair of very good headset whenever I can use one, at home or in the train. (i.e. I play tennis with a different set of raquets, i.e. not saying that yours is not good, just different)
      But thanks for sharing your thoughts on this

    • Treb

      Without a doubt it has dramatically improved my experience. Be it techno to reggae. With my my wife sleeping late at night I’m able to experience bass frequency to fabric proportions without waking up the whole neighbourhood. The portable option would def heighten any bass lovers experience . But u would need to be a bass lover. Simple as. I wouldn’t buy a tennis racquet if I didn’t play tennis.

  • Mutis Mayfield

    I can see (due I imagined since almost 5 years ago with holosound) audio therapy applications… But it is necessary more scientific research to keep things healthy.
    The best example which suits here are WBV platforms like Powerplate.

  • bauer

    where’s the joy in that subpac video? the tone is so po-faced and dull. which is a shame, as it’s a really fun, inspiring device to use…

  • Curious

    While I think this is cool and would like to see it developed more, I cant help to think of sensory overload. There is a benefit in listening to sound and feeling the outside world with your body. Overriding that (by adding increased sensory data) could be discomforting. I would love the option of feeling the music, but i cant see it becoming a standard.

  • Spillane

    Interesting, but the way they advertise it is so pathetic imo, they are so serious about it.
    Also talking about the club, it is not just the frequencies what about the people in the club the dj or the live act, you can’t replicate that energy release can you?? at least not with a wearable.

  • Dan Ramirez

    I’d love something like this for playing bass. I have a hard time hearing the fundamental and my playing suffers for it. I’d need to build a costume around it though because; dorky.

  • Hideouswhennaked

    All I could think of while watching this was the Aura Interactor:

  • Jason Brunton

    I’ve tried one out – it gives you a reasonable effect when cranked up in the studio but it’s massively over priced and nobody that tried it out was particularly impressed (did some blind testing with it in that I didn’t really say too much, just plugged it and the headphones in and then asked what they thought and roughly how much they thought it would cost in the real world – average answer was “it’s ok” and “£50 or thereabouts” – it’s about £200 in the UK.

    The bass vibration you get from it doesn’t seem particularly well “integrated ” into the overall sound (if that makes sense) – it also has clunky control box you plug into the wall socket to provide power and also the volume control which if you are using a normal studio chair on wheels, feels really uncomfortable when you are moving back and forward.

    It’s definitely not “the most immersive sound experience you will ever have” :)

  • Ginkgo

    bassAware also takes an interesting approach to wearable low-end – a stylish, steampunky holster (think Havoc from X-Men)