Audio Device Promises New Highs in Lows

There's not a lot of music in the bottom octave, and there's not a lot of information in the low bass of a movie soundtrack. But there is a lot of power down there in the rumbling subterranean region—power that adds palpable realism to every type of home entertainment. That's why we go to extremes in our search for low-frequency reinforcement: full-range loudspeakers, and multiple subwoofers, and digital room-correction systems.

You can never have too much bass, some people believe. Guitammer Company, a Westerville, Ohio startup, is taking low-frequency reinforcement to the next level: the seat of your pants. Its new product, the ButtKicker, promises to deliver intense, visceral bass where it counts. About the size of a one-horsepower electric motor, the device is a low-frequency electromagnetic transducer that is said to deliver the bottom-end impact of much larger speaker systems by mechanically coupling the bass vibes directly to your floor and/or seating arrangement. Users can feel the beat as much as they hear it, according to company executives.

Designed by music-industry producer and songwriter Ken McCaw and engineer Marvin Clamme, the ButtKicker can translate a line-level signal from a CD player, preamp, or amplifier in "perfect sync" with the bass coming from your main system. The device "shakes and vibrates to the point that 'feeling' becomes as important to the home-theater experience as seeing and hearing," according to a report by the Columbus/Franklin County News Bureau—at considerable savings in equipment weight and volume.

The ButtKicker is claimed to be almost indestructible and to have an extremely smooth frequency response of 5-200Hz. The professional model is manufactured by the Eminence Loudspeaker Company in Kentucky, and began shipping last fall for $799 retail. A consumer version is planned with a target price of $299.

Ultra-low-frequency "motors" have been introduced into the audio market before, with varying degrees of success—such as Pioneer's under-seat subwoofer, hyped primarily for car-audio applications. In the late 1970s there was a device called the Bone Phone, marketed as a "personal subwoofer." A yoke worn around a listener's shoulders, the device transmitted low-frequency impulses directly to the user's clavicles. The Bone Phone was not a commercial hit. An attempt was made in the early 1960s to sell low-frequency transducers to fruit farmers as tools to knock ripe fruit from their trees—also without success. And weapons researchers have experimented with the military potential of high-intensity low bass. We hope the ButtKicker will be devoted to peaceful pursuits.