It’s not cheap, but it fixes some of the Vive’s biggest flaws.
For a long time now I’ve said the best VR headset would be some combination of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. The Vive has better room-scale tracking and its integration with Steam and the Workshop is much nicer than the Oculus store’s closed ecosystem. Meanwhile the Rift is a superiorly designed headset, and significantly easier to use, setup, and adjust, making it my go to headset when introducing people to VR. But the new Vive Deluxe Audio Strap takes cues from the Rift’s greatest strengths to give the Vive the best of both worlds
As $100 optional add-on, it’s not cheap, but with it the Vive is now my favorite VR headset all in one. It achieves this by pretty much stealing all the best ideas of other headsets and repurposing them for the Vive. That little bit of springy give in the side straps of the Rift that lets you easily slip it on and off, the big friendly dial on the back the PSVR headset to quickly adjust the fit and tightness, the cord running along the side of both so you can actually adjust the top velcro strap without wanting to die.
All of these design improvements come alongside built-in headphones attached to sides of the strap similarly to the Rift, getting rid of the need to fumble with the cable from a separate pair of headphones. Where getting the fit of the Vive right each time used to be a bit of a chore, it’s now just as simple as the Rift. The hard shell on the backend of the strap slips on like a hat, I twist the knob to tighten, and I’m set. Compare this to adjusting velcro straps and positioning hanging cables for a Vive fresh out of the box and the difference is night and day.
Until now, that clunkiness had been the Vive’s biggest flaw in my eyes, especially if multiple users were taking turns with one headset. The Deluxe Audio Strap doesn’t fix all of the Vive’s problems, it still feels like the clunkiest VR headset of any I’ve used. It’s heavy and large compared to the Rift, and weighs down my head after wearing it for too long. I still prefer the Rift’s slimmer, simpler design even after this upgrade, but this newfound ease of use counts for a lot. For example, being able to quickly turn a dial to relieve the pressure on my face if it becomes uncomfortable after playing for a while is a godsend.
If you can afford the Deluxe Audio Strap, it’s an upgrade well worth getting.
Probably the biggest drawback of Deluxe Audio Strap is the quality of the headphones themselves. While they’re very comfortable (especially for on-ear headphones) and integrated nicely, it’s clear that the “Deluxe” piece of the title isn’t referring to the audio part of this strap. I had our resident audio expert Tuan give the built-in headphones a test and he was less than thrilled, comparing them to Beats by Dre in both their amped up bass and general lack of clarity. They’re not terrible, but there are easily better headphones out there—even if you aren’t an audiophile, as Tuan said pretty much anything on our list of the best gaming headsets probably outperforms them.
The short and long of it is that you shouldn’t be buying this if you are looking for an audio upgrade, only a comfort and usability one. When compared side-by-side, the Rift’s built-in headphones sound noticeably fuller and clearer, but are also slightly less comfortable. If you even care an ounce about audio, you’ll want to remove the included headphones and leave the auxiliary cable attached to plug in your own set of cans, which is easy enough to do but hamstrings part of what makes getting the strap appealing.
If you aren’t as concerned with audio or have your own solution, the convenience of having the headphones attached and in one easy package likely outweighs any sort of audio quality difference. It’s not an amazing pair of headphones, but it’s also not a noticeably bad one, and I had to call in the well-tuned ears of Tuan to really appreciate its flaws. More importantly, they never detracted from any games I played while using them.
I don’t necessarily see the Deluxe Audio Strap as something absolutely vital to the Vive, so don’t think of it as the total cost of the headset now being $100 more expensive if you’re looking to get into VR—by comparison, I think the Rift without Touch is barely worth it, and would include its $100 cost (and maybe even the $60 of a third sensor now that it can actually do room-scale) in its regular price. It doesn’t magically make the Vive a better VR headset, but the easier it is for me to swiftly slide into a virtual world, the more likely I’ll be to do so.
If you have a Vive and can afford the Deluxe Audio Strap, it’s an upgrade well worth getting. It’s an improvement over the original design in nearly every way, and cements the Vive’s position as both my favorite VR headset and the most expensive. With the price gap between the Rift and the Vive drifting further and further apart, it’s becoming easier to recommend the Vive as the high-end VR choice, and this upgrade fits in nicely with that recommendation.