Last June, HTC released the Deluxe Audio Strap as a $99 add-on for the HTC Vive. Combining integrated audio and a rigid harness that ratchets down over your head, it is designed to provide a more seamless experience closer to what the Oculus Rift offers.
VR Fitness Insider did a preview just before the release, extolling the benefits of bringing music to exercise, but how well does the DAS really deliver on those possibilities? That answer really depends on the person using it.
There is a lot to like about the Deluxe Audio Strap. The biggest draw is the built-in audio solution. No longer having to contend with wearing separate headphones eliminates dealing with the frustration of equipping two separate components to your face. With the stock head strap, you’d have to first don the headset, then put headphones on over top of it – remembering that you also have to remove them in reverse order – and either have yet another wire dangling down that plugs into the Vive’s audio jack or pair Bluetooth headphones, which can themselves introduce complications of their own.
HTC has done a respectable job of resolving those obstacles with their audio solution. The headphones that they’ve included sound very good to my ears and I appreciate that the ear pads have a faux-leather covering instead of foam, making them easy to wipe off, especially after a sweaty VR workout. The ear pads also can be extended outwards, allowing you to have one on and one off if you need to hear the outside environment, and they also articulate up and down or swivel for a better fit.
The other main feature of the DAS is the inclusion of a rear mounted ratcheting knob that will snuggly cinch the harness down against the back of your skull. It’s a much simpler and more elegant solution compared to the Velcro found on the stock strap. Accommodating this feature is a new rigid head strap instead of the stock elastic. It comes with a foam covering and I really wish that HTC had gone all in with pleather like they did with the ear pads, although a faux-leather DAS cover can be obtained from VR Cover for $19.99 and I highly recommend getting it. The fit is generally going to be very good for most individuals and especially for those who have smaller heads, like children.
While I believe the DAS will be a welcome upgrade for many users, it does have some drawbacks. The biggest cause for concern is the potential for fragility it can introduce to the headset. The first of these weak points are the two flimsy plastic strips connecting the temples of the headset to the harness where it extends and retracts. Be mindful never to put much force on these, even just grasping the headset by the sides of the harness feels like it could easily snap. Instead, hold the headset either from the front sides or from the overhead strap. Several users have also reported that the DAS can come detached – sometimes irrevocably – due to loosened screws embedded in the sides. The screws in question can be tightened with a T6 torx screwdriver and are found on the inside of the headset near the temples.
Right where the headphones swivel also became loose after prolonged use and likewise needed to be tightened. The screws do not generally need to be tightened much, maybe only an 1/8th or ¼ turn should be enough to secure them in place.
Also of note is that while the headset will improve the overall fit for most people, those with large noggins, big hair, or ponytails will find the opposite to be true. In this instance, the elastic straps of the stock harness will be more accommodating.
I also found that with the ratcheting knob and rigid harness getting the “sweet spot” for a comfortable, yet snug, fit was much narrower. While the weight distribution of the DAS is an improvement, the combined weight is actually heavier than the stock head strap, and unless the harness hugs your head just right, it can be considerably more uncomfortable. Too loose, or if the harness is not flush against the back of your skull, you will really feel the pressure resting on your forehead, nose, and cheekbones. Too tight is also easily overdone compared to the elastic strap since the rigidity of the harness has little give to it and this will quickly turn into a headache. However, once that “sweet spot” is found, you’ll immediately recognize it.
My personal conclusion after spending some time with the DAS was that I still prefer using the stock head strap. Largely that feeling stems from the fact that I think the $99 price tag (plus the additional $19 for the improved cover) is overblown. It is neither deluxe enough to justify the cost nor is it so deluxe that it shouldn’t be bundled with every Vive headset by default. To me, this really does feel like a partial money grab from HTC for something that should have been included all along. Aside from that – and this is very subjective – I just don’t find it to be much more comfortable for my head shape and I prefer my own $59 headphones to the ones they integrated. My recommendation is that unless you’re really unsatisfied dealing with headphones or with the fit of your Vive to save your money. That said, many out there have found this to be an essential upgrade and worth the cost of admission.
What are your feelings on the Deluxe Audio Strap? Have one and love it or wish it came bundled? Let us know in the comments below.