AVSIM Hardware Review

Aura Interactor

Review by Doug Horton

Doug Horton is a name that lots of you will be familiar with already.  Doug has been part of the Flightsim community for over 12 years, and has accumulated a wealth of knowledge during this time. He has written articles for Avsim in the past, so is no stranger to submitting reviews. As a real world pilot, Doug flies a Piper Dakota for which he is instrument rated.

So what has Doug written about this time?  Read on to find out more!

Fancy Having Your "Bones Rattled"??

Here’s the “good deal of the year!” It’s a device that will “rattle your bones” while flying your favorite computer flight simulator. It originally sold for about $160, and this “closeout” product can now be purchased in the U.S. for $20 plus shipping!

The Aura Interactor connects to your computer sound output to let you feel the sounds and vibrations of your aircraft

Now that I have your attention, you’re probably wondering “what is it?” The manufacturer calls it “virtual-reality game wear,” which was a new term to me until my friend and flight simulator veteran Howard Bloom told me about it. Perhaps you’ve heard of chairs that vibrate according to computer game sounds – “rumble seats”? They’re typically expensive and you may make a major investment without being confident that you’ll like the sitting on the chair or hearing and feeling its effects. In this case, the investment is minimal, and the effects are surprisingly fun to experience.

Instead of an entire chair, the Interactor is a rigid plastic backpack – the manufacturer calls it a “vest” – that houses the essential speaker and vibrator device. Additionally, the Interactor includes a heavy-duty UL-listed transformer and a power amplifier and control unit. As suggested by the graphic from the Interactor box, it can also be attached to any device with a stereo output, such as a television, VCR, stereo receiver, or game console, though you may need an inexpensive stereo adapter. The Interactor  box includes connection adapters for legacy Sega™ Genesis™ and Super Nintendo® game consoles, and these adapters may also work for later versions of these and similar game consoles.

The Aura Interactor includes the sound and vibration-emitting “vest,” power amplifier/control unit, heavy-duty transformer, manual, adapters, and connecting cables.

Setup and Documentation

Setting up the Interactor  is very simple. You plug the line cord of the 35-watt transformer to a 120-volt, 60 Hz receptacle and you plug the transformer output cord into the power amplifier. The transformer is Underwriters Laboratories-approved for electrical safety, and it includes two power outputs in its one output cord – probably for powering the two stereo channels in the power amplifier. The power amplifier includes several controls, which are completely explained in the instruction booklet, depending on the source to which you’re connecting. In this example, you plug the power amplifier into your computer sound card, or motherboard sound outlet, with the included cord with a mini stereo plug on each end. If you don’t have a spare speaker or headset output on your sound card or motherboard, you’ll need to purchase an inexpensive one-male/two-female “Y” connector – which the package I purchased calls a “3.5mm mini plug splitter jack.” I found it at an electronics store for about three dollars US. Lastly, you plug the Interactor  “vest” (backpack) into the power amplifier by means of its included 10-foot long cord. The cord is permanently connected to the Interactor  and it connects to the control unit with an RCA-type plug. Finally, you strap on the backpack, and you’re ready to test it.

The Aura Interactor In Action

Start up your favorite flight simulator, or other computer game, and turn the power amplifier on by means of the switch that is combined with the volume control. Set the volume to about level five. The manual recommends setting the Filter control to number 10. Note that the manual also recommends settings for two other switches on the power amplifier and control unit. Now, start a piston-powered aircraft, and you’ll feel the engine vibration. Lower the flaps and you’ll feel more vibration. It’s subtle, but if you taxi on a rough surface, you’ll feel those vibrations also.

How does it work? Examining the Interactor’s backpack, my impression is that it’s a “sub-sub-woofer” – meaning a speaker that operates in so low a frequency range that many of the frequencies are just felt, not heard. Through open slots in the plastic housing, you can see what looks like the center of a large speaker, but instead of the usual paper cone, or diaphragm, it looks like the moving portion of the speaker is mechanically connected to the backpack itself. The result is that low frequency sounds are transmitted by the sound card, amplified by the Interactor’s power amplifier, then converted to both low frequency sounds and vibrations, which you feel on your back. Turning up the volume control noticeably increases the vibrations! Truly, it will “rattle your bones!”

If you find it to be cumbersome to strap on the Interactor  for each use, Howard made another suggestion that I’ve followed: strap the Interactor  to your chair, and it will pass the vibrations through the chair to your body. Howard originally strapped his Interactor to front side of his chair back, so he was sitting against it during operation. Subsequently, both Howard and I have strapped our Interactor's to the backs of our chairs, and this mounting still provides very convincing sensations.

So What Does It Cost?

How can it be so inexpensive? Judging from the 1994 copyright and legacy game consoles mentioned in the instructions, the Interactor was produced several years ago, and the consoles for which it was developed are obsolete. Additionally, sales must have not been as great as the number produced, so there were several thousand left over, and along came O’Shea Ltd., a Web-based company specializing in buying and selling factory closeouts. I can’t guess how much O’Shea paid for each of the 7600 Interactor units they purchased, but they have over 5000 remaining in their warehouse inventory, which leads to the closeout price of only $20 plus shipping from Kansas City, Missouri. As I suggested earlier, all Interactor components seem to be quite heavy-duty and well made, and I’m confident that the O’Shea-quoted original selling price of $159.99 is quite realistic. Even the suitcase-style cardboard box and internal packaging are substantial. Judging from how well it works and the realistic vibrations it produces, the Interactor device itself is not obsolete. At the closeout price, it’s truly a bargain.

You can find out more about the Aura Interactor here.

 

What I Like About the Aura Interactor

The Interactor adds another sense to your flying experience. The more sound from the simulator or game, the more vibration. I’ve verified that the Interactor is fully compatible with FS2002, MS Train Simulator, the Fly! series, and X-Plane, and I’m confident that it will work with Combat Flight Simulator. In fact, the way it works, it has to be compatible with any game, that has sound; it simply turns sounds into vibrations. I’m guessing that it would also be quite enjoyable to use with games like auto racing and shooting games. Since it’s also compatible with any typical stereo outputs to which you can connect it with the stereo mini plug or adapter, I might have to hook it up to my television sound system and strap it on the next time I watch the movie Top Gun!

 

What I Don't Like About the Aura Interactor

With any flight simulator program, voices such as Air Traffic Control and ATIS reports, because they’re passing through your sound card, will also cause some vibration of the Interactor. If this becomes annoying, you can simply reduce the volume on the control unit. Ideally, the filter control could be used to reduce the effect of voice frequencies, but I was unable to do this. Still, the Aura Interactor is truly a “good deal” and with the low closeout price, I recommend trying it!

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The review above is a subjective assessment of the product by the author. There is no connection between the producer and the reviewer, and we feel this review is unbiased and truly reflects the performance of the product in the simming environment. This disclaimer is posted here in order provide you with background information on the reviewer and connections that may exist between him/her and the contributing party.

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