A good set of headphones is key for boosting immersion in a VR game. I didn’t realize that a nice pair of shoes could amplify it even further.
Not just any shoes, mind you. I’ve been testing out DropLabs’ $300 EP-01, a pair of Yeezy-inspired shoes with bass-rattling speakers embedded in their soles. When they’re really bumping, it feels like what I imagine it’d be like to stand on a concert PA while it pushes out sound. You can tune the intensity of the bass via an iOS or Android app, which you’ll need to use anyway to initialize the shoes. Have you ever initialized shoes?
DropLabs intends for the EP-01 to be worn in everyday life, wirelessly providing the beat to whatever music you’re listening to in your headphones. They’re certainly stylish enough to not give away that they hide speakers within them, and their tech-packed sole gives me a confidence-boosting lift off the ground. But truthfully, I think the EP-01’s true calling is for stationary gaming at home with a virtual reality headset fastened to your head.
Applied in VR, they provide an ingredient I didn’t realize had been missing. Ambient world sounds, music thumps, gun shots, and practically everything else that emits a sound in the lows and mids frequency zones will let the EP-01 push blasts of bass up your shins. They can do this for standard non-VR games that you might be playing on PC or on a console, but there’s something special about using them in virtual reality.
Setting up the EP-01 for VR or other kinds of gaming is simple enough, but far more clumsy and restrictive than if you’re just on a walkabout listening to music via Bluetooth. In addition to buying the shoes, you’ll need DropLabs’ proprietary $25 low-latency gaming cable, which lets you connect a set of wired headphones and the EP-01 to an audio source, like a computer, console controller, or really any device that has a 3.5mm jack. These shoes have magnetic charging ports on their rears, which is what the low-latency cable snaps onto (DropLabs includes a wall charger with each shoe purchase that connects to them in the same manner).
The cable does its job without issue and no drivers are necessary to install before you can jump in, but unfortunately, this cable is too short to be useful for non-stationary VR. If you want to get up and walk around for a room-scale experience, people who are taller than around five feet, five inches will likely accidentally yank off one, or both, of the magnetically attached cables connecting the shoes to your headset at some point. In my case, I’m around five feet, nine inches, so not super tall, and I had to awkwardly hunch while using the Oculus Quest 2 to make sure everything remained attached.
My experience wearing the EP-01 with room-scale VR was far more immersive than when I was sitting down with them on my feet. I could dance to the beat in Tetris Effect as I organized descending tetrominoes, or while I blasted all of the targets in Rez: Infinite. I think I screamed when I was surprised by the intense sensory experience caused when a big, shield-carrying Combine soldier flanked me in Half-Life: Alyx. Feeling sounds like footsteps coming from the game worlds made me feel that much more in the game. That said, if it works out better for you to remain seated, I think you’ll still have a great, multisensory experience.
Just remember to occasionally charge the shoes and turn them off when you’re done to save battery. DropLabs claims these have six-hour battery life, and I’ve only had to recharge them once, what with me using them mostly in fits and starts at home. But if you forget to power them down, your speaker shoes will eventually die and become regular — yet very heavy — shoes.
When I first wrote about the DropLabs speaker shoes a few months ago, I knew I needed to try them out. I needed to know what it would be like to have $300 Bluetooth-connected shoes that vibrate in tandem with music that I’m listening to from my phone. And since I’m usually playing PC games, I also needed to try out the optional accessory that lets you connect these shoes to your computer with a wire to sync up game audio coming through my headset to the shoes, cumbersome as it seemed to have my head and my feet wired into a computer simultaneously.
I can report now that the zany-sounding experience is exactly what I thought it’d be, for better or worse. They’re the best-sounding shoes I’ve ever worn, as well as the most comfortable speaker shoes to grace my feet.
Jokes aside, these are most worth your money if you are really into VR. Yet, you’ll still be subject to their clumsy, wired setup that requires you to spend an additional $25 on top of $300. I can’t otherwise recommend them for casual wear, unless you really want to simulate wearing two Bluetooth-connected ankle weights strapped to your feet while you walk around.