We have all experienced, while in VR, moments of discomfort. When it comes to the Vive, these moments mostly revolved around the stock headstrap. It was either too tight, too loose, or hung the headset too low on my face; I couldn’t ever seem to get it so I could play comfortably for long periods of time. Enter the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap, which has a much more structured build, adjustment knob, and integrated audio. To really put the Deluxe Audio Strap to the test, I decided to write this entire review while wearing the headset with the strap attached.
One of my biggest criticisms of the original Vive headset is that if you want to use it for any extended period of time it becomes increasingly more uncomfortable. The longer you are in VR the more the small imperfections with a headset start to bother you. With the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap—due to launch on June 6th—those extended play sessions in VR are much more enjoyable.
The new design offers a padded, rigid frame that fits around the user’s head, along with adjustable built in headphones. The audio strap is solid enough to add some extra support without being too rigid. The solid exterior takes much of the weight off of the user’s face and spreads it out over the frame instead. The size adjusts by simply turning the adjustment dial at the back of the headset. The screen height can be adjusted similarly to the original Vive head strap by shortening the top velcro adjustment strap and moving the headsets screen into a comfortable height.
The headphones (which are now connected to the frame of the headset) flip down and rest comfortably on top of the users ear and can be adjusted up and down as well as pivot back and forth to accommodate different sized and placed ears.
With the rigid frame, I found myself experiencing much less discomfort than with the stock headstrap. Because of how easy it is to adjust adjust with the tightening knob in the back, I initially felt the urge to crank it tightly to my face. However I eventually found that tighter is not necessarily better, and that there’s a good middle ground which is very comfortable. After finding that point I didn’t need to adjust it any more.
Another massive improvement over the original Vive headstrap is that there are no more dangling headphone cables. The Deluxe Audio Strap’s built-in phones are comfortable and will never fall off or rip out of your ears when playing (which happened to me all the time when I’d swing my arms and inevitably pull on the headphone cable). They sit comfortably on top of the user’s ear instead of having to insert earbuds every time (as with the Vive’s stock earbuds).
This also makes it easier to switch users in and out of the headset. Rather than setting down your controllers, taking off the headphones, then taking off the Vive, then doing it all in reverse for the next player, just flip up the ear buds and slide the Vive off of your head and hand over the entire headset over to the next user.
The audio quality of the attached headphones is impressive. I spent some time listening to EDM, the Force Awakens soundtrack, and Skyrim soundtrack. It handles deep bass well and higher pitches easily. The sound is clean and captures all the ebbs and flows of any musical score. In virtual reality whether you are listening to the tweets of distant birds or the deep bass accompanying Space Pirate Trainer (2016) the headphones on the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap handle it all. Though I didn’t do extensive audio testing, at least when compared to your typical iPhone earbud, the built-in headphones outperforms them in every way.
When compared to the original headstrap that comes with the Vive, the Deluxe Audio Strap is big step up in quality. Just looking at the flimsy bacon-like stock strap sends shivers down my spine, reminding me of all the times I had to stop playing because of the headset pulling down uncomfortably on my head. HTC seemingly took what worked with Oculus’ head strap approach and adapted it to the Vive for this new strap.
The Deluxe Audio Strap was quite easy to set up. It’s as easy as unclipping the side-mounted stock headstrap and popping the new one into place. It shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. Once it is all set up the headset adjusts easily. The adjustment dial on the back is easy to twist and is solidly constructed. It does not move easily and will not adjust when the user doesn’t want it to.
The pivot points where the headphones connect are sturdy and snap in place with a satisfying click. These have some flex to them and they seem like they are built to last. When you are finished with the headset the headphones can flip out to make it easy to put the headset on for your next session.
The headphones now connect to the front of the audio strap and the cord that usually runs over the top of your head is redirected to the side. The cord is then secured to the back of the headset by a velcro cable tie. This was an interesting design choice and I am not sure why HTC didn’t just build in a cable tie to the headset instead of having the user secure it with a seemingly flimsy strap. This was the only build quality issue I had with the Deluxe Audio Strap. Overall it is sturdily built and seems as though it can put up with some rough VR sessions.
It would be difficult to go back to the factory headband after using the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap. It surpasses the original in every way: comfort, ease of use, and quality of construction. It feels like HTC got it right this time and put some real thought into the design. The Deluxe Audio Strap retails for $100. Is it worth it? Yes—if you use your Vive more than once or twice a month—it is definitely worth the purchase, especially when you consider you are not only getting a more comfortable VR experience, you are also getting a pair of quality headphones for your VR gaming. With the Deluxe Audio Strap I expect to use my Vive even more than I did before.