For the past month I’ve been testing the Fanatec DD1 and DD2 back to back against the Simucube 2 Sport and Pro, as well as asking the sim racing community for their questions, and drawing upon my extended experience with the DD2 and SImucube 2 Ultimate to put together a series of review videos on each product.

Today we conclude the series with my experiences, observations and conclusions from testing all of these wheelbases.

Still on the fence about which will best suit your needs? This video is for you. More the reading type? The transcript of the video is below…

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This topic is naturally going to be a polarising one. I go into this fully aware that whatever I say, I’m going to upset half the internet, so we’re just going to keep this to the raw facts and my observations based on my personal experience. Now I want to make one thing clear from the start, the best sim racing gear is the gear you own. We’ve established long ago that many of the fastest people in e-sports sim racing use entry level gear with the force feedback turned down. We’ve established that pedals and a solid cockpit are the most significant factors in developing muscle memory, with muscle memory being the most important aspect to driving quickly and consistently. If that sounds weird to you, we have a number of videos covering these topics in detail which are linked below.

The role of a force feedback system is to communicate what’s going on with the car. Not necessarily as accurately as possible, but in a way that your brain can interpret as efficiently as possible in the absence of the other cues (primarily g-force) that are missing in the context of a simulation. This is the reason why some of the fastest people in e-sports swear less is more when it comes to raw pace. As long as you can feel the things you need to feel, anything else is unnecessary when it comes to going fast.

But raw pace is only part of the experience, what many of us seek is the deeper level of immersion that comes with higher end sim racing equipment, this despite the added complexity it brings in many cases. This in my opinion is what forms the basis for most of the arguments we see within the sim racing community when it comes to hardware. You’ve got those who are willing to spend the money and put in the time required for a better, albeit more complicated experience, then on the other side you’ve got those who just want to win the race. Guy A with the high end gear gets beaten by guy B with the low end gear, and the “YOU WASTED YOUR MONEY” finger pointing begins.

But the point of a review is to look at the hardware and the overall ownership experience as objectively as possible, so that’s what we’re here to do today in the hope it will help those trying to make a decision on which path to take feel more confident in their choice.

So today we’re looking at the Simucube 2 Pro and Sport along side the Fanatec DD1 and DD2.

We’ll be looking at the following as objectively as possible, using my experience over the last 4 weeks testing all four systems back to back extensively with over 10 hours on each base, as well as drawing on my extended experience with the DD2 and Simucube 2 Ultimate for some parts. It should also be noted that all conclusions are based upon the latest drivers/firmware and software available, and this does have a significant impact as well discuss later on.

So we’ll be looking at:

  • Build Quality and Reliability
  • Ease of Use and Initial Setup
  • Wider Ecosystem (Integration with other hardware/software)
  • Force Feedback Quality
  • Value for Money

Build Quality and Reliability

First let’s talk about quality. Both internally and externally, the Simucube 2 has the edge here. We’ll talk about the motors themselves a little later on when we talk about force feedback quality, but while there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the DD1 and DD2, the Simucube 2s have a noticeably more solid and industrial grade look and feel to them in my opinion at least. Feel free to judge for yourself. I’ve linked some videos below where we pulled both apart and showed the internals. To my eye having worked in military spec electronics manufacturing and repair for the first 7 years of my career, the Simucube 2 units look like something I would expect to find installed in an industrial setting, where-as the Fanatec gear is noticeably more commercial grade. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It could perhaps be argued that the Simucube 2 gear is beyond what’s required for home use, and that it would have been better to lower the quality to reduce the price, but it can’t be argued that we see very few cases of people experiencing hardware issues with Simucube 2 products and I believe this “no expense spared” approach is the reason. We’ll talk about this more when we move on to reliability in just a moment.

The standard SQR Quick Release system that comes with the Simucube 2 is much simpler than that of its Fanatec counterparts and does not have any flex or play what-so-ever. The Fanatec Quick Release on the other hand does have some noticeable flex as we have demonstrated in multiple videos linked below. In my opinion at least however, this flex isn’t noticeable while driving unless you’re specifically paying attention to it, and while simple physics says that some fidelity in the force feedback would be lost as a result, I can’t say I’ve noticed a difference to the driving experience when using 3rd party modifications such as the Z-Ring to remove the flex.

It should be noted that Fanatec are handling both power and communications via a pin assembly in the quick release mechanism, which inherently adds complexity. While the quick release has pins, that connect to the wheel, to allow infinite rotation of the motor shaft, Fanatec uses inductive coupling to provide wireless power, and a specially designed zero latency optical communications system to provide the data connection. In the case of the Simucube 2, you have the choice of using a wheel either connected via USB, or battery powered and connected to the wheelbase via Bluetooth. There are no “smarts” in the quick release itself. In theory this should mean there is less latency when pushing buttons on the Fanatec wheels than with Simucube Wireless wheels, however I have never found latency to be an issue on either system, with no discernible difference between the two.

Reliability wise, personally in the year now that I’ve been using a Simucube 2 Ultimate and Fanatec DD2, I’ve never experienced any reliability issues with either, not did I experience any problems when testing the DD1, Simucube 2 Sport or Pro. I keep my ear very close to the ground when it comes to monitoring various threads and Facebook groups online and can honestly say I’ve only ever seen a handful of people report issues with Simucube gear, and in every case I’ve seen, Simucube’s staff have been on it very quickly.

On the flip side, I can’t say the same for Fanatec. There have been quite a number of people reporting issues in the time since the DD1 and DD2 were released. Most notably around the OLED display and Power Supply. We do have to keep in mind however that Fanatec do sell quite a number more units than Simucube do, so it’s not really fair to compare experiences shared online directly as a measure of reliability. We also have to keep in mind that people in general as less likely to share their good experiences. The same goes for any industry.

One thing I do like in particular about Simucube 2 units is their simplicity. For example, the wheelbase and power supply are both passively cooled, which eliminates multiple potential sources of failure.

Overall I feel like Simucube have taken a more “no expense spared” approach to the design of the SC2 Sport and Pro, where-as with the DD1 and DD2 it’s much easier to see where manufacturing costs have been saved. However if the Simucube 2s offered the same functionality when it comes to things like OLED displays, I’d imagine they would have needed to cut costs in other areas or raise their prices too, so this ultimately boils down to wither or not you’d prefer additional features or more industrial construction.

Ease of Use & Reliability

Next let’s talk about Ease of use and setup. This is an area where I see a lot of people arguing in Fanatec’s favour, but the truth is if we’re talking just in the context of wheel and wheelbases and ignoring other peripherals, both the Fanatec and Simucube 2 bases are very easy to set up and use. As far as the hardware itself goes, both are almost identical. You plug in power, USB and your e-Stop, connect your wheel and you’re all set. On the software side, once again Simucube have a more industrial look and feel. Both Fanatec and Simucube give you a similar level of access to fine tuning adjustments, and both have straight forward tool tips which clearly explain how each adjustment impacts the driving experience.

In the case of the Simucube, there is only one software package to unzip and run. You have the ability from within the software to check for and download updates and the firmware upgrade process is very straight forward with a simple installation wizard system to guide you through the steps.

In the case of Fanatec, if you want full access to all of the features available, you’ll need to install both the driver and a separate software package called Fanalab. However, once both of these are installed, the experience is pretty similar. There are a few additional steps involved when upgrading Fanatec firmware, but this is mostly due to the fact that it’s important for the firmware on the base to match that of the wheel. As Simucube 2 relies entirely on 3rd party wheels, any firmware upgrades to these are done entirely independently and this do add additional complexity to the process.

Where Fanatec do have an edge when it comes to ease of use however is in consistency between various sim titles. When I switched from my Fanatec Clubsport Wheelbase 2.5 to my Simucube 2 Ultimate, one of the things I really struggled with was how much the driving experience varied significantly between different games. As we rely so heavily on muscle memory for speed and consistency, this did make me miss how easy things were with the Fanatec system, and after months driving with my Simucube 2 Ultimate, it was refreshing when my DD2 arrived and I got that consistency back.

I spent many weeks fine tuning my force feedback settings but was never able to get the Simucube 2 to feel as consistent between titles as the DD2 felt straight out of the box, and it’s been the same experience with the DD1, as well as the SC2 Sport and Pro. I wish I could tell you exactly why this is but the truth is I don’t know. Perhaps it’s down to the game level integration we see between Fanatec and developers. Many games come with Fanatec profiles cooked in, where-as with SImucube you have to start from scratch, however they do provide a list of recommended settings for most popular sim titles on their forums.

This is an area where I’m sure we will see Simucube catch up over time as the brand grows and their products become more popular, so I don’t see it being a long term complication, but something I have definitely experienced over the past year.

On the subject of recommended settings, both Simucube and Fanatec both provide suggested profiles for most popular sim titles which can be loaded within their software. With Simucube this is done all within the one True Drive software package, whereas with Fanatec this does require the additional Fanalab software to be installed.

Wider Ecosystem (Integration with other hardware/software)

The best way I can think of to describe this is “Fanatec is the Apple of sim racing”. With Fanatec, everything is nicely integrated and provided all your gear is Fanatec, only requires one USB connection to the PC or console. This allows everything to be controlled through the one sofware package for added convenience, as well as allowing Fanatec full control over their hardware and software, meaning a more consistent user experience.

While Simucube does have a proprietary Bluetooth based wireless connection which provides consistency in how 3rd party wireless wheels are connected, and there is an accessories port available too for connecting other peripherals, generally speaking most people will find themselves using multiple USB ports for carious different devices such as pedals, shifters, etc, all requiring their own software and drivers to operate.

So when it comes to overall simplicity and ease of use, Fanatec do have the edge simply due to the nature of their ecosystem. However Simucube have layed the groundwork in place with their accessories port, as well as in their software so that they could easily provide the same ease of integration should they offered a wider product range themselves into the future. We’ve already seen a few products make use of their accessories port such as Racewerk’s pedals, so I believe the Simcube 2 ecosystem as a whole is still very much in it’s infancy.

But as of right now if you want a direct drive with the simplest plug and play experience and seemless integration with other peripherals, the Fanatec ecosystem is the obvious choice (and the only choice when it comes to native console support).

Force Feedback Quality

So we’ve talked already about the driving experience in terms of consistency, but what about the actual force feedback quality? As I said when I first fired up my Simucube 2 Ultimate base a year ago, it’s absolutely completely smooth without any hint of cogging, torque ripple or graininess. What surprised me however was that the experience was the same with the Pro and even the Sport. I expected there would be some sacrifices in this department when stepping down to wheelbases which cost a fraction as much as my Ultimate, but this was not the case. All three of these wheel bases are the only wheelbases I’ve ever used that are able to provide this level of smoothness, and while it’s mainly noticeable when sitting stationary in the pits, it really goes a long way to providing that overall deeper level of immersion that most people spending this kind of money on sim racing gear are craving. When I first fired up my DD2, I was disappointed with the experience it provided even when compared with my ClubSport Wheelbase 2.5, but updating to the latest drivers available at the time greatly improved the experience, and again more recently with the 371 drivers from Fanatec, the experience has again been transformed.

At the time that I reviewed the DD2, the Simucube 2 Ultimate was the only other Direct Drive wheelbase I had experience with, and I commented that I wasn’t sure if Fanatec could ever close the gap in overall smoothness to the outrunner motor being used as opposed to the servo motor being used in the Simucube 2s. However I have to say that in the year since then, and particularly with the most recent drivers, they have indeed closed the gap even further. Perhaps they’ll one day be able to close that cap entirely based on firmware. I’m not sure.

But smoothness aside, comparing the DD1 and DD2 directly to each-other comes purely down to the difference in dynamic range. They are otherwise identical in how they feel.

When comparing the Simucube 2 Pro and Sport to each-other, the differences were more noticeable, with the main difference I felt being the faster response time of the Pro due to the increased slew rate. For more detail on that check out our comparison video linked above.

Comparing the DD1 to the Simucube 2 Sport, the two feel quite similar in their overall dynamic range, with the DD1 having a holding torque of 15NM and Peak of 20NM, and the SC2 Sport having a peak toque of 17NM (and seemingly able to hold this consistently without overheating and throttling back). However, the Simucube 2 Sport does have a smoother and more responsive overall feel. One characteristic present with the Fanatec DD1 and DD2 is a mechanical feeling clunk in the force feedback on rapid change of direction and occasionally when bumping over aggressive curbs. I’m not sure exactly what causes this. I don’t believe it’s a mechanical thing so I’m confident it will be resolved at some point through firmware updates, but the Simucube 2 Sport does provide a more refined driving experience overall.

The comparison between the DD2 and Simucube 2 Pro is similar, but with the Pro feeling sharper still by comparison due to the increased slew rate we discussed earlier.

Earlier we discussed how the Fanatec bases generally provided a more consistent force feedback feel between different sims in my experience, and this also became quite significant when comparing bases against each other directly as well. I found that in more simcade style titles such as Dirt Rally 2, F1 2019, F1 2020, Project Cars 2, etc, I was never able to get the Force Feedback quite dialled in with the Simucube bases to suit my driving style quite like I could with the Fanatec ones. That’s not to say it can’t be achieved, but I feel this is probably down to the game level integration we see with Fanatec. It’s a hard thing to describe, but while detail like road textures was still sharper with the Simucube bases, the way the car and tyre physics are translated in the more simcade style titles just felt more realistic with the Fanatec bases despite spending many hours fine tuning things like spring force, damper and static force reduction with the Simucube 2. The smoothness I had enjoyed in titles like ACC, iRacing, AC, etc translated into a more rubbery and disconnected feeling.

But that aside, in my experience, when you’re in the heat of battle as opposed to intentionally analysing all the subtle nuances of each, the differences seem much smaller. Those who regularly watch my content would have seen I completed quite a few of my normal weekly iRacing races using various different bases over the past month and not once did my overall pace suffer as a result. Within a few laps of switching bases I was right back where I had been previously, so I think this really goes to show that at the pointy end of sim racing hardware, to a large extent it does come down to nitpicking.

When I switched from a Simucube base to a Fanatec base, it initially felt grainy by comparison, but within a few laps this was forgotten in every case. However, when switching from a Fanatec back to a Simucube 2, I did miss the additional features the Fanatec bases offer. Things like the ability to make adjustments to the force feedback from the wheel without having to alt-tab out of the game, or the additional features like rev lights and OLED displays. For those wondering, I intentionally didn’t run my SimCore dash because I wanted to see how much I would actually miss the display on the Fanatec bases. But of course if you have other peripherals which provide that functionality it will be less of a factor for you.

Value for Money

We also do need to consider that although The Simucube 2 Sport and DD1, as well as the Pro and DD2 are relatively closely matched in price, 3rd party wheels for the Simucube wireless platform do tend to be significantly more expensive. One thing I would love to see is some cheaper wheels made available to suit this platform as I think this may attract a lot more customers. In my experience, once you’re in the Simucube world, the temptation is greater to spend a lot more money than within the Fanatec ecosystem simply due to the abundance of choices available from so many 3rd party manufacturers.

Final Conclusions

Having spent well over 40 hours over the past month swapping between these 4 bases, and hundreds of hours switching between my Simucube 2 Ultimate and DD2 prior to that, what does it boil down to?

When I drive with a Simucube 2, I can’t imagine force feedback feeling any better. Particularly when playing with VR, I completely forget I’m in a simulation. When I’m driving with a Fanatec DD, the slight underlying cogging effect or grain as it could be described does serve as a reminder that it’s not real, but I do forget about it within a few laps and ultimately enjoy the experience just as much.

To that point, I found the same when I drove with the Simagic M10. It was far more notchy and grainy than the Fanatec DD bases, and yet I still forgot about it after a few laps and just enjoyed the drive, and most experiences I’ve read online suggest similar.

As much as I’m sure everyone would love me to say one is straight up better than the other, I really don’t feel that’s the case. Both brands have their strengths.

For me Simucube 2 has the edge when it comes to build quality and overall force feedback quality (provided you’re playing a sim that takes advantage of it), but Fanatec has the edge when it comes to a strongly integrated ecosystem, consistency between different sim titles (which really shouldn’t be underestimated if you jump between sims regularly) and a wider range of feature rich wheels available at more affordable prices.

Will Fanatec continue to close the gap in terms of the overall driving experience, I believe so. Will the DD1 and DD2 be able to achieve the same convincing level of smoothness that we enjoy with the Simucube 2, I’m really not sure the outrunner motor has the same potential that Simucube’s servo motors have, but I could be wrong and have certainly been proven wrong previously. As I said before, when I originally reviewed the DD2 almost a year ago, I didn’t think further firmware updates would be able to refine the feel any further but that was very much proven wrong with the most recent drivers and firmware and I can’t stress enough the importance of the software and firmware side of things. Particularly when it comes to direct drive, the quality of the filters and algorithms that are processing the data in the background are absolutely crucial.

My observation is that Fanatec and Simucube have taken different approaches to similar products. Simucube have focused primarily on providing the best quality force feedback possible for a given price point, where-as Fanatec have focused on providing a more feature rich experience overall. Which is more important? That’s entirely subjective. After-all we’ve already established that at this price point all we’re really gaining is deeper immersion anyway, so what immerses you more in the driving experience?

Ultimately, regardless of which path you decide to take, you love it. They’re all great products at the end of the day and I’m very excited not only to see what future improvements can be made, but what other companies bring to the table in the not too distant future. As I mentioned in my recent “Is now a bad time to buy sim racing gear” video, I get the sense the competition is about to heat up which can only be a great thing for the sim racing community.

I hope you have enjoyed this video series, and thanks again to Brett from Hybrid Racing Simulations for loaning me the SC2 Sport and Pro to make these videos possible, as well as Fanatec for providing their DD1 and DD2, and Simucube for providing their Ultimate.

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