Cheap vs Expensive Sim Racing Shifters: Which To Choose?

In the realms of sim racing, price comparisons start to crop up when more and more gear becomes available. And with the introduction of full rigs available for set-up at home, sim racing shifters especially are starting to see large price differentials.

So, should you choose cheap or expensive sim racing shifters? In terms of overall features, longevity and quality, sim racing shifters on the more expensive side of the price spectrum are the best choice.

And yet, with so much to consider beyond the price alone, it’s important that I go in-depth about why I have reached the above conclusion. Keep reading!

How Expensive Sim Racing Shifters Became Popular

Everything has an origin or a reason for why a certain thing happened, and to know why expensive sets of shifters became so widespread and highly demanded, it’s important to understand the very roots of it.

Back when sim racing was in its formative years in terms of providing hardware for the experience, everything produced was expensive and unwieldly. Yet for that time, it made use of amazing technological innovation to make a tiny box with a plastic shifting arm to control a car in-game, as if in real life!

Originally, separate gear stick shifters for sim racing were very rare indeed. And you often had to search far and wide in order to find a bundle in which a stick shifter was included. Compared to a wheel and pedal set, stick shifters weren’t entirely considered to be an essential component in a rig.

To begin with, consumers weren’t too focused on the functionality of their shifter as long as it worked and allowed them to shift gears in a racing sim. However, as time went on and more hardware started being released across all platforms, this started to change rapidly.

Over time, prices dropped and different products were offered for different levels of sim racing enthusiasts to enjoy. In the same fell swoop, more and more shifters were developed that became very expensive indeed yet boasted cutting-edge technology to best replicate the feeling we’re all looking for:

Realism.

All sim racers want to enjoy the feeling of being in a racing car’s cockpit without actually spending the thousands upon thousands of dollars required to enter the real racing scene.

Over time, shifters for sim racing were tweaked and given more and more features to best replicate a gearbox in a real race car. Everything from their materials being upgraded to metal as opposed to plastic, and the split between H-pattern and sequential starting to form; this is when sim racers all over the world started to see the value of shifters in replicating a cockpit environment.

Compared to yesteryear, we have so much choice now when it comes to purchasing good sim racing shifters that it’s almost impossible to choose! So many features with a huge range of technology led to a trend of people leaning on the side of expense to guarantee that reliability for years to come.

But what truly propelled the popularity of expensive sim racing shifters was the introduction of eSports, and most notably, people using various media to broadcast their sim racing.

YouTubers and Twitch streamers were able to show their gameplay for something that they were pretty good at, and they could get paid by fans to do it. Their popularity led to sponsorships from bigger and better companies, and it showcased a whole new side of the luxury end of sim racing shifters that could guarantee amazing quality.

In order to continue earning a livelihood, these influencers and eSports competitors constantly looked for new shifters and a whole new market quickly emerged to satisfy that requirement.

Their videos inspired others to buy the same expensive products that they were using. New companies started to come out of the woodwork to join the sim racing giants such as ThrustMaster and Fanatec; specifically offering the cutting-edge levels of tech that everybody started to crave.

With the more spotlight that fell on sim racing, the more was learned about what makes a sim racing shifter truly worth its salt. Professional drivers started to move into streaming eSports in their spare time as training (Lando NorrisMax Verstappen). And all of a sudden, the industry had evolved into something positively expansive!

The simple truth of this focus on sim racing was: a sim shifter really cements the true racing car experience, literally driving the shifting power and therefore competitive nature of a rig. It has to be pretty amazing.

Your Shifter Is Essential!

It goes without saying that all parts of your sim racing rig are pretty crucial, considering how everything works together to provide a realistic driving experience, but without the shifter you’ll really be missing a key part of that realism.

There’s quite a large point up for debate about how necessary a separate stick shift really is, but you can’t deny how much more realistic your rig feels when you can reach out physically and change gears for yourself. No matter how responsive and high-quality your paddle shifters might be, there really isn’t a comparison in terms of replicating a real car’s cockpit.

If you plan to become competitive within sim racing, even in a local sense, it’s also important to note that all of your race times will be penalized while you use paddle shifters. In so many ways, having a stick shifter really benefits you as a racer!

On top of that, it’s important to note how aesthetically pleasing a full rig will look. A lot of sim racers alternate between paddle shifting and stick shifting because they talk about how you can’t beat the look of the more realistic deal. Squint just a bit at your rig with that stick shift in place and you’ll feel as if you’re in the cockpit of a real race car, especially with a sequential shifter!

Beyond an aesthetic aspect of reality is how important the actual feeling is, and this comes from something I previously mentioned: technology which replicates resistance that you would encounter from driving a real car.

When you drive your own car out there with a stick shift, you don’t just lightly press the stick and hope for the best, right? Part of the satisfaction of shifting comes from the force you have to output, the feeling of purpose that comes with each shift, and the absolute control you possess over the whole drive.

Stick shifters for sim racing rigs have multiple features in play that will replicate that resistance, and specifically the amount. Many shifters have a ball and spring resistance system in order to replicate an early peak force, after which the resistance drops. This will feel just like engaging the next gear in a real car’s cockpit!

In this area, investing the most amount of money possible is honestly a no-brainer else you’ll end up feeling disappointed. If you’ve previously been into arcades to feel closer to being a racing driver on the sim machines there, you’ll know how disappointingly easy a stick shifter will be to change gears with; if the machine even has one available.

Buying anything less than the best out there will always feel like a bad imitation.

Looking past features such as resistance systems or adjustable levers, the materials used in a stick shifter is also of paramount importance. This is both due to longevity (you know, how long it’ll actually last) and how it feels to race with.

The more expensive shifters out there benefit from the perfect blends of lightweight metal compounds and weighty steel to guarantee a longer product life without compromising on a competitive edge. This brings it that much closer to a real racing car’s kit, too.

Spending more at the time of purchase, having done your research for the best shifter you can buy, will guarantee a longer time spent using it. The materials and build quality will be considerably better, and you can check to make sure it will make the best rig possible for that perfect, personalized vibe.

If your sim racing shifter gives out first in your rig, you’ll be in a really tight spot with hardware that likely won’t work with a different brand and all sorts of other problems to face. That’s why the extra spend is worth it for the better materials alone, and then when you add in the extra features that define an amazing drive, you’re onto a real winner!

The Features That Separate Cheap And Expensive Shifters

I’ve touched on this a bit already, but it will do you a world of good to get a full picture of the various features to check for when buying a sim racing shifter. The following features are pretty essential to compare and contrast different products, after all, and to make sure that you’re getting the best shifter possible!

So, here’s a pretty comprehensive list of the features that put expensive shifters above cheap ones:

  • High-grade materials: Everything about an expensive shifter will feel just as good as it looks! Part of what makes this hardware so effective is the material it’s made out of, because materials with more weight will carry more natural heft. Metal and lightweight metal compounds are a staple within expensive shifters for this factor, and also because they will last far longer than your average plastic shifter.
  • Immersion: Paddle shifting is fine and all, but it really doesn’t beat the satisfaction of being deep into a race and nailing every single gear shift as you fly faster and faster around the circuit! H-pattern shifters might not be the most effective time-wise, but you’ll enjoy one of the most realistic experiences of your sim racing career should you choose to invest in one for your rig. There is a whole host of technology now, too, which adds this realism without adding extra time spent shifting; short-throw devices, slick mechanical gears, even electronic components for that consistently smooth drive. An expensive shifter will provide all of that and transport you into a real car’s cockpit in no time flat!
  • Reputable branding: Part of the expense when buying sim racing shifters on the pricier side comes with brand recognition, and a sort of unspoken agreement between the manufacturer and buyer that the product is reputable due to their name being emblazoned upon it. Well-known brands offer long warranties on their expensive shifters for a reason; they’re telling you that the product will be worth the price and then some! It also points to a company who care deeply about sim racing development and they’re more likely to introduce new technology for their products.
  • Uncompromised racing: As previously mentioned, having a H-pattern shifter is one of the best purchases you can make in terms of overall realism for your rig, but it isn’t often the most competitive one. But if you balance this with the fact that paddle shifting in actual sim races will slap you with a time penalty, and then look deeper into the shifting world, you’ll find the perfect balance of both realism and competitive edge. Expensive sequential shifters will keep you in the main racing fray with hugely satisfying gear shifting. As always in this field, you can find plenty of gear and additions for the ultimate drive beyond a realistic feeling.
  • Ultimate Adjustability: Stick shifters worth their salt will come equipped with the ability to have their knobs switched out and even the levers to be changed, giving you, the driver, absolute control of the resistance you want and all sorts of aspects such as height and position. This ability to easily adjust a shifter to your liking is what really separates expensive ones from budget options.

The Notable Benefits Of An Expensive Sim Racing Shifter

I covered this in a general sense earlier when discussing why an expensive shifter is so important, but this needs its own section for it to be properly explored for the benefit of you, the reader!

In true punchy fashion, to deliver the necessary information you’ll need when buying a sim racing shifter, here’s a quick list of the benefits attached to expensive shifters:

  1. Absolute Immersion: Everything from the looks to the feel of using one, a truly great sim racing shifter is designed to replicate the feeling of being in a real race car’s cockpit. This is achieved in multiple ways that all combine for the ultimate immersive drive every time you get your hand on the shifter!
  2. Lasting Value: Although the initial spend is considerably greater than cheap sim racing shifters, you’re guaranteed better value for money when you weigh up all factors. The materials will be sourced for better quality and longevity, and features such as a ball spring resistance system will continue to deliver realistic resistance over time. Spending extra on an expensive shifter is the perfect investment to improve yourself as a racer and it’s a gift that will continue giving even after years of use.
  3. Competitive Streak: Everything about expensive sim racing shifters are designed to give its owner a huge breadth of development opportunities in order to improve their lap times in-game and generally have huge scope for improvement. This is why professionals and the serious enthusiasts are so hot on these sim racing shifters specifically! No matter your level of experience, an expensive piece of hardware is the perfect choice if you’re looking to bolster your abilities.
  4. Seamless Compatibility: No matter what your medium for sim racing is, whether it be console or PC, expensive hardware will have the best connection options for painless and entirely personalized set-ups. Cheaper (generally imported) sim racing shifters suffer from poor or limited connectivity, but more expensive varieties are designed with wide compatibility as standard.
  5. Total Comfort: Part of the positives of expensive, high-quality materials put into the making of sim racing shifters is how much better it becomes to race for prolonged periods of time. The last thing you want is slippery, poor-quality plastic to grab and probably slip off during intense races, after all!

How To Tell Cheap And Expensive Shifters Apart

You might think that it’s as easy as spending more money to get an expensive, high-quality sim racing shifter. But, as with a lot of things in life, simply spending more doesn’t immediately equal quality!

For one, some sellers on the worldwide web are pretty good at upselling their products when they simply aren’t up to par. They’re able to make a huge profit by attaching attractive, recognizable brand names to cheap, imported shifters and selling them at the same price as the real deal.

To guard yourself against such misrepresentation online, always make sure to do your research!

This comes as a general rule of thumb when buying anything for sim racing, because you want to make sure you’re getting the best product for your money. Learning about what other sim racers think about hardware or shifters or whatever it might be will always help you separate good brands from needlessly expensive ones, so keep your ear to the ground and stay up-to-date with places like Reddit.

Another golden rule of separating expensive products from cheap ones is this mantra: less is always more!

If a shifter comes boasting a list of features and crazy designs, you can typically dismiss it as a cheaper quality product. A large marketing point for people selling cheap products is to load it with features and an eye-catching design, but more often than not, it’s all hot air and more trouble than it’s worth.

A good, solid sim racing shifter will be rather pared-back in appearance with sleek designs and colors reminiscent of race car cockpits. There’ll be some outliers and exceptions to this rule, however, but they will almost always be made by reputable hardware brands.

And speaking of brands…

The Best Expensive Sim Racing Shifter Brands To Look Out For

Having covered everything from the features of expensive, high-quality shifters all the way to separating them from cheaper products, it’s about time that I show you all some great examples of sim racing shifter brands that you should be checking out!

I’ve spent a large portion of time researching this specific area due to needing a replacement shifter for myself soon, so here’s a list of sim racing shifter brands that offer high-quality products (in no particular order):

  • Pro Sim
  • Heusinkveld
  • Fanatec
  • ThrustMaster
  • Aiologs
  • Frex
  • SHH Shifter
  • DSD Derek Speare Designs
  • Aeron Sim

All of the above manufacturers are especially reputable and the favorites of sim racers the world over! They’re either specifically dedicated to the production of sim racing shifters, or generally produce high-end sim racing hardware for your whole rig.

I implore you to check out their official websites and browse the amazing shifters they have available!

Make sure to consider the brands for more than just your sim racing shifter; especially if you have yet to build a full rig and if you race on console. PC gamers have the benefit of a flexible system which allows you to build a rig consisting of differing hardware brands that mesh together, but console requires you to have the same brands for connectivity purposes.

Cheap Or Expensive: Which Sim Racing Shifter To Buy

As a person who used to race cars and karts through my teenage years, I know for sure how important budget can be. Especially in the case of sim racing; it’s a hobby first and foremost! While I’d recommend buying the best thing you can possibly afford for all of the benefits I’ve talked about, sometimes it just isn’t viable for a casual interest.

However, even weighing up my own background as a racer on a budget wrestling to get competitive gear for a reasonable price, I know in my heart of hearts that an expensive sim racing shifter is the way to go.

Let’s look at an example to help illustrate my thoughts on the matter.

Pro Sim is a UK-based company who design and create professional-grade sim racing hardware for that ultimate edge in competition. They make everything from stick shifters to pedals, all the way to force feedback wheelbases for customizable rigs.

They currently make three separate stick shifter products, and they are: the PSL Sequential Shifter V2, Sequential Shifter and H-Pattern Shifter. For the purposes of this example, I’ll be choosing to look at their PSL Sequential Shifter V2 due to the product’s high level of technology and excellence without the crazy price tag of the other hardware.

Let’s say the shifter costs between roughly $525. The PSL Sequential Shifter V2 is at the cutting edge of gear change resistance systems, mechanical excellence and the pinnacle of quality engineering due to an automotive engineer company working on it.

If you browse Amazon for a sim racing stick shifter, you’ll struggle to find a stand-alone product except for some of the big brands such as Fanatec and ThrustMaster, and notable imported products. The price range for these is between $60 and $120.

You decide to go for the cheaper option, as most people likely will, as it feels like better value for money. Let’s say for argument’s sake that you spend $90 on an imported stick shifter, it arrives, and you rush to get it hooked up right away.

Due to how imported products typically work, you’ll probably find that its compatibility is limited and won’t plug into your pedal set nor using a USB device. Time to hop on Google and find out if an adapter exists for your chosen shifter. You find one, but it costs an extra $25 and more time spent waiting to even try out the thing!

Finally, the adapter arrives and you can get to racing with the new shifter. Pretty much all imported and budget products in sim racing will be made of a hardened plastic compound, which will quickly begin to wear down and become uncomfortable the more you use it. Finally, the shifter arm snaps clean in two after you’ve been using it for less than a year.

You buy the same shifter and continue racing where you left off, but you just can’t shake how flimsy the whole thing feels. If it’s a H-pattern, you could try to push it into gear and likely break more parts of the hardware due to hitting the gate rather than the slot. But it works, and you can race.

It just doesn’t feel right.

Within a year you’ve already bought two shifters and an adapter required to use it, totaling $205. Sure, it’s still cheaper than the PSL Sequential Shifter V2, but the minimum 5-year-warranty on that product wouldn’t leave you high and dry. You can depend on products such as that.

Essentially, this process will rinse and repeat for as long as you buy budget sim racing shifters. With lower quality standards than dedicated sim racing brands, imported hardware is churned out and isn’t designed to last beyond a year. Perfect for casual fans who will occasionally have a race or two, but for anybody else who wants to make a regular fixture of their racing?

It will become more of a liability than a bargain.

Cheaper shifters from great brands are always better than a straight-up import or a typical arcade-style variety. You can guarantee a minimum level of good quality and something that’ll last you longer than a single year without committing to the price of whole rig which can really intimidate some people.

Overall, the choice is simple: always look for more expensive sim racing shifters. It will do you a world of good no matter your level of sim racing experience, and you can guarantee a huge improvement in your gameplay when you aren’t worrying about breaking your flimsy shifter!