Your steering wheel is the most important part of your sim racing setup, but upgrading to direct drive can seem like an unnecessarily expensive choice. So, if you’re looking to upgrade your sim racing wheel, or buy your first one, it’s worth exploring whether direct drive is worth the money.
Direct drive sim racing wheels are worth the money if realism and immersion are important to you. However, if you are a beginner, or are on a tight budget, direct drive may not be worth buying just yet, but there are some good DD wheel bases on the market for less than $500.
Direct drive wheels take things to the next level in terms of immersion, and so if you are a much more experienced sim racer, direct drive could be the logical way to go for your next racing wheel. However, it is a lot of money to part with, so let’s consider the choice in a bit more detail.
Why Do You Want A Direct Drive Wheel?
If you are just looking to upgrade your steering wheel because you want a change from your current model, this might not be a good enough reason. If your current one performs well and provides you with enough force feedback for your playstyle, you might not need to upgrade.
Likewise, if you are just looking to upgrade your wheel because you see that direct drive options are very popular, this could also be a mistake. There is a lot more to the direct drive systems than simply enhanced realism. They can take a lot of getting used to, and they simply are not the right choice for everyone.
Why Direct Drive Sim Racing Wheels Are Worth It
Direct drive wheels offer lots of torque, measured in Nm. While an average belt-driven sim racing wheel might offer less than 5 Nm of torque, an entry-level direct drive wheel base might offer 10+ Nm. However, there are some direct drive options on the market, like the Fanatec CSL DD, that offer 5 Nm of torque, which might seem low.
Direct drive wheels may also have a quoted ‘slew rate‘ which, put very simply, is a measure of how quickly the torque levels can change. For example, the Simucube 2 Ultimate, one of the best direct drive wheel bases on the market, offers a slew rate of 9.5 Nm/ms, while their cheapest base, the Simucube 2 Sport, offers a 4.8 Nm/ms slew rate.
In other words, the torque levels can change almost twice as fast on the Ultimate as on the Sport. This can make the wheel base feel more responsive, but it can also make it feel too responsive. Many sim racers will turn down the slew rate to avoid the wheel base feeling too snappy, and many manufacturers don’t talk much about slew rates, so it’s definitely not the most important number to consider.
However, it’s not just the torque numbers that matter, as it also comes down to the fidelity of the experience you get with direct drive. There are no belts or gears amplifying the force from the motor, meaning you feel every little bump and loss of traction while you drive. This can not only add a new layer of immersion, but it can even boost your performance, as you can react faster to in-game feedback.
More Is Not Always Better
A lot of people think that more torque is always better. While this is often true, in the context of sim racing wheels, it is not always the case. More torque requires more skill to control it. Just because it is more powerful, it does not mean that you will instantly become a better driver. In fact, it will likely be the opposite at first!
Although direct drive wheels are more than capable of providing torque levels reaching upwards of 20 Nm, this is just far too much for most people. If you are just starting out as a sim racer, you will probably never use much more than 30% of the power of a direct drive wheel. Belt-driven options produce single-digit torque levels, and they are definitely adequate for beginners.
If You Have The Skill, Go For It
However, if you are a more advanced sim racer, with a decent level of skill, you may find these lower end models to be lacking in both realism and performance. In this case, having the option to crank up the torque a bit more may indeed allow you to become a better racer. If you are looking for more realism, and more power, then yes, a direct drive wheel is your best option.
Key Point: Remember, direct drive wheels don’t just offer more torque, as they also provide better resolution of the finer details of the driving experience, as the wheel is connected directly to the motor, rather than via belts or gears
Your Experience Level Matters
This brings us onto perhaps the most important thing to consider when upgrading any part of your sim racing rig, and that is how experienced you are. You want to make sure that you can actually get the most out of whatever product you buy, and the converse is also true, meaning you want to make sure that whatever you buy can provide enough of what you need to perform at your highest level.
In the case of your steering wheel, this could be in terms of torque, as we have mentioned. Beginners will struggle even on the maximum force feedback settings of most gear and belt-driven racing wheels, and so a direct drive option is just not the right way to go. However, experienced players might not find these to be strong enough, and they might want to upgrade to direct drive.
But it’s not just the power that matters when it comes to experience level, as direct drive systems often involve a lot more setup tweaking as well. They will usually have their own plethora of settings either within the wheel base itself or on specific software that can be installed on the platform you are playing on. These settings can be very important to consider.
A Lot Of Customization
You can usually tune a lot of the direct drive wheel, from torque curves to various damping settings as well. These will often be too complex for beginners, and it takes a lot of time and trail and error to find the settings that work best for you. But aside from these aspects, there is also the issue of compatibility to consider when choosing a direct drive wheel.
Compatibility Of Direct Drive Wheels
Console Players Are Limited
You have to consider what games you like to play and on which platform you like to play them. If you are a PC player, you will have access to any direct drive system on the market, as everything is usually compatible with PC. However, if you are playing on console, then you will have a somewhat limited selection to choose from.
Fanatec is really the only brand to bring direct drive to consoles with their Podium and DD selections of racing wheels. They first brought the Podium F1 wheel to PlayStation (now discontinued), but there is an Xbox equivalent in the Podium Formula wheel. There are also the cheaper CSL DD (Xbox) and GT DD Pro (PS4/PS5) options now as well.
This means that you have a really narrow choice of direct drive options if you are looking to bring it to your console racing experience. Hopefully this will improve in the future as more brands attempt to bring direct drive to the console market.
The Technology Involved
Before we go into detail about the price, the last thing that we should mention is the technology involved in direct drive wheels. Although experience level is the most important thing to consider when buying a new steering wheel, you also have to consider what you want your wheel to be capable of. Direct drive wheels are simply the best option available in terms of immersion.
The Very Best Option
From the superior build quality to the advanced technology within them that makes them so responsive, direct drive wheels are often marvels of engineering in their own right. Some models, such as the Fanatec DD2, feature carbon fiber plating that makes them look straight out of a race car. The DD2 even comes with an external emergency stop button, adding to the race car aesthetic.
So, if you are looking for the very best in terms of quality, then direct drive wheels are definitely worth the money. However, you will have to do your own research to decide which one is best for you, as they vary greatly in terms of design and of course the price. So, let’s talk about the prices of direct drive wheels and why you need to make sure you don’t waste your money.
How Much Do Direct Drive Wheels Cost?
Direct drive sim racing wheels can cost anywhere from about $350 at the cheapest end of the scale up to $1,000 or even $2,000 or more. The price will vary based on how much torque the wheel base offers, whether it comes with a wheel rim, and the manufacturer.
Direct drive wheels rarely come cheap, and this is because they simply offer the best immersion and usually are made to the highest standards too. There is a lot of time and effort required to make a good steering wheel of any kind, and direct drive options require even more of both. This means the price is inevitably going to be quite high.
However, there are some budget friendly direct drive wheels on the market, and these can offer a great way into the direct drive world for beginner sim racers or more experienced players looking to upgrade from their gear or belt-driven system. See our picks below for the best cheap direct drive wheels and wheel bases.
The Best Cheap Direct Drive Wheels
Buying a direct drive wheel clearly involves a lot more to consider than just the price. It all depends on your own individual level of experience and what you want to get from sim racing. If you are a more advanced sim racer, or are looking for the ultimate level of immersion and realism, then a direct drive wheel is definitely worth the money.
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