From Thrustmaster TX458 to Fanatec DD2 - the reality so far...

MarkR

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This could well be a long one, no apologies for that as I want to include all the things I wish I had known before I made the choice to finally push the button and spend £2.5k on the move from the Thrustmaster TX458 to Fanatec DD2 system. I want to give the unvarnished, true-ups and downs of buying and owning well away from the YouTubers looking for views and likes. With DD wheels a relatively new product I hope this will help others make a more informed choice over the years to come.

Tl;dr for the 2 questions I've been asked most so far:

Q1. Does the DD2 setup immediately make you 10 seconds a lap faster?
A1. Nope, it doesn't in most cases lap times are still limited to the ability of the nut behind the wheel. I'll add more detail on this in a games section, only in ACC have I seen any immediate laptime benefit for a variety of reasons.

Q2. Is the DD2 setup really worth 4-5 times more than the Thrustmaster gear?
A2. No is the straightforward answer, it's a grower, not a shower, not an immediate night and day difference or improvement over the Thrustmaster gear. That isn't the end of the story as there are many subtleties to why the DD2 that can only be answered with a longer discussion.

Context

There are so many different perspectives and ideas about what we want from sim racing I thought being clear about my context and what I want from a sim racing wheel was important. This way you can decide if my view has any relevance for you. I'll also say here I am grateful that I can even afford such a toy as the DD2, these are things no one really needs but we might still want.

I'm a petrolhead and long term car enthusiast, kart racer, trackday and these days test day regular with a good few thousand real track miles completed in all sorts of cars from Caterham’s, Atom's, Scooby's , Evo's and the mighty GTR, my R26.R is my affordable GT3. As a family, we regularly race karts though these days I'm more coach and occasional veteran racer.

In sim racing terms I've been playing racing games since Pole Position and I'm looking for hardware and games that give me the same feeling as being on track. I don't expect perfection from games but the closer it all feels the better. I am not the fastest, nor an absolute die-hard simmer, all racing games are good with me on PC and console. If you are looking for a detailed technical analysis, I'm sure others can help more.

If that context sounds useful, read on.

The Bad

Let's start with the bad. Both Fanatec and UPS really let themselves down with the delivery and support processes. Buying items at the £2.5k should be a joy. All the joy of the fancy slogans and messages when opening the Fanatec boxes was washed away in the realisation the table clamp was missing from the order, making the rest of the kit unusable. 4 days later UPS finally managed to find the missing package. Fanatec support did not reply to a single message about the missing package.

On the Clubsport V2 wheel, one of the essential hex screws was either the wrong size or severely threaded. The supplied tools were useless. Luckily, we did eventually find a Torx driver that gripped and removed and replaced the screw. This finally allowed me to fit the Podium Advanced Module paddles. Fanatec support replied 4 days after we'd found the fix with a message which said pretty much 'fix it yourself'.

The supplied Clubsport V3 pedals Damper Kit does not fit the pedals. The Pedal Link Arm which connects the Damper to the pedals is 33mm, wider than the 31mm space between the pedal arms. No response at all from Fanatec support.

Buying items like this should be a moment of joy and Fanatec are letting themselves down with these service and quality issues. Had the clamp not arrived as mysteriously as it was lost the whole package would already be heading back to Germany.

Assembly

This stuff is heavy, it's really worth knowing that. The DD2 base is 15kg, the table clamp another 6Kg, make sure whatever you are going to clamp it all too is sturdy. The v2 clamp is sturdy and easy enough to take apart to fit the DD2 base to. The tiny hex screws holding a small bar that needed to be removed were the only slight obstacle.

This is not as easy as the Plug and Play Thrustmaster gear. Fitting the Podium Advanced Module paddles (dodgy hex screw aside) requires about the same level of competence and confidence as say fitting a new hard drive or graphics card in a PC. Fitting requires some hidden screws to be removed to take off the standard paddles. The rear electronics cover on the wheel must be removed, exposing the jumpers that the standard paddles connect to. These were stiff and difficult to remove but eventually gave way. The trickiest part is directing much thicker Podium Advanced Module wires through the small hole and across the circuit board to the connectors, making sure to get left and right paddles in the correct connector. It's a fiddly job but take your time and it's doable.

The rest, such as the pedals, emergency stop, torque key, USB cables etc are all the usual easy follow the instructions and plugin. The wheel quick release is both easy to use and feels like a strong connection.

Drivers and firmware. This step was both quick and easy, the drivers install directly from Fanatec's website. The wheel detected it needed a firmware update and the firmware flash was as easy as clicking the on-screen prompts. The DD2 motor firmware update caught me by surprise, again it was easy to do, just follow the clicks. The only part that caught me out was the need to recalibrate the motor centre. This required entering the wheel tuning mode and on the carbon face of the Clubsport v2 wheel, the tiny grey wheel tuning button is incredibly difficult to see. Once found, moving the motor to the centre point and clicking the two on wheel sticks inwards calibrated the centre again.

Clicking the A button twice to confirm 'Hi Torq' mode with the torque key fitted on each wheel start-up is going to get old fast.

The Initial Experience - underwhelming

This may disappoint. Firing up a few games in turn such as ACC, AC, Forza 7 the initial impression of the DD2 wheel was quite underwhelming, this was no huge improvement over the, already good in my view, feedback given by the TX458 wheelbase. Having heard some of the YouTube reviews I was expecting a real performance leap. Instead there was a subtle step in smoothness, that ever-discernible lack of 'centre feel' on the Thrustmaster TX458 was gone. The weight of the DD2 wheel, even at the standard 35% was heavier but wheel weight does not always increase the level of feedback in my experience. If you've driven an RS Audi recently, you'll know what I mean - they are all weight but little actual road feedback.

Having heard a few dissenting voices about Direct Drive wheels I was aware this might be the case and I had prepared my own little experiment with a range of games, tracks and cars I know well on both PC and Xbox One, driving each back to back with the TX and then DD2.

Game/ Console Wheel Detection

Excellent in every respect, a double button press to change mode between PC and Xbox and recognised perfectly every time. Being able to fully control the Xbox, just as with the TX wheel is a bonus. So far, every game I've tried has automatically recognised the DD2 base and I've been able to select the Clubsport V2 wheel in the menus for further refinement.

The Games

Assetto Corsa - Nordschleife Cayman GT4 TX lap time 7:52.307 DD2 7:51.817 both in Oculus VR. (No need to tell me you can go faster I know many of you can, this is about same driver same car to compare the hardware.)

Nothing to split the TX and DD2 wheel here in terms of either lap time or feedback and feel in the wheel. If anything, the usual bumps and undulations of the Nordschleife track surface were more muted on the DD2. Both wheels performed well here but again nothing startling from the DD2 other than being smoother.

Forza Motorsport 7 Nordschleife Cayman GT4 (Xbox One) TX lap time. 7:38.335 DD2 7.38.017

Yes, I know there are many views on Forza. I’ve played Forza for years and Turn 10 have always been good to me as a customer. Again, out of the box, the DD2 is just as fast as the TX wheel with just the standard setup in place. Unlike AC there is far more track feedback on the DD2 wheel in Forza and each force is stronger than the equivalent moment on the TX. To match the times, I had to turn the in-car FFB down to 75% to reduce some of the forces on the DD2. With this done the wheels and times are as good as identical. An immediate good result from the DD2, it's natural to use out of the box but nothing earth-shattering.

F1 2019 - sometimes it takes a 10-year-old and lap times don’t tell the whole story.

“Dad, it’s an F1 wheel so can we try it with Formula 1?” I wasn’t enthusiastic (it’s a good career game) or optimistic.

How wrong I was. If I wanted to sell someone a DD2 set up with an on the spot direct comparison with a TX wheel this is the only game I’d let them play. The difference this time is totally transformational. Through the fast sweeping corners on the Red Bull Ring, the g-forces truly build in the wheel. The immediacy of turn-in and ability to hold steering angle is pronounced. Each bump on the track reverberates through the wheel the way it does for real in single-seat racing cars. The ability to detect rear wheels on the kerbs and feel the level of wheelspin is astounding. Recovering control is suddenly so much easier, though it's also immediately obvious when the point of return has been passed. The ABS and wheelspin vibration motors also work on this game adding some fun, if a bit of a gimmick. F1 is also the first game where the on wheel LED's and car speed has been automatically displayed on the Clubsport v2 wheel. I'm not suggesting F1 2019 is the last word in realism but in terms of feel on the DD2 wheel wow that was one game transformed. My lap times were the same as on the TX wheel too so the extra sensations didn't immediately improve those. By comparison, the play in the TX wheel and lack of centre wheel weight was magnified for the first time. And no, if someone had told me this I wouldn't have believed them either which is part of the reason I've decided to share all this.

Assetto Corsa Competizione - the game that would decide the fate of the wheel.

With AC and Forza 7 having given average results and F1 2019 not enough of a game to convince me that the DD2 base could justify the price it fell to a final test with ACC. I already believe ACC gives superb wheel feedback on the TX458 (following the difficult start with dodgy kerbs) after the latest builds, it was all just so intuitive and even the previously difficult Porsche cars now behave as I'd expect. ACC is also the first game to give me a real feeling of a race car on a wet track, no dodgy puddles or standing water that causes an immediate spin. ACC in the wet at speed is difficult but not impossible, just like the real thing.

The current Brands Hatch 20-minute Hotstint on a wet track in Oculus VR was my chosen test ground. I ran it twice on the TX458 wheel and the times were just a few seconds apart. Typically, I forgot to write down the final time but my best laps were 1:35.2-5 with an overall place of 420 after 13 laps on the leaderboard.

First time out using the DD2 wheel, with the only addition being the Clubsport v2 thumb wheels set to adjust ABS and TCS for ease of use in VR. 20 superb minutes later feeling the Aston struggling for grip and traction my best lap times were in the low 1:32 range, with a final leaderboard position of 115, only having missed out on a 14th lap by an estimated 10 seconds or so. A result and the first time I really felt the whole DD2 package really added up to something far more than the TX.

What made the ACC experience was far more than just the DD2 wheel feel itself, as important as that was.

+++ Increased subtly and range of feedback. Being able to feel the car 'under' me and know when the front tyres are struggling for grip on turn-in and traction on exit.

+++ With the increased feedback it is far easier to more closely adjust the ABS and TCS to match the conditions.

+++ Immediact of turn-in and wheel reaction making it easier to hold and maintain a single line in the corners.

+++ More detailed modulation of the brake pedal matched to the sensations in the wheel making it easier to maintain consistent braking and turn-in points.

+++ Knowing when the Aston was about to slide or gently sliding and being able to hold and correct that momentum with far greater ease than on the TX wheel.

Truly for me, this was the first time I thought, oh yes this DD2 setup is something special. That experience is the reason the wheel is still attached to my desk rather than packed up back in boxes ready for return. I'm still not 100% certain the DD2 will stay, Fanatec will need to reply with a solution on the pedal damper and with a goodwill gesture for the UPS delivery delays.

Other factors

It's desk art, for motorsport lovers like me the DD2, Clubsport v2 wheel and pedals are pure desk art, there is no getting away from that. It matches my other motorsport memorabilia well.

Replacing the Sunday morning drive. With ever more congested roads and driving for enjoyment on-road having become considered anti-social (and track time is limited most of us) this wheel also has a role in replacing the joy of a quiet Sunday morning drive. Coupled with VR it's certainly starting to do that, I just need to find a few more experiences as good as ACC in the wet.

How does the Fanatec DD2 wheel setup compare to other similar £2k+ purchases?

I'm sure most of us are balancing a budget, these are expensive items and that puts the DD2 up against other entertainment items of a similar price, this is where it stacks up for me in terms of (Q)quality, (P)price, (W)wow factor and (CS)customer service on a 1 low to 5 high scale:

4k Smart TV - Q5, P4, W5, CS5
Hybrid bike - Q5, P4, W4, CS5
i9/1080Ti system - Q5, P5, W5, CS5
Fanatec DD2 - Q4, P2, W3, CS1

As a comparison, the DD2 does not do well against other entertainment of a similar type, especially for customer service and immediate wow factor. For a device of this variable quality and service, I'd have expected a price under £1500, not nearly £2500. I've put it down to the price of being such a niche product.

In terms of automotive products which Fanatec themselves compare it to here's my take on that:

Podium Advanced Module - 5/5 outstanding matches some of the best in automotive quality. Higher quality than the paddles on my lovely daily driver BMW.

Clubsport V3 pedals - 4/5 as well-hewn as an AP big brake kit and as eye-catching to look at too.

The DD2 base - 3.5/5 like the interior of a VW Golf R, the carbon fibre design lifts the plastics.

Clubsport v2 wheel - 3/5 I'm sure Fanatec were aiming for an Audi RS type level of quality to the wheel, the Alcantara certainly is that. The mix of plastics, rubber and carbon fibre ends up being all a bit more SEAT, which is fine but not as impressive in reality as it looks in the marketing.

That's the story so far. Overall an initially underwhelming experience at the price and the talents have only been revealed with more testing, even then they are subtle and nuanced difference in most cases. Will the DD2 setup stay? At the moment probably. That could change though if there was another choice of DD wheel that worked on PC and Xbox. For now, though this is the only option.

If some or all of this helps others decide if it's worth the move to a DD wheel, then it's been worthwhile sharing this. I'll update as and when I discover more or as things change.
 

DrRob

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Wow, quite the write-up! :thumbsup:

Really interesting to read, that you weren't immediately drawn towards the DD compared to the belt-driven wheel. The moment I test drove a Fanatec DD1 for the first time, I didn't have much fun with my T500 after that. I would always tell people, that if they are not in for a DD purchase, they shouldn't test one.
I exclusively play ACC since getting the wheel. I tried Raceroom, but it just doesn't compare and left me wanting. Never touched it since which is a shame really.

I would never see the upgrade as a means to get faster, but to be more immersed. Don't care how I compare to other drivers and if they are faster, as long as I have the fun. Maybe that's because Im not a very competetive type. My biggest competitor is myself as I want to mainly improve my driving, I guess. :D

It is not a secret, that a better wheel will not make you faster, when you already mastered car/track combinations and drive by muscle memory anyway. But I would say, that a better brake pedal got me more confident and therefore faster though.

I hope you'll have fun with your wheel in the future despite your obviously underwhelming first experiences!
 
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MarkR

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@DrRob thanks and I agree with you about ACC the car feel and wheel feedback is way above anything else at the moment, the first 'next gen' game in terms of feedback and wet weather I'd say.

I know I went on a bit :) but these are all the things I'd have liked to know before taking the plunge. Unfortunately, I couldn't find anywhere to give a DD wheel a good test - a quick go at a show with unknown settings didn't do it for me.

Getting the hang of finding the right wheel weight is helping.
 
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PJ03029174

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Thank you very much MarkR, I'm very much a beginner but love this new hobby, I'm 38 and the wife bought an Xbox for Christmas with F1 2019 ( I'm only interested in F1) and I bought my first wheel, a TS-XW. I know I want to go PC but figure I need to do a year with this setup, learn the tracks and get quicker.

But the other side of me is saying I'm having so much fun, maybe I should sell the TS-XW and take a small hit while I can and get a DD2 and Load Cell brakes and dial the feedback down until I get a dedicated room (next year) for a full permanent rig instead of the fold away Next Level Racing stand I purchased.

I've been quite close to pulling the trigger so thanks, you've helped temper my enthusiasm which was probably getting out of control. Thanks for keeping it real.
 
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coolwhip21

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Thanks for the write up! These are things I wanted to know as well before laying down the paper for a DD (Direct Deposit lol). I have a TS-PC racer, and can't help but wonder how you would have handled the situation? For me, the TS-PC is a nice step up from the tx and t300.
 
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smasha

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I’m 53 and can’t afford a dd wheel,only God loves the smart and rich sigh.
 
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Speckle

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Excellent and detailed write up. I recently upgraded from my trusty old Thrustmaster T300 to the DD2 and, I have to say my experience was quite different. Like you, I was expecting a big upgrade. My first drive was just a simple thrash around Brands hatch Indy in Assetto Corsa in a Lotus 2 eleven. My mind was blown! The detail, the weight, the 'feel' - all were streets ahead of the T300.

Next was Project Cars 2 - which I approached with some trepidation having viewed and read everything I could online. This is my main sim and where I compete in a weekly hot-lapping league. It needed to be good! I've been using the Jack Spade files for years so, found and loaded the DD variant and off I went. What a relief - mind was blown again! :)

I'm sorry you had issues with the customer service, I can see how that would take some shine off the experience. I was fortunate in that respect.

So far, my £1600 investment (for what is essentially, a toy) has been worth every penny. It looks the part and makes my rig finally look like a 'serious' setup. The experience of driving for me has improved immeasurably.

Sadly, it has not made me faster, lol.
 

MarkR

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Thanks all, I'm glad it was worth adding the write up here, I had a feeling many would be and will in future face a similar set of choices.

@PJ03029174 if it's just F1 you are interested in then yes the DD2 wheel really gives a remarkable level of feel and feedback you'd love it. I've driven a few single-seater cars at Palmer Sport and the like and it's just spot on to the real thing. Just my view as a PC and Xbox player, my order would be to go spend the money on a good PC first with the TS-XW, add VR if you like it and then add the DD wheel it's the cherry on top of the icing on the cake.

@coolwhip21 The TS-PC (or TS-XW in my case as I play on Xbox too) was a serious consideration. If I don't stick with the DD2 I will go for the TS-XW. Having looked at the price of the TS-XW, plus Handbrake and mount (approx £850) I thought it was worth stretching for DD2 with the loadcell pedals.

@Speckle that's all good to read, I haven't tried PCARS2 2 yet, it's a game I enjoy especially in VR so I'll give that a go later today. I totally agree about improving the overall experience, especially in ACC and F1, the extra detail in feedback, the weight of the wheel in corners and the ability to hold a more consistent line. That, for me, made it more subtle and immersive rather than a giant leap forward. The closest analogy I can think of is the TX feels more like the wheel of a good AWD car on a track, something like a Scooby, Evo or current FWD Type R, good weight, limited levels of feedback but still hugely enjoyable lap after lap. The DD2 is more like the weight of a race of track special car but with the subtle and detailed feedback of a Caterham or Lotus Exige, it's taking some time to adjust to. Oh and on the no faster thing, my friends are loving the fact I'm no quicker having splashed £2.5k!!

Minor update:

I did some more 'testing' with similarly skilled friends (honestly it was testing not just having fun) last night in Forza 7 on the Xbox One with the 02 GTR nicely tuned for the 'ring. We set up an online track day and ran the cars back to back with the DD2, TX and Logi. It's a car that is a joy to drive around the 'ring lap after lap easily at 7:40 and with a bit more effort close to 7:30 - there was less than 1 second between any of us. We tried the Cayman GT4 race car with just tyre pressures and gear ratios adjusted at Road Atlanta and the results were the same, we were all within a second regardless of the wheel used.

So far for me, DD2 is all about the experience, subtlety and detail level of the feedback and it really depends how much that last few % of connection matters.