One of the biggest elements of the PlayStation 5 that owners continue to hype up as it gets into more people’s hands is the DualSense controller. This new gamepad is wowing players with its haptic rumble and adaptive triggers. But while those features are exciting, they weren’t what impressed me the most. The technology that is most consistently blowing me away is something that was in the DualShock 4: the speaker. Sony improved on the tinny, miserable sound that came out of the PS4’s gamepad, and now it’s the glue that holds everything together in the DualSense.
The buzz around the DualSense was so intense before I got my PS5 that my expectations were astronomical. And after using the controller to play through the excellent Astro’s Playroom tech demo/game, my initial impressions are that … it’s good. The haptics are better than the brute-force rumble we’ve had in gamepads up to this point. And the adaptive triggers really do push against your finger to imitate the resistance of a throttle or metal spring. But the truth is that the haptics still mostly feel like the whirring of a mechanical motor to me. And I only notice the adaptive triggers at their most aggressive. Instead of immersing me in the action, I’m so engrossed in the game that I’m yanking on the trigger and missing out on whatever subtle tension the developers intended me to experience.
And I think in all of the excitement for DualSense, people are seriously underselling the importance of the speaker.
The speaker is the real star of the DualSense
Flavor is more about smell than it is about taste. Our tongues can tell if something is sweet or salty or whatever. But everything else comes from our sense of smell.
Sound is the DualSense’s smell.
Without the audio element, the haptics would feel even more mechanical, and the triggers would mostly feel annoying. Haptics can suggest a sensation, but it cannot replicate it exactly. A good example of this is running in sand. Most people know what that should feel like, and the haptic motors do an admirable job of simulating what it’s like to sink your shoe into a beach. But without any audio cues, it feels like a light vibration … because that’s what it is.
But if you keep your controller’s audio on, you’ll get the telltale sound of a foot impacting with sand — that “chesh chesh chesh” effect. And when your brain has that audio with the vibration effect, it combines it for you all into one thing that “feels” like you’re walking on the beach.
The DualSense without sound is like eating without smell. Sure, something is happening, but your brain doesn’t have enough data to process it as anything granular or specific. And that’s what makes it the pillar holding up the DualSense as a whole.