December 30, 2010

TSW 6 Speed H-Shifter Review

TSW's 6 Speed H-Shifter is probably the most expensive and least documented shifter out there. After debating for some time, I decided to purchase one. It arrived today. I will try to document all details on the shifter for the benefit of anyone else who would like to learn more about it. 

Packaging
Arrived in a relatively big heavy box. About 11lbs. The shifter and its accessories were tightly wrapped in paper. The package included: 1x Shifter fully assembled to order specs. 1x Mount 4x Nuts for mount 4x Washers for mount 1x USB cable 1x Instruction manual 1x Piece of black pained wood.

Build Quality
The shifter is all metal. All internal components are metal. The boot is made of soft leather. Only plastic component is the external housing of the electronics which also bears the TSW logo. It is extremely solid. If you can find a way to break anything on the shifter, you need to be entered in the Guiness Book of World Records! 
Mounting

The mount is surprisingly solid. Although from the images it doesn't appear to be stable, it is actually very, very stable! I found a way to mount it in my Obutto, and surprisingly it worked quite well. In fact, I feel that it's mounted much more solidly than my previous G25 shifter. I really don't see how anyone could yank this out of place. Interesting bit is you don't need a lot of force to tighten the clamps. More on mounting later on. 

Features
6 gears + 1 reverse gate. 

Reverse Gate
The reverse gate position is specified at order time. I ordered right and down. Same as G25 setup (although that's really push down into 6th.) The TSW shifter has a separate gate for the reverse. The reverse gate is spring loaded, so it takes effort to push it over into the reverse slot. That way you can't accidentally throw it in reverse. 

Gate lockout
The shifter can be converted from a 6 speed to a 4 speed. There is a nut you can tighten to prevent the shifter from going into 1st and 2nd gear. I'm guessing the lock out of the gears has to do with how you order your reverse gate position. If you order reverse gate position on the left, the lockout would probably lock 5-6 slots instead. The lockout nut and the reverse gate spring sit opposite each other on my setup. 

Neutral button switch
There is a small switch that toggles the shifter in either pressing a 7th button when in neutral, or pressing nothing. This has to do with how some games recognize the shifter.

USB Plug & Play
The shifter plugs with a USB cable directly into the PC. There are no drivers to install. Windows automatically recognizes the shifter and maps 8 buttons to it. 6 gears + 1 reverse + 1 optional neutral.

Mount
The shifter can be mounted a number of ways, however some positions are limited by the external electronics housing box. Best way to mount the shifter is as advertised. However it is still quite easy to be creative and find other ways of mounting it. 

Feel
This is the probably the most important feature of any shifter. I'll break it down. 
Shifting Force

Surprisingly the shift offers only slightly more resistance than the G25's shifter when sliding it in gear. Very little force is required to move the shifter into the gates. Fanatec shifters on the other hand require much more force to put into gear. However, since it's all metal, you can bang it around as much as you want and shift it as hard as you want! Even the manual says best way to shift is hard and fast! If you shift hard and fast, you don't even notice that very little force is required to shift. In fact, it feels as if you're really forcing the shifter into the gate. Feels almost the same as when you go to the arcade and bang around those shifters. Solid as a rock. There is also a certain mechanical feel to it, as if you're shifting metal components internally. All of this is due to the ball detent mechanism of course, and even though it is quite simple, it still feels good. Overall, provides a very pleasant feel and gives you confidence in shifting. Turns out that if you tighten the nut on the bottom shaft it tightens the overall gate movement resistance. So you can actually adjust how easily you can throw the shifter into and out of gear. 

Gates
The gates are guided by a metal gate plate. There is a tiny bit of play in the gates, however nothing major, and certainly won't cause you to miss any shifts (unlike the 3-4 slots of the G25 shifter.) The gears are also engaged quite early when shifting into the slot, so gear changes are quite fast. 

Throw
Even though the shifter sits taller, the throw is not long at all. It's actually quite a normal throw. A bit longer than the G25's shifter. About the same as a short shifter on a real car. I didn't need much time to get used to it Feels quite natural. 

Knob
The knob is a bit small. It feels more like shifting a stick than a ball. The optional carbon style knob I ordered is actually smaller in diameter than the G25's shifter knob, and also a bit smaller in diameter than the standard ball knob available. 

Internals
Everything inside the shifter is metal and can be seen by just looking under the shifter. The shifter housing has no bottom! The shifter works pretty much the same way most of the shifters on the market do. There is a ball detent mechanism that keeps it in gear, and two parallel springs that keep it centered. 
 

The gears are guided by a metal plate which is under the leather boot. Each gear is selected via button that has a long metal extension that is depressed when the shifter is in gear. 
 

There is grease on the internal components so I don't advise to stick your fingers in there. ...or any other appendages. 

Modding
So far I'm just taking guesses at what could be done to the shifter by looking at it. Not sure how much potential this shifter has for modding, but definitely looks easy to disassemble and reassemble. Given that all internals are exposed from underneath, you don't really need to do much if you want to do stuff to it. 

Knob
It is possible to mod this yourself, however it is not recommended by TSW. The knob is very tightly screwed on. 

Centering Spring
It looks quite possible to replace the centering springs with stiffer ones, or even shove something in them to make them stiffer. 

Gear Force
It's possible to tighten the spring of the detent pin inside the shifter shaft. Except, the entire shifter has to be taken apart, a not so trivial task. 

Value
At nearly $400 this is an expensive accessory. You can easily accomplish the same tasks with many other shifters, even mod some of them to get them to your liking. However no other shifter is made out of all metal components. It also looks very maintainable in the long run, and appears that it should easily outlive any other peripheral you may own. Is it worth it? That depends on you. If you're going for quality, you can find a million ways to justify the cost. If you're not as serious about your sim racing gear, you'll easily find just as many ways to not justify the cost. 

Post Impressions
After using it for about a week, here are my impressions. The shifter, although built like a tank, is not quite fully refined. It's about 90% from perfect. Luckily with some modifications you can make it perfect! 

Build Quality/Mounting & Stability
You can really bang this around. If you're not careful, you can even hurt yourself with it. The solid built quality not only guarantees that the shifter will outlive your rig (and possibly you) but it also really stays in place. There is absolutely no flex! Anywhere!! The mount is also very, very sturdy!! It is easy to clamp on to many surfaces and holds on very tightly. You can really abuse this shifter, and it won't budge one bit. 
H-pattern gates

The gates are not designed to make the shifter flow from gear to gear quite smoothly. (I guess this is why they have the Speedshifter!) It is easy to hit the dividing gate between gears, and this could cause you to miss shifts. In addition, it is also easy to hit the entry of the reverse gate when shifting 1-2 or 5-6 depending on your gate position, as the spring doesn't provide enough resistance. This can also cause you to miss shifts, or really confuse you when having to shift down faster. It also depends on how you execute your shifts. You just have to be a bit careful, and possibly change your style of shifting. The gates are also a tiny bit wider than the shift shaft which gives the shifter a bit of play. Originally I thought this didn't matter much, but in the heat of competition, the bit of play in the shifter doesn't quite give you reassurance. This is not evident in the gates that can be locked out, since the lock out screw will keep the main shaft tight against the shift gates. In 3-4 it is the most evident. In the gate that has the reverse, you can feel the spring in the gates a bit too. All of this results in the 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 gates having a distinct feel. This can be distracting unless you force yourself to get used to it. Most of this is purely due to the design of the H-gate. The H-gate is the only bit that defines how the shifter moves, otherwise it would move freely without it. Therefore it is a very important component of the shifter, and why it contributes so much to the feel of it. Designing your own H-gate plate will easily fix this (provided you're crafty and have the tools.) The H gate plate can be easily replaced or appended to. It bolts right onto the main assembly and is completely detachable. More on modding below. 
Throw resistance

It is quite weak and doesn't provide the feel that you're actually shfting in gear. However, since it quite solid, you can really bang it into gear, and if you get used to the weak feel, you'll be fine. If you're upgrading from G25 without any mods, you'll feel right at home. If you're used to the Fanatec shifter's resistance, you may not like it. If you've only got your real car's shifter as reference, it depends ;). The resistance of the shifter when going from side to side is controlled via two parallel springs. It is also not very strong, but definitely sufficient for keeping center. 
Noises

The shifter is not super quiet, and doesn't make any buttery smooth noises of putting a brand new 911 in gear. (If you've driven one, you'll know what I mean.) Then again, it's not clanky, and definitely not annoying. It makes a small noise when engaging into gears because of the little copper extensions that press the button switches inside. The shaft contacts their edges, and results in a small metal rubbing noise. Definitely not annoying as the original G25 clicking sounds, and definitely not as loud as the Fanatec clicking sounds. It's a noise that sort of "makes sense" ...if that makes sense. The shaft also does grind up against the H-gate, and overtime this can produce louder metal scrubbing sounds. As a member indicated below, this can be fixed with some grease. The centering springs also make a springy noise which can be annoying at times. 
Modding

Turns out this shifter is quite moddable. You can replace and modify most of the important parts that contribute to the feel and overall look. It is very modular, and it contains pretty much no "special" parts. 90% of the parts it is made of you can find at your local hardware store. This is great, because if anything breaks or wears out (although I can't imagine how) you can replace it yourself. There is also no glue anywhere! Everything is metal and everything screws itself on with large heavy duty bolts. With a few mods you can eliminate the noises, clanks, and clunks. You can add stiffer centering springs. You can change the shifter. You can even change the shifter boot if you like! Best of all, unless you're drilling into the body, you don't need to modify, break, or change anything on the original components. You can always return the shifter back to stock since everything is just a bolt on. If you've been looking for the perfect shifter, consider this a great starting point! 
Was it worth the $395?

For the build quality and modding potential, definitely yes! The clamp is a must, unless you can fabricate your own solution. The additional "GT style knob" that I bought was not worth it, as I didn't end up liking due to it being too small for my taste. Most of the parts that it is made out of are not exotic, nor custom, therefore it is hard to justify the cost based on what it's made out of. The parts alone don't even add up to $20. The units are assembled to order, so part of the cost definitely involves labor and whatever R&D went into it. If you're a welder and can make this shifter yourself, go for it.