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Spectre Carbon Racing Cockpit

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Hardware

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


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Hardware Review - 'Spectre Carbon Racing Cockpit'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on Sept. 9, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

The Spectre Carbon racing cockpit offers an affordable, sturdy, and adjustable design that levels up your at-home racing performance.

Buy Spectre Carbon Racing Cockpit

If we were to go by the shortages, I wasn't the only person who decided that a good way to spend some time in a pandemic-induced lockdown was to get more into sim racing. Many racing games can be played on a couch using nothing more than a gamepad, and you'll have a blast. However, there is something to be said about the immersion and greater control that comes with just a few smart investments in hardware. For me, it was a secondhand TMX Pro and a brand-new Playseat Challenge, and that was good enough for me.

Spectre recently sent me its Carbon Racing Cockpit, and I was curious to see how that cockpit stacked up with what I have used in the past. In my case, I don't have a large living space and can't devote the square footage that a dedicated racing cockpit setup requires. I need something that I can stow out of the way when it's not in use, and I figured that the solid, wooden structure of the Carbon wouldn't meet that need. This would not be the only place where the product would defy my expectations, to the point that it has become what I would recommend as a first option to anyone looking for a cockpit setup of their own.

That's not to say that I went into it with high expectations. When it arrived on my doorstep, the 50-lb. box that it came in looked like it had been tossed around in the back of a cargo truck for quite some time. Knowing the Carbon is made of wood, I was expecting to open the packaging to find damage among the product's numerous panels. This fear increased when I noticed that there really wasn't much in the way of padding around the panels to protect them; imagine shaped pieces of wood in a box, and you're not too far off. I was convinced that a string of careless delivery folks had busted things up.

This is where it's important to note that the Carbon isn't made of cheap particle board or plywood, but a material called Valchromat. The material is often described as a "wood fiber panel" containing fibers that are "individually impregnated with organic dyes and chemically bonded by specifically developed resins." I'd describe it as a plank of wood that seems awfully close to indestructible but still has the feel of dense hardwood as opposed to any "normal" particle board. It's a testament to the material's durability that the package arrived without any damage to the contents, even though it looked like the outer box was rolled down several hills.

The assembly process is not exactly straightforward. There are no steps to be followed; rather, there is the identification of parts and panels, some diagrams of the three sub-assemblies (seat, pedal mount, wheel mount), and some text on how to adjust their mounting. It took me a moment to figure out where I was supposed to start. Ultimately, you build the three sub-assemblies separately from one another, and only then should you attach them together.

The method by which the panels fasten to each other is interesting, if not ingenious. Nearly every fastening point is handled the same way, starting with a bolt that goes through a washer and then through a hole in a panel. Then, the body of the bolt rests in a groove and round cavity that has been milled into the receiving panel. A plastic semi-circle then slides over the bolt, and the whole assembly is tightened with a nut. This "bolt-half moon-nut construction," as Spectre calls it, is meant to sturdily join pieces without sacrificing the ability to easily adjust the cockpit. My initial concern was that the bolt would slide out from the exposed groove in the receiving panel, but once you've tightened things together, the joins feel quite solid.

It makes for an assembly process that at times feels like it requires three hands, and it certainly requires two 7/16" wrenches. In theory, you could probably let gravity do some of the work and rest panels against each other into loose fasteners before tightening them; I just enlisted the help of my spouse. As such, getting the sub-assemblies put together will likely be a little fiddly if you are assembling them solo, but the good news is that the rest of the process is cake.

The Carbon has optional "wings" that can be mounted on either side of the cockpit so you have an area to place things: a drink, a controller, whatever. They don't affect the structural integrity of the cockpit either way, so some people may mount them, some may mount just one, and I chose to mount neither. Once assembled, the entire cockpit can be safely tipped onto the "back" of the seat rest, and it sits upright with a much smaller footprint. By removing the wings, it made it a snap to slide it across my carpeted floor, so I could store the cockpit up against the wall when it's not in use.

Putting together the three sub-assemblies is entirely based on your personal preferences, as this is where the adjustability of the Carbon comes into play. Where the sub-assemblies come together, one piece has holes that are spaced about an inch apart, and another piece has holes spaced a half-inch apart. This provides plenty of flexibility in setting up the wheel at the appropriate distance from your torso, and it also lets you adjust the pedal distance based on how long your legs are. The angle of the seat back and the seat bottom can also be adjusted, as can the height of where the steering wheel mount rests.

I'm about six foot tall and have longer legs, and it was easy to find a comfortable setup after my second try. Adjusting things requires you to note the current position of things (I counted how many holes were showing in one direction), take out the bolts (four bolts join two sub-assembly sections), slide the pieces in the direction you want, and then put the bolts back in. On carpet, everything slides around nicely, so it really does make it easy to do, and assuming you are the only driver, it's something you only need to get right once.

That said, I would've liked to have been able to mount the wheel mount about an inch higher than the highest setting, and the seat bottom is a little lower than I'd like. This leads to an interesting part of the review, in that I received the v1.0 version of the product but you can purchase v2.0 now, and the newer version directly addresses these issues. The new version reportedly features two additional mounting positions for the wheel mount, each an inch higher than the previous maximum, and the seat has been raised by about three inches.

Mounting your wheels and pedals to the cockpit is quite easy, but in my case, it required me to grab some bolts and washers from the hardware store. There are so many holes in the pedal and wheel mount panels that I suspect just about any modern wheel and pedal setup can mount to it, and once mounted, everything is securely in place. With all that work done, it was finally time to put the Carbon into play to see how well it worked.

The first thing that stood out to me was how stable the Carbon is. The Playseat Challenge that I had been using had plenty of flex, and forceful inputs into the wheel would flex the entire cockpit somewhat. It made for an unpredictable feel and muddied any force feedback coming from the wheel. The Carbon has none of these issues because it's an impressively solid structure of Valchromat. You can really get into it, wrenching on the wheel and stomping on the pedals, and the structure of the cockpit doesn't so much as creak, let alone flex.

As for portability, let's just say that the Carbon isn't exactly suited to being moved very much. It can handle it; as noted previously, it slides quite well across carpet and stands up nicely. It's just that at the end of the day, it is still a relatively large structure that weighs 50 lbs., and even standing up, it takes up roughly 24 inches by 30 inches of space. This simply isn't a cockpit that you are going to want to use and then store in another room. You're going to want to use it and keep it in the same room, if you even intend to move it at all.

There's plenty of good news when it comes to the overall usability of the cockpit. The Carbon has holes in the "fenders" to feed cables through, and with a little Velcro tape (sadly not included), you can end up with a tidy cockpit with minimal effort. The seat back is low enough to not interfere with your mobility while wearing a VR headset, so you can move your head around and not worry about striking the back of a Rift S against anything.

It also feels like there's plenty of room inside the cockpit without banging your knees into things or having to contort yourself in odd ways to get into and out of it. Again, with the v1.0, I'd have liked just a little more clearance with the wheel shelf, but I am told that the v2.0 addresses this, and the product pictures clearly show the two additional, higher mounting positions.

There's just one area that the cockpit falls short in a way that is almost maddening given how well executed the rest of the product is. The seat bottom has a respectable amount of padding, but the seat back is exactly as comfortable as an angled, padded plank of wood. A little lumbar support would do wonders to make the seat more comfortable for longer sessions.

As it stands, beyond an hour of use, I can feel my back starting to get a little upset with the lack of support. I could likely remedy this myself by adding a cushion of my own, but I wish the seat back were contoured better. The v2.0 has additional seat angles to be played with, but even then, I am not sure the super-flat seat back is going to do anyone's back any favors.

Despite that flaw, I quickly grew attached to the Carbon, to the point that my old Playseat Challenge has been relegated to accumulate dust in a storage area under some stairs. Spectre's Carbon Racing Cockpit isn't flawless, and its portability is akin to a 50-lb. bookshelf that you can slide around or put on its end. It's fantastically stable and easily adjustable to make it fit you just right. Its only real flaw is the fact that the seat back suffers in the comfort department after extended use.

This leaves the Carbon in a spot where it is tantalizing close to being perfect for what it is. I'd still absolutely recommend it over similarly priced options, and that's even in my case, where portability and space is a real concern. It speaks well to my enjoyment of it that despite its heft, it has become my preferred cockpit. There are just a couple of flaws that drag it down from being perfect and instead make it "merely" excellent.

Score: 9.0/10

Reviewed with: Thrustmaster TMX Pro

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