Simagic Alpha Mini Review
What an amazing time for sim racing. Direct drive used to be something that only the super rich could afford. Slowly but surely companies are releasing more affordable, yet highly powered products which give us the incredible detail that direct drive has to offer.
This is the Simagic Alpha Mini. It is the successor to the popular Simagic M10 wheelbase which was released less than 2 years ago. Like the M10, it boasts 10nm of torque, but uses all the smarts from the flagship Simagic Alpha to harness the power to offer a super smooth servo motor direct drive experience. Today we’re going to see if this is a viable first direct drive wheelbase, and we’re also going to see if it’s worth upgrading from the M10. I’m Laurence, welcome to the channel.
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I have been inundated with messages about the Alpha mini since it was announced. So much so that I eventually told people to just message simagic and their local resellers to ask them to send me one for review. Simagic seemed to have no intention to send me one, but the call was answered when kevin vandepitte from simwear.eu messaged me about lending me one. simwear.eu is the largest simagic reseller in europe and although simagic stock can be limited worldwide, they seem to get a good supply of stock. I will link to their product page in the description. Also, I’d like to thank Ben at Abruzzi for his efforts.
Simagic seemed like another potential one hit wonder company when they rocked the direct drive market with the M10 in early 2020. However, as the global situation worsened, Simagic kept powering through and even offered us the exceptional Simagic Alpha. The M10 was a hybrid stepper motor, which meant that the forces were subject to slight notchiness and cogging, which was enough to deter some potential buyers. The alpha came along and sorted that issue by using a proper servo motor, not dissimilar to what you’d find in a Simucube or a Mige offering. The Alpha also boasts 15nm of torque which is significantly more than the m10 and thanks to recent software updates, it really allows us to translate the feeling of the road textures through the steering wheel, as well as increased adjustability within the software.
With Fanatec dominating the market and rocking the world with the announcement of their CSL DD wheelbases, Simagic’s announcement of the Simagic Alpha Mini could not have come at a better time. The Simagic Alpha Mini is available now, whereas most of us still need to wait to get our hands on the CSL DD. The Simagic Alpha Mini also boasts 10nm of torque, which is a healthy increase over the top level CSL DD which offers ‘only’ 8nm. In general with direct drive, more power translates to more detail, provided the software can translate it. I’d love to have a CSL DD here to compare the two and simply can’t comment on how the two wheelbases stack up against one another. It’s worth noting from the get go that the Simagic products do not support the console market. This is largely due to licensing costs as far as I’m aware.
- First impressions
I already own the alpha, so even handling this device and taking it out of the box is oddly familiar. At a glance, it looks like an alpha. In fact, I put the two of them side by side and the alpha mini is only marginally smaller. The controller housing at the back of the unit is identical to that of the alpha.
The software that I use for the alpha is exactly the same as the software needed for this alpha mini. We’ll go into that in more detail later, but it was weird using a ‘new’ steering wheel and not having to update or install new software. I plugged it in and it all just worked.
As expected, I needed to raise the in game force feedback to bring it to a comparable level of feel to the alpha. But almost instantly, it felt pretty familiar.
This is where it gets pretty exciting. This 10nm wheelbase retails for the early bird price of €595. If you want a quick release with that, it will set you back €675. Compared to the alpha, with quick release which will cost you €1089. The ‘wheelbase only’ experience is incredible value, but in my opinion the real value that simagic offers is when you buy with their amazing wheel rims. Trust me, you will be blown away by the quality of the materials and the experience of using them. The alpha mini with the GT1 rim shown here, comes in at €1039. There is also a D shaped variant of this wheel available for the same price. I highly recommend the round rim if you plan on doing any drifting or rally. I will chat about the wheel rims in more detail in a later section, but they also provide a GT4 formula style rim which is jam packed with features and this package still comes in at less than €1100. Again, not that these prices are subject to change.
If you’re buying the wheelbase with a steering wheel, you don’t need to worry about buying a quick release. The steering wheel base comes with the wheelbase side of the QR and each Simagic steering wheel includes the wheel side part of the QR. You only need to buy a quick release if you’re installing an aftermarket wheel.
In general, the price difference between the alpha mini and the alpha, sits at about €450 which is roughly 50% extra
- Installation – Hardware
Installing this wheelbase was a breeze. I have this handy square front mounting bracket from Sim-Lab and it was just a case of bolting in 4 bolts. However, the standard sim-lab universal mounting plate does not have any holes which line up with the simagic alpha wheelbases so you would need to drill these out if you want to base mount. however, you can also side mount and even base mount this unit as they really have given lots of mounting options. The biggest negative here though is that they don’t provide any mounting brackets. This is a real shame and may be enough to deter some potential buyers.
The alpha mini weighs in at 6.4kg which is not actually a huge amount less than the alpha or the simucube sc2 sport. Just like the alpha, the alpha mini has a CAN-BUS port which works great for peripherals, like this simagic sequential shifter which I just received for review. There’s a port for an emergency stop. I recommend for everyone to buy an emergency stop, especially if they’re not used to direct drive wheelbases. The other side sports the USB and power supply connections.
The on/off switch on the power cable can function as an emergency stop, but mine is out of reach so I wouldn’t be able to reach it anyways. I’m forced to leave my wheelbase plugged in and on all the time. I would love to see a power switch on the wheelbase itself. That said, I should really just invest in an emergency stop as they’re only €50 or so. The green light on the front of the wheelbase indicates that it is receiving power, and is a little bit bright. I’d love to see this relocated to the rear of the unit.
The cables come out of the side of the controller part of the wheelbase, which suits some but can also lead to difficult cable management for those who like a sleek and clean rig. All of the hardware measurements are called out in their incredibly useful user manual. I usually am not one to read a user manual, but Simagic has put a lot of work into producing a simple readily available document which addresses 9 out of 10 questions a new user may have. I highly recommend that you give it a read while you’re waiting for your unit to be delivered.
- Installation – Software
The Alphas both use a piece of software called Alpha Manager. This software is easy to download from the Simagic website. Simply run the .exe file and there you go, you should see your inputs from your wheel translate to the on screen graphic. Note that once installed, you don’t need to have the Alpha manager open while using the wheelbase.
You can also make on the fly adjustments with the buttons on the wheelbase, but from my Simagic experience so far, I never do that. It’s very easy to just open the software and click the sliders. Any changes you make can be felt instantly and it should highlight the sliders which are most important. I find that the overall gain, wheel speed and damper make the most difference to your force feedback experience. Force feedback is a very subjective thing though, otherwise we wouldn’t need to change any settings at all.
Do be aware that the Alpha Manager app likes to jump around if you click in the wrong place. This seems like a very basic software bug, but may be enough for some to discredit the importance or capability of the software. Sometimes when you load the app, it seems like it has loaded a different profile to the last one you used, even though the settings are still the same. The software could be simplified further and I would love to see a cloud based profile sharing function, like simucube offers with TrueDrive paddock.
One other item of note is that some users have reported that the wheelbase gets quite hot if the intertia or suspension settings are set too high.
- Quick release
I’m sure people are sick of me saying it at this stage. I even did a surprisingly popular video dedicated to this quick release last year. I absolutely love this QR but it’s not invented by Simagic. The design originally comes from NRG to the best of my knowledge, and the Simagic QR is effectively just a rebranded D1-Spec quick release. Regardless, it’s a very rewarding quick release to use. It is accurate and very strong with no flex whatsoever. It’s so strong in fact, that you can swing the wheelbase around while just holding the rim. I don’t think this is how they intended for us to use the product, but it gives a good sense of the quality.
The quick release is made even more clever by the on board circuitry which allows the wheelbase to transmit power to your wheelrims. That leads to beautifully backlit LEDs on your Simagic rims and alleviates all anxiety you might have about requiring battery power. Yep, these Simagic wheel rims don’t require any batteries.
Some welcome improvements that we see on all new Simagic wheelbases is a slight redesign of the circuit contact patch on the shaft on the wheelbase side which means that the circuit sits flush with the face of the shaft so that you can no longer bend the little power pins with incorrect use of the quick release.
- Simagic Wireless
The wheel rims are wireless, in that, although they make contact for transmission of power, the communications are all wireless. In the early days of Simagic, I did have some connectivity issues and needed to change the channel every now and then but in the past year or so, I’ve not had any of those issues and the same holds true for this Simagic Alpha Mini. The Simagic wireless protocol comes into its own when you compare it to the competition. Where the Simucube offerings allow up to 28 inputs, the Simagic offering with the GT4 rim makes use of 32 inputs PLUS it also supports clutch paddles. Currently for Simucube, there is no wireless clutch paddle support.
The wireless protocol works really well and is extremely reliable. Not having to worry about USB ports or cables really makes it a premium experience. When I booted up the device, it just found the steering wheel. there’s no setup involved and you could easily be fooled into thinking that there isn’t even a wireless communication module in this product.
- Wheel rims
The GT1 and GT4 wheel rims are incredible. I don’t know what I was expecting when I first received mine but the sheer weight of them was incredible. I actually thought that this weight would have a negative impact on the force feedback but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
8.1 Simagic GT1 GT/Rally/Drift style wheelThe GT1 rim which is pictured here is a great all rounder, if you pardon the pun. It’s available in round leather, D shaped leather, and D shaped Alcantara. It’s not perfect though. The stitching is a bit hard and the GT1 button plate doesn’t have a 7-way hat which is pretty essential for navigating menus or changing your pit strategy on the fly. I’d really love to see them update the GT1 button plate in the near future. Other than that, this wheel is still absolutely worth the money and I’m delighted to own one. There’s not a mark on mine even after well over 1.5 years of solid use, other than some slight fading of the writing around the rotary encoders.
I have a lot of experience with other high end steering wheels and the Simagic buttons have the most incredible feel, in my opinion. They offer a relatively long travel, backlighting, and the most satisfying click. The only time I’ve ever used buttons this good has been in real life high end luxury cars. There are 4 of these buttons, a toggle switch which is ideal for headlights or wipers, and 2 rotary encoders with click down. The rotary encoders could be better and sometimes ‘stick’ which can see you endlessly adjusting your brake bias when you only meant to adjust one single click. Finally, the shifters are immense. This is largely due to their design. They’re made from aluminium and sport a carbon fibre paddle plate. The magnet is at the rear of the paddle lever and about half the distance to the fulcrum, meaning that the travel of the paddle is incredibly clinical and very rewarding. In fact, anyone who hears them always comments on how good the shifters sound.
I’d love to see the ability to customise the colour of the backlit buttons on the GT1 button plate. A 7 way hat would be great too, although you CAN live without one. I think that the GT1 is due a refresh to bring it up to the standard of the GT4 rim.
8.1 Simagic GT4 Formula style wheelThe GT4 rim is when things get really spicy. The one you see here is a first revision model, so the hand grips are now beefier and coated in Alcantara and the position of the rotary knobs has been raised. I’m not keen on the original stickers on my one though and would love to get an aftermarket sticker design pack made. Unlike the GT1 rim, the GT4 rim DOES have 7 way hats, or ‘funky switches’. In fact, it even has 2 of them. It also features 8 buttons, 2 large rotary encoders each with click down, two magnetic shifters and this version has clutch paddles which offer great resistance. Adjusting the clutch bite point takes some getting used to though but it is functional. I’d love to see the ability to adjust it on the fly using a hardware input like you can on some Cube Controls steering wheels and not having to rely on the software.
Similar to the GT1, the carbon shifters are incredible. They’re actually even better on the GT4 rim, and rank amongst the best shifters I’ve ever used. I wont go into too much more detail but most shifters incorporate this design which requires a lot of rotation and doesn’t give you that tactile feedback that you’ve just jammed something into gear. Simagic really nailed this design and I’m surprised all shifters aren’t designed like this. With the GT4 rim, you can change the backlighting colour of the buttons extremely easily and it can really add a premium look to your rig. That startup sequence is just incredible too. It just oozes desirability.
- Force feedback
This is probably the most important aspect of any steering wheel base for most people. I was hesitant about the Alpha mini because up until 2 months ago, even my 15nm Simagic Alpha struggled to transfer clinical road textures and slip effects in some circumstances. However, a recent software update means that that concern is a thing of the past, and I’m very pleased to see that the alpha mini also has these long awaited improvements.
The Alpha mini is effectively an alpha with a smaller motor. You can see that the control box housing at the rear of the unit is exactly the same as that of the Alpha. As a result, the experience is very consistent and pleasant. The loading and unloading of the steering wheel’s forces are incredible and it really inspires confidence on track. The lower power than the Alpha does mean that you may miss some tiny details due to the lower dynamic range. However, you still get a lot of detail. In fact, in a blind test, people would struggle to tell this apart from any of the bigger steering wheels, including Simucube, Fanatec, etc. I even went so far as to say to my discord community that if someone snuck onto my rig and replaced my alpha with an alpha mini, despite the settings needing to be adjusted, I probably wouldn’t notice the switch for several days. That’s how good this little device is. I’m very excited. The prospect of getting a wheelbase like this, with a high end wheel rim for under €1100 is incredible.
- Final thought
If you’ve watched the full video, you will get far more context on what I’m about to say here. I hope that the words I’ve used and the emotion in my voice translates to you that I am passionate about these Simagic steering wheel bases and rims. Simagic is offering things that other brands cannot fulfil right now and it’s no wonder that resellers struggle to keep stock on the shelves. This steering wheel and base combo is more than most will ever need. 10nm of torque sounds relatively low compared to some brands, but most people who try the alpha mini as their first DD wheelbase will be puzzled as to why anyone would want any more power.
All of the issues that I had with the Simagic M10, seem to have been resolved. Firstly, I’d like to clarify that the Simagic M10 has not been discontinued, it is still in production. However, it is eclipsed by the Alpha mini as it has a more attractive form factor, better mounting options and of course, it uses a lovely smooth servo motor rather than the M10’s stepper motor. The Alpha mini is my new benchmark for entry level Direct Drive. I can’t wait to try Fanatec’s CSL DD in the coming months and compare the two. Right now, I simply cannot say which one of them is better, although I anticipate this question being asked many more times in the comments below.
As the Simagic business model evolves, we see resellers and customers becoming more familiar with the products, as well as new products being released into the Simagic ecosystem. They’ve recently released pedals, a sequential shifter, and the one thing I really want to see from them is a 20-25nm wheelbase offering. I would buy one in a flash. Simagic is an innovative company which iterates rapidly and listens to user feedback. This is extremely progressive and very welcome in the Sim Racing world.
Despite my enthusiasm for this product, it’s not perfect. For starters, the wheel rims cost around the same price as the wheelbase itself. Although this is easier to justify for higher end DD offerings, it will discourage new Simagic owners from buying the wheelbase with a Simagic wheel rim. For me, part of the magic that’s happening here is that together, the wheel rims and wheelbases feel like such a complete product. If I had one without the other, it just wouldn’t be the same for me. In short, Simagic should offer some lower end steering wheel options. A few less buttons, a few less switches. Something around the €250 mark would be ideal. It would make this a far more attractive product.
Supply and demand of Simagic products is always a bit of a grey area. Some resellers get in a handful of units every few months, others get lots of stock. Simagic suffers from a business model where unauthorised resellers seem to be able to get their hands on ample amounts of stock, sell them cheaply and often before the global release date, and they can get away with offering absolutely no warranty or after sales support. This is why it’s very important to buy from authorised resellers, preferably as close to your country as possible. Although these products are pretty rock solid and I’ve never experienced any real issues, hardware can fail or get defects. An authorised reseller will fully respect and comply with your consumer rights in their own country. I’ve included a link to the full list of authorised resellers, in the description below.
One other major issue that Simagic has is its desire to control the information that is published by consumers and even the YouTube content creation community. While I have never been asked to say anything specific or tried to be controlled in any way, I am aware that some other YouTube content creators cannot get access to Simagic products, not even from a distributor as Simagic requires resellers to seek approval prior to sending units to reviewers. This puts me in an awkward position as it’s very easy for people to assume that I am being told what to say. This, along with extremely strict control of the discussion within the Simagic Discord server and Simagic owned and run Facebook Owners’ group, shows a clear divide which is either a cultural issue, or a management issue. It achieves nothing other than tarnishing the aura of a fantastic range of steering wheel products.
I really don’t want to be labelled as ‘that Simagic guy’, but I find myself gravitating back towards the brand regularly. I have used and bought many other force feedback solutions and although better force feedback experiences definitely exist, they don’t offer the polished overall experience that Simagic can offer, and they’ve captured that perfectly with the Alpha Mini. The 2 wheel rims, quick release and overall wheelbase performance are the stuff of dreams for most sim racers and most will never need any ‘more’.
If you’re flirting with the idea of owning a Simagic Alpha mini, do it… Please consider supporting simwear.eu who generously sent me this unit on loan so that I could give my opinion and perspective on this new product. I don’t have any affiliate link for SimWear.eu but I feel that they deserve the support. There’s nothing out there right now to compete with the Alpha mini. The closest competitors to it seem to be the Fanatec CSL DD and the VRS DirectForce Pro, neither of which I’ve had the honour of reviewing yet. I do plan to test them out in the near future. If you’ve enjoyed this review, please hit the thumbs up button to encourage YouTube to suggest this video to others like you. Share it with your friends and as always, leave a comment with your thoughts, or even just to say hi. I’m Laurence, thank you all for watching.