Simagic Alfa Mini First Impressions


First, I need to start with a disclaimer, I have not had access to other DD wheels, so I cannot compare any of the other brands/units on the market. I ended up bringing the Simagic in because other people had also shown interest and thought I might go through the process to allow others the opportunity to gain insight from my findings, whatever little use the findings might be. Some of the community members at SRSA had asked I include a comparison to the Logitech G29 I’d been using. While I feel this is an unfair comparison, there might be some valid points to raise.

Why Simagic and not Fanatec?

I started off looking at the base costs. Some of the stores I’ve looked at list the Simagic base is listed for around $550. Looking through the list of official distributors for Simagic, the only place I could find that would ship directly to South Africa was SimFai Solutions, based in Singapore. Their prices are listed as VAT exclusive with various currencies to select from, although I think they anchor their prices to the US Dollar. It’s also important to note that SimFai doesn’t just list the base in its single form but instead sells it as a bundle. This bundling pushes the initial cost from $550 to $950 if you opt for the base + GT1-R wheel or $1200 for the base + GT4 Dual Clutch wheel.

I compared this pricing to the Fanatec CSL DD, where I quickly discarded the idea of just getting the 5 Nm base. I reasoned that if I’m already spending more than $500 on a combo, I might as well opt for the boost pack since it’ll provide higher torque. Some reviews of the 5 Nm base from people who’ve already been using a 20 Nm base was a little concerning. There was mention of a “dead zone” in the centre like the G29, or even belt-driven wheels would behave. I’m not saying it won’t be an upgrade on a G29, but I think someone going for a CSL DD will ultimately get the boost pack at some later stage.

I looked at the wheel options and concluded that I wouldn’t be able to get away with spending less than 650 Euro if I went for Fanatec. I would’ve purchased the McLaren GT3 V2 wheel listed for 199.95 Euro. Further muddying the water here is that I think Fanatec’s website lists prices as VAT inclusive, so it is still a little difficult for me to make a “fair” comparison price-wise here. Ultimately the quality of these products put me off. The McLaren wheel is quite “plasticy”, and the quick-release leaves much to be desired. I’m also buying into a deep ecosystem that I’m not planning on really using to its full extent. At this stage, I realised if I’m opting for the Simagic, I might as well pick up both wheels. One could argue that I could’ve opted for a higher-end Fanatec wheel, but the quick-release of a wheelbase is a selling point for me. The Fanatec quick-release doesn’t inspire much confidence when attaching a wheel, and not repairing bent pins without shipping the entire wheel back won’t help my case.

The Simagic wheels, on the other hand, are wireless and only need 5V power provided through the quick-release. The quick-release is D1 spec that has some pins added to provide power to the wheel. You can more easily fix bent pins by replacing the quick wheel-side quick-release or shipping only the quick-release for repairs. That said, Simagic has built some lenience in their design to allow you less opportunity to bend the pins when attaching the wheel. The plus side to it being D1 spec for those already use the system in their race cars will allow them to consider using the wheel they’d usually race with on the Simagic wheelbase. It would likely also allow you to source a 3rd party wheel and button box without entirely depending on the Simagic ecosystem.

The last nail in the CSL DD coffin for me was that the Simagic has a peak torque of 10 Nm. It’s not a lot extra, but I feel it’s just enough of a buffer to ensure that the needed fidelity is there.

First impression

When I first took the wheelbase out of the box, I realised it was quite a hefty unit. The wheelbase itself weighs around 10 kg. There are various options for mounting: Four threaded M6 holes on the underside using what I understand to be the same spacing as that of the Fanatec bottom mount. A special mounting bracket that allows you to tilt the base for more flexible mounting options. This bracket is sold separately, and I did not opt for this mounting solution. There are threaded holes on the front side (I’m not sure which thread type), allowing mounting the wheel on a sturdy mounting plate. I own a wooden rig made of pine plywood, and my “quick and dirty” solution was to measure out the bottom hole pattern and drill 6mm holes, mounting the unit with 30mm M6 bolts and the biggest washers I could find. I’m still planning some modifications to my rig, and having these options available has inspired a lot of confidence, knowing the wheelbase will be mountable somehow.

The base is passively cooled, and my understanding is that the normal operating temperature is around 60°C. 60°C is still quite hot, and some people report it running even warmer, but by altering the force feedback effects in the Simagic software, the heat can be managed. It’s ultimately a compromise, and it’s something to be aware of to prevent damage or injury.

GT1-R Wheel

The GT1-R wheel is a 320mm diameter round wheel wrapped in leather with yellow stitching. The button box features the following: Four red LED-backlit clicky push buttons Two rotary encoders that also serve as buttons One momentary up-down switch Magnetic shifting paddles The only downside of this wheel is that it doesn’t have a D-pad that you’d usually use for menu navigation. The buttons have a very nice tactile feel, as does the rotary encoders. The momentary up-down switch requires quite a bit of force, which means you won’t be bumping it unnecessarily.

The shifting paddles are what shines in my view. That paddles themselves are carbon fibre joined to an aluminium assembly. A pair of neodymium magnets on each paddle is what gives it a nice tactile feel. An important aspect of the shifters to note is that they use infrared sensors and not switches. If you have an infrared light source like the sun that shines on the shifters, you’ll have some miss-shifts.

The overall build quality of the wheel is really impressive. The leather stitching is neatly done, and with the entire unit weighing in at just over 2 kg, it’s quite a hefty piece of equipment.

GT4 Dual Clutch

The GT4 wheel is a 300mm diameter “open-wheeler” style wheel. The wheel I got has handles wrapped in Alcantara, although some wheels come with a lovely rubber handle finish. The button box features the following: Eight programable LED-backlit clicky push buttons - same as on the GT1-R button box Two 7-way funky-switches Two rotary encoders that also serve as buttons Magnetic shifting paddles Optional dual-clutch paddles Again the shifting paddles are what stands out for me here. It’s the same aluminium unit with slightly different carbon fibre paddles attached for the smaller form factor.

The funky switches are much less flimsy than I expected, and the rotary action is nice and firm. The action of the rotary encoders is also nice and firm, with a nice machined aluminium knob that inspires a lot of confidence when gripping it.

While I haven’t had much use for a dual-clutch system, the two paddles have the potential for more than that of a clutch. I played around with mapping each clutch paddle to the throttle and brake, which wasn’t completely undrivable. I thought that this approach might be a consideration for those looking to do sim racing but unable to use pedals.

Unfair Logitech G29 Comparison

My trusty G29 has served me very well over the last year and four months. While I’d moved on from the stock pedals almost a year ago, I used the wheel until now. In short, the Simagic destroys the G29 in terms of quality and functionality, but what I do feel is important in the comparison is what the Logitech G29 gets right.

Magnetic Shifters

I made a single modification to the wheel by attaching a 3D-printed bracket around the axle at the back. I glued some neodymium magnets into the bracket, serving as a much stronger spring for the metal shifting paddles. Comparing this solution to both the GT1-R and GT4 shifters, I was shocked to learn that the Simagic shifters are relatively quiet to my DIY magnetic shifters.

It is important to note that I consider this magnetic shifter mod a “must-have” for those using a G29. Previously the paddles had a lot of throw in them, and to shift faster, I’d pull the paddles until just before the switch is triggered. This technique lead to a few miss-shifts on my end, and with the mod, I could shorten the throw and have much more resistance before the shifter would actuate. It’s also a non-invasive mod, so I was happy having the warranty of my wheel stick around.

Leather Wheel

Credit where credit is due: the Logitech G29 wheel wrapped in leather is a nice premium touch. I do like the feel of a leather wheel, and having used it for more than a year, I can hardly tell that the wheel had been used for such a long time.

Noise

Noise is a very unfair comparison and something that previously did not bother me. I’m going to get straight to the point: the Logitech G29 is a loud unit. It’s about the equivalent of having a bunch of rocks in a bucket and moving a stick around between the rocks. I don’t know how the sound of this wheel didn’t drive my wife mad when we were still living in a small apartment.

My rig was in the living room, and we had agreed that I’d stay out of the rig in the evenings when we were sharing the space. It was only on race-night and some other days where I’d previously arranged some practice time that I’d be driving while my wife is watching TV. After now having experienced how quiet a direct-drive unit is, I can only be thankful for her putting up with my hobby.

Wheel Size

The Logitech G29 wheel is a 270 mm diameter round wheel. This size is more than adequate for the 2.7 Nm peak torque, compared to the peak torque of 10 Nm on the Simagic Alfa Mini, the unit can output. Don’t get me wrong, because I think this is about the best value wheel you can get. Anything more, and you start paying significantly more for marginal gains in perceived experience.

Something I do find interesting is how much more relaxed I felt using the Simagic wheels compared to the Logitech G29. It’s likely an ergonomic problem I didn’t entirely solve while using the G29, but having the slightly larger wheel somehow made me sit back a little more and relax my shoulders a little better. This relaxing feeling could be explained by me having to change the podium a little to mount the Simagic wheelbase, but that’s my perception right now. It might even be that my subconscious is less irritated by the lack of noise the unit makes.

Price

Pricing is the place where the G29 has most other wheels beat. I’m not expecting an improvement in my overall pace with the upgrade to the Simagic Alpha Mini, but I instead got it to make my sim racing experience more enjoyable. I’m also excited to see my old G29 going to someone else to start their sim racing journey.

Sim racing can be a bit of a rabbit hole, and you alone would justify it from an individual point of view.

Conclusion

From a first impression point of view, I’m pleased with my purchase. I’m looking forward to the upcoming races I’ll be doing, and I’ll be playing around with effects to find settings that I enjoy. I welcome the quality of life improvement that the quick-release has brought me. My rig is a “GP-style” rig that’s relatively low down. I had to contort my body a little when getting in and out to get around the Logitech G29 wheel. Completely removing the wheel makes it much easier to get in and out. The Simagic is ultimately just something that ups the level of enjoyment to a point where I want to go racing more consistently.