As a follow-up to my VKB Gladiator NXT review, the folks at VKB also sent me out a throttle combo to check out and review as well. This is a unique product with a wide variety of potential uses depending on the configuration that you want to have on your sim setup. What does the throttle combo offer and is this for you? I will try and answer these questions in this full review!
VKB sent me the GNX Dual THQ + SEM + FSM-GA Combo for review. I’ve been testing it for a while now and have written this review with my experiences. As with all of my reviews, my thoughts are my own.
The combination package
VKB sells six different combination packages of this product. They sent me the Dual THQ, a dual throttle quadrant setup, with the SEM (side extension module) and FSMA-GA (Front Switchboard Module – General Aviation) in a combo package. I’ll break down each of the units and what they feature first.
The THQ is the throttle quadrant. Each one has the following features:
- 3 Analog axes (w/ clutch dampers and adjustable length/height of axis levers)
- 8 Push buttons
- 5 Interchangeable axis lever heads (different colors/shape)
- Up to 4 GNX THQ modules can be connected, providing 12 analog axes
- Newly developed VKB Njoy 32NG firmware allows for 20 analog axes to be recognized in Windows as 3 joysticks (2 w/ 8 axes, plus 1 w/ 4 axes)
GNX SEM (side extension module) features these items:
- 1 Rotary switch
- 2 Multi-function axes
- 2 K-switches w/ central push button
- 7 Push buttons
- 8 Programmable, dual color LEDs
- Provides either a total of 24 logical buttons, or 17 logical buttons and 2 analog axes (based on configuration)
GNX FSM-GA (front switchboard module – general aviation) is packed with
- 2 Rotary encoder knobs w/ push button
- 1 Wheel encoder
- 16 Push buttons
- 12 bi-colored LEDs
So what do all of these features mean? Essentially what VKB want to offer here is a complete throttle quadrant plus a variety of common controls so that you can control a wide variety of mostly general aviation aircraft in a flight sim.
Each quadrant gives you the equivalent capability of a single engine GA airplane such as a Piper Arrow or a Mooney M20 with control over throttle, RPM and fuel mixture. Or if you prefer airliners you can configure the three or six axis to control engines and speed brakes or some other axis type control. VKB provides enough customization and lets you pop on and off the handles to help communicate what it is that you’re controlling. It’s impressively flexible.
The side extension module then lets you control other aspects of the airplane. Flaps and landing gear are labeled and they give you a very clear indication of how the controls can be setup. A three-position flap control and a up and down landing gear control complete with three LED lights give you both control and indicators on the status of the gear. Neat! I’ve not read of a way for these to give you indications of a gear failure via sim telemetry but that may be something that could be done in the future.
There’s also a couple of rocker switches and individual buttons that you can use for just about anything else in the cockpit.
The FSM-GA is a general aviation oriented panel (there is a military option too but I have been testing the GA version) and this is almost entirely focused on autopilot control. Individual buttons for heading, navigation, approach, altitude, VNAV and IAS modes are all labeled on the unit. There’s also an AP, FD, YD, and VS control with an encoder wheel to let you set vertical speed. It’s flexible enough that you could use this with a variety of autopilot systems including the G1000 found in quite a few aircraft.
There’s some interesting contrasts for this product and it starts with a comparison to the VKB Gladiator NXT. The stick and base required a brief setup process that involved putting the stick in the base and making sure a the wires were connected before going on to the software. The GNX Dual THQ + SEM + FSM-GA Combo requires significantly more time spent setting it up and this comes with both some good and some bad.
The good thing about VKB’s combo is that it can be put together according to your own desires right down to which combo pack you decide to buy. In this combo, a lot of the work was done with the pieces already connected together, however there was still a setup process that involved putting the throttle quadrants and side extension together with a plastic mount that connects to the FSM-GA component. Its quite a clever setup once its all screwed together but it does take a bit of patience to setup.
I have to report that I did run into a small defect. The metal stabilizer that fits on the bottom did not fit into the plastic base unit correctly. There was just a little too much plastic on each side and it would not fit in. I took a sander to it and after a little elbow grease was able to remove enough excess plastic for it to fit in. Neither the VKB rep that I was talking to nor anyone else that I know who has this setup ran into this problem but if it happens to you there is a simple solution.
After that it was a matter of connecting the unit. Here I struggled a bit as well although the blame here lies with the author of this piece. Despite the instructions telling me exactly what I needed to know I tried to do the setup without reading and that tripped me up – albeit briefly. The instructions told me that the control unit was in the left-most GNX-THQ and that I should connect my PC to that unit rather than the GNX-SEM on the right side of the setup. Once I figured that out, I was off to the races!
Speaking of the setup process, VKB provides a QR code in the package that links you to a setup video. The video is well produced, simple, straightforward and probably the best way to show up the setup process. VKB provides a series of these videos for most of their configurations so if you buy a different combo package you can use the appropriate guide.
Hardware quality and impressions
VKB have put together several hardware units over the last several years and so its unsurprising to me that their latest hardware is built at a similarly high level.
These units are built to a price point so you won’t find “premium” metal materials. That would probably make the whole thing much more expensive as well as heavy too. Instead we have very solid plastic that is more than adequate. It feels solid and doesn’t warp or bend like a cheaper plastic might.
This appears to be a solid piece of flight sim hardware where it counts. Every button on this unit requires a firm yet linear and predictable press. The feedback at the bottom of each press is subtle yet satisfying. Many of the buttons, particularly on the GNX-SEM and FSM-GA have LED lights next to them that show green but light up red when pressed. A nice little detail and confirmation that you’ve indeed pressed the button.
The axis controls are also extremely well done with the appropriate amount of weight to each of them making sure that they don’t slide when positioned in a particular spot nor are they hard to move when you need to move them. VKB has done some very good axis controls previously on their hardware and that shows here.
The FSM-GA is particularly interesting as a unit and its worth talking about. The two knobs, HDG/TRK and ALT SEL obviously correspond to heading or track selection as well as an altitude selection system. These are not on an axis and are instead an encoder. I’ve not had great luck with encoders in the past, however, these seem to work really well. Particularly in MSFS where rotating them quickly does infact result in a relatively quick movement in the cockpit. The same applies to the Vertical Speed encoder which slides up and down with little trouble and works well to select altitudes.
I do have a couple of comments about the unit as a whole. My first complaint is that it does slide around a little bit. There are rubber pads that you can place along the bottom. These, for the most part, mitigate the sliding but it does still like to move a little bit. It doesn’t fit on any of the table mounts that I have right now and I’m not sure if VKB intend to or are able to offer anything like that for this unit.
The combo throttle is also quite big. Bigger than my pictures might even suggest. Here it is next to a VKB Gladiator NXT for comparison sake.
The size helps accommodate all of the axis controls, buttons and the ability to be flexible and put these units together. It’s not done unnecessarily, however, if you have a small desk you may not want to go with the full configuration and instead opt for one fewer of the axis controls. On my medium sized desk (it’s a 48in sit/stand office desk) it still manages to fit fine and was quite workable.
Software and configuration
The GNX Dual THQ + SEM + FSM-GA Combo shows up in Windows as standard device which means that, for the most part, its pretty easy to configure in different sims. X-Plane and MSFS are the primary targets for this and it works just fine there. You can also use it with DCS and IL-2.
VKB provides some additional software, available for free via their downloads section on their website. There’s a couple of troubleshooting tools, a firmware updater and VKBDevCfg which allows you to configure your VKB device. While it appears powerful I really didn’t have a need for it as the device does everything I wanted it to do without supporting software even being installed.
Here’s where I really appreciate the VKB approach because this is basically a plug and play device. The onboard chip manages most of the things that you’d need it to do and all you need to do is focus on setting up the appropriate key-binds. MSFS nor X-Plane have a default configuration but you can create your own or scour the forums for someone who has posted one.
Conclusion and final thoughts
It’s not often that something unique comes along in the flight simulator hardware space but this system is. At first glance its just another throttle quadrant, however, this one is a little bit special thanks to its modularity. VKB have gone all the way with the modular approach offering multiple packages and setups so that you can purchase the configuration that you want either as a package or individually.
For those impatient with their hardware, the setup process is a little involved which means that you can’t just pull this out of the box and plug it in. Some assembly is required. That means making use of the provided tools to put this together. The advantage of course is that you can configure it the way you want or configure it one way and then change it with other hardware components.
The whole thing can exist as its own setup which is how you see it pictured with myself. You can also connect it to the side of the VKB Gladiator NXT/NXT EVO base. This is such a smart setup offering so many different ways to configure your flight sim gear.
So, who is this for? If you are a fan of general aviation sims and want a flexible setup, this might be for you. It certainly offers far more in the way of control than a pure quadrant setup that you could purchase. If you like airliners or business jets you can also make use of this setup and reconfigure the axis controls to give you control over up to 4 engines and a couple of airbrakes or some other axis control. Really it depends on what you’re focused on as a sim pilot.
The setup works well too for WWII simmers although VKB does have a more WWII centric setup too. The only group that it may not appeal well to is the military jet and helicopter pilots where the controls are too specialized to work well there.
The Achilles heel of this whole setup stems from its modularity. It makes for a great setup if you have a specific focus such as multi-engine GA aircraft (in this configuration). Conversely, it also struggles a bit if you’re a generalist and fly a lot of different types at the same time. VKB has a configuration for nearly every type of pilot but you also can’t have it all at the same time with this setup. It’s not a bad thing but rather a choice that you’d have to make for the most ideal setup.
I also have to mention price. This is not a budget system and the GNX Dual THQ + SEM + FSM-GA Combo as tested is retailing for $320 USD on the US webstore. It comes packaged with a ton of capability so the price feels justified, especially in these days of rising prices on everything.
These considerations aside, I must hand it to VKB for making a very smart setup that is immensely configurable and very well integrated into the rest of their ecosystem. If you’re looking for a hardware setup that matches one of the configurations that VKB has on offer and you have a big enough space for your hardware to sit on, VKB’s flexible throttle system might be for you!
I’ve done my best to show off the GNX Dual THQ + SEM + FSM-GA Combo in my current setup. I am many types of photographer but product photography is still a learning curve for me so please be gentle!