Picking out a seat for your home theater should be simple, right? Start with the right color for your room, then a shape that you like, then give it the butt test. Done.
But like anything else that goes into a home theater, seating can be a lot more complicated, so when Bobby Bala told me he thought his seats were the best in the business and he wanted to prove it to me, I said sure.
Bala owns Elite Home Theater Seating, a company that makes custom home theater seats. He’s also a home theater designer and is currently working on what will probably be one of the most amazing home theaters in the country. You can see mockups of the place here.
I sampled the model D1 which is a pretty standard-looking contemporary theater chair, but with a sculpted headrest and a back that holds you in a bit of a scoop like a bucket seat. Like any proper theater chair, it comes with a motorized reclining feature. The recline button is built into the right armrest, out of the way, but easily reachable.
With furniture, as much attention should go inside the product as outside. This model weighs about 150 pounds, which tells something about the quality of what’s inside. Weight keeps it from moving when you plunk yourself into it, but it also speaks to the steel and hardwood construction of the unit. The chair base itself is a solid block of wood hollowed out to hold the recline motor.
First, the fit: Bala pointed out to me that a theater chair shouldn’t be soft and sinkable like much of the low-end theater chairs seen in standard furniture stores. First, you don’t sit in a theater seat to just nod off to sleep—you want to be immersed in a movie. The cushioning should be comfortable, but firm enough to support your body evenly. “The main thing is the lower back,” said Bala. “It has to have proper support, so we designed it ergonomically with the help of a chiropractor so the lumbar cushion has the ideal angle and firmness to support the lower back.”
Next is the seat cushion. The leather reading chair in my den is probably filled with a standard stuffing (Bala calls this stuff cotton candy), which sinks when I sit in it. The Elite chair cushion compresses, but doesn’t sink deeply, so you’re comfortable, but not stuck. “We have what’s called a dual seat cushion system, so the inner cushion supports most of the body weight, and the outer cushion helps to support the leg,” Bala explains.
And it works. The seat uses a high-end foam Bala said is similar to the cushion in Tempur-Pedic mattresses, but it has more bounce in it due to the inclusion of a little rubber in the material. He also noted that it won’t dent over time. The foam carries a ten year warranty. I did indeed feel well-supported, particularly in my back (which is a trouble spot for me from carrying subwoofers all over the house). The cushion seemed to have just the right amount of give, keeping me upright enough to enjoy the movie and forgot completely about the chair.
Elite Home Theater model C1 with custom fabric in a room by Home Theaters and Beyond.
Elite seats are available in Italian leather, CineSuede, plus a synthetic material called Silk Leather, which this sample featured. Silk Leather feels like extremely soft leather—similar to fine lambskin—but it won’t horrify vegetarians. My veggie daughter was extremely relieved to hear this. Aside from not being cut from the back of an animal, Silk Leather is warmer. You know how leather can feel cold to the skin when you first sit on it? Silk Leather has a warmer feel. It’s also a little more expensive than leather.
The recline motor is made in Germany by a company called Okin. Bala say’s it’s a heavy-duty motor that might be overkill for a residential chair, but he’d rather over-engineer than under. The motor has a lifetime warranty. It plugs into a standard outlet. Recline motion on the Elite chair is extremely smooth and quiet. Quiet is important in a theater chair because you don’t want the motor noise to bother the other people in the room.
When fully reclined the shape of the back and head rest keep your faced aimed forward. That way you’re always looking at the screen and not the ceiling. It doesn’t lay out you flat, so don’t plan on using one of these seats for overnight guests. Also, the seat only needs to be four inches from the wall in order to fully recline. That also keeps the back of the seat away from the seat behind it if you’ve got multiple rows.
Both arms include cup holders which are spaced far enough forward so you’re hands aren’t knocking your cup, but better than that is the optional table. A small oval-shaped table fits into the cup holder so you can place your snack and a wine glass (or a remote) within easy reach. An optional iPad stand also fits in one of the cup holders. The iPad stand easily held my Samsung Galaxy tablet so I could use the apps to control my AV gear without sitting the device on my lap.
Elite seats are pricy. This one goes for $2,999 each, and some other models sell for more, but this is not your average theater seat. The construction and operation is flawless, and owners can expect it to withstand heavy use for years. Elite seats are made completely in the United States and Canada.
Seats are available in 12 styles with eight different backs and in a wide assortment of colors. Custom fabrics (including sports themes) are also available. Bala also offers consulting services to interior designers and home theater installers who need help with seating layout.
Elite Home Theater Seating
U.S. Head Office
1927 Boblett Street
Blaine, WA 98230
Canadian Head Office
Unit 406, 17665 66A Ave.
Surrey, BC V3S 2A7
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.