You work long hours. You're getting old. Your shoulders are stiff, your back is sore from sitting all day or walking all day or exercising at the gym, or maybe just from sleeping. What you really need is a massage--like, ten times a day, at home where nobody can hear you snore or fart. So what do you do? Well, if you have the money, it's worth investing in a home massage chair--they range from a couple hundred bucks to several thousand--but the question is, how much should you spend? And is a $7000 chair really that much better than a $1000 one?
To find out, I tested out three massage chairs--Human Touch's iJoy 2580 Robotic Massage Chair ($999.99), Panasonic's RealPro Ultra EP30007KX ($5,999.95), and Inada's Sogno DreamWave Plus ($6,499). I'm the type of person who will sit go to a department store just to sit in massage chairs all day, or spend an hour and $80 getting a petite but extremely strong woman to push the kinks out of my back. My body is important to me, and I am willing to spend money and time to keep it intact.
The iJoy-2580, which hit retailers this April following the success of its predecessor iJoy-100, is a solid, basic massage chair. It has four major functions--kneading, rolling, compression, and percussion. The chair reclines and the rollers can be adjusted to move up and down along your back. What's really nice about it is that it's lined in lovely faux leather and suede without any weird robotic extensions, so it fits in nicely with the living room furniture. The controls and a cup holder are on the armrests, so you don't have to fumble for a remote, and there's an outlet for plugging in a laptop in case you can't relax without geeking out at the same time. I did find myself wishing on occasion that my arms and legs were getting some love, but overall, it's a great chair to fall asleep in.
Panasonic's EP30007 is huge (it weighs 181 lbs!), and it talks a lot. After 3D scanning my back to create a virtual map of my spine, it started working on my body from all different directions--pressure on my shoulders, air bags squeezing my calves and arms, rollers smoothing out my lower back... it felt like four dexterous robots were working my body. A woman's voice talked to me the entire time--she explained the features of the chair, what the chair bots were going to do to my body next, and how many minutes I had left. It was a slight buzz kill, but my body felt great. When I tumbled off the chair 15 minutes later, my back felt slightly less knotted up, which was awesome.
The DreamWave Plus is like the king of massage chairs. Inada sold the first home massager in 1962, and has been one-upping its competitors ever since with things like voice-activated controls, optical shiatsu point finders, and added functions that help lazy people stretch their back and hips without moving a muscle. But consumers pay the price--this bad boy costs nearly $7K after taxes. As James, the lively Chinese man who owns the little showroom that I tested it out in--pointed out, this one doesn't feel like robot hands, it feels like human hands. I felt like I was being cradled by a very strong but gentle man who wanted to massage me all day. "Ah, this is nice," I said out loud as it kneaded my sore butt.
Were the $6-7K Panasonic and Inada massages significantly more relaxing than the iJoy?*
Do I have an extra $5000 to spare?
In conclusion, I would say: definitely spend as much as you can on a massage chair. The iJoy is well worth the grand it costs you, but if you have the extra cash, go for the high-end models because they'll save you trips to the chiropractor. Don't have much money at all? The cheapest massager I've ever tried is the Conair $20 neck rest on Amazon, but honestly, with that one, you get what you pay for.
*HumanTouch, the company that makes the iJoy, also has a high-end $3K range massage chair. I just didn't try it out.