Review: How much $ should you spend on a massage chair?

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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.
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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?* Yes. Do I have an extra $5000 to spare? No. 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.

About Lisa Katayama

I'm a contributing editor here at Boing Boing. I also have a blog (TokyoMango), a book (Urawaza), and I freelance for Wired, Make, the NY Times Magazine, PRI's Studio360, etc. I'm @tokyomango on Twitter.
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8 Responses to Review: How much $ should you spend on a massage chair?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I actually own both the Sogno and Panasonic chairs, as I found that they really are two completely different types of chairs, but both with what I consider to be significant benefits. If you look around carefully, you can find either of these chairs at a discount. I have the Panasonic 30006 model, which is identical to the 30007, except for having black/padded armrests (which I prefer), and I bought it for $2400 delivered from someone on eBay. The Sogno I found at a store that was going out of business, and he sold it to me for less than his own cost.

    I look at massages as being both something that feels good, but also got them for the longer term theraputic benefits.

  2. Nandini says:

    @echolocate chocolate A decent office chair should be a priority if you have a sitting job – Being a blogger I have spent hours at a stretch clinging to my chair and it did took a toll on me – I thought I was suffering from spondylitis pain. But getting a ergonomic chair(Steelcase, inmy case) made all the difference to me – coming back to Lisa’s point – a massage chair is a bonus even if you have a ergonomic chair in your office.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Awesome review! Thank you, Lisa!

    Though I’m a little biased – I have a friend working at Human Touch, I totally agree with you on all points. The two high-end chairs definitely massage all around and iJoy can’t quite measure up to that. At the same time, aside from being tons more expensive, I just think the Inada and Panasonic are kinda ugly… I can’t think of a place to put a chair like that, even in a big house… unless you dedicate a special “massage room” or something…

    As a response to the comments – my friend just leaked to me that Human Touch is working with HugM Office Chairs to bring comfy office chairs to the US. Both HugM and their competitor DuoRest are super popular in Asia, but are hardly found here in America… Anyway, check out this site and email them if you want:

    I don’t think they are selling them just yet, but they are coming soon for sure. Plus I totally like the colors :)

  4. zhuzhu says:

    you’ll never regret buying a decent chair

  5. echolocate chocolate says:

    This is a great read, even though I can’t say I’m in the market for a massage chair.

    What I WOULD love you guys to write is a bit on office chairs. I could use a good one so I don’t end up needing a massage chair. :) Bloggers seem like they’d know a fair bit about sitting at a computer, after all.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I second that! I can never find a decent chair at Staples or Office Depot, etc.. Whats the best $250 Office chair?

  7. Astin says:

    I’m happy with my simple Homedics quad-roller with heat that you can put on a chair. Cost less than $7k.

    Although after sitting in a $3k chair the other day, I’m tempted to go all out on a full chair one day when I have space.

    As for a decent office chair – $250 could be a crap shoot on a truly great chair. You’ll get a decent one for that price, but as always, if you put it next to an $800 one and try them both, you’ll know where the money’s being spent.

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