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June 2010
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

World Premiere!
Audiophile i-Fi Chair
Audiophile Gift or Gimmick?
Review By Scott Faller

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Audiophile i-Fi Chair  WARNING: You may want to grab something to drink and maybe even pack a lunch; this is a really long one. It is over twice as long as my typical typefest. This is a brand new product and there are tons of things to talk about... and no doubt, you will want to savor all 9700+ words. I'm not sure if you took the opportunity to read my RMAF 2009 show report but during that event I highlighted Jeff Ostler's creation, the i-Fi Chair. As I mentioned within my report, I spent more time in the i-Fi room than I did in nearly any other. The reason was not only because this was something new and innovative but I saw the potential for a product that would satisfy a large segment of the audiophile community.

 

Trivial Bits
Anybody over the age of about 40 remembers the many incarnations of the Henrik Thor-Larsen's original Ovalia Egg Chair. During the late 60's and through the 70's a number of manufacturers swiped the egg concept and loaded ball or egg shaped chairs with speakers creating this cocoon of putrid sound. I still remember playing with those chairs (seemingly) always mated with the iconic Weltron 2005, space aged stereo complete with cheesy turntable and 8-track player. Occasionally I'd run across somebody who would plug in a Kenwood or Pioneer receiver and a Dual turntable into the Egg Chair but it never really helped much. Though unique and ‘mod', it never was a substitute for a real stereo, even back then.

Thank goodness for progress and innovation. Enter the 21st century. Jeff Ostler and his creation the i-Fi Chair have now taken [what was] a novelty and turned it into something that is a serious piece of kit. Make no mistakes here, while you may be thinking this is some sort of elaborate home theater or gaming chair, it isn't. In fact it's far from it. Just a little bit on Jeff Ostler. Jeff is a hard core audiophile and manufacturer. Though Jeff's day job involves the manufacturing of amusement items and vending machines, Jeff's passion is audiophillia. To give you an idea, Jeff's reference system consists of YG Acoustic speakers, Boulder amps, and Levinson preamp and a Bryston DAC player on the front end. This should tell you all you need to know about how the i-Fi Chair has been voiced. The other thing you should know, Apple was so impressed with Jeff's i-Fi Chair that it is the first piece of furniture to be granted a license by iPod. That alone should speak volumes about the i-Fi Chair.

 

Construction
Let us start with the construction of the i-Fi Chair. Back at RMAF 2009 I mistakenly said that this was tricked out and hot rodded Lazyboy recliner. After receiving the Chair and looking at its build quality, I couldn't have been more wrong. As I flipped it upside down to inspect it further, I saw the structure is infinitely beefier than a commercial recliner. Jeff custom built this chair to not only integrate the amps, subwoofer and shaker but he also took into account the way the low frequency energy is released and perceived by the mind. The main structural framing of the Chair is 1.5-inch tube steel. Just to give you an idea, we recently bought all new living room furniture from Lane Manufacturing (overstuffed, Italian leather sofas and recliners).

These overly expensive pieces of crap use 12 gauge stamped steel for structural framing and one chincy half inch piece of tube steel as a cross brace. When you sit in both chairs and compare their stability, the i-Fi chair is considerably more stable and simply put, better built. The shaker in the i-Fi Chair is mounted on a 12 gauge plate that spans the width and breadth of the 1.5-inch tube steel frame. It is then welded on all four sides. The rest of the Chairs structure is built up from this rigid structural foundation. This [by design] distributes the lowest frequency energy (below 50 Hz) into the rest of the chair. In the backrest of the chair, Jeff has installed a ported enclosure that houses an 8" woofer that covers from 50Hz to just around 100 Hz. Also in the backrest is housed the Class D amplifiers and speaker connections for the speakers, sub and shaker.

For the ultimate in convenience, Jeff has incorporated a motorized reclining feature. The button for operation is conveniently located right below the preamp controls near the seat cushion. There is also a beverage holder for your favorite drink. Like most furniture nowadays, it is ‘overstuffed' and extremely comfortable. The finish is fine Italian leather, double stitched and reinforced.

Though you have the option of using the speakers that are built into the armrests of the chair, the Audiophile version of the chair have slots just in front of the arm rests where the ½" x 3/8" steel bar speaker stands mount. With the speakers atop their stands and in their mounts, they are very stable. The speakers are affixed to the stands with ¼ - 20 knurled bolts so there is no possibility of the speakers getting knocked off. The speakers connect to the chair with a simple, high quality Kimber RCA male and female jack. Speaker wiring inside of the chair and to the speakers is Kimber also.

At the front of the right armrest resides the preamp and control panel. This is where we step into the 21st century. First there is an iPod dock. Just grab your iPod or IPhone and plug it in and you can start listening to music. Built into the preamp is also an auxiliary input for your favorite external sources, a wireless receiver (more later), a mute button, the shaker volume control, the subwoofer volume control, the main volume control the power button and finally the navigation button and small blue LCD screen which takes you through your choices of inputs and a very simple setup program.

 

The Speakers
As I eluded, the i-Fi Chair comes with a few choices of speakers. First are the built in speakers that are located in the arms. These are small, high quality 5" coax speakers in their own enclosure. They really don't sound bad for pedestrian use but they don't nearly measure up to the Audiophile speakers. The next pair of speakers that come with the chair are a small black pair of drivers that resemble a miniaturized pair of B&W XT2 speakers. These little speakers don't sound too bad either. They are a bit tipped up and lack a bit in the mid-bass but when you compare, they are considerably better than the speakers in the armrests but again fall short of the quality of the Audiophile speakers.

The Audiophile speakers are a pair custom designed 2 ways that utilize a four inch Vifa woofer and a 1" Vifa soft dome tweeter. The crossover is a simple 2nd order for both drivers that utilize good quality parts. On the back is a standard pair of binding posts. The cabinet is simple curved MDF in a teardrop shape that has high gloss black paint on the top, bottom and front baffle. The sides and back have a nice looking durable vinyl that looks like leather. The reason for the vinyl is pretty obvious, since you reside so close to the speakers, there is a good chance you are either going to whack them or spill something on them on occasion. The finish needed to be something durable and cleanable. Sure, Jeff could have gone with a cool veneer but I'll bet within a year, there would be big gouges and scrapes in it. They are just too exposed and vulnerable. The vinyl is a good choice in my opinion, not to mention, it looks just fine.

 

Electronics Design
Let's talk a bit more about the speakers. The Audiophile speakers were specifically designed to do two things. First is to extend down to about 80Hz in free air. The next is to sound good near field. If any of you listen near field, you know exactly what I am speaking of. Near field speakers are in a different plane of existence than a traditional speaker. Since you sit so close to the speakers, they have to be toned down when compared to far field speakers. If you don't ease up on the treble a bit and pay close attention to the crossover points, the speakers will rip your face off with the treble energy. I experienced this first hand when I tried (for shits and giggles) to mount my monitor sized pair of Aperion 632LRs and a pair of Triangle Titus speakers on the speaker stands. They did just what I described. It was like driving ice picks into my ears. Way too much treble energy. Then again, this may be something you want to play with. I'm sure there is a happy medium if you try enough different speakers but for me, the i-Fi Chair Audiophile speakers are an extremely good balance.

Next up is the amplification for the Chair. Anybody that reads my drivel knows I'm a died-in-the-wool tube guy. The i-Fi Chair uses Class D amplification. So what gives? Why is this SET and single driver, high efficiency freak stepping into a Chair that uses multi-way speakers and [GASP!] Class D amps? I actually heard Jeff utter those same thoughts, seeing his whole business plan go up in triode smoke. Well, not to worry, I figured out a way to roll some tubes into the i-Fi chair. As long as I get some sort of even order harmonics rolled into my music, I'm usually a pretty happy camper. I'm not as inflexible as you might think. More on tubes and i-Fidelity later.

The Class D amps are built around the Maxim chip/topology. The satellite speakers are driven by a 25 wpc Class D stereo amp and the sub woofer and shaker are driven by a mono 50wpc Class D amp. The satellite amps do 0.1% TDH and the subwoofer and shaker amps do 0.09% THD with all three having a S/N ratio of -95dB.

The preamp section of the Chair (as I mentioned) resides in front of the armrest. According to Jeff, he uses the Burr Brown OPA2134U dual opamp to provide the necessary gain stages and active crossover points for the different aspects of the chair. Essentially what he has done is incorporate an active crossover onto the chair. The satellite speakers are setup to run full range and naturally roll off near 80Hz. The subwoofer tops out at ~100 Hz and is cut off at ~50 Hz. You have the ability through the setup program to choose either a 6 or 12dB/octave slope for the crossover. This gives you a bit of choice. Me, I prefer a slightly fuller midbass region so I set the chair at 6db. The shaker also has a high crossover point of ~50Hz. It reaches down to about 25 Hz. Though it won't go below 20 Hz, there is really not much need for it in the Chair as when you get that low, you perceive an intense visceral sensation so you don't really miss that last quarter of an octave above 20 Hz. One last item on the overall design, Jeff has used a dual differential, mono design with the gain stage and OpAmps. This is supposed to cancel RF interference so you don't get RF from your cell or iPhone.

As I mentioned, the user controls consist of the main volume control, a subwoofer volume control and the shaker volume control. There is also a handily designed mute that when pushed mutes to 50% then 100% mute. The sub and shaker gain stages can be set through the Setup program to track the main volume control. The way this is averaged is through a program on the flash chip, it stays fairly linear until you get above 80-85 on the volume control screen (which is really freakin' loud BTW). Once you pass 85, you are in [sort of] no man's land. At that point you have to manually adjust the sub and shaker to your tastes. This is actually fine since (if you are like me) you are rockin' your brains out at this point. I have to admit, the Chair hangs together pretty well even at extremely stupid volumes but more on that later.

 

The Setup
After getting the i-Fi Chair I decided to first set it up in my smallest listening room (9'x11'). This room worked extremely well and gave tons of bass reinforcement to rock music (more on that in a bit). This is the room where the majority of my impressions of the Chair originated.

First thing about the Chair you need to understand is that the Chair does not play by the same rules that traditional speakers do. You are listening near field and room acoustic rules for the mids and highs don't apply. There are no first refection points, no room nodes or nulls for the mids and highs and no complex reflections from furniture or room construction that you have to deal with and attenuate.

I did find that bass is somewhat dependant on the positioning of the iFi Chair. As my time with the Chair wore on, I decided to move it from my small listening room (9' x 11') down into my main reference listening room which is quite large at 38'x15'. I positioned the Chair where my listening chair normally sits which is about a third of the way up in the room (I listen far field). I started rolling through some of my favorite reference tunes. All of the acoustic music (classical, jazz, bluegrass, that kind of stuff) I put on sounded absolutely stellar. After a couple of hours I decided I wanted, no needed to rock out so I spun up Led Zeppelin Houses of the Holy. As I cranked the woofer and sub up, I discovered that the Chair really liked having some back wall reinforcement to get maximum amount of bass output on rock music. Out in the open, I couldn't get that massive bass response I did when I had the Chair in my small listening room positioned against the wall. In turn I moved the Chair into my adjacent medium sized listening room (17' x 14'). I positioned the chair against the back wall and the bass came back in spades.

One thing I did notice was when I moved the Chair to the medium sized room, the bass smoothed out a bit and was a tad more articulate. So from all that my take-away is that bass response from the iFi Chair seems to be somewhat room dependant when you are cranking the hell out of it. I say somewhat because it clearly isn't as picky as a traditional set of speakers are but you will find that the overall size of the room will effect the bass response slightly. I guess the moral of that story is that if you like your music served up with copious (and I do mean copious) amounts of bass, you will likely want to place the Chair right up against the wall (lots more on this later). If not, forget what I just wrote.

Next, as it is with all HiFi gear, the i-Fi Chair responds favorably to power conditioning, good cabling and quality power cords. In my case I started with a simple DeZorel passive power conditioner. As you would expect, the background got quieter and the stage opened up. Then I installed my Balanced Power Technologies, BP 2 Signature and everything got significantly better. Not surprising at all as that always seems to happen when I installed it in a system. The same can be said for the BPT and the Kaplan Cables power cords I use in my main systems.

I really wanted to give the i-Fi Chair a good workout. I needed to see if this thing was for real or if it was some sort of gimmicky fad that would come and go like so many other things targeted at audio lovers. So I rounded up some pretty good gear to use as sources. I grabbed my Bolder modified Statement Squeezebox 3 and a good power supply. I grabbed my Havana NOS tubed DAC to feed my streamed music into (see, I figured a way to get some tubes into the system). I grabbed my trusty old Sony 3100ES SACD player and for the ultimate in stupidity, I even hooked up a turntable to the iFi Chair. The table is the venerable Acoustic Research ES-1. This one is the suspended design that has a Grace 707 arm and the Grace F9e cartridge. For my phono stage I tried both the Korato KVP 10 tubed dual mono and the stellar sounding Graham Slee Jazz Club. I used a variety of cabling from the super expensive Audio Note AN-V pure silvers to my DIY CuAg with Teflon dielectric. All of these are plugged into the 1/8" auxiliary input of the preamp control panel of the Chair. Of course I did use an iPod for a portion of my time with the Chair but again, more on that later. As an external source switcher, I used a very inexpensive no name brand that I've had lying around for some time. It's actually quite transparent and did a fine job for a passive switcher.

 

Finally, The Sound
The first thing I did was listen to the i-Fi Chair with an iPod and Apple Lossless files. I have to say, I was pretty impressed. The sound was smooth and articulate though a bit congested. Just about as I expected. After listening to a couple of the better iPod docs I found them to sound nice but [to me] they aren't a good substitute for a good streaming source. For the casual listen when you just want to wind down, maybe have a cocktail and slow your world down for a half hour or so at the end of a busy day, the iPod and its interface works perfectly for casual listening.

After a few days of playing with the iPod, I got the rest of my front end gear connected. Now, I have to say that the first few days with the new source gear I spent them literally rockin' my brains out. I found every abusive song I could find and blasted the crap out of it in the Chair.  I guess that really doesn't come as much of a surprise to me as that is the exact same thing I did in the hour I spent with the Chair out in Denver. I do have to say that when you want to rock out, the i-Fi Chair does it better than any other conventional system I've ever listened to, seriously. Since you have the ability to adjust the sub and shaker to whatever level you want, you can take the shittiest of recordings and level them out to a point that they actually sound pretty damned good. Not to mention, they become more musically involving than any traditional system I've ever heard or owned.

 

Oh Boy... Here We Go...
Not to get sidetracked but exactly when did audiophiles lose their collective minds and eliminate tone controls from preamps? Whose bright idea was that one? Could I ask that whomever you are that you please step forward so I can ask you what the hell you were thinking then slap you really hard? I'm sorry and I know I'm going to get beat up on the boards and censured by all ‘self important' reviewers and editors, but that has to be one of the dumbest things we've ever done as a group. I mean this is stupidity of monumental proportions.

Good grief, are we all lemmings? Let's face some simple facts. All recordings are not created equal. There is a significant portion of recordings that are rendered completely unlistenable on an audiophile approved system. It usually has to do with a weak bottom end. The guy sitting behind the mastering console excluded most anything below about 100 Hz. In turn you get those screaming guitars and vocals that just about rip your head off when you crank the music up on an ‘audiophile' system.

Case in point. Oingo Boingo song "Dead Man's Party". I absolutely defy you to turn that release up above 95dB and listen to the entire album. You can't...or if you can, you are deaf...or will be once you finish it. Now, enter the ever-so evil tone control [GASP!!!...RUN AWAY!!!}. In the i-Fi Chair I cue up Danny Elfman and company and turn the main volume up to 55 which equates to about 95dB. The sub and shaker are tracking even with the main volume. At those levels I proceed to get assaulted with this thin, screechy, nasty facsimile of music. In turn when I reach over and crank the sub up to 85 and the shaker up to 85 next thing you know, problem solved. Oingo Boingo sounds better than they ever have. In fact it sounds so good I crank the crap out of it and bop myself silly in the chair. Is this audiophile approved? Hell no. Is this the most fun I've had with my clothes on? Damn near. I could go on and on with all GREAT music and crappy recordings that are out there but I'll list just a few; UFO Strangers in the Night, anything by Uriah Heap, White Snake, Judas Priest, Sammy Hagar and most any other mainstream Rock and Roll or Pop album. This is the stuff that is at my musical core and I want to listen to it ALL of it....sometimes really loud! That music makes me happy and I can't listen to it on the typical audiophile approved system. Why? Without tone controls the music sounds like hammered shit. In turn all of that music has been relegated to my car where I've got tone controls. Something about that notion is just plain wrong.

The thing that chaps my butt about ‘audiophile approved' systems is they have NO flexibility. I'm sorry, I want to listen to all of my music, not just the stuff that is well recorded. I've long been a proponent of tone controls in audiophile systems. Trouble is it falls on deaf ears. In turn, I've figured a way around it. If you know me and my systems, I use an active crossover and have since the 70's. See, with an active crossover, I have the ability to reach over and goose the bass a little bit when I need to even out an anemic recording. More and more we are seeing things like DEQXs and the Behringer Ultra Curve crossovers sneaking their way into more and more systems. Now these can be a PITA to adjust since you have so many EQ bands but once you figure it out, you can save the ‘boosted' setting and sneak it in when no other audiophiles are around so you don't get made fun of or are accused of cheating. All of this is hidden under the guise of ‘room correction'. Well, give me a break. Let's call it what it really is, tone controls. I personally think it's time for everybody to come out of the closet.

OK, since I've completely derailed this review I may as well go for broke. What makes anyone think that tone controls are a bad thing? Sure, the argument can be made about the phase shift that takes place when a traditional tone control is employed in a gain circuit. And then you have the whole smearing and congestion of the sound. But why can't we add them to the preamp section and make them defeatable? That way when we want to listen to ALL of our music, we can. Give us a little credit. I'm pretty sure the average audiophile knows what a ‘real' acoustic instrument sounds like...or he should. We know when the bass is ramped up too high or the treble is too bright. Give us a choice damn it! Can somebody give me a Halleluiah and an Amen brother!

OK, sorry for that rather long rant. I guess I just showed my arse but I don't really care. I love music, all music, not just well recorded audiophile crap. This brings me full circle to the tone controls of the i-Fi Chair. As I mentioned (much) earlier, the satellite speakers go down to around 80Hz in free air and then the sub rolls in at about 100 Hz and the shaker kicks in below that at around 50 Hz.

 

Bass
When you get in the chair and begin playing with the tone controls you find them quite sensitive. Sitting and listening to classical, as you start out with the bass low, as you adjust the tonal balance up you find that it's almost as if the hall begins to fill in. Then slowly you begin to adjust the shaker to fill in the last two octaves of music. It's interesting how the human brain interprets the woofer and shaker in this design. With the range of 100 Hz +/- down to 50Hz being filled in by a woofer that is located physically behind you and facing the wall (or floor if you are fully reclined), you might think that there is a dramatic loss in detail but there isn't. In fact it is far from it. I am speculating here but I think it is because the satellite speakers are running full range you are picking up the third octave highlights (detail) while the woofer is providing the visceral impact your mind expects from the music. Then you have where bass is supposed to be omni-directional, 50 Hz and below. Since they say we can't audibly locate sub-bass the shaker and the i-Fi Chair structure provides the last octave and a quarter, viscerally.

At first, with a portion of the music being provided viscerally as opposed to auditorially (is that a word?), there is a slight sense of discombobulation but that soon disappears and you seamlessly escape into your favorite music. Honest to goodness, after having the i-Fi Chair here for a number of weeks, when I cue up a nice trio or orchestral piece, I don't notice the sub and the shaker anymore. It's weird, you would think it would be distracting but it isn't in the least. I simply get more involved in whatever it is that I am listening to. In fact, I find that when listening in the i-Fi Chair I have significantly more musical involvement than with most other systems I've experienced (and own). It's scary how good this chair can be. After all of these years chasing the ‘ultimate' system and synergy, I got this palletized, steroid injected Barcalounger that made me forget about gear and now I listen to music... harrumph.

Just as you can boost the bass a bit to level out recordings, don't forget you can trim it back to on recordings that are overdone. Two come to mind immediately; Pat Metheny and Charlie Hayden's Beyond the Missouri Sky and the Adam Rafferty Trio's release Three Souls. Both of these releases, though loved by the critics and audiophiles alike, have the bass levels way to high. If ever you have stood next to [or better yet had] a double bass in your hands, know that these instruments are relatively quiet when played. As I listen to ART, I can trim the bass back a bit to make the balance significantly more realistic. 

The visceral impact of the woofer and the shaker will be quite well received by the average audiophile as most love impactful bass. That is one thing the chair delivers in spades is impact. The other noticeable thing is that the bass is super quick and articulate. Just as fast as you get hit with a bass note, it rapidly decays. There is very, very little overhang which leaves the bass sounding tight and nimble. One interesting byproduct of the shaker is due to the physical structure of the i-Fi Chair, the last structural piece of the Chair to release its bass energy is the foot rest. When you are cranking it with the bass proceeding down the scales, you will notice the bass impact starting at your back then it proceeds to your seat and finally ends at your ankles. That sounds a little strange but it is actually a cool effect and in fact it isn't far from listening to live (amplified) music. If you frequent live venues much of the bass that you experience is structure borne vibrations that come to you right through your chair. Your first inclination is to think I am wrong (which is fine) but pay close attention next time you go and see an amplified concert, you'll see I'm right.

 

Treble, Midrange And Clarity
As I mentioned somewhere earlier, when I first got the i-Fi chair I struggled trying to get more treble energy thinking the i-Fi Chair would be better somehow if I could see deeper into the music. As I proved to myself by switching the stock speakers out with something a bit more forward, I soon found out that brighter speakers were simply a bad idea. Sure, I could hear deeper into the music but the cost threw the tonal balance off dramatically. The songs I could once crank up and enjoy now would rip my head off. Everything was wrong. Needless to say, I switched back to the Audiophile speakers that come with the Chair. As the weeks passed, I grew to appreciate what Jeff has done with the voicing of the speakers. Sometimes we tend to think we know what should work best, but some cases like this, we are patently proven wrong.

So I still haven't told you how the speakers actually sound. Well, the treble is absolutely there, it's just a bit recessed. As I listen to something like Ella doing Good Morning Heartache, the triangle that is struck at the beginning of the song still comes through clear and with plenty of extension, she just isn't as forward and ‘present' as in my main reference system.

Staying with Ella, the midrange produced by these little monitors is quite good also. I don't notice much veiling at all. Sure, they aren't as articulate as my Lowther PM2As, but these little Vifas do a fine job at reproducing the vocal range. When it comes the micro-dynamics we all make such a big deal about, the i-Fi Chair does a decent job at that too. Again, the satellite speakers may not be the last word in dynamics but they sure don't embarrass themselves in any form or fashion. Having your head mostly at the same level as a tweeter is fairly critical. If you have rotten posture like I do and slouch when you sit, you won't get as much detail or depth of stage as when you have your butt jammed into the pivot point of the backrest and sitting reasonably upright.

 

Soundstage
Let us talk a bit about how the i-Fi Chair performs compared to a traditional two channel rig in a decent room. As you could imagine, there are differences between the two. Since you are listening nearfield, the things that you are accustomed to in a traditional room are gone. Things like the early and late reflections of sound that trick your mind into thinking the soundstage is deeper and wider than it really is. Listening nearfield you can still get a reasonable depth and width of field but it can no way match what a really good set of [say] open baffle speakers can create. That said, I'm impressed with how big of stage is being projected in front of me by the i-Fi Chair.

As you recline, the soundstage opens up significantly allowing the stage depth to reach four or five feet behind the front plane of the speakers. As you sit more upright, the stage tends to collapse. When you are reclined, your head is closer to that equilateral triangle that seems to be the best for depth and imagining when setting up speakers. The soundstage that is projected besides being reasonably wide is extremely tall. In fact, the main image is projected in a tight focus just above your forehead. I experimented with tilting my head up and back and the image actually came down a bit as I tilted my head back. Just a guess but the shift in image height location may be due to the shape of my pinna (the visible portion of the ear).

When it comes to imaging, this is absolutely another i-Fi Chair strong suit. Even though you might think that the speakers sitting so close to your head might cause a hard left or right imbalance, the speakers actually disappear completely leaving only a musical image hovering out in front of you. Within that image, you get placement and separation between the instruments the likes you've never heard before. Now, due to not getting late reflections, you aren't going to get that huge 3-D effect of being able to walk in between the musicians on the stage. What you will get is pinpoint image placement that holds an unwavering spotlight on the performers.

One last thing, the early stereo recordings that used a hard left/right balance for the performers can be a bit disconcerting since you are so close to the speakers. Although this really isn't much different than your main stereo but with that you are able to get some room reflections that don't all so much attention to the hard balance. All in all, not a big deal since there are so few of those recordings that exist.

 

Sampling Rates, Vinyl And Wireless
Let us talk about specific sources and how they sound feeding the iFi Chair. First up was my Bolder modified Squeezebox 3 and the NOS Havana tubed DAC. As I mentioned early on, I'm a tube freak. After playing with the iPod as a source, which didn't sound bad at all BTW, I needed to add some tube texture to the presentation. This is simply a personal thing. You solid state and Class D guys won't feel the need for this at all. As I mated the Havana to the i-Fi Chair, it turned out to be a great pairing. The tubed output gain stage of the NOS Havana DAC brought just the right amount of texture and ‘life' to the sound to keep me extremely satisfied. Everything just seemed a bit more real with the addition of tubes. Also, vocals smoothed out significantly and dynamics had considerably more snap and punch.

Next up I played with sources that had higher sampling rates, vinyl, SACD and DVDA. The way the i-Fi Chair is currently voiced, it responded really well to these sources. This should come as good news to those of you that enjoy your digital upsampled. As I flipped back and forth from the Redbook and SACD versions of Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott play Faure, it is unmistakable which source digs deeper into the music, the SACD version. I know not many of you have held onto your SACD players, but those that have, know a good SACD player can sound hauntingly real.

The same can be said for using vinyl as a source for the i-Fi Chair. As we all know, not all vinyl is created equal but when you play a well mastered slab of wax, wholly crap can it sound good. Such is the case using a turntable as a source for the i-Fi Chair. From my experience using the meager AR ES-1 coupled with the Grace 707 arm, Grace F9e cart with the Graham Slee Jazz Club phonostage, I can say with absolute certainty, a good vinyl rig in front of the i-Fi Chair will melt your mind. While this arm and table combo isn't nearly as quiet and open as my Opera LP5 and Dynavector 507 MkII, this little table conveys the emotion of music extremely well. Album after album that I spun revealed a larger, more realistic soundstage when compared to both the Havana and my SACD player. Sure, the background noise on the vinyl is higher but the simplistic gain circuit of a phonostage allows so much more transparency than digital. To me, it nearly always sounds more ‘real' than its digital counterpart. I only wish I could hear what the Opera LP5 and my Slee Reflex Era Gold with one of my LOMC carts could sound like driving the i-Fi Chair. I'd bet that would be shockingly good.

Onto the wireless. As I mentioned early on, you can stream your sources wirelessly to the i-Fi Chair. All you have to do is take the output from whichever source you choose and connect it to the wireless transmitter then change the input source on the i-Fi Chair's control panel and you are off to the races. Now, since we are streaming wirelessly, your sampling rates are going to be limited to 16-bit/44.1kHz. Jeff hasn't incorporated the newer, high bitrate, transmitter/receiver chips into the Chair...yet. That said, no doubt you are interested in how the wireless performs and sounds. First, the transmitter has two gain settings, low and high. If you happen to be at the edge of the low settings distance and start getting dropouts, just flip the gain switch to high and problem solved. You can expect about 20 to 30 feet of transmitting distance inside of a typical wooden house. If you are ‘line of sight', you'll likely get 50 plus feet. If you have tons of wiring, and electronically dense equipment between you and the transmitter, the broadcast distance will probably be a bit less.

When it comes to the sound, the wireless performs quite well. Besides the bitrate reduction I mentioned, the sound is clean and articulate. Tonally there is zero difference between a wired and wireless source. I do pick up a bit of a reduction in the soundstage size with the wireless along with a slight rise in the noise floor. That is to be expected due to the truncation of the bits and bytes. Overall, it sounds quite good and is a very worthy input for those not wanting wires and gear surrounding the i-Fi Chair.

 

Here's One Out Of Left Field...
Therapeutic You Say?
Hogwash!
**
So let us talk a bit about Whole Body Vibration (WBV) Therapy. Dating all the way back into the 1800's, John Harvey Kellogg was treating his patients with WBV in his sanitarium as part of wellness therapy. Then again, as part of his treatments he also offered ‘high colonics' so maybe we shouldn't use him as an example.

OK, in modern medicine and in particular sports therapy, there is a process called Whole Body Vibration Therapy or WBV. Essentially what the therapy does is stimulate the healing process using low frequency vibrations. As weird as it sounds, it actually works. My wife and I work out three days a week and besides the Octane Fitness Elliptical and free weight strength training tools, we have what's called a Power Plate. The Power Plate is used for strength and stability training but it can also be utilized to accelerate the healing process of the muscles that are stressed and torn from strength training. We use it as part of our exercise routine. After 20 minutes on the elliptical and another 20 minutes hitting the weights, we spend about 5 to 8 minutes on the power plate stretching and activating the muscles we just damaged by exercising. I seldom [if ever] have sore or cramping muscles the days after working out when I use WBV therapy.

So where am I going with vibration? Since the i-Fi chair has a woofer and shaker that vibrate the Chair (and in turn your body) there is a distinct correlation to your body's wellness and state of mind. Reputable, peer reviewed study after study shows that WBV has a positive effect on the nervous system, blood circulation, and change in metabolism and bone density. This is something I noticed after reasonably long (several hours) listening sessions in the i-Fi Chair. When I finished listening, I felt moderately refreshed and had a slightly better state of mind after getting out of the Chair from typing this article. I can't say positively that the chair was the sole reason but on second thought I can. Besides the fact that I experienced this several times, between the total immersion in sound, the vibration of the bass and the overall comfort of the Chair, I have to attribute my physical and mental state to the i-Fi Chair.

Then there are the mood-enhancing neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine that are supposedly released in sufficient amounts quell anxiety due to WBV. Add to that the pituitary also is supposed to secrete endorphins during WBV therapy which reportedly mutes aches and pains and also fosters a sense of pleasure and well-being. We could get into the whole music therapy side of this equation but I'm afraid you probably think I'm a kook already. Oh well, at least my wife and family knows better. Honest, I am the furthest thing from a purveyor of holistic medicine as there can be, but there is something to this WBV stuff and the i-Fi Chair blends a little bit of that therapy into its design.

 

Finally, Movies
I realize many of you could care less about using the i-Fi Chair for watching movies or in a Home Theater setting but for those that are interested, you'll like this. In the small listening room where I had the i-Fi Chair for the majority of this review, I also have a small flat screen that we use for a gaming and movies when the nieces and nephews come over. So I hooked my Sony 3100ES DVD/SACD player to the monitor and watched a few movies. I sat the flat screen on a beefy TV table and placed it at my feet. This was another one of those holy shit moments. Now I've got a fairly decent Home Theater setup. I've got a 62" Mits Diamond with the Integra 9.8 pre/pro, five channels of Jolida tubed hybrid amplification driving the five channels of the top of the line Aperion Audio 6 series speakers and the 12" Brava sub and the Oppo 983 player. Needless to say, my HT ain't no slouch.

With a crappy flat screen, a decent DVD player and the i-Fi Chair, I witnessed a Theater experience the likes of which I can't replicate in my home or even in an expensive dedicated Home Theater. Since you are listening nearfield, every audible nuance of the soundtrack of a film comes to the forefront. Speech intelligibility easily rose by a factor of five over my HT. Simple things like voices that have been recorded inside of an empty warehouse; you hear every millisecond of decay from the voices. Couple that with crushing bass from the woofer and shaker integrated into the i-Fi Chair and you now have a Home Theater experience the likes you've never experienced before.

Now, obviously this is a 2.0 setup so you aren't going to get all of the cool surround effects of a traditional 5.1 or 7.1 system. What you do get is the ultimate in clarity. Audibility of dialogue is off the charts. The integrated woofer and shaker make the physiological involvement in movies extreme. Far more involvement than with a traditional HT. I can only image what the experience would be like with a larger flat screen. I may just have to try this with the 40" in our exercise room.

And just in case you were wondering, concert DVDs are an absolute gas. As I sit here and watch the DVD that came with Jamie Cullum's latest release The Pursuit, I'm finding it extremely difficult to type anything as I keep getting sucked back into his performance. That should say plenty about the i-Fi Chairs ability to draw you into a performance.

All I can say is WOW!

 

Quibbles
Honest to goodness, there isn't much to pick at with the i-Fi Chair. For an initial product roll out, Jeff Ostler has really done a fine job thinking about the functionality, sound and user interface with the Chair. That said, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't find something to squawk about. First is, my arms are too short. When you recline all the way to get the deepest soundstage, I (and you if you are short) need to lean forward to adjust the controls. This really isn't a big deal as there is literally nowhere else you could locate the controls other than where they are. A remote would work but that's a little over the top not to mention it is one more remote that I'd lose.

Next, I would point at the auxiliary input. While an 1/8" to RCA adapter as an input works just fine, it looks like it is asking to be snapped off. That and my external sources being fed by a thick interconnect taped to the side of the Chair looks a little weird. A nice pair of RCA's located on the terminal strip of the amplifier in the back of the chair would be the logical location to put the auxiliary inputs. Jeff tells me that's an easy mod that he will incorporate in the next batch of chairs.

Last would be the speaker stands. For those who want to sit and read a book or not fully recline, the speakers are a little close. What happens when you are that close is the soundstage isn't quite as deep and open as when you are reclined. Moving the speakers back about 6" would make a nice difference in the overall presentation in the sound. The trouble with that is in doing so, the speakers would now hang over the front edge of the i-Fi Chair about 4". So here we have the compromise Jeff settled on, he chose the more compact footprint. My only real issue with this is, the older I get, the more I like naps. When I recline, my body automatically thinks it's time for a quick one. Then again, recline and put on some cool jazz or a fine stringed quartet and you've got yourself some great music to snore to.

 

So...
I have to go back to my first reaction when I sat in the Chair back at RMAF. It was two words...Holy Shit! Believe it or not, Jeff says that is everybody's reaction when they first experience the i-Fi Chair. Jeff is trying to figure out some inoffensive way to roll that phrase into the marketing literature. I'm not sure he's going to have much luck with that for the major print mags but we'll see. For you lucky few that got to hear this at one of the shows and were only passively interested in the i-Fi Chair, you need to know it takes more than a 20 minute sitting to figure this thing out. Not that it's that complicated but the subwoofer and shaker controls take some time to get used to. Getting the perfect balance for a recording once you get the feel comes pretty easy.

While I vehemently disagree with Socrates when he said (and taken completely out of context BTW) "music and gymnastic be preserved in their original form, and no innovation made...for any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole State, and ought to be prohibited." This parallels much of the current state of audiophilia. Most manufacturers don't think outside of the box. It seems that the designers are only thinking about minor refinements to existing, established designs [save all of the music streamers of course]. Though those refinements are often worthy, they really aren't anything overly innovative, just a rehashing of the same ole, same ole. The i-Fi Chair is truly something different and innovative. Sure, a couple of other manufacturers offer a cheesy knock off of the i-Fi Chair but Jeff Ostler has invested some serious time, thought and R&D into his maiden offering. He hasn't tried to repackage a Lazyboy that has been retrofit with a stereo. He started from scratch.  Why? Because he knew the i-Fi Chair's structural foundation was the base he had to build from. If he couldn't get the bass response right, the whole project offering would fail.

Since I've drug the Greeks and ancient philosophy into this article, I rather like the thought that the i-Fi Chair allows me to perform the Bacchic Rituals and stagger wildly with the Dionysos gait. I get ample cathartic time where I can let my hair down and be purged of all irrational impulses and be temporarily cured of my musical madness. Sorry, I felt the urge to type something cerebral...don't ask why.

In my opinion, the i-Fi Chair project is a glowing success. It delivers extremely good quality sound while making music infinitely more involving. The i-Fi Chair envelops you with intensely satisfying sound. Honest to goodness, everybody needs one of these.

So, the penultimate question that needs to be asked, is the i-Fi Chair going to replace the ultra-Fi systems that some of us own? I'd honestly have to say the answer is no. The big differences are that as involving and articulate as the Chair, it does lack that ‘presence' or Voice of God that so many of us can achieve with our reference systems. As good as the i-Fi Chair is, it falls just a bit short recreating the ginormous soundstage that can be experienced with a top shelf system. On the flip side of that coin, even the best systems I've experienced can't hold a candle to the absolute musical involvement the i-Fi Chair offers.

I have to say unequivocally, the i-Fi chair is absolutely the best system I've ever experienced for Rock music in my life. I can't imagine anything even coming close to the shear musical enjoyment, magnitude and raw power that I experience when I crank the hell out of the Chair. I'm here to tell you, you haven't lived until you've experienced Deep Purple's Space Truckin' at over 100dB with the bass levels keeping up to the mids and highs. It is truly a transcending experience. Same goes for seminal albums like Montrose, Led Zeppelin or any other release that simply screams play me loud. If you are like me and can become truly absorbed in music, the i-Fi Chair will give you goose bumps on top of goose bumps. There were literally dozens of times where I had every hair on my body standing at attention and sweat beading up on my little bald noodle. And no, that's not trying to overhype the Chair, it's a simple fact. That's just how musically involving the i-Fi Chair is.

Don't mistake what I just typed that the Chair is only good with Rock. Jazz, Classical and other genres perform extremely well on the i-Fi Chair at normal and even loud listening levels. I spent just as much time listening to those as I did Rock. It was just that the fun factor with Rock and aggressive music in general went WAY up in the i-Fi Chair. Besides, Rock is at the core of my musical foundation.

Another thing about the i-Fi Chair that some may find infinitely useful is this; for giggles I took an SPL reading with my Sencore SP-295 about 5 feet away from the Chair and it read a 69dB peak. When I moved the microphone to the listening position the peak jumped to 85dB. So what does this mean? It means that if you live in an apartment or you want to do some after hours listening at [what will be to you] a decent listening level, you won't wake the neighbors or your family. In turn you will get all of the wholesome goodness of quality and extremely involving sound that completely satisfies your audiophile needs.

If you couldn't tell, I am completely smitten with the i-Fi Chair. Not only is this thing [what I consider] completely innovative, it performs extremely well. Though for some it may not replace your primary system, for others who are tired of chasing their audiophile tail, it absolutely will. On one level, you could look at the chair as another accessory in your stable of HiFi gear. Lord knows the i-Fi Chair isn't hideously priced at just under $4000. It is a solid performer not embarrassing itself in the least when compared to a traditional two channel system. In addition to the sound features of the i-Fi Chair, you get a very comfortable, extremely well built, motorized recliner that will be here long after the cockroaches take over the planet. That alone is worth half the price. 

So is the i-Fi Chair worth the money? Me, I'm voting with my wallet. This one isn't going anywhere. Sure, I'm getting the distributor discount but that still eats up over a years worth of my audio budget. This is no small decision for me considering the economy like the one we are living through right now. I had planned on buying a high powered SET sometime this year but that one will have to wait. The i-Fi Chair is simply too good to let loose of. I've not found any system that is more engaging than the Chair. This i-Fi Chair is here to stay.

Right now Jeff is setting up regional and local retailers. Be sure to call your local Home Theater vendor and see if they have plans of getting this in. You need to experience the i-Fi Chair. You know, this is the part of this job I really love; getting to play with cool new toys and introduce the world to innovative new products like the i-Fi Chair. When you finally get the chance to experience the Chair first hand, you'll understand why I'm so enamored with it.

As the final thought for you to chew on, at the recent AXPONA show, one of the major players in the Audiophile industry that we all know said this to another major player about the Chair ...If this thing ever catches on, we're all out of business. Know what? He is exactly right.

‘nuff said

 

 

** Bibliography
Effects of Whole-body Vibration on DOMS and Comparable Study with Ultrasound Therapy - Yu-sin Kim, Hee-sook Park, Eun-min Song, Bo-woon Yu, Yeon-kook Chung

Whole Body Vibration, Wikipedia – Believe it or not, there are tons of accurate, relevant sources sited

Google is your friend; search terms - Vladimir Nazarov, biomechanical stimulation, whole body vibration therapy,

Just for giggles read this one too - 2004 Robert Miller – Binaural VLF, 23rd Tonmeistertagung, Leipzig

 

My Ratings
Please keep in mind this rating system is completely subjective. The Audiophile i-Fi Chair is a completely different product. I can only rate its sound against a traditional 2 channel rig which really isn't fair. If you see what you think may be a low(ish) score, it is because it is so difficult to benchmark this product against something we've all heard.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear  
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Leather wrapped chair with personal audio system

Amplifier Left/Right channels Class D, 25wpc
THD+N 0.1%
S/N Ratio - 91.5dB
S/N Ratio A Weighted - 95dB

Amplifier Subwoofer Class D, 50wpc
THD+N 0.09%
S/N Ratio - 91.5dB
S/N Ratio A Weighted - 95dB

Amplifier Shaker Class D, 50wpc
THD+N 0.09%
S/N Ratio - 91.5dB
S/N Ratio A Weighted - 95dB

Headphone Amplifier .105mW
Output impedance =320
THD+N (1kHz, 320) =0.02%
THD+N (1kHz, 160) =0.04%
SNR (22Hz - 22kHz) =102dB
SNR (A-weighted) =105dB
Digitally controlled volume
3.5mm industry standard female jack

Preamplifier Driver Outputs: Balanced, differential
THD+N (1 kHz) =0.0005%
THD+N (20Hz - 20kHz) =0.001%
Output impedance =500
Common-mode rejection =68dB
Bandwidth =1.5MHz

Audio Source Multiplexer: THD+N (1 kHz) =0.014%
Off-channel isolation = -110dB
Channel crosstalk (20kHz) = -95dB

Common Preamplifier: Subsonic filter - cutoff :520Hz
Ultrasonic filter - cutoff ~ 22kHz
Input AC coupled
Output DC coupled
Gain =12dB
Very low distortion OpAmps, THD+N (1 kHz) =0.00008%

Subwoofer Crossover: Digital selection of 2 or 4 pole Sallen-Key Butterworth Low Pass filter
Filter roll-off = ~100Hz
Very low distortion OpAmps, THD+N (1 kHz) = 0.00008%

Shaker Crossover: 4 pole Sallen-Key Butterworth Low Pass filter
Filter roll-off = ~50Hz
Very low distortion OpAmps, THD+N (1 kHz) =0.00008%

Audio Volume Control: Independent, digital control of analog volume circuitry for the right and left satellite speakers, subwoofer, and shaker transducer
Balance control of left/right speakers
THD+N (1 kHz) =0.0004%
Channel crosstalk (1kHz) = -130dB
Digital step size =0.5dB
Digital mute control

Apple iPod Dock: Apple iPod 30-pin interface connector
Supports 1 amp to power an iPod for charging the iPod's internal battery as well as powering the iPod while docked (legacy, classic, iTouch, iPhone included)
iPod audio connection is established through the 30-pin interface
Apple Lingo (Simple Remote) is supported to allow control of the iPod with the iFi-Chair navigation button (i.e. Play, Pause, Next Song, Last Song, etc.)
iPod audio hardware interface consists of circuitry to provide a high common-mode noise rejection between the iPod and the iFi Chair hardware
The iFi-Chair automatically recognizes a "hot" or "cold" dock of an IPOD device and will automatically route the appropriate audio signals, and mute or unmute
3dB gain block between IPOD and iFi Chair interface

Auxiliary Audio Input: 3.5mm industry standard female jack
Auto-detection of the insertion of a 3.5mm plug into the auxiliary (AUX) jack
Supports line level input (+4dBu, 1.228 VRMS)
Very low distortion OpAmps, THD+N (1 kHz) =0.00008%

Wireless Audio Interface: 2.4GHz operational frequency
20Hz - 20kHz, 48kHz sampled , 16-bit stereo
SNR > 73dB
THD+N (1 kHz) =0.007%
Stereo channel separation => 75dB
Very low distortion opamps, THD+N (1 kHz) =0.00008%
Approximate range of 9.15+ meters (30+ feet) when positioned "line-of-sight"

Price: $4000

 

Company Information
The i-Fi Company
2340 S, 900 W
Salt Lake City, Utah 84119

Voice: (801) 974-9116
Fax: (801) 974-5458
E-mail: sales@i-ficompany.com
Website: www.i-ficompany.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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