Historically, home theater seating hasn't been very appealing to me despite my enthusiasm for the hobby. In areas like North Carolina that are flush with companies that make furniture of various configurations and styles, home theater seating manufacturers are abundant. They sell their often cheap looking, cup-holder-laden sofas in any no-name catalog website that they think they can earn a sale from. Sometimes these companies, or people reselling said home theater furniture, display at trade shows like CEDIA Expo, hoping to lure the CI crowd to buy their products. The simple fact is: most home theater seating is downright chintzy, but can be moderately expensive while not really competing with non-home-theater oriented furniture brands sold at retailers such as Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware, Room and Board, as well as a growing list of others that offer stylish, moderately affordable and very nice furniture.
When it comes to Elite HTS (Home Theater Seating), dismiss literally everything I just said above. This Vancouver-based maker of fine furniture is the Bugatti of purpose-built AV seating. The term "handcrafted" seems like an understatement, leaving me to rely on snootier terms like "bespoke." Get this: when you order furniture from Elite HTS, you actually get measured for your seating. If only luxury and exotic cars had such exacting standards for sizing. As part of the process of ordering an Elite HTS system, you actually measure your leg and torso height, so that when you first sit in your built-for-you chair/sofa/what-have-you, you practically melt into the seat. The effect is intoxicating, much like slipping on the jacket of a new, well-tailored Brioni suit.
And for the record, the price of a single Elite HTS seat isn' far off of that of a Brioni suit either, starting at $4,490 and climbing to $7,000 or up based on options and trim. But as the price tag suggests, there is nothing "cheap" about this product.
Your options on configuration are various. They've got sofas, dedicated chairs, loveseats, chaise lounges, and would likely build you anything you damn-well wanted assuming you (or your dealer) could make like Nigel Tufnell and sketch out a Stonehenge-like drawing for your design (just make sure you use the right notation for inches versus feet, unlike Nigel). They can and will provide you drawings for placement in your room, which can be very useful if you are working with an acoustician, AV dealer, and/or interior designer. Ultimately, I decided on a configuration called F9, which has two more traditional, reclining seats on the outside and a double chaise lounge in the middle that also reclines.
Fabric options and other finish options are beyond plentiful. Friends of mine who also own Elite HTS seating, like our own Dennis Burger, literally rave about the company's silk leather, not just for its smooth look but for its easy maintenance and ability to look new a decade later. You can cover Elite HTS in pretty much whatever fabric you like based on the décor of your media room and the inspiration from your designer if you are going that route, but Elite HTS has so many options that it is hard to imagine needing more.
Wood finishes are equally abundant. Elite HTS overnighted me many options to choose from based on my design goals, and we picked from there. Our goal was to capture a beachy yet contemporary look, so we opted for brushed aluminum metal parts and a Canadian Oak for wood accents. We chose the aforementioned silk leather in a sandy, somewhat off-white color dubbed French Vanilla. About 75 days later, my seating was ready for shipping, including white glove delivery (at a reasonable up-charge). This process is, of course, facilitated in most cases by the retailer who is selling the seat, but nevertheless the customer service that I got from Vancouver was simply top-notch.
One main issue that I have always had with home theater seats is that I really dislike the look of cupholders and I asked Elite to leave them out. They did nurse me through their take on the concept and how that they have wooden covers for their cupholders that look many times slicker and more finished than other home theater seating options. Upon taking delivery, I must say that they were right. Although I have yet to be compelled to place a drink in the cupholders, they work well for a place to stash my Crestron remote.
Once the seating was installed from the white glove delivery service, the first thing I noticed is just how physically comfortable the seats were. They fit like a glove. The aluminum framed recliners have very subtle, quiet, yet smooth motors that, through a little round lever in the inside of the seat, allow you to control you amount of recline. Pressure washes away in your back while you are well supported in a reclined position.
Comparison and Competition
As we discussed before, there are countless brands of entry-level home theater seating that sells for a fraction of the price. There are even solutions from IKEA, but that wouldn't likely cut it in a truly high-performance theater.
Brands like Fortress, though, make well-crafted and traditionally configured home theater seating solutions that have a much lower price point and are a clear upgrade over the lower-end, mass-market product sold in the catalogs and online AV websites. Other higher end brands like CinemaTech and CINEAK offer dedicated home theater seating products that get more to the high-end price points.
For me, the biggest competition for Elite HTS was from mid-level furniture companies like Room and Board, Restoration Hardware, and Crate & Barrel. These guys (specifically Room and Board) have really upped their game in recent years. My last dedicated theater room from my house in Brentwood had Room and Board furniture, and the suede seating looked great and was very comfortable. I fell asleep for more than my fair share of content in that room. But please don't compare a $3,000 sofa with Elite HTS, as what you are getting with Elite HTS is at a whole other level of quality, design, service, and luxury.
It is hard to know how many audiophiles will read a review like this, but hopefully they will. The hobby of audiophilia is all about getting to the Nth degree of performance, and the idea of having just one truly excellent, custom-designed seat right in the sweet-spot of the room is worth every penny of the say $7,000 that it might cost. To be that much more comfortable for a sit-down listening session, for the advanced audiophile, is likely to provide more enjoyment than swapping a $10,000 tube preamp for a $17,000 one. Much like acoustics are of paramount importance to the sound in your room, being amazingly comfortable and engaged thanks to your seating also has more value than most audiophiles know.
I am thrilled with my Elite HTS F9 seating system and I am proud to say that I am finally a convert to the concept of high-end home theater seating. We aren't all the way done with the installation of my theater room, but we are making progress. A new paint job and possibly a fabric wall to deal with some echo effects in the room are coming in the short term. I am borrowing a pair of older, yet pretty cool, MartinLogan ESL speakers that won't stay long term but are thankfully here on COVID-19 lockdown at my house. Eventually, I will buy some newer, more modern speakers in a tricky finish like my old, beloved Focal Sopra. No. 2s. But even with the sound coming from my 85-inch 4K Sony UHD TV's internal speakers, they somehow sound a lot better when I am parking my butt in some Elite HTS seating.