Recording Reviews: Carl Tatz Design PhantomFocus Master Engineer Series eChair Review
The perfect place to plant your posterior?
Q uick - what equipment do you use the most often in your studio?
You probably mentioned your computer, or your monitor speakers, or even your ears… and those are all very good answers; you probably do use those things a lot. I certainly do too. But one of the things we all tend to use frequently gets overlooked by many studio cats when they're considering the answer to that question… and that's our chairs. Recording engineers spend an awful lot of time seated. And chairs have a huge bearing on not only our comfort, but also on our posture, and even our health… and that's where the TEC Award-nominated PhantomFocus Master Engineer Series eChair comes into the discussion...
What You Need To Know
- Carl Tatz Design PhantomFocus eChairs are designed to be the ideal chairs for recording enthusiasts and professionals alike.
- The chair I was sent for review is the new Master Engineer Series eChair model, which is the latest in their line of eChairs. It comes in Raven Chrome, which is all-black, with the exception of the heavily chromed base, center cylinder / pedestal, and seat back center support. It arrived in a single large, roughly square box that weighed about 45 pounds, and all of the various pieces were well protected within it.
- It probably took longer to remove everything from the packing and lay and arrange the various parts out on the floor than it took to actually assemble the chair itself. When they say "no tools required" they really mean it - you can literally open the box, pull everything out and put it all together in just a few minutes, and without any tools beyond a knife or box cutter to cut through the packing tape on the shipping box. The instructions that come with the chair are easy to understand and simple to follow.
- The chair is beefy and well-made. All of the parts appear to be designed for the long term, and the eChair should be able to withstand heavy-duty use for many years.
- The seat itself as well as the backrest are curved to conform with the natural contours of your body. Nylon mesh is used for both the seat and seat back surfaces. It "gives" slightly when you sit on it, and it's quite comfortable. Even better, it "breathes" and prevents sweat and moisture buildup, which also adds considerably to the comfort level. The seat itself has a cushioned pad beneath the mesh at the front end.
- Worried about what you'd do if the seat and back nylon fabric was somehow accidentally damaged, or started to sag with age and use? I was too, until I noticed that each is mounted into an individual subframe that is attached with a multitude of phillips head screws. You can remove just the fabric and subframe area that has suffered a rip or cut in the nylon mesh and replace it - Carl Tatz assures me that replacement parts for the eChairs are readily available.
- There is considerable adjustability with the eChair, with three levers that allow you to quickly change or lock various aspects of the eChair to your preferences. All three levers can be easily accessed while sitting in the chair.
- The right side has two levers. The front lever adjusts the seat height. As with many chairs, the center cylinder on the PhantomFocus eChair is pneumatic, so moving the lever and taking some of your weight off the seat will cause it to rise up. Similarly, putting a bit of weight on the chair while pulling the lever up will cause the seat to lower. There's a pretty decent height range on tap - about 5", which places the highest part of the seat itself anywhere from about 19" to 24" above the surface of the floor.
- The right side rear lever adjusts the tilt of the seat, and it has two locking positions. Placing the lever in the down position allows the seat angle to adjust continuously, depending on whether you lean forward or lean back. Moving the lever up locks the seat into whatever tilt angle position you currently have it set to, so if you prefer it to remain stationary at one angle or another, you're covered.
- The left side lever is located towards the rear of the chair, and it adjusts the action of the seat back. Like the seat itself, the back rest can be set to adjust continuously, depending on the occupant's position (when the lever is locked in the down position) or the lever can be used to lock the seat back into whatever position you prefer.
- Furthermore, you can also adjust the height of the back rest with a dedicated knob on the right hand side, which is located directly behind the two levers. Loosening the knob allows the back to be manually lifted or lowered over a 4" height range.
- One of my biggest complaints about many of the "studio" chairs I've sat in (and owned) is the lack of any way to remove the arm rests. Arm rests can be both a blessing and a curse. They are nice to have, and give you a place to rest your arms when you're sitting back and listening, but if you have ever needed to lay down a guitar part from the control room, you know they can also get in the way. Fortunately, either (or both) of the arm rests on the Carl Tatz PhantomFocus eChairs can be completely removed in a matter of seconds, if desired, just by unscrewing and removing the arm's tightening knob underneath the chair's seat and pulling them off.
- Not only can the arm rests be removed, but they're also individually adjustable for height. When you depress and hold the large pushbutton under each one (near the arm rest support post), you can lift or depress the arm rest itself, allowing the arm rest to be adjusted to one of 11 different height settings. These cover roughly a 4" height range. In some cases, you may not have to remove the arms at all because they can be positioned pretty low, and may be out of your way enough without needing to be removed.
- In addition to the usual centered position, the arm rests can even be angled to one side or the other. You don't need to move any levers, turn any knobs, or press any buttons - just grab the end of the arm rest and firmly move it to either the left or right, and the arm rest will click into the new position, which is angled approximately 30 degrees from the center position.
- Compared to earlier models, the Master Engineer Series eChairs feature a larger back rest area that's designed for enhanced comfort. While I have limited experience with the other eChair models, I appreciate the larger back area, and I suspect people who like to lean back in their chairs a lot will like the larger and higher back area better too.
- Speaking of leaning back, the chair feels totally stable when you do so, and I felt like I was fully supported in that position too. In fact, if you leave the seat back and seat adjustment levers in the freely floating positions, the chair adapts itself to your position. Whether you need to lean forward to reach something at the top of the console, or lean back to relax and listen, the chair adapts beautifully and automatically. Even if you prefer to leave the seat angle locked into position, the back rest can still be left free to follow your movements forward and backwards, which really helps keep your back supported and aids in maintaining proper posture.
- The Carl Tatz Design PhantomFocus Master Engineer Series eChair is available in two sizes - one with a regular sized seat area, and one with a larger seat.
- All of the PhantomFocus eChairs come with a full 5-year warranty.
- In my case, it didn't take too long until the tops of the firmly padded arm rests started to look a little dingy. Fortunately, cleaning them was as simple as using a 10% solution of dish soap in warm water on a soft cloth to wipe them off. Other cleaning methods for lightly soiled areas include liquid cleanser applied with a soft bristle brush, and for heavier stains, cleaning with naphtha in a well-ventilated area is suggested.
- Once it's initially assembled, it's impossible to completely disassemble the chair due to the way the seat and base permanently lock into the cylinder once they're all pressed together.
- As with all chairs with casters on the bottom, if your floor is carpeted, you'll want a chair mat to make it easier to roll the chair around on it. The beefiness of the eChair makes it even harder to roll around compared to lighter, cheaper chairs, making it even more crucial to have a chair mat.
- While I like the ability to individually angle the chair arms in or out, it would be nice if they required just a bit more force to move - I occasionally found myself re-angling the arms when I didn't intend to.
- If you use the chair with the back rest in the free-floating position, it's important that you sit down with your tush positioned all the way towards the rear of the seat, since the back rest will automatically move all the way forward (towards the front of the chair) when the chair is unoccupied. Sitting with your backside all the way towards the rear of the chair will insure proper operation and lumbar support from the free-floating back rest, whether you sit back or lean forward as you're working.
This chair is an ergonomic delight! It is hard to over-state just how much difference it makes in terms of how you feel after a long day in the studio when you're using this chair instead of an inferior product.
The range of adjustment on tap makes it easy to set the chair the way you want it, and it's very easy to get comfortable in it. I LOVE the fact that the arms of the eChair can not only be adjusted for height, but can also be completely and easily removed if necessary. Not everyone who works in a studio is an engineer, and some people may wear multiple hats and have to be able to perform a variety of different tasks during the session. For many of us, being able to track guitar, bass or keyboard parts (often while simultaneously running the recording equipment) is crucial. With many popular studio chairs, you either have to do tricky mods on the chair to get rid of the arm rests, or you have to switch chairs when switching tasks, rather than just remaining in the chair you're already using. These are non-issues with the PhantomFocus eChair.
While this is far from an inexpensive chair (and it's definitely not cheap!), it's relatively competitive when compared to other premium chairs, yet in this reviewer's opinion, it's far more practical, and as comfortable, if not more so than any chair I've ever used in a studio. Chairs are one of those things that often end up being low on the investment priority level, especially for younger engineers who are less likely to suffer from physical health issues (such as circulation and back problems) than us somewhat older folks. But getting into the habit of maintaining good posture when you're young will lead to less likelihood of experiencing those types of health issues as you grow older, making the investment in an excellent chair like this one a good idea for engineers of all ages. In the time I've been using it, it has definitely helped me improve my posture and lessen the aches and pains that I used to sometimes experience at the end of a long day at the desk - and that alone makes it more than worth the asking price. The Carl Tatz Design PhantomFocus Master Engineer Series eChair is brilliantly designed, highly adjustable, exceptionally ergonomic and comfortable, ideal for studio control room use, and comes highly recommended. -HC-
Want to discuss the Carl Tatz Design PhantomFocus Master Engineer Series eChair or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Studio Trenches forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
Carl Tatz Design PhantomFocus Master Engineer Series eChair ($719.00 MSRP, $794.00 with large seat - both include free shipping)
Cart Tatz Design product web page
You can purchase the Carl Tatz PhantomFocus Master Engineer Series eChair directly from Carl Tatz Design.
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.