Why I got a Homedics Shiatsu Massage Chair
(and how does it compare to other massage cushions?) - by Dan D.
Years ago the Sharper Image was the only place I could find massaging chairs. Not those cheap vibrating/warming hunks of garbage, I'm talkin' about the heavenly Stratoloungers with magical hidden fingers. The ones that used to cost about five grand. We all wanted one and now we can almost have one. Prices have come down to under a grand for a near-reasonable chair but that's still more than most want to pay. There's a new technology though: the cheap shiatsu chair you'll love to hate or hate to love.
Every time I walk into Staples I take a few minutes to sit in the Homedics shiatsu massage chair. The SBM-200 model lists at something like $110 at Staples. After spending a good ten minutes in it a couple of months ago, I decided it was time to bite. Staples was out of stock so I looked around online and found better pricing. I also discovered other options.
Massage Chair Flavors
The cheap seats (ha) don't have any hot shiatsu action, so pretend that they don't even exist. And don't be fooled by the likes of the Homedics iCush. Sure, it has speakers and coordinates a "massage" to your favorite mp3s but your "massage" is more of an annoying, vibrating, buzzing sensation. Crank your stereo and sit on the washing machine and you'll get a free test ride of what the iCush has to offer.
I also found models (like the SBM-300) that toss a massaging seat-cushion into the mix. Same story here: great if you want an ass-numbing vibration-fest. There was one model that caught my eyes though. The super-sweet Homedics QRM-400 **Therapist SelectTM Quad Roller Massaging Cushion which retails for about $160.
Homedics QRM-400 to the rescue
The 400 (as we'll call it for brevity's sake,) brings the shiatsu and one-ups its brethren with rolling action and a few other bells and whistles. If you've ever been to a chiropractor and been lucky enough to relax on the traction table for a while, the rolling massage is... only sort of like that. Nonetheless, it's a great feature. The rollers can be adjusted on the fly to any of nine different positions to reach tough knots, but there's no visual representation of their current position so you have to cycle through a couple of times to find the best position.
The shiatsu massage can be set to upper, lower or full back programs and can be controlled manually. Got a nasty spot you want to focus on? Use the controller to freeze the shiatsu nubbins in place and then use the up and down arrows to fine tune. Ahh... heaven! It's one of the best features on the 400 that's lacking on other models. But the 400 isn't all roses. There's a deeper, darker side.
What's wrong with the Homedics QRM-400?
Somebody at the Homedics central office gave the Marketing department a little too much leash with the 400. See those bright blue lights to the right? Ooh! It has blue lights?!? If you want them off you have to unplug the device completely. The lights are almost always covered by the faux leather mesh/light cover. This light-blocking cover's added layer of cushioning is most appreciated though. Most people can't enjoy the hard core shiatsu action without it. Regardless, the lights are a perfect example of the wrong department leading a project; increasing the cost with no benefit. But there's more.
The "demo" button is potentially one of the best features on this unit. It gives you a little taste of all it has to offer... and then it stops! The whole demo lasts only seconds. Lame. Also a concern - the rollers/shiatsu fingers are made of plastic. So are the arms to which they're attached. Oh, and they move around a lot. Translation: There's an annoying plastic-on-plastic clicking sound as the massager does its thing. The good angle on this is that it almost covers up the whiny whirring of the tiny struggling motors as they dig the little bits into your back fat. The bad side is the regular auditory reminder that you've bought yet another piece of plastic crap made in China. Ah life.
But does it fit?
I knew full well when I ordered my Homedics massage thingy that I didn't really have an ideal spot for it. I've got an aging yet pimptastic dual-reclining love seat, a big barcalounger type chair and sundry other desk and table chairs - but none of those are truly ideal for this type of a device. The bulky back of the 400 sticks out a whopping 13 cm (five inches) from the back of the chair, so the ideal host-chair is particularly deep.
Other fitting concerns abound. For instance, they make one product to fit a populace growing fatter by the day. Is this chair-massager supposed to fit a 5'2" 98-pounder and a 6'2" 300-pound tubby? Homedics will probably stick to their one-size-fits-all mantra, but the truth is different. If you, like me aren't really short and occasionally want your shoulder-knots shiatsued, the 400 can't help with that unless you're fairly agile. (Please send pictures of people trying to work their shoulders on a Homedics device!) Conversely, the range of massager motion doesn't reach low enough either.
Other Potential Issues
We'll do this in quickfire fashion - because I'm really reaching with some of these! You're caged by a power cord. The unit smells so strongly when you first get it that they include literature about its odor and how it will dissipate. Lucky me. I thought it smelled great! But the yummy smell doesn't make moving or storing the Homedics QRM-400 any easier. My advice is to find a place you want it and then keep it there.
What's with all the negativity? More good!
Almost all takers seem to enjoy the Homedics QRM-400. Or maybe they're too polite to tell me what a chump I am for blowing $115 USD on it. $115 I say? Yeah. That's what I paid after tax and shipping. It took me about an hour to find that price, and I had pay $15 to join some little club to get a 30% discount and free shipping... but the total price includes the club expense. Ironically, I haven't really used my massager much since I got it. But then again, I don't use my hot tub much either, so take me with a grain or two of salt.
Wrap it up
So should you get one? Sure. People seem to like it and it doesn't cost too much if you shop around. Part of me wishes I'd purchased the lesser SBM-200 model instead, but I think I'm just romanticizing what I don't have.
You could always get an actual massaging CHAIR instead of these add-on doohickeys. You'll generally find higher quality, strength and range of motion in even the sub-$1000 full-chair models. I know I'll be getting one as soon as I win the lottery. Oh, and there are plenty of other massager manufacturers out there. Homedics is just the big one in the US. Try google for other options. Here's to your healthy back, and thanks for reading!
Dan Dreifort is a writer, consultant, musician and an IT/marketing geek. He manages Eden Marketing's SEO Dept and enjoys international travel. He wears size 10.5 shoes and has a 32" waist. Friends called him 'Duck' in high school. His mother calls him 'wonderful.'