5Binc. RX2 5.1 Media Chair
Back in the days when I was a Quentin Tarantino wannabe, when I manned the counter at my local video store, I made frequent use of a rickety old metal stool as I pounded the computer keys. This prompted my boss to observe, "You like to sit more than anyone I know." Whether he ran with an especially prone crowd—or perhaps the rigors of retail work simply made my knees weak—I did set a precedent, and I appreciate finer seating to this very day. But, now that my fondness for home theater consumes my every waking moment—and some of my dreams—I welcomed the chance to test-drive something different, something bold: 5Binc.'s RX2 5.1 Media Chair.
The Bigger the Cushion. . .
At first glance, I was struck by the sheer size of the RX2, with its high back and broad shoulders. Its weight also commanded respect, as two family members, drafted as movers, grunted and sweated their way through my front door. (I had a doctor's note.) The reason for this surprising mass is the wealth of electronics tucked inside. 5Binc. has mounted a complete Spherex Inc. Xbox 5.1 surround sound system and one of ButtKicker's new mini Concert shaker units in precise positions within the chair's frame. In addition to a true, discrete 5.1 experience, you get the added benefit of tactile effects. In short, this single piece of furniture is designed to deliver thorough sensory stimulation—or, quite possibly, overload. The chair's height and breadth ensure reasonable placement of the left and right surround speakers, while the ample, angled arms house the left and right front speakers. The center channel is situated between the listener's knees. You can pretty much guess where the ButtKicker is hidden.
The chair itself is constructed over a spruce plywood and kiln-dried hardwood frame, with 8-gauge steel springs. Teflon-coated (read: Mr. Pibb–resistant) polyester upholstery covers the dense, acoustically transparent polyurethane foam cushioning. It comes in basic black, in addition to the style I tried: mostly black, highlighted with a hot yellow-orange that might pose a challenge for some décors. 5Binc. has put a definite emphasis on the RX2 chair's high-end gaming applications, as it can provide matrixed surround from Xbox, GameCube, and PlayStation 2, as well as discrete Dolby Digital 5.1 from Xbox and DTS from PS2. But it will, of course, work with any analog stereo or digital audio input—optical or coaxial—so strap yourself in for some of your favorite show-off movies (straps not included). For the sake of convenience, I plugged the RX2's twin AC cords—one for the Spherex system and one for the ButtKicker amp, the 150-watt BK3A-150-2M—into a power strip, so that I could power down the entire chair at once after a hard day's sit.
While it feels comfortable even for long stretches, the chair does have the unexpected effect of improving the posture of anyone who sits in it, straightening the back and never quite allowing the occupant to sink in. And, of course, how you sit—leaning forward, for example—affects your perception of the fixed soundfield.
What Lies Beneath
I reviewed the Spherex Xbox 5.1 speaker system in our January 2005 issue and was impressed by its efficiency, powerful bass performance, and remarkably smooth sound dispersion. To recap, it supports Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS for true 5.1 audio, as well as Dolby Pro Logic II from two-channel sources. Here, the small module with the IR remote receiver and the LED readout is embedded in the left arm of the chair in more or less plain view. If you're not familiar with the ButtKicker, it is a transducer that converts audio information into movements you can feel, synchronized to the movie, the game, or whatever you are watching. The results can be truly amazing and add another dimension to your entertainment experience.
This particular application runs the ButtKicker off of the stereo mix-down from the headphone minijack in the Spherex system and not the LFE track, which is the optimal exploitation of the device. You can also add a common Y-adapter to experience the ButtKicker with the privacy of headphones, sans loudspeakers, for considerate yet still highly enjoyable playback. You can adjust the settings, but this does require access to the rear of the chair, where a Velcro-fastened flap peels back to reveal the Spherex back panel. Meanwhile, the ButtKicker controls—basically, a dial for the crossover and another for power output—are located higher up the back of the chair. They're less readily reachable and might require the use of a flashlight.
While the ButtKicker did add its famed above-and-beyond oomph, it seemed to engage at odd times during Master and Commander, my first demo movie. Sometimes, the shakes seemed to sync up to mild activity on the screen: a gust of wind or one particular lapping wave but not another. And the waves that did register were enhanced with much the same jolt as the now-legendary cannon fire. Without the ButtKicker active, however, there is still significant tactile involvement, as there are so many speakers with so much power at hand—and at back. Even with their outstanding dispersion, the satellites were individually identifiable, and this near-field situation seemed a little too nearby. It was a peculiar sensation on the big, open decks of the HMS Surprise. Don't get me wrong: The quality is outstanding, and the ride is a blast. But pulling all of the channels in that close is almost certainly not what the sound designers had in mind. Dialogue definitely benefited from a boost to the center channel via the remote, perhaps owing to its unconventional placement. Surprisingly, the boasts of acoustic transparency are indeed accurate. I didn't notice any muffling by the cloth and foam. Really remarkable detail was evident in the most delicate sound effects—dripping water, tweeting birds—in all channels. Directionality was excellent with The Patriot, as the responsive speakers drew my attention to this side or that. Combined with the ButtKicker, the chair had a field day with the big, bodacious soundtrack.
Media = Movies + Games
I think that we tend to listen to games with different ears. Wrapped up as we are in commanding the games and not just passively tagging along, we tend to be more forgiving. And, since many fantasy environments in modern games are not realistic, many fraggers prefer an intense sound, and this chair provides intensity to spare. All of the critical positional audio is there: Your buddy is calling for help over on the left; the enemy is approaching from behind. And, when the going gets wild, the chair definitely delivers all of the mayhem your console can dish out.
The RX2 represents a sizable investment in a formidable piece of gear, but who exactly is it for? Certainly, anyone who can afford this über seat can spring for a traditional 5.1 system, but is the added ButtKicker the real enticement? Or is the space-efficient conglomeration of speakers-and-more an offer that apartment-dwelling gamers and Dolby/DTS buffs can't refuse? In the end, the RX2 might just be the ultimate ready-made indulgence for big kids.
• A 300-watt 5.1 speaker system and a 150-watt ButtKicker built right in
• Digital connections to movies and games, or any analog stereo source