The oft-imitated Herman Miller Aeron (Est. $730) is still the most formidable entry in the office chair market, more than 20 years after being introduced. Reviewers say the durable mesh is comfortable and breathable, and the chair comes in three sizes to better accommodate all workers. The chair's sleek look also has fans, though some say it's starting to seem dated. The Aeron is available with three base/frame combinations, though one (polished aluminum/graphite) is a $200 upgrade. There are 10 colors of mesh on offer, most of which are shades of gray and black.
The Aeron is available in three different weaves of Pellicle mesh, designed to reduce pressure points by conforming to a user's body. Reviewers like the breathability, but some complain that the seat base has a hard plastic edge that can put too much pressure on the thighs. The chair offers adjustments for seat height, forward tilt and lumbar support. A tilt limiter (Est. $30), adjustable lumbar support (Est. $50) and height- and width-adjustable arms (Est. $90) are among optional upgrades. There is no headrest. The Aeron is offered in small, medium and large. Reviewers say picking the right size can be crucial in keeping a user comfortable. A helpful sizing chart on the Herman Miller website can help you determine the size that's right for you.
Though most reviewers say the Aeron is sturdy and durable, a handful report issues such as persistent squeaking. Herman Miller backs the chair with a 12-year warranty and a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee that allows customers to return the chair for a full refund within 30 days. The company receives positive customer-service reviews and provides a question-and-answer forum on its website.
If you're not sold on mesh and want a chair that packs a bigger ergonomic punch than the Aeron, the Steelcase Leap (Est. $920) could be your chair, despite what reviewers say is a ho-hum design. The Leap's extensively adjustable features mean it can be customized to fit even the pickiest worker's preferences. The Leap is available in either fabric or leather, and you'll have plenty of choices: There are 28 fabrics and eight types of leather, though the latter is a significant $520 upcharge. There are also three frame and base colors, but you'll pay more for anything other than black.
Most reviewers are satisfied with the Leap's breathable foam padding. However, a couple of users complain that the seat cushion is too hard. The chair's adjustability is where it truly shines: The seat back flexes with a user's spine, and the Leap also offers adjustable lumbar support, upper-back force and lower-back firmness. A variable back stop allows users to set the recline angle in two positions. Seat height and depth are also adjustable, as are the pivoting armrests. A headrest (Est. $150) is optional. With a weight capacity of 300 pounds, the Steelcase Leap can accommodate most larger users, but the company also offers the Steelcase Leap Plus (Est. $1,380), which can handle up to 500 pounds.
Owners report few durability complaints with the Leap, saying the chair feels solid and materials are high quality. Steelcase backs the chair with a limited lifetime warranty. Few reviewers report interaction with Steelcase customer service, but the company actively responds to complaints and provides a question-and-answer forum on its website.
If you're searching for an office chair that will turn more heads than the ubiquitous Aeron or conventional-looking Leap, the Herman Miller Embody (Est. $1,230) will definitely do that, if you don't mind the premium price. Reviewers say the flexible, membrane-like back is a showstopper. You'll be able to choose from three bases and two frame colors (polished aluminum bases and white frames cost more) and two types of multilayered, breathable fabrics in about a dozen colors. The upgraded Balance fabric is designed for increased airflow over the base fabric, but comes with a $200 upcharge.
Most owners say the Embody's base fabric is breathable and soft, but some wish the seat had more padding. The pixelated seat back, designed to automatically adjust and conform to the body, receives more uniform praise, though a handful of owners say this flexibility translates into subpar lumbar support. Additional adjustments include a tilt limiter and tension; seat height and depth; armrest height and width; and back fit. There is no headrest and no option to add one. With a weight capacity of 300 pounds, the Embody can accommodate larger users.
Reviewers say the Embody's build and upholstery is superior, though TheWirecutter.com's Kyle Vanhemert and Michael Zhao say the chair doesn't feel as solid as the Aeron or Leap. Herman Miller backs the chair with a 12-year warranty and a satisfaction guarantee that allows customers to return the chair for a full refund within 30 days.
Maybe you're willing to spend several hundred dollars on a quality office chair, but aren't willing to reach to the $1,000 mark. If so, the Herman Miller Sayl (Est. $500), praised for its comfort and style, is worth a look, but you'll need to resist costly upgrades. The Sayl's look is even more customizable than the much pricier Embody: A rainbow of colors are available for the chair back (some cost an extra $40), seat material and even armrests, and there are three possibilities for the base (although anything other than black is extra).
The Sayl's distinct webbed back was inspired by suspension bridges, and owners say they like the way it conforms to and supports their weight while still allowing plenty of airflow. Reviewers have few complaints about the seat padding and fabric. Many of the ergonomic adjustments standard on pricier chairs cost extra with the Sayl, and for that reason, some experts say it's best in home offices and other non-full-time settings. Adjustable arms range from $50 to $100 more, while adjustable seat depth and lumbar support tack on another $50 each. A tilt limiter is standard, but adding seat angle adjustment will add $40 more. There is no headrest. Weight capacity is 350 pounds, but a handful of very tall users say the chair is uncomfortable for them.
Some reviewers say they're willing to accept fewer adjustments in exchange for Herman Miller's reputation for durability. Though most say it lives up to the brand in this regard, a handful of owners complain that the chair squeaks, and a few say the foam on the padded armrests breaks down too soon. Like other Herman Miller chairs, the Sayl has a 12-year warranty and a 30-day satisfaction guarantee.
Elsewhere in this report: