Geek Chairs Review: Aeron, Mirra, or Leap?

A chair is an underrated essential item for a programmer; consider how much time is spent in it.

Things came to a head when I moved recently. Whilst lugging around all those boxes and furniture my back insisted on telling me it is in poor health. I arrived at this situation by sitting in a large, very impressive, leather executive chair which my cousin lent me whilst he is overseas. It really looks and feels great to project that successful-man-with-CEO-chair aura when people walk in the room; but was terrible to actually sit in over time - being quite a short fella perhaps didn't help. I was adopting such a curved slouch that I was even slotting a cushion in behind me to fill some of the gap.

Anyway I decided it was time to get a proper "task" chair to alleviate the situation.

Now everybody (in the internet world) is well aware of the famous Herman-Miller "Aeron". Needs no introduction really. The price tag does need some recovery time... say AU$1300 as a guide. But in researching reviews from the USA I saw quite a few favourable mentions of the Steelcase "Leap".

They're an unknown in Australia.

Steelcase Leap

The Steelcase Leap task chair

It seems Steelcase aren't using the usual retail channel to flog individual chairs. None of the retail stores stock them and I'm not spending a thousand dollars on a chair without sitting in it first. But rather fortunately they have a showroom/office in Sydney so I went to check them out. "How many would you like?", "Well just one.", "oh". The sales rep took me to her own desk and invited me to sit in her own chair - which was a little unexpected.

It felt really good. She ran through the controls and I was rather impressed with the variety and particularly the ease adjustments could be made. I wasn't sitting particularly long, maybe 20 minutes, but my back was saying 'yes' and was already envisaging my spine lining up again and long abused muscles getting their wake up call. They don't stock these things and suggested an order and 12 week wait. I can't wait that long!

The Aeron and Mirra

The Herman-Miller Aeron task chair

I found an Herman-Miller retailer around the corner, so ran to check out the Aeron and Mirra. Yeah, nice chair, but didn't immediately impress me as being all that worthy of the price tag.

Generally the age of the design was quite evident. To raise/lower the arms I had to get off the chair, walk around the back and wrestle them in to place. To adjust the tension of spring in the backrest required a lot of turning the knob with very little feedback - am I turning it the right way? Is anything happening? To stop the backrest I don't recall being difficult, but to release the backrest once on the backstop required taking all your weight off the back of the chair - enough to release the pin - before being able to lean back further. This last inconvenience paled the Aeron in comparison to the Leap.

The Mirra came across as a crippled version of the Aeron.

Leap wins

There was no real comparison in my mind. They both might be comfortable chairs but the Leap was equal or more comfortable, vastly easier to use, and 30% cheaper.

The armrests float a surprising distance: 2 inches forward/back and an inch in/out without having to touch any knobs - something the Aeron was entirely void of. The up/down action (2-3 inches) is a simple push button on the armrest. You might rationalize that once you've set these things up the ease which they move is no longer relevant. But you'd be wrong. I'm finding myself moving the armrests around all day as various positions become tired and I resettle into a new one. The ease of movement is fantastic.

The backrest is excellent. For one, the tension can be adjusted in quarter turn measures, as opposed to 10 turn measures for the Aeron. But truthfully I don't change the tension routinely; once I've set the tension such that once I settle on an angle it will stay there without having to apply force to keep it there I leave it alone. The major difference here is that if I push further it will go and stay there as I stop pushing. Hard to convey in words but basically it is easy to get both the right amount of back support and a comfortable back angle without touching any knobs. My concern with the Aeron was the requirement to lean forward and release every time I wanted to change the angle of the backrest. The Leap also has four backstop positions which I'm surprised to find myself using increasingly; when I'm "thinking", reading, browsing, "talking" then I let it lean right back and might even put my feet up on the desk. But when concentrating I'm upright and set it to the first or second position - right hand click-click-and-I'm-done. Phone rings? Vice-versa.


Getting my Leap chair was not all that conventional. As I mentioned Steelcase appear to be neglecting retail sales, no doubt chasing the big deals. I chatted to the sales rep (gosh that was easy, an unsurpassed beauty) at their showroom/office and expressed the urgency of my need and my disinterest in specific options (eg color and quality of the fabric etc). Surely there was one just lying around ready for release? She said she'd see if she could find a spare one. A few days later I was directed to go to an area near the airport (Mascot) and collect my chair.

It was quite difficult to find the dirt road as it lay through the gates of an undocumented "warehouse".
I arrived in a brown dusty dirt paddock town made up of shipping containers. The office was, of course, a shipping container. Out in the dust, standing in front of a big red two story shipping container was a large cardboard box in which I found my chair (fully assembled inside the box). I chatted to the lady in the 'office' and extracted that the gorgeous sales rep had indeed dug around to find me a chair.
Seems this particular chair was originally shipped in for a very large Westpac order. I guess they didn't want it yet/anymore. Lucky me.

Four weeks (3 years!) later and I'm still very pleased with both the decision to spend some real money on a chair, and to get the Leap.

Update: 13 May 2011: 30 months later - Leap still winning!

Long time since I wrote this. Recently I've been working full-time and finally I've found an employer willing to put some priority on employee comforts. They've given me a brand new Aeron. So I can give you an update based on long experience with both chairs.


A key difference remains the way the "leaning back" works: on the Aeron the angle between back and legs is locked in at right angles - you tip back in a fixed position - like a rocking chair. On the Leap the angle opens and the seat actually pushes forward a bit as the back leans. It's way more natural and comfortable, in my opinion. During the day I might lean back for a bit to think, then forward to engage again. On the Leap this works quite well. But on the Aeron I find myself kinda bouncing in the rocker to think, and gradually sliding my butt forward into a slouch as I tire. I still manage to find an unhealthy 'slouch' position on both chairs, but the Leap handles it much better. If trying to concentrate you can set the lean-back stop to one of five positions (full to none), whereas the Aeron just has 'rocker' or 'not'. Even in 'rocker' mode I get myself into that position where your butt is on the front edge, my neck on the top-back and there's that big empty space for your back to destroy itself between. You know the one!

User Interface?

On the Aeron you set the amount of lean-back pressure by turning a stick knob on the right hand side. It has a lot of turns; no seriously, a lot of turns. Between "hard" and "soft" extremes there would have to be about 15 minutes of turning the knob. I'm not kidding. It's nuts. Good workout, if that's what you're looking for. The Leap has a big knob that is about three turns between either extreme. But you don't actually use this much; it's a set and forget mostly - (forget by necessity on the Aeron).

But generally I'm finding the controls on the Aeron less useful. Adjusting the height of the armrests is comparatively clunky. The freedom of movement of the armrests is more restricted. Plus, the knobs tend to fall off.

Still Leap

Fortunately for my work colleagues I do my bitching and moaning online - I'm sure they'd be tired of hearing how much better my chair at home is. Don't get me wrong; still way better than an $80 "office chair" but...

Honestly: this is not a commercial. I've no affiliation with either companies. And it is very unusual for me to be such an enthusiast about anything - particularly endorsing a product! Strange days?! but if steelcase want to send me a "thanks" :-)? then I'm open. Lol.