The Tim Rogan Acoustic Love Seat
I made my first audio chair when I was seventeen. J. Gordon Holt had just reviewed the Dale Swanson Black Lightning Eams chair in this magazine. It wowed me! How could something a simple as a listening chair make such a difference in how you heard music? But it did. JGH was not ready to give up his standard Nekkers Headroom seat but he sure convinced me that the Nekkers was just as important in his sound room as his favorite Mark Levinson 20.6 monoblocks.
J. Gordon Holt’s Original Nekkers Headroom Chair
The Black Lightning sold for $8,500 in 1981. No way a high school kid running a neighborhood lawn mowing business was going to buy one of those beauties. But JGH’s review was full of details; enough for me take one of mom’s old French provincial living room chairs stored in the cellar and rebuild it into an simple listening chair: two pieces of grey duct tape on each of the panels that stuck out on the head rest; a couple pairs of panty hose pinned to the back of the seat and four two inch wide strips of rubber on the arm rests. Boy could you hear the difference!
Now my day job is refurbishing old audio equipment for a high end shop here in Chattanooga. When I am not tinkering with old set of Carver amps or refoaming a vintage AR, I am playing music in the listening room I set up in the shop. And I now have a Nekkers Headroom chair pretty much like JGH’s – updated with electronic ergonomic controls and polylaminate latex covers but still with the classic Nekker J shaped listening design. I have tested at least a half a dozen other chairs over the past ten years but the Nekker has never been surpassed in coupling absolute sonic neutrality with a listening position so darn comfortable that that you forget it is even there. I figured it would be Nekker’s for life just like they were for JHG.
Until last month.
Enter the Tim Rogan Acoustic Love Seat. A love seat? So right away you’re thinking, how can a love seat possibly work as reference audio chair? The whole idea of setting up a listening room is to pick the precise spot where the two sonic lines of whatever toed in speakers you are listening to intersect and put your head in exactly that spot. What use is a love seat? Only one person can be in the magic position.
Well – how about you and your buddy being able to listen to the same piece of music played through your show case reference system and hear exactly the same thing? Impossible? That is what I would have said to until Tim Rogan (Rogan’s Audio Heights, Madison, WI) offered to loan me one of his Acoustic Love Seats to play with for a while.
How could it possibly work? I spend an afternoon chatting with Tim to learn the secrets of his design. First you start with two skeleton frames that look like an airplane version of an Eams chair. The seat portion of each frame is a medium size square that slopes backwards into frame’s back. The back attaches at a rather straight 105 angle and rises up to the sitter’s shoulders. Individual headrests sits on top of each of frame.
The two frames are bolted together and the whole thing is covered with about four inches of speaker foam encased by polyester/latex blended cover. Each sitting position is taunt, upright and surprisingly comfortable.
The magic is in the headrest. Each headrest extends from the middle of your neck to about three inches above the top of your head. The headrests have two wings at ear level that protrude inward four inches towards your head at about 35 degrees. The headrest and wings are fully adjustable. Tim recommends a starting position with the wing’s placed so that they are centered on your ears and bending the wing angle so that it just catches your peripheral vision if you are staring directly ahead. You start from here and adjust things to optimize the sound.
Each of the headset wings are covered with what look like hundreds of sea shells covered by a thin layer of rubber. Tim will not say exactly what they are but it is these little shell thingies and the pattern in which they are layered to each wing that allow both listeners on each side of the love seat to hear the same sounds from the speaker exactly if you were sitting on a normal chair set in the sweet spot of the listening room.
The E. Dickinson XP-30 Limited Editon
None of this was convincing to me until I spent an evening with just me, my Nekker and the Acoustic Love Seat. First I set up the Nekker in its usual place for serious audio listening. My normal system is a Linn Sondek Lp12 with the SME M2-9 tonearm plugged a E. Dickenson XP-30 preamp fed into a pair of Ralph Cramden monoblocks. I am currently using a pair of Rutherfor Streaker 2000 speakers that Jerry Rutherford sent me to evaluate six month ago but sound so good in my room, I don’t think I will ever give them back. o
I started with Daniel Barenboim’s version of Pickleman’s Te Mentula Magna (LP, Decca DL1430). I have heard this contata with the TSO at Symphony Hall many times and the Decca recording captures the complex string timber and overtones of the first movement better than any other recording I have ever heard. I settled into the Nekker with the Dickerson turned up to 11 o’clock. Te Mentual Manga is a sonic masterpiece if done right. Barenboim uses four violas in the first section and they open the symphony with yawing bow work between the C and G strings creating a delicious harmonic that has a biting, almost rustic timbre. After eight measures, the seconds repeat the seesaw bowing as the firsts move up an octave and smooth the bow work into a liquid wave. The effect is mesmerizing if played right and captured accurately on the recording. In the Nekker, I heard familiar perfection.
Kramden Only Built A Dozen Of These Babies – I Have Two Of Them. Ha
I moved the Nekker out of the room and slid in the Rogan. Tim had told me to position the tip of inner wings of the two headrests exactly where the sweet spot of the Nekker was. And so I did. I then sat on the right seat of the love seat. I adjusted the headrest legs to the right height and length for my head. This, of course, threw off the position of the inner wings. I slid the chair slightly back to reposition the wings and adjusted the seat height downwards about an inch. The inner wings were back in the sweet spot.
I could not believe Te Mentula Magna when I played it again. It sounded almost exactly as when I listened with the Nekker. The first violas’ low rumble that starts the first movement was slightly darker than it should have been. I moved the outside headseat wing outward five degrees (Tim had told me never to move the inside wings once they were in the speakers sonic center). The darkness darkened even more. Then I adjusted them 10 degrees outward. The viola’s timbre was now restored to just what I had heard with the Nekker. It seemed to work every time – adjusting the wings outward, lightened the sound, sometimes making the 4-6Khz range sound a little watery. Slant the wings inward, and tones darkened with the bass then the treble starting overpowering everything else. But once you got the wings adjusted right, the effect was amazing. The sounds of the instruments was simply the SAME has when sitting in the Nekker Headroom chair.
But the soundstage was not. On Jason Bruels Hoppin Gitters, (LP, Columbia CS23945), Ray Crumble plays one rhythm guitar on the right side of the stage; his brother Eric plays on one the other side. On Watch The Dog, they are both playing the same notes but Ray is one octave higher than Eric. With the Nekker, I always knew their exact position on the stage – ten feet apart. The Rogan’s blurred the separation. Yes they were on opposite sides of the stage but four feet, six feet? I couldn’t tell.
I tried multiple adjustments with the various components of the chair. If I got the separation a bit more distinct, I lost the purity of the music’s sound. After futzing with the chair for a couple of hours, I called Tim for some advice. He came over the next day and basically repeated all of seating alternatives I tried and finally said it looked like they a bit more design work to do.
Don’t get me wrong. The Rogan Acoustic Love Seat hits right on all of its cylinders 90% of the time. But it’s not the Nekker.
A week later, I invited Tom Swift, a close audiophile friend, to listen with me. This was the first time two people who really appreciated great music reproduction could sit down together and hear nearly the same thing at the same time. Tom was an old hand with my reference system and the Nekker. His amazement match mine after 10 minutes listening to Golden Records’ re-issue of the Stone’s original Beggar’s Banquet recording (LP, Golden Records, O0100) on the Rogan Love Seat. He was asking ‘how is this possible?’ just like I did the week before.
Ears don’t lie. The Tim Rogan Love Seat would be a top notch audiophile chair if it only sat one person. But as a love seat – it is a piece of genius. You get it at a bargain price too – at just over $15,000 love seat is little less expensive than the standard Nekker Headroom chair and way way less than the Nekker Platinum version which comes in at $25,750.
Tim called me last week. They had the separation issue figured out (latex coating on the shells had to be changed) and he expects to have the new design in production next month. I am getting one of the first off the line as a replacement to review.
Unless are you are some kind of audiophile nut case, you should seriously consider the Rogan Acoustic Love Seat as your next listening chair upgrade. Your wife probably already thinks you’re a dope just because you coop yourself up in the listening room for hours each evening. Now you can invite her in and share your favorite music together. Who knows what will happen next?