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Case Study: Soft vs Firm Gaming Chair Padding

Most gaming chairs have soft, cushiony padding. A few others come padded with a firmer, more resilient material. Many experts endorse firmer padding for its consistent support. In contrast, many first-time users prefer the spongy feel of pliable padding. So should you buy a gaming chair with firm or spongy padding? This case study has the answer.

DXRacer vs Secretlab padding density
DXRacer Master (malleable padding) vs Secretlab Titan (firm).

The general consensus in the ergonomic community is that firmer padding is better for your back. Even so, Many people perceive soft sofas with fluffy padding as the height of luxury.

The problem is that soft padding delivers inconsistent support. Over long periods, that causes muscle imbalances that lead to poor posture and back pain.

Furniture industry foam densities
Densities: fluffy sofa vs Milton office chair vs Harrier office chair vs gaming chairs.

At the opposite extreme of a fluffy sofa is a premium gaming chair. These come upholstered in cold-molded foam padding. Traditionally used for luxury car and theater seats, this is the highest-density foam padding available.

The cold-curing process traps air pockets throughout the slab. This provides the best comfort and performance over time. Even after several years of use, a cold-molded foam seat will still look and feel like new.

Cheap gaming chair padding
Cheap gaming chair with PE foam padding vs premium chair with cold foam padding.

Most premium gaming chairs come with a padding density between 50 to 70 kg/m³. Here are the density numbers of leading models:

  • DXRacer Racing Series: 50 kg/m³
  • DXRacer Master: 54 kg/m³
  • AKRacing Master Pro: 55 kg/m³
  • Noblechairs HERO: 60 kg/m³
  • Vertagear PL4500: 64 kg/m³
  • Anda Seat Kaiser: 65 kg/m³
  • Secretlab Titan: 65 kg/m³
  • Arozzi Vernazza: 70 kg/m³

Types of Foam Seat Padding

There are two types of chair padding commonly used in the furniture industry. Most sofas and cheap chairs come stuffed with polyurethane foam (PU). In comparison, premium gaming chairs come with cold-cured foam padding.

Seating Type Material Density
Sofa PU Foam 20 to 55kg/m³
Cheap Office/ Gaming Chair PU Foam 30 to 50kg/m³
Premium Gaming Chair Cold-cured foam 50 to 70 kg/m³

Fluffy Sofas: PU Foam

Most sofa seats come padded with polyurethane foam (PU), a spongy material that ranges between 20 and 35kg/m³. This padding is designed to support short periods of relaxing, such as watching TV for an hour.

Console gaming sofa health issues
Sitting on a fluffy sofa for long periods causes poor posture and lower back pain.

Sitting on a fluffy sofa for too long can cause problems. Then, the back muscles must work harder as your body sinks into the cushions.

Heavy pitting suffering back pain from sitting on a sofa

As fatigue sets in, the body compensates by slouching. Over time, that can lead to serious health problems including pain in the back, elbows, neck, and shoulders.

Cheap Gaming Office Chairs: PU Foam

Cheap gaming and office chairs typically come padded with a more resilient blend of PU foam. Desk chair foam densities typically range between 30 and 50kg/m³. For example, the Milton office chair has a low density common among budget models.

PU foam density examples

In comparison, the Harrier office chair is considered a ‘premium’ model because of its 50 kg/m³ padding. That matches the density of the DXRacer Pro Series, one of the more malleable cold-foam gaming chairs on the market.

Difference between pro esports chairs vs cheap gaming chairs
A cold-foam padded chair vs a cheap PU foam padded model.

The problem with this material is its durability. When brand new, the foam compresses under body weight but reverts to its original shape when the pressure is removed.

However, if used full-time, PU foam will gradually degrade and flatten. After a year or so, you might start feeling the steel frame under the padding. When that happens, you’ll need to replace your chair with a new one.

Premium Gaming Chairs: Cold Cured Foam

Cold-cured foam padding provides the best comfort and performance over time. Even after several years of use, a cold-molded foam seat will still look and feel like new.

Secretlab Titan cold foam padding density
Ultra-firm cold-foam padding compresses a very small amount when weight is applied.

Notable densities:

  • DXRacer Racing Series: 50 kg/m³
  • DXRacer Master: 54 kg/m³
  • AKRacing Master Pro: 55 kg/m³
  • Noblechairs HERO: 60 kg/m³
  • Vertagear PL4500: 64 kg/m³
  • Anda Seat Kaiser: 65 kg/m³
  • Secretlab Titan: 65 kg/m³
  • Arozzi Vernazza: 70 kg/m³

Secretlab has done extensive research into the benefits of firm padding. “The softer the seat, the worse it is for your posture. The seat lacks the structure it needs to support the natural curve of your back, which means you’ll almost always end up slouching or hunched over.”

Their team also found that a softer seat actually makes it harder for your body to relax. That’s because you need to tense up to hold your body up against gravity. After a few hours, this translates into a stiff neck and shoulders.

In contrast, a good density should be firm enough to support good posture. At the same time, it should deliver adequate cushioning for a luxurious feel.

Off-Brand Gaming Chairs: Trash Stuffing

ChairsFX focuses on reviewing gaming chairs from established brands only. While there are hundreds of cheap no-name chairs out there, the quality of most is very poor.

Maxnomic versus cheap chair padding
Maxnomic cold foam padding vs cheap generic chair padding.

If you buy a no-name cheap gaming chair on Amazon, expect extremely soft, mushy padding inside. Expect a comfortable seat for a week or two. After that, prepare for fast degradation that delivers a lumpy, uneven sitting experience.

Thus, even if you have less than $200 to spend, try to buy a cheap gaming chair from a reputable brand. For instance, GTRacing, Autofull, and E-Win all sell cheap chairs with quality materials and legitimate after-care support.

Case Study: Firm vs Soft Cold Foam Padding

Since 2017, I’ve been using gaming chairs for full-time desk work. That has given me the chance to test dozens of models in-depth. For the first few years, I used a range of cheaper models from DXRacer, Anda Seat, and GTRacing. These all come padded with softer, spongier materials.

DXRacer Master vs Secretlab Titan

Last year, I added a trio of Secretlab gaming chairs into the mix. These come with extra-firm padding that many first-timers find shockingly stiff.

Below, I compare and contrast the sitting experience in fluffy vs foam padding types.

DXRacer Master: 54 kg/m³

For a few reasons, DXRacer is a massively popular choice for first-time gaming chair users. First, its brand is one of the most well-known in the entire gaming chair industry. Second, most of the best DXRacer gaming chairs are beginner-friendly.

DXRacer Master vs Secretlab Titan weight pressure test
The DXRacer Master delivers a slightly squishier feel than the ultra-firm Titan chair.

The DXRacer Master has a padding density of 54 kg/m³. That’s significantly lower than what other premium brands offer. Even so, it’s a nice level of resiliency for first-time gaming chair users.

This resiliency provides a similar feel as cheap office chairs — squishy but supportive. Thus, most first-time users will enjoy an easy transition.

In my experience, DXRacer padding is very good. On a DXRAcer F-Series, it took me two years and seven months of full-time sitting before the padding began to wear out.

Old vs new gaming chair seat padding
3-year-old DXRacer padding vs brand new seat padding.

Visually, the old padding (minus the worn-out cover) resembles that on a brand-new DXRacer chair. However, it started to put me in uneven positions while sitting.

As well, with each passing week, I could feel the steel frame under the seat. That made sitting uncomfortable and annoying. As a result, I replaced the chair with a new one.

Secretlab Titan: 65 kg/m³

Many first-time gaming chair users find the Secretlab Titan 2022 Series padding feels rock-hard. Indeed, if you’re upgrading from a cheap PU foam office chair, this is a natural reaction.

Secretlab Titan foam density test with weights
Under 77 pounds of weight (35 kilos), the Titan’s padding compresses around 1/4 inch.

With experience, the difference becomes minor. For instance, after a few years of using DXRacers (54 kg/m³), I found switching to a Secretlab Titan (65 kg/m³) a seamless experience.

Thus, experienced gaming chair users should be able to choose a firmer padding density without worries. In contrast, first-time gaming chair users might find a smoother integration with a softer, fluffier density.

Is Soft Or Firm Padding Better?

For the past 11 months, I’ve been using Secretlab Titan and Omega gaming chairs. The experience has been fantastic. Thus, before writing this article, I would have definitely said that firmer padding is best.

Soft vs firm gaming chair padding test

To make sure, I decided to switch things up by integrating a DXRacer Master into the mix. As a result, for the past 30 days, I’ve been using both a Secretlab Titan and DXRacer Master chair while sitting at a desk full-time. This is what I learned from the experience:

Switching Between Chairs Wastes Time

My original plan was to spend half my day working in a Titan, then the other half working in the DXRacer. It didn’t work. I found making a switch in the middle of the day too distracting.

Doing so would usually waste 30-60 minutes while I fussed and fidgeted to find my groove. As a result, I switched to using each chair every other day. That worked a lot better.

My takeaway is that sitting down for the first time in the morning sets the tone for your workday. Switching equipment halfway through (chair, PC, etc) disrupts that tone. So instead of plugging straight into work, you’ll need time to adjust.

The Comfort Level Is Almost Identical

Once I started using each chair every other day, I enjoyed using both. The DXRacer feels a tiny bit softer — but only if I stop to think about it.

Usually, I slide into the Titan or DXRacer each morning and then plunge deep into work. Both chairs are supportive and comfortable enough to make me forget that I’m sitting!

Conclusion: Firm vs Soft Padding

When shopping for a gaming chair, keep the padding density in mind as you ponder chair specifications. Several leading premium brands (Secretlab, Noblechairs, Arozzi, Anda Seat) come padded with very firm material.

Among leading brands, DXRacer is the exception, offering similar padding densities as cheap office chairs. Experts tout firmer padding as better for your back.

However, in my experience, any gaming chair padded with resiliency between 50 kg/m³ to 70 kg/m³ will give you a decently comfortable seat.

If you want the best posture support from your chair, firmer is better. If you prefer a softer, more cushiony feel, look for padding similar to what DXRacer offers.