Tuesday, 15 December 2009

What Makes A Good Badminton Racket

This the eternal question that all badminton players search for. With so many rackets available these days, all promising faster smashes, more control, more consistency for your game, more aerodynamic capabilities, lightning reactions and god knows what else, it can be very difficult to know what to go for. The truth is that the badminton racket is just a tool of the trade. Can it make you a better player? It can improve what you already have by a slight amount, that is the only truth in the hyped up marketing world we live in. It is exactly the same for other sports such as tennis, squash and golf. Golf is especially a problem, there are even channels dedicated to offering new technology and new clubs that will increase your driving length by 50 yards or whatever. People go for this hype, but is it all hype or is there some truth in it all?

Yonex have marketed the new Arcsaber Z slash as being the faster racket ever made. They didn't make the claim themselves they just allowed some players to test it for them by having a smash speed contest. The fastest recorded speed was achieved with the new Z Slash. It is a useful exercise in racket promotion because Yonex don't have the same marketing power they had a few years ago. When they sponsored all the top players they could just stick a picture of Lin Dan or whoever next to the product and casually mention that the worlds best player uses Yonex rackets. This is a big boost for any company to have because if the worlds best are using your equipment then it must be good enough for the rest of us. Yonex don't have this luxury anymore, so they have turned to other means. They now have to sell the racket as a stand alone product. Now that we all know that this new Z Slash is the reason behind the fastest smash ever recorded, does that make you want to go out and buy it?

It probably does for the less informed badminton players around the globe. All around the world there are novice players opening up their new Arcsaber trying to belt the cover off the shuttle. They are all very upset when they don't get the results they were after. Why does this happen? Because they don't even know if the racket suits their game before they buy it. They may not have the technique to generate the power they are looking for. If you have a suspect technique then no racket is going to make you play better, no matter how much it costs. You have to know your own game inside out before you can recognise how good any badminton racket is for you. You need a very consistent technique to be able to tell if there is a difference in what you are playing with.

The way i can spot if a racket is better or worse for me is in how much it helps me do what i do. I keep going on about low work and high work rackets, and there is a good reason for this. A badminton racket is designed to make life easier, just like a tennis racket or a golf club or whatever. If you are an advanced player then you will have consistency. This is the be all and end all in every sport, consistency. Beginners and intermediate players are those who are climbing the ladder of consistency. Without consistency you are erratic and unpredictable. You can hit a sizzling smash and then hit a slower smash on the very next shot. You don't really know why this has happened, it just has. The same applies to golf. There are millions of recreational players out there who can hit good shots and bad shots. Tennis players can hit aces and then double faults on the next shot. This happens because of faulty technique mainly. There are other factors such as footwork and positioning which play a huge part as well. All these small things combine to give you the finished result, and it all comes down to you, the player. This goes on before you have even hit the shot, the racket has not become a factor yet.

An advanced player has this consistency, they can hit the shuttle wherever they want to from any position on court. The shuttle will land in around about the same place most of the time. It doesn't really matter what racket they are using, they will always get similar results. Their technique is refined and grooved and consistent, and the game is so much simpler and easier. Their smashes will be around about the same speed all the time. This the amount of work they put into every shot based on their technique. The second you start trying to hit harder then that is when problems begin to surface. Your technique is not as consistent and the result is a lack of control and direction. Errors begin to creep in to your game. Buy hey, it can't be the racket because Yonex say it will allow you to smash at unbelievable speeds right? There is some truth in this because that racket has not changed, you have. You are now the problem not the racket.

A good badminton racket is a low work racket. If you hit a clear it should land in the back tramlines more often than not if you have the right technique and positioning. The difference between a good a good racket (one that suits your style of play)and a bad racket (one that doesn't) is how much it helps you. I can pick up a racket and hit a few clears with it. I will look and see where the shuttle has landed. Hopefully my technique is consistent enough for me to notice any difference. Where did the shuttle land compared to another racket? Was it shorter or further? If it lands short, then all things being equal, ie string tension, then the racket is less efficient for me. If the shuttle lands further away then that racket is more efficient for me. For the same amount of effort i have seen a different result. I did not try to hit the shuttle harder, or with more force, i just let the racket do its thing. In effect i have tried to isolate the racket from my myself so i can see if there is a difference to my shot with it. This is very difficult to be totally 100% accurate because there are always going to be slight differences with technique from one shot to the next. The better players have very little differences so they can tell straight away what is happening. They can then say to themselves, this racket feels good because i can now hit the shuttle a bit faster with the same amount of effort. Or i now find it easier to hit a clear because the shuttle is travelling further with the same amount of effort. You then have to make adjustments to compensate for this. There is not much point in having a racket that enables you to hit the shuttle further if the result is that you are hitting everything out of the back line.

I did my own tests with the lead tape on the bottom of the handle to see if there was any truth in the research that i looked into. Well it did work for me. For the same amount of effort the shuttle travelled further, about 6-10 inches difference. This was a very big difference for me. For about £2 i had just made my racket more efficient. The research was right for me. Not many players use lead tape on the bottom of the handle because they have never heard about it, most add it to the top of the racket. It still makes a difference but it is worse for your arm and shoulder in the long run. Adding any weight will make the racket feel more cumbersome around the net area, but you have to decide what is best for your game. It is just a balancing act, you win at the back with increased power but lose at the front of the court due to the added weight.

And so we come back to the Arcsaber Z Slash. No doubt this racket is a quality piece of engineering. I have not even played with one, but i know that it will be a very consistent racket. It will be stable on impact because almost every badminton racket that is on the market today has similar technologies that aid stability. The differences are only slight, which is why any badminton racket will only help you by a small margin. You are not going to smash the shuttle twice as hard with a Z Slash or any other make or model. However, there may well be a small difference which can make things easier for you. These small differences can make a difference to your game.

Take this as an example. Give an advanced player a £10 steel beginners racket with factory strung strings at about 15lbs tension when are used to playing with a stiff framed high technology racket strung at 30lbs. What happens? Well at first the player thinks, god this feels shit. Their shots are not as consistent as they normally are. The shuttle is not going where they want it to. However, after about an hour things are improving. The player has got used to the new racket and the string tension, and while it still does not feel right, the shots are becoming more consistent and accurate. They have already compensated for the difference. After two hours of play there is now not much difference at all. All the clears are landing in the right place, and the smashes are going where they intended them to. The point i am trying to make is that good players can play with anything and make it work. The racket will still feel hard to work with, it would be high work racket, but the result is around about the same. Perhaps a 5% difference?

The flip side of this is the beginner who has just gone on the internet and seen the new Z Slash yonex racket. They see that this racquet is behind the fastest ever recorded smash and they think, i gotta get one of those because it will improve my smashes. The result is that they have no idea if that racket has improved their game or their smash because their technique is faulty. They cannot compensate for the difference so their game just carries on as normal. Sure, they may hit the occasional great shot, but they could have done this with any other racket. My suggestion is that a novice player is going to find it very difficult to make an informed decision.

I play golf about twice a year, i am very bad, i have no consistency because my technique is all over the place. You could give me the most expensive golf club with the latest technology that promises to make me drive the ball an extra 30 yards. It will be a useless exercise because i have no way of telling if that club has made a difference to my driving. However, if you give the same club to tiger woods he would be able to tell the difference right away. Some golf clubs have been banned because of the difference they can make, so technology does make a difference. Grooves in the club head allow players to get more spin on their iron shots, so we now see balls landing on greens and spinning backwards by a considerable amount. The problem is you need to have the right technique to get this result. Most players cannot do this because their technique is flawed. The same applies to badminton and any other racket sport.

So back to the question of what makes a good badminton racket? The answer is you do. In most of my racket reviews i mention power and control, and that is a bit misleading because power and control come from technique, and yours is different to mine, so what i think is a powerful racket may not be the same for you. In reality no racket is "powerful" it just makes it easier to get some power that is generated by yourself. Same applies to control, you have to create your own control, the racket will be useful for making it easier to control the shuttle if the head is stable on impact. You can then get more consistency with your technique. Remember though that it is the strings that connect with the shuttle, and they play a much bigger part in terms of control.

I like high tension strings, i believe they give me more control over the shuttle. Some people argue that this is not the case, and that low tension is better for control because the shuttle is in contact with the strings for longer. The truth is that high tension does give more control and it comes down to the movement of the strings on impact. If you have loose strings then they will move more on impact. This means you do not have a totally stable base when you hit the shuttle, which equals less control. Tight strings will not move around as much so there is more control available. The racket simply holds the strings in place, so if you add a stable frame to all of this then you will have even more control.

If you are thinking of buying a new badminton racket then please experiment with the strings first. They have a real impact on your game. I would much rather have a cheap racket strung at 30lbs than a Yonex Z Slash strung at 20lbs. The strings will have more of an effect than the racket ever will. What makes me laugh is that in the UK the manufacturers maximum string tension for the Z Slash is 24lbs. This has been the case for many years now and it really gets on my nerves. Take central sports in the UK, the biggest authorised yonex dealer in the UK. It has taken a long time for them to finally offer stringing at higher tensions. They go to a maximum of 28lbs with the Z Slash but cannot be responsible for anything over 24lbs. Ok this is a fair point. But in the past you got a good racket with shit tension, which is a waste for me. The first thing i would do is take out those crap factory strings and throw in something better at higher tension, then i would see how the racket felt. Anything else is just a waste of time.

I could play with my cheap £20 racket with 30lbs tension and tell you that it has more control than a Z Slash at 20lbs tension. It has nothing to do with the racket and everything to do with the strings. So the next time you see some marketing that promises extra control on your shots, understand that the strings will be largely responsible for that.

A good badminton racket is one that makes things easier. I think next time i do a review i will base it on how easy it is to work with. I know i am givimg the new yonex racket a tough time here and i keep on referring to it. So far the most efficient racket i have played with is the apacs lethal 70. I consider that racket to be the best for my game. The Z Slash may be just as good, perhaps better than the lethal 70, i will not know until i have actually tested it. I also just bought the apacs nano pro tour 9600 because i liked that as well, and it was a good price. There is no way i am going to pay £150 or however much that Arcsaber is, just to test it out. If someone wants to send me one then fine, it will get tested and reviewed.

Can you compare one racket to another? I can compare it for my own game, not yours. For example, when i tested the Edgesaber 7 and 10 from apacs i said that to get the best out of it you needed to hit the shuttle right smack in the centre of the string bed every time. For me the Edgesabers are hard to work with, the head is not as stable as with the lethal 70, the tantrum 160 or the nano pro tour 9600. Or my old carlton airblade tour or the browning oxylite i used a few months ago. I could still play with the edgesabers but they didn't help me out as much. My clears where coming up shorter than with the other rackets, i am only talking about inches here, but over the course of a game it makes a difference because i was having to compensate that little bit by swinging me arm faster on impact. This leads to less control because i have changed my technique just a bit. After an hour everything is back to normal and control is much better, but when you compare this to the others it just means i had to compensate more for those edgesabers. So in my review i give it less control than the lethal 70, and less power because for the same effort i did get less power. This not to say the edgesaber is a less powerful racket for someone else. They may have a much faster swing speed and better technique, so in this case they will generate more power from this racket.

However i can compare my own findings to another racket that i have tested. I can't know for sure that i can generate a bit more power on my smash using a lethal 70 than with an edgesaber 7 or 10 for the same amount of effort unless i get a speed gun and test it. But i get better length on my clears with the lethal 70 for the same effort because i have seen it in action. The tension was the same for all rackets so i base my conclusion on this. The difference is only a few inches, but there is a small difference nonetheless.

The adverts on the central sports web site for the new yonex racket has a big banner that states some guy hit a world record smash of 414 km/h, and that the Z Slash increases offensive power and smashes. The only real way to find out if one racket is more powerful than another is to test them without the human element. Only the guy who hit that smash will know if he put a bit more effort into it than he did with a previous smash.

You could create a machine that simulates a smash action and then hit it into a suspended shuttle. The record the speed of the shuttle at a fixed point. All the rackets would need to be to exact same tension from the same string manufacturer. You would still get differences, such as the shuttle quality and string quality variances but it would be as consistent as you could possibly be. Only then would you find a true answer to the question. It would be great if someone actually did it.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Apacs Nano Pro 9600 Tour Review

Ok, i have been testing the Nano Pro 9600 Tour for the last 2 weeks now, giving it one of the most thorough tests i have given any racket. I have probably played with it at least 10 times. Well the result is that it comes a very close second to the Lethal 70, very close indeed. It appears to have the same head stability, and that makes all the difference. It is slightly more flexible then the Lethal 70, but not by much. I strung it at 28lbs, so it was a little bit less than the 30 i used on the Lethal. Here is the thing, not one single apacs racket has ever had a string break whilst i have been testing it. I guess i am just lucky in this respect, but it does help to show the quality of the factory apacs strings, which have been in all the tested rackets. It also shows the rackets can take higher tensions without any trouble at all, another testament to their durability.

The last 2 tested rackets have something different to the others, there is definitely much better stability when hitting the shuttle. This results in very good consistent shots time after time, and that is what the difference is. These last 2 rackets are as good as anything out there, if not better, and that includes the Yonex brand. The bonus is that these rackets cost much less than the latest Yonex offerings. If you do happen to buy either the lethal 70 or this Nano Pro 9600 i would really like you to comment on what you think of them, because although we are all different, i do believe these 2 bats are at the very top of the tree.

Here is the technical details..

Frame Material : Hi Modulus Graphite + Nano Carbon

Shaft Material : Hi Modulus Graphite + Nano Carbon

Flex : Medium -- Stiff ( 7.5 - 8.0mm)

Shaft Out/In Dia. : 7.5/4.0mm

Weight : 3U (86-88g) G2

Length : 675mm

Max. Tension : 30lbs

Balance : 285 ± 3mm

Special Features :-

ISO frame with new grommets system

Anti-Vibration cab
Aerodynamic wing X-section frame

Add to this the string tension of 28lbs with apacs spider 66Ti string and a towelling grip.

The first thing to notice is that the balance point is slightly less than the lethal 70, so the nano pro tour is less head heavy, and a more even balance. Having played with both, there is very little difference between the balance of the two, you will hardly notice it. The nano tour is also a bit less stiff, there is bit more give in it, but again, the difference is small. The nano has a solid feel when you first hit the shuttle, and it is down to the head being very stable. Much more stable than the Hotshots and the Edgesabers. This makes it very easy to work with, and you will find you can mishit some shots and still get a decent result. On defence it also makes the difference, the shuttle will come off the strings very well indeed, you do not have to put in as much effort to lift off smashes, and if you do, you will find the shuttle can be driven back with a lot of interest. It is a low work racket, and i like low work rackets!

I did notice there was some weight in the head, but i think apacs have got the balance just right. You do need some weight in the head to get power and some control, but you can make it feel as though it is not there by just adding the grip to balance it out. This means you have a racket that does not feel heavy and cumbersome, yet you get the benefit of knowing the head will help you. I think this is where yonex have come up a little bit short with the arcsaber 10, to me it feels too head heavy and very cumbersome. You will get the benefit from the back of the court when you smash, but around the net for the reaction shots you lose out. I like a compromise between the two, and i think this is what the nano pro tour gives you. It all depends on what you like in the end, and what you can get used to. The new Z slash appears to be more evenly balanced, so i guess yonex are aware of the need to produce more user friendly rackets. The price is still a complete joke though.

Apacs are moving in the likes of yonex with these last two test rackets. They offer better value for money, and the end product in my opinon is better to play with. The only reason why people choose yonex over the likes of apacs is because of the aggressive marketing and the brain washing. Well i am probably doing my bit to market apacs with this blog, and the reason is that they took the time to actually read this blog and allow me to test their rackets for them. I get nothing in return, and don't want it either. I am buying myself a lethal 70 at the end of all this, just like anyone else does. They are a company that should now be able to move forward now, because they have managed to get their hands on the best rackets that apacs in Malaysia are making. Getting the lethal 70 for the UK is a big bonus in my eyes, and now we have another little gem with the nano pro tour 9600.

I probably do not need to tell you how it plays because it is virtualy the same as the lethal 70, great power and easy control from all around the court. Easy to use, great on defence and on clearing and snashing, great everywhere in fact. Doesn't matter if you play doubles or singles, it will be great in any situation as long as you have the skills to back it up and see what it can do.

The reason why these 2 rackets are different is in the head stability, this is the major breakthrough, and it sets them both apart from previous rackets. The nano costs £59 here in the UK, and it is a great racket. I will give it a 9.5/10 second only slightly to the lethal 70.