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.


dave said...

pretty long but read it haha
so much about rackets lol, i think a big part of it is psychology too.. but thats just me
for example if your using a brand not well known and then start playing with a yonex, you may actually play better because you have more confidence and whatnot
i dont like it but thats what happens to me =[

Anonymous said...

Long post, but a good one.

One reason why I am looking for a non-Yonex racket right now...something like APACS/Kason/SOTX.

But I do agree with dave; I think there is a placebo effect of some sort with Yonex.

antony said...

Hi both of you

Dave is spot on. Yonex have brain washed players over many years, and it is a very powerful tool to have in your marketing campaigns. You buy a yonex racket and you think "this has to be good because everyone else has one". The gap between yonex and the rest has gone long ago. You have to judge a racket on what it does for you, regardless of who makes it.

There is also a price issue as well. If you have just paid over £150 for a badminton racket then you will feel a bit stupid if you say it is crap, so most people say they are superb to avoid looking daft. The reality is that most of the top end rackets that have stiff or very stiff frames are only meant for advanced players because only they can get the best out of them. A beginner or even an intermediate player wil be lting through their teeth if they say that kind of racket suits them best. They would be far better off sticking with what they have and experimenting with string tension.

If your a beginner with £150 burning a hole inyour pocket then spend it on some coaching, it will improve your game a hell of a lot more than a Z Slash will.

Anonymous said...

Exactly the reason why I'm not looking at Yonex...

Any of you have experience with Kason/SOTX/Victor?

I'm very interested in Kason 200/300A, SOTX D-600+/CP5000/Woven9, Victor BS168/Ti-95P/Nano6.

COCOWU said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
antony said...

Hi anonymous

I have not tried any SOTX, Kason or Victor. I do have the email address of the UK Victor rep though, i may send him an email to see if he will send some demos for me to try out.

Anonymous said...

Any chance of getting hold of an APACs Edgesaber Z-Spark to compare against the Lethal 70 ?

Anonymous said...

Please do try out the new BraveSword and SuperWaves series...they seem to be very good.

antony said...

Funny you should mention the z spark, as that is the next racket i will be geting from apacs uk. I will let you know when it arrives.

Anonymous said...

Good read. I started with a couple of Apacs clones of Yonex rackets (~GBP 15/-), and enjoyed playing with them. Then I came across a shop selling the Apacs Tantrum 200 at ~GBP 30/- on offer and couldn't resist it. Bought it and at first it was a real fun smashing with it. However, after a month of using it, realised that my wrist was hurting after playing. It got worse, and now I'm back to my basic rackets, which is like so easy to handle.

The Tantrum 200 is a solid racket. Just hold it and you can feel it's better constructed and balanced. The problem was with the person holding the racket :). I obviously can't handle that stiff a racket.

I'm now looking for a new Apacs racket, and the z spark looks very nice. Can't wait for your review, especially on the stability issues. Your review of the Tantrum 130 I and Nano Pro 9600 mentions that the stability of these rackets are very good. Wonder if the z spark shares that attribute.


antony said...

Yep i have heard good things about the tantrum 200. I will ask the guys at apacs if they can send me one to test along with the z spark. You are spot on with the stability, it is so vital to a badminton racket being easy to work with. I just bought the anao 9600 because of that fact, along with the lethal 70. Those are the best two along with the tantrum 160 international, which was also excellent. I just wish apacs would stick to making their own rackets instead of trying to copy yonex, ie by bringing out the z spark. Their own named rackets are as good and even better than yonex so they don't need to copy anything they do in my view.

Anonymous said...

Is stability an issue that can be worked around with? The impression I get is that the lower-line of Apacs rackets issues with this, and while I would like to get a racket that offers good stability, the Tantrum 160 and Nano 9600 aren't exactly priced for beginners.


antony said...

The only way you can get round the stability issue is to middle every shot you hit, which is going to be difficult unless your technique is very sound. This is why i mentioned that the edgesber 7 and 10 were "hard work" rackets when i tested them They are not as stable so unless you time it just right it feels like the shots are not as powerful or accurate. You will get used to it in time if you keep playing with it, but they just make life more difficult. You could try adding some weight to the head with lead tape to try and compensate for this lack of stability, but then you are faced with a racket that feels more sluggish and cumbersome to use. You also increase the risk of injury over time using a racket like this.

I guess this is why the top end rackets from all the manufacturers are more expensive, they put more technology into them to make them more stable. If you are from the UK, then if you visit the apacs sports uk website and tell them you came via this blog they will give you a discount. Tell them Antony sent you. Be careful to go to the right web site though. There is another apacs uk site called apacs uk who i don't have any dealings with. "apacs sports uk" is the one to try.

Junn said...

Hi Anthony,

I was wondering are you doing any review about the new apacs, edgesaber z spark ?

I was thinking about getting one as it is really a bargain here in MY.
It cost about RM130 which is close to 25 pounds ?


antony said...

Hi Junn

Yes i wil be testing the new z spark as soon as apacs send me one. I wish it was that cheap over here in the UK. It will probably be about £70 or perhaps higher than that here!

Kenneth said...

Really good post! This should be given to everyone that starts playing badminton. Buying a racket that suits your current level of technique and play style is very important. Easier said than done of course but still something to aim for. I am still looking for that racket i can feel really comfortable with but at least i have finally an idea of what i want. Think i will try APAC next time, perhaps give myself a christmas present :-D
Hope you continue writing because then i will continue reading.
Greetings from a -20C Sweden.

antony said...

Hi Kenneth

Thanks for the kind comment.

Anonymous said...

Junn, there's this guy selling the z spark for RM 95/-, racket only. See here: http://forum.lowyat.net/index.php?showtopic=1240943&hl=

Like you, I'm also waiting for Antony's review to decide to get one :)

Some indonesians seem to like it, though (see http://www.bulutangkis.com/mod.php?mod=diskusi&op=viewdisk&did=3524). However, I wonder if they're using the same racket, as the max tension mentioned is 35 lbs, while the one printed on the piece I saw is 30 lbs.

A short translation of the above page for those who don't read indonesian:

More than 30 people tried the racket, with the majority saying that it plays 99% similar to the Yonex Z Slash. It's the first clone racket that has the same quality as the high end Yonex Z Slash.

The Ashaway Zymax 62 did not break even after some hard smashing. However, the tension dropped.


antony said...

Thanks anonymous

You know what we need here, we need a direct compairson between the two. I will push apacs to send me a z spark, and i think i will fire off some e-mails to some of the online retailers who are selling the arcsaber z slash to see if they will send me a demo racket for free. If they have half a brain they will send me one, as i will offer to give them a shout out to their store. We will see what happens.

Junn said...

Hi Anonymous,

Yea I saw it, but the RM130 deal is better, you get a racket + string _ grip. (:

There is two different kind of Z spark which makes me wonder how does it compare to the original Z slash. One is attacking and the other one defensive. The difference is the flex. We'll just wait Antony to review it, he got some good review on the nano 9600 :P

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Nev said...

Long but worth the read.