Ball machine - Go high end? Or are the features not worth it?

Shock

New User
So I'm looking at ball machines. I think I've decided on a Silent Partner. I like the Lobsters a little better, but I can't see what makes them more expensive.

I'm considering the SP SMART ($1799) or the STAR ($950).

I can't figure out if the extra features are really of value.
The features seem to be "drill" "match play" and vertical randomness.

Money doesn't matter too much in this situation except I don't want to waste money. If I buy the more expensive machine, I'll wait til next year to buy a stringing machine. If I buy the cheaper one, I can buy a stringing machine now.

Can anyone tell me if they think the extra features are worth a near-double price tag? Do I want these features?

Thanks!

Side notes:
Me=3.0 (self-rated) expecting (hoping) to be 3.5-4.0 at the end of this summer.
If I should be considering a different machine altogether, let me know.
I like the handle/wheel design and quiet reputation of the Silent Partner.
I see the slightly smaller dimensions of the STAR an advantage over the SMART (the idea that a 50 lb dumbbell is easier to carry than a 50 lb clothes dryer).
I believe it is always cheaper to buy the right thing the first time.
 
You will find ton of information on ball machine and one thread is just above your thread.

Don't compare SP Smart to Lobster grand 5 or 5ltd they are totally different ball machine. I mean Lobster grand 5 and ltd are higher version of smart.

You have to evaluate your usage vs cost and features matter most to you. In my case I like more features because simply throwing balls in 2 line (narrow or wide or medium) is okay for few hitting session but can't do that for 1 or 2 or 3 years (get bore easy with same drills).

If you want minimal features and save on money SP is good but more features Lobster is right. Also size of lobster and extended warranty help in long run.
 

BMC9670

Hall of Fame
I just ordered a STAR, will be here tomorrow and I'll try and post my experiences after a few sessions as other here have.

Which machine to buy depends on what you need/want out of it. My main reason for getting a machine was for my son and I to get repetition and improve consistency, so the STAR should be plenty (and yes, money was a big consideration). If you're looking for simulated match play, more variation, or more of a work out, the higher model can be programmed to put the ball at more spots, not only left/right, but short/deep and low/high. I think it also holds more balls.
 
Last edited:

BoingTennis

New User
I've own the Lobster GS 5 LE for about 3 years now.

From my own non-biased experience:

1) Quality: comparing Silent Partner and Lobster, I feel the Lobster is of a better quality and more refined. This is mostly based on the feel and the build of the machine. Small things like exterior plastic quality, fit and finish, remote, charger, etc, the Lobster is better. However, I am pretty sure both brands have similar hardwares running inside. At the end of the day, Lobster is more expensive for a reason.
2) Reliability: 3 years of ownership, one battery change and minor cleaning maintenance. Have not had any problem with mechanicals or electrical parts. I'm sure the Silent Partner is reliable too since the hardwares are quite simple just a couple of electric motors and battery.
3) Features: if I were to do it again, the only feature I'd be looking for is random oscillation both horizontal and vertical. I don't ever use the programs, drill, match play, etc. I think most people are trying to get repetitions by using these ball machines and not actually trying to play a game with the machine. You'll be better of practicing your strokes by with the machine and then find a human partner to play with.
 

JonC

Banned
I just spend quite a bit on the Spinfire Pro 2 - it's pretty nice. It has drills where it will place balls in 6 different spots, plus other simpler drills. It also has vertical and horizontal variation. The coolest thing is that it oscillates from the inside - the whole machine doesn't move so you can't tell where the ball is going. I recommend it but it's expensive - $1800 or so. Mamba Tennis people have been very helpful.
 
My biggest worry with ball machine will be warranty repairs. SpinFire, TennisMatic or other brands don't have good support for warranty. Mamba asks shipping fees both ways to support warranty. Playmate not very happy with a local dealer response...pretty cold attitude towards selling machine like they are apple...take it or leave it...whatever in my book...

Lobster, SP and Tennis Tutor are best in that regards (order is right)

I found Lobster Elite Grand 5 LE with best features and additional three years of warranty for $150. Nobody offers five years of warranty on any ball machine. Lobster is more compact and easy to move around (for young kids and women's). SP Smart is also portable but bigger compare lobster for sure (also hold more balls)

I am planning to use programmable drills on 5 LE because two line and random oscillation bore me to death after few settings. I did that with playmate at my club and said I can't do this on regularly (boring)
 

Chotobaka

Hall of Fame
Playmate is also excellent in terms of quality and support. They make a full range of machines from highly programmable two line machines used at clubs (including a serving "tower") to full feature portables like the Full Volley. Made of aircraft grade metal, not plastic, right down to their most reasonably priced model (the Half Volley which is upgradable to the Full Volley). Nice features like externally mounted batteries, too. These are a must-look.
 

nn

Hall of Fame
One of the main reasons I omitted playmate was size and transporting to the court. I don't want to curse myself that I am having pain in moving machine from home to car and court. You have to consider that doing it 100 times should be pain free.

If I take that into consideration and amount playmate, charge is pretty high. Internal oscillation is good but not 100% disguising.

If you look at Lobster, they provide additional warranty for $50 per year for three years (not bad deal). I am not sure SP or Playmate provide it. One thing I like that I can talk to company directly instead of going through a dealer because every dealer is different.

In my opinion playmate works great for private courts and clubs where you don't have to worry about moving machine from one place to another (maybe just put back in storage).

Lobster and SP works great for individual use, where they are not used by many people. Remember if it is your stuff you take better care.
 

beernutz

Hall of Fame
I have owned an SP Star for about four years now and honestly I rarely use some of the 'features' that this pretty basic machine has. I don't for example use oscillation very much at all, I change the elevation sometimes but rarely set it to the highest elevation with the "kickstand" up to throw lobs. I do use the remote a lot and I'm glad I paid the extra money for it. Mostly I use the Star to groove shots. Based on how I use it I am glad I didn't pay more for the extra features offered on the Quest or Smart but YMMV.
 
I am a lot of reading on ball machine and figure out if you are doing it to improve strokes, i.e. club player or recreational, then star/elite 1 to 3 are enough for you.

If you have young junior or teaching tennis in some capacity, then extra features are pretty handy. You can't always feed/hit and observe at the same time. Also feeding certain shots differently is impossible from one partner or coach (each has his style).

Again, it come down to what you want from ball machine...just because one cost more or less means different for each person.
 

newpball

Legend
Me=3.0 (self-rated)
I think a ball machine is overrated, but for a 3.0 think it doesn't make much sense. A ball machine is good if you want to fine tune a specific stroke that comes at a specific angle/spin/speed.

But generally it is a lot better to get a good partner you can practice with. Or, just use the wall, remember the wall is your friend:



:)
 

nn

Hall of Fame
Wall is good for people who want to do homework, i.e. you know something and like to repeat. It is an excellent tool for repetition.

Ball machine can throw balls with different speed, spin and angle. You can't do that with wall. I have done both extensively (playmate at club and wall at the park).

Everybody has different goals and wall works for most of the recreational players. Partners don't and can't feed one or different type balls multiple types (talking about 150 or 80 or 50). Ball machine can do that easily.

Many teaching pros love to use a ball machine for group of kids with the different skill set (pretty handy for them). I don't like coaches who just use a ball machine exclusively for feeding because that is not the way to teach (mix with your hand & racquet feed).
 

nn

Hall of Fame
Of course they do......

The worse is people who use a ball machine with balls that I would not even give to a dog.
you are right...

My club playmate has few junk balls, and they don't feel good on arms. One has to be very careful feeding junk ball to machine because outcome will be so different.

People blame ball machine because of injury or malfunctioning but never try to figure out the basic mistake. It is like buying expensive V6 or V8 and feed the cheapest gas in town (biggest idiots IMO)
 

Chotobaka

Hall of Fame
One of the main reasons I omitted playmate was size and transporting to the court. I don't want to curse myself that I am having pain in moving machine from home to car and court. You have to consider that doing it 100 times should be pain free.

If I take that into consideration and amount playmate, charge is pretty high. Internal oscillation is good but not 100% disguising.

If you look at Lobster, they provide additional warranty for $50 per year for three years (not bad deal). I am not sure SP or Playmate provide it. One thing I like that I can talk to company directly instead of going through a dealer because every dealer is different.

In my opinion playmate works great for private courts and clubs where you don't have to worry about moving machine from one place to another (maybe just put back in storage).

Lobster and SP works great for individual use, where they are not used by many people. Remember if it is your stuff you take better care.
What are you talking about? The Half Volley and Volley weigh 42lbs and 46lbs respectively. No more than my SP Star Edge. As much I have enjoyed my SP over the past 4 years, these are a definitely an upgrade. Having a quick swap external battery is something I really wish my SP had.
 

nn

Hall of Fame
What are you talking about? The Half Volley and Volley weigh 42lbs and 46lbs respectively. No more than my SP Star Edge. As much I have enjoyed my SP over the past 4 years, these are a definitely an upgrade. Having a quick swap external battery is something I really wish my SP had.
I am not saying it is not portable, but it is definitely not compact as Lobster or SP. You have to consider small wheels don't help either to navigate from court to the parking lot every single time. My club doesn't like people who use their own machine and leave mark on court while moving them. Lobster has best wheels to move from anywhere (even women or young kid can do it not with playmate).

Playmate volley pretty big compared to lobster or SP (it is in between). If you don't have space in-house or car playmate is unsuitable.

If I am spending $2000 on playmate volley then I will take a look at lobster grand 5 LE for sure. It is not big difference in price compare to features.

Playmate is excellent for club or people with enough space in house and car for transportation (ideal for private court). It is excellent machine for coaches to feed balls for years because it has rock solid construction.

My research and experience using machine at club (playmate) and friends (lobster and sp) these three brands are top at the moment in US for customer service and repair after purchase.

Tennis tutor is good machine but higher end machine don't have enough features compare to lobster grand or sp smart. Also wheels are small to get to the court with ease.
 
Last edited:

GBplayer

Hall of Fame
It is a tough choice. I was going to get a lobster a year ago. Made the decision to have a one hour coaching session once a week instead. Have been happy with my choice, but might have been equally happy with a ball machine?

If you have the money, do both!
 

gmatheis

Hall of Fame
It is a tough choice. I was going to get a lobster a year ago. Made the decision to have a one hour coaching session once a week instead. Have been happy with my choice, but might have been equally happy with a ball machine?

If you have the money, do both!
tennis tutor has great machines and excellent customer service, too.
I think a ball machine is overrated, but for a 3.0 think it doesn't make much sense. A ball machine is good if you want to fine tune a specific stroke that comes at a specific angle/spin/speed.

But generally it is a lot better to get a good partner you can practice with. Or, just use the wall, remember the wall is your friend:
You do all realize that the only question asked by the OP was whether or not he should spend the money for the machine with more functions or stay with the lower priced one.

I had the STAR, and was very happy with it. I only got rid of it because I was playing so often that I almost never used it. The one thing I do wish it had was a power elevation. The side to side oscillation gave a really good workout so I'm not sure I'd need all those programmable drills and game simulations.

SO ... If I were to buy another I'd get a version with power elevation that is controlled by the remote (it's a pain to realize you want the ball a little deeper and have to go back across the court to change it) BUT I don't think I'd pay for ALL the bells and whistles past that ... I'd probably compromise and pick the QUEST.
 

newpball

Legend
I only got rid of it because I was playing so often that I almost never used it.
Where have I heard this story before? :grin:

Happens all the time, players lay down top dollar for a device that they think is going to make them twice as good. The first month is great, "best thing since sliced bread", "it's great, I am improving immensely", then after some time they realize it is pretty boring and quite limited to play with a machine, and besides then picking up all those balls every time and keeping fresh balls.......

Thus the unit goes for sale for the next one and the process repeats.
 
Reason people abandon a tennis ball machine because they go with minimal setting machine. I used playmate big machine at the club for 4 or 5 times. I was bored after 3rd time because it is going right or left or middle in random fashion with various spin and speed settings.

If you are improving on strokes, it is okay, e.g. coaching teaching students how to hit certain shot. You need variety and match play situation to excite you. It is pretty clear that smart and grand 5 LE does that very well. Lobster grand series has true random oscillation, i.e. change everything for every single shot (in LE you have 18 locations and 6 drills to program)

If you are spending on ball machine then get something excite you e.g. playing against different player (guess if you are playing with one guy for 2 or 3 years).
 

BMC9670

Hall of Fame
Where have I heard this story before? :grin:

Happens all the time, players lay down top dollar for a device that they think is going to make them twice as good. The first month is great, "best thing since sliced bread", "it's great, I am improving immensely", then after some time they realize it is pretty boring and quite limited to play with a machine, and besides then picking up all those balls every time and keeping fresh balls.......

Thus the unit goes for sale for the next one and the process repeats.
Reason people abandon a tennis ball machine because they go with minimal setting machine. I used playmate big machine at the club for 4 or 5 times. I was bored after 3rd time because it is going right or left or middle in random fashion with various spin and speed settings.

If you are improving on strokes, it is okay, e.g. coaching teaching students how to hit certain shot. You need variety and match play situation to excite you. It is pretty clear that smart and grand 5 LE does that very well. Lobster grand series has true random oscillation, i.e. change everything for every single shot (in LE you have 18 locations and 6 drills to program)

If you are spending on ball machine then get something excite you e.g. playing against different player (guess if you are playing with one guy for 2 or 3 years).
True. The multi-billion dollar fitness industry is built on people getting excited/motivated and then getting bored/lazy only to repeat again and again.

The good thing about a ball machine is that they hold their resale value really well. We got one to get repetitions on specific strokes to work on technique and consistency. I figure if we get a year or two out of it to accomplish this and can resell it for 75% of what we paid, not a bad deal.
 

nn

Hall of Fame
If you look at how much it cost to hit with hitting partner if you are going at higher level or playing something similar with pro.

It will pay in itself. I remember milos raonic used ball machine early in the morning because it cost less. Programmable ball machines are excellent training tool for young juniors to develop or practice particular stroke and some match play drills.

You can't buy someone time on regular basis and ball machine come very handy.
 

West Coast Ace

G.O.A.T.
I have owned an SP Star for about four years now and honestly I rarely use some of the 'features' that this pretty basic machine has. I don't for example use oscillation very much at all, I change the elevation sometimes but rarely set it to the highest elevation with the "kickstand" up to throw lobs. I do use the remote a lot and I'm glad I paid the extra money for it. Mostly I use the Star to groove shots. Based on how I use it I am glad I didn't pay more for the extra features offered on the Quest or Smart but YMMV.
Well said. And the OP is a 3.0 hoping to get to 4.0 - I'm a 4.5 and am more than happy with the basics of the Star.

Bottom line (IMHO): there is no substitute for real hitting with other players. The ball machines are for working on your strokes, not emulating match conditions.

@newpball: it's tough to find people at the same level who only want to practice - I've lost count of how many people say they do then 15 or 20 minutes in say 'let's play a few sets' - I'm sure the OP wouldn't be considering a machine if he could. The machine never has to work late; changes its mind; takes vacations. The wall is great for standing in one spot and hitting - but you're footwork won't improve - in fact hitting with the wall can lead to bad, lazy footwork habits.

The money you will save will buy you a) a few 125 ball replacements for the machine; b) a better racquet(s) when you improve.
 

nn

Hall of Fame
I never found hitting partner who wants to do it my way. It always compromises on both sides to do something.

If you hire pro for hitting and learning it will cost you a lot of money because a good one charge anywhere from 50 to 90 per hour.

Programmable machine comes handy for such a player who has skills but likes to enhance and maintain the form. In my area, some pros are average compare to others. Good pros has own style of improvement (you can't tell them how to conduct a lesson...they don't like it or take it very well). Ball machine never complains and comes handy all the time.
 

PMChambers

Hall of Fame
Ball machine - Go high end? Or are the features not worth it?
My machine does vert/hori oscillation on random/seq & wide/narrow. Rarely use it. I prefer to set up the shot I want to practise (Spin, Speed, Depth, Position) and then hit it for a while, then change.

I prefer to practice moving back to a neutral position then moving to the shot than just setting up. If I want to do FH & BH I slow the feed and change sides manually rather than automate.

I use the ball machine to practise the mechanics with pre-determined shots and aims rather than a game machine. It sounds fun to run backwards and forwards left and right to hit balls but I think practising specific mechanics is better, I don't hit 100's of the exact same shot, after I get the shot grooved I change the height or spin or location to hit to. My coach does the drills, the machine is practice.

I suppose it depends what you want from the machine, one benefit is if you get a fully loaded machine then the options are there if you want. One issue with a machine is not like a player, you can't read the play, you don't see the spin and stroke mechanism of the machine, so practising mixed up feeds does not feel the same as person, hence I prefer to set the spin up and practice knowing it's topsun or neutral or sliced.
 

PMChambers

Hall of Fame
One benefit of the higher end machines is they are rated at higher velocity and spins, even if you don't use the additional pace it means the machine was designed to handle the additional loading. The newer PLC controlled m/c look cool and programming them from you're smart phone of laptop sounds fun but probably more of a hassle than it's worth. Mine goes to 140 km/hr and can put lots a lot of spin on the ball, basically it can throw out shots that Nadal can produce which are fun but pointless as I'll never play anyone who can hit that speed. A quality machine will hit a top speed ball, which for most of use is not something we need practice playing. Although a pain to carry the stands are a good idea, though I don't have one, they allow the ball machine to fire at a more realistic angle, 1.2-1.5m, and can "serve" a ball for return practice.
 

PMChambers

Hall of Fame
One benefit of the higher end machines is they are rated at higher velocity and spins, even if you don't use the additional pace it means the machine was designed to handle the additional loading. The newer PLC controlled m/c look cool and programming them from you're smart phone of laptop sounds fun but probably more of a hassle than it's worth. Mine goes to 140 km/hr and can put lots a lot of spin on the ball, basically it can throw out shots that Nadal can produce which are fun but pointless as I'll never play anyone who can hit that speed. A quality machine will hit a top speed ball, which for most of use is not something we need practice playing. Although a pain to carry the stands are a good idea, though I don't have one, they allow the ball machine to fire at a more realistic angle, 1.2-1.5m, and can "serve" a ball for return practice.
 

gmatheis

Hall of Fame
Where have I heard this story before? :grin:

Happens all the time, players lay down top dollar for a device that they think is going to make them twice as good. The first month is great, "best thing since sliced bread", "it's great, I am improving immensely", then after some time they realize it is pretty boring and quite limited to play with a machine, and besides then picking up all those balls every time and keeping fresh balls.......

Thus the unit goes for sale for the next one and the process repeats.
Actually when I first got it I was in school and I used it there, but then I finished school and got to the point that I was getting friendly matches almost every day sometimes twice and even three times a day.

I may actually get another ball machine some day, especially next year when I get bumped and don't have 9 or more teams in one year.
 

West Coast Ace

G.O.A.T.
^^^^^^^^^

I like to set up cones and incorporate footwork drills into my ball machine sessions.
I just point it into the corners and run like ****. :)

My footwork has improved dramatically - it's one thing to get to a ball, another to get there under control to make a good swing then return to position and repeat. In 90 minutes with the machine I can get hundreds of reps - I can't imagine/wouldn't expect any friend to be that patient.

Wish I'd had one in my teens... all the bad habits I picked up hitting against walls...
 
If you want a real match simulator, then get a programmable machine. You can't just do two lines and random, which has fixed speed, location and spin for each shot (on playmate you can change while you are playing, but that applies to all shots)

Lobster limited edition has six different drills with six shots each programming the location, speed, spin, and feed rate on each shot...the LE also has a random two line (meaning the wide/medium/narrow settings can hit one specific depth, or you can choose the random function meaning the depth changes randomly while in two-line mode) Is it worth more money? That's such a hard question without knowing the goals of everyone and the skill level.

If you don't need to create your own drills, then high end lobsters or SP are not worth it and the lower lobster IV or similar SP models are good enough for the majority of users.:)
 

Shock

New User
Thanks so much for all the responses. You all make great points, illustrating why I've had so much trouble making a decision.

I think I've decided that, for me:
The inexpensive machines are sufficient for improving one particular stroke at a time.
The feature-rich machines greatly assist in improving footwork.

Of course I still haven't decided which I'm going to purchase. I'm immersed in lessons this week.
 
Let us know what you go with. I use the PracticeHit stationary tennis trainer in my apartment when I can't make it out on the courts or rainy days to grove my strokes. Great for watching tennis stroke videos & working on your setup, swing & footwork at home or in the backyard (good cardio workout if you do runaround forehand to backhand drills w split steps). They can be found at www.practicehit.com
YouTube Lesson 1 using the device: http://youtu.be/b2lY0m492Io?t=51s
YouTube Video Lesson 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgoRbGrpFl4

There are some cheaper ball machines out there (tennis twist etc.) but not sure if they will do what your looking for. Here is a video of Florian Meier giving a demonstration of it: http://youtu.be/n6Vibw_hUfI
He also has a great course at www.onlinetennisinstruction.com)

Good luck with whatever you decide to go with. Cheers TG
 
Last edited:

BMC9670

Hall of Fame
^^^ The tennis twist is really almost too basic. It can't throw balls across the net to the baseline, but only simulate hand tossed balls when standing fairly close to it. I think I saw a similar device (same?) for young kids to learn batting in baseball.

Also, it only holds 28 balls and tosses one every 5 seconds and how long would 6 D batteries last? I don't see how it would be very productive.
 
^^^ The tennis twist is really almost too basic. It can't throw balls across the net to the baseline, but only simulate hand tossed balls when standing fairly close to it. I think I saw a similar device (same?) for young kids to learn batting in baseball.

Also, it only holds 28 balls and tosses one every 5 seconds and how long would 6 D batteries last? I don't see how it would be very productive.
It looks like it would be a great option for someone just looking to work on their strokes.

Regarding the battery (its also AC) the website says "AC and battery-powered models. The Battery model will operate up to ten hours on six ‘D’ size batteries"

http://www.sportstutor.com/tennis/twist/
 

freeflap

New User
I have the sp rival. Bought it used on craigslist. Works great so far. I converted it to battery. Was originally AC only. I use this to help train my 14 year old with specific shots that no human has the consistency or patience to do. He was having trouble with his backhand volley. So I set the machine, aimed it at his backhand and fired 200 balls in a row. Now his backhand volley is much better. Ball machines are an essential tool to help with specific parts of your game, not a substitute for someone to play with. Definitely get a machine with a full featured remote including elevation.
 

freeflap

New User
Having a ball machine without a remote is like buying a tv without a remote. You will regret not having one after the first day of using it. Also if/when you decide to sell a decent remote is always going to attract more buyers. All these machines are very simple devices. Easy to fix if needed. I would not use warranty as a deal breaker. Get the rival and buy the stringing machine. If you string your own rackets it will pay for itself the first season. I use the Klipper and am very pleased with it. Have restrung my songs rackets over 50 times.
 
I am not advocating about any ball machine, in particular, but saying lower end machines are the best and higher end with programmable features are not good sounds little judgemental based on price.

Again, machines can't replicate player (ever) but many come close to producing realistic ball or drills, which will help increasing agility and anticipation.

After trying basic playmate model at a club, I was sure not to buy any basic models because you get bore after using on few times. Let me explain this way you will practice few shots (each time hit 100 balls) 5 to 10 times and believe me. It is boring.

You need true random feeds to make it unpredictable and exciting (no machine can be truly unpredictable). Programmable ball machines are expensive for many people because they are not going practice like young junior who is interested going next level and no time to practice on the daily basis. It is useful for coaches and parents (feeding two kids become tough after sometime)...

One needs to decide based on requirement and features not price of machine.
 

BMC9670

Hall of Fame
Had my first session with a new SP STAR today. First impressions out of the box - good looking machine, seems well built. Dislikes: the luggage handle seemed wobbly and cheap and some of the routing of plastic (around the front hole) was not exactly perfect. In use the handle worked fine (the machine is well balanced and rolls easy) and I didn't really notice the routing thing on the court. Not bad to lift and fits easily in the hatch of a Prius.

I took my 12YO son out and loaded the hopper up with 144 MicroX balls. Set the machine up on speed 3, spin 1, feed 4, and the height about 60% toward the front. This threw balls that landed in no-mans-land with warm-up pace. I used the remote to position the machine to throw FHs then a few minuted later BHs. I also stopped the feed a number of times to instruct my son. The remote is a must! We took turns hitting.

After a few hoppers of this, we decided to crank it up a bit and see what that's like. After going over board and hitting the back fence, I found that speed 4.5, spin 2.5, feed 4, and height 90% to the front produced nice deep, heavy topspin balls with a lot of pace. This is far more pace and spin that either of up plays with or against, so we will certainly not run out of headroom! It was a real challenge, but we only did this for one hopper.

I dialed in some other settings to simulate sitters and higher balls for swinging volleys, then flatter balls for regular volleys. Didn't try lobs yet, ran out of time.

In all, we hit many more balls than we would have in the same amount of time, and that's the goal with this machine - to hit more balls and gain more consistency by repetition on each stroke. I can also see more of what my son is doing being next to him and alternating hitting with him. It doesn't replace rallying live or playing matches, but for working on strokes, it seems like it will be a good investment. If not, they resell really well!:)

The only thing that went wrong was the static discharge chain that hangs under the machine to contact the ground fell off, but it was easy to put back on. And as far as balls sticking in the hopper as I've read, exactly one ball stuck in the front of it each round.
 
Last edited:

freeflap

New User
Had my first session with a new SP STAR today. First impressions out of the box - good looking machine, seems well built. Dislikes: the luggage handle seemed wobbly and cheap and some of the routing of plastic (around the front hole) was not exactly perfect. In use the handle worked fine (the machine is well balanced and rolls easy) and I didn't really notice the routing thing on the court. Not bad to lift and fits easily in the hatch of a Prius.

I took my 12YO son out and loaded the hopper up with 144 MicroX balls. Set the machine up on speed 3, spin 1, feed 4, and the height about 60% toward the front. This threw balls that landed in no-mans-land with warm-up pace. I used the remote to position the machine to throw FHs then a few minuted later BHs. I also stopped the feed a number of times to instruct my son. The remote is a must! We took turns hitting.

After a few hoppers of this, we decided to crank it up a bit and see what that's like. After going over board and hitting the back fence, I found that speed 4.5, spin 2.5, feed 4, and height 90% to the front produced nice deep, heavy topspin balls with a lot of pace. This is far more pace and spin that either of up plays with or against, so we will certainly not run out of headroom! It was a real challenge, but we only did this for one hopper.

I dialed in some other settings to simulate sitters and higher balls for swinging volleys, then flatter balls for regular volleys. Didn't try lobs yet, ran out of time.

In all, we hit many more balls than we would have in the same amount of time, and that's the goal with this machine - to hit more balls and gain more consistency by repetition on each stroke. I can also see more of what my son is doing being next to him and alternating hitting with him. It doesn't replace rallying live or playing matches, but for working on strokes, it seems like it will be a good investment. If not, they resell really well!:)

The only thing that went wrong was the static discharge chain that hangs under the machine to contact the ground fell off, but it was easy to put back on. And as far as balls sticking in the hopper as I've read, exactly one ball stuck in the front of it each round.
I agree with above. I use the sp rival to help train my 14 yo. i can stand next to him, watch him hit and make suggestions / corrections to his game.
a ball machine allows you to focus on specific deficiencies and work them out in a short course of time. we can go through a full hopper of balls in under 10 minutes. over the course of an hour, that would be roughly 1000 balls hit.

have only ran the machine for an hour at a time so far. battery life has been great.

only issue is learning what settings work for which situation. it takes some trial and error to get the right speed, spin, height. not a big deal, but you typically waste 4-5 balls to change up the machine.
 

BMC9670

Hall of Fame
I agree with above. I use the sp rival to help train my 14 yo. i can stand next to him, watch him hit and make suggestions / corrections to his game.
a ball machine allows you to focus on specific deficiencies and work them out in a short course of time. we can go through a full hopper of balls in under 10 minutes. over the course of an hour, that would be roughly 1000 balls hit.

have only ran the machine for an hour at a time so far. battery life has been great.

only issue is learning what settings work for which situation. it takes some trial and error to get the right speed, spin, height. not a big deal, but you typically waste 4-5 balls to change up the machine.
Agreed. We went 2 hours and battery was fine. Also, when I found the right settings for a particular shot, I wrote them in small notepad. Hopefully that will save me some dial-in time/wasted balls the next few sessions until I know them from memory.
 

eastbayliz

Rookie
So I'm looking at ball machines. I think I've decided on a Silent Partner. I like the Lobsters a little better, but I can't see what makes them more expensive.

I'm considering the SP SMART ($1799) or the STAR ($950).

I can't figure out if the extra features are really of value.
The features seem to be "drill" "match play" and vertical randomness.

Money doesn't matter too much in this situation except I don't want to waste money. If I buy the more expensive machine, I'll wait til next year to buy a stringing machine. If I buy the cheaper one, I can buy a stringing machine now.

Can anyone tell me if they think the extra features are worth a near-double price tag? Do I want these features?

Thanks!

Side notes:
Me=3.0 (self-rated) expecting (hoping) to be 3.5-4.0 at the end of this summer.
If I should be considering a different machine altogether, let me know.
I like the handle/wheel design and quiet reputation of the Silent Partner.
I see the slightly smaller dimensions of the STAR an advantage over the SMART (the idea that a 50 lb dumbbell is easier to carry than a 50 lb clothes dryer).
I believe it is always cheaper to buy the right thing the first time.
Are you getting a ball machine because you don't have playing partner's or you want extra practice on top of what you already do? I spent about $800 on a basic ball machine and don't use it all now that I have many people to play with. I bought an entry level stringing machine for $200 and use it often and I will continue to use it for as long as I live hopefully! I am looking to sell my ball machine and buy a nicer stringer. I would say get the less expensive machine and get a stringer too. However learning to use a ball machine is painless and pretty simple. Learning to string takes some effort and time. Good luck!
 

tennis_ocd

Hall of Fame
.... You need true random feeds to make it unpredictable and exciting (no machine can be truly unpredictable).
lol. When I take the machine out I want every ball to be exactly the same. Just the difference in a wild collection of various balls throws in too much variation :)

The biggest issue for me is that you need a pretty much empty court; or at least a corner court. Not going to happen unless going in off hours or poor weather. And any moisture on balls plays havoc with the machine feeding.
 
lol. When I take the machine out I want every ball to be exactly the same. Just the difference in a wild collection of various balls throws in too much variation :)

The biggest issue for me is that you need a pretty much empty court; or at least a corner court. Not going to happen unless going in off hours or poor weather. And any moisture on balls plays havoc with the machine feeding.
it depends on your level and most of the club player get predictable shots and like the machine to do the same.

when you go to higher level thing change e.g. speed, spin and direction. If you don't like it buy simple machine but everybody has different requirement.

I have no interest in hitting straight line shots using ball machine (got enough players to hit with) but need random oscillation (true vertical and horizontal + spin, depth and speed) to stimulate higher level of match play but looks like you are not into that league yet otherwise you will understand the original statement...
 
Last edited:

Chotobaka

Hall of Fame
I like ball machines (even basic ones) for practicing specific shots with high volume repetition. For instance, running around the ball for inside out FH's, or practicing taking a deep cross court ball and hitting down the line, or setting up cones as targets for finishing up on short balls. Most of my hitting partners like to hit, not feed me 200-300 balls so I can hit the same shots over and over. Although I don't use the ball machine all that often these days (because I too would rather hit & play than practice and am lucky enough to have partners whose schedules coincide with mine) it does have its place.
 

tennis_ocd

Hall of Fame
I like ball machines (even basic ones) for practicing specific shots with high volume repetition. For instance, running around the ball for inside out FH's, or practicing taking a deep cross court ball and hitting down the line, or setting up cones as targets for finishing up on short balls. Most of my hitting partners like to hit, not feed me 200-300 balls so I can hit the same shots over and over. Although I don't use the ball machine all that often these days (because I too would rather hit & play than practice and am lucky enough to have partners whose schedules coincide with mine) it does have its place.
exactly. Don't want it to randomly place balls -- I can get that from any hit. I want 200 short floaters on BH; 100 OHs 5' behind the service line. When the machine comes out it is to practice a specfic shot. Even if they had the skill set, no hitting partner has the patience for that. Many others use it as a workout. (But, to me, 100 OHs is plenty of work.)
 

Chotobaka

Hall of Fame
exactly. Don't want it to randomly place balls -- I can get that from any hit. I want 200 short floaters on BH; 100 OHs 5' behind the service line. When the machine comes out it is to practice a specfic shot. Even if they had the skill set, no hitting partner has the patience for that. Many others use it as a workout. (But, to me, 100 OHs is plenty of work.)
Don't get me wrong. I am perfectly satisfied with my machine for the way I use it. That doesn't mean that I would not appreciate a machine that could, for instance, hit a three or four ball sequence that would allow me to endlessly practice my transition to the net. Random, not so much of a priority to me for the reason you cited.
 

Chotobaka

Hall of Fame
exactly. Don't want it to randomly place balls -- I can get that from any hit. I want 200 short floaters on BH; 100 OHs 5' behind the service line. When the machine comes out it is to practice a specfic shot. Even if they had the skill set, no hitting partner has the patience for that. Many others use it as a workout. (But, to me, 100 OHs is plenty of work.)
Want a great OH workout? Start at the net with your racquet resting on it. Drop back, hit the OH and return to your original starting position (again finishing/starting with the racquet resting on the top of the net). Set the interval on your machine to give you just enough time to get back to the net and set up each time before the next OH is thrown. You will know you have put in work.
 

BMC9670

Hall of Fame
Don't get me wrong. I am perfectly satisfied with my machine for the way I use it. That doesn't mean that I would not appreciate a machine that could, for instance, hit a three or four ball sequence that would allow me to endlessly practice my transition to the net. Random, not so much of a priority to me for the reason you cited.
I hear you. Yesterday I set up some drills for my son and set the machine up to put a sitter at the service line on the FH side. I had him take the first one deep to the CC corner, second ball CC short angle, then step in and take the third as a volley, after which I hit pause on the remote and feed him an overhead. Repeat on the BH side.

It worked really well. Sure, I would have liked to be able to program a deep, short, and volley feed separately, but couldn't afford a machine 2x or 3X as much.

The other fun thing we did (after grooving repetitive volleys) was set it up to feed dipper passing shots on oscillation. Even though you kind of see where the ball is going, the short reaction time and footwork needed to get a good volley is pretty realistic and challenging. The key here is to up the feed rate so your always on your toes.

We're on our third session and loving it. Trying to get creative with drilling.
 
Top