6 Best Ball Machines of 2018 (Pros and Cons)8 min read
It serves as an excellent companion for training and improving your game. Below is a comparison chart of the top 6 ball machines for 2018, including top brands like Lobster, Spinshot, and Playmate.
These ball machines are great products to buy whether you are an avid recreational player or professional. There are several things to consider when choosing your tennis companion, and it is important to evaluate the pros and cons of buying one.
Top 6 Ball Machines for 2018
Pros and Cons
Top 4 Pros of Ball Machines
1. Machines > Humans – We can all agree that ball machines are often times better “players” than most players. They are much better than players at creating high and consistent power, spin, and accuracy. Even most professionals cannot hit 85mph groundstrokes for hours on end…unless you’re Nadal.
2. Machines Don’t Tire – If you want to practice a certain shot for several hours, chances are hitting partners won’t cut it. With a ball machine, you can practice a sequence of shots for hours, and hit thousands of balls with no problem.
3. Custom Balls – Want a specific amount of topspin or depth? Some ball machines allow you to customize the spin, speed, and elevation of the ball. This is very handy for practicing against certain types of shots you might be weak at.
4. Calorie Burner – If you didn’t know, ball machines can be a spectacular cardio equipment. By randomizing the oscillation, you can train for movement and cardio. In many cases, this is the most accurate type of cardio, which involves higher-intensity, anaerobic workouts that consist of many start-and-stop motions.
Top 4 Cons of Ball Machines
1. Expensive – Good ball machines cost anywhere from $800 – 3,000 on average. Unless you are a professional player or are seriously looking to improve, you might be better off finding a free hitting partner. The storage and price this will cost is a big investment decision for your tennis game.
2. Size – Ball machines take up a notable amount of space. The average size of a ball machine is roughly 3.5 cubic feet, which is the equivalent of putting a bike in your back seat. Only certain ball machines can be folded apart or disassembled. Also, they are relatively heavy, weighing in at an average of 40 to 80 pounds.
3. Not Readable – Ball machines are notorious for being difficult to read. While this unpredictability can be a good feature, it has one caveat. You cannot train your skill to read the ball, which is a key strategic ability in tennis. A high-level player is able to position himself correctly by predicting where and how the opponent will hit the ball just before it is hit. Ball machines cannot help you with this asset.
4. Simulation – Although ball machines can excellently simulate a live point, it will never be as accurate as the real deal. In a single point, a player will hit from 3-4 different positions of the court, which then opens up greater angles to hit shots. A ball machine can only “hit” from one position on the court at a time. Also, most ball machines can only launch upward from below the net, since they are relatively low to the court. With the exception of tower ball machines like the Lobster Phenom and Phenom 2.
Things to Consider
As I stated earlier, a ball machine is quite the investment that will only pay off through rigorous training. Before you go ham on the next newest model, consider what features you need to improve your game. Prices range anywhere from $250 to $5,000. The higher end ball machines are often used by professionals and usually come with an array of excellent features such as:
– Remote Control
– Better Range & Oscillation (Variability)
– 10+ Hour Battery Life
– Other upgrades for optimal training
If portability is an important factor for you, then consider getting a more compact machine. Most smaller ball machines are light and portable enough to carry with ease and fit into the trunk of a car. The Lobster Elite, for example, has the ability to fold and disassemble, making it very convenient to set it up after a session and save space. One caveat, however, is that smaller the ball machines tend to have less ball capacity. If size is not your issue, tower ball machines are much better as they are capable of carrying more balls and launching balls from a higher position.
Most ball machines carry 50-200 balls. The number of balls that can be carried may be an important factor if you want longer, more concentrated rounds of hitting. The best ball capacities are around 100-150 balls because, at the average feeding tempo (4-6 seconds), each set might typically last 8-15 minutes. Just short enough to not over-exhaust you, and just long enough to give you a good workout or training round. Some large tower ball machines can carry 250-300 balls, which can be useful if 2 or more players are simultaneously hitting.
When it comes to power types for ball machines, most ball machines come in two categories:
– A/C Powered
– Battery Powered
A/C powered machines come with a much greater array of features. For example, the Phenom 2 comes with 12 pre-loaded drills or the ability to create custom drills, fully randomizable in speed, spin, direction, etc. However, make sure that your tennis courts have an outlet. Battery powered ball machines have their fair share of benefits as well. They are very mobile, allowing you to set it at the net or anywhere else on the court that A/C machines might not reach without an extension cord. Best of all, batteries are often rechargeable and last anywhere from 2 to 10 hours. Some battery-powered machines are also capable of plugging into a power outlet.
One very useful feature of ball machines its ability to randomize ball launches. This allows for a number of opportunities:
– Practice movement and footwork
– Practice variability; a key aspect of training effectively.
– Practice hitting balls with different or unpredictable spins, speeds, directions, depths, and trajectories.
Many ball machines capable of changing the direction that the ball is launched. The range of direction can vary from 0° to 60°, and some machines can launch at 2 or more lines of direction at a time. For example, if a ball machine is multi-directional, you have the capability of training side-to-side defensive footwork skills.
Elevation allows you to control the trajectory (low – high) and depth of the incoming ball. The elevation and depth of the ball are important if you want to practice returning balls on the rise or in the air. It will also allow you to practice returning lobs, which is a difficult shot to master.
When you play an opponent, they have the capability of hitting heavy topspin or underspin. It is important to be able to simulate this type of ball and learn how to combat it.
Groundstrokes on the professional level average at 70-85 mph. Quick reaction and stability is a must for returning such shots. Top speeds for ball machines can reach 80-95 mph, which can be very effective if you have difficulty handling fast, blistering forehands with control.
The launch rate of a ball normally machine ranges from 1-10 seconds per ball. Setting the machine to 1-3 seconds is useful for cardio/power workouts, while 5-10 seconds allow you to concentrate on your form and technique. Fast paced balls could also be useful at the net, where you would have to return balls much earlier as you are at a shorter distance from the opponent.
If you want to be able to pause/resume the ball feed remotely, this convenient feature is a must. Some remotes can even control the spin, speed, elevation, or feed rate from across the court.
Although average ball machines come with a 1-3 year warranty, some products offer an extended warranty. If you are open to the idea of extended warranties, you should consider the reliability of the product and the terms of its manufacturer’s warranty.