Silent Partner Aria
By Greg Raven
Over the years, Silent Partner has been not-so-silently making a name for itself as a manufacturer of ball machines and inexpensive manual and electric stringing machines. Thanks to a patented technology, their electric stringing machines start at $249, a price well below that of other electric machines. In fact, Silent Partner has three such machines priced less than any competitor’s electric machine.
At the other end of the range, Silent Partner’s top machine in price as well as features has been the e.Stringer DG, which we reviewed in the March 2002 Racquet Tech magazine. With the introduction of the Aria, Silent Partner has a new top-of-the-line machine, at the still affordable price of $1,599. Like the e.Stringer DG, the Aria comes with a five year warranty on the base and racquet holder and a one year warranty on the electric tensioning unit and the string clamps. Given how few electric stringing machines there are in the $1,000 to $2,000 price range, we were eager to work with this new machine.
The Aria arrived in two boxes, each of which was easily moveable. The total assembled machine weighs 106 pounds, and in size it is comparable to other mid-size electric stringing machines. Silent Partner includes a cover with each machine.
All the pieces bolted together with no problems. After assembling the stand, the platform — with the tension head already in place — goes on top, and then you attach the 360-degree turntable. Note that the Aria comes with rubber feet at the four corners of the platform, ready for table-top use if you prefer, although many will no doubt use them solely during transport.
Each string clamp comes with a spring around the post, which allows you to drop the clamp after unclamping without the clamp clanging down onto the clamp base. The springs also hold the clamps up a bit closer to the stringbed, which some may like, but we removed them for a little more clearance. Silent Partner must have realized there would be stringers such as us, as they include rubber O-rings at the top of each clamp post to prevent metal-to-metal contact when you release the string clamp.
We adjusted the height of the Aria to what seemed to be its upper limit (the height is adjustable between 43.5 and 49 inches). This is plenty high enough, but it leaves the bottom of the platform just slightly too high for the cord on the footswitch. So if you use the footswitch, you may have to lower the machine a bit to get it to rest firmly on the ground.
The final step on assembly is to remove a packing bolt that prevents damage to the tension head during shipping.
Our Aria arrived in perfect calibration. Calibration, when needed, is accomplished through the front panel controls, without dismantling the machine.
The Aria is a true constant-pull machine, using a load cell and a microprocessor to control the tension head. The linear gripper on the tension head means that you do not have to (and cannot) wrap the string completely around the tension head before putting it through the jaws. This makes tensioning fast, takes no extra string, and eliminates the string twisting and coiling familiar to users of rotational tension heads or, for that matter, anyone who has used a machine with a nose cone.
The reference tension can be set a number of ways. The up and down arrows on the front panel allow changes in increments of .1 pounds or kilograms (depending on which mode is selected), the Step button cycles among pre-set tensions fixed at 15, 30, 45, and 60 pounds, and the Memory button can take you to pre-set tensions of your choosing.
Other clearly-labeled buttons on the front panel allow the stringer to choose from among four levels of pre-stretch, six pulling speeds, and eight stored tensions. The front panel also allows you to select knot over-tension for the next pull (fixed at 10 percent, with an upper limit at 68 pounds), to set pounds or kilograms for the read-out, and to start, pause, and zero the built-in timer. A switch on the bottom of the machine allows the selection of 110- or 220-volt operation.
Mounting the frame on the Aria involves moving the towers far enough apart that the supports at 6 and 12 o’clock fit inside the hoop without touching. (The two ends of the turntable are marked “Head” and “Throat,” but this is only important when stringing badminton frames.) Align the frame with these two supports, and then bring the side supports in until they touch. Finally, turn the 6 and 12 o’clock supports until they touch the frame.
The side supports are keyed to the support arms. This arrangement is fast to set-up and more reliable than the thumbscrews on previous machines. The side supports hold the frame just as well as — if not better than — some big-name stringing machines, and leave plenty of room to get string to and from the side of the frame.
The 6 and 12 o’clock supports have “W” supports in place of the more normal straight supports. According to Silent Partner, these “W” supports help distribute the load at these two key points on the frame.
The linear jaws make the rotational tensioner a snap to use. Thread the string over the top of the tension head, down through the linear gripper, and pull the end of the string away from the machine until you can push the button for the tension head. The Aria pulls smoothly with no cogging or chatter.
The string clamps are new for the Aria, with only three large teeth. This configuration enables the string clamps to fit a wide variety of string spacings effortlessly, to the point that you may not have to straighten the main strings after stringing nearly as much as normal. The clamp faces are diamond dusted, so they hold well, and the clamp levers work smoothly and easily.
The Aria also features an interesting turntable lock. Rather than the traditional screw-type handle, the Aria turntable lock consists of a lever that engages with just over 1 inch of travel. The lever itself is never too loose or pointing the wrong way, and it’s extremely difficult to accidentally engage it by snagging the lever with a loop of string.
We tried to mount all our problem racquets, and found that the only one that would not mount is the Head Ti.S7, for which Silent Partner sells an optional adaptor for throatless racquets.
The price includes a detailed, illustrated instruction manual with stringing tutorial (pdf), assembly tools, awl, needle-nose pliers (with built-in clippers), and free string, all of which should help beginning stringers to string their first racquets and become familiar with the process.
The knobs on each tower for adjusting the center and end hoop supports are too close together for easy access to either one.
The linear gripper in the tension head at 1.25 inches is less than half the length of linear grippers on other machines we have seen. We strung a number of different racquets on the Aria, using everything from nylon to poly to natural gut with no slippage or damage.
As nice as the string clamps are, they are bit bulky, so it is sometimes not possible to clamp the crosses right next to the frame. This seems a minor point, though, as in general they are very smooth and easy to operate.
The “W” supports at 6 and 12 o’clock are easily removed when you need to mount the standard straight supports, but the only way to remove the straight supports is to pry them away from the metal uprights, which can damage the support pads.
The shafts for the 6 and 12 o’clock frame supports are square, and slide back and forth in holes broached in the towers. After you finish stringing a racquet, however, these shafts are almost always jammed in their guide holes, so you must tap them with the palm of your hand to get them to release.
Setting the tension by tenths of a pound or kilogram on the Aria is not as straightforward as it is on the e.Stringer DG, which allows changes by tenths and by full pounds or kilograms. The e.Stringer DG also has buttons for pre-setting separate reference tensions for the mains and crosses. You can replicate some of this behavior with the Aria using the Memory function, but it’s not quite as quick or easy.
There are three tool trays on the Aria, but with the exception of the one on the pedestal, they are small, and one is often hidden beneath the turntable.
Finally, it is possible to string a racquet with the tools supplied with the Aria, although we recommend augmenting your tool kit with diagonal cutters because they make it easier to trim knot tails, and a starting clamp because every stringer should have one.
The Silent Partner Aria is a professional stringing machine that sells for a surprisingly low price. For less than $2,000, you get a machine with a solid mounting system, great clamps, and an accurate tensioning system that incorporates state-of-the-art technology. We think a lot of stringers will appreciate the convenience of linear string grippers with the straightforward simplicity of the rotational tension head.
The Aria is heavy enough to feel solid while remaining portable, and it mounts just about every frame out there without additional adaptors. Just as important, the Aria’s true constant-pull tension head seems to have what it takes to crank out frame after frame, day in and day out.
See all articles by Greg Raven
About the Author
Greg Raven is an associate editor for RSI magazine and technical writer. He is certified as a Master Racquet Technician by the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com, or through Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. He plays tennis five days a week, and is turning into an avid cyclist.