Tennis Industry magazine

 

Guide to Ball Machines 2007

Investing in a ball machine is kind of like putting money in a high-yield fund. The initial amount you may need to pony up may be a stretch for you, but you know in the end you’ll come out ahead.

A ball machine should be a key component of your business. It’s a versatile piece of equipment and can be used during lessons and clinics, to rent out to individuals or groups who want to work on their own, as a new member perk, and much more. Many players like the idea of going off on a court by themselves to hone their strokes with a ball machine — which frees up your pros to work on other courts.

Our 2007 Guide to Ball Machines has all the information you need to help you find the right machine for your business. The Ball Machine Selector charts each of the machines available today and the features they offer. Keep in mind that with ball machines, there are a lot of things that you can change about the unit at the time of purchase, or later. In our chart, we’ve listed the specs and prices of the most basic model of each machine. Then, if options are offered, we’ve listed the additional cost of adding that feature.

DISCLAIMERS

Specific Features

Keep in mind that whenever you try to develop a chart like this, it is necessary to create some pretty broad, non-detailed features. For example, when we mark that a machine offers random oscillation, it means that the machine can be set to shoot balls to different locations on the court in a random pattern. However, this does not indicate how many different places the machine can shoot the ball. Some machines will just shoot the balls randomly between as few as 2 locations at the same depth, while other machines might be able to shoot the ball virtually anywhere on the court at different heights and speeds.

Durability

There really is no easy way to measure the durability of a ball machine. The only true test of durability is to use the machine for years and see how it holds up. We assume you don’t want to wait that long to see the rest of this information. So, we don’t have a category for durability. However, you can learn more about how long the machines last by talking to the manufacturers and asking for references from people they have sold machines to. Just like we recommend when buying stringing machines, don’t just buy a ball machine based on price. If you buy an inexpensive machine that isn’t designed for the type and amount of use you will be asking of it, it can end up costing you a lot more money down the road than a machine that cost more at first, but was designed for what you have in mind. Make sure you have confidence in the durability of the machine and the customer service of the company to help you when you have problems. You should feel comfortable that the company has a system in place to fix anything that might go wrong with your machine. In some cases, they may have local service reps to come fix it at your facility, while in other cases they should offer a way to ship all or part of the machine back to the manufacturer for repairs.

So, you probably won’t want to buy a machine strictly based on what you read in this chart. Rather, this chart should help you to narrow the universe of machines by eliminating the machines that don’t offer features you really want. Then, when you have narrowed your choices, you can do more research by visiting the websites or calling the phone numbers listed for each company.

Demo Before You Buy

As always, when investing in a piece of equipment as expensive as a ball machine, we recommend that you look for an opportunity to try the machine before you buy it. Ask the manufacturers for ideas about how you can try their machines. In some cases they may be able to send you a sample to try, in other cases they may have sold one to someone near you.

So, now that you know what we’re trying to do, let’s talk about the features listed across the top of the chart.

Lobster Elite

FEATURES

Brand & Contact Info

The name of the manufacturer and how to get in touch with them. You can contact them to get more information or to order the machine that looks best to you. There are eight manufacturers making machines under nine brand names.

Model

The specific model of machine. However, remember that many of the machines offer several different options. In some cases, when you buy different options, the name of the machine may change slightly. But, in each case, the available options for each machine list the price of adding that option.

Price

Manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Prices range from $199 to $14,450.

Warranty

How long the manufacturer guarantees the machine against defects. However, keep in mind that many of the manufacturers do offer extended warranties. See the specific manufacturer for more information and costs of extended warranties.

Dimensions

These are the measurements of the machines for storage or transport. In other words, some machines will be considerably bigger than these measurements when you are using them because you add a ball holder. We list the smaller measurements because the size of a machine really only matters when you are trying to fit it on a shelf or in the trunk of a car.

Ball Capacity

This indicates how many balls you can put in the machine at a time. However, several of the manufacturers indicated that their machines can actually hold more balls than they have listed if you stack the balls higher than the sides of the machine. There are machines that hold as few as 28 balls and as many as 300 balls. But keep in mind that some machine manufacturers tell us that most people don’t come close to filling their machines. Who wants to carry and pick up 200 or more balls?

Weight

This is an indication of how much the basic machine weighs without balls in it. So, if you add options or balls, the weight will increase. We list the weight without balls because this is probably how you will transport the machine to the court.

Model MSRP Warranty (years) Dimensions (storage) Ball capacity Weight (lbs)
Lobster
Economy Ball Bucket 202 $469 2 12” × 12” × 27” 50 20
Ball Bucket 201 $549 2 12” × 12” × 31” 50 28
Hybrid 301 $689 2 36” × 13” × 21” 150 31
Tournament 401 $789 2 36” × 13” × 21” 150 32
Elite Freedom $799 2 24” × 16” × 19” 150 30
Elite Model 1 $1,049 2 24” × 16” × 19” 150 42
Elite Model 2 $1,299 2 24” × 16” × 19” 150 44
Elite Model 3 $1,549 2 24” × 16” × 19” 150 44
Playmate
Portable $1,695 1 19” × 21” × 25” 200 55
Ace $3,495 3 35” × 21” × 38” 200 85
Smash $4,395 3 35” × 21” × 38” 300 85
Deuce $5,495 3 35” × 21” × 38” 300 85
Genie $5,995 3 35” × 21” × 38” 300 85
Genie PC $7,995 3 35” × 21” × 38” 300 85
Grand Slam $7,495 3 35” × 21” × 38” 300 110
Grand Slam PC $8,995 3 35” × 21” × 38” 300 110
SAM
I-SAM Model 1 $549 1 19” × 17.5” × 18” 250 29
I-SAM Model 2 $749 1 19” × 17.5” × 18” 250 34
SAM Professional Portable Model 1 $849 1 19.5” × 16” × 21.5” 300 48
SAM Professional Portable Model 4 $1,429 1 19.5” × 16” × 21.5” 300 48
SAM Sport $2,099 3 35” × 25” × 50” 250 87
SAM Coach $2,499 3 35” × 25” × 50” 250 87
Robot Optimizers
Boomer $14,450 1 38.5” × 31” × 21.5” 300 124
Silent Partner
Ultra Lite $599 1 22” × 18” × 14” 200 35
Sport $949 1 22” × 18” × 14” 200 46
Pro $1,199 1 22” × 18” × 14” 200 48
Sports Attack
Ace Attack $5,499 1 34” × 53” 200 150
Sports Tutor
Tennis Twist $199 1 10” × 11” x 23” 28 11
Tennis Tutor ProLite - Basic $549 1 12” × 19.5” × 18” 125 20
Tennis Tutor ProLite $649 1 12” × 19.5” × 18” 125 22
Tennis Tutor $989 1 12” × 19.5” × 20” 150 42
Tennis Tutor - Plus $1,199 1 20” × 19.5” × 20” 150 46
Tennis Tutor - Plus Player Model $1,549 1 20” × 19.5” × 20” 150 46
Tennis Tower $1,195 1 44” × 23” × 22” 225 60
Shot Maker - Standard $2,900 2 38.5” × 31” × 21.5” 300 96
Shot Maker - Deluxe $4,000 2 38.5” × 31” × 21.5” 300 96
Wilson Portable $1,095 1 22” × 14” × 20” 110 38
Super Coach
Super Coach $7,495 1 36” × 27” × 22” 200 121
Playmate Genie Deuce

PROPULSION

Type

A “W” in this column indicates that the machine uses two spinning wheels to feed the ball to you. In almost every case the spinning wheels are stacked vertically with just enough space between them for a ball to squeeze through. So, the faster the wheels are spinning, the faster the balls will be propelled.

An “A” in this column indicates that the machine shoots the ball through a tube like a cannon. The amount of air pressure determines the speed and depth of the shot.

Feeding Intervals

This column indicates how often the machine can feed balls. Most machines offer a range of intervals. Smaller intervals make for a harder workout, while higher intervals allow more time for preparation and watching your results.

Top Speed

Almost every machine offers the ability to adjust the speed at which the ball is shot from the machine. They all are capable of feeding a very slow ball for shots shorter in the court and for weaker players. So, we just list the fastest speed that each manufacturer says the machine will shoot the ball. However, most of the time, most players don’t need the ball speed maxed out because the players they play with don’t hit that hard.

Elevation Control

An “E” in this column indicates that the machine can change the height of the shot by pushing a button or turning a knob.

An “M” in this column indicates that the machine can shoot balls at different heights, but you have to physically aim a shooting arm or tilt the machine in some way to do so.

Able to Feed Lobs

An “X” in this column indicates that the manufacturer tells us the machine is capable of feeding lobs to allow you to practice your overheads.

Able to Feed Topspin & Underspin

An “X” in this column means that the machine uses spinning wheels to propel the balls and you can make one wheel spin faster than the other to put spin on the top or bottom of the ball. If you see a price in this column, it means that the machine is capable of putting spin on the ball, but you must purchase an extra option to do so.

Able to Feed Sidespin

An “X” in this column indicates that the machine has spinning wheels that don’t just touch the ball on top and bottom. The wheels that are on the sides of the balls can be spun faster than the others to put spin on the sides of the ball. This is mainly helpful for simulating serves.

Model Type Feeding interval (seconds) Top speed (mph) Elevation control Able to feed lobs Able to feed topspin & underspin Able to feed sidespin
Lobster
Economy Ball Bucket 202 A 3, 6, 12 55 M X $50
Ball Bucket 201 A 3, 6, 12 55 M X $50
Hybrid 301 A 3, 6, 12 70 M X $50
Tournament 401 A 3, 6, 12 70 M X $50
Elite Freedom W 2 - 10 70 M X
Elite Model 1 W 2 - 12 80 E X X
Elite Model 2 W 2 - 12 80 E X X
Elite Model 3 W 2 - 12 80 E X X
Playmate
Portable W 1 - 10 80 M X X
Ace W 1 - 10 95 E X X
Smash W 1 - 10 95 E X X
Deuce W 1 - 10 95 E X X
Genie W 1 - 10 95 E X X
Genie PC W 1 - 10 95 E X X
Grand Slam W 1 - 10 120 E X X X
Grand Slam PC W 1 - 10 120 E X X X
SAM
I-SAM Model 1 W 2 - 7 60 M X
I-SAM Model 2 W 2 - 7 60 M X
SAM Professional Portable Model 1 W 2 - 13 70 M X X
SAM Professional Portable Model 4 W 2 - 13 70 E X X
SAM Sport W 1.5 - 8 85 M X X
SAM Coach W 1.5 - 8 85 M X X
Robot Optimizers
Boomer W 1.0 - 10 100 E X X
Silent Partner
Ultra Lite W 1.0 - 15 95 M X X
Sport W 1.0 - 15 95 M X X
Pro W 1.0 - 15 95 E X X
Sports Attack
Ace Attack W 1.5 - 12 110 M X X X
Sports Tutor
Tennis Twist 5 15 M
Tennis Tutor ProLite - Basic W 1.5 - 10 60 M X
Tennis Tutor ProLite W 1.5 - 10 60 M X
Tennis Tutor W 1.5 - 12 85 E X
Tennis Tutor - Plus W 1.5 - 12 85 E X X
Tennis Tutor - Plus Player Model W 1.5 - 12 85 E X X
Tennis Tower W 1.5 - 8 85 E X $200
Shot Maker - Standard W 1 - 6 95 E X X
Shot Maker - Deluxe W 1 - 6 95 E X X
Wilson Portable W 1.5 - 10 75 E X X
Super Coach
Super Coach W 1.4 - 5.6 85 E X X
SAM Millenium

OSCILLATION

Type

Machines with an “N” in this column are not capable of feeding the ball in more than one direction. So, if you want to practice forehands you have to point the machine toward your forehand and vice-versa for backhands. However, you cannot practice forehands and backhands at the same time unless you’re willing to use a little extra footwork.

Machines with an “R” in this column are capable of feeding balls randomly to different locations on the court to simulate real play. However, as we explained before, you need to do a little more inquiring to find out just how randomly the machine can shoot balls. Some machines can choose randomly between two positions, while others can shoot balls virtually anywhere on the court.

Oscillation — Programmable

This is another feature that requires a closer look. Machines in this column have a control panel that allows you to shoot balls in a pattern that you determine. But look to the next few columns to see how complicated a program you can give it.

Number of Shots in Program

This column indicates how many different shots you can program before the machine repeats its program. So, machines that have a higher number in this column offer you the opportunity to create a more complicated drill for yourself or your students.

Robot Optimizers Boomer

Number of Programs That Can Be Stored

If you see a number in this column, it indicates that the machine can store programs you design for use at another time, and how many programs it can store in its memory.

Adjustable Depth within Program

These machines offer the opportunity to create even more complicated drills because they allow you to feed one ball deep in the court followed by another ball that is shorter in the court.

Adjustable Spin within Program

Again, these machines offer more complicated drills because they allow you to vary the amount of topspin or underspin from one shot to the next.

Adjustable Height within Program

These machines allow you to vary the height of the balls during the program. So, you can practice against a ball that comes high over the net followed by another ball that is fed low over the net.

Adjustable Interval within Program

These machines allow you to vary the time between ball feeds during the program. This way you can tell the machine to feed you a lob and wait long enough for you to hit the overhead before feeding the next ball. Or you can program a longer time between balls you will be hitting from the baseline than balls you will be hitting from the net.

Interactive Feed Control

The Boomer from Robot Optimizers features a video camera, a powerful computer, and can even talk to a player.

These features allow a player to play a game against Boomer, where Boomer is the opponent, umpire, ball-boy, cheerleader, and wiseguy (it even trash talks). The camera is used to rate each shot a player hits from 1 to 9 based on speed, depth, and width. In game mode the machine varies its feeds based on the quality of the shot from the player. In drill mode, it says the score of each ball and even tells the player if the shot is out.

Model Type Programmable Number of shots in program Number of programs that can be stored Adjustable depth within program Adjustable spin within program Adjustable height within program Adjustable interval within program Interactive feed control
Lobster
Economy Ball Bucket 202 N
Ball Bucket 201 R
Hybrid 301 R
Tournament 401 R X X
Elite Freedom R
Elite Model 1 R
Elite Model 2 R X X
Elite Model 3 R X X
Playmate
Portable 3
Ace X 3
Smash R X 7
Deuce R X 7 X X X X
Genie R X 7 X X X X
Genie PC R X 8 X X X X
Grand Slam R X 7 X X X X
Grand Slam PC R X 8 X X X X
SAM
I-SAM Model 1 R
I-SAM Model 2 R
SAM Professional Portable Model 1 R
SAM Professional Portable Model 4 R X 2
SAM Sport R X 3
SAM Coach R X 6 X
Robot Optimizers
Boomer R X 30 1,000 X X X X X
Silent Partner
Ultra Lite N
Sport R
Pro R $299 2
Sports Attack
Ace Attack X 4
Sports Tutor
Tennis Twist N
Tennis Tutor ProLite - Basic N
Tennis Tutor ProLite R
Tennis Tutor R $200 4
Tennis Tutor - Plus R $200 4
Tennis Tutor - Plus Player Model R $200 4 X
Tennis Tower R $300 4
Shot Maker - Standard R X 3
Shot Maker - Deluxe R X 6 X
Wilson Portable R $200 2
Super Coach
Super Coach R X 30 X X X
Silent Partner Pro

POWER

Runs on Battery or Power Cord

An “X” in this column means that you can power the machine with a battery or a power cord plugged into an electrical outlet.

Runs on Power Cord Only

Machines in this column require an electrical outlet for power.

Runs on Battery Only

These machines can only be powered by a rechargeable battery.

Battery Amp/Hour

This is an indication of how much “juice there is in the batteries.” It is a measure of the number of amps of electricity the battery can deliver in 1 hour. One manufacturer described amp/hours as being like a car’s gas tank. More amp/hours is like a bigger gas tank, meaning that the machine can run longer on a charge. We are publishing this number instead of the machine’s battery life. We felt publishing this number for each machine helps reduce any discrepancies in the battery life that is indicated by each of the manufacturers.

Battery Life Indicator

These machines have some sort of indicator to let you know how much battery life is left. Once again, some of these indicators are more informative than others. Talk with the manufacturer for a more detailed description of how it works.

Battery Swapability

An “X” in this column means that the machine allows you to take out a battery that is almost out of juice and replace it with a fresh battery. However, keep in mind that to do this you will have to purchase a spare battery.

Smart Charger

All battery-operated machines come with a charger to recharge the batteries as they wear down. But, machines with an “S” in this column come with a smart charger included in the listed price. A smart charger is designed to recharge your battery until it is fully charged. Then, when your battery is fully charged, it reduces the voltage that it feeds to the battery to just enough to keep it fully charged. A regular charger would keep feeding excess electricity to your battery after it is fully charged until the charger is unplugged. This excess electricity can degrade your battery and ultimately shorten your battery’s lifespan. But, a smart charger allows you to keep your charger plugged in without damaging your battery.

Machines with an “O” offer a smart charger as an option at additional cost.

Model Runs on battery or power cord Runs on power cord only Runs on battery only Battery Amp/hour Battery life indicator Battery swapability Smart charger
Lobster
Economy Ball Bucket 202 X
Ball Bucket 201 X
Hybrid 301 X
Tournament 401 X
Elite Freedom X 8.5 X O
Elite Model 1 X 18 X O
Elite Model 2 X 18 X O
Elite Model 3 X 18 X O
Playmate
Portable X 15 X X S
Ace X
Smash X
Deuce X
Genie X
Genie PC X
Grand Slam X
Grand Slam PC X
SAM
I-SAM Model 1 $99 X X 7.5 X S
I-SAM Model 2 $99 X X 15 S
SAM Professional Portable Model 1 $99 X X 15 X S
SAM Professional Portable Model 4 $99 X X 15 X S
SAM Sport X
SAM Coach X
Robot Optimizers
Boomer X
Silent Partner
Ultra Lite X 7.5 X X O
Sport X 15 X X O
Pro $249 $80 X 15 X X S
Sports Attack
Ace Attack X
Sports Tutor
Tennis Twist X 6 D Cells
Tennis Tutor ProLite - Basic X $50 9 X
Tennis Tutor ProLite X $50 9 X
Tennis Tutor $50 X 18 X O
Tennis Tutor - Plus $50 X 18 X O
Tennis Tutor - Plus Player Model $50 X 18 X O
Tennis Tower X
Shot Maker - Standard X
Shot Maker - Deluxe X
Wilson Portable $50 X 12 X O
Super Coach
Super Coach X
Sports Attack Ace Attack

REMOTE CONTROL

Standard/Optional

An “S” in this column indicates that a remote control comes standard with this machine.

An “O” in this column indicates that this machines do not come with a remote, but you can buy one.

Look at the next several columns to find out what the remote controls and whether it is wireless.

Remote Control — Type

A “C” in this column indicates that remote controls available for these machines are actually wired to the machine, making them a little less portable. However, some of them do allow you to control more of the settings on the machine.

A “W” in this column indicates that remote controls that are available for these machines are not actually attached to the machine. So, you can take them wherever you want as long as the signal is strong enough to reach the machine.

Controls

An “O” in this column indicates that the remote is able to turn the oscillation feature of the machine off and on in addition to being able to start or stop the balls from feeding.

A “P” in this column indicates that the remote allows you to control the program settings. So, you don’t have to go back to the machine to change the order of shots.

Model Std/ Opt. Type Controls
Lobster
Economy Ball Bucket 202 $70 W
Ball Bucket 201 $70 W
Hybrid 301 $70 W
Tournament 401 $70 W
Elite Freedom W O
Elite Model 1 $199 W O
Elite Model 2 $199 W O
Elite Model 3 $199 W O
Playmate
Portable S
Ace S C
Smash S C
Deuce S C
Genie S C
Genie PC S C,W O,P
Grand Slam S C
Grand Slam PC S C,W O,P
SAM
I-SAM Model 1
I-SAM Model 2 S C O,P
SAM Professional Portable Model 1 O W
SAM Professional Portable Model 4 S W O,P
SAM Sport $99 W
SAM Coach S W
Robot Optimizers
Boomer S W O,P
Silent Partner
Ultra Lite
Sport
Pro S W O
Sports Attack
Ace Attack $300 W
Sports Tutor
Tennis Twist
Tennis Tutor ProLite - Basic $70 C
Tennis Tutor ProLite $70 C
Tennis Tutor $200 W O
Tennis Tutor - Plus $200 W O
Tennis Tutor - Plus Player Model $200 W O
Tennis Tower $200 W O
Shot Maker - Standard $200 W O
Shot Maker - Deluxe S W O
Wilson Portable $200 W O
Super Coach
Super Coach S W
Tennis Tutor Pro Lite

MISCELLANEOUS

Cover

Machines with an “S” in this column come with a cover included in the price listed.

Machines with a dollar amount in this column column have an optional cover available at additional cost.

Includes Wheels for Portability

Machines with an “X” in this column have wheels attached to them to make the machine easier to move around.

Other Optional Accessories

This column lists any other optional accessories that are available for each machine and how much each accessory costs. It also lists any special features for which we did not create columns.

Model Serving tower Cover Wheels Other options (see below for key)
Lobster
Economy Ball Bucket 202 $49 1
Ball Bucket 201 $49 1
Hybrid 301 $49 X 1
Tournament 401 $49 X 1
Elite Freedom $49 X 2
Elite Model 1 $49 X 2
Elite Model 2 $49 X 2
Elite Model 3 $49 X 2
Playmate
Portable $85 3
Ace $4,395 $85 5
Smash $4,395 $85 5
Deuce $4,395 $85 5
Genie $4,395 $85 5
Genie PC $4,395 $85 5
Grand Slam $4,395 $85 5
Grand Slam PC $4,395 $85 5
SAM
I-SAM Model 1 X 6,8,11
I-SAM Model 2 X 6,12
SAM Professional Portable Model 1 X X 4,6,10,11
SAM Professional Portable Model 4 X X 4,6,10,11
SAM Sport X 12,13
SAM Coach X 12,13
Robot Optimizers
Boomer $3,895 S X 15
Silent Partner
Ultra Lite $40 X 7
Sport $40 X 7
Pro $40 X 7
Sports Attack
Ace Attack S $200 X
Sports Tutor
Tennis Twist
Tennis Tutor ProLite - Basic $35
Tennis Tutor ProLite $35
Tennis Tutor $35 X 9
Tennis Tutor - Plus $35 X 4,9
Tennis Tutor - Plus Player Model $35 X 4,9
Tennis Tower S X 4
Shot Maker - Standard S X
Shot Maker - Deluxe S X
Wilson Portable $35 X 9
Super Coach
Super Coach $25 X 14

Accessories key

  1. Spin adaptor $50
  2. Fast charger $99
  3. Three-hour rapid recharger $219.70
  4. Adjustable oscillation width
  5. Built-in transformer for international power standards $111
  6. 110/220 Volt AC converter $99
  7. Additional removable battery $40
  8. Extra heavy duty battery $25
  9. Ext. battery pack $130, ext. AC power supply $125, smart charger upgrade $40
  10. Lob enhancer $20
  11. Water-resistant cloth storage cover $49
  12. Ships via FedEx Ground
  13. Feeds balls from 30” above ground
  14. Can deliver any type of ball (topspin, underspin, flat, lob) to any place on court, in any sequence
  15. Plays games, rates shots, uses a camera, talks to players, cordless headphone system ($500 or $50/month), wireless printer for analysis ($2,000 or $100/month)
Super Coach

Manufacturer contact information

Company Website Phone
Lobster lobsterinc.com 800-526-4041
Playmate playmatetennismachines.com 800-776-6770
SAM mastersports.com 800-837-1002
Robot Optimizers tennisrobot.com 888-8BOOMER
Silent Partner sptennis.com 800-662-1809
Sports Attack sportsattack.com 800-717-4251
Sports Tutor sportstutor.com 800-448-8867
Super Coach tennismachine.com 408-855-9644

 

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