Guide to Ball Machines 2008
For a tennis facility, there are certain things that you just have to have. Ball carts or hoppers, string and grip inventory for sale, court maintenance equipment. But one of the most important items for your business should be a ball machine.
While the initial investment may seem daunting, especially in light of today’s economy, a ball machine is a versatile piece of equipment that will help you come out ahead in the end. It 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. In fact, many players like to go 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 2008 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 all the machines available today and the features they offer. Keep in mind that with ball machines, there are a lot of things 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.
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 what all the features listed across the top of the chart mean.
Manufacturer & 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.
Spinning Wheel Propulsion. An “X” 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.
Air Pressure Propulsion. An “X” 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. Electronic — An “X” in this column indicates that the machine can change the height of the shot by pushing a button or turning a knob.
Elevation Control. Manual — An “X” 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.
No Oscillation. Machines with an “X” 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.
Oscillation — Random. These machines 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.
# 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.
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.
Player Simulation Mode. Machines with an “X” in this column offer a mode that is designed to simulate playing against another player. Some machines even offer the ability to program a delay between certain shots to better simulate the rhythm of a real point. For example, a delay would usually be needed after a lob is fed.
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 battery can be removed from the machine. This can make the machine lighter for lifting it in and out of your car. And, if you purchase a spare battery, you can replace a battery that is almost out of juice with a fresh one without having to go home and recharge. Some machines even offer cases to carry the battery.
Smart Charger Comes Standard. All battery-operated machines come with a charger to recharge the batteries as they wear down. But, machines with an “X” 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.
Smart Charger Available as Option. Machines with a dollar amount in this column come with a standard charger included in the listed price. But, for the extra fee listed in this column, you can get a smart charger (as described in the previous feature) instead.
Remote Control Available as Option. These 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 — Cord. The remote controls that are 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.
Remote Control — Wireless. The 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.
Remote Control of Oscillation. These remotes are actually 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.
Remote Control of Program Settings. These remotes allow you to control the program settings. So, you don’t have to go back to the machine to change the order of shots.
Cover Comes Standard. These machines come with a cover included in the price listed.
Cover Available as an Option. This column indicates whether the manufacturer makes an optional cover available and how much it costs.
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.
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