Review: Prince Neos 1500
The industry standard gets updated again.
The story of the Prince Neos 1500 started 34 years ago with the introduction of the Ektelon Model C stringing machine. That machine was updated several times over the years under the Ektelon name. When Prince acquired Ektelon in 1990, the first Neos machine (Neos 1000) was introduced as an update under both the Ektelon and Prince names. In 2010, Prince introduced the next generation, the Neos 1500 with a list price of $1,299 and a warranty of 3 years.
When the Ektelon Model C was introduced, there were very few models of stringing machines available to choose from. Today, there are more models of machines on the market than at any other time in history. But, throughout the years, as new technologies have been introduced and many new competitors have entered the business, this lineage of machine has remained the workhorse of the industry. More Neos 1000s can be found in tennis shops than any other model of machine. So, now that Prince has updated the Neos 1000, stringers should pay attention. One interesting difference in this update is that Prince has decided to continue carrying the Neos 1000. This means that all those stringers who prefer the glide-bar clamps don’t have to make a change until they are ready. Prince has also committed to continue to stock replacement parts for the Neos 1000. The update from the Neos 1000 to the Neos 1500 involved 4 main changes; new clamps, new mounting, adding 360-degree rotation, and a new turntable brake.
The USRSA recently put the new Neos 1500 through its paces at our headquarters in San Diego. Overall, we feel the Neos 1500 does a good job of keeping the best of the old, while embracing the convenience of the new.
Assembling the Neos 1500 was child’s play. A single person was able to unpack and assemble the machine in just under 15 minutes. The machine comes in two boxes weighing 22 and 57 pounds. The smaller box contained the stand base, stand post, and tool tray. The base of the stand is one piece with four legs making assembly easier than many machines that require attaching three or four separate legs. The larger box contained the turntable, mounting towers, and tension unit (each of which comes pre-assembled). The entire process required only seven screws and the included 6 mm Allen wrench. We tested the machine’s calibration after assembly and found the calibration to be accurate right out of the box. So, no calibration adjustment was necessary.
Clamps — The Neos 1500 features dual swivel double action clamps. This is a big change from the glide bar clamps used on all the earlier generations of this machine. The new clamps make it easier to string racquets with angled strings, such as racquetball frames. Plus, they eliminate the need to remove and reposition glide bars when switching from mains to crosses and back again. The lack of Diamond Dust on the clamps may require more pressure to avoid strings slipping (especially on first pulls), but they won’t scratch the surface of the string if it does slip. Clamping pressure can be adjusted with a knob so no tool is needed. However, the knob is a little small and may be a little tough to grab for someone with big hands. The clamps feature small teeth that seemed to fit well into most stringbeds. The clamp bases slide nicely and lock well with minimal pressure. The clamp base lever has a positive feel so you know when the base is locked.
Mounting — The high-speed quad mounting system on the Neos 1500 is the same system Prince uses on their much more expensive electronic machines. It makes mounting frames of significantly different sizes very quick with minimal adjustments. There is no lever to lock the towers in place, which means a stringer can’t forget to lock it and risk breaking a racquet during stringing. There is no exposed metal at the tops of the mounting towers to risk scratching racquets. The four mounting pads that support the racquet at 6 and 12 o’clock are easy to adjust for racquets of different widths. The four point mounting system does not have supports outside the frame to get in the way when stringing. And the mounting system does not require special adapters for any of the frames on the market today.
360-Degree Rotation — The Neos 1500 mounts the racquet above the top of the tension head allowing the turntable to be rotated all the way around without crashing the racquet handle into the tension head.
Turntable Brake — The brake for the turntable on the Neos 1500 is more convenient and feels more secure than on the Neos 1000. You engage it by pulling out a knob, making it easier to lock the turntable in place when tying knots or tensioning strings on O3 frames. The knob is small to help avoid snagging strings. Another unique feature of this brake is that it can be moved to different locations. Prince front mounts the brake position for right-handed stringers. But, by unbolting the bottom 4 bolts of the brake, it can be moved to the end or the other side for left-handed stringers.
Tension head — The Neos 1500 features the same tension head used on the Neos 1000. As they say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The tension head is durable, easy to adjust, and utilizes a handle that can be switched from one side to the other for convenience when stringing the center mains. The reference tension is adjusted with a small knob/dial that lists tensions in pounds and kilos. The tension head and instruction manual also make it simple to adjust calibration of the machine, although we did not need to adjust calibration as the machine arrived accurately calibrated and stayed that way.
As with most manually operated machines, the Neos 1500 is a lock-out machine. It features the same long tension head track as the Neos 1000, which allows the tension head to travel far enough to reach full tension even on super-oversize frames at high tensions. Plus, the tension head track allows for the possibility of adding the Wise 2086 Electronic Tension Head, which can be set for Lock-out or Constant-pull mode.
Because the Neos 1500 is manually operated, there are no electronic parts to break down and there is no need to plug it in, which makes it convenient for portable use. Plus, at 62 pounds, it is actually 5 pounds lighter than the Neos 1000.
The machine is able to string tennis, racquetball, squash, and badminton frames, and includes a big tool tray allowing stringers to keep many more tools handy than they can with most other machines. The height of the tool tray can even be adjusted separately from the height of the turntable.
Finally, the machine comes standard with diagonal cutters, needle nose pliers, three awls, a cover, owner’s manual, leveling pads for the stand legs, tools needed for assembly and adjusting clamp pressure, and a very nice cover. The cover is shaped to the machine and even has a zipper. This cover is the same as the Neos 1000, but much nicer than we have seen with other machines, even much more expensive machines.
As we mentioned in the Pros, the Neos 1500 uses the same tension head as the Neos 1000. But, because the racquet is mounted higher relative to the tension head (for 360-degree rotation), there are two small issues created. First, pulling tension from a lower position means the string encounters more friction in the grommets than it does in the Neos 1000. This can have a small effect on overall tension. But, virtually all machines with 360-degree rotation have this extra friction and any tension lost can easily be overcome by setting the reference tension slightly higher.
The second issue with the tension head is that the angle of tension head means that if you move the tension head close to the frame, the string will not sit in the tension jaws as conveniently as it does when the tension head is farther from the frame. Luckily, the tension track on this machine stops stringers from moving the tension head too close to the frame and banging the racquet head into tension head. This also helps keep the tension head far enough away to help with the angle of string entry. Still, a diablo/nosecone would help insure the string enters the tension head jaws at the same angle every time, and would reduce the pressure the tension jaws apply to the string during tensioning.
Adjusting the height of the Neos 1500 is limited and still a bit awkward for one person to do alone. The highest position we could get a racquet was about 4’0”. This should be high enough for a stringer who is about 6’3” tall. The lowest we could mount the frame was about 3’5”. This should be about the right height for a stringer who is 5’7” tall.
It would be nice if an upgrade kit was available for Neos 1000 owners. Allowing them to switch to the new mounting system and clamping system. But, with a cost of $1,299, most shops will probably be able to afford a whole new machine.
The numbers on knob used to set tension are small and can be hard to read for stringers with poor vision. But, this is true of every manual machine we’ve seen.
The machine does not come with the size of Allen wrench needed for adjusting calibration of tension head. It is a standard size wrench, so it would be easy to find at any hardware store. Perhaps, Prince is so confident in the accuracy of their tension head that they don’t anticipate stringers needing to adjust the calibration of the machine.
The owner’s manual that came with the machine looked less professional than those that came with previous models and was not very detailed with small pictures. But, it still didn’t stop us from having the machine unpacked and fully assembled within 15 minutes. It also is available in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Portuguese.
Overall, we were very impressed with this new generation of the Neos. The changes from the previous generation seem to be improvements and the features carried over from the previous machine are still well suited for today’s stringing needs. The mounting system is almost as quick as the Neos 1000, but offers better frame security because the stringer can’t forget to lock the towers in place. The clamps are consistent with those offered on more expensive machines and make it much easier to string racquets with angled patterns. The turntable brake is more convenient because it requires less movement. And, the 360-degree rotation allows stringers to turn the racquet either way without banging the handle into the tension head. The tension head is still rock-solid and large tool tray is still a welcome sight when most of the other professional model machines seem to be offering smaller and smaller trays. The Neos 1500 should fit well as the new industry standard.