Tennis Ball Machines
Q1. Which is the best brand of ball machine?
Q2. Which is the most popular ball machine?
Q3. How does a ball machine work?
Q4. What features should I be looking for in a tennis ball machine?
Q5. How do ball machines create spin on the ball?
Q6. Can all machines spin the ball?
Q7. What is random oscillation & what is triple oscillation?
Q8. Why is top speed important?
Q9. Can I use any type of tennis balls in a ball machine?
Q10. How many hours use will I get out of a battery?
Q11. How long do the batteries take to recharge?
Q12. Can I overcharge/cook a battery by leaving it on too long?
Q13. Can I run the machine off electricity?
Q14. Can I upgrade a machine at a later point in time?
Q15. In which parts of Australia is there support?
The ball machine brands that we include on our site and in store are the brands that we believe in. It is our belief that Spinfire, Lobster, Tennis Tutor & Ace Attack are the best brands of tennis ball machines in the world. However, all companies have differences in their products & it's worth looking at the features you need before deciding. You can do this easily by checking out our comparisons page. Spinfire & Lobster are our two most popular models. If you want a machine that will run off electricity, we recommend Tennis Tutor. If you need the best battery you can get for portability, Spinfire is our choice. There are other factors to consider, so please call us for advice (03 9418 3934)!
The Spinfire Pro 2 is our number 1 selling ball machine due to its internal oscillatoin which disguises the direction of the ball. It also includes triple oscillation, LCD touch panel, 200 ball hopper and the longest battery life. Very close behind that is the Lobster Elite 3 which has larger wheels and is handy if you need to travel over difficult surfaces to get to your court.
There are a number of ways that ball machines can work but only 2 are worth mentioning. The best way is through the use of counter rotating wheels. You can see the two red wheels in the picture of the SAM SP model on the right. These spin at high speed to propel the ball.
The other method which is not as effective is pneumatic. This method uses a similar technology to a vacuum cleaner in reverse mode. The pressure build up inside the chamber forces the ball out and projects it through a long tube. The problem with pneumatic is it's noisy, can't provide spin (without the use of an adaptor), has low top speeds & is generally outdated. Most pneumatic machines have now been discontinued.
We start by determining if you are buying it purely for fitness & fun, or if you also want to improve your game and develop? If you just want fitness & fun, you just need a basic machine that will run you around the court. If you are serious about your tennis, or want to give your kids something that will improve their game, you should get a machine that has; top spin, slice, oscillation, a fast top speed, a reasonable ball capacity & a good battery life. You can find this in the Spinfire Pro 2, Lobster Elite Range, Tennis Tutor Plus or Tennis Tutor Player.
Ball Machines with counter rotating wheels spin the ball by rotating one wheel faster than the other. So if the top wheel spins at a higher speed than the bottom, the machine will impart topspin on the ball. If the bottom wheel spins faster, you will get slice.
Pneumatic machines shoot the ball along a tube. This tube requires an adaptor (see picture to left) to create spin. As the ball passes through the adaptor, one side of the ball will grip on the rubber surface, causing it to slow down, while the other side continues at normal speed. This will impart spin on the ball. The adaptor needs to be rotated to change between slice and top spin.
No, some machines use the counter rotating wheel system, but choose to place the wheels on either side of the ball, rather than on the top and bottom. Therefore they are unable to get any topspin or slice. The i-SAM range & the Tennis Tutor have their wheels positioned this way.
Random oscillation is where the tennis ball machine replicates a match situation by shooting balls randomly around the court. Rather than groove a particular shot, this allows a player to focus on footwork, fitness and practice shots in a more realistic environment.
Most machines with oscillation are capable of faning from side to side which works both your forehand and backhand. Unfortunately they do not vary the depth of the ball (eg, if your machine is set to hit the baseline, it will fan from side to side always hitting the baseline). However the very top machines are capable of dropping in short balls and deep balls as well. This is a feature of the Spinfire Pro 2, Lobster Elite II, Lobster Elite III & Tennis Tutor Player Model which are the only machines in their price range that can claim this.
Below are some diagrams to show the difference between oscillation patterns of different ball machines:
Horizontal Oscillation (Single Oscillation)
This is the most common oscillation method found on all machines. The balls randomly move from side to side along the baseline. This is what the Spinfire Pro 2, Tennis Tutor Plus Range, Silent Partner and Lobster Elite Range are capable of.
Horizontal and Vertical Oscillation (Triple Oscillation)
This type of oscillation is only usually found on high end machines worth above $50,000 or more. Now Spinfire Pro 2 and Lobster offer it in their Elite 2 and Elite 3 models. The Tennis Tutor Player model also offers this. It is achieved by sweeping the ball horizontally (side to side) while also oscillating vertically (up and down). The reason Spinfire and Lobster can offer this so cheaply is because the commercial machines use a more advanced method of dropping in short balls. They can actually reduce and increase the speed of the ball by changing gears (very quickly too), which is a much better way to achieve it and more realistic too. Spinfire and Lobster's triple oscillation is an amazing feature (especially on a residential machine), even though it uses a simplistic method to achieve it. It really gets your feet moving more than any other residential model.
Tennis Tutor Player model takes this feature to a whole new level providing robot like movement where nothing is predictable. It could move left, right, up or down you have no idea as it doesn't follow a pattern (unlike the Lobster). This is one of the most amazing features we've seen.
Vertical Oscillation with the 2 line drill
The two line drill allows you to feed 1 forehand and then 1 backhand continuously alternating between the two shots. It can usually be set to a narrow (10 degree - blue lines) or wide (20 degree - yellow lines) spread. The two line drill is offered by the Spinfire Pro 2, SAM SP4, Lobster Elite 3, Silent Partner Programmable and the Tennis Tutor Plus (Model 4).
However the two line drill with vertical oscillation is only offered by the Spinfire Pro 2 and Lobster Elite 3 and this is what you can see above. While alternating between forehand and backhand, it is also capable of dropping in short balls, making you work your feet more. Again this can be done on the narrow (blue lines) or wide spread (yellow lines).
The two line drill can be used when you have two or more players using the machine at once, allowing them to take it in turns to hit a ball.
The Spinfire Pro 2 and the Lobster Elite 3 can provide all three types of oscillation and are the only machines in this price range capable of doing so.
The top speed of a tennis ball machine is very important if you want the machine to be able to challenge you or your kids well into the future. The Spinfire Pro 2 & Lobter Elite are capable of 130km/h which we believe is adequate to challenge the most advanced players. Once a machine starts to add spin or slice these speeds are reduced. A faster top speed will keep you challenged for longer, and as you improve, it is more likely to simulate the speed of your opponents in the higher level of competition.
For information on what speeds the professional players are hitting at, check out this web site, although you will need a calculator to convert mph to kph!
No, you should avoid oversized balls like Wilson Rally. The balls are designed for kids making them easier to hit. They will not fit into the chamber of a ball machine which will cause the machine to jam.
You should also replace your tennis balls once they have lost too much felt, otherwise they will not propel properly from the machine. To get the most out of your machines, we recommend you use pressureless balls. The balls you use every day for tennis are pressurised. After a couple of days of hitting they are considerably flatter and you may decide to open a new tin. If you throw these old balls into the tennis ball machine, you will get varying results. For example, if you set the tennis ball machine to hit the baseline every time, you won't be able to achieve this because each ball will have a different pressure. When a flat ball comes out it will hit the net, and when a new ball comes out it will go over the baseline.
To avoid this, pressureless balls are the answer. These balls have been designed without using pressurised air. This means that the balls will have the same bounce & shape for years to come. The average person will get at least 1 - 2 years out of pressureless balls (depends on court suface, amount of usage, etc).. The only reason you have to replace them is because they lose their felt. Pressureless balls feel very similar to a normal ball, but are often described as 'harder'. Although it's not exactly the same feel as pressurised balls, the savings are considerable over time and definitely worth purchasing. Please email us or call on 03 9418 3934 for information & prices on pressureless balls. We do great deals for people purchasing ball machines.
You can get as little as 2 hours and as much as 8 hours depending on the model you choose. The Spinfire Pro 2 machines have the best battery life on the market. This is because they have a 20 amp hour battery, where the others are only 14.4 - 18. When running a ball machine at optimum level, it should use 4.5 amps per hour, which means with the Spinfire Pro 2 you would get over 4 hours. However, in reality, the machines are not run at optimum level the whole time. They are often in idle mode, etc, which allows the battery to last longer.
The Spinfire Pro 2 can take 20 hours to charge while the Lobster Elite can take 18 hours. However Spinfire and Lobster both have fast chargers available to purchase as an option which can allow you to charge a flat battery in just 3 hours.
Spinfire, Lobster and Tennis Tutor all have smart chargers that turn off once the battery is charged. Some machines do not, and you should ask this question before purchasing one. This is an important feature. If the charger does not turn off automatically, you can 'cook' your battery. Please note that both the Spinfire and Lobster 'Fast Charger' can cook the battery if left on for more than 24 hours.
The Spinfire and Lobster machines only work on battery but can work like an electric machine with the fast charger. The Tennis Tutor will only work off one or the other (you have to choose your preference when you purchase).
Generally you cannot upgrade your machine, however, with the Lobster Elite range you can purchase a remote at a later stage. The remote does need to be fitted by us or a Lobster service center. The good news is that we will trade in your old machine (no matter what brand) for a great price. We buy and sell second hand ball machines.
You will get support all over Australia with all brands. Spinfire & Lobster are both based in Melbourne, while Tennis Tutor is in Sydney. All companies offer phone support & in most cases can diagnose and fix your problem over the phone. However, in cases where phone support is not enough, you may have to send your machine back to a support center. To make this easier, we suggest you keep your original box.
If your machine is under warranty, Spinfire & Lobster will organise a courier to pick it up & return it to the service centre at no cost to you. It will then be shipped back to you once the servicing is complete. If your machine is no longer under warranty, you will need to pay for the freight both ways to get your machine to the service centre.
If there are any questions we have not answered here, please feel free to give us a call on 03 9418 3934 or email us here and will answer your questions.