Friday, May 22, 2009

Factory Tuned Rubbers - are they right for you?

The latest craze in rubbers seems to be factory tuned rubbers. Despite being undetectable (for most tuners) by ITTF devices, tuning or boosting was deemed to be illegal under ITTF rules, as they change the characteristics of the rubber. However if the rubber is tuned at the factory, as part of it’s manufacturing process, it is quite legal, as long as the VOC content is low enough. VOC based glues are still used at the factory to attach topsheets to sponges, and as long as they are aired before they are shipped out, they are perfectly legal.

So ever since the ITTF ruling regarding tuners (or boosters) was clarified and put into action, some of the Chinese manufacturers have started working on rubbers pre-tuned at the factory, so that elite players can play with rubber that are close in performance with the former speed glued rubbers. These rubbers have tuned/boosted at the factory, and this effect is (to some extent) preserved by an adhesive layer and plastic sheet attached to the sponge.

I’m sure some of you have heard about some of these factory tuned rubbers, which have now made their way to the public as well. As soon as word gets out that the Chinese National team is testing or using some of these rubbers, there is an immediate demand for them. Haifu’s Blue Whale II was among the first, and more recently Tuttle’s Beijing II and DHS’s new tuned Hurricane rubbers have all been much talked about…

So the question is, are these rubbers worthwhile, and how do they compare to some of the latest glue effect rubbers? The answer is not so simple, as it really depends on your level, your budget, availability and whether you are going to re-tune the rubbers. So let’s discuss these issues one by one;

Level: These rubbers are designed for a fast attacking style game, giving you a high level of power and spin. The fact that these are usually only released in MAX thickness supports this. It is my opinion that these rubbers are really only suitable for the higher levels of table tennis, starting around the top club levels and upwards. I’m sure players below this level can enjoy playing with these rubbers, and if you’re playing mainly for enjoyment then perhaps you might like these, but otherwise you likely don’t have the skills to control these rubbers, nor can you take advantage of their full potential.

Budget: Although all the current factory tuned rubbers are Chinese made, they are not exactly cheap, and prices approach some of the Euro/Japanese made glue effect rubbers. Yes they are still cheaper, but the tuning effect typically only lasts 2-4 weeks, at which point you need to change them over as the effect has worn off, and re-tuning is illegal. Inbuilt glue effect rubbers would typically last 4-6 weeks, which makes them comparable, although a few more recent ones (eg Tenergy and Air Condle) last significantly longer than this. When these factory tuned rubbers are in their tuned state, they will most likely out-perform the glue effect rubbers, so for the top players, it’s most likely worthwhile. For those players that count performance as much more important then price (and you can afford it) then it’s most likely worthwhile as well. For the rest of players, I think it’s probably not worth it…

Availability: Up to now, these factory tuned rubbers have had limited availability, as most dealers seem to only carry small numbers. Only a few dealers carry them, who would normally get them from a distributor or manufacturer within China. I believe the pre-tuned rubbers have a limited shelf life, which is far shorter than a regular rubber, so dealers need to ensure they can sell the rubbers before they expire. I’ve read a few reports from players who tried these rubbers, and found the performance was not there… this may point to the rubber being past its shelf life, although it’s not proof.

Re-tuning: Perhaps you’re considering buying these pre-tuned rubbers, and include the re-tuning liquid as well to be used when the effect wears off? Although tuning is illegal under IITF rules, it is often undetectable and it’s become well known that it’s become very common at the elite levels. So if you don’t play competition or events that come under ITTF rules, or you simply choose to ignore this rule, then re-tuning is a definite option. Of course if you’re going to tune, you can tune ANY rubber with ANY of the tuners/boosters that are still available on the market, so you’re no longer restricted to using the factory tuned rubbers.

So would I recommend against buying these factory tuned rubbers? Not at all, I have nothing against them and think it’s a great innovation by the manufacturer, to come up with something that is legal and offer the high performance that speed glue used to offer. What I would say though, is that you carefully consider the issues discussed above, to see if they are worthwhile for YOU!

If you decide these rubbers are right for you, you need to carefully consider where you buy them as well. Shopping around for the best price is no longer the most important, as dealers may have these rubbers on special because they are close or past their expiry date. Ideally you want a rubber that’s fresh from the factory, so make sure you pick a dealer you can trust, even if their price is higher. It costs the dealer money to keep a constant supply of only fresh rubbers, so a higher price is justified.

Comments on this article are most welcome!

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Japan solves Tensor durability issues?

The Germany based ESN factory has always been at the forefront of the speed glue effect technology with their rubbers, offering by far the closest feel to a speed glued rubber. The Technology is most commonly known as Tensors, although some manufacturers use the same technology under a different name. Although several of the non-German brands offered good speed glue effect rubbers, they actually had them made in the German ESN factory as well. While speed glue was still legal, using a much cheaper rubber with speed glue was always a viable alternative, but since the ITTF has since banned speed glues, this option is no longer available.

One common problem with ESN made rubbers has always been the durability of the surface of the topsheet. At the higher levels of club competition people would usually get 4-6 weeks out of a sheet, although some get a lot more, but some also less. Compare this to your regular non-speed glue effect rubber, which would typically last you at least 3 months. The feel and glue effect was always an accepted trade-off for the higher cost of having to replace the rubber more often.

However in the last year or so, Japanese factories seem to have finally worked out how to make rubbers with glue effect similar to that of the German Tensor Technology. The only two rubbers that I’m aware of using this technology are the Butterfly Tenergy and JUIC Air Condle. These rubbers not only have a glue effect similar to that of the latest generation Tensors, but also have Japanese-made topsheet, which appears to be much more durable than the Tensors.

The high price tag of the Butterfly Tenergy has certainly put off a lot of people, but when you consider they are more durable than Tensors, the cost over time becomes comparable. The marketing for the JUIC Air Condle has been virtually non-existant outside Japan, but since the cost of this rubber is similar to the cheaper Tensors, it’s likely to become very popular as well. For some more information on these rubbers, see the Butterfly Tenergy and JUIC Air Condle reviews.

Of course all these rubbers have their own little unique properties, which makes them hard to compare. Whether a particular one suits your level or style is yet to be determined, they are all worth considering on their own merits, and for many the cost is also a big consideration.