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You just finished playing league, and just like last year, there’s one particular shot that’s driving you crazy (in my case, it’s been 3 years since I felt comfortable with my forehand). I played different opponents, did drills, rallies, etc., but nothing was quite getting that muscle memory to sink in.
I knew the forehand is in there, but what I really needed was a tennis ball machine to hone it down, so I don’t start slicing when I’m in a match. Our research and hands on experience led us to the best tennis ball machines for every situation and player.
What To Look For In A Tennis Ball Machine
Tennis ball machines are either battery-powered or plugin (electric) and sometimes both. The plugin version tends to be heavier, and most players will want the portable battery-powered version to take to a public court. If you’ve got a private court and a power line to it, We’re jealous! Our reviews below will point out the weight and battery duration for each model to help you make your decision.
Other things you’ll want to be on the lookout for are ball capacity, ball speed, drills and whether or not the machine comes with a remote control, carrying bag, etc. We cover all of these features in our reviews and comparison table.
If you don’t fully understand some of the features and how they can benefit your game, be sure to jump to our terminology section for some quick definitions.
We based our rankings on several factors, including the value, performance, reputation, ease of portability and use, drill features and more.
Lobster Sports has been manufacturing high-quality tennis ball machines since 1971, and they’re widely considered among the best in the industry. Their popular Grand IV model is a portable battery-operated tennis ball machine that gives you a lot of features at a competitive price to improve almost every aspect of your game.
Its random oscillation feature mixes up ball speed, spin, trajectory and oscillation all across the singles court. You get 2-line drills (narrow, medium and wide) to help you with your forehand, backhand and footwork. It also comes with 6 pre-programmed court drills that simulate the most popular playing styles.
A remote control doesn’t come with this model, but you can purchase their wireless remote or smartphone and Apple Watch apps for wireless remote control (both options will run you $300).
Should You Get The Lobster Remote?
Alex Schenker, former USTA NTRP 4.5 player, owns and was able to personally test the Lobster Elite Grand IV and was overall pleased with the machine. However, he returned the remote control for a refund because he couldn’t get it to effectively operate the ball machine from the baseline. Lobster customer service responded that the RF signal could have been weakened by other devices in the area.
- $1,999.00 ball machine
- $300.00 wireless remote control
- $49.00 storage cover
- $149.00 premium 3-amp fast charger (charges in 1-3 hours vs 3-9 hours with the included charger)
- Most parts are available from the website as well, however their shipping system charges an outrageous amount, so be sure to put in the notes that you’d like a discount on shipping when ordering replacement parts.
- Storage dimensions: 29″ x 21″ x 15.5″
How Long Does It Really Take To Charge?
In our personal tests, it took over 12 hours to fully charge our Lobster using the included fast charger. Note that in our review we are posting the manufacturers’ published charging times.
The Spinfire Pro 2 is another popular battery-operated option for any level tennis player to boost their skills on the court. One of its best features is internal oscillation, so it’s much more difficult to predict where the ball’s going as opposed to many other products that rotate the entire ball machine.
Internal vs. External Oscillation
In our tests we found that external oscillation (you can see where the machine is about to hit the ball) more accurately reflected real play since a human typically gives visual cues as to where they’re going to hit the ball. That being said, the internal oscillation provides an extra challenge that some players prefer for reaction training.
Other features include both horizontal & vertical oscillation, 2-line drill (wide, medium and narrow), extreme spin that provides a very heavy topspin and slice, LCD display and more. We also love the optional external battery pack — you can just leave the machine in your car while you recharge your battery.
The remote control comes standard with the Spinfire Pro 2, but its base price is roughly equal to the Lobster Grand IV with the remote purchase. The Spinfire remote lets you control many features and even has a pause button for your machine to conserve battery life.
- Storage dimensions: 26″ x 20″ x 20″
See The Spinfire Pro 2 In Action
Some of the Playmate Volley’s standout features include a detachable battery, the ability to use any kind of tennis balls, a 2-line oscillator with variable electronic width and programmable random left or right and more. It’s also one of the quietest portable tennis ball machines you can find in its price range. This model gets a lot of great reviews about its functionality and long-term reliability.
Do I Really Need To Be Concerned About Ball Machine Noise?
We don’t think so. Tennis courts aren’t exactly quiet environments, and in our tests with the Lobster, which doesn’t win a “quiet” award, we didn’t notice it was making a sound unless we were standing right next to it.
Playmate also carries the Half Volley machine with a base price that’s about $500 less than the Volley. It doesn’t come with all the features, but it’s customizable over time so it could be a better option for you if you can’t justify the initial $2,195 MSRP for the Volley.
- Storage dimension: 19″ x 21″ x 25″
Sports Tutor’s Tennis Tutor Plus Player model is a great option for more advanced players. Its player simulation feature (with vertical oscillation) automatically picks an appropriate speed and spin, then changes both the side-to-side position and depth of shots to simulate the shot patterns of real players. It also features 2-line drill (wide and narrow) and top and backspin.
If you want a remote, you’ll have to pay an extra $200 for a simple remote that starts and stops ball delivery and controls the side-to-side position of the ball thrower. They also offer a $400 remote that lets you control the oscillation and player functions. It’s also an additional $100 to get an external battery pack, but it’s nice to have the option.
- $2,199 Tennis Tutor Plus Player
- Storage dimensions: 20″ x 19.5″ x 20″
|1st: Lobster Sports Elite Grand IV||2nd: Spinfire Pro 2||3rd: Playmate Volley||Hon. Mention: Tennis Tutor Plus Player||Lobster Sports Liberty||Silent Partner Edge Lite|
|Weight||44 lbs||50 lbs||46 lbs||46 lbs||35 lbs||35 lbs|
|Wheels & Handle|
|Electric (A/C) Option||$119||$149||N/A||$200||$119||N/A|
|Battery Life||4-8 hrs||3-8 hrs||4-6 hrs||4-6 hrs||2-4 hrs||2-4 hrs|
|Low Battery Indicator|
|Top Ball Speed (MPH)||85||80||70||85||70||95|
|Ball Feed Rate||2-9 sec||2-15 sec||1-10 sec||1.5-12 sec||2-12 sec||1.5-10 sec|
|Elevation Control||Electric (0-60°)||Electric (0-60°)||Manual*||Electric*||Manual (0-50°)||Manual*|
|Player Simulation Mode|
|Warranty||2 years||2 years||2 years||3 years||2 years||2 years|
*We couldn’t obtain the exact degree of elevation, but the manufacturers say they’re high enough to deliver lobs.
Lets you adjust how much time you have between shots. Advanced players will want a machine that can feed the balls quickly, and beginners will want more time between shots.
Play With A Buddy!
Ball machines with very high feed rates (low feed rate intervals) are conducive to having two players drill on the same machine. Pro tip – set the 2-line oscillation to “wide” and practice your forehand while your partner practices their backhand across from you, or vice versa.
The hopper is the machine’s bin that houses your tennis balls, and the capacity varies by machine. Some companies, like Lobster, Spinfire and Silent Partner, have translucent hoppers. You might prefer this feature if you want to be able to eyeball from across the court how many balls are left.
Elevation refers to the height of the ball being launched and is an important feature if you want to practice overheads, high lobs and low volleys, for example. Higher-end machines will have electronic elevation, which you can program and even control remotely. Lower-end machines typically have manual elevation control.
The ability for the machine to feed balls to both sides of the tennis court so you can work on your forehand and backhand. Horizontal oscillation is the most common, but some advanced machines also have vertical oscillation, which helps you practice closer to the net or on the baseline. Most machines have random oscillation, but a few let you program the oscillation to drill down on a specific skill or routine.
Some higher-end machines have a feature called 2-line oscillation (not to be confused with “2-line drills” which simply shoot the ball left or right), which combines vertical and horizontal oscillation in a variety of drills. This is where the machine will shoot one ball to the left and short, then one to the right and deep, then one to the left and short again, then another one to the right and deep and so on. You can set it to feed the ball narrow or wide, or short or deep, in more fixed positions than you get with random oscillation.
If you want to improve a wide range of different strokes, you’ll want a tennis ball machine with the ability to feed the ball with topspin and backspin (some manufacturers call it underspin). Higher-end models also let you choose the spin rate for both types of spins.
If our top picks don’t match your budget or you simply don’t need all the features, there are several lower-end machines that are top performers.
The Lobster Sports Elite Liberty is a top-selling tennis machine for beginners and makes a good budget alternative for intermediate players. This machine gives you a wide range of speed and spin controls, horizontal oscillation and space for 150 balls. It’s also lightweight, easy to maneuver and store.
If you can afford another $200, we highly recommend a step up from the Liberty to the Lobster Elite 1 model. On top of the Liberty model’s great features, you also get a higher ball speed, longer-life battery and more elevation control.
Silent Partner offers two series of machines, Edge and Scoop. We found some not-so-stellar reviews about the performance of their higher-end Scoop series, especially when compared to the reliable performance customers find in their lower-end Edge series. Their entry-level Edge Lite is one of the best budget-friendly machines you’ll find at this price point.
This machine is lightweight and packs a lot of punch for an entry-level machine. It offers a whopping top ball speed of 95 miles per hour, random oscillation, the ability to feed lobs, topspin and underspin and much more. You get a smart charger and the option of purchasing a wireless remote for $150 that controls the feed and oscillation.
- Storage dimensions: 20″ x 16″ x 24″
If you’ve never used a ball machine, you may have only used pressurized tennis balls (those you typically find at the store) in your recreational or competitive games. But as you know, pressurized balls lose their pressure pretty quickly. When you’re looking at purchasing 150 or more balls for your new machine, it doesn’t make financial sense to use pressurized balls, not to mention you’ll get really inconsistent bounces.
Many people recommend pressureless balls for ball machines because they last much longer and don’t lose their bounce.
Our Experience With Pressureless Balls
You may hear that they’re heavier, don’t bounce as high, or can make your elbow hurt. All true, but in our testing of the Tretorn Micro-X balls, we found that they were quite similar to a real tennis ball, and that the best thing about using these with a ball machine vs ordinary balls is that you get a consistent bounce. Alex is 6 months into his first set of balls and they’re still going strong.
Here are a few of our top picks.
And don’t forget a ball hopper to collect all your balls. Gamma Sports ball hoppers are durable and easy to use with long handles. They have many sizes that range in capacity from 50 to 140 balls.
Find out in this hilarious video by PlayYourCourt.com.
In our research to find the best tennis ball throwing machine, we came across this tennis ball machine for dogs and just had to include it in this article. The All for Paws Interactive Automatic Dog Ball Launcher is a fun way for your dog to entertain himself in your yard while you’re doing yard work or just trying to relax.
If you’ve been playing tennis often and long enough, you know how racket expenses can add up. If you’re a regular player, you’ll need to have your tennis racket restrung multiple times a year. And of course, if you break a string, you have to wait on the repair. But not if you can string your own racket! Check out our guide on how to string a tennis racket (spoiler: it’s easier than you think, and you can save quite a bit of money over the long haul), which includes helpful tips, videos and reviews of stringing machines.
Which tennis skills are you trying to improve?
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