As a badminton equipment review blog, I find it very easy to review the high-end, top-of-the-range rackets because they are always made of the best materials, have the best feel and naturally, have the best performance.
But today, I’m going to be looking in the opposite direction, the diamonds in the rough, the budget badminton rackets. We’ll be looking at the four budget options, the Yonex Play rackets which come in under GBP50 in the UK (equivalent to under USD75, or MYR200, or INR4000 or IDR800,000).
Remember when I posted my comparison blogs on the Yonex Astrox 88S and the Astrox 88D series of rackets a while ago? Back then, They only had the Pro, Tour and Game rackets at three different price points. Now there’s a fourth racket --- the Play! Currently, the latest Yonex racket series all have the extended four models, starting from the Astrox 88S and D models, the Astrox 99 as well as the latest release, the Arcsaber 11 series.
Now you probably have read my previous blog reviews on the Arcsaber 11 and Astrox 99 Play models in comparison to their respective Pro, Tour and Game siblings in the same series. If you haven't, the links are here:
In this post, I will be comparing the Play models of the Yonex flagship series against each other, namely, the Yonex Astrox 88S Play (4UG5), Astrox 88D Play (4UG5), Astrox 99 Play (4UG5) and the Arcsable 11 Play (4UG5).
In terms of looks, all four rackets followed their pricier siblings in terms of colour schemes and design features but when compared side by side, the Astrox Plays all have a glossy finish whilst the Arcsaber 11 Play has a matte finish. In terms of measurements, all four Play models are almost identical to each other. They all have shaft diametres of just over 7mm; frame thickness of around 10mm; frame heights of approximately 24cm; frame widths of around 18.7cm to 19cm; and handle lengths of 17cm. The only difference, is that the Astrox 88S Play is 5mm shorter than the rest at only 670mm, which is due to its shorter shaft length of 21cm, whereas the rest have shaft lengths of 21.5cm. Still, the difference in measurements can only be described as very slight.
Technology wise, the Astrox 99 Play and the Arcsaber 11 Play both have Power Assist Bumpers and Control Assist Bumpers fitted at the 12 o'clock region of the rackets, whereas the Astrox 88S Play and the Astrox 88D Play have none.
The three Astrox Play rackets have enlarged grommets around the three and nine o'clock regions to help with hold and power generation, similar to their respective higher-end siblings. In terms of the recessed region of the rackets, all four rackets only have their top-half recessed, although the Arcsaber 11 Play has a shallower recess compared to the rest. All three of the Astrox Play rackets are rated to withstand 28lbs of stringing tension whereas the Arcsaber 11 Play is rated to withstand up to 27lbs. If you are looking at the 3U models, then you should expect them to have around 1lb higher tension tolerance than the 4U models that I have.
In terms of production, all four Play rackets are produced in China, whereas their respective higher-end models are made in Japan and Taiwan. For me, the production quality of these rackets is fabulous and I absolutely have no issues with them at all. Heck, if you handed me these rackets and told me they were mid or high-end rackets, I would’ve believed you. Long story short, these are very well made.
Right, let's now talk about how they play and feel.
All four rackets have very unique characteristics within Yonex’s playing matrix. In short, the Astrox 88S series rackets are slightly head heavy, very fast and have big sweet spots. The Astrox 88D series rackets have more power than the Astrox 88S but feel just a touch slower, probably due to the normal length, and a normal-sized sweet spot. The Astrox 99 series rackets, in comparison, are the head heaviest and stiffest, proper singles racket. Finally, the Arcsaber 11 series have the least head weight but the most shuttle holding time, very comfy and easiest to play with out of the lot.
And four Play rackets do reflect the characteristics of their respective series accurately in that sense. If we start with the Arcsaber 11 Play, the racket feels very steady with a good amount of stiffness alongside a decent sweet spot. There is plenty of hold with the racket and it feels very good with Aerobite strings but then again, Aerobite is my favourite string so I might biased! In the UK, the Arcsaber 11 Play retails for just over £35 and it's just incredible value! I cannot recommend it enough.
if we then look at the Astrox 88S Play, this racket is super fast with a big sweet spot alongside some decent power too. You can certainly feel that bigger sweet spot immediately and it comes with a comfortable level of stiffness, is pliable enough to generate lots of easy power and has nice feedback too.
Moving on to the Astrox 99 Play and oofff! Instantly, its head heaviness and stiffness hits you straight in the face. If you want a good budget, head-heavy and pretty stiff racket, this would certainly be my top recommendation! I remember testing the Astrox 99 series previously and having a big sweet spot in the rackets was certainly one of the major revelations I found. However, but in this comparison, its sweet spot didn't feel as big as the Astrox 88S Play's but certainly close. As my test racket was a 4UG5 racket, it didn't feel sluggish at all and it is, in my opinion, the head heaviest and stiffest out of the four Play models.
Finally, we have the Astrox 88D Play. The stiffness of this racket is in between the Astrox 88S Play and the Astrox 99 Play. It certainly feels a lot easier to play with compared to the Astrox 99 Play as it isn't as demanding. It does remind me of my day-to-day racket, which is the Astrox 88D Pro, so that must be a good sign in terms of how close they feel.
In terms of grips, all four Play rackets have similar stock grips which are pretty good in my opinion, certainly more than acceptable at this price point. If you have very sweaty hands, you might have to replace the stock grip pretty quickly.
The only less satisfactory bit of these Play rackets would be the stock strings. I am aware that in certain regions, they come factory strung and the strings are not the best unless you play with plastic shuttles so I would certainly suggest you get them re-strung with your favourite strings and they’ll feel lovely. If you are struggling to decide what strings to pick for your racket, check out this video!
In conclusion, all four Play rackets certainly have lots of power if you hit them right and are very very good value for money in my opinion. Let me know which is your favourite budget racket down in the comments section below. We all certainly love a good bargain!