As I've mentioned before in my Astrox 99 Pro review, Yonex is launching four models of the Astrox 99 at four different price points. We started with the Astrox 99 Pro which is the top of the range, made in Japan badminton racket currently headlined by Kento Momota as well as Lee Zii Jia. It is then followed by three other models, the Astrox 99 Tour and Game which are made in Taiwan, and finally, the Astrox 99 Play racket which is designated as the entry-level badminton racket and is made in China. In this post, I will be taking a close look at the Astrox 99 Tour, Game and Play rackets and comparing them against each other.
Similar to the Pro model, the Tour, Game and Play rackets also come in two colour schemes --- the White Tiger and the Cherry Sunburst. However, I am not sure if every country Yonex is serving will have the full range of models and colours. For example, on Yonex Japan's website, you can only see the Astrox 99 Pro and the Astrox 99 Game versions, whereas the Yonex UK's website has all four models, except that the Tour, Game and Play rackets only come in Cherry Sunburst.
I was extremely lucky to have Yonex UK lending me all four models, each complete in both colours and in my preferred 4UG5 spec for this review, so I'm very happy. A huge thank you and shout out to Yonex UK for lending me the rackets, much appreciated.
First of all, I want to talk a bit about the price points that these rackets are representing, using the retail prices from the UK site here so we'll be using that as a reference. The retail prices in each country will be slightly different but they should be comparable. So in the UK, the Pro model is retailing at £195; the Tour model at £150; the Game model at £105 and the Play model at £60. In essence, the Tour model is almost 25% cheaper than the Pro model; the Game model is almost half of the Pro model's price, and the Play model is less than a third of the price of the Pro model.
I believe the goal of Yonex here is to develop a series of rackets with similar design philosophy, but create variant models at multiple price points to suit different customer bases. You can see similar strategies being deployed in other industries. Like the Apple iPhones, for example, there is the top-of-the-line Pro Max model, the Pro model, the regular iPhone model, and lastly, you have the Mini model, each at different price points.
Back to the Astrox 99s. Visually, the Pro and Tour models have identical designs. However, if we look closer, the Tour model is made in Taiwan with slightly less exotic material. For instance, the Tour model has a Rexis shaft, and the Namd material which is used in the entire frame and shaft of the Pro model is not used in the frame of the Tour model.
The Game model goes one step down on the design ladder to reduce production complexity, and it also uses less exotic materials like the Nanomesh Neo. The Play model has the same visual design as the Game model, but it's made in China with even more basic materials compared to the Game model.
Being a badminton nerd, I measured each of the Yonex 99 series rackets and organized the data in a spreadsheet. Based on my measurements, the Pro and the Tour models have almost identical measurements for every part of the rackets, with very minor differences such as the Tour model having a slightly longer shaft and a slightly shorter wooden handle. But their frame height, width and thickness, as well as the shaft diameter, are identical. So the Tour actually has pretty amazing production quality for a supposedly mid-high end racket.
We then look at the Game and Play models' measurements and you'll realize that both rackets share almost every single measurement except they were made in different countries! Visually, these two models differ from the Pro and Tour models by having a bigger frame, and a half recessed frame profile though surprisingly, they do have a slightly thinner frame compared to their more expensive siblings.
You can also see obvious differences in the racket support cap between the Pro and Tour models, compared to the Game and Play models. The Tour model has the same cap as the Pro model; the Game model has the previous generation Astrox 99's support cap; and the Play has only a super basic, no design, support cap. Another difference would be the holographic sticker and markings of the racket's weight and grip size. The Taiwan-made Tour and Game models have oval Yonex holographic stickers and laser-etched racket weight and grip size, whilst the China-made Play model uses stickers to show the racket weight and grip size.
Overall, I am very impressed with the production quality of all four models of the Astrox 99 series. It's not my first time seeing Yonex's made in Taiwan rackets and from my previous experience of Tour and Game models of the Astrox 100, Astrox 88S, and Astrox 88D series, Yonex has set a really high standard for production and performance of these supposedly lower-end rackets. The surprise of the bunch was certainly the made-in-China Play model.
Now, I will be honest and say I don't necessarily come across plenty of Yonex's made-in-China rackets as Yonex traditionally price their rackets based on their country of production. Japan for their top-tier rackets, Taiwan for mid to low range and China for their really low-end entry-level rackets.
What I mean by low-end entry-level rackets are recreational models that come four in a pack for use in a back garden barbecue or at the beach at a super cheap price. They generally are steel frame rackets which will take a lot of abuse but don't do very well if you're thinking about performance and feel. And from a stringing experience, these frames don't do very well at all above 20lbs of tension.
So when I see the Play model being a made-in-China model, what immediately pops into my mind is my previous experiences of Yonex's made-in-China models, and I thought "OMG, is this going to be OK?" And as the rackets came factory strung with pretty rubbish strings at extremely low tensions, I decided to restring the Cherry Sunburst models completely with my usual playing string and tensions: Aerobite at 26lbs by 28lbs in tension.
Every single racket in the Astrox 99 range is rated up to 28lbs in tension for the 4U models and would be 29lbs for the 3U models. They all have the same stringing pattern as well as having four rows of bigger grommets in the 3 and 9 o'clock regions of the racket. From my experience of stringing them, they also share the wider gaps in the mains around the central area of the racket too.
Speaking of stringing experience, the Astrox 99 Pro is extremely solid and has a very good frame to string. I also had no issues stringing the Tour and Game models, but when it came to the Play model racket, I was, at first, doubtful that it will survive the stringing process. Nonetheless, I decided to go with it and stick to my planned stringing tension of 26lbs by 28lbs.
So when I was stringing the Play model racket, I could certainly see the frame flexing the most out of the four models and it certainly is to be expected as less advanced materials were used to make this racket but it ultimately came out perfectly fine! So very relieved but impressed at the same time as I have never strung a made-in-China Yonex racket at such high tensions before.
When it came to testing, I started by playing with my usual Astrox 88D Pro just to refresh my baseline feel of a head-heavy racket before heading for the Astrox 99 Pro before going down to the Tour model, then the Game model before ending with the Play model for each test section.
Those of you who have read my previous post on the Astrox 99 Pro will know that I personally find it to be a pretty fast, super head-heavy sledgehammer with a big sweet spot. It is physically demanding to use and fast flat shots will certainly be tiring very quickly if you are not crazy strong. However, there is plenty of power and stability on tap for the racket, especially at the rear court.
Firstly, the Astrox 99 Tour was significantly lighter in the head and also faster compared to the Pro model, especially around the mid-court area. It also didn't feel as smooth as the Pro model, but only ever so slightly. The difference in head weight was so apparent that for a moment, I thought the Astrox 99 Tour racket didn't have the power assist bumper when in fact it did.
Another thing that stood out for me was the difference in feeling compared to the Astrox 99 Pro model. The Astrox 99 Tour racket felt more hollow compared to the Pro model and this has been a consistent characteristic of the made-in-Taiwan models so I guess this might be from a specific material or even a production technique that is different from the Japanese-made models. I believe the Japanese-made models have something called a solid core hitting feel which is perhaps different from the Taiwanese-made rackets.
Moving onto the Astrox 99 Game, I think it is just a touch head lighter than the Tour model and didn't feel head heavy at all compared to the Pro model. But even with the head lightness, it wasn't any faster than the Tour model. It is worth noting that the Tour model, like the Pro model, has a new head shape for a bigger sweet spot, but not the Game and Tour models. I think the Astrox 99 Game's traditional head shape and its half recessed frame profile is the reason why it wasn't any faster than the Tour model. It also shares that slightly hollow feeling with the Tour model but still plays amazingly well. Everything is fast in the mid-court area but does lack top-end power in the rear court. Stability wasn't as solid as the Pro model but not too bad nonetheless. Overall, a very nice racket to play with.
We now come to the bottom of the bunch, the Astrox 99 Play. As soon as I started to play with it, I immediately told my training partner, George, that this was my favourite racket of the series. I was impressed that it held up fine from stringing and after a few hits, the more familiar solid feeling that comes with the Japanese rackets is back. It's not 100% the same but certainly close.
The Astrox 99 Play was a touch slower than the Tour and Game models, and it felt like it had more head weight than the latter. It also felt a touch stiffer compared to the Tour and Game models. Don't get me wrong, the Tour and Game rackets were very nice rackets to play with but this Play, I was just astonished at its quality.
It was super smooth and amazingly well built for an entry-level racket that is less than a third of the Astrox 99 Pro's price. The performance is certainly not a third of the Astrox 99 Pro model, I can tell you that much! The performance difference between the Astrox 99 Play and the other three models was almost minimal compared to how wide the pricing gaps are. I kept going back and forth between the Play model and the other models and I just cannot believe how well built it was for its price. It certainly made a big impression with me.
I can't wait to do a test like this with someone like Chris Adcock again when the rackets are all strung properly and I'd like to hear what he has to say about the value of this racket compared to how it played.
One tiny imperfection of the Astrox 99 Play was the racket weight and grip size sticker on the Cherry Sunburst wasn't stuck on properly but this problem wasn't present on the White Tiger model so I suppose it's an isolated flaw. This is certainly an aesthetic flaw that does not affect the racket's performance at all.
In conclusion, If you want an easy-to-play version of the Astrox 99 Pro, get the Astrox 99 Game! If you have a bit more budget and want everything just that few percent better, get the Astrox 99 Tour. If you want an AMAZING value racket that can take a decent tension and plays amazingly well for the price, go for the Astrox 99 Play. I am sure lots of players are going to be very impressed with this model. I still cannot believe how good the Astrox 99 Play is considering the value.
Just remember, always restring these rackets to your usual string and tension and you will be impressed at how well they play.
Until then, remember to subscribe to my YouTube channel and I'll see you in the next post!