The Best Budget Ping-Pong Paddles

Spin and Power on the Cheap

Photo of Cheap Ping-Pong Paddles
Cheap Ping-Pong Paddles. © 2011 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.

As the resident Guide to Table Tennis / Ping-Pong, I get asked fairly often about what paddle I would recommend for players just starting out who are on a tight budget.

It's been a long time since I last used a cheap paddle, so I didn't have a handle(!) on the budget paddle market.

To research this question, I bought five pre-made table tennis rackets, all for under $20 each at the time of purchase.

I put these budget paddles through their paces, compared them to each other, and determined if I would feel comfortable recommending one or more paddles to a new player.

Browsing the megaspin.net website, I looked for paddles under $20 from as many manufacturers as I could. These are the five I chose:

Note: Larry Thoman from Newgy Industries also asked if I could include the Newgy Applause in my roundup. It's in transit via express delivery at the moment, so I'll include my thoughts when I receive the paddle.

First Impressions

I had a quick try out of the Killerspin Centric last week just for curiosity's sake and was quite surprised by its performance. I didn't want that single impression to color my reviews, so I decided to perform my own version of a blind test.

I removed each racket from its packaging, mixed them up at random in a pile, and grabbed the top racket without looking.

I played around with the paddle for a few minutes (performing some blocks, counterhits, chops and loops), put it down and then grabbed the next racket. Each time I finished with a racket I put it on top of the racket I had used previously.

After my first run through, I had two rackets that felt very good (with one just a little better than the other), one racket that felt good, one racket that felt just OK, and one racket that felt quite bad.

I checked my discard pile to see which racket was which and wrote down the results, then mixed up the rackets again and repeated the process.

Once again, I had the exactly same results. Before I reveal the verdict, I'll quickly explain what I mean by a good or bad feel.

Beauty Is in the Hand of the Holder

The two rackets that I liked a lot felt the most similar to my own custom racket when hitting the ball, although obviously not exactly of the same quality. The feel of the ball hitting the racket was solid and responsive. I didn't need to adjust my strokes much to get the ball on the table, and I could produce a quality loop with pretty good power with these rackets with very little adjustment. I think I could actually use these rackets quite comfortably in a real match without affecting my game too much - they didn't feel that different from my custom racket as to be a significant problem.

The good racket still allowed me to perform all the strokes with a minor adjustment or two, but the feel of contact was a little less solid, and there was a little less power when looping the ball. I think I could still play a decent game of table tennis with this racket, but I wouldn't want to play a serious match with it due to the difference in feel to my custom racket.

The average racket was pretty much what I would have expected for a $20 paddle. It could push, chop and counterhit the ball quite decently, but looping the ball required a big adjustment - there wasn't that combination of speed and spin that's required. I could get decent spin and low speed, or decent speed and little spin, but not both. The paddle also felt a bit more hollow than the better rackets (it's hard to describe - perhaps it's vibrating more at contact?). In fact, this would probably be a better starting paddle for a basement player who doesn't yet have the technique to control the reaction to spin that the better paddles have.

The lousy racket was just a poor racket overall in my opinion. The blade felt very hollow and vibrated a lot; there was not much grip on the rubber surface; and it was almost impossible to produce a loop, even after making a big adjustment to allow for the different racket angle.

It could push, chop, and counterhit (sort of!), but it was almost like playing with antispin. I've got a $5 basement paddle that works just as well.

The List

Here's the list of rackets according to my own likes and dislikes:
Very Good - Killerspin Centric (Buy Direct), closely followed by the Killerspin Jet 100 (Buy Direct)
Good - Butterfly 201 FL (Buy Direct)
Average - Yasaka Attack (Buy Direct)
Not Recommended - Donic Waldner 500

Conclusion

The two Killerspin rackets performed the closest in terms of my own powerful custom racket, and as such, I'd recommend them for beginning players who want a cheap paddle with performance that's in the ballpark of what an advanced custom racket can achieve. (Of course, you also need the technique and ability to control them!). The Killerspin Jet 100 has one rubber that is green (which I didn't realize until I opened the shrink wrap), so don't buy that one unless you don't mind some strange looks at your club!

The Butterfly 201 FL performs pretty well, but not in the same league as the Killerspin rackets. I could still recommend it as a decent attacking racket, though.

The Yasaka Attack would be suitable for a beginner player who is just beginning to learn to handle spin, or a basement player who wants a racket with a little bit of power and spin that isn't affected by the opponent's spin too much.

I couldn't honestly recommend the Donic Waldner 500 to anybody.

One final element that is worth noting: None of these rackets have rubbers with the ITTF rubber identification box, which would mean that they would not be legal to use in a tournament using ITTF regulations, which would include most USATT tournaments.