When Ben Johns moved to Joola last year, his new paddle sent shock waves through the industry. The Hyperion CFS 16mm was a fantastic paddle that broke the mold for what we thought was possible in terms of performance.
It ticked all the boxes — power, spin, control, stability, touch — it really did have it all. But we all know how quickly pickleball is moving, and while the Hyperion is far from obsolete, it was only a matter of time before Johns adapted his weapon of choice to the ever-changing game.
Enter the Joola Perseus CFS 16mm Ben Johns signature paddle. It was teased for months, with prototypes distributed to playtesters around the continent, and the final release is striking. For one, the grey edge guard stands out among the sea of black, monochromatic ones, and the paddle face design isn't too busy but looks so pro.
Beyond the aesthetics, you can instantly notice how much the paddle has changed from the Hyperion. Joola has completely changed its shape; it looks more standard with a rectangular top portion of the head and a longer 5.5-inch handle. The shape is similar to a CRBN1X Power or SLK Halo XL, or more logically, the Franklin Signature that Johns used in the past. But it's not just the shape that has changed.
The Perseus is thermoformed. Yes, thermoformed paddles have made a huge splash, and it almost seems like a necessity rather than a perk to mold a paddle this way if you want to charge big bucks (and the Perseus certainly costs "big bucks"). Thermoforming has taken over pickleball not just because of its durability benefits but also because of how well it can make a paddle play. In my experience, thermoformed paddles hit harder, feel better, are more forgiving, and play with much more spin than classically constructed paddles. They're not without their flaws, though, so let's see what Joola and Johns did about that.
The last major update from the Hyperion is paddle weight and balance. Part of what made the Johns Hyperion so tough to use was its high static and swing weight. It had an off-the-charts head-heavy balance that made it one of the slowest paddles ever, at least in stock form. Of course, this head-heavy balance was more of a pro than a con for many as it helped stabilization and made for more power and spin.
The Perseus has a lower static weight — it weighs 8.0 ounces instead of 8.5 — but more importantly, it has a drastically lower swing weight. It swings much quicker through the air and has a more traditional headlight balance.
Throughout this review, we'll make a lot of comparisons to the Hyperion but also other extended thermoformed paddles so you can better understand exactly how the Perseus plays.
Touch and Control
I want to clarify that I'm talking about soft, flat control here. You can also control your shots in pickleball using spin, but we'll discuss spin later. This is the control you are looking for on dinks, resets, and touch shots.
The Perseus evolves from the Hyperion, which, as I mentioned earlier, performed exceptionally well in most metrics, but if I had to pick one outstanding characteristic, that would be its touch and control.
This is part of why I was super excited to try the Perseus after I found out it was thermoformed. Thermoformed paddles are notoriously launchy and instantly responsive. They don't have the same softness as traditional paddles, so I wanted to see how the Perseus would perform, knowing it was going to be the paddle of choice for a guy who clearly values soft touch.
It's not as soft as the Hyperion, but it is, by quite some margin, the softest and most controlled thermoformed paddle I have used to date. It has a much more plush response than the CRBN1X Powers and Vatic Pro V7 that I tested; I was almost caught off guard because I've come to expect a somewhat uncontrollable launch with this style of paddle.
It was a pleasant surprise. Joola adding a layer of touch to a thermoformed paddle is impressive, and even though it might not be as good as the Hyperion, it's better than most paddles. It has more control than any thinner paddle (which is not true even of the 16 millimetre thermoformed paddles), and it's right about middle of the range compared to every paddle 16 millimetres and thicker.
I had an easy time with dinks, resets, and touch — not as effortlessly easy as the Hyperion — but the paddle certainly won't hold you back with this part of the game.
Hand Speed and Manoeuvrability
The most instantly noticeable improvement from the Hyperion to the Perseus is in hand speed and manoeuvrability. It was always going to be the case with the lighter swing weight and headlight balance, but I can confirm that it is night and day. The Perseus isn't a "fast" paddle per se, but it's significantly faster than the Hyperion.
I reacted much quicker at the net and could move the paddle around more freely when points got wild, and I had to play more random defense. The increase in speed was great, but did I miss that extra heft the Hyperion had in the head?
Yes, in some ways, I did.
Stability and Sweetspot
If not touch and control, then the sweet spot size and stability were the most impressive characteristics of the Hyperion. Of course, the Hyperion's core was revolutionary and probably the driving factor for why that paddle was so stable and forgiving. Still, that heftier swing weight certainly played its part.
By lowering the balance and swing weight, Joola has basically said, "We're going to take away some of that stability and sweet spot in exchange for hand speed." Many of you will be more than happy with that sacrifice, but I'm a bit on the fence.
Don't get me wrong; the stability is still excellent on the Perseus. It's what you would expect from a thermoformed paddle, and it's right up there with the other two that I have tried, but it's not as good as the Hyperion, which is really in a world of its own.
I decided to follow the man himself (Ben Johns being the man I'm referring to), so I added about six inches of half inch lead on both sides of the bottom of the paddle's face to look for that stability I lost coming from the Hyperion. With the lead, I most definitely found it, and even then, the paddle still wasn't as clunky as the Hyperion. It became one of the most stable paddles I've tried, and it also helped the sweet spot feel better all around.
The sweet spot is much more crisp than the buttery soft one on the Hyperion. This is a sensation that I've really enjoyed with thermoformed paddles because I love receiving that instantaneous, positive feedback down into my hand. Feel is one thing that Joola seem to always get 100% right, and I'm glad that even though the two paddles "feel" very different, they both still feel excellent.
This crisper feel provides better sensations when hitting ground strokes and powerful put-away shots, but the Hyperion's soft and buttery feel is better on slow-paced shots, because it gives you a split second more to control where you are placing them.
Compared to other thermoformed paddles, the Perseus has the best feel. They all feel excellent, but this was the paddle where I felt the most connected to my shot and the best understanding of where the ball was in the paddle during pocketing on the widest variety of shot selections.
It's thermoformed, it's powerful, but it's the least powerful thermoformed paddle I've tried, and that's totally fine by me. The much better control compared to other thermoformed paddles was always going to mean a small sacrifice in power, but that's one that Johns, and any player who can bring their own power, was always going to be happy to make.
It still falls somewhere in the 90th percentile in terms of power and is much more powerful than the Hyperion and other non-thermoformed 16-millimetre paddles. That crisper feel translates to more instantaneous pop off the paddle face, which I loved, especially when I was going for put-away shots at the net. The ball doesn't lose unnecessary energy in the paddle face and goes right where you're pointing it, as quickly as possible.
It's not that I didn't enjoy my time volleying with the Hyperion, I just didn't know that a paddle this much better was possible, but it is.
Power gets even better if you add weight because you get a little more plough-through on your shots. I didn't notice it as much at the net (although more stability is always welcome), but it helped make my baseline groundstrokes penetrate the court a lot more.
Thermoformed paddles are the most spin-friendly paddles on the market. Spin is my favourite feature of a thermoformed paddle, but, unfortunately, it's not as good on the Perseus as it is on either thickness of the CRBN1X Power or the Vatic Pro V7. Don't get me wrong, this paddle still has great spin-generating potential, but it's not up there with the best, and it took me some time to get used to that.
I'm not a master of the touch game. I prefer to control my shots with spin, and because I didn't have the same access to spin that I have on other thermoformed paddles, I struggled a bit to control the more powerful response.
Guess who is a master of the touch game, though: Ben Johns. At first, I was a bit confused as to why this paddle didn't have the same spin-generating potential as the other two thermoformed ones I've tried, but after taking some time to analyze his game, I think I understand why.
He's not the kind of guy who takes tennis-style swings at the ball to hit with the most spin possible. Instead, Johns is more methodical and calm in hitting his groundstrokes. Of course, he still puts spin on them, but he's more interested in placing his shots with precision than blasting high rpm passing forehands around his opponent.
I know that many of you will be thinking, "well if I'm paying $340 for a paddle it should be the best at everything", and I understand that, but here's how to look at it. Joola are not magicians. They can't defy physics, and the reality is we're still at a place with technology where more of something means less of another. Joola went for more touch and control with the Perseus, and they had to sacrifice power and spin to do that, at least compared to other paddles that use thermoforming.
They did that because they had to complement Johns' style more than the ultra spin-oriented one. It's logical, and it means that the paddle may not be as suited for my game as some of the other ones I've recently tried, but it's more suited to the control game.
Who is it for?
One thing I really don't want people to take from this review is to think that the paddle can't hit with spin; it absolutely can. In fact, on serves, I didn't notice a particularly large drop in spin. Obviously, that's the only shot with zero variables out of your control so it's easy to get right, but it can still generate plenty of rpms there to send your opponent deep into their court.
So, it's still a very spin-friendly paddle, but it's not made for people that rely on bottomless spin potential to control their shots.
When I stopped living up to the definition of "insanity" by staring blankly at the paddle every time my passing shots didn't have the same spin as on the Vatic Pro V7, I started to tweak my style a little bit. I slowed down my forehand and backhand and went for a more calm and controlled passing shots, and who would have thought? The paddle reacted exceptionally well.
This paddle is made for advanced players who understand the importance of pop and spin in the current game but don't want to crank them up to such an extreme that they forget the importance of methodical control, especially at the highest level. Believe it or not, it's made for guys like Ben Johns.
In the truest sense, it's a hybrid paddle that doesn't sacrifice any single playability characteristic to be off the charts in another. If that sounds like something you want from a paddle, then you will love Perseus.
I really enjoyed my play test with the Perseus, even if it may not be the perfect paddle for me. Last year, when I tried the Hyperion, I was so blown away by its performance that I point-blank said it was the best paddle in the world. While I don't think the Perseus is as clear a cut above the rest as the Hyperion was, it's still one of the best-performing paddles I've ever tried and a logical successor to the Hyperion in the hands of Ben Johns.
If you'd like to demo the Perseus 16mm or any of the new Joola paddles, visit us in-store, or check them out online.