What does "thermoformed" mean? Thermoformed paddles have a one-piece carbon fibre construction around the core. That means there is no break in the carbon on the edges making for a much more durable and very different feeling response during pocketing. On these particular paddles, that one-piece construction also extends to the bottom of the handle, further amplifying that durability and change in feel.
For reference, most paddle's top-sheet ends where the handle begins, which is why some paddles have had durability issues around that area. The connection between the paddle's face and the handle is the most vulnerable non-ground-contact portion of the paddle, so making that connection as seamless as possible is genius and extremely important for paddle longevity in the future.
CRBN Power paddles are groundbreaking, but not just because their durability is bound to be better. They also perform incredibly well in many different metrics.
We took the CRBN1X 14mm and 16mm for an extensive playtest. I've always been partial to extended paddles, but if you prefer the snappier and more forgiving feel of a standard-length paddle, the CRBN2X will be similar, just with the playability characteristics of shorter paddles.
Understanding how the CRBN1X Powers feel is crucial before you go out and buy one. Trying to put "feel" into words can be difficult, but that's my job, so I will do my best.
First of all, both the 14 and the 16-millimetre paddles feel unlike anything I've ever tried. The feel is incredible in some ways and a little more challenging to get used to in others.
Thanks to the one-piece carbon fibre construction into the handle, you get a connection to the ball, unlike anything I've ever tried. Because there is no disconnect between the material your hand is holding and the material the ball makes contact with, you can feel the response from the ball's pocketing down your hand.
In tennis, a "good" feeling racket provides feedback, both positive and negative.
It's the same thing with the CRBN1X Powers. The feedback (vibration) is felt all the way down the hand, and because your hand links your brain to the paddle, it sends you a message about the quality of your contact. Good feel is so vital because understanding why a shot was good or bad is how you are going to gain maximum confidence to swing full with your paddle.
So the feel is excellent, but what do they actually feel like?
On the 14mm CRBN1X, the response is so instantaneous that I couldn't believe this paddle was 14 millimetres. The ball spends very little time in the paddle bed, so even though you have great feel for the ball, there is very little time to control where that ball is going mid-swing.
That makes the 14mm CRBN Power a very difficult paddle to use, and even though the core has a similar foam-injected makeup to the Ben Johns CFS 16mm, the sweet spot is small, and you have to be on top of your game to use it. Still, when you do make proper contact, the sensation is so incredible that you can quickly get hooked.
The 16mm is still far more responsive than other 16 millimetre paddles, but it's way more plush and forgiving than the 14mm. Honestly, the 16mm is a far more viable option for the average consumer, and I think this might be a better thickness for thermoformed paddles going forward. You still get that incredible feel for the ball in a more user-friendly package.
That being said and this might be some sort of Stockholm syndrome, but I absolutely loved that harsher feel of the 14mm. Yes, it's challenging to use, but when you make good contact, the feel is so incredible that it was worth spending the time to get used to the paddle's steep learning curve. I love a paddle that lets you know when you've screwed up and rewards you when you've done well.
Ah, the classical dichotomy of power and control. We all want both but can only have one; that reminds me of the Harry Potter prophecy of "only one can live, while the other must die." I don't need to put in a spoiler alert; Harry Potter has been out plenty long enough.
These paddles define "what you lose in control, you gain in power."
The CRBN1X 14mm is insanely powerful; it truly does live up to its name. And before anyone thinks that I'm exaggerating, I promise I'm not. Pickleball is growing so fast that technological developments will be more impressive in this sport than in more established ones. The dust hasn't settled yet, and it could be that in a year, this isn't considered as powerful anymore, but for now, it is.
Because so little energy is lost in dwell time, the ball rockets off the paddle face; that's in the thermoformed design's nature. Thanks to the one-piece construction, energy is retained throughout its structure and not lost in the seams.
But it's not all roses and violets with this power profile; controlling these paddles is difficult, especially the 14mm. I need to reiterate what I said earlier; the 14mm is harsh and will absolutely punish you with a wayward shot if you make improper contact.
At first, I had a really tough time controlling the instantaneous launch. My game has developed certain tendencies that usually work with a "normal" paddle, but I had to adapt to this launchy feel. The lack of control was most noticeable during returns, where I pushed the ball long every other point at the beginning of my playtest. As I got used to the paddle, I managed to control it better and even came to appreciate the easy depth, but even by the end of my playtest, I still felt like I didn't have complete confidence on my returns.
The lack of control is evident during slower-paced shots; you can't get the CRBN1X 14mm to flex like a traditional paddle unless you are hitting a full stroke, which you only do during topspin groundstrokes and volleys.
Because it is so crisp though, the CRBN1X Power has surgical precision for volleys. Still, you have to be on top of your game when you're volleying because if you don't hit the sweet spot, that ball could go anywhere.
Here's what I will say: while the 14mm goes for all-out power with very little care as to how control suffers because of that, the 16mm is much more subdued. It's almost as if those two extra millimetres acted as a sort of "chill pill" on that paddle. If the 14mm is off the charts on each end of the power and control spectrum, the 16mm brings that in a little closer to the centre. But it's still much more powerful than it is controlled.
We've left the best for last. Recently we came out with a "Top 5 Pickleball Paddles for Spin". Unfortunately, we hadn't gotten our shipment of CRBN1X Powers yet, so we couldn't include them in the list, but they would go right up to a comfortable number one.
Funnily enough, they're called "Power" paddles, but the spin potential stood out to me as otherworldly. Again, I'm not exaggerating; if all thermoformed paddles are this spin-friendly, this technology will be as revolutionary to pickleball as polyester strings were to tennis in the early 2000s. Spin potential with these is game-changing.
After my first serve with this thing, it couldn't have been more clear. The ball shot up off the ground, and my opponent just stood there, totally dumbfounded. Even from my point of view on the other side of the court, the arch on the ball was just different from what I could do with any other paddle.
The T700 surface's grit helps, but spin comes more from how the ball interacts with the carbon during contact. You feel the carbon pocket the ball, almost like it's grinding into it, and that's why it produces so much spin.
This spin potential will add a whole new layer to pickleball. You have so much control over the type of spin you want on your topspin shots. I use the word "control" tactically because I mentioned earlier that this paddle was hard to control, but I waited till the spin section to explain why I felt great control with it.
What I said about control on slower shots — dinking, touch shots, slicing — stays true, but on faster groundstrokes, you can control your shots with different types of spin. Put spin on your deep groundstrokes; they'll touch down before the baseline. On low-dipping passing shots, you've got the potential to arch the ball unlike anything else I've tried before. If you want to get fancy and curve the ball around your opponent, give it a go. I can't guarantee that shot will work, but these paddles will give you the best chance to make it happen. They are the closest paddles I have ever felt to the spin I get from a tennis racket.
Spin might be marginally lower on the 16mm than on the 14mm, but marginally lower than the most spin-friendly paddle I've ever tried is still more spin-friendly than everything else. As long as you don't try the 14mm first, you certainly won't think it lacks spin.
Stock form is just the tip of the iceberg
These paddles are for advanced players who prioritize control during fast-paced shots over soft control for touch shots and dinking. They are the best I have tried from the baseline, on volleys, and on any shot where I can take a full cut of the ball with topspin.
That being said, there is no way around it; the CRBN1X paddles lack control on slower shots – even the 16mm (at least compared to other 16mm paddles). But there may actually be a way around it... If you want to scrap every issue I had with these paddle's control, there is something you can do, but it won't be for everybody...
Until now, companies have more or less capped a paddle's stock static weight at 8.5 ounces, but the reality is pickleball players are getting better at an astonishing pace, and sooner or later, the best players will realize that heavier paddles perform better in almost every sense.
Add lead tape to either the 16 or 14-millimetre CRBN1X, and you will make them perform significantly better from a control perspective. It will make the paddle feel softer and the sweet spot less harsh while maintaining its other amazing characteristics. It's a matter of time until advanced players realize that adding weight to these paddles will make them almost too good. Keep in mind; I would only recommend this to very advanced players who are sure they still have the necessary reaction time and hand speed to control a heavy, long paddle.
Take them up to 9.0 ounces if you dare, but I can promise that if you're good enough, they will revolutionize your game.
I'm running out of superlatives to describe how quickly this industry is developing, and just when I thought Joola had set the standard for paddle performance with their Ben John's CFS 16mm, CRBN comes out with this. I pray to the pickleball gods (USAPA) that they don't ban thermoformed paddles. Why should they? Just because they perform so well doesn't mean they are too good for the sport. Giving players a weapon like this will help further advance the game, so trying to cool down that innovation would only be a step back. As a guy who is obsessed with the intricacies of sports gear, being a part of a sport that has groundbreaking developments every six months is just incredible.
With all this said, these paddles won't be for everyone; they are tough to use and require a particular game style to access their full potential. The CRBN2X 14mm and 16mm will be more user-friendly, but they'll still suffer from some of what gives these paddles their steep learning curve.
Each of them is worth a demo, though, so stop by the store to try them out, or you can check them out on our website.