by Mark Robbins
If you’re looking to buy an air hockey table for your home, this guide will help you find the table that best suits you, within your chosen price range. The opinions expressed are based on my own 40+ years of playing competitive air hockey, and over 30 years of being involved in the manufacturing and design of high quality air hockey tables.
To begin with… this guide is focused primarily on new tables. If you’re looking for a used air hockey table, and have the space, I would suggest searching for a full-size (8 ft.) coin or home table that is sanctioned for play by the USAA (U.S. Air Hockey Association). The USAA standards are stringent: over the past 35 years they have only sanctioned the highest-quality tables that meet the demands of the world’s best players. A list of USAA-sanctioned tables can be found in the USAA rules section on either goldstandardairhockey.com or airhockey.com. Sanctioned tables would be made by Brunswick (coin model); some Dynamo models (coin and home); and most Gold Standard Games models (coin and home). Sometimes you can find a good quality used air hockey table for sale at a reasonable price on Ebay, Craigslist, or the like.
NEW AIR HOCKEY TABLES
Brand-new non-coin tables for home use can be divided into two basic types: small-puck models (using lighter-weight pucks of 2 1/2” diameter or less), and large-puck models (using full-size pucks of 3 1/4” diameter or thereabouts). The small-puck tables are usually lower-priced and mostly made in China. The large-puck tables will be higher-priced and typically made in the U.S.
When buying a new air hockey table, in general you get what you pay for. The smaller-puck models have weaker air flow, thus they must use a smaller, lightweight puck. The downside is that the small, light puck will tend to fly off the table a whole lot more than the tables that use the larger-size puck. The advantage of the small-puck tables is their affordability. Most of these air hockey tables will sell for under $1,000 and some table-top varieties even go for under $100. The small-puck tables are usually adequate for children up to 8, maybe 10 years old. With players 10 years of age or older, the puck will start to fly off because of more force behind the shots.
The large-puck air hockey tables are more heavy-duty and are designed for play by adults as well as children. Many of the large-puck tables are commercial-grade, which means they are identical to the coin-op models with the exception of a free play button instead of a coin mech. Some of these tables are USAA-sanctioned, which means that they qualify for use in State, National, and World Championships. The commercial-grade tables will be heavier and much more durable than the small-puck models, and as you might guess, they are more expensive.
LARGE-PUCK AIR HOCKEY TABLES
So if you’re looking for the very best-playing new table, I would recommend a USAA-sanctioned home model. This would include the Tournament Pro, Tournament Pro Elite, and the Gold Flare/Gold Pro home models from Gold Standard Games; and the Pro-Style from Dynamo. These are the very same models of tables used in World Championships. These high-quality home air hockey tables can be found at many billiard retailers, as well as from online dealers. Depending on model, these 8-ft. tables can run anywhere from $3,300 up to $6,000 or more.
I have had the honor and good fortune to be the designer of both the original Dynamo tables (back in the 1980’s) and, more recently, the Gold Standard air hockey tables. In my personal opinion the Gold Standard tables, endorsed by World Champions, are the best-playing, most durably built air hockey tables on the market. But that is a decision for you, the buyer, to make. Feel free to go to the website of any company mentioned, view their products, and contact them with any questions.
Another brand of large-puck air hockey tables which play fairly well, and sell at a reasonable price, are the Great American tables. These tables are not quite up to USAA sanctioning standards but are of commercial quality and built in the US, as are the Gold Standard and Dynamo tables.
Finally, the Home Pro and Home Pro Elite models from Gold Standard Games are large-puck air hockey tables which are designed for affordability – their selling price is about half of what the commercial-grade home tables sell for. These tables play well and the puck stays on the table, just as you would expect from a large-puck table. The Home Pro/Home Pro Elite air hockey tables are not USAA-sanctioned; they are built with a lighter cabinet, and the blower and rails are not up to full commercial standards as on the sanctioned tables. On the other hand, you can find these 7-ft. Air hockey tables on sale for as low as $1579 for the Home Pro model.
SMALL-PUCK AIR HOCKEY TABLES
Now let’s talk about the small-puck tables. Search online for air hockey tables and you will see a multitude of them. While most of these are generic tables imported from China, we will try to pick out a few that have developed a decent reputation.
Probably the best of the small-puck tables is the Dynamo Arctic Wind, built in the U.S. The puck stays on the table a little better than on the other small-puck tables, and the action is decent. On the other hand, this table won’t compare to the arcade-like feel of the large-puck air hockey tables we have reviewed. The Arctic Wind sells for more than the other small-puck tables – around $1,350 seems to be a typical online price. Note that the Arctic Wind, unlike most other home tables, has manual scoring, not automatic/electronic.
Another small-puck table manufacturer that has a positive reputation is GLD. They make the Fat Cat and Viper series of air hockey tables, with prices ranging from $700 to $1,150. As for other small-puck tables by other manufacturers, the best thing would be to read some of the online reviews, taking into account both quality and company responsiveness to warranty issues. And keep in mind that with the lower-priced tables, you cannot realistically expect commercial-quality action, puck stability, and durability.
Air hockey is the world’s fastest table sport – good luck in your search for a new table!