Which Shuttlecock is Better: Feathered or Synthetic (Plastic)?

Welcome to the age-old debate for badminton players: which shuttlecock is better – feathered or synthetic? Shuttlecocks typically fall under two distinct buckets based on what material the skirt is made of: natural feather or synthetic material. Feathered shuttlecock are commonly made from the feathers of a goose or duck. Synthetic shuttlecocks, on the other hand, are made of plastic or nylon material and is commonly referred to as plastic or nylon shuttlecocks.

It is not so simple to state that a certain level of player should use a particular type of shuttlecock. Both types of shuttlecock can be found in the stash of players of any level – beginner, intermediate or advanced. Both types of shuttlecock can also be found used in private clubs, school teams, recreational play or tournament settings. 

Each type of shuttlecock has distinctive features that appeal to different badminton players – whether that be its flight, durability, feel or price point. Let’s dive into these characteristics and discover which type is the right one for you. Check out how we compare and rate each of Yonex’s feathered and synthetic shuttlecocks here:

The Complete Guide to Yonex Badminton Shuttlecocks (Feathered)
The Complete Guide to Yonex Badminton Shuttlecocks (Synthetic)

What are the Key Differences Between Feathered and Plastic Shuttlecocks?

The primary differences between the two types of shuttlecock are observed in the following traits: flight, durability, feel, and control. While not a characteristic of the shuttlecock itself, we will also cover how the price points compare between feathered and plastic shuttlecocks. 

Flight

The flight of a shuttlecock refers to how the shuttlecock moves through the air after it is hit. The most prominent property of flight that differs between feathered and plastic shuttlecocks is in the trajectory. Trajectory refers to the natural path the shuttlecock takes when in flight – or rather the shape of the shuttlecock’s flight. The flights of feathered and plastic may appear quite similar to amateur eyes due to the shuttlecock’s conical (cone-like) shape, however intermediate to advanced players are able to discern the subtle differences, which make a big difference in gameplay.

Feathered shuttlecock: The trajectory of a feathered shuttlecock will resemble that of a parachute. You can imagine this as a feathered shuttlecock starting with a more standard arc, but then dropping off more steeply towards the end of its flight when it is falling. 

The trajectory of a feathered shuttlecock is influenced by its construction of 16 individual overlaid feathers. Immediately after a hit, a feathered shuttlecock will experience faster acceleration as the feathers do not deform as much as plastic shuttlecocks do. Deformation refers to how much the shuttlecock’s composition is forcibly changed from its natural state. However, as more drag is imparted on a feathered shuttlecock throughout its flight, a feathered shuttlecock will experience a faster deceleration than a plastic shuttlecock, resulting in a sharper drop.

With a feathered shuttlecock, players are able to achieve higher clears to the back of an opponent’s court with a lower risk of it crossing the back line, given the steeper drop at the end of its flight. Additionally, players who hit drop shots from their backcourt can deliver drops closer to the net, given the faster deceleration of the shuttlecock.

Feathered vs. Plastic Shuttlecock: Clears
Figure 1: Difference between feathered and plastic shuttlecocks in clears.
Feathered vs. Plastic Shuttlecock: Back Court Drop
Figure 2: Difference between feathered and plastic shuttlecocks in back court drops.

Plastic shuttlecock: the trajectory of a plastic shuttlecock will take on more of a normal parabola, which are symmetric in nature. You can picture this as taking on the shape of an arc in a circle. 

The reason behind a plastic shuttlecock’s trajectory is also embedded in its construction. A plastic shuttlecock typically has a skirt that is made of one continuous piece of material. The impact of this design causes less acceleration upon hit, due to higher deformation of the skirt, but also experiences a steadier deceleration throughout its flight due to a relatively smaller drag effect. 

As a result, a plastic shuttlecock’s flight will travel further but flatter than a feathered shuttlecock’s flight, when hit by the same stroke and power. While this behavior may not be However, the difference is more evident with high intermediate or advanced players.

Feathered vs. Plastic Shuttlecock: Lifts
Figure 3: Difference between feathered and plastic shuttlecocks in lifts.

Durability

The durability of a shuttlecock refers to how long the shuttlecock remains in a playable state. While the degree to which a shuttlecock can continue to be used in gameplay is at the discretion of the players, badminton players want to be as conservative as possible when replacing shuttlecocks to remain cost-conscious in non-competitive settings. A rule of thumb is, when the flight of the shuttlecock becomes inconsistent (e.g. wobbles, doesn’t spin, etc) or the speed of the shuttlecock is severely impacted (e.g. too fast or too slow), then the shuttlecock is no longer playable. Shuttlecocks of higher durability can last longer before needing to exchange for a new one. 

Feathered shuttlecock: is much more fragile than a plastic shuttlecock. Each of the 16 individual natural feathers are prone to damage and breakage. On a typical feathered shuttlecock, once a feather is broken or displaced, it cannot be replaced. Interestingly, one of China’s biggest badminton brands, Li-Ning, had at one point dabbled with the concept of feathered shuttlecock with replaceable feathers. 

The feathers of a shuttlecock are unforgiving to mishits and can easily be rendered to an unplayable state. While smoothing out the feathers and at times plucking out individually broken feathers may help extend the playability of a damaged feathered shuttlecock, feathered shuttlecocks are in need of more frequent replacement. As such, feathered shuttlecock are considered less durable than plastic shuttlecocks. 

However, if you decide that feathered shuttlecocks are still your shuttlecock of choice, we invite you to learn about ways to make your shuttlecock last longer.

Plastic shuttlecock: is typically constructed with one continuous skirt material that is stronger than natural feather material and is better able to withstand wear and tear. Even if the skirt has minor splitting, the integrity of the shuttlecock’s flight is not as jeopardized as compared to when a feather is damaged or broken.

Until and unless there is major splitting in the skirt material or deterioration of the cork portion of a plastic shuttlecock, it does not need to be replaced. 

Similar to feathered shuttlecocks, there are ways to preserve and care for plastic shuttlecocks to elongate their lifespan. As the skirt of a plastic shuttlecock can become brittle if it is too cold, we advise owners of plastic shuttlecocks not to store them in locations that are too cold.

Feel

The feel of a shuttlecock is more of an abstract concept which refers to a player’s sense of connectivity with the shuttlecock with each contact. 

Feathered Shuttlecock: generally, a feathered shuttlecock offers better feel to a player. The natural feather material and composition of feathers allows for a crisper feeling when hit, along with a more satisfying explosive sound when the shuttlecock comes in contact with the string bed.

Plastic Shuttlecock: in comparison to a feathered shuttlecock, a plastic shuttlecock does not offer the same degree of feel behind each hit. Oftentimes, players experience a more dull feeling with each shot, while the sound a plastic shuttlecock emits is more a thunk. 

Control

The control of a shuttlecock refers to the ability to place the shuttlecock where you intend for it to go when you execute any of your shots. More control means that you are able to command the shuttlecock with more success, while less control means there is more variance in how the shuttlecock moves or where it will land. 

Feathered Shuttlecock: a feathered shuttlecock offers more control as there is less deformation of the shuttlecock with each shot. Control is essential for players who play at higher levels as they have polished their skills to hit steep smashes with precision, tight spinning net drops, or deep and high clears. 

Plastic Shuttlecock: with more deformation in a plastic shuttlecock, the time for the skirt to return back to its natural resting state is longer, resulting in lesser control over the shuttlecock. This can translate to net drops that are less tight and bounce higher off the string bed and larger inconsistencies in placement of the shuttlecock. 

Feathered vs. Plastic Shuttlecock: Net Drop
Figure 4: Difference between feathered and plastic shuttlecocks in net drops.

Price Point

The price point simply refers to the price of the shuttlecock. For the purposes of comparison, we will be taking the middle of the line shuttlecocks from each type from Yonex.

The Yonex AS-30 feathered shuttlecock and Yonex MAVIS 300 nylon plastic shuttlecock will be compared here. Both of these shuttlecocks represent the middle tier for their respective type of shuttlecock. In shopping for a total of a dozen shuttlecocks, the Yonex MAVIS 300 nylon shuttlecock is about 2/3 the price of that of the Yonex AS-30. 

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While this may not appear to be stark difference in price, you need to keep in mind the higher durability of the plastic shuttlecocks in comparison to their feathered counterparts. 

If on average, a single plastic shuttlecock can last the same duration as three (3) feathered shuttlecock, then the math would turn out to be:

1 plastic = 3 feathered 
Price point of plastic = 2/3 of feathered
1 dozen plastic = 2/9 of feathered

1 dozen plastic shuttles can be fetched at 2/9 the price of a dozen feathered shuttlecocks! This can be a very important consideration when determining which type of shuttlecocks you should purchase and play with.

Which Type of Players Should Choose Feathered Shuttlecocks?

Feathered shuttlecocks can be tougher on your wallet, but have their share of outstanding qualities. We recommend looking into feathered shuttlecocks if the majority of the following list apply to you:

  1. You are a player who is able to feel the difference between shuttlecocks – not only between plastic and feathered, but even between different tiers of feathered shuttlecocks. Players that fall in this bucket will be able to increase their enjoyment level of the sport through using feathered shuttlecock.
  2. You are a skilled player who is able to maximize the trajectory of the shuttlecock’s flight. Executing on high and deep clears and sharp drops is amplified through the usage of feathered shuttlecocks.
  3. You have a high degree of technical skill where control becomes part of your game play. Players who are able to demonstrate precision and accuracy in their shots and swings would benefit from choosing feathered shuttlecocks.
  4. If you are training to become a professional player. While certain grades and brands of plastic shuttlecocks are approved for tournament play, all major badminton tournaments played on the international stages all use feathered shuttlecocks. 

Which Type of Players Should Choose Synthetic (Plastic) Shuttlecocks? 

Plastic shuttlecocks boast high durability, but may be at the trade-off complete control and superior feel. We recommend looking into plastic shuttlecocks if you can relate to multiple of the items below:

  1. You are a recreational player or training youth. When starting off in playing badminton, you will primarily be working on your footwork and basic shot execution. The subtleties between a plastic and feathered shuttlecock may not be evident to you as you have yet to discover the differences through experience.
  2. You are looking for a budget friendly option. Badminton is not the cheapest of sports, with the shuttlecock being the one equipment that needs constant replenishing. As the plastic shuttlecock still achieves a similar flight pattern due to having a similar conical shape as feathered shuttlecock, the flight and overall playing experience is not starkly different, while the price point can be. 
  3. You enjoy the thrill of a hard-hitting style of gameplay. Given the more gradual deceleration of plastic shuttlecocks due to the lesser drag it experiences across its flight, plastic shuttlecocks can travel further/deeper into your opponent’s court. Paired with the lesser degree of control with plastic shuttlecocks creates an environment where players prefer to pummel the shuttlecock over playing with finesse. 
  4. You value sustainability. As each feathered shuttlecock is made of 16 individual feathers from a bird – typically a goose or duck – it is not very sustainable or eco-friendly to play with. 

While we offer our recommendations above for which type of players should choose which type of shuttlecocks, it is important to keep in mind that either of the types of shuttlecocks are not strictly meant for one player or another. As your body, experience, and skill level change across time, so too can your selection of shuttlecocks.

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