How do three of the most popular entry level paintball guns stack up? Inquiring minds want to know. This article is our attempt at a fair, honest comparison between the Kingman Spyder Compact 2000, the PMI Piranha G2 VTL, and the Tippmann Model 98. Each of these guns represents the lowest cost, entry level semi-automatic from these manufacturers. All three guns used in the test were in stock, out-of-box condition and had seen very little use at the time of the test. All of the paint was from the same case of RP Sherrer Marbalizer. Peak temperature on test day was around 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Manufacturers claim each of these guns will work on High Pressure Air, but our test used Co2.
All three guns are open-bolt blow-backs, and operate in a similar fashion. While the Spyder and Piranha are stacked two-tube designs, the Model 98 is an in-line design. Cocking each gun compresses the main spring between the hammer (striker) and rear of the gun. When the trigger is pulled the hammer is released and flies forward, carrying the linked bolt with it. The bolt pushes the paintball into the barrel. When the hammer strikes the valve pin, the valve is opened and gas is released in two directions – a burst which propels the ball down the barrel, and a burst which blows the hammer (and linked bolt) back into it’s cocked position. The gun is then ready to fire again.
With hot weather, each of the test guns produced more than enough velocity. The Spyder, for example, was initially shooting close to 350 f.p.s. The standard rear velocity adjuster, which adjust tension on the main spring, could not be backed off enough to lower the velocity. This appears to be common among Spyders and usually requires cutting of the main spring to get into legal velocities. Some tinkering also had to be done to get the Piranha to a legal velocity. On both the Spyder and Piranha, adjusting velocity can affect the cocking action, since the adjustments affect how hard the hammer actually hits the valve pin, and how much gas is released for both propelling the ball and re-cocking the gun. If the spring action is too weak, the hammer will not open the valve enough to allow sufficient gas to re-cock the gun.
The Model 98, was the easiest to adjust. Instead of a main spring tension adjustment, the Model 98 has a screw that protrudes into the passage leading from the valve to the bolt. This restricter type adjustment gives a wide range of velocity without affecting the cocking action. The trade-off is the opportunity to make the gun more efficient. While the Spyder and Piranha actually use less gas when you decrease the velocity, the Model 98 uses the same amount of gas per shot regardless of velocity, since the restricter screw is merely diverting gas away that has already been released by the valve.
Once velocity for each gun was set into the 290 to 300 f.p.s. range, a 10 shot string was fired from each gun, with 5 seconds between each shot. While it would have been nice to chronograph each gun to exactly the same velocity, the charts here will show why that was an impossibility. Unfortunately erratic velocities are not uncommon on today’s un-regulated entry level guns. The Spyder, for example, dipped below the set range on the first shot, and rocketed right past it on the second shot. Notice the average on the 10 shot strings, however, are very close.
The Model 98 held the most consistent velocity through the test, with the widest spread being a 10 f.p.s. jump between shots 2 and 3. The Model 98 only fell below 290 f.p.s. once during the ten shots. The Piranha varied by 29 f.p.s. over the 10 shots, having the single biggest shot to shot discrepancy, with a 26 f.p.s. drop between shots 4 and 5.
Accuracy testing was done at 25 yards, with each gun mounted in a vise. At this range the erratic velocities displayed by the guns should have less of an effect on elevation. If you would like to know how the guns shoot at greater ranges, you merely have to exaggerate any inconsistencies – accuracy is certainly not going to improve at greater ranges. As said before, all paint was from the same case of Marbalizer. While some people would argue the need to match different paint with different barrels, we believe the Marbalizer was the best quality paint we could find and puts all three guns on equal footing.
Since the accuracy testing was done immediately following the velocity testing, the guns were not re-chronoed. 10 shots were fired from each gun at a 4 x 8 foot plywood board, with the aiming point remaining constant. The board was washed clean between testing sets.
The Spyder was tested first and ended up shooting a fairly tight pattern, being 6 inches across and 7 inches tall at it’s widest points.
The Piranha’s pattern was only 4 inches wide, but 8 inches tall thanks to one erratic shot.
The Model 98 shot the worst pattern of the three guns, with a 20.5 inch wide by 17 inch tall group.
As a way to get an idea of how well these guns use the available gas pressure, a twist type 12 gram adapter was attached to each one of the guns. The guns were checked to make sure they were still in the 290 to 300 f.p.s. range. Each gun was then fired at a slow pace, first with no balls, then later with balls and every 5th shot chronographed. This test was not about consistency, but about how far the gun could go on a 12 gram. Apparently back pressure from having a ball in the gun does make a difference. With each case, the gun was able to continue re-cocking with a ball in the chamber, past the point where it failed on the earlier test without balls.
Dry firing, the Piranha was able to get 24 shots before the gun refused to re-cock. With balls, the gun made the best use of the 12 gram getting 36 shots before failing to re-cock. The first shot was 298 f.p.s., while shot number 36 was 190 f.p.s
The Model 98, with it’s velocity restricter full open, showed the second best use of the 12 gram cartridge getting 28 shots while dry firing. With balls the Model 98 got 32 shots ranging from an initial 286 f.p.s. to the final 160 f.p.s. before failing.
The Spyder surprised the testers by getting only 7 shots when dry firing. With balls in the chamber, the Spyder was able to re-cock through double the number of shots, getting a total of 14. This was still only half as good as the second best Model 98. Shots ranged from 294 to 248 f.p.s.
When it comes to field stripping, the Piranha is by far the easiest of these three guns. One simple push pin and the entire bolt/hammer/spring/adjuster assembly slides right out of the back of the gun. The design also makes it easy to keep the entire assembly together while out of the gun. Reassembly is just as easy with the use of a push button which allows the hammer to pass the sear.
Field stripping the Spyder requires the removal of three metric screws and the cocking knob. The sight rail has to come off to allow removal of the top cap behind the bolt. After that a variety of parts come out. Both the Spyder and Piranha use the same barrel threading system, which requires between 5.5. and 6 turns to remove the barrel. Both guns also have removable plugs in the end of the power feed for cleaning access.
You don’t field strip a Model 98. If you break paint while at the field, the Model 98 has a very convenient hinged direct feed which gives good access to the bolt and breech area for quick cleaning. The direct feed housing can be easily removed once it’s opened from the spring-loaded latch. The gun also has a very fast threaded barrel that comes off in less than 2.5 turns.
To really get into the guts of the Model 98 requires the removal of no less than 7 screws – 5 in the body and at least two on the wrap-around grip panel. Although not entirely necessary, it’s generally easier to remove the 2 bottomline screws as well. Once the screws are out, the gun splits in half, revealing most of working parts except those inside the sealed valve system. Care must be taken not to loose or forget any of the smaller parts when reassembling, such as the small spring on the direct feed latch.
The Bad Stuff
While all of these guns have the great advantage of being very usable at an entry level price, they do have their drawbacks.
The most frequent complaint about the Model 98 is it’s lack of accuracy. This can be attributed to the stock barrel, which appears to be the worst of the three barrels despite the fact that it comes on the highest priced gun in this crowd. Some higher priced guns known for accuracy have specific devices in place to hold the ball in the same spot for each shot fired, and the method seems to work well. That concept is nonexistent on the Model 98. When dropping a paintball into the breech, it will simply roll through the first inch or so, before coming to a stop. After conducting a test by pulling the trigger without gas on the gun, it appears the same thing happens each time the bolt pushes a ball into the barrel. This means the ball could be some random distance (up to an inch) in front of the bolt when it’s impacted by gas, which could easily have an adverse affect on accuracy. In addition, the Model 98 barrel has the poorest internal finish of the three guns, looking like raw, unpolished aluminum. The long process to get to the internals of the gun also drew complaints. Ball breaks can (and have) get paint back up inside the gun making take-down a necessity.
Complaints about the Spyder vary. The gun uses metric screws which can be a minor annoyance. The non-standard hole pattern on the bottom of the grip frame is also annoying for anyone who would like to add a standard style bottomline or drop forward piece. The plastic grip frame of the Compact 2K was not well received by testers. While the Piranha also has a plastic grip frame, it appears to be made of sturdier material, similar to what is used on composite stocks and other parts used on real firearms. The frame on the Spyder is something more like you’d expect to find on a toy gun. We also disliked the gimmicky valve chamber extension. The volume chamber itself is a hollow tube, which is fine, but the problem is in the vertical ASA it screws into. Even unregulated blowback guns can benefit from having an enlarged valve area. However, the tiny passage through the ASA from the chamber to the valve area restricts free flow, making the volume chamber useless, even as an upgrade feature. If someone wants to make a low pressure gun out of the Compact 2K, they will either have to purchase an aftermarket ASA, or do some serious drilling on this one.
The only real complaint on the Piranha is probably the most serious complaint of the group. After only about 200 rounds, the trigger sear* on the Piranha showed a small chip near the corner. Unfortunately, excessive wear has has also appeared on the sears of other Piranhas belonging to people on our team. Eventually the wear could lead to the failure of the part to catch the hammer when the gun recocks. Since the original posting of this article, PMI has apparently addressed this problem and is offering sears* to owners of previously purchased guns. This G2 model was purchased in July, 2000.
Each of the guns have their selling points. For the Spyder Compact 2000, the price alone is probably the single most attractive feature. With an investment of around $100 (US)*, you get a very usable gun. Parts availability should never be a problem, and with so many Spyders populating the planet, it’s easy to find someone who can help you work on it should the need arise. Add to that the number of aftermarket parts available for the Spyder line, and you get a tinker’s dream come true.
All of the testers liked the way the Model 98 felt despite the way it shoots. The Model 98 is a heavier gun, and feels very solid. It also has the best trigger of this bunch by far. Actually the M98 trigger is better than a lot of guns, with an excellent short pull and feel. The nice wrap around 45 grips, built-in foregrip, and standard bottom line also add to the package, which tops the price chart of this group at around $150 (US)*.
Since a lot of Spyder parts work in a Piranha, and the operations systems are the same, the same parts availability and service features also apply. In addition the Piranha has the best field strip system of the group, and the standard screws are a plus for us spoiled Americans. The Piranha also has a nicer finish than the Spyder, looking more refined. The price for this Model is around $130 (US)*, putting it right between the other guns.
*Note: All prices listed in this article were based on MSRP at the time the article was written. Actual current retail prices are lower.
What follows are the individual preferences of the four people who conducted this comparison test. Paintball playing experience of the group ranges from 2 to 11 years. Each tester spent time shooting each gun at the target range, and are intimately familiar with the operating systems of the guns. No one here has any connection with the manufacturers, or any incentive to be anything but honest with their opinions.
First off, it needs to be said that all three guns would be fine for someone to start out with. We didn’t have one ball break during the whole testing, that also says a lot about Marbilizer paint I guess. That said, if I was going to go out and buy one of the three I would get the Tippmann. Just because it was so much fun to shoot and it would be a challenge to get it to hit the side of a barn. If I had to use a gun straight out of the box I would choose the Piranha, However the only gun I would feel comfortable recommending to someone else would be the Spyder.
The Tippmann was just a blast to shoot. Holding the gun was natural and comfortable and you could actually sight down the top of the gun. Of course this didn’t mean a whole lot because I could barely keep the balls on the four by eight backstop we were using while shooting fast (I must admit I’m am not that great a marksman). The trigger was not light, but felt great. If it just wasn’t so inaccurate this would be a great gun. The gun is not the easiest to tear down but the ball feed pops back easily to clean the front of the gun. The barrel threads also allow the barrel to twist off in a couple of turns. The velocity adjustment on the Tippmann while not efficient is easy to adjust and close to foolproof. I really like the gun, but it just does not equal the Piranha out of the box.
The Spyder was 180 degrees from the Tippmann. It was accurate, but felt clunky, it was also a pain to get it down to 300 fps to do the tests. It required several spring changes and adjustments which would be a hassle when you just want to go out and play paintball. The gun feels decent enough in your hands – not as solid as the Tippmann but ok. The trigger does not feel good at all. It wobbles and the pull is rough but It didn’t slow me down any. Of course the power feed keeps you from sighting down the top of the gun. The sight rail that comes on the gun is not high enough to see over the power feed, but the gun is accurate enough. It is pretty easy to walk the paint into your target.
The Piranha is an excellent gun straight out of the box, it feels solid, the trigger is decent and the gun shoots straight. Just standing and firing I couldn’t tell any difference in the accuracy between the Spyder and the Piranha, but the Piranha was more confidence inspiring. The quick tear down pin is another comforting feature, knowing that you can clean out major ball breaks on the field is nice even if it is rare that you would actually do it. The quick tear down is worth it just to speed up cleaning of the gun at the end of the day. Like the Spyder the power feed gets into the way sighting down the top of the gun. The grip frame on the Piranha doesn’t seem as hard and brittle as the Spyders. Now comes the bad news. The sear* on our test gun had a small chip on it after a couple hundred rounds. The other guns showed no wear on the sear. If PMI has fixed this the Piranha would be the undisputed winner of the comparison, but I can’t recommend a gun that is likely to fail after a couple of cases of paint.
I find myself in the uncomfortable position of recommending the gun I enjoyed the least. If PMI fixed the sear* of the Piranha or Tippmann improved the accuracy of the 98 then this would be a horse race, but as it is, the Spyder is the clear winner.
Tippmann Model 98
Spyder Compact 2000
Its rather a toss up. Both the Spyder and the Piranha performed well and
would serve as excellent markers for the first time player. The Model 98’s
accuracy might discourage a new player from further play and correcting this
would require an after-market barrel. This would up the cost to around $200.
– Neild “Professor” Bingham
I guess if someone asked me which of the three I would choose if I were starting out, I would have to say the Tippmann Model 98. The reason being, I was the one pulling my hair out trying to get the Spyder’s velocity down. I would hate to tell some newbie that the gun they just bought needs to have the spring cut just to be able to even make it past the chrono. And I couldn’t suggest the Piranha because after only 200 rounds, the sear had a nick in it. I’m figuring on after probably a case and a half the sear will fail. The Tippmann shoots bad but you can at least play with it without too many headaches.
I had mentioned earlier that I (along with several other people) was having a problem with the sear on my Piranha G2 VTL. I contacted John at PMI Piranha Productions. He took my information to send me a new sear for each of my Piranhas. From what I was told, after they had problems with the sears chipping, they hardened the sears more. That made them stronger but more brittle. Thus, resulting in the sears still chipping. I’ll let you know how this turns out. -Chris
Editor’s note: Chris did receive 3 new sears from PMI at no charge. As of this writing the sears appear to be working fine, although the guns have seen limited use. If any more problems occur it will be posted here.
The sears on Chris’s guns continue to work fine as of this date. PMI apparently recognized and addressed the problem, which as stated before, was the only fault we were able to find with an otherwise excellent product. We received the following in a letter from John Dresser at PMI:
All Piranha models were switched over to laser cut steal sears in late November (2000). We also started a warranty program that makes the sear a lifetime warranty part no matter when you bought your Piranha. Since the introduction of the laser sear in our field guns in late 1999, we have never had a single sear fail. Not one.
We’ve had a few scares since we started putting them in all Piranhas, but those turned out to be people who put bottle o-rings on their hammers or did other things that made us believe the sear problem was more widespread than it actually was. We no longer produce or sell the other style of sear at all. It was a difficult process but we found that our tests here almost never could produce the problems some people were having in the field. Extreme measures were taken but we have a better gun for it.
Anyone with questions about Piranhas can e-mail John at PMI
The Spyder is my least favorite of these guns, which is sort of ironic since I not only own the Compact 2K used in the test, but 3 other Spyders as well. The child size plastic grip frame and the sloppy feeling, forward angled, double trigger make the gun feel cheap – which it is. The cosmetic valve chamber extension is a joke. So maybe I expect too much for a hundred dollars? Or maybe I’ve just seen the Piranha too often, which for only a few dollars more turns out to be a better Spyder than the Spyder Compact 2000. The chip in the sear* of a brand new gun was disappointing, and unfortunately not surprising, since Chris has had similar experiences on his other Piranhas. The Piranha has been a gun I have recommended to many new players because of the overall value it represents. Right out of the box the Piranha offers decent performance and above average features. It’s relatively accurate, efficient, light weight, simple to work on, and easily upgradable.
Either way my personal favorite of the three is the Model 98. I simply like the way the M98 feels, and when it comes down to it, that’s what really counts for me. I love the trigger action, the adult-size grip frame, the “real man’s gun” weight and construction, and the fact that it’s nearly as efficient as the Piranha despite an inefficient (yet very easy) method of velocity adjustment. Getting to the internals of the gun is a pain in the rear, and it’s frustrating if you put the gun back together only to discover you left out one little part and have to take it all apart again (ok, so I’m absent minded) – but the trade off is a gun with no loose parts to vibrate off or lose while playing – a very solid gun. The accuracy of the stock barrel sucks, plain and simple. It should be noted that our opinions on the M98 accuracy also take into account other paint we’ve tried. If you want success on the field with an out-of-the-box M98, be prepared to fire a lot of paint – incidentally a chore made very enjoyable by the cool trigger. And yes, an aftermarket barrel does wonders for the gun.