* Important note: This is a review of the original reel. Following the publication of this review Teben took steps to address the most pressing issues highlighted here. A brief list of the changes; 1- A third screw was added to reinforce the worm gear retainer plate CLICK HERE. 2- The drag washers in the top stack were changed to woven carbon fibre. 3- The bail wire was replaced to address the welding roughness I mentioned. 4- The handle knob was changed to metal ball CLICK HERE. I tested the upgraded reel in 2013, and found it to be of a satisfactory quality with excellent drag performance and improved strength.
Teben Sea 20000 : The Review
This is the second time I review a reel that is a direct copy from another reel. The first was the Omoto Severo which is an exact copy of the Accurate Twinspin with a simplified drag reviewed about 3 years ago. Tackle companies copying from one another never seems to offend anyone. Daiwa and Shimano have been nicking innovative features from one another for many years, Penn copied design bits from the Japanese as well, and the Accurate Twinspin itself has a gearbox that's practically copied from 2001 Saltiga with a spool change feature that's copied from Ryobi Safari. Don't know how they get away with it, but they all just do.
The Sea 20000 is a clone of Shimano's 2008 Stella SW 20000. It's made by Teben, a relatively new Chinese maker whose name isn't well known in the English speaking world. They make it in two versions, 15000 and 20000, both are the same reel with different spools. According to Teben's listings on Alibaba the price is $110 per reel for orders above 100 reels, so the retail price would probably be around the $200 mark.
The reel first caught my attention when I saw photos of it at the beginning of the year, but I couldn't get one because it wasn't stocked by online shops. Later on, a friend of mine in the tackle trade told me that he was looking into importing a low cost OEM spinning reel from China to see if he could market it in Europe, and asked me if I can recommend something that I've personally tested. I gave him a short list of probable candidates, then mentioned that I would have liked to examine the Teben Sea as well but couldn't put my hand on one. He gave me the contact details of the company and I got in touch with them to purchase one, and they were truly efficient and helpful guiding me through the payment and shipping process. This was what arrived a few days later...
The packaging is one of the nicest and most luxurious I've seen for a spinning reel. I didn't expect such a budget reel to come in a cloth-lined box
A few shots
The advertised weight of the reel is 870 grams (30.7 oz), but the actual weight is 908 grams (32 oz). The line capacity is huge. The spool took 410 yards (375 metres) of PE 8 braid (0.47mm thickness). This is roughly the same capacity as Penn Torque 9, and about 18% more than the capacity of the Stella SW 20000. That large capacity makes it suitable for trolling with a spool filled with mono.
Only seconds into hooking my first fish I knew that the drag was horrible. I've tested reels that had sticky drags before, but the drag of the Teben Sea is in a whole new class of extreme stickiness! Not only that there is a massive shoulder-jerking spike at the beginning of the fight, but even while the spool is mobile the resistance is not linear, going up and down and even coming to a complete halt without a warning at times.
The drag components
While the Teben is a virtual carbon copy from the Stella, the drag is a simplified propitiatory design by Teben. That was also the case with Omoto's clone of the Accurate Twinspin; a virtual carbon copy but with a simplified drag design. In the photo above you can see the components of the top drag stack with three drag washers (red arrows), and the components of the secondary drag underneath the spool with only one drag washer (blue arrow). The green arrow points one of the two ball bearings the spool runs on, and the red X marks the bottom drag seal.
Close up on the drag washers
I have no idea what this blue material is, but it's one of the worst materials I've seen used for drag washers on any reel. It's rubbery sticky with poor porosity, which means that greasing it doesn't work. I tried and the grease seemed to make it better, but the maximum drag then dropped to just 8kg (17.6lb), and it quickly returned to its original stickiness after just a few runs. I couldn't determine the original maximum drag because at maximum knob pressure the spool would not turn no matter what I did! The washers are just that sticky.
I was fishing it abroad away from my spare parts, but I managed to have a few carbon fibre washers sent to me later on and fitted them in place of the originals
Those replacement washers worked like charm. The drag became silky smooth and the max drag went up to 13.6kg (30lb). Unfortunately those came quite late when I only had a couple of testing days remaining, so basically the main bulk of testing was done with the original sticky drag washers that forced me to target smaller fish (Mahi, Bonito, Grouper, Little Tunny, etc) in the 15-25lb range which I could skull-drag with a locked down spool.
The drag knob
Just like the Stella, the drag knob is metal. Feels solid and easy to grip and adjust.
The knob has a mounted seal (red arrow) to keep water out, and a metal pressure disc (blue arrow) to eliminate the risk of melting in a long heated fight.
Inside the knob
After some use the clicking sound of the drag knob became lower, and opening it up I could see that the plastic clicker (red arrow) was loosing its elasticity and becoming softer. This is a minor issue though because the knob is keyed to the shaft and it will never change setting no matter how soft the spring becomes.
Proceeding with disassembly
Pretty similar setup to the Stella with the nut retainer (red arrow), shaft seal (blue arrow), but instead of a ball bearing in the nut for the "floating shaft" feature, they placed a synthetic washer (green arrow).
Above is a closeup on that washer. The parts diagram that comes with the reel shows a ball bearing in the nut just like the Stella, but for some reason they changed the design later and put this washer instead. The washer does isolate the main shaft from the pinion creating some sort of a "floating shaft" effect, but rotational friction between the washer and shaft remains and noticeably reduces the free spinning of the reel. In general, the handle spins easily and the reel has good free spinning (mistakenly called "smoothness" by most people), but not as much as the Stella. I'd say it has about 80% of the Stella's free spinning, which is not bad at all considering the price difference.
Underneath the rotor a screw-in cap (red arrow) retains the pinion seal (blue arrow) in an identical setup to the Stella. The green arrow points the brake ring that keeps the rotor still when the bail is opened for a cast. The braking is extremely powerful and the rotor won't budge no matter how hard you swing the rod.
Underneath the cap
A big one way clutch that I haven't seen the like of in a Chinese reel before.
A heavy gauge large diameter clutch of an impressive thickness. After putting the reel through a lot of punishment there has been no back-play or signs of deterioration in the clutch. This clutch is easily my favourite feature of the reel and was definitely surprised to see such a quality component in a $200 reel.
Proceeding to the gearbox
The side cover has a flange seal, again just like the Stella.
The drive gear
Well constructed with a brass gear shaft.
The gear is cast from an alloy that they didn't specify, but it's harder and much heavier than the common Zinc alloy widely used in low cost reels. If I have to guess I'd say it's ACuZinc or a very similar alloy with a significant copper content.
While I did not fish very high drags due to the problematic drag washers, I did winch fish from the deep, worked wide faced poppers, and dragged surface catches for many thousands of metres in total. You can see in the first photo in this review that I'd let out 100-150 metres of line while trolling, which is about 3 times as much as I should, solely for the purpose of punishing the reel's internals. The drive gear of the Teben did not develop play, it remained smooth, and as seen in the above photo the teeth showed hardly any wear. This brilliant gear is my second favourite feature in this reel.
The rest of the gearbox
The pinion (#1) is a heavy gauge machined brass that worked flawlessly with the drive gear, and the reel has a worm gear oscillation composed of a worm shaft (#2), traverse block (#3), bearing rods for the block (#4), and the worm idle gear (#5).
The worm idle gear of the Teben Sea (right) is made of plastic, pictured next to the idle gear of the Stella which is machined duralumin. It's metal in the Stella for reasons that are more aesthetic than practical, but I completely approve the use of plastic for this particular application due to the low stresses a worm idle gear is subjected to. Daiwa and Shimano have been using plastic idle gears for a long time without a problem or a breakage
This is the Daiwa Sealine Bite N' Run, and the red arrow points the plastic idle gear. Daiwa Emblem X-A and 2009 Shimano Twin Power Mg are two other examples of reels that have plastic idle gears and they work reliably, so I have no problem with the Teben's idle gear.
The oscillation pawl (#1), ball bearing (#2), bushing (#3), and a spring (#4) to compensate for wear and keep the pawl in contact with the worm gear. There isn't a similar spring in the Stella, this is Teben's design.
A closeup on the pawl showing the slight wear mark on its side. Relative to the use I've put on the reel and in comparison to other reels that I've tested, the pawl of the Teben shows excellent wear resistance.
Worm gear oscillation mechanism is found in a small minority of spinning reels. It is, without a doubt, a vastly superior system to the common locomotive oscillation in terms of smoothness, efficiency, line coils pitch, and it allows for a longer spool to increase casting distance. Reel makers though shy away from it because it's complicated, has more parts, and requires tighter tolerance of manufacture and strong parts to work reliably. I had that on my mind as I fished the reel, therefore I wasn't surprised when I began to notice a big increase in the axial play of the main shaft (movement in and out) that kept developing further with use. I continued fishing it, but the play kept increasing until I began to feel a bump at the bottom end of the oscillation stroke, and that was when I decided to end my tests and open the reel.
The play wasn't between the shaft and the worm gear, but rather the entire worm gear was moving axially in the direction of the red arrows in this next photo
This worm gear movement is what caused the increased play in the shaft. To find what caused this play of the worm gear I continued to disassemble
This is the plate that retains the worm gear. The red X marks the location of the worm gear behind it.
Underneath the plate, there is a black rubber seal to keep water out, and the ball bearing (red arrow) of the worm gear looked fine. No sign of the cause of the problem here. But then, examining the metal retainer plate closely revealed this
The plate was bent outwards!! This is a poor engineering work. They did not understand how the load transfers from the fish on the line all the way through the spool and shaft to the worm gear, and they used a weak retainer which got pushed and bent by the worm gear, resulting in that excessive axial movement of the gear/shaft/spool. In the Stella they use two stainless steel retainers, each is thicker and stronger than the single retainer of the Teben.
This is a closeup on the worm gear. The play caused by the bent retainer made the shaft dive further than it should at the bottom of the oscillation stroke, and the oscillation pawl would then engage the worm groves at an aggressive angle, causing that damage and the bumpy feeling I described earlier. The worm gear is made of brass and plated for corrosion resistance. If you look closely at the above photo you can see the yellow colour of the brass showing beneath the plating in the grooves.
I hammered the bent plate lightly to return it to its original shape then reassembled the gearbox using Shimano's spray oil and grease for an even lighter spinning than with the original lubes.
The rear body shield of the Teben (right) next to the Stella's. Pretty identical in shape except that the Teben's doesn't extend up as much as the Stella's.
The handle has a mounted rubber seal to keep water out
The cap opposite to the handle has a seal too.
The handle assembly
A strong handle with a quality knob and it runs on two ball bearings as well (red arrows).
The bail arm has a synthetic washer for smoothness, but the quality of the washer isn't perfect: in the photo above you can see the washer shedding little shavings of its material with use (red arrow).
Bail mechanism is as simple and reliable as the Stella's.
A little piece of lead (red arrow) is hidden in the other rotor's arm. This is the counterweight that balances the rotor.
The line roller
Absolutely flawless. It runs smoothly on two ball bearings (red arrows) and gave no problems at all.
Finally a comparison photo of the Teben's roller (right) next to the Stella's roller, showing the identical shape but different finish.
The reel obviously has debilitating problems and I ended up recommending another reel to my friend, yet I still liked the Teben Sea very much because the problems are not inherent in the design and could be fixed easily if the maker decides to. Here is a list of suggestions to fix the issues, divided into 3 categories:
Essential fixes, must be done
1) Replace the sticky drag washers with proper carbon fibre ones.
2) The weak retainer plate of the worm gear should be replaced with a thicker and stronger one.
Not essential but would improve the reel greatly
1) Replace the brass worm gear with a solid stainless steel one, like the one in Tica Talisman, for longevity.
2) Add an extra drag washer to take the maximum drag higher.
Minor cosmetic touches
1) Replace the white washers of the bail arm with ones of a better quality.
2) Make the welding point on the bail wire slightly smoother.
Overall I liked what the reel offers for $200. It's a fluid and free-spinning reel, has a very strong body and rotor, powerful gearing, premium quality anti-reverse, casts well, and the spool's capacity is brilliant. If they update it and fix the issues they would make a very good reel that's an incredible value for the money, and in the future if the company establishes itself and creates a proper network of service centres and parts they could give the mainstream makers some tough competition.
This will probably be my last review of 2012, and at the beginning of 2013 I should be posting my reviews of the Penn Spinfisher V, Quantum's new Cabo, and who knows what else!
Hope you've enjoyed this.
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September, 9th, 2012