2014 Shimano Spheros SW : The Review
Before we get to the reel I need to say something quickly. When I positively reviewed the Fin Nor Lethal 100 a few months ago, I expected that some people will take interest or give them a closer look, but then I watched in complete astonishment as these reels became sold out globally within a few days! That left me with a lingering curiosity about whether that really happened because of my review, so after I reviewed the 2014 Saltiga Expedition and gave it a thumbs up I got in touch with a few dealer friends in Japan and Australia, and to my surprise I learned that orders and enquiries did increase dramatically for them surpassing what was expected for such a super expensive reel. Well, I had never thought of my rants as any sort of a definitive guide and it didn't cross my mind that they should have anywhere near that influence on reel sales. So while I feel a colossal amount of gratitude to you for having such confidence in me, I also feel the mounting pressure that comes with such a following and it's making me nervous. I genuinely enjoy fishing and playing with gear and getting to meet readers from around the world, but that's really it, a guy doing something he loves. I'm not an authority nor an expert and I don't want to be seen as such. When you come to this site look at things and have a fun time, email me and let's chat, but always do as much research as you can on your own before buying because I remain only one man, and my opinions should be taken for what they're worth and nothing more
Just one more thing before we get to the reel, a quick quiz; the new IPhone 6 came out with a massive engineering failure, where the thing bends when subjected to normal stresses associated with pocketing it and moving around. We saw it bending, the whole world saw it bending, some of us have friends and family members whose new phones got bent, yet Apple went on a frenetic campaign creating supposed test videos, having "reviews" written on it, sponsoring technology shows that deny it, network providers and everyone who stands to make money out of it tells you it's perfect, and online thousands of people are out to hunt down anyone who dares to say that theirs got bent and accuse them of everything from user error to being paid by Samsung. The quiz is, what does this all remind you of? Send me your answers and the first correct answer will receive a honourable mention on the news page!
The Spheros SW was released early 2014 as a successor to the 2008 Spheros FB. For years Spheros reels were Shimano's entry price "proper" saltwater reels that came in full size, unlike other reels such as the Stradic for example which come in sizes up to 8000 only. The new Spheros SW has a price tag that might take it out of the "entry price" realm, but it's still not what I'd call expensive.
The box is sealed. Always ask for sealed reels when available to make sure you're not getting a display piece that everyone played with in the shop or a reel that was sold then returned.
The packaging is pretty similar to that of the 2013 Stella SW. Primarily a sales strategy that is repeated every few years where the flagship Stella comes first, then lower reels would follow bearing many similarities in appearance to imply a certain pedigree and descent from the flagship reel.
Since it doesn't come with a reel bag, cardboard fillers are used to hold it still inside the box. Pretty secure packing indeed and keeps reels in good shape during shipping.
In addition to the paperwork, the Spheros SW comes with a bag of spool shims to adjust the line lay.
As always I'll begin with looks. You see, this reel makes me want to sit and write letters of apology to the designers of every reel that I called "ugly" before, because the Spheros SW fundamentally redefines ugliness and makes the worst looking existing reels look sharp in comparison. The gearbox tilts upwards, the area where the stem meets the housing is excessively chunky, the rear body bumper ends in a sharp diagonal line, the bottom has a lumpy protrusion to accommodate the drive gear, the rotor is disproportionately wide, the spool skirt is plain and uninspired, the black/silver/grey colour scheme is depressingly bleak, and basically everything that can possibly go wrong with a reel's looks is there in the Spheros SW. For me, looking at this reel is pretty much as visually traumatising as the first time I watched the scene where the hillbilly rapes the squealing guy in Deliverance!
I explained Shimano's sticker code in the past, but one more time for those who are reading me for the first time: the first letter on the left indicates the year of production, with "A" being 2002, "B" 2003, etc. The second letter is the month of manufacturing, "A" being January, "B" being February, etc., and the letter on the right is the symbol for the Shimano factory that produced the item. "S" is Shimano's Japanese factory, and "P" is their Malaysian factory. The sticker on this particular reel would then indicate that it was made January 2014 in the Malaysian plant. I'm using the word "made" quite loosely here. Over the past several years Shimano's reels have been using an increasing number of imported parts that would then be assembled either in Japan or Malaysia, since the regulations governing this are quite loose. For example in order to print "Made in Japan" on a product, it only has to go through a "substantial transformation" within the borders of Japan, without any stipulations on the percentage of imported parts. Shimano has been using this loophole quite effectively to outsource parts and cut costs.
The Spheros has the new foot that Shimano has been using on several reels for a couple of years now, which I have discussed in detail in my previous review. Make sure the rod you intend to pair it with can manage this parallel foot.
Right out of the box I saw that the bail wire has a slight sharp bend to it (encircled). It's hard to notice but it's there, and this is a quality control issue, not something that could possibly happen during the shipping and handling of the reel. It has no effect on anything, but as usual I spot the littlest issues and show them.
The Spheros SW 20000 reviewed here has exactly a 4.3:1 gear ratio. This would surprise you since the specifications posted on Shimano's global websites says it has 4.9:1 ratio, so does the specifications posted on the sites of tackle shops big and small, but sadly this is an outrageous misinformation. An innocent mistake? Well, one can only look at other published data and arrive at his own conclusions. Let's take the ride
If you look again at Shimano's websites and online shops, you'll notice that the line capacity stated for the Spheros SW 20000 is less than that listed for the Saragosa SW 20000 in the most commonly used line classes, 65# and 80#. The problem is, the spool of the Spheros SW 20000 and that of the Saragosa SW 20000 hold the exact same amount of line, and that alleged advantage in capacity for the more expensive Saragosa doesn't exist. Another innocent mistake? Keep reading
The weight of the Spheros SW 20000 listed on Shimano's global websites and on the shops selling them is 28 oz (793 grams). The actual weight of the reel though is
33 oz (936 grams), for a whopping 5 oz (143 grams) difference to the fake published numbers. Innocent mistake as well?
Actually it's not just the Spheros SW. This is a practice that Shimano has been doing for some time, and whenever they are called out on it some "interesting" people would jump in and dismiss it. Look at Shimano's own catalogue's listing of the Saragosa SW
They list the Saragosa SW 20000 as weighing 822 grams (29 oz), and the 25000 as weighing 850 grams (30 oz).
Same numbers on Shimano New Zealand site.
Same on Shimano Australia.
Same on BassPro's online shop, just as they received them from Shimano. What is the actual weight though?
The real weight has been on the box all along while the false numbers were printed everywhere else; 33.3 oz (945 grams). Actually when I weighed the Saragosa SW 20000 I tested several months ago it was even slightly heavier, but let's not go into that. The Saragosa SW 25000 by the way actually weighs 34.6 oz (980 grams), not the claimed 30 oz (850 grams). For the Saragosa I showed some of Shimano's global sites but not the US one because Shimano USA had to change the numbers on their site after the accuracy of the published weights of the Saragosa was questioned by anglers on American web forums earlier this year. Some retailers fixed the numbers accordingly, but some still list the false numbers given by Shimano for the Saragosa.
One more example just to establish that "unintentional mistakes" is a far fetched theory. When the 2013 Stella SW was coming out, Shimano decided to claim that the super heavy Stella SW 30000 weighed only 31 oz (880 grams), and they posted it officially
A screen-shot I took back then of the promotional site for the new reel showing the 880 grams claim
They even printed it in official European catalogues, and the wrong number was still on almost all the sites of the major retailers until very recently when it was corrected to one that's closer to the real weight which is 120 grams (4.2 oz) heavier.
I can go on like that with examples of false numbers, but let's not waste the whole review on this. With all those wrong ratios, capacities, and weights for all those models, always happening to reduce the weight and never increase it, and to give imaginary advantages to more expensive reels and never the other way round, I find it extremely unlikely that any reasonable person would believe that all of these were innocent oversights. The right figures are always printed on the box for what they possibly believe is "plausible deniability", except that it's not plausible when the exact same scenario takes place time after time and with many months between each. If it has been an oversight in the Stella SW, why wasn't it avoided in the Saragosa SW? And if we are naive enough to believe it was another oversight in the Saragosa SW, why was it repeated again a year later on the Spheros SW, also with the right figures printed on the box and false ones published everywhere else? Here is the box of the Spheros
Behold! Correct gear ratio, weight, and miraculously the line capacity is identical to that on the box of the equivalent sized Saragosa SW (third photos above). People don't buy reels after physically checking the box, they go by the numbers in advertisement, catalogues, official Shimano websites and sites of the retailers, and these are were the fake numbers always appear. As I type these lines people are still placing orders for the Spheros SW based on wrong weights, ratios, and capacities, and this is still largely the case with the Saragosa SW as well since most shops still display the wrong numbers given to them by Shimano. Disgusting.
Same grip material and shape as in the Saragosa and Stella. Simple and reliable setup here with a few parts that are easy to service and lube.
The handle stem (red arrow) is a machined chunk of aluminium, same build and material as that of the Saragosa SW, only the joint is a different design. The different design of the Saragosa's joint isn't at all an upgrade and serves no operational purpose, just changing things so they look new. Don't let anyone tell you that the joint design of the Spheros SW is inferior because it is the exact same design of the 2008 Stella SW. The hood of the handle (blue arrow) is plastic, but it's just a cover and not a working part so it's not a problem. It has a stainless steel tube inside for a metal to metal connection between the stem and the drive gear.
The finish of that hood is faulty. It's plastic so it won't corrode or cause problems, but it certainly shows the continuous quality issues Shimano reels have been having for some time. The intention was for the finish to cover the entire inner surface, but a large part of it remains uncovered, therefore there is a failure regardless of it being harmless.
The main shaft has a seal (red arrow) where it plunges into the body. The seal, retainer (blue arrow), and screws are parts that are shared with the Saragosa SW. When I say "shared" I mean that the exact same part goes into both reels. Overall, this shaft seal design is identical to that of the 2013 Stella SW although the parts aren't shared with it.
The conspicuously large and wide rotor is made of basic plastic, not the advanced composites used in more expensive Shimanos. This is what's commonly referred to in the trade as "graphite". Since this plastic is neither stiff nor particularly strong, they had to make the rotor this big and chunky to avoid excessive flexing or contact with the spool under load. It works alright, but just annoyingly large and heavy, and this rotor is one of the reasons why this largely plastic reel is much heavier than the metal Stella SW of equivalent size. When you have that amount of plastic it does add to weight. The rotor is the exact same one used in Saragosa SW, but I won't say "shared" because it's painted in a different colour for each reel. Other than colour, it's the exact same rotor in both reels and can be used interchangeably if you wanted to create a "Zebra" hybrid reel.
- A stop here to explain a difference between the new Spheros SW and the old Spheros FB. The SW has plastic rotors in all sizes, while the old Spheros FB had plastic rotors only on the smaller reels but the 14000 FB and 18000 FB had metal rotors.
After a few trips with some good sized fish running against the drag, I noticed a slight bend at the base of the rotor, right below the rotor arm that bears the line roller, or the "working arm" to put it simply. It's pretty subtle and causes no issues, but just shows the limitations of the standard plastic. This happens to metal rotors as well but at much much higher drag settings, and it seems that only the new composites (CI4+ and Zaion) are impervious to this.
Below the cover you get a better look at the O ring shaft seal (red arrow), and again all the parts you see in this photo are shared with the Saragosa SW.
Removing the rotor nut shows an additional O ring seal below it to keep water from sneaking behind the nut. Again shared parts with the Saragosa, and an identical design to the Stella SW.
The back of the rotor has an O ring seal as well. Shared with Saragosa, same as in the Stella.
The pinion/clutch assembly cap (red arrow) and surrounding parts are shared with the Saragosa as well. The blue arrow points the rotor brake ring which keeps the rotor still when the bail is opened so the bail won't snap shut during a cast. The Spheros SW and the Saragosa SW have manual bails by the way. There is no automatic bail trip in either.
Each of the three screws in this cap has an O ring seal (red arrow) to keep water out.
Look at this lovely gap. Ever heard of "precision moulding"? Well, this is the opposite of it! It doesn't compromise waterproofing though since all parts around it are properly sealed. It's just too painful to look at.
The pinion/clutch seal is the most important seal in a spinning reel and it's where all the sealing innovations are usually focused. The Spheros SW has Shimano's top design in this area.
The seal comprises a double lipped (red arrows) rubber disc, with grease trapped between the lips, and a pinion sleeve (blue arrow). When the sleeve fits into the rubber disc, an immaculate three-stage seal is formed. In order for water to get in it needs to get past the first lip, the grease filling, then the second lip. This is a mission impossible unless the seal is extensively worn. This seal produces felt friction resistance because rubber is in constant contact with the sleeve, but it works fine against sand and solid debris. This seal design comes straight from the new Stella SW in one of the biggest trickle-downs from the flagship $1300 reel to a $250 entry reel. Again, all the parts seen here and in the previous photo are shared with the Saragosa SW.
This is the clutch that Shimano used to put in the Stella in the past, but for years it has been demoted for use in their lower tier reels.
This clutch has a metal lever (red arrow) that if pushed to the side would disable the clutch and allow the rotor to spin back. Saragosa SW and Spheros SW reels don't have a selective anti-reverse switch, but obviously the clutch is made to also fit other models that have that switch.
Inside the clutch each brake cylinder has its own wire spring that keeps it in constant contact with the sleeve for instant braking, and to self adjust for wear. It's a superb design that works with complete reliability and compensates for internal wear and thermal changes, and since it was one day good enough for the Stella it certainly is more than enough for the Spheros. Another component that is shared with the Saragosa SW.
The clutch cap has an O ring seal (red arrow) as well. This completes the full sealing of the front portion of the reel with identical sealing to that of the Stella SW.
Getting into the gearbox the plastic body bumper needs to be removed. Here you can see its unsymmetrical shape with the screw going into the right half of it.
The cap (red arrow) of the handle's opening is plastic as well.
This is the body structure of the vast majority of Shimano's reels. It comprises a plastic gearbox (blue arrow), attached via screws to a metal chassis (red arrow). The way this construction is described is usually intentionally confusing, with references to a metal frame or a metal body without a mention of the plastic gearbox, which gives the wrong impression to the reader that it's an all metal body. The Stella comes with a full metal body indeed, but below it most reels have this plastic gearbox design, including the very expensive TwinPower SW. It's a way to keep costs down, and though you can feel some flexing under certain amounts of pressure, it collectively works fine and does the job.
- Another important difference between this new Spheros SW and the older Spheros FB is that now the screws that keep it all together are threaded into the metal chassis. In the previous Spheros the screws were inserted from the opposite side and threaded into the plastic gearbox, which created a nightmare of stripped plastic threads when inexperienced people serviced the reels and over-tightened the screws.
The gearbox has a perimeter seal (red arrows) that goes all the way around it for an extremely effective sealing, again just like that in the Stella SW. I haven't said it in a while, but all the parts you've seen in the past few photos are shared with the Saragosa SW, except that the frame and the gearbox have a different colour and a different model name tag in the foot. They are the exact same parts otherwise.
Embedded in the metal chassis is a ball bearing (red arrow) for the left end of the drive gear shaft. Beneath this bearing there is a waterproof seal (blue arrow), and between them a metal washer (green arrow) to keep the inner race of the bearing from direct contact with the seal. This sealing arrangement is identical to that in the Stella SW, and it provides the same perfect waterproofing on this side.
The bearing, washer, and seal are held down by three screws.
I usually show the ball bearings of the drive gear on one side only because the other side would normally have an identical setup, but this time it's different. In the Spheros SW, Shimano chose to put a bushing (red arrow) on the right end of the drive gear's shaft. Now we finally see a difference to the Saragosa SW, since in the Saragosa there is a ball bearing here instead of the bushing.
Let's stop and look at this. Naturally a less expensive reel would have lower specifications than a more expensive reel, but that is normally a direct result of more costly parts, labour, or better materials being used in the more expensive reel. It's expected for example that a reel with machined brass gears would cost more than another with cast zinc gears because brass is more expensive than zinc, and machining solid brass is costlier than casting molten zinc. But looking at the Spheros SW, the recess for the bearing already existed because -as stated earlier- the body is the same one that's used in the Saragosa SW with a different colour, the assembly of this bushing in the Spheros takes exactly the same time and effort as the assembly of the bearing in the same location in the Saragosa, so the only thing that could make sense here is if they were saving a lot of money by replacing the bearing with the bushing. Unfortunately though that is not the case, since this ball bearing costs less than a dollar wholesale, and if you consider that the synthetic washer costs money as well, the savings at the end would be just a few pennies. Since with this downgrade they didn't save time, labour, or money, it's obvious that this is what I'd call "purposeful sabotage" done for the sake of marketing in order to make the Saragosa SW look better and improved. This is like a watch company making two watch models that are waterproof, and instead of developing the higher model further to make it better they just remove seals from the lower model to make it worse. Quite a sad state of affairs.
Anyway, the bushing in the Spheros SW is no less durable than the bearing in the Saragosa SW, and I would say it's even more durable and resistant to elements. There is a difference in feel though and the Saragosa SW does benefit from a slight edge in smoothness because of this bearing. Not much at all and you wouldn't feel the difference in real life while fishing, but if you sit at home and play with both you will feel a slight advantage for the Saragosa. The old Spheros FB had a similar arrangement by the way where the drive gear rode on a bearing on one end, and a bushing on the other. As seen in the above photo, the bushing is fitted on top of a seal and a spacer as well, and this delivers the same level of waterproofing found at the other end.
Out of my repulsion at this marketing oriented sabotage, right before I assembled the reel I looked into my pile of crap and parts and found a bearing (red arrow) that's identical to the one on the other end of the gear. Pictured above next to the bushing it's not as thick, but this means nothing since the screw notches on the bushing (blue arrow) are at the exact height as the ball bearing.
Here it is, upgraded with the bearing that fits perfectly. Do you know how much this bearing cost me? I bought it in a tube of 10 a few years ago for the equivalent of 8 dollars, meaning 80 cents per each, and this is the retail price after someone made profit. So much for savings! Of course there is absolutely no good reason for you to do it, I only made this upgrade to make a point. Not to be confused by the bearing count in both models, the Saragosa SW in all sizes have one more bearing than the Spheros SW because of this bushing, except the Saragosa 20000 and 25000 which have two more bearings than the Spheros because of another extra bearing in the bottom of the spool.
Anyhow, with the sealing of both ends of the drive gear shown above, the full sealing of the reel is completed. The Spheros SW and the Saragosa SW are fully sealed reels, and I subjected them to all sorts of tests including winding while submersed, and they have proven to be impermeable to water. It is quite incredible indeed that these reels would have the exact same sealing of the Stella SW that's sold for several times the price. Check this out
The specifications explicitly state that this reel is as waterproof as the company's pride and joy, the Stella. The Spheros and Saragosa are by no means the submarines the surf Van Staal reels are, but these mid-range Shimanos have the highest levels of sealing the Japanese company offers, and short of extended skishing and similar crazy activities I can't see how water can get inside them. Of course the old Spheros FB wasn't sealed, so this is another improvement in the new series. In case you were wondering about the model names in the above image, this is the Japanese domestic market (JDM) Spheros SW which comes in HG and PG models up to the 8000 size. This JDM version is basically the same reel as the export SW reviewed here, except that the JDM version has a split handle stem and a cheaper cast drive gear.
Back to the rest of the gearbox, all the Spheros SW sizes have a locomotive type oscillation system, and the traverse block (red X) runs on a stainless steel bar (red arrow) which both prevents the block from rubbing against the body under load, and keeps the main shaft from swinging and rattling.
- Another difference to the old Spheros FB here. In the FB the 14K and 18K sizes had a worm shaft oscillation system while the smaller sizes had a basic locomotive type oscillation. Years ago there was no doubt that the worm oscillation has an advantage in line lay evenness, but with the advances in designs the locomotive type has now caught up with accurately timed strokes and improved movement consistency. This leaves the modern locomotive type as an overall winner since it's inherently stronger than the worm gear, has fewer parts, with larger contact surfaces between them. To me the oscillation of the new Spheros SW is an excellent upgrade over the old model.
Here is how it lays line by the way. I intentionally played with the shims to have it put more line on top for better casting control, but you can see how the line is packed beautifully in close coils without "hills and valleys" if you know what I mean. Without any shim manipulation the line lay is as straight as a knife's edge. Note that the line band in the photo above doesn't come with the reel. It belongs to another reel and I borrowed it for a couple of trips.
The oscillation gear spins on a brass bushing (red arrow) for durability and stability.
The stud of the oscillation gear now has a rubber band (red arrow), which is a design feature copied directly from the 2010 Saltiga. Stolen yes, but it remains of a superb functionality and it continues the theme of bringing high end design feature into this lower priced reel. All the parts seen in the past few photos are shared with the Saragosa SW, including even the main shaft itself.
The drive gear of my Spheros SW is shared with the same size Saragosa SW. The red arrow points to a recess designed to receive a wire spring to actuate the backup anti-reverse, but it's left empty in the Spheros SW 20000 because it doesn't have a backup anti-reverse. On the other hand the Saragosa SW 20K and 25K (not the smaller sizes) have a backup anti-reverse, and this explains the recess since they both use that same drive gear of the Spheros. The blue arrow points to the brass secondary gear responsible for the oscillation. The choice of brass shows a desire to improve strength and longevity.
The drive gear of the new Spheros is cold forged and Almite coated, just like the gear of the Stella FA.
- Another difference between the new and old Spheros; the old FB had cold forged gears in the 14K and 18K sizes only while the smaller ones had cast gears, but in the new Spheros SW (and Saragosa SW) all sizes have cold forged and treated gears.
Since I've become excessively suspicious these days, I scratched the coating off small areas at the side and back of the gear to see the metal itself (encircled), and yes, to my eyes it's indeed an aluminium alloy that's cold forged, just as used in the 2013 Stella SW. Actually the only difference between this gear and the one in the Stella is a different coating. This black Almite was used up till the Stella FA, then beginning with the 2008 SW they changed it to a bronze coating. From my own experience with many Stellas of various generations in different degrees of usage, I'd say both coatings are equally durable and smooth. Meaning that in the Spheros SW we're getting a drive gear that's as good as the one in the 2013 Stella.
Exceptionally low wear rate relative to use, same level of durability I'm familiar with in the Stella.
The pinion and its two bearings. It's machined from brass, just like the new Stella SW.
The heavy gauge teeth up close, also showing resilience corresponding to that of the drive gear. Yes, believe it or not, the Spheros and Saragosa have drive and pinion gears equal in every way to those in the 2013 Stella SW. The pinion of the Saragosa SW is made from the same brass alloy, but it's not shared with the Spheros because the pinions of the 20000 and 25000 Saragosa reels have a flat area behind the teeth to accept the brake gears needed for the backup anti-reverse I mentioned earlier.
The bail mechanism is typical Shimano design. A coil spring (red arrow), and the brake lever (blue arrow) that engages a rubber ring to stop the rotor during a cast. Encircled is another difference between the Spheros and Saragosa. Here the Spheros has a bail wire that is inserted into the line roller's housing, while the Saragosa has a bail wire that is integral with the roller's housing. Again a futile attempt to create an advantage that doesn't exist to justify the higher price of the Saragosa. We are way past the days of the primitive designs where the line would actually get caught on the joint, and there is no advantage in robustness between the two designs.
Bail arm #1, line roller #2, a ball bearing #3, a collar #4, and screws #5 and #6. Note here the difference in the threads of the screws. Screw #5 attaches the bail arm to the rotor and is threaded into plastic, therefore its threads are higher and further spaced than screw #6 which attaches the bail arm to the line roller's housing and is threaded into metal. Screws that go into plastic and wood would always have higher and further spread threads than those which go into metal.
The bail arm is plastic. Again I needed to scratch the finish at a hidden area to ascertain. Works as it should.
The new spool clicker is a much stronger design than that of the old Spheros FB and Saragosa F, which failed frequently as you probably know.
The spool clicker slams against this gear on the shaft making a sound that's loud enough to hear in the noise of the sea. You can see wear marks on my gear's teeth (red arrows) indicating a good amount of use. I took my time testing the Spheros SW and it was brought along as I tested another reel (my next review), and whenever I got a chance to do some deep jigging the Spheros SW would take over. It landed more than 50 Amberjacks in the 10-30# class and a few Snappers, always performing as it should without surprises. One of the things I noticed in the Spheros is that the gears get smoother with use until they settle and maintain a uniform smoothness. The same goes for the Saragosa SW.
The new drag knob is a major upgrade as well. It has a Stella style knob seal (red arrow), and the 20K size has a metal pressure disc (blue arrow) to counter heat in the drag washers. It's plastic in smaller ones where pressure and heat are lower.
Inside the knob, #1 is the knob's retaining wire, #2 is the pressure disc with the mounted click ring, the red arrow pints the spring loaded pin that makes the clicking sound against that ring, #3 is the coil knob spring, and #4 is the plastic frame of the knob.
So far nothing really differentiated the Spheros SW from the Saragosa SW despite several unsuccessful efforts. There is though only one real difference between the two reels, and that is the drag. The Spheros comes with a simple top stack drag, while the Saragosa comes with a drag that works on both the top and bottom of the spool.
Here are the drag washers of my Spheros. For this photo I arranged them exactly as they came from the factory, and encircled is a mistake they made at the assembly line with the order of the washers. They put one carbon brake washer between two eared metal washers, which basically isolates this carbon washer and takes it out of operation. I caught this error in my pre-fishing examinations and corrected it, and wanted to give you a heads up to check yours. Errors in assembly do happen and I see them every once in a while, but Shimano seems to be doing them more than anyone else lately.
This is the right order of the washers, use it to confirm that yours is done correctly. With the drag washers in the right order the Spheros SW could actually put out 16.6 KG of maximum drag (36.5 lbs), which is considerably but not horribly below the official claim of 41 lbs. The Saragosa SW 20000 could realistically put out a usable 18.4 KG of drag (40.5 lbs). The drag knob of the Saragosa can still ratchet up the pressure, but higher than that the rotor would be mangled.
There you have it, and I covered the Saragosa SW as much as I could in a review that isn't its own. The Spheros SW is lower cost version of the Saragosa SW with the exact build and materials, and nearly 95% of the parts are shared between the two reels. Shimano tried to create a considerable difference between them for sales purposes, but they didn't succeed in doing so. The asinine replacement of one gear bearing with a bushing has only the slightest effect on feel and none on durability, the different handle joint is utter nonsense, the extra bearing inside the spool of the 20K and 25K Saragosa is similarly useless, and the back up anti-reverse in the 20K and 25K Saragosas is nice but not nearly enough to justify the price, plus it's limited to the biggest two Saragosas only and not the rest of the series. The only real difference between the Spheros SW and the Saragosa SW is a more capable drag in the Saragosa. I'm saying "more capable" and not saying "better" because that's exactly what it is; more capable in terms of maximum drag. There is no difference in smoothness, reliability, start up feel, and I never sensed any substantive difference in heat dissipation, keeping on mind that both reels still operate in the mid ranges of drag force ratings where things aren't really challenging.
You probably know that I rate the Saragosa SW highly and it appears on my lists, and there is no question the Spheros SW will join its big sister among my top choices. It is one of the lowest priced fully sealed reels available, it has what is for all intents and purposes the same gearing of the ultra expensive Stella SW, and it's as reliable as any reel you can buy. Don't be surprised by this conclusion of a review that got negative at certain stages. I point issues where they exist, but my objectivity never waivers and I'll call a good thing good no matter how much I hate it. I despise the bogus numbers and misinformation by Shimano, dislike the Spheros' general ugliness, and am incensed by the "purposeful sabotage" done for the sake of marketing, still it remains a valid reel that delivers superb performance relative to its price and has a unique place in the market as a lower priced authentic offshore and beach reel. To me the Spheros SW is like a Glock; anus ugly and made of cheap materials, but it's affirmatively dependable and does the job every time.
I can pretty much hear your thoughts at this point asking "Spheros SW 20000 or Fin-Not Lethal 100?". Comparing the two reels the Spheros is smoother and quieter, has a superior line capacity, fully sealed, and lays line and casts better. On the down side the Shimano is ridiculously heavy, twice the price of a Lethal 100, the size of the rotor is annoying, and the foot angle is potentially disruptive. The strengths of the Lethal 100 would be that it's lighter, super cheap, has excellent overall rigidity due to the metal body and rotor, higher drag capability, a back up anti-reverse, and the machined brass drive gear and stainless steel pinion are stronger and more durable than the drive train of the Spheros. The negatives of the Lethal would be its clunkiness and noisy gearing, barely acceptable line lay, holds much less line, and it's not fully sealed. In other words there is no global answer. Two different animals here, each with its merits and shortcomings, and it's up to you to figure out which suites your needs better.
That question by itself tells a very good story of the market and choices that we have today. A few years ago if you wanted a viable beach reel it had to be a $900 dedicated surf dweller, and if you were going offshore it had to be either a Stella or a Saltiga. Now we have reels in nearly every price category to fulfil any fishing need, save of course the most extreme tasks which still require a Japanese beast. Short of these mega jobs we have our Saragosas, Torques, Lethals, Spheros, Cabos, Catalinas, VMs, Offshores, and Islas to make us happy without having to spend a grand. There are even more good reels coming to the market in the near future, and while trash will keep coming along them, this remains the nature of things and are ultimately all good signs that we are truly living the golden age of spinners.
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October, 5th, 2014