2021 Shimano Spheros SW-A : The Scam!
Hey there fishos, the ones who got monkeypox and the ones still working hard on getting it
With the dust of the pandemic appearing to be finally settling, I've been able to fish during the past few months more frequently than I've done since early 2020. Naturally I have a backlog of reels that I need to publish reviews of, some of which I started testing all the way back in 2019, and I anticipate that it'll be 1.5 to 2 years until I'm done reviewing them. In between, I'll be posting articles on newer releases that I deem too important to wait.
For the new readers asking me why I'm not pumping new material every week, well, that's not how it's done over here. I started that whole internet reel reviews' genere almost 23 years ago, and unlike the paid promotional articles found in printed magazines back then, I took a completely different path by actually buying reels independently and testing them thoroughly before posting a genuine evaluation from a fisherman's perspective, not a marketer's one. Being this way meant that I've done unprecedented stuff such as publicly calling out scams despite threats of legal action, pinning down the lies of the industry in the face of mass online attacks, catching design and production faults prompting decent people to recall and redesign their reels at times, or at other times initiating lies and denials from apparently indecent ones, and whenever a brand representative fell for his mummy's assurances that he's smart and tough I'd come back to smack those delusions out of them with facts and evidence.
All of that requires time, resources, legal oversight, etc. That's why I only produce a few reviews a year of select reels, but I try to make up for it by writing a handful of smaller Blog articles in addition to maintaining a constantly updated Top Picks page for the best reels I come across including those that aren't picked to get dedicated articles. In a nutshell, you won't find a quick succession of new material here, but your patience guarantees that you'll get stuff that doesn't exist anywhere else, and whether my opinions are actually valid or complete idiotic nonsense you can trust that they are what I sincerely believe without fear or favour or financial interest. Now get yourself a big cup of coffee then start reading, and don't forget to click the links and references included in this article to open them in new windows/tabs for later reading. Hope you'll enjoy it.
We first got acquainted with the name "Spheros" around 1991 with the Spheros F, sometimes referred to as "Aero". That was a series of small lightweight reels, distinctly Japanese design emphasis, but it didn't particularly stand out among adjacent Shimano models of that time.
Then in 2002 the FA came out. The series wasn't a decidedly saltwater oriented one as evident from the tiny sized reels included, but the bigger sizes were authentic saltwater tools for those willing to spend slightly more than what entry level reels cost but not yet ready to venture into mid-priced reels. The FA ranged in size from the miniscule 3000 all the way to the imposing 14000, back when Shimano's 14000 was the equivalent to today's Shimano 20000 size class. To keep the reels affordable they had a metal frame with a plastic gear box attached to it, a design that's still being used today, they came with plastic rotors on all sizes expect the full size 12000 and 14000 which had metal ones, and all sizes had a locomotive gear oscillation system except the 12000 and 14000 which needed a more costly worm shaft oscillation system since the locomotive design hadn't yet advanced enough to evenly cover their taller spools. Showing some true saltwater credentials though the FA had the high chromium ball bearings which Shimano called "A-RB" (anti-rust bearings), and they housed Shimano's proprietary large and powerful anti-reverse clutch, derivations of which still to this day come in various Shimanos including the current Stella SW. The FA became a hit with fishermen, which all but guaranteed the continued existence and evolution of the Spheros name.
6 years later the Spheros FA was retired in favour of the Spheros FB, which made its debut in 2008. The FB inched further towards the spirit of a saltwater series by changing the names of the two biggest models from 12000FA & 14000FA to 14000FB &18000FB respectively. These two reels' actual sizes did not change, but by dropping the 12K designation and introducing the 18K designation Shimano imparted a sense of "bigness" unto the Spheros FB lineup. The difference between the FA and FB serieses became a matter of confusion and nonsensical speculation, such as assertions that the FB had an updated oscillation or spool, etc. In reality though the FB ditched the anti reverse switch, had a simplified bail arm and line roller build, and the biggest two FB reels had available an optional bailless kit which wasn't available for the FA.
The Spheros FB then had a night out where it drank one too many pints, went home with an unknown stranger, and soon gave birth to a completely new reel named the Saragosa F of 2008. That Saragosa F shared a large percentage of parts with the Spheros FB, including the frame and rotor, but in order to justify the higher price Shimano demanded for it they made a few tweaks intended at making the Saragosa a nicer reel than the Spheros. Here they are;
* The drive gear of the Saragosa F was mounted on two bearings, one at each end, instead of one bearing and a bushing as in the Spheros FB.
* They put a machined handle stem on the Saragosa F instead of the cast one of the Spheros FB.
* The Saragosa F received a one-piece bail wire, while the Spheros FB retained a traditionally jointed one.
* All sizes of the Saragosa F had Shimano's high grade cold forged drive gear, while the Spheros FB had that forged gear only in sizes 14000 and 18000 whereas the rest of the series was equipped with a lower grade cast zinc gear.
The Saragosa F therefore was definitely a superior reel to the Spheros FB in small and medium sizes, but the advantage largely disappeared when comparing the two largest sizes of both models. Nevertheless, it was the birth of a legendary duo that was destined to wildly influence the industry and entice other brands to mimic it.
Seemingly sticking to a 6 years gap between updates, the Spheros SW replaced the FB model in 2014, coming both in an export version and a JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) edition (inset). That JDM reel had inferior internals and it's not our subject today, so every time I mention the 2014 Spheros SW in this article I'll be talking about the common export version found internationally.
For that new Spheros the "FX" naming style was replaced with a permanent "SW" designation, the tiny sizes from the previous Spheros generations were dropped, and at the other end the 14000 and 18000 sizes were replaced with a 20000 model that's similar in size but holds more line, all to embrace the reel's full transition into a dedicated saltwater series. The improvements over the previous FB reels were numerous and quite significant. Here are some of them;
* All sizes of the Spheros SW now had the high grade cold forged drive gear.
* The Spheros SW received a machined handle stem.
* All sizes opted for the sheer strength of the locomotive gear oscillation design, which by then had improved enough to replace the worm shaft setup that came in the biggest two reels of the previous FA/FB serieses.
* The entire lineup of the Spheros SW came with chunky plastic rotors, as opposed to the previous FA/FB models having metal rotors on the biggest sizes.
* The drag clicker was upgraded to a more durable design.
* The body assembly was improved by having the screws go through the plastic gearbox to clamp into the metal frame instead of the other way round in the old FA/FB generations. The following image is a screenshot that I borrowed from a previous review to illustrate this particular upgrade;
The most significant improvement though was that the 2014 Spheros SW was a truly fully-sealed reel, making it the cheapest verifiably waterproof reel from a mainstream brand in the world. Other brands made that claim for cheaper reels prior to that, but they were... hmmm how do I put it? Oh, lying. They were simply putting out big fat lies and having them spread by shill farms and "testers" who don't know which way is up. Anyway, for more details on this 2014 Spheros SW check out its own review published 8 years ago.
The duo continued their happy coupling into that generation as well, with a new Saragosa SW being announced a bit earlier but fully released alongside the Spheros SW in 2014. That Saragosa SW also shared the platform and a huge majority of parts with the Spheros SW, but this time Shimano injected it with a muscular improvement to set it more assertively apart from the Spheros; they put a dual drag system in the Saragosa with large brake discs beneath the spool in addition to the small stack at the top, allowing it to generate more drag force than the Spheros could for those anglers willing to have an extra bit of stopping power at their disposal. Another notable improvement that follows this muscularity theme was the introduction of a backup mechanical anti-reverse system in the three biggest sizes of the 2014 Saragosa SW, which none of the 2014 Spheros SW reels had.
I did not publish a full review of that 2014 Saragosa SW, but in my review of the 2014 Spheros SW I highlighted the differences between both reels in detail creating some sort of a double-shot review. Have a look at it if you want a deeper dive into that Saragosa.
Like a clockwork, exactly 6 years after the last duo was released a new Saragosa called "SW-A" made its debut in 2020. A new Spheros was nowhere to be found though! All sorts of rumours soon filled trashy tabloids. Some reports said that they broke up after the Saragosa dropped a deuce on Spheros' bed, paparazzi took grainy photos of what they claimed was the Spheros kissing a Spinfisher in a romantic retreat in Vermont, and some leaked medical reports suggested that the Spheros had a surgery and transitioned into a lever-drag conventional reel. It turned out to be none of that though....
It was that virus molesting the world and ruining everything remotely related to fun in it. I had it from good sources that the initial plan was for both reels to come out in the same year, but the fact that anglers - like everyone else - were locked down, coupled with the grim outlook of the market at the height of the pandemic made postponing the Spheros' release a prudent choice.
The new Spheros came out in 2021 indeed, and, identically to its soulmate, it was named "SW-A". Also like the Saragosa SW-A, the new Shperos added two new sizes; the 14000XG with a very high gear ratio, and the 18000HG as a faster alternative to the similarly sized but slower 20000PG. This time too Shimano released a JDM version, but thankfully it is of the exact same quality as the export version.
I bought one reel from each of the three size groups. Picked the 5000 from the small family comprising 5000 & 6000 reels, the 8000 from the medium family whose members are 8000, 1000, and 14000 sizes, and between the 18000 and 20000 representing the full size family I opted for the 20000. This way I had an XG gear ratio (extreme gear), an HG gear ratio (high gear), and a PG gear ratio (power gear).
As closely intertwined the 2014 duo was, this new 2020/2021 couple managed to be even more so. But before I detail the exceptional resemblance between the 2020 Saragosa SW-A and the 2021 Spheros SW-A we need a mandatory pause;
Last year I published a detailed field testing and technical review of the 2020 Saragosa SW-A, which you can read by clicking here. If you haven't read it before, it's imperative that you go and do that now then come back and continue reading this article. The reason is that the 2021 Spheros SW-A and the 2020 Saragosa SW-A are so similarly built it would be highly repetitive of me to go over the technical details of the new Spheros in the same manner. I'd practically be reproducing Saragosa's review, only switching the word "Saragosa" for the word "Spheros" and minimally altering a few paragraphs. Therefore go ahead and read the Saragosa's review, and I'll be here waiting patiently and thinking about profound cosmic questions, such as how would Naomi Watts' buttocks taste when gently bitten?
Welcome back. Now that you've read about -or refreshed your memory on- the build of Saragosa SW-A, let me tell you that its beau the Spheros SW-A shares the vast majority of parts with it, including the chassis, gearing, one way clutch, ball bearings' brand, and most importantly the excellent sealing which surpases that of the current Stella SW as I explain in the review you've just read. This also means that the Spheros SW-A has virtually all the upgrades and improvement done to the Saragosa SW-A since the previous 2014 generation such as the reinforced joining of the two halves of the body, the tougher finish, the revived tilted foot, the enhanced floatation of the main shaft, and the strengthened clutch mounting in mid sizes 8000/10000/14000.
How about the differences between the Saragosa SW-A and the Spheros SW-A though?
* The bail wire of the Spheros is the jointed type instead of the one-piece bail wire of the Saragosa.
* The line roller of the Spheros is mounted on a complex series of bushings instead of a single ball bearing as in the Saragosa.
* Both reels have a premium machined handle stem, but the Saragosa's comes with a hidden joint pin for extra protection.
* The Saragosa has a backup mechanical anti-reverse in sizes 18K and up while the Spheros continues not to have this.
* The Saragosa has the dual drag located both at the top and beneath the spool, while the Spheros comes only with a top stack drag unit.
* And, correspondingly, the drag clicker in Saragosas 5000/6000/8000/10000/14000 is a louder and more "ringy" design than that of the equivalent Spheros. On sizes 18000 and above though the drag clickers of both models are similar, both being a simpler arrangement that isn't as loud.
How these differences are manifested in real life use, if at all, is what I'll discuss as this review progresses, but let me first explain the style of what you're about to read - in the past I've done 3 distinct kinds of reviews; the exposé style, the kind where I focus more on technical details, and the type that's heavily centered around the fishing adventure. This review of the Spheros SW-A though will progress as a hybrid of the three kinds, where I'm going to tell you how it fished, will take a technical detour, and eventually will expose a scam of an unparalleled magnitude. Let's see how that goes....
As usual, the box is sealed for your protection. If you buy one new and the seal is broken ask why and see if there is a good convincing explanation.
The Spheros SW-A comes with parts diagrams, a manual that covers Shimano spinning reels in general, and a plastic baggy with spool shims to adjust the way the line is laid. It's missing two pieces of accessories that come with the Saragosa SW-A; the spool band, and the transparent stickers that supposedly prevent braid from slipping on the spool if you decide not to use mono-backing.
Looks wise, the new Spheros has slimmed down and became more compact than the hideously lumpy previous model, yet it remains a weird looking and lackluster reel. That said, it is undeniably more visually pleasing than the Saragosa SW-A for two reasons. First one is the shape of the spool's skirt, whose main purpose is to reduce the amount of metal and thus cut weight, but it also matches the sharp angles and straight lines of the reel's frame, achieving better overall homogeneity than is the case in the Saragosa SW-A. The second reason this Spheros is better looking than the Saragosa is its black colour scheme with golden accents, which is a universally safe bet that rarely looks flashy or vulgar. Let's step away from superficialities though and get into the meat.
The Spheros SW-A is a tad lighter than the previous generation across the board. Not by a very noticeable margin, but nevertheless any weight reduction is a positive that should always be applauded. More notable though is the jump in overall quality and feel. Parts fit together nicer, the finish exhibits more uniformity and consistency than the 2014 reel, and even the handle play is reduced on this new generation. As I explained in tedious detail in the past, handle play in spinning reels is normal and expected for optimal gear longevity, but better constructed reels have lesser play to the extent that it's almost imperceptible in some truly fine high-end reel. The new Spheros takes a step up in that direction.
As mentioned earlier, the Spheros SW-A got the traditional tilted foot back, in what is a continuous reversal of Shimano's ill-advised parallel foot stunt which turned into an unmitigated fiasco. Careful rod matching no longer needed, I was free to mount the reels on whatever rod I wanted, and they invariably proved to be precise and very predictable casters whether I was sending a lure far away for a splashy retrieve or swinging a live bait a few metres from a pier in search of sneaky pillar dwellers. The tilted reel mount is only one of three factors that work in tandem to produce this casting performance, the other two being the now familiar reverse-tapered spool lip and a line lay that keeps improving from one generation to another.
You can see that beautiful line lay on the 20000 to the right, pictured here as I pulled line off it to fill the 8000. These were tough times in 2021 when supply bottlenecks left me unable to restock my favourite colour-coded braid, which is indispensable to me while evaluating reels, so I did a lot of recycling. If you're wondering why on earth I was doing it reel-to-reel without a rod, well, I can probably claim that I was in so much emotional distress due to all the death around me or such, but truth be told I was just being my lazy self.
As I took the 20000 apart to see how the internals were doing midway through testing, I noticed an additional difference between it and the Saragosa; the Spheros being black they made sure that the visible gearbox screw is black as well to better blend into the colour scheme. A cute little styling touch, and I definitely wouldn't have complained had they left the original silver screw from the Saragosa.
Since the gearbox is shared with the Saragosa, it had the threaded post on which the bacup mechanical anti-reverse is mounted in Saragosas sizes 18000 and up. This post was left unused in the Spheros.
Those 8 parts from the Saragosa are the components of the backup mechanical anti-reverse. Don't remember how much exactly they cost but they were so hilariously cheap the dude who got them for me wouldn't even let me pay him back. To the best of my recollection it was something around 12 US dollars total. Yes, twelve dollars! Shimano have never been ones to overcharge on parts, and their spares' service continues to be world class.
The pinion of the Spheros SW-A is the same one in the Saragosa SW-A, but while in the Saragosa it carries the ratchet gears of the mechanical anti-reverse here in the Spheros it has a long solid tube to fill the space.
Removed that long tube and replaced it with the shorter tube from the Saragosa (red arrow) and the two ratchet gears (blue arrows).
The high grade cold-forged and coated drive gear also comes straight from the Saragosa, so it had the little hub for the mechanical anti-reverse actuator spring.
Put the actuator spring on it.
After installing the dog in place I needed to carefully insert the drive gear so that the actuator spring fits into the hole in that dog. And....
Works perfectly. Now if the one-way clutch of my 20000 Spheros SW-A ever slips due to age and wear or in extremely cold weather, I'll have a backup brake ready to kick in and keep the reel working. Maybe one day I'll list this reel on my sales page and demand ten thousand dollars for it since it's a world's only. Hmmmm..
But jokes aside, it's hard to imagine the reel's clutch slipping or anything else in it failing under normal working conditions, or even when slightly abused. For instance I intentionally left it for days without rinsing or basic cleaning, yet everything continued to work as it should, including the line roller which kept smoothly turning on its skillfully designed bushings' group. For the most part of my evaluation I was shorebound due to the travel chaos discussed in the pandemic chronicles, but on rare occasions I got to fish the reels inshore where I could expose them to the elements and subject them to satisfactorily high stresses. Heavy cobias, blackdrums, some respectably powerful snook, countless crevalle jacks, and a pair of small blacktips just to name a few, all while being attacked by saltwater sprays, yet the Spheros never missed a beat and instead kept giving me reassuring signals that it can take it day in day out. The reel is immensely reliable thanks to the premium components, many of which come from the latest Stella SW, as well as the manufacturing/assembly precision that steadies moving parts and allows the seals to operate to their full potential. The Spheros SW-A's build quality is shockingly high.
The true highlight of this new Spheros though and my favourite feature of it is its cranking power. That cranking power is a direct function of increased gear efficiency and reduced energy losses due to friction, and this new Spheros doesn't simply stop at beating the previous 2014 model in this regard, but rather it leaps further ahead to become in my opinion one of the biggest producers of winding power of all ambidextrous spinning reels in current production. Other than the Saltiga with its superlatively efficient minimally offset gear, I can't think of any other ambidextrous spinning reel being produced today that packs more winding power than the Spheros. In my review of the Saragosa SW-A I gushed about this exact immense power back when no one noticed it....
And soon Shimano caught up and began highlighting it in the literature of the Spheros SW-A and the 2020 Stradic SW, which is another reel that's so intertwined with the 2020 Saragosa 2021 Sphereos duo they could easily form a Menage a trois, but let's not go there to keep it PG-13. At any rate, you're not supposed to crank a fish with a spinning reel like you'd do with a multiplier, yet that extra pulling force makes it more fun and less tiresome to spend hours playing a heavy jig deep down or drag a flat-nosed popper across the surface. More winding power means less shoulder and arms soreness the day after, so one can be ready to go again. Pulling force is certainly not the primary tool in a spinner, but it does improve the experience. It goes without saying that when I judge pulling force I take in consideration variables such as gear ratios, spool diameters, and filling degree, and apples will always be compared to apples, not to lycra bras.
While my favourite feature of the Spheros SW-A is derived from the Saragosa SW-A, my second favourite thing about the Spheros is particular to it since it's essentially the only real difference between it and the Saragosa; the drag. The Spheros has a top stack drag unit with carbon fibre brake discs in all sizes. These brake discs are small in order to lower the diameter of the spool's centre and increase line capacity, but there is a good number of these discs to increase the combined braking surface area. The drag units of all Spheros SW-A reels come straight from the previous 2014 Spheros SW, despite what's shown in that previous model's schematics. Those schematics were carelessly wrong. The drag knob and its internal spring have been updated though, and I felt that this update improves the overall performance of the reel's drag in terms of adjustment range and consistency of the knob's feedback as you manipulate it. I found that the drag force progression has become slightly slower in the Spheros SW-A, which increases the drag's responsiveness by permitting extra pressure points between what used to be two points of either too much pressure for a quick response and too little pressure for good hooksets and the initial bursts. This enhancement is particularly useful and more prominent in small Spheros SW-As than it is in bigger reels. The drag remains buttery smooth, has barely any starting hesitancy, and while it could get a bit warm during longer runs at higher drag settings, the heat is not disruptive nor excessive for this class of reels. Actually I felt that heat interfered less with the drag's operation than in most other similarly built spinners that I've used in the past few years.
One final note about the drag, the knob of this new Spheros can be backed off to a point where it applies very little pressure, yet doesn't become dangerously wiggly or loose. This allows even the biggest sizes to work safely with very little drag pressure if that's what you want. Not a common scenario, but over the years I heard complaints from anglers who for one reason or another wanted their reels to operate with barely any drag pressure but couldn't achieve that without the knob looking worryingly unstable.
The 2021 Spheros is definitely the best Spheros to date, managing to improve quite significantly on an already excellent 2014 model. You probably recall me saying that the previous Spheros SW was for years my most recommended reel to readers who reached out asking for recommendations, and I have no doubt that I'll be recommending this new Spheros SW-A even more times. Not only because it's a better reel, but also because the lineup has expanded with new size/ratio combinations to cover the varying needs of even more anglers; the new 14000XG with its increased line capacity and extreme speed should make those who chase surface predators, like GT, very happy as long as they're not going after trophy size fish, and the new 18000HG serve as an alternative to those seeking the strength and capabilities of a full size reel but with a faster ratio than what the 20000PG offers.
Not only that, but even sizes that already existed are now offering a bigger selection that varies based on which 2014 Spheros SW models were sold in your region. Taking the US market as an example, the 2014 Spheros SW 5000 and 6000 were the exact same reel only with a different spool, but in the 2021 Spheros SW-A lineup these two became distinctly different reels with the 5000XG having a higher gear ratio than the 6000HG. Same goes for the mid-sized 8000 and 10000 which in the previous model had the same gear ratio, but now they differ in speed for a greater choice. Furthermore, with the spools being interchangeable within each size class, one can create their own combinations by for example putting the larger capacity spool of the 14000 on the 10000 for some truly deep jigging, etc. Shimano in my opinion has its fair share of morons and insecure ignoramuses, but when they become serious they can create pure brilliance. The new Spheros SW-A is a definitive testimony to this.
So, the subtitle of this review is "The Scam", and perhaps you're now trying to figure out the nature of that scam. Well, usually when I expose a scam I tell you that you've been defrauded by a rebranding operation, a bogus tackle website, a fake reviews mill, etc. This time though I'm afraid that you're not the victims, but rather you are the scammers! How? You have the cheek to ask me how? Let's see; the new Spheros is built almost identically to the Saragosa SW-A and shares a huge percentage of parts and components with it, meaning that it enjoys the majority of the outstanding upgrades that make the 2020 Saragosa SW-A easily the best Saragosa to date and in my book the very best saltwater spinner built by Shimano at the moment, bar-none, regardless of the imaginary hierarchical nonsense that people religiously repeat. Additionally, the Spheros SW-A is built and finished extremely well, it performs beautifully, it outputs more power for your work, it's unquestionably and verifiably fully sealed, as reliable as a Soviet tank, and that drag is *chef's kiss* two cuts above. And how much exactly are you paying for all of this over the previous model? Did the price increase by 50 dollars? 65 dollars? No, in fact that's not even the right direction....
The bloody thing is actually cheaper than the previous model at the end of its life, and by a good amount and not just a few dollars!
Unbelievably the new Spheros SW-A used to be even cheaper than this...
Ten dollars cheaper to be exact, but in February 2022 Shimano, along with some other brands, had to increase the price to counter the record inflation afflicting large parts of the globe. Being a lucky devil I had already gotten my three reels and a fourth one that I gifted in a GiveAway at the old price, but I'd do it over and over again at the new price without hesitating for a second. Had our money been worth as much as it did two years ago I'd still have considered the price of the Spheros SW-A a brilliant win for us, but now that our banknotes are inflated into near worthlessness we're basically scamming Shimano each time we give them the glorified toilet paper we carry in our wallets and take a new Spheros in return. That's why we're all a bunch of scammers and crooks, and apparently my teacher was fibbing when she told me as a child that crime doesn't pay, because apparently it actually does.
In conclusion, back in 2016 I named Daiwa's BG "the best value-for-money spinning reel in the world", and I'm eternally grateful to Daiwa for setting such a revolutionary standard for value and challenging the entire industry to beat it. 6 years on though, it appears that Shimano accepted the challenge and raised the bar even higher. Yep, I've just subtly named the Spheros SW-A the new best value spinning reel available today, and it is in fact so by a sizable margin. I'm very careful with superlatives, I take my time contemplating and thoroughly deliberating with myself before using one, but this neat new Shimano has so decisively dethroned Daiwa's 2016 BG that I could no longer hold back on reaching this conclusion. My consolation is in the knowledge that, considering how much higher the new Spheros has set the bar, I will not be revisiting this superlative for some time. Actually a very long time if I may speculate.
That's all for now. Keep your eyes on the News page for updates, and be safe out there.
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August, 24th, 2022