Review: Badger TC910 Aspire Pro Airbrush Compressor

sunsanvil

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Jun 2, 2010
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490
Introduction

Its been quite some time since Badger has updated their compressor portfolio: The entry level 180 series feels dated and while the exquisite, very high end 480s remain current, they also remain the province of true professionals with cash to spare. Occupying the middle for some years has been the TC909, a decent (but tankless) airbrush compressor Badger inherited when it acquired Thayer & Chandler (I’ve owned a 909 for several years and have loved it). Now Badger is revamping their line with a new compressor motor, replacing the old 180s with the 180-15 and expanding the 900 series: The 909 will remain (with an updated look), below it they are adding the TC908 (essentially a 909 without the steel enclosure), and topping off the new line is the TC910, the subject of today’s review.

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Badger TC910 Compressor (note: hose is NOT included).

Design and Features

The TC910 consists of a compact oil-less piston compressor mounted above a pressure tank, enclosed in a metal housing. It may seem familiar as this configuration is not unique to the 910: other manufacturers have similar designs. Badger’s employs a 1/6 horsepower motor coupled to a 3 litre air tank. They include a regulator with both moisture trap and pressure gauge, and finish it off with a pair of airbrush holders on the top. Unlike virtually everything else with the Badger name on it, the TC910 is not actually manufactured in Chicago Illinoi. Rather, like most all such airbrush compressor, they are made for them in China. Badger still puts their touch on it by performing their own 14 point inspection in Chicago before putting their sticker on it, and of course they back it with their widely acclaimed customer service and warranty. My sample had the misfortune of getting a somewhat rough courier experience between Chicago and East Coast Canada, arriving with a ding and some loose screws. Badger is of course accustomed to moving these things in large numbers on pallets where they wont see rough handling like my single did so my sample hopefully should not be typical of store bought units or well packed mail ordered ones.

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Regulator, gauge, and moisture trap (again hose is not included).

Looking at the details of their design they get what matters right: The compressor feeds the air tank at the rear while the airbrush supply is at the front. This forces the air to pass through the length of the tank, allowing it to do its job as a first-stage moisture trap. There is a drain valve on the bottom of course which should be periodically used to keep excess moisture from pooling at the bottom. The power cord is a nice long length and overall the package is so compact that it boarders on being cute (barely 6x12 inches and less than 20lb). I wish they could have used the same 0-60psi gauge I’m used to on the older 909, this one going from 0-100, but that just means you don't get quite as granular a reading. I did notice one quirk: the motor was offset just a hair to one side in the housing. On inspection I saw why: the screws for the handle protrude so far down that if the motor were perfectly centered they would conflict (Badger just needs to get their manufacturer to use a shorter screw). The airbrush holders on top are to me a bit of a novelty in that I’d rather have a holder at my desk but I admit more than once already they have been handy. One is specifically for siphon feed guns, the other for gravity.

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Airbrush holders are not prejudice: Badger and H&S guns (obviously not included), both equally at home.

In use

When you first turn it on it seems totally silent, but as pressure builds in the tank so does the noise. In “free air” outdoors (a quasi-anechoic setting), noise at 1M measured right around 60dB (A weighted). This is how most products like this are measured but it only represents a baseline on which to rate something (it rarely gives us a realistic expectation). In my modeling room with the unit sitting just out from the corner and about 3-4 feet from my ear it was hitting 75dB+. I placed it on an unused Auralex GRAMMA (an isolation platform meant for guitar amps and subwoofers) and put a spare Versatile (an absorptive acoustic foam tile) adjacent to it. In this configuration I managed to get the sound down below 65dB. Make no mistake this is not "silent", but you can easily carry on a conversation with it running, and my wife upstairs can’t even tell I'm using it if she is watching TV. There is still one noise issue though: the PRV (Pressure Release Valve) on the tank, a necessary safety feature, has a pull-pin which, being by design a loose fit, rattles with an incredibly irritating chatter when the motor runs. I managed to silence it without defeating the PRV in any way (but unless Badger wants to endorse my trick I'm going to have to keep it to myself). Incidentally, if truly silent is what you are after, check out Badger’s 480 series compressors which use super quiet oil reciprocating motors (but be sure to bring money).

In use the TC910 is a modeler’s dream!

While I have loved my 909, the tankless design has its limitations. One is less than constant pressure: the start of every stroke would be a few PSI stronger than at the finish. Another issue is that with the moisture trap right off the compressor head air has no time to cool before it hits the moisture trap so it can't do its job effectively. On particularly humid days I would get condensation in the hose (some designs put a length of hose between compressor head and regulator assembly to try and mitigate this). More recently I ran into a quirk with the tankless design: airbrushes like Badger’s Velocity or the Harder & Steenbeck Evolution are so fugal with air volume that, even while I held down the trigger, the 909’s motor was constantly starting/stopping every second, which is annoying and probably bad for the motor in the long run (this was never an issue though with more air hungry guns like my 200NH or 105 Patriot).

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Compressor connection to pressure tank.

Even though the 910’s 3 litre tank is tiny by compressor standards, it is enough to make a massive difference! The cut in/out on the motor is 43 and 57 psi respectively and its displacement is quoted as .81cfm so at any reasonable working pressure (I mainly use 20-25psi) you get ROCK solid output with no variation to speak of. Zero moisture (even tried it on a nasty warm humid day), and the motor gets to go through longer on/off cycles. Even with the previously mentioned frugal airbrush’s triggers held down the motor cuts in/out at a rate of almost a full minute.

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Specs label with ETL safety listing.
Conclusions

A proper compressor seems to be the last thing we as modellers want to spend money on. I’ve been there: when I got my first airbrush back in the early 90s I connected it to a spare car tire because I couldn't see spending $200+ for a compressor. It wasn't long after that I dropped modeling altogether... because using that tire was such a pain. Several years ago when I decided to get back into the hobby I bought my 909 compressor and I have been avidly modeling ever since. When the airbrush system “just plain works” it allows you to focus on your art instead of fussing with equipment. There are plenty of different ways to power an airbrush, from the large, loud (but admittedly functional) air tool compressors, to exotic CO2 setups. I’m not saying this is the only way to go, but if you’ve been thinking about a compressor, with the new TC910 Badger has in my opinion hit a real home run, delivering everything a modeller would want in a compressor at a reasonable price.
 

Cave_Dweller

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Mar 18, 2011
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Very well laid out review, thanks for posting this. I'm toying with the idea of buying an airbrush and have given myself a budget of around $400-500. Good to read some of this and learn as much as I can before I buy something I don't need.
 

Ian

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Aug 29, 2012
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So I just received one of these for Amazon (it was a Warehouse Deal for $105), and I've noticed that the quick release valve is off. There's a little grunge around the threaded hole in the tank and I hear rattling inside the tank, most likely from it being open.

Can I just clean the threads and screw it back in?
 

Ian

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Aug 29, 2012
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After more time with this I've discovered that I can't even thread the release valve back onto the tank. Back it goes and I guess I'll order a new one instead. That'll teach me! :)
 

hooterville75

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Aug 26, 2012
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Ian, never hurts trying to save a buch here and there my friend. No harm no foul, you tried, it didnt work. So out with the old and in with the new. Let us know what you get weather its a new version of this same compressor or a whole different brand.
 

Dwheels

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Sep 11, 2012
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Ian,

Was this sold to you as a new unit? Was it direct from Amazon or from another dealer? That's awfully cheap for a new TC-910.

Don
 

Ian

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Aug 29, 2012
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It was from Amazon, through their "Warehouse Deals" and was listed as "Used—Very Good" condition, so I thought I'd take a chance. The regular price was around $130 (though now I see it's at $148), but it's out of stock.

The overall build quality and construction didn't impress all that much, so I think I'll be looking in a higher price bracket.

Currently mulling over tank vs twin piston tankless —which is going to give better results— and also different brands. I've seen positive recommendations for the Polar Bear 2000 unit, and Silentaire models.

My main wish is to have it be as quiet as possible. I'm using a contractor 150psi unit now and boy is that thing loud when it kicks in, and that's with it in another room!
 

JMac

cut. glue. paint. repeat.
Joined
May 24, 2009
Messages
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Ian,

Both Grendels and I have bought Iwata Power Jet Pro compressors. I got mine in May and he just recently purchased his (October I think). I'm very happy with its performance, features and quiet operation. If you have a chance check out Grendels video on the Power Jet Pro.
 

Grendels

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Nov 24, 2009
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Here is that review:

Iwata power jet pro review

I like that compressor a lot. My daughter was using it with the air brush last night and I could not hear it across the hall in another room with both doors open. It is not loud at all. And with the tank it hardly runs.

If you want to go more expensive, this is a good one. The model below it is a bit cheaper and still has the tank.
 

Ian

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Aug 29, 2012
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Looks like there's a bunch of them —Smart Jet Pro, Power Jet (which is almost identical in appearance to the TC910) and the Power Jet Lite. Need to start building a comparison chart!
 

Rob Bye

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Jan 29, 2015
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I'm shopping for my first airbrush compressor, and this one seems to offer the most bang for my buck. Locally, it's available through Michaels Canada (regular price of $450), and they're famous for their 40 and 50% off coupons. At somewhere around $225, this would be a virtual no-brainer!

In the years since this review was posted, I wonder if anyone else has given the Badger Aspire TC-910 a try?
 

Ian

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Aug 29, 2012
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As mentioned above, I had issues with the TC-910 I ordered but that might have been a random case. Overall, I wasn't impressed with the Badger, and so ended up purchasing an Iwata Power Jet Pro, which has been terrific.
 

Junkie

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Apr 24, 2009
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I bought an Aspire TC-910 and I like it (and yes I actually did buy it, not a 'sponsored freebie').

It's worked well for me. I'm sure the power jet pro does the trick too.
 

Rob Bye

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Jan 29, 2015
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Scott Girvan said:
I bought an Aspire TC-910 and I like it... I'm sure the power jet pro does the trick too.

Thanks Scott. I considered that Iwata too, but it costs almost three times as much as what I can get the Badger for.

Ian said:
As mentioned above, I had issues with the TC-910 I ordered but that might have been a random case. Overall, I wasn't impressed with the Badger...

Yes, I read your posts quite carefully Ian. They represent the only negative comments I've seen for this compressor. I wonder if you weren't let down more by Amazon than by Badger. It reads like they misrepresented a damaged product as being in usable condition. In my case, I'll be purchasing from a trusted local retailer.
 

Junkie

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Apr 24, 2009
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Rob Bye said:
Thanks Scott. I considered that Iwata too, but it costs almost three times as much as what I can get the Badger for.

Note that I don't have the Iwata, I have the Badger.

- I bought an Aspire TC-910 and I like it... I'm sure the power jet pro does the trick too.
 

debrartin

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Apr 3, 2015
Messages
2
I just received like one of that. I ordered my badger airbrush with compressor from this store. After reading your article I feel very happy that I got such as good airbrush and compressor. Thank you for your nice post. Now I have started airbrush training in a local airbrush training institute.

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