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Tuesday
Dec062016

« Review: Qanba Crystal arcade stick (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC) »

Earlier in 2016, the popular Chinese arcade stick manufacturer Qanba released its first PlayStation 4 model: the Drone. While the stick was made as a budget option for those new to fighting games, people were left wondering when the higher-end models would start arriving. I recently had the chance to try out the Crystal, the first of two made for dedicated players.

QANBA CRYSTAL ARCADE STICK SCREENSHOTS

Based on the Q2 series of arcade sticks, and a direct descendant of the Q2 Glow, the Crystal arcade stick is Qanba's second major offering for the PS4. While the Drone has a small form factor, the Crystal is bigger and more developed. On the surface, the Crystal does look similar to its predecessors but some of its changes, both visually and technologically, might help someone looking for a more fleshed-out arcade stick from Qanba.

The body of the Crystal is much like older Q2 arcade sticks. Instead of angular shapes, the shell is rounded for a smooth aesthetic. This is accompanied by a symmetrical design. Originally made to cater to both left- and right-handed players when the stick body premiered, Qanba later abandoned the concept. Instead of discontinuing the series altogether, the manufacturer continued using the body as an alternative to the once-flagship Q4 sticks.

One thing that remained in the Crystal is the carrying handle featured on the front side. This is a great way of carrying the stick with little effort. When not in use, magnets keep the handle flush with the body. Also returning is the cable compartment on the left side of the stick. There is a lot of room to house the USB cable. Much like the handle, the compartment magnets will keep the door shut.

For the bottom portion of the stick, the Crystal features sheets of antislip rubber instead of fake leather like past models. This also acts as the rubber feet for tables. While previous Qanba sticks used a large amount of antislip material, it's somewhat disappointing to see only two mats covering the leg sections of the Crystal. The quality of the sheets, and the hearty 7.25 pounds total weight, however, do work really well to keep the stick in place.

Instead of a solid body color, this stick's plastic shell is transparent with a smoke gray tone. With crystals commonly known to look transparent, the name for this arcade stick makes sense. There are also hints of red in the main panel's artwork, which is dominated by various Chinese characters.

There is also color stemming from the LED system. Blue lights emit from the pushbuttons as well as the middle section of the lever. The lighting also resonates through the body for added effect. Similar to the Q2 Glow, the Qanba lever features both a clear shaft cover and dust cover to heighten the look. It would have been nice to see the clear ball top return instead of going for a white top though. As for the buttons, Qanba opted to make them almost fully transparent. Compared to the Glow's buttons only having transparency in their plungers, the change in the Crystal is a major improvement in making the lights more obvious. Fortunately, the lights don't look distracting when flashing. One minor gripe that I have is that the blue lights sort of go in conflict with the stripes of red in the artwork, which makes the overall color palette somewhat inconsistent.

You can change how the LEDs act using the dedicated button on the side panel. Outside of turning it off, there are three modes to select. On default, with an orange indicator, you can light up the buttons and lever when triggering the inputs. For green mode, the LEDs only flash if a game activates a vibration trigger. The King of Fighters XIV, for example, has the controller vibrate when defeating an opponent with a super move. You will notice the effect on the Crystal if on that mode. There is also the blue mode which is a constant glow for the lever and buttons.

Accompanying the LED button on the side panel are the special controls. You can expect the Home button, Options/Start, Share/Select, Turbo, analog stick buttons and the d-pad/left stick/right stick slider. Much like other PS3 and PS4 sticks, there is also a console slider. If connecting to a PC, make sure the stick is on PS3 mode because it activates Xinput. The design of the special controls being placed on the right side is ingenious. It's very different from how competitor sticks position them yet it's very practical to use. The shape of the section is similar to the rest of the body which keeps the design consistent.

As with most PlayStation 4 arcade sticks officially licensed by Sony, Qanba took the chance to add Touch Pad support in the Crystal. Located in the top right portion, the Touch Pad is contact sensitive which is nice for those who want to reset to specific positions. Since it's a full-fledged pad, the surface allows easy navigation with the keyboard when chatting with friends on the PS4. While it seems weird to not see the Touch Pad along with the other special controls on the side, it's still practical to use where it's located.

When it comes to performance, take note that the parts are all made by Qanba. The pushbuttons might be a Sanwa Denshi OBSC-30 clone, but they feel fine for being internally designed. They are not as smooth as Sanwa or other competitors, but they do get the job done decently. The lever technology seemed to level up after the release of the Drone arcade stick. Instead of individual switches like what the Drone had, the Crystal features a PCB assembly with switches that seem to feel pretty close to what's in the Sanwa JLF lever. The lever is a bit more consistent than its predecessors, but it still suffers from its tension being too light for my liking.

Simple Sanwa JLF parts mod for the Crystal. Note that the Crystal's microswitch insert fits perfectly with the JLF's PCB switch assembly.If you plan to mod the Crystal later down the line, it's a bit of a mixed bag. For most folks, the lever is easy to work with. You can replace the PCB assembly, gate, actuator and spring with those from a Sanwa JLF. It's not a full conversion, but you can get marginally better results while still keeping the LEDs intact. As for the buttons, it's a much more complex issue. If you prefer Sanwa buttons, it's possible that you will lose the stock LED system in the process. Due to how the boards are shaped in conjunction with the construction of the stock buttons, the LEDs might not fit on other buttons. Contact a local modder who might be more experienced with this situation or go for alternative solutions such as Paradise Arcade Shop's Kaimana.

The $150 price tag puts the Crystal in the middle range of consumer arcade sticks, with the likes of Hori's Real Arcade Pro 4 Kai and the Mad Catz Arcade FightStick Tournament Edition S+. When comparing the three, the Crystal would be the wild card of the bunch. It's much sturdier and visually more appealing than the other two. The stick also has better placement for special controls. You get the benefit of a body design that combines practicality and style very well. The LED system resonates better in this stick than in its predecessors. However, despite having parts that are playable, they are no means of the quality found in Sanwa or even Hori. The ease of replacing the parts, while maintaining LEDs, is diminished due to the design of the lighting system.

If you value the Crystal's offerings more than its limitations, then it's a stick that you might want to consider. There might be some setbacks that prevent the stick from being amazing, but it still stands tall for its great inherent design as well as subtle yet good upgrades. It's also the only PlayStation 4 stick on the market that has LED support out of the box. Qanba might be a bit late to the party, but that hasn't stopped them from trying to show players what they are offering, even if it requires some lights to attract them.

The Qanba Crystal is available to order now!

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