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Aug062017

« Review: Crown SDL-301-DX Infiltration signature Korean arcade stick lever »

The Tekken community in South Korea, as well as international players, responded positively to the 309 arcade stick lever by Crown (aka Samducksa). Being a collaboration with Tekken player Help Me, it was considered the first signature lever on the market. The arcade parts manufacturer wanted to continue this trend with a new model. Coming off the heels of Evo 2016, Crown worked with the Street Fighter V champion Infiltration to make a new lever.

The SDL-301-DX signature lever combines aspects from an experimental design as well as input from Infiltration. Compared to other Korean levers on the market, it's the most distinct when it comes to feel. It aims to have some qualities found in Japanese levers such as the popular Sanwa Denshi JLF while featuring necessary Korean traits. After months of testing and anticipation, is the lever all it's cracked up to be?

Unlike Crown's other levers, the SDL-301 is made with consumer Japanese arcade sticks in mind. It can be installed like the Sanwa JLF, you just need to make sure the really cool clear bat top is not on when equipping. You can also opt for Sanwa's bat or ball tops if you want. There is no version made for Korean sticks like the Etokki Omni or Makestick Pro. Since Infiltration is using a stick made specifically for Japanese levers, it's understandable that the SDL-301 is made with those in mind. If you are not familiar with Korean levers, they use individual switches instead of a PCB assembly found on Japanese levers. You will need a .187 to five-pin adapter harness to properly power the switches after installing.

When looking at the SDL-301, it looks a lot bulkier than its counterparts since it's using a more elaborate internal design. This results in it being taller than any other Korean lever. With Infiltration being sponsored by Razer, the SDL-301's height isn't a problem in the Panthera arcade stick. As for other sticks, it will depend on the case's internal room. When installing the production demo unit on a Mad Catz Arcade FightStick TE2, the SDL-301 seemingly fit but the bottom of the shaft did scratch the TE2's plastic floor. The Qanba Obsdian's slim design makes it impossible to work with the lever. Other smaller sticks will definitely face this problem as well. This is probably the SDL-301's most glaring issue since it will need a stick with large internal space. If you don't have a stick like the Panthera, the lever needs a huge investment to get it working optimally. It's unfortunate that the physical design hinders wide compatibility, but I hope to see a new version which resolves this issue in the future.

The signature lever still bears the tension grommet system found in many Korean levers. The material is that of silicone so tension feels consistent even after prolonged use. The demo unit featured a grommet with a shore rating of A 25, also found on the 309MJ lever. New Korean stick users won't have any real trouble with the tension but it might feel too loose for experienced players. The grommet, combined with the rest of the lever, felt flimsy if not gripped carefully. Fortunately, Crown will offer heavier silicone grommets which is nice.

This secondary gate pictured is a rounded octagon. The other gate is a full circle.Crown adopted the small neck, or collar, gate design first introduced in the MJ variants of its levers for the SDL-301. You can expect fluid motions when the shaft contacts the gate. The Infiltration lever also carries a secondary gate system on the bottom end. The demo unit featured both circular and octagonal gates. Either gate needs to be installed to keep the switches in place. The actuator on the bottom of the shaft makes contact with these gates. When compared to the Sanwa JLF's gates, the effect felt very subtle in Infiltration's lever. Hitting the edges comes more from the collar gate. You get more obvious results if you remove the shaft cover but it increases the travel length so more effort is required to move around.

Different from Crown's other levers, the most obvious thing when using the SDL-301 is that it has relatively bigger travel time to touch the collar gate. This is a contrast to the 309 Help Me lever which has shorter distance. While the grommet will help get the lever back to neutral position efficiently, players who have used other Korean levers will have to adjust to the larger overall zone. That said, this can help with microswitch coverage, especially with diagonals. This also applies to the neutral zone which is considerably bigger than most Korean levers I have tried. Combined with the low tension, the SDL-301 can sometimes feel like a worn out Sanwa JLF. I felt like a light touch could accidentally trigger an input. Hopefully, the heavier grommets offered will alleviate this issue.

My experience when using the lever differed with some fighting games I tested. Some of the movement techniques in Tekken 7 such as backdash cancelling and sidestepping felt a bit awkward with the SDL-301 compared to other Korean levers. This is mostly due to the larger travel zone and the light grommet. After getting used to it, my movement improved but the lever still felt somewhat unwieldy. You might want to look elsewhere if you want to use a Korean lever for 3-D games. 2-D fighters yielded better results. Doing various motions in Street Fighter V or the more elaborate inputs in The King of Fighters XIV felt pretty good and easy to perform. Since Infiltration primarily plays 2-D fighting games, I can see the SDL-301 better designed for that type of fighter.

If you are expecting tournament-winning results from using this lever, prepare to be disappointed. Much like the Help Me lever, Infiltration's signature lever doesn't give you any obvious competitive advantage. Rather, the models instead provide insight to what each player thinks is comfortable for them when playing.

The SDL-301-DX installed on the Razer Panthera arcade stick. This is the same combination that Infiltration uses.Compared to Crown's other levers, the SDL-301 has been marketed as a premium lever with a relatively high price tag of 40,000 Korean won (roughly $35). The unique construction can justify its purchase, but the catch is that if you don't have a stick with large internal room like the Razer Panthera, you might have to spend a lot more money as previously mentioned. For me, I will look into Crown's cheaper models which personally feel better to play on and easier to install on various sticks.

The SDL-301 Infiltration lever is the most unorthodox Korean lever to date. Not only is it made specifically for Japanese sticks, albeit a limited selection unfortunately, but Crown also tried to add some aspects found in its neighboring competitors while staying true to its roots. These efforts result in the SDL-301 being more of a genuine Korean/Japanese hybrid lever than Crown's other efforts. While it's playable for most fighting games out there today, it excels on the 2-D plane. There are some rough edges that hinder the lever from being great, but can be improved in a future model. If you are a 2-D player and you are looking into trying Korean levers for the first time, the Infiltration lever isn't a bad choice as long as it fits on your stick.

The Crown SDL-301-DX production demo unit was lent from Paradise Arcade Shop. There should be no significant changes in the release model. It's currently available now in South Korea. Make sure to look out for your favorite arcade parts store whether or not they will sell this lever in the near future.

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