Badger TC910 Compressor Review

6/2012
Ken Schlotfeldt asked if I'd like to review the TC910 Aspire Pro compressor.  Of course I said yes.

And, here it is:


I have to tell you though, that there is already a good review of this compressor on the web that you can read here.
So, be sure to check that one out too.

The compressor is only rated for one airbrush, but there are two holders on top of the case, one for gravity fed and one for siphon fed.












What is it?

The TC910 is a wobble type oil-less piston compressor like the Iwata Smart Jet that I just reviewed.  And, it has a 3 liter tank and a pressure regulator.  The tank eliminates any pulsing and cools the air so the moisture separator will work better.

The label on the cabinet says the motor is 1/6 hp and flow rate is 23 liters per minute.  It has a pressure control switch like the Smart Jet that shuts off the motor at 57psi and restarts it when the pressure drops to 43psi.  The box says it was made in China.  The handle makes it portable, but it's a hefty 18 lbs.

Here is what is inside the sturdy steel cover.  The auto pressure switch is the black thing with the cable coming out of it.  Notice the power switch is directly on the motor, so to activate it you need to reach inside the cover.  One observation made in the other review is that the regulator and pressure gauge are a little inconvenient to use.  There are a couple of possible fixes for that.  You could add an extension to the line from the tank to the regulator.  Or, you could just leave the cover off.  It's not really necessary unless you need the airbrush holders or the carrying handle.  I adjusted the gauge to tilt toward the front, so it's easier to read with the cover on.


And here is what the other side looks like.


The little red thing with the ring is the safety pressure relief valve.  The other review mentioned that this makes a rattling sound when the compressor is running.  I wouldn't want to compromise its function, but a tiny dab of something soft like plasticine clay or grease might stop the rattle.

Notice that there is a straight metal pipe connecting the compressor to the tank, and the compressor and tank are bolted directly together.  The TC910 doesn't have an air filter.  It must draw air through the ventilation slots.

Here is a bottom view.  The brass thing is the drain valve for the tank. 


The plastic feet and overall weight mean this thing isn't going to move around while it's running.  There are four screws that secure the tank to the base.  These and the bottom plate could be removed and the plastic feet could be attached directly to the tank.

Here is the parts drawing.  There are part numbers for each item, so some may be replaceable.  Badger warranties it for one year parts and labor, and they are known for excellent customer support.


Here are two views of the regulator/moisture separator.


The red ring on the regulator does nothing.  You could take it off and throw it away if you want.  The black knob on top controls output pressure.  To set it, pull up, then turn clockwise to increase pressure or counterclockwise to decrease.  Pushing down locks it in place.  Notice the gauge is 100psi full scale like the Smart Jet.  On the right is the moisture separator.  The drain is held shut by a spring.  Pushing up from the bottom opens the valve and bleeds off air and any water.

Because of the tank, you won't get much pressure at first.  There is a delay while the compressor charges up the tank.  It takes just a little over a minute to reach full charge.

The TC910 doesn't come with an airbrush hose.  The output is a standard 1/4 inch NPS male connection that should fit most hoses.

Trying it out

Noise -- The TC910 is noisier than the Smart Jet, especially as the pressure builds up.  At first, I couldn't figure out why, since the compressors are so similar.  The sound is not just a knocking, like the Smart Jet, but has a ringing quality.  I happened to put my hand on the tank and found that the noise was reduced.  Then it dawned on me.  The tank acts like a resonator.  It's like how the body of an acoustic guitar amplifies the sound of the strings.  The metal to metal interface between the compressor and tank couples the knocking directly into this nice round metal chamber.

Please note:  It's not that the noise is deafening.  The review I referenced above has decibel readings if you are interested.  But, it is more than I would like right next to my ear.  If the unit were on the floor it would be fine, and someone in the next room would probably barely notice it.

So, how to reduce it.  One way would to be to reduce or eliminate the coupling.  Rubber isolators and a flexible hose between the compressor and tank would do this.  Another way is to spoil the resonance of the chamber with some sort of damping.  That's how I think my hand was working.  A third way would be to just enclose the tank in some sort of sound proofing so the sound couldn't radiate.

I decided to see what I could do.  So, I went to my local Home Center and picked up the insulating tape you see on the right.  It is 1/8" thick soft foam with an aluminum foil outer layer, and it is self adhesive.  The package says it not only insulates, but also reduces noise.  It was less than $5.

I stuck this stuff all over the tank, almost completely covering it, and fired up the compressor.  I wish I could tell you that it worked.  Well, it did work a little bit, but not enough to be worth the effort.  I should have taken a picture before I peeled it off, but I didn't think of it.  Fiberglass might work, but I don't like messing with that stuff, and I wouldn't want any of it to get sucked into the compressor.

I tried wrapping a couple layers of an old blanket around the tank, and that didn't do much good either. 






Not being one to give up too easy, I tried something else.  I made the sound shield you see on the left out of thin corrugated cardboard and good old duct tape.  I stuffed pieces of an old blanket down inside to hold the cardboard away from the tank.  I was careful not to block the air vents on the motor.

Actually, this worked pretty well.  There was still the knocking sound, but the metallic ringing mostly went away, and it was overall quieter.  It was even better when I put the metal case back on.  And, with the case on, you would hardly notice the cardboard was there.  It's still not as quiet as the Smart Jet with no tank, but not bad.  I asked my son, who has good hearing, what he thought, and he said it wouldn't bother him.

Thin foam core board might be better than the cardboard I used.  And, you can buy special sound absorbing foam, but it's expensive and I'm not sure how well it would work.  If you try it, please let me know.

 Regulation -- This is where the TC910 shines.  The combination of the tank and regulator means that as long as you are within the capabilities of the compressor, output pressure will stay within a couple of pounds of where you set it.  Well, it will as long as the compressor can keep up with your airbrush.  Like the Smart Jet, the TC910 will load down to about 30psi running a Paasche H or Badger 350 medium with the trigger held down continuously.  But,as I wrote in that review, these brushes are pretty happy with 30psi.  And, when airbrushing, you probably aren't going to hold the trigger down continuously.

Here's a test I did with the Paasche H medium and Badger 350 heavy nozzles.  These are my heaviest air users, and the results were the same for both.

    I adjusted the pressure to 40psi static, trigger off.
    I bled the air to start the compressor.
    With the tank fully charged to 57psi, I held the trigger down.  The gauge showed 38psi.
    8 seconds later the compressor kicked in.  The pressure held at 38psi.
    At about 20 seconds, the pressure began to drop.
    At about 45 seconds, the pressure stabilized at 28psi.

I repeated the test with the pressure set to 30psi static.

    I held the trigger down and the gauge showed 28psi.
    At about 10 seconds, the compressor kicked in.
    I held the trigger down for a couple of minutes and the pressure stabilized at 28 psi.

With a Paasche VL #5 nozzle and a setting of 40psi, it took 11 seconds for the compressor to kick in.  And, pressure didn't begin to drop until 45 seconds had passed.  Pressure settled out at 33psi.  The VL #5 has a 1.0mm nozzle.

So, you could use this compressor at 40psi with a large nozzle as long as you let up on the trigger now and then to let the compressor catch up.  At 30psi, you can hold the trigger down all day long.

With the Neo CN, which requires very little air, there was only 1psi drop at 40psi, and it held there even with continuous trigger.

I run my air brushes from 10 to 25psi, and this thing won't even be breathing hard.

Heat  -- If you run the compressor continuously, the TC910 will heat up just like the Smart Jet.  But, since you don't have to bleed air to control pressure, it will seldom have to run that hard.  When you release the airbrush trigger, it will only run long enough to bring tank pressure to 57psi.  And, it won't start again until it drops to 43psi.  But even so, you should be careful not to block cooling air.  In fact, with any small compressor, a fan is not a bad idea.

Conclusion

Other than the noise, I had no complaints with TC910.  Functionally, it's a great little compressor.  I doubt whether the compressor itself is any noisier than the Smart Jet, and I suspect any setup where the compressor and tank are bolted together would have similar characteristics.  The noise can be reduced, and probably wouldn't bother most people. 

The 3 liter tank is going to mean a smooth flow of air with no pulsing, and the diaphragm regulator makes it easy to set and maintain repeatable pressure.

The TC910 is a compact (12 1/2"x12 1/2"x5 1/2") package that is an excellent source of air for your brush.  It can be had for about $200 in the U.S. if you shop around.


Thank you very much for the sample, Ken.

Postscript

I've heard from some TC910 owners who say the noise isn't really that bad, and it doesn't bother them.  Like I wrote above, it's certainly not ear splitting.  And, you may be fine with it.  But, not to mention it would be dishonest.  If it doesn't bother you, great.  If it does, keep it a few feet from your ears, like on the floor, or make a little shield like I did, and it will be fine.  To get anything quieter with a tank, you are probably going to have to invest in something more expensive.



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