When the Tibhar Hybrid K3 hit the market as a new product in the middle of fall 2021, I actually wasn’t too keen on the idea of reviewing the rubber. I have already reviewed a whole range of hybrid rubbers, which use a sticky topsheet and a hard tensor sponge in an attempt to combine the playing characteristics of traditional Chinese rubbers with the strengths of modern high-performance tensors.
But so far, no rubber could really blow me away. However, I have to acknowledge the progress that was made with the last hybrid generation. Despite the 50°+ sponge hardnesses, these rubbers can be played well, although I would recommend softer rubbers for most players. But ultimately, the question must be raised as to why one should purchase an expensive Tensor hybrid that is only slightly better at best or simply different from the cheaper China hybrids, such as a DHS Hurricane 3 Neo or similar.
The positive development of the Tensor hybrids
To answer this question, or at least to fuel the discussion a bit, I would like to share my view on the development of ESN hybrids. The first hybrid rubber made in Germany that comes to mind is the Xiom Vega China. I was able to review this one a few years ago. In the focus of the conception of the Vega China was still the complete imitation of the newly developed China hybrids, which combined very sticky Chinese topsheets with Japanese type sponges.
Thus, the rubber showed little to no catapult. The topsheet was quite sticky and energy absorbing. The sponge felt undynamic, which was also due to the lack of sponge pores. The characteristics of the JOOLA Golden Tango cannot be described much differently. The rubber has even more undynamic playing characteristics, which is especially noticeable during spin play. Whether I play with a China rubber or the Golden Tango makes hardly any difference to me.
After a while, table tennis brands rediscovered the hybrid niche. Subsequently, a whole series of hybrids appeared, sometimes rubbers in the range of 55-60° sponge hardness. With the JOOLA Golden Tango PS, Tibhar Hybrid K1 Euro, Donic BlueGrip R1 and V1, Nittaku Sieger PK50, Yasaka Rakza Z, Donic BlueGrip C1 and C2 or the Xiom Omega VII China Guang, table tennis players can choose from a variety of sticky ESN tensors. Butterfly’s Dignics 09C is a rubber that is similar to its ESN counterparts in terms of playing ability.
Most recently, the wave of hard, sticky new releases has been used to establish regular tensors with very hard sponges as well. Unfortunately, the table tennis regular can’t really control and exhaust an andro Rasanter R53 or Xiom Omega VII Tour. Still, there are positive examples like the Tibhar Evolution MX-D or Omega VII Asia, which are certainly playable despite their hardness.
Ultimately, the first step towards a better symbiosis between sticky topsheet and tensor sponge was taken with a softer rubber. The Donic BlueGrip S2 has an only minimally sticky upper rubber and a tensor sponge with pores from the generation around the lower-catapult tensor rubbers (Donic Acuda S2). What this still lacks, however, is more speed and power to compete with the TOP-ESN rubbers. That’s why the release of Donic BlueGrip S1 is very intriguing to me.
Expectations on the Hybrid K3
When it comes to the level of expectation that I associate with the Hybrid K3, it is set quite high. The rubber must make a clear step forward, otherwise it makes no sense to have another rubber with the widely emphasized playing characteristics in the product portfolio. In addition, the MSRP is already set quite high at 59.90€. Let’s see if the new rubber from Tibhar can deliver.
In my review, I will target the following questions: What are the advantages or disadvantages of the K3 compared to its predecessors? Can the recent positive development of sticky ESN hybrids be continued or does the ever further symbiosis of the contrary approaches evaporate? With which rubbers can the K3 be compared most closely or is there no other like it?
Technical attributes of Tibhar Hybrid K3
Observing the Tibhar Hybrid K3, the first thing that stands out is that the rubber only has a minimal stickiness. The topsheet appears a bit softer than I would have expected. The pimple structure is kept very short and thin. The pimples are quite close together. Overall, the topsheet makes a high-quality impression.
The white cream-colored sponge only has very fine pores. The high degree of hardness is clearly noticeable during the pressure check. Together with the top sheet, however, a bit of flexibility can be noticed.
I was somewhat relieved by the messured weight. The rubber is not quite as heavy as feared. My rubber (Red Max.) weighs 111.71g with packaging on the display. Uncut, the rubber weighs 70.58g. Cut on my Xiom Diva blade, there remains 48.94g on the racket.
Playing characteristics of the Tibhar Hybrid K3
During my warm-up play with the Tibhar Hybrid K3, I noticed a high basic speed. All counterstrokes can be played directly and straightforward. Nevertheless, I get a nice feedback at the point of ball contact, which I would attribute to the top sheet that harmonizes well with sponge.
The slightly sticky surface hardly has a decelerating effect on the ball. The power of the sponge immediately comes through due to the pimple structure. This allows speed increases to be performed with the usual Tensor dynamics. The low-catapult, hard sponge does not play lifelessly and develops a well controllable speed dynamic.
Topspin, counterspin & half-distance.
In the topspin game lies the great strength of the Tibhar Hybrid K3. Despite the sponge hardness and the overall conception, the rubber is not one-dimensional, but rather allows the entire range of topspin strokes. The arc is relatively high with the typical topspin opening. Spin development is in the very high to maximum range.
The rubber grips slow topspins on backspin very precisely. A good, steady spin dynamic is developed, which I already know from the first generation of low-catapult, spin-strong rubbers. The new dimension is formed by the slightly sticky top sheet in combination with the harder sponge, which gives a high power potential on fast topspin strokes. Spin-shots and finishing strokes have a poisonous effect and are extremely difficult to block.
During counter topspins at the table, you can hit the ball with full force. However, the weakness I would identify is that the racket angle and ball impact point with the Hybrid K3 require a good timing. A fast arm acceleration is the key to unlocking the full potential.
The ball follows the direction of impact very precisely. Apart from the top sheet, the sponge leaves little margin for error. However, I quickly got used to the rubber and understood that I only use my counter topspins when I have more time to adjust my stroke execution. Slow, high topspins of the opponent are a feast for the eyes and can be controlled even at medium playing level.
Unlike most hybrids, the Tibhar Hybrid K3 can be played well from half distance. Due to its nice arc and decent spin dynamics, long rallies can be played effectively. With the help of a good arm acceleration, the rubber can be played with very high quality counter topspins. The top sheet is always precise and spin-favorable. The catapult and dynamic development is linear and comprehensible.
Comparisons to the Tibhar Hybrid K3
Compared to the other Tensor Hybrids, the K3 performs noticeably different. The rubber is closer to the typical Tensor rubber, both in terms of the sponge and the top sheet. To me, the rubber is a hard, playable version of the first topspin rubbers around Tibhar Genius, Donic Baracuda, andro Hexer, as well as the Nittaku Fastarc G-1 or Xiom Vega Pro.
Only in passive play, when backspinning or blocking, the hybrid feel comes through a bit more. The spin dynamics in particular totally convince me.
Another advantage of the Tibhar Hybrid K3 is the harmony between top sheet and sponge. If I take the Hybrid K1 Euro, for example, the rubber felt very numb and unbalanced in comparison, especially on in-between strokes or soft attacking balls. Only when using a typical Chinese, direct style of play did the rubber feel like complete. (Please consider these statements in the context of the Hybrid K3).
What bothered me a lot with rubbers like the Butterfly Dignics 09C or the Donic BlueGrip C2, but also the Xiom Omega VII China Guang, are these decelerating characteristics. In addition, there are some strokes where the rubbers then suddenly do explode. Sometimes the perfect contact pressure point is not achieved and the strokes fizzle out. Of course, you can adapt and get used to it. Tuners or a matching blade can also help. But ultimately, I want to improve my playing style and not make strange compromises on certain strokes.
The development towards a hybrid like the K3, which better combines the playing characteristics between tensors and china rubbers, started with the Donic BlueGrip S2. However, anyone who has played the rubber will notice that a medium-soft sponge (sponge of the Acuda S2) does not provide enough power to keep up with the TOP rubbers of this hardness range. Especially in passive play, the rubber is very slow, but of course extremely controlled playable, which in turn appeals to allrounders and advanced players with control demands.
Donic, by the way, has made a start and is discontinuing the first hybrids containing the BlueGrip V1 and R1. I can imagine that other brands will drop their first developments in the field of hybrids and introduce rubber innovations to the table tennis market with the latest concept, consisting of even less stickiness of the top sheet and a standard tensor sponge with degrees of hardness from 45°-55°.
Serve & return
It is very reliable to play all kinds of spin-strong serves. The grip/stickiness of the Tibhar Hybrid K3 rewards any increase in wrist movement and arm acceleration. Literally, very high thrown serves can be “caught” well and get a deep ball bounce with a nice amount of spin.
Especially a lot of spin is possible with sidespin serves. Also the reverse pendulum serve works optimally due to the low-catapult characteristics. I was also able to make my sidespin serves very short and thus confuse the opponent again and again by switching between topspin and backspin.
On the returns, the hybrid characteristics of the rubber show through in particular. Even difficult serves of the opponent can be controlled very well. The Hybrid K3 is anything but a forgiving rubber, but you can be very precise due to the comprehensible, linear dynamics. The sticky top sheet provides additional stability.
A great strength is the spin-strong short layup. But also the cut-off and high pressure backspin pushs are real weapons in the arsenal of the K3. Only when trying to play spinless returns I failed a bit. Thereby the rubber behaves between a tensor rubber and the previous hybrids.
When attacking over the table, the rubber proves to be uncompromising. Control is achieved when the ball is swiped flat over the table due to the formal grip of the ball in the direction of the stroke. Slightly too high, inaccurate serves or returns can be attacked mercilessly. The error rate is surprisingly low.
A good speed can be generated with the direct flip. A direct touch makes it possible to attack even good serves. But since this is not my strength, I tried my luck more with spin-strong banana flips. With that the K3 delivers a toxic spin and a medium trajectory and can force a few mistakes.
Overall, I would describe the play over the table as very good, allowing aggressive attackers to succeed. That said, for me the Hybrid K3 is more of a spin than a speed rubber, which is why there are definitely better solutions for the one-dimensional, uncompromising attacker. However, if I add spin variability, straightforward shooting players can also benefit from the K3.
Block play, shot & high balloon defense
When it comes to blocking, you’ll encounter a direct, low-catapult, hard rubber that makes an active blocking game very easy. Due to the good basic speed and the fact that the Hybrid K3 seems to take on just a little rotation on fast blocks, opponents can be well pressed and do not get easy points. Flat, long and fast blocks are a strength of the rubber.
In the passive blocking game, the K3 seems rock solid as well. The sensitivity to spin increases noticeably. However, the slightly sticky top sheet compensates for some mistakes and absorbs incoming spin on a small scale. I would say, though, that passive blocks are not necessarily the Hybrid K3’s strength. Hard rubbers should rather be played actively, which is no different despite all the variation possibilities of the rubber.
In the shooting game, pressure can be built up well. Opponents can be dominated with a lot of power. In terms of finishing speed, the Tibhar Hybrid K3 is in the upper, but not maximum, range. Due to its hardness, the rubber offers the potential for maximum fast attacks. In combination with a fast carbon blade, the rubber is an absolute machine. I played the K3 on a Viscaria among others and could not complain about lack of power or potential.
There is enough feel to make good, high defensive strokes. Most tensors with more of catapult work better though. Counterattacks are possible quite well. However, if you don’t want to do a lot of body work, you should quickly move back to the table, where the rubber’s real strengths can be found.
Conclusion on the Tibhar Hybrid K3
The Tibhar Hybrid K3 convinces me with its overall playing potential and shows that the development of tensor hybrids is progressing. With the K3, a spin-strong topspin play with great variability can be achieved. Especially at the table the rubber shows a good mixture of directness, precision and rotational dynamics.
A fast arm stroke and an optimal position to the ball guarantee dangerous attacking strokes, which in a moderate form can also be played by the attack-savvy amateur. The rubber is similar to the low-catapult, spin-strong Tensor generation, but is equipped with more power and optimal ball contact.
As weaknesses the passive play must be mentioned, because the reduced stickiness doesn’t decelerate the balls as much. Hard rubbers require a high level of ability in many situations, especially if the potential needs to be fully utilized. With the Hybrid K3, however, the bandwidth and variability has been increased, so that not every shot has to fit 100%. I would also like to mention that the more one-dimensional China Hybrid rubbers are definitely more uncompromisingly usable, whereas the K3 tends more in the direction of a modern topspin rubber.
I would recommend the Hybrid K3 for players, who can handle hard rubbers and want to apply poisonous, rotation-rich topspin strokes of any kind. In addition, the controllability and the low initial catapult allows even amateur players to give the rubber a try.
In my opinion, the development is going into the right direction. But I hope that rubbers like the Hybrid K3 or the Donic BlueGrip S1/S2 will be improved even further. Maybe there will be a rubber with this concept in the future that will outshine all other TT rubbers as the absolute top dog.