Head to Head:
LRP Sphere vs Novak Super Sport Plus

By Peter Vieira & Matt Higgins

A number of manufacturers offer brushless power systems for cars, but the two that stand out above all the others are Novak and LRP. Novak devoted a lot of time and R&D energy to honing brushless- motor technology into a no-compromise system designed specifically for cars. The result was the Super Sport speed control and SS-series motors, which met with positive reviews. Then LRP trumped the orange giant with its Sphere system, which not only delivered sensor-based brushless-motor performance to rival Novak but could also operate brushed motors. But no technological salvo goes unanswered for long in the RC biz, and now Novak has a brushed/brushless system of its own—the Super Sport Plus. We’ve reviewed the LRP and Novak systems independently, but now it’s time to put them on the track side by side to see which is truly the best.

LRP made headlines when it announced plans to partner with Reedy on a brushless motor project, but the real shocker came later, when it was announced that the LRP system would also operate brushed motors. By eliminating the instant-obsolescence factor for brushed motors, racers’ biggest barrier to going brushless became a nonissue. And the Sphere speed control is indeed race-ready. It features adjustable “punch control” with “low-grip,” “Sportsman” and “modified” settings as well as adjustable initial brake and automatic brake (drag brake). Like the Novak controller, the Sphere posts exceptional performance numbers for brushed-motor use; there isn’t a class you can’t race it in, thanks to its 7-turn motor limit and ultra-low on-resistance.

With a long history (more than 27 years), it seems as though Novak Electronics has been around as long as RC cars have. Staying ahead of the curve and believing that the future of electric RC is in brushless-motor technology, Novak was the first mainstream RC car company to offer a brushless motor and controller setup. One of Novak’s latest and most popular systems is the Super Sport Plus, which includes a Super Sport 6-Program speed control and a SS5800 sensored brushless motor. The Super Sport speed control can control brushed and brushless motors and be prewired to the included brushless motor (no soldering is needed). Besides offering RPM-limiting for sportsman classes and reverse-lockout for racing, the Super Sport has adjustable brakes (minimum and drag), deadband and minimum drive.


KV vs KT
what they are and why they matter
The Kv and Kt values are important brushless-motor specs, but what the heck do they mean? In a nutshell, Kv is the motor’s rpm rating, and Kt is its torque rating. The bigger the Kv and Kt numbers, the more speed and power you’ll have. Here’s the scoop, straight from Novak:

This number is the motor voltage constant expressed in rpm/volt. This indicates how fast the motor will turn for a given voltage (given there is no internal resistance). As an example, consider a Kv rating of 4,300 rpm/volt. If a 6V battery pack is used, the motor’s rpm would be 25,800 (6x4,300 = 25,800).

This number is the motor torque constant expressed in ounce-inch of torque per amp of current. This number is the amount of torque a motor produces per amp of current draw. Consider a Kt rating of 0.45 oz.-in./amp. If the motor draws 5 amps, it would produce 2.25 oz.-in. of torque (5 x 0.45 = 2.25).

To test each speed control’s factory power programs, we radar’d the buggies. Note that both setups had similar top speeds with the Sportsman settings (LRP 25.9 mph, Novak 26.9 mph), which limit rpm to 24,000. The LRP’s Low Grip and Modified settings posted higher top speeds (37.1 and 40.1mph respectively), while Novak’s Unlimited profile bumped speed to 34 mph. But remember, the Reedy NEO-One is a hotter wind than the Novak SS5800 motor, so comparing their speeds is more like “apples vs. oranges” than “blue vs. orange.”


Test Cars: Team Losi Triple-X BK2
Naturally, we used identical cars to test the brushless systems. To best reveal the performance characteristics of each system, we wanted vehicles that could go on- or off-road and required precise throttle feel. Two-wheel-drive buggies were the perfect choice, and we picked one of the best: Team Losi’s Triple-X Kinwald Edition 2. We built two cars with the box-stock suspension settings and equipped both with Futaba 2PL radio systems and S3305 servos. Team Orion supplied matching 3300mAh RDS team-spec batteries.


Both brands got high marks for precise power delivery and smooth feel, but the LRP is the smoothest of the smooth across all its settings. The Novak system felt like it had a harder top-end kick during off-road testing, where the minimal traction made any spike in power delivery show up as wheelspin. In high-grip testing (namely, our on-pavement radar runs), the increased traction made the power delivery feel more linear.
Advantage: LRP

Both systems got high marks, with fine control near maximum braking power and useful drag-brake settings. The Novak system is more adjustable with 10 settings for minimum and drag brake, but the LRP seems just as effective with "only" three settings for minimum and drag brake. We can’t really feel the difference between 25 percent drag brake and 30 percent drag brake, but maybe you can (and that probably makes "you" Brian Kinwald).
Advantage: Tie

Both speed controls have more settings than you’re likely to use, but more is more, and Novak has the most. The LRP system has three values for "punch control," initial brake (aka minimum brake) and automatic brake (aka drag brake) power; the Novak system has 10. Novak also scores with more adjustment parameters; in addition to minimum brake and drag brake, the Super Sport controller also has adjustable minimum drive and deadband.
Advantage: Novak

Installation and programming access all fall under the "ease of use" heading, and LRP scores on both counts. The smaller, less chunky Sphere is easier to fit in close quarters (although this was a nonissue in our roomy Triple-X buggies), and it includes extra wire for hard-wiring fans, plus bullet connectors for a brushed motor so sport drivers won’t have to solder. You’ll definitely want to keep the manuals handy with both systems, but the Sphere is just slightly simpler to use (although both are easy to operate). It’s also worth noting that the Sphere simply has fewer adjustment possibilities, which may be a plus or a minus depending on how much you like to fiddle. And for that reason, we’ll call this one a tie.
Advantage: Tie


In addition to wheeling the cars ourselves, we tapped fast locals Jason Broule (who also happens to own Xtreme RC Raceway) and Nick Leone (a good guy who is hard to beat at Xtreme RC Raceway).


» LRP Sphere/Reedy NEO-1 The LRP setup feels extremely linear; the low-end response is as smooth as anything I’ve driven. I drove the SS5800 before and felt it had too much power, but the LRP system changed my outlook on brushless. The brakes were excellent, top speed was "wow!"—you gotta hang on when you hit full throttle!

» Novak Super Sport Plus/SS5800
Profile 1 was too aggressive for my liking; it was insane past 1/2 throttle, and I had a hard time preventing the car from stepping out. But in Sportsman, it had much more linear response and was very driveable—that setting cured the explosive-power problem. It’s the better setting for a loose track like Xtreme. But overall—not quite as linear as the LRP system.


» LRP Sphere/Reedy NEO-1
Supersmooth, great rpm, very driveable—excellent overall. I prefer the maximum-punch "modified" setting. I wouldn’t use the milder settings myself, but it’s good that you can adjust it. For another driver, those settings might be better. The only thing I don’t like is the stick-on heat sink—it’s a little hokey. If it needs a heat sink, better to build it in.

» Novak Super Sport Plus/SS5800
High-power, abrupt—the way I like it but not as smooth as the LRP. In Sportsman mode, it’s much smoother; better for someone who’s less precise with his trigger finger. You can feel it cut off if you bump the rpm limit in Sportsman, but if you can rev it that high, you really shouldn’t be in that mode anyway. Again, it’s good that you can dial it down, but I prefer full power.

What about brushed performance?
Both the Novak Super Sport Plus and LRP Sphere controllers can operate brushed motors, but we didn’t perform side-by-side testing with brushed motors for this go-around. We figured any brushless buyer would be most interested in brushless-mode performance, and brushed capability is an added bonus. For brushed-motor testing, see our previous reviews on each controller. The Novak Super Sport Plus was reviewed in the July ’05 issue, and the LRP Sphere was wrung out in the January ’05 edition.

Who Wins?
There’s nothing worse than a wishy-washy "everbody wins!" ending, but these systems really are close, and we just gotta call it a tie. That doesn’t mean the systems are equal (if you read the article and didn’t just skip to the end, you already know how different the systems are), but they are equally good. But let’s not forget about price; the LRP and Novak systems are within $15 of each other when you purchase the speed controls and motor separately, but Novak also gives you the option of buying the Super Sport Plus and SS5800 motor as a combo for about $230—that’s a savings of $55. Hmmm, do you think we’ll see a similar deal from LRP and Reedy?

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