Smart Parts is a manufacturer of paintball markers and accessories based in Latrobe, PA. Their popular line of markers include the Shocker, Impulse, Nerve, Epiphany, SP-8, and the Ion. The re-designed Shocker has become very popular and is used by many professional paintball teams. Smart Parts magazine ads from early 2007 claim that twice as many professional tournaments from 2003 to 2006 were won with their markers than all other brands put together. Smart Parts has recently released four new markers, mostly modified versions of their current markers. There are many different versions of Smart Parts markers that are customized with different features.
Shocker & Shocker Sport (1996)
In 1996 Smart Parts began selling their first marker, the Shocker. This was actually manufacturered by a company called pneuVentures, but was sold exclusively through Smart Parts. This original Shocker was a dual-solenoid, closed bolt, hammerless marker that was large, heavy, inefficient, and could fire a max speed of 9 shots per second. A couple thousand of these were sold over the course of its lifetime, but not an extremely large amount. Other companies that had been working on their own electronic markers also released them about the same time (WDP Angel – 1996, Brass Eagle Rainmaker – 1997).
The pneuVentures Shocker was sold up until 1997 when SP redesigned it and started producing it themselves. This redesigned marker, which became known as the Shocker Sport, was released in 1998. It included a number of major revisions to the original design, including a more lightweight profile, improved electronics and grounding, a faster cycling set of internals, and better solenoids. The Shocker Sport was sold from 1998 to 2002, and the design of its external look changed a few times over the years. A few companies even released their own customized versions, mainly the Planet Eclipse Shocker (which was manufacturered by SP for the company Planet Eclipse, which at the time didn’t make any markers of their own). Another customized Shocker was the SL Shocker from HyperSportWorks.
Shocker Sports were the first factory marker to feature an enhanced firing mode, which later became known as “ramping”. This firing mode was called Turbo mode by SP, and involved a firing program whereby the user would pull the trigger around 5 times per second, and the marker’s actual firing speed would increase to over 9 shots per second. This type of firing mode was largely unheard-of in the industry at the time, so people were conflicted about its use. Turbo mode became illegal to use in tournaments and on some open-play recreational games due to the obvious advantage it gave the user. After the turn of the century, ramping modes have become more and more popular, and many markers come with them as stock from the factory. As a result, the use of ramping modes has become more mainstream, and is allowed in some recreational games and some tournaments. However, this varies from game to game and tournament circuit to circuit, so it is still disallowed by many fields.
The Impulse was released in the year 2000 and was the sister design to SP’s other marker available at the time, the Shocker Sport. Over the course of its lifetime the Impulse became one of the most popular markers available, and was notable for following many trends for parts, style, and features in the paintball industry on the turn of the century.
Impulses used a smaller appearance to the Shocker Sport, however they were internally quite different; Impulses were based of the common “stacked-tube” hammer/valve layout (two bore design, bolt on top with the hammer on bottom). In contrast to the Shocker Sport, Impulses were capable of faster fire rates, were more lightweight, were cheaper, and also experienced greater tank efficiency. As a result the gaining popularity of this product over the Shocker was foreseeable. Impulses were one of many stacked-tube electronic markers developed around the same time by opposing companies. Markers such as this were considered to be the top-end by many players (typically those involved with tournaments), and as a result the cost for upgraded versions was quite high ($1000+).
In 2001, Smart Parts released a variety of upgrades and enhancements to the Impulse line, including the Vision eye system, upgraded bolts, improved valves and internals, and other smaller upgrade components. The Vision electronic eye system was particularly popular since few other markers were available with such a part from the factory (this has since changed, and the feature is a near-requirement from manufacturers). In 2002, the electronics were redesigned to the “Cricket” version, which involved a more reliable circuit board that also used more developed programming.
The other growing trend that Impulses followed were the addition of stylish milling patterns and designs, suited for different retailers and sponsored teams. This has become a popular trend for the more expensive markers of today. There were over 30 customized body styles and parts available before the marker was discontinued. Contingent to this was the growing number of parts and accessories available for the Impulse line as well, from various manufacturers and developers, which allowed nearly every part of the marker to be swapped for an “aftermarket” version.
Shocker SFT & Shocker NXT (2003)
The year 2003 brought several new markers and products from Smart Parts, due to a reshuffling of design engineers. The most notable new product from this time period was the Shocker 03 marker (whose name soon after became Shocker SFT). The Shocker SFT was a redesigned marker that used a single solenoid open bolt, spool valve operation capable of high firing speeds,small body size, but an average efficiency without a Smart Parts High Efficiency Bolt. Although this marker was given the name “Shocker”, it actually shares virtually no design aspects with its namesake the older Shocker Sport. However, Smart Parts decided to call it the next-generation “Shocker” for marketing purposes, since the older Shockers were already discontinued.
Ever since having been released in July 2003, the Shocker SFT has remained the premier Smart Parts marker, representing top of the line performance and reliability. Shockers have been chosen by the majority of Smart Parts’ sponsored teams since their release. The Shocker’s popularity also brought along many upgrades and customized versions, available from various manufacturers and developers, similar to its older brother the Impulse. Base-model Shockers currently retail around $700, with the more customized “private label” version around $1000 or more (depending on the model).
In late 2006 (sometimes described as 2007 for simplicity) the Shocker SFT was redesigned into the newer “Shocker NXT” version, which is the same internal marker as the SFT, except it uses upgraded parts from the factory, and has a few enhancements to the frame, reg, and other parts of the marker to increase performance and reliability. The cosmetics were also changed to reflect the new internals. Some Shocker SFT parts are no longer compatible with the newer Shocker NXT model.
Private Label Shockers Include:
The other new-to-2003 Smart Parts marker was called the Nerve. It has since been discontinued. Nerves are a next-generation Impulse design, featuring a smaller and lighter profile, improved internals, upgraded and streamlined components from the factory, and a sleeker external look. It shares many parts that are interchangeable with the shocker, however it uses a different platform for operation. When Nerves were first released (several months late due to manufacturing and development issues), it was designed to be Smart Parts flagship “no upgrades needed” marker. It came packed with Smart Parts best accessories. The high end features resulted in the MSRP costing $1200 for the base model, or $1500 for the upgraded package with HPA tank included. The reasoning for this was based on the previous customized Impulse markers, which retailed for $1000+, however the Nerve’s high pricetag didn’t fare as well with the public. This was partially due to the fact that public trends were already shifting away from the stacked-tube hammer/valve markers which the Nerve was based from, and toward more advanced designs such as the Shocker, Dye Matrix line, and others (this trend proceeded through 2004). To combat this, Nerve price was dropped a few months later to $1000, then again to $850. At this point Nerves were finally gaining popularity as originally expected, however one final blow was dealt to the Nerve which would put it away – the release of the Ion (below). In late 2005 SP produced an additional large batch of Nerve parts, however after this the line was halted and the marker was unofficially discontinued in light of other products.
Ion/Ion XE (2005)
In March 2005, Smart Parts released their most popular marker, the Ion. The development, production, and eventual release of this product were completely unanticipated due to being conducted in relative secrecy by Smart Parts. As a result, when the Ion became available it was an immediate hit in both sales, demand, and expectations.
The Ion was the trend starter for a new marketing idea in the paintball industry, whereby relatively high-performance parts would be sold after the absolute lowest price markup, thus allowing the product (Ion) to be sold for an extremely reasonable price. The Ion uses similar principals in design to the higher-performance Shocker marker, however several key factors to the Ion design were altered to allow it a drastic reduction in production cost (allowing the low MSRP pricetag for the end-user). In particular, the Ion was cheaper to produce due to its modular body/exoskeleton design, newly-designed inexpensive solenoid, and use of internal air tubing instead of machined manifold ports like high-end markers. These, combined with a reasonably low markup in price for retailers, allowed the Ion to debut with an MSRP of $275. The MSRP was later reduced to $200 for about a year-long period, but was increased back up to $225 at a later time. It was again reduced back down to $200.
The Ion has quickly become one of the most, if not the most popular markers ever available. This is justified by it selling over 100,000 units in a one-year period, a feat which few if any paintball markers has ever done to date; some markers that have been available for over a decade haven’t been able to match these numbers. The release of this marker dealt a noticeable blow to nearly every competing product across the globe, and was so strong that it even affected the resale and demand of used products as well. The release of the Ion had more than doubled the size of Smart Parts itself, in both manufacturing space and workforce. A few years after having been released, the wake of the Ion’s blow to the paintball industry actually hit Smart Parts themselves, which contributed to the temporary increase in MSRP. This particular year in the paintball industry (2005) saw the most closed stores, fields, and manufacturers than all previous years combined. The release of the Ion being coincidentially in 2005 surely couldn’t have helped, however factual evidence either way is circumstantial.
Other paintball companies have matched this low-cost, low markup marketing concept (examples being the Proto Rail (based on the Proto Matrix), ICD Promaster, Eclipse Etek Ego (based on the Planet Eclipse Ego), and others). However, these competing products are notably less popular in comparison, likely due to their higher price tags, although still remaining very economic alternatives to their respective “high-performance” counterparts. The popularity of the Ion also allots it a massive amount of upgrades and specialized products, and like the older Impulse literally every part of the marker can be replaced with an aftermarket version.
In 2007 Smart Parts released an updated version of the ion called the ION XE, that includes built in B.O.B (bolt out back) function, which allows easier removal of the bolt. This makes maintenance considerably easier, as one must only take out a single screw as opposed to taking apart the entire marker. This was one of the major criticisms of the original Ions. The new Ion XE also consists of a new and improved low profile feedneck and a new body design. Ion XE colored bodies are available.
The SP1 is a woodsball/scenario marker, being released in the same lineup as the Vibe, EOS, and Ion XE. It is the Vibe’s woodsball counterpart (it has 7 mounting rails on its body for flashlights, laser sights and scopes), in the same way that the SP8 is the Ion’s counterpart. It is also limited to 11 BPS. It uses the same internals as the Vibe, but has two different shells to protect them (an interal shell and an external “cosmetic” shell). Smart Parts claims that this marker has many possible upgrades, although most of these are limited to the guns mounting rails thus far. As with the Vibe, players whom own this marker are finding ways to shut off the MROF limiter.
The Epiphany marker represents an upgraded version of the Ion. The Epiphany is a more stylized, upgraded Ion which comes with several factory enhancements out of the box, saving the user from buying the more inexpensive Ion and having to buy separate upgraded components for it over time. Besides for the obvious cosmetic difference, Epiphanies feature a metal exoskeleton and frame (with plating, to avoid threading problems), upgraded Firebolt, Freak barrel starter, integrated ASA dovetail, and Smartvalve ASA among other things. Internally the Epiphany also gives the user the ability to alter the marker’s internal firing air volume. This is carried out by select from three different internal air volume “inserts” which are used to take up slack space in the marker’s fire chamber. The smaller air space in the fire chamber can refill faster, which allows the Epiphany to fire faster without velocity drop-off when compared to the Ion and SP-8. The fire chamber inserts allow fine-tuning and adjustment that wouldn’t be previously available without developing a homemade modification. The Epiphany fire chamber, inserts and valve spring are available as performance upgrades for the Ion and SP-8. Epiphanies are available in multiple colors and cost around $300.
The Vibe is the latest marker in Smart Part’s low cost lineup, as it was released at the same time as the SP1, the EOS, and the Ion XE. It is an electropneumatic marker operating at approximately 180 PSI, similar to that of the Ion. It is also extremely inexpensive for an electropneumatic marker- it can be bought for $140. Although the price is low, the criticisms are numerous. It doesn’t include eyes, instead it includes an anti-chop bolt. Eyes are critical at high rates of fire, as the ball sometimes doesn’t make it all the way into the firing chamber, and once the bolt moves forward, the ball is “chopped” or pinched between the bolt and the firing chamber. Eyes use infrared technology to determine when the ball is in the proper position, and delay the firing process until then. With eyes, it is practically impossible to chop unless they are faulty or turned off. With the anti-chop bolt, though, chopping is greatly reduced but can still prove to be a problem. Another criticism of the Vibe is the remarkably low “MROF” (maximum rate of fire), being electronically limited to a mere 11 bps. This could prove to be the “turn-off” for many buyers in a world of markers where almost all can fire nearly 20 bps, but the price is only $140 so you get what you pay for.