I’m coming at you today with a review of Ultra Poi--specifically sets you can make up with their Vortex poi sets. There are quite a lot of variations on their hardware you can create, so for the purposes of this review I’m really going to focus on two particular ways of putting their hardware together.
The first is Vortex poi inside socks and the second is Vortex poi on the ends of their Ultra Leashes with Ultralights for handles.
The first thing I’ll say right out of the gate is that it took me a little bit of research and fiddling around with these to get them dialed in exactly where I wanted them. There are a couple elements of working with them that are a little counter-intuitive, but nothing you can’t work out. So let’s cover what both of these setups have in common.
The Vortex Poi is a roughly spherical assembly that includes a battery compartment, LEDs, two control buttons, and comes housed in a silicone case that looks a bit like a comet or cartoon ghost.
The battery compartment can be opened by pinching the two sides of the compartment door and then sliding it off to the side. There is then a plastic spacer that has to be removed before you can insert the batteries. These take a pair of triple-As.
Once you’ve got batteries inside of it, you can activate the internal LEDs with one of the two switches. The ball is essentially divided in half with the side opposite the battery compartment featuring both the two control buttons as well as a single high-intensity RGB LED and the side with the battery compartment featuring two low-intensity LEDs. You’ll want to place the ball inside the silicone case in such a way that the side with the battery compartment is faced towards the side you’re inserting the ball through. You’ll want to rotate that ball around until you get it to a point where the buttons are easily accessible through the gaps in the silicone on the other side.
It took me a little while to keep which button was which straight, but what made it easier was thinking of the arrangement of buttons and light as being a little like a Mickey Mouse head. Mickey’s right ear is the high-intensity LED and Mickey’s left ear is the two low-intensity LEDs.
You change the modes by repeatedly pressing either button. You hold the button down for two seconds to turn the light off or hold it for three seconds to access a series of sub-modes.
It should be said, the high-intensity LED is extremely bright. It’s the brightest I’ve seen on a set of LED poi in this price range and reminds me a lot of Spinoptics at their brightest setting. When using it with socks, the high-intensity LED is absolutely bright enough to illuminate the performer, so the audience can see a lot of what they’re doing. The high-intensity LED lasts about four hours with a fresh set of batteries.
The low intensity LEDs are a lot closer to entry-level LED poi. They’ll show up in a dark room but will not illuminate a performer. I tried to test out how long a set of batteries lasts with these low-intensity LEDs and to be honest I gave up after 20 solid hours. They last a long time.
So now we come to how these work as poi heads with the Ultra sets. Option one is that you loop a tether like their Ultra Leash through the little handle at the top of the silicone. Option two is that you place it inside their socks.
It’s a little tricky to get the silicone case inside the sock because the silicone tends to be a bit grippy, but basically what you’re going to look to do is to turn the sock inside out and find a small velcro strap at the tip of the wide end of it. You wrap that strap around the handle at the top of the silicone case and drop it through the slit in the sock.
You’ll notice, these two arrangements point the high-intensity LED in one of two directions, either away from you with the leash tether or toward you with the sock.
So now that we’ve covered the basics of how these are set up and used, how do they stand up?
One big thing right off the bat is that these are extremely heavy. Heavier than any other LED poi I’ve used short of the mid-tier ultra bright poi you see with the barrel form factor like Zebra Poi. If you’re into heavy poi, you will absolutely find what you’re looking for with these. I will also say, however, that the weight is not adjustable, so if you prefer your LED poi lighter you’re going to have a tougher time with these.
That weight has at least one major benefit: these poi are really durable. They make a hell of a noise when you drop them, but I was never able to cause any kind of permanent damage to them. They are also, however, very solid and hurt quite a bit when they hit you.
So, clearly the really cool potential for these is with the socks. They illuminate the tether in such a way that it really clearly shows the movement of the entire poi. There’s a lot to be said for how this enhances the appearance of a lot of pattern spinning moves. Can you do contact with them? Kind of...they more tumble than roll but if you already know your contact moves fairly well, you can get them to do a few of the more simple rolls.
I like what this does visually for spinning and I especially like what the bright LED does to illuminate the body of the performer. LED spinning can sometimes be a bit of a dynamic downshift for us because it’s not easy to see what a performer is doing with their bodies as the prop spins.
I do have two major quibbles with the socks, however. The first is that there’s only one length available and that length is what I’d consider to be “tech length”, that is it’s a good fit for early 2010s style tech with rapid stalls and short poi for inversions and the like. It’s not as good a fit for contact or poi juggling. It’d be nice to have the option for longer socks.
The second is that because of the design of the Vortex poi head, the controls for changing modes are pointed up back at the performer as their spinning. You have to pull the silicone case back out through the hole in the sock to change modes and it’s kind of a hassle. I’d recommend if you’re going to spin with the socks that you decide on the mode you’re most comfortable with and just leave the poi there for however long you’re spinning.
If we switch over to using the Vortex poi with leashes, aside from the weight I have no real quibbles here. I like that the weight is concentrated all in the very end of the head--it makes stalls cleaner and especially if you’ve trained using contact poi the weight distribution feels really comfortable.
The one issue I ran into was with the Ultra Light handles. The buttons on these are really easy to push accidentally, so it wasn’t rare that I’d accidentally change modes unintentionally while spinning or even they’d get turned on accidentally in my backpack while I was traveling. Not the end of the world, but it is distracting and it can cut down on battery life.
So what’s the verdict? I love the design of the sock poi. It’s a wonderfully lo-fi solution to getting a lit tether. I do wish the option existed for longer socks, but it’s not the end of the world. I found I preferred using them after throwing a set of my own handles over the single loops they come with, but overall they were fun to spin with and I like the way they look on video.
If super bright is your thing, the Vortex poi on leashes is also a good option, especially for the price range. Given how heavy and how hard the vortex heads are, though, I do not recommend these as your first set of poi. Get down your basic tricks and hit yourself first and then give these a whirl.