There are various types of pottery wheels on the market from the $100 Amazon pottery wheels to $5000+ professional pottery wheels. I am going to attempt to dissect only pottery wheels usually used by beginner production potter or avid hobby potters (like me) priced around $1,000.
*These are all personal opinion so please take it with a grain of salt and my best advice is to try the wheel yourself then decide which one to buy! Leave comments your experience with your wheel to help others!
I made a chart to compare the most popular comparable entry level wheels online below. If you want to see a full list of pottery wheels out there, see this article from the Studio Manager.
Here's the google sheet if you are interested in more details.
As you can see from the chart, the cheapest wheel on paper (and most bang for your buck) is clay boss. However, I could not find a place to try one before buying because none of my friends or local studios have this wheel. I wasn't going to drop a grand on a machine I've never tried, so I eliminated this out of my list of choices. I've heard from a friend that they found the aesthetic is great and easy to clean up, but they wish the motor isn't very smooth.
I have tried the Shimpo VL Whisper, Brent Model B/C, and Pacifica GT400 wheels and here are my personal experiences. I love all three of these and I would not blink an eye recommending any of these three to a beginner potter. Here are some of their differences from my personal experience.
Noise level is very low: This is a solid wheel, VERY VERY quiet. They are famous for being quiet. In retrospective I almost would rather I got a Shimpo because sometimes my Brent wheel is a little loud (like the sound of a Kitchenaid mixer).
Do not get the cheaper version: I would not get the Shimpo VL Lite (1/2 horsepower, centering capacity 25lb) because it feels much weaker than the whisper (100lb CC). I can tell the torque power of VL Lite is not as strong as the whisper the second I stepped on the foot pedal. Once you add more than 5 lb of clay, it starts to become much more noticeable. I think if you want something that can throw as much as VL Lite, you can probably pay a lot less than $800 and achieve the same result.
Concerns with splash pan design: I do remember someone complain about the splash pan of Shimpo being too thin and cutting their hands when taking off/putting on. But when I played with it, I didn't find the splash pan to be that thin. So that might just be a personal preference. If that's something you are worried about, you should definitely try one in person first to ensure that's not going to be a problem for you.
Another friend didn't like the design of the splash pan where when you disassemble the splash pan to clean, it's hard to contain the mess inside the pan.
Another friend mentioned
Great beginner wheel: I have extensive experience using this wheel as it is the wheel I used to learn how to throw. It's also the wheel used at the studio so I still use it to this day.
Bright cute color options: I love that it comes with bright teal or pink colors.
Possible Wear & Tear on pedal sensitivity: The ones from the studio have been used daily by students; you can tell some of the pedal control sensitivity are slightly different than others. I am not sure if it's wear and tear, or a setting issue.
Centering capacity is only 80lb: I have to say, even though the centering capacity for this wheel is 80 lbs, you really can't feel the difference in torque for under 10 lbs of clay. But if you are wanting to learn to throw big, then pacifica might not be a good choice (or you could upgrade later).
Great long term customer feedback: I tried this wheel at a pottery studio by the university near my house. At the time, I asked the guy who ran the studio what's his favorite brand. He said he's been running large pottery studios (20+ wheels) for many years and Brent is hands-down his favorite for their superb customer service and the fact that they almost never break. He also showed me how to open the bottom of the foot pedal to change the speed settings (which I suspect other brands can also do but I am not sure).
Another factor which I have not seen many websites post is the customer feedback, longevity, and resale value of Brents. When you go on Reddit and see other people posting facebook listings of used wheels to ask for advice on whether to buy a wheel, if it's a Brent wheel, most people are like "OMG such a deal," "must buy it," "drive 5 hours and go get it". When it's other brands, people's first reactions are "make sure it works," "does it have other issues?" In that sense, you know that it would be very easy to sell a Brent wheel if years down the line you decide to upgrade or simply moving on from making pottery.
Other factors that contributed to my pottery wheel selection: I ended up getting a Brent due to various factors, one of them being that they were the shortest wait list at the time (2021) and their price back then was $1,500 (and not $1,900) which was comparable to the Shimpo Whisper, and I actually got a Brent C (3/4 horsepower instead of 1/2) because the store I bought from were running a special of selling B and C for the same price. Looking at my own analysis, honestly I cannot consciously recommend Brent for the amount of price you pay. I'd say Pacifica would be my first choice now if I have to buy my first wheel because it's relatively cheaper than Shimpo Whisper, it's got a good torque, and it's colorful!
The point is that these are all good wheels and looking at their specifications online should only be a small part of your selection process. The biggest part should be trying these wheels. If you have a pottery studio near you, you can try their wheels out. If you have pottery supply store that sells wheels, you can possibly also try on their wheels. You definitely would not go wrong with any of these wheels but it is a matter of personal preference on some of their features, pros & cons I listed above.
Buying your first wheel is exciting! I hope this article has helped a little in choosing your wheel!
Some others' advice on buying your first wheel:
1. Think about whether you actually going to need 100 lb centering capacity. Are you really going to throw 100 lbs on the wheel?
2. purchase the wheel with your needs in mind, not what others say they like.
3. Practice first before committing to getting a wheel.
4. If buying second hand, turn it on, make sure it works before purchasing.
5. Don't get one off Amazon, contact your local pottery store for second hand wheels.
6. Make time to play on it.
Here's a comparison with more models from another person's perspective that might be helpful.