One of the major deciding factors between water and air rowers is price. Water rowing machines are often found in higher price ranges with the lowest model going for $700 and the best models starting around $1,100. Air rowers are found in every price range starting at $300 and going as high as $1,000+. The affordability of air rowing machines makes them very popular.

Outside of resistance type, we found the number-one arbiter of ride feel to be cord quality. Water ergometers tend to employ nylon cords, while air ergometers feature metal chains — a durability factor we anticipated would result in our favoring air. But while all three water rowers aced our expectation of smooth, high-tension strokes, perfecting the chain seems to be more difficult: Some tug with just a slight rumble, others feature bouncy, grinding chains that are incredibly loud, something akin to angry snoring. As for nylon, the best wind and unwind like elastic silk — no slack, no sound, no catching, just perfectly even tension throughout the stroke.

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