15 regs at 50 METRES
We asked 15 suppliers each to nominate a regulator of choice to be tested every which way down to 50m, in a typically tough Diver group test. The result? A lot of great performers, some at prices that will surprise you – and a couple of horrors too.
DID YOU KNOW THAT PERU GROWS MORE THAN 200 TYPES OF POTATO? It makes popping out for a bag of chips in that country more complicated than you might have thought.
When faced with the plethora of regulators available to scuba divers, we identified more than 15 brands, each of which offers a range of models. The Diver Gear Guide lists more than 120. How do you choose?
Regulators used to be very variable in performance. Some of the examples we used to test were unsuitable for using deeper than 20m. When we first revealed this alarming state of affairs, the Editor’s desk soon filled with lawyer’s letters from manufacturers.
We were resolute. Then in came CE certification, to which all manufacturers had to adhere if they wanted to stay in business.
Imitation and flattery
We can’t claim that it was our campaigning using deepwater tests and ANSTI machine findings that changed things. Statutory regulations made a lot of difference. But we have been doing this for a long time.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and since we started doing these side-by-side regulator tests, other magazines, both in the UK and throughout Europe, have tried to do something similar.
So what makes Diver comparison tests more meaningful than others? First, our panel of test divers is chosen carefully to get professionalism, consistency and a non-partisan approach. They must approach each regulator with an open mind and not be afraid of voicing their opinion.
My job is to provide the level playing field – to ensure that each regulator is used in a parallel way in identical conditions, and that the divers have enough time with each one to base their opinion on sound experience. We want more than a superficial result.
As usual, we did these tests in deep water. The pressure difference at 6 bar (50m) soundly tests the ability of regulators to deliver. By using air, the densest gas to use at that depth, we took them to the limits expected of them.
We needed deep water in easy reach of shore, in conditions that would allow us to dive repeatedly in the same spot day after day.
We were testing each regulator for its ability to deliver sufficient air to two heavily breathing divers at that depth, so two second stages were provided with each first stage.
We wanted to know how well they would breathe, even if used in an emergency, with the second stage inverted by a panicking out-of-air diver. We simulated this. There was no panic!
Our test divers needed sufficient time to go back and retry those regulators about which they had doubts. The test took a week of concentrated diving.
At the Taba Hilton, in the Gulf of Aqaba, we were hosted by the Aqua-Sport dive centre, owned by Canadian Craig Budden. Craig has helped us before and Huw Watson, his centre manager, has been a test Diver for us.
We expected full back-up for this important project, and we got it.
AP Valves provided us with Buddy Trident wings equipped to carry twin independent cylinders, so that each diver could carry two sets of regulators and each buddy pair could compare side by side at depth four different regulators on each dive.
Buddy Tridents are easy to put on and off – under water if needs be, thanks to the uncluttered harness. Their buoyancy control is superb, because the dump valves are mounted at the very upper part of the buoyancy chamber (something some other wing manufacturers would do well to take a close look at) and their twinning bands are a secure yet lightweight method of carrying two independent tanks.
We dropped sling tanks of nitrox 32 at 25m and returned to them using a winder-reel and line. In this way we added safety by breathing nitrox to help off-gassing in the shallows.
We suggested to the distributors that they send the regulator of their choice, pointing out that price is a very important aspect when it comes to consumer preference and that a very expensive regulator will be expected to perform better than a cheaper one.
After reading this, you might decide that you spent too much on the regulator you own, even though you are otherwise very satisfied with it.
Few people get to try a number of regulators side by side at around 50m. After six days’ diving, two dives each day, we felt we had valid results. The regulators were then sent to ANSTI Test Systems to be scientifically tested to CE standards.
It’s a pity that a couple of the regulators supplied proved faulty, but how does a buyer determine if a valve is OK before he finds himself in deep water?
WHAT IS THE ANSTI TEST?
The ANSTI machine simulates a diver breathing heavily at depth in a controlled and repeatable way. It breathes a tidal (lung) volume of 2.5 litres with a ventilation rate of 25 breaths per minute at a water pressure equal to 50m of seawater (European Standard EN250: 2000) and produces a telling pressure/volume diagram and a figure for the total work of breathing that should not exceed 3.0 Joules/litre to meet CE certification criteria.
|APEKS XTX 200 £419
(Octopus rig £131)
Weighty environmentally-sealed first stage with high-pressure ports angled down. Choice of mouthpieces and exhaust T. Two hp and four matched low-pressure ports.
GG: Very easy dry breathe, excellent delivery, dry all ways up. OK when sharing. Purge was not over-powerful and all the adjustments were effective. Mouthpiece was comfortable.
If this regulator was in a raffle, I’d buy a lot of tickets!
JH: Breathing was fine but I would opt for the conventional mouthpiece. Inverted, it was wet for two breaths, then fine. Looking up, perfect. Two divers breathed from it as easily as one. Free-flowed when out of the mouth on plus setting of venturi control. Purge does its job without blasting you and is easy to use. Wide exhaust T is really good.
NW: Smooth, natural breathe. Free-flowed as soon as it came out of the mouth, indicating a setting right at the edge of its performance. Non-tonsil-ripping purge. Inverted it was dry as a bone, even at 50m. Sharing, it was awesome.
I like the Comfobite option mouthpiece. Bit of a fashion statement but the best reg I’ve used!
TB: Very nice smooth, breathe. It could give me more air than I would ever need. Looking up had no detrimental effect. Inverted seemed as good as any other way. When sharing, it gave whatever you demanded. Purge nice and smooth, no hamster cheeks. Comfobite mouthpiece was very comfortable. If I were out of air, I’d hope my buddy had one.
Work of breathing 0.95 Joules/litre
|AQUALUNG TITAN LX SUPREME £230
(Octopus rig £100)
Compact environmentally sealed teardrop- shaped first stage with four lp and one hp ports set close together. Second stage has a soft front and venturi plus/minus switch.
JH: I don’t like the Comfobite mouthpiece but it was fine when breathing normally at depth. Always appeared to free-flow whenout of the mouth. Fine at any angle. Purge did the job but airflow was nicely diffused in the mouth. Inverted it was very wet for the first few breaths. Rotated satisfyingly on its hose. Exhaust bubbles tended to be invasive when stationary.
TB: It gave a nice breathe. Slightly wet when inverted. Kept up with the best even when sharing. Certainly in the test top five.
GG: Lovely dry breathe. Wet when inverted but OK. Progressive yet powerful purge. Shared beautifully but free-flowed dramatically on venturi positive setting. Drop it out of your mouth at your peril!
NW: More than adequate when breathing normally. Comfortable, but nothing to get excited about. Damp inverted but dry when looking up. Progressive purge difficult to control. When sharing, it inspired confidence. Free-flowed readily at all venturi settings out of the mouth. Compact, nicely laid out but a bit boring to use.
Work of breathing 1.03 Joules/litre
|ATOMIC Z2 £299
(Octopus rig £179)
Very compact piston-style first stage with a remarkable seven lp ports plus two hp ports. Looks like a turret type but fixed cap does not swivel. Features the same Atomic seat-saving orifice design as the valves of its far more expensive siblings. Very light second stage with comfortable mouthpiece and brilliant purge control. This second stage has an automatic depth-related venturi control and BRA (breathing resistance adjustment) knob.
TB: Nice smooth breathe felt the same descending as ascending. A little noisy. Didn’t have to work to breathe when two-up. Very powerful purge. Very good high-performance regulator.
JH: Very nice to breathe from but the noise was a bit Darth Vader. Gave a lot of air very easily. I swam from 20m to 40m with it inverted with no problem. Purge very strong if you push it all the way but you don’t have to. Perfect for two-up. No differences to the dry breathe
at any angle. Exhaled bubbles disappeared. Free-flowed easily if dropped from mouth. Very comfortable mouthpiece.
NW: Inhalation was so easy but exhalation slightly tighter. Purge delivers loads of air. Dry inverted or looking up. Good regulator to share with, very comfortable. Only disappointed that it was not as fantastic as the hype. Purge was progressive. Push it all the way and it’s like an atomic bomb around your tonsils. At 50m it tended to free-flow out of the mouth.
GG: At 50m it sounded gurgly but it was always dry. Inverted it was wet but breathable.
Purge was controlled but very powerful if you wanted it to be. Very good performance when sharing. Looking up was fine. Never free-flowed at depth but did in the shallows with BRA fully open. Good valve for wreck-diving and lifting heavy bags of brass!
Work of breathing 0.72 Joules/litre
|BEUCHAT VX10 ICEBERG £279
(Octopus rig £95)
Substantial diaphragm-style first stage with swivel turret and two hp and four lp ports. Looks well made. Bulky-looking lightweight second stage has venturi plus/minus and BRA.
TB: Started to free-flow on face-down descent even with BRA screwed right down but gave
a nice breathe at depth in more static water. Didn’t feel I had to work hard to get air. Looking up, perfect. Inverted, it gave a fine mist of water but not a problem. Two up, perfect. Nice purge with enough gas but didn’t blow my head off. Nice all-rounder.
JH: Slightly wet, increasingly so inverted. Looking up, it worked but with noticeable resistance. Purge easy to find, quite gentle but effective. No issues two-up.
NW: Seemed to over-deliver with normal breathing. Damp inverted, dry looking up. Purge more than adequate. Sharing, it gave plenty of air. Free-flowed with venturi at pos against current. Otherwise, nice regulator. I wouldn’t be disappointed to be given one for Christmas.
GG: Lovely controlled breathe without surprises, only slightly wet when inverted. Inverted at 50m it was wet but breathable. Purge nice, safe and easy. Performance sharing impeccable. Only free-flowed with venturi on positive.
Work of breathing 1.09 Joules/litre
|CRESSI-SUB ELLIPSE TITANIUM £247
(Octopus rig £102)
Beautifully chromed diaphragm-style teardrop-shaped first stage with two hp and four lp ports grouped in threes. Small oval second stage has venturi control and unique-design fold-out front for access inside.
TB: Promised more than it delivered but as good as the best two-up. Slightly tight when inverted, but dry. Similar delivery to Coltrisub.
JH: Free-flowed all over the place out of the mouth – very nice breathe but on a hair-trigger. Excellent two-up. Purge button quite stiff. Slightly damp inverted but OK. Quite wet looking up. Some exhaled bubble interference. Overall I was happy at depth.
GG: For breathing normally, eight out of 10. Inverted, it was breathable but a little wet. Purge progressive, easy to use. Fine for two. Still dry looking up. Free-flowed several times with venturi at pos when out of the mouth. Good starter reg that will be useful for years.
NW: Smooth, steady performer. Slightly damp inverted but very usable. Dry looking up. No perceivable difference in performance when sharing. Purge OK but only just. Venturi adjustment made noticeable difference. Reliable-feeling middle-of-the-road reg.
Work of breathing 1.26 Joules/litre
|COLTRI-SUB OCEAN £143
(Octopus rig £61)
Environmentally sealed diaphragm-type first stage with two angled hp ports and four well-spaced angled lp ports, and a solid casting. Ratchet-action rotating second stage looks a little cheaper than we liked with venturi control.
TB: Could detect no difference between this and my own budget version. Plenty of gas
but aware you’re having to breathe. Tighter when looking up. Dry inverted at 50m.
Two-up, I’d be happy to use it if OOA. Venturi adjustments made a difference to breathe quality and free-flow. I’d do any dive with it.
JH: Not impressed. Slight resistance two-up – it felt a bit stingy. Felt like a narrow cone of air
in the mouth. Very wet inverted. Exhaled bubbles in your face. OK looking up. Purge worked but very gentle.
NW: Felt a bit mechanical with normal breathing but gave impression of large volumes of air available. Damp inverted. Purge easy to find, gave loads of air. Very comfortable sharing. Would feel confident if buddy was using one. Felt damp looking up. Venturi adjustment creates subtle difference.
GG: Wet inverted but you could use it. Purge progressive, not powerful but not dangerous. Sharing at depth, it was as good as you could want. Did not free-flow when dropped from mouth. Exhaust bubbles a bit in your face. Good mid-range valve. Tightens slightly on minus setting.
Work of breathing 1.56 Joules/litre
|MARES MR22 ABYSS £330
(Octopus rig £85)
Seriously heavy, environmentally sealed first stage with two angled hp ports and four well-spaced lp ports. Over-styled metal second stage seemed heavy but is designed with venturi bi-pass tube to dispense with knobs.
TB: Spot-on. Very smooth, delivered loads of air. Bone-dry looking up. You would not know you were inverted from the breathe. Purge very easy to use. No adjustments to make. Hose-routeing made things very comfortable. As good with two as with one. Mr Smoothie.
JH: A little tinny. Intermittently quite wet when inverted but OK looking up. Purge quite slow, not very powerful. No resistance two-up.
GG: First breath dry, air delivered in controlled manner. A little damp inverted but OK. 10/10 for sharing. Purge safe and easy to control. Just what you want your buddy to have when you’re OOA. I’d buy one!
NW: Breathed smoothly, very little cracking resistance. Damp inverted but dry at other angles. Purge quite gentle but sufficient. No reduction in performance sharing. Free-flowed readily out of mouth. Solid performer.
Work of breathing 1.59 Joules/litre
|OCEANIC ALPHA 8 sp5 £141
(Octopus rig £71)
Simple piston-style first stage with single hp and four lp ports spaced around barrel. Neat, simple lightweight second stage with lovely purge control and no diver adjustments. Functional club or dive-centre reg.
TB: Nice smooth breathe, tightened slightly when looking up. Slightly wet when inverted but no problem. As good as any in the test two-up. Hose layout poor, but makes a great first regulator.
JH: Fine to breathe from, little resistance. No over-breathe, same with one or two divers. No wetness upside-down or looking up. Purge effective without taking out back of your throat. Exhaled bubbles did not obscure vision too much.
GG: Good breather. Slightly wet inverted. Nicely progressive, easy to locate purge. Could not be faulted sharing. Could dive to any depth with it. Good all-rounder.
NW: Smooth-breathing, slightly damp only if inverted. Adequate purge, neither weak nor overly strong. Flow smooth, even sharing. For the money, awesome!
Work of breathing 2.03 Joules/litre
|POSEIDON XTREAM DEEP 90 £438
(Octopus rig £218)
Stainless-steel ball first stage with five lp and two hp ports spaced to allow choice of hose-routes. Very neat and solid-looking, appears machined rather than cast. Unusual upstream design with pressure-relief valve on hose. Very compact second stage with purge control that could be confused with rubber exhaust-T.
GG: Poor air delivery, as the air needed to be drawn out to get it started on each breath. Purge whooshy, bordering on no-tonsils. Button almost impossible to find and its progression too short. Purge needs colour-coding. Explosive at full blast. Slightly wet first breath unless you tilt your head to direction of exhaust. Sharing, 10 out of 10. It’s fine if you like this sort of thing. Under-performing top-dog of yesteryear.
JH: Provides plenty of air without free-flowing out of your mouth. Noticeable cracking resistance while sharing. Mouthpiece a little big for me. Purge takes you into next dimension! No adjustments to worry about.
NW: Free-flowed as soon as I got in the water but gave a really smooth breathe. Bone-dry in whatever position I breathed it. Feels like it will never stop delivering air, gives confidence. When purging, you could blow-start a 747 with it! No loss of performance sharing. Can steer exhaled bubbles away from face. Mouth-piece too long and soft – could make me gag. Delightfully compact. Overall, I really liked it.
TB: Disappointingly not as good as the older models. Looking up made no difference to its performance. Couldn’t find purge and pressed soft front cover before finding little button. Then it blew my head off. Not for someone in an OOA panic! Very comfortable, wouldn’t give you jaw-ache. The first breath always a bit wet even when tilting head exhaust-down.
Work of breathing 1.34 Joules/litre
|SCUBAPRO MK17af/s555 £265
(Octopus rig £105)
Environmentally sealed diaphragm-style first stage with heat-exchanging fins and good-quality finish. Plastic buffers on extremities. Lightweight second stage with venturi control and large mouthpiece with reusable clip.
GG: Beautiful progressive feel for purging in a controlled manner. Bone dry either way up, lovely delivery. Sharing, the first breath is just what you would need in a panic. Adjustments are fiddly, but an excellent valve for any diver.
JH: Mouthpiece huge. Gave ample air with a ferocious purge when pressed hard.
Dry at any angle, only slightly damp when inverted and a little damp sharing. Fine for sport diving.
TB: Nice breathe under normal conditions. Good standard. A little juddery looking up. Inverted, I felt a fine mist but it was totally breathable. No difference in performance when sharing. Purge was easy to find but puffed my cheeks out a bit. Would free-flow if dropped from mouth.
NW: Really smooth breathe with no judder while sipping air. Free-flowed when I first submerged. Dry looking up, slightly wet inverted. Purge easy to find and smooth. Real confidence-booster when sharing. Comfortable, lightweight mouthpiece. Venturi settings seemed to make little difference.
Work of breathing 0.74 Joules/litre
|SEAC SUB DIAMOND ICE £279
(Octopus rig £79)
Environmentally sealed diaphragm-style first stage finished in satin chrome with two hp and four angled lp ports. Strangely styled “Power Ranger” second stage projects a long way from mouth. BRA and venturi controls.
NW: Slightly mechanical feeling to the breathe. Dry inverted and looking up. Nice big purge button very easy to use. A good confidence-builder when sharing. Venturi adjustment affected breathing effort at depth. Had to work hard to make it free-flow at any depth. Good workhorse, if a little dull.
GG: OK inverted. Purge not overly powerful but OK. Fine sharing. Venturi adjustment could be felt in breathing and in controlling free-flow. Exhaled bubbles came in front of eyes. If given one I would use it.
TB: I was conscious of having to breathe but it was nice to use. Tightened slightly when looking up, misty-wet when inverted. Sharing meant having to suck harder than normal, but not enough to be scary. Purge nicely progressive. Venturi seemed quite effective. Comfortable and lightweight. A reg I would happily use for any dive.
JH: Slight hesitation when I started breathing but it was comfortable once it got going. Only slightly damp inverted. The purge does its job but is not overly powerful. Quite a narrow inflow of air could make you think it was not enough. Looking up, no problems. In-water adjustments made no apparent difference.
Work of breathing 1.30 Joules/litre
|SHERWOOD MAGNUM £196
(Octopus rig £80)
Piston-style first stage with unique dry-bleed system. Well finished with two hp and four lp ports around barrel. Very light, compact, knob-free second stage with narrow exhaust T and stiff purge control. Long mouthpiece.
TB: I had to check whether I had turned my tank valve on properly. Looking up, it was wet,
but breathing effort was consistent. Upside-down, I was choking on it. Sharing, both of us really had to draw on it. Purge is nice, big and easy to find but takes a good old press. Hoses come out at all angles. Not suitable for use at 50m.
JH: Distinct resistance when breathing. Sounded to be struggling when sharing. Very wet inverted. Purge control very stiff. Wet inverted, slightly damp looking up. I’d only use it in a pool!
GG: Tight to breathe from at all depths. Wet but usable inverted. Purge surprisingly weak and very hard to press. Not for those out of air at 50m. Not remotely enjoyable. Nice gift for your wife’s lover!
NW: Not even comfortable. At best, a tough breathe. Wet inverted, damp while looking up. Purge weak unless you pressed hard. Air-sharing was horrid – I thought I was being starved of air. Reasonable in shallows, scary at depth.
First stage found to be faulty. It failed to meet the criteria at 32.9msw.
|TIGULLIO T52 AIR TRAK PLUS £210
(Octopus rig £79)
Weighty-feeling diaphragm-style first stage with two hp and four lp ports around a rotating turret. Massive-looking French-made second stage with huge venturi and BRA controls and exhaust T.
GG: Initially very comfortable but the first breath was wet any way up. Inverted, it was all water! Purge very weak and not progressive. It needed a good push, no good with cold or weak fingers. OK when sharing. Seemed uneconomical compared to the regulator alongside it. Venturi made a difference but not the BRA. For a diver with low expectations.
NW: Laboured, very poor, even for normal breathing. Damp upside-down. Purge weak and needed pressing in an awfully long way. Sharing, I thought we were out of air. If it were the only regulator on the planet, I would have to buy my scallops!
JH: Regular breathing below average. A bit noisy, and more cracking resistance than I like. Simply looking up you get a small amount of water down the throat. Adjustments seemed ineffective. No difference when sharing. Purge seemed half-hearted.
TB: A little tight to breathe from, but bearable. Adjustments seemed to make no difference. Wet at any angle except straight ahead. Purge easy to find but hard to get a result from.
second stage found to be faulty. It failed to meet the criteria at 23msw.
|TUSA PLATINA RS230 £248
(Octopus rig £76)
Diaphragm-type first stage. Two hp and four lp ports arranged very close together. A-clamp knob invited snagging on any fine line. Plastic cover tends to trap debris. Small second stage is lightweight with easy purge control but with a short-travel knob that was unclear in its purpose.
TB: Initially seemed to need a good hard suck but then very comfortable. I felt it would supply whatever I needed, at any angle. No problems sharing but purge very fierce. No concerns – a good middle-range regulator.
JH: Fine to breathe normally but it felt precarious in my mouth. Slightly wet inverted but breathable. Dry looking up. All-or-nothing purge blasts throat. Adjustment made a slight difference to breathe. Never free-flowed.
NW: Breathing normally, it was like a large-volume fire pump. It felt it could shift a lot of air. Dry when inverted or looking up. Violent purging gave me ice-cream teeth. Sharing, it gave as much as needed. Tends to over-run on heavy inhalations but great if in trouble. Otherwise, a nice easy-going breathe.
GG: Smashing performance. Marvellous inverted. Purge excellent and variable from light to powerful. Almost perfect sharing. Dry breathe at any angle. Out of the mouth it free-flowed for a second, then stopped. If you need to do underwater gymnastics, this is the valve.
Work of breathing 2.73 Joules/litre
|ZEAGLE DS-V £249
(Octopus rig £99)
US regulator with environmentally sealed diaphragm-style first stage with five lp and two hp ports in a semi-circle around its barrel. Large plastic second stage has venturi and BRA controls, large exhaust T, easy-to-operate purge, deep mouthpiece.
NW: Breathing normally, very comfortable. Damp when inverted, dry looking up. Nice big purge button is unmistakable. Flow adequate. No difference to supply when sharing. Venturi was effective at stopping free-flowing. Nice wide exhaust meant good bubble distribution. A lovely breathe, excellent.
GG: A little damp on initial breathe but dry when looking up or inverted. Purge nice, progressive and easy to find. Very adequate for sharing. Venturi control stopped free-flows with easy-to-operate switch. Very satisfactory.
TB: Depth seemed to affect performance slightly when sharing. Inverted it was dry. Very nice purge control. It gave me loads of air at any depth. I would put it up with the best. It was dry and worked well at any angle.
JH: Slight hesitation on first couple of breaths, then it was fine. Comfortable in the mouth. Pretty dry inverted. Purging does the job but rocked my teeth a bit. Plenty of air for two. No problems at any angle. Exhaust bubbles were invasive when looking straight ahead. It never free-flowed. Venturi made a slight difference.
Work of breathing 1.04 Joules/litre
TESTERS’ FAVOURITES (in alphabetical order)
Tim Bradley – Apeks, Aqualung, Atomic, Mares, Oceanic, Zeagle
Gerry Gooch – Apeks, Mares, Oceanic, Scubapro, TUSA, Zeagle
Jayne Howard – Apeks, Aqualung, Atomic, Oceanic, Poseidon
Nigel Wade – Apeks, Atomic, Oceanic, Poseidon, Scubapro, Zeagle