Wouldn't it be nice to demo every new regulator before committing your hard-earned cash? It is, after all, the most important piece of gear you'll buy, which puts a lot of pressure on making the right decision--and that's where Scuba Lab comes in.
We invited all major manufacturers to submit their new regulators (introduced within the last 12 months) for this review. After inspecting them and reviewing the owners' manuals, we put them on an ANSTI breathing simulator to measure the precise breathing resistance a diver will encounter at four different depth/breathing rate settings that range from normal breathing at 132 feet to extreme exertion at 198 feet. Then we turned the regs over to a team of eight test divers to be your stand-ins. Their mission was to rate each reg using a 1 to 5 scale in seven ergonomic performance categories, from ease of breathing to comfort features. These divers also made notes on each reg--what they liked and what they didn't like. We then polled our test divers to find out which reg in each price category offered the best combination of features, comfort and performance and awarded these regs the additional honor of being named a Scuba Lab Testers' Choice (see "Testers' Choice & Best Buy").
The complete results of all our tests are found in the charts, and are summarized in the following reviews, which are presented here in alphabetical order within price categories.
Regulators Over $500
Apeks: XTX50 Status and XTX200 Status
Perfect simulator scores; well-designed user adjustments; built-in electronic intermediate pressure gauge; reversible hose configuration.
High price; large first-stage (XTX50 Status).
These are the first regs to feature a built-in electronic intermediate pressure gauge, complete with an LCD screen that indicates if the pressure is "HI," "LO" or "OK" before every dive. The electronics also track the date and hours of use to indicate when it's time for routine service. Beneath the digital brain are two different versions of an over-balanced, environmentally sealed diaphragm first stage that has plenty of brawn. Both regs offer four low-pressure ports and two high-pressure ports for convenient hose routing (low-pressure ports are on a rotating turret on the XTX50; angled on the XTX200). Both regs come factory ready for nitrox mixes up to 40 percent. The XTX50 first stage comes in a bigger, bulkier package, compared to the compact XTX200 first stage. Both are available with a DIN connection.
The pneumatically balanced second stages are identical except for a few cosmetics--the XTX200 has chrome trim, the XTX50 does not. Well-designed adjustments include a large control knob with a wide range of travel for taking breathing resistance right to the edge of cracking effort, and a ratcheting venturi lever that lets you tune out freeflows. Both second stages also feature a reversible hose configuration.
The large ratcheting venturi and the adjustment knob are easy to find and use, even with gloves. Many test divers also liked the Comfo-Bite mouthpiece. Clearing was easy and the purge button was effective without blasting fillings loose. Breathing was very dry in all positions, and there was no drop in performance in various positions.
Both regs aced the breathing machine panel with a remarkably stable performance regardless of depth or demand.
$847 for the XTX50 Status; $990 for the XTX200 Status.
Apeks: XTX200 Tungsten Swivel
Perfect simulator scores; well-designed user adjustments; great hose swivel connection on the second stage; cool-looking protective finish.
This compact, environmentally sealed, over-balanced diaphragm first stage is the flagship regulator for Apeks--and it looks really cool to boot. The hardened tungsten PVD finish is not just for show, it also protects the reg from the elements. Four low- and two high-pressure ports are angled for comfortable hose routing and there's a brass plaque affixed to the first stage for a distinct appearance. It's nitrox-ready right out of the box for mixes up to 40 percent and shares the same smooth-breathing performance as the regular XTX200.
The Tungsten finish is also found in the grill of the second-stage cover and on the adjustment knob. It has all the same adjustment features found on the other XTX second stages, plus it comes standard with a great new hose swivel connection that test divers loved.
"It felt like the hose wasn't even attached," wrote one test diver commenting on the swivel connection. As with the other XTX second stages reviewed here, the large control lever and adjustment knob were also a hit.
Another perfect score. The addition of the swivel made no significant difference in breathing performance.
Aqua Lung: Kronos
Compact first stage; simplified user adjustments; unique side-venting exhaust tee; ACD dam on first-stage inlet.
Base version we tested is not dry sealed (bummer), but an environmentally sealed version called the Kronos Supreme is available at a higher price ($615).
The Kronos balanced-diaphragm first stage offers a full contingent of four low-pressure and two high-pressure ports, giving you more flexibility in hose routing and the option to use both a transmitter and pressure gauge hose. The first-stage opening features Aqua Lung's Auto-Closure Device (ACD), which closes the inlet to water intrusion whenever the reg is off a tank. Another nice touch: The yoke knob is covered with soft rubber for an easier grip with wet hands.
The new Side-X exhaust system on the Kronos pneumatically balanced second stage directs all bubbles to the diver's right for clearer viewing. An added benefit is that warm air passes over the second stage valve and hose, fighting freeze-up in cold water. The new Dual Cam control simplifies adjustment by combining the venturi and breathing resistance knobs into one easy-to-find lever. While the range of adjustment is small, it does the job of stopping freeflows at the surface and fine-tuning breathing performance underwater. The Kronos comes with both a Comfo-Bite mouthpiece and a standard spare.
"The Dual Cam lever was glove-friendly and prevented surface freeflows," wrote one test diver, echoing the comments of the others. Our divers also gave the Side-X exhaust system a unanimous thumbs-up. The compact second stage was an easy breather, stayed dry in all positions and was easy to clear.
Work of breathing scores fell into the Excellent category for the test that most closely represents recreational diving and the Very Good category for the more extreme tests. Close inspection of the breathing loops shows that in these high-volume breathing situations and at depths to 198 feet, the reg's inhalation effort was very stable while the exhalation effort increased only slightly as the tests got more challenging.
Atomic Aquatics: ST1
Lowest overall work of breathing; corrosion resistance at a lower cost than titanium; great second-stage swivel for added comfort.
The ST1 is a balanced-piston first stage turned from 316 stainless steel that offers greater strength and corrosion resistance than brass regulators at a significantly lower cost than titanium. It offers four low-pressure ports on a swivel turret with a fifth port on the end of the first stage for easy hose routing, plus two high-pressure ports.
The ST1 delivers high performance with a dose of comfort thanks to a well-designed mouthpiece and Atomic's Comfort Swivel. It also features all the usual Atomic features--Automatic Flow Control (AFC), a self-adjusting venturi effect that increases breathing performance as you descend; the Rapid Adjustment Knob, which allows the user to de-tune the reg for surf entries or octopus use; a flexible purge cover; and the Seat Saving Orifice, which helps maintain the reg's peak performance over time. Inside the second stage, the entire valve body and lever of this pneumatically balanced second stage is made of corrosion-resistant titanium.
Divers thought the ST1 was one of the "smoothest breathing" regulators of the bunch and gave it the highest ergonomic scores of all the regulators in this review. The comfort swivel helped boost comfort scores and test divers had praise for the user control knob and soft purge cover. This reg also received the highest score for Ease of Breathing and was the only reg rated Excellent by test divers for dryness. When we polled our test divers for their top reg in the price category, the ST1 was a clear Testers' Choice (see "Testers' Choice & Best Buy," p. 73).
While several regs in this review earned perfect breathing machine scores on our 1 to 5 scale, the ST1 can boast the lowest overall work of breathing in every one of our ANSTI tests.
Dive Rite: Hurricane
Compact tech-friendly reg; well-machined user adjustments; dry breather in all positions.
Mouthpiece too small for some.
The new Hurricane from Dive Rite is a cyclone of air in a small package. The first stage is an over-balanced diaphragm that is cold-water-ready down to 36F, nitrox-compatible up to 40 percent, and comes standard with a DIN connection. Angled ports put hoses where you want them with two high-pressure and four low-pressure fittings. A bright red cap protects the first stage against overhead scrapes and aids in diver recognition.
The pneumatically balanced second stage offers multiple adjustments to fine-tune your dive. A large red venturi control lever puts a stop to surface freeflows and is easy to use with gloves. The breathing resistance knob offers a wide range of adjustment to dial in your preferred flow as you descend. A comfortable mouthpiece and a wide exhaust tee are a nice touch.
Breathing adjustments were "smooth and effective," offering "a well-machined feel." Our test divers also said the reg clears easily with a powerful purge action. The wide exhaust tee did a nice job of directing bubbles away, and breathing was dry in all positions. The venturi control lever prevented surface freeflows and opened up nicely underwater. While the mouthpiece is soft and comfortable, it was a little small for many of the testers.
The Hurricane delivered an Excellent performance in the test that most closely replicates recreational diving and Very Good scores in the more extreme tests.
Regulators Under $500
Mares: Proton 12 Metal
High performance at a reasonable price; new tri-material first-stage valve; proven diver-friendly design.
Narrow exhaust tee allows some bubble interference.
The Proton 12 Metal has been one of Mares' best breathing, balanced-diaphragm regulators for years, and it's still going strong. What's new is the "tri-material" first-stage valve, made of brass and two different polyurethane compounds. It's designed to last longer and perform better than previous versions. It also has the Dynamic Flow Control feature, a dedicated low-pressure port that helps deliver big air to your primary second-stage hose for easy breathing.
The Proton Metal is the smallest second stage in this test group, and its solid metal construction makes this reg well suited to cold-water diving. The Vortex Assisted Design (VAD) directs air to the diver through a bypass tube from the valve seat to the mouthpiece. The large front-cover purge is smooth and easy to find, even with gloved hands. The orthodontic mouthpiece is soft and comfortable and the exhaust tee follows the shape of the regulator, but allows greater-than-average bubble interference.
It's hard not to like a light, compact and easy-to-use reg. The Proton Metal delivers easy, dry breathing without the need for user adjustments, and the reg is comfortable in the mouth. All test divers commented on the ease and function of the large purge saying it was "smooth and powerful."
The Proton Metal earned Excellent breathing machine scores across the board, another reason this regulator is still going strong.
OMS: R250 High Performance
Environmentally sealed and rugged; nice adjustment knob; easy clearing.
Small mouthpiece, some bubble interference.
OMS uses an environmentally sealed balanced-diaphragm first stage that is tech-ready with a DIN connection and nitrox capabilities up to 40 percent. This compact performer provides four low-pressure and two high-pressure ports, angled for easy routing.
The R250 second stage is light and offers user adjustments for venturi and breathing resistance control. The large adjustment knob can dial you right to the edge of freeflow for crisp cracking effort. The Dive/Predive venturi switch is easy to find--on top, just in front of the mouthpiece--but it's smaller than most levers in this test group. The small exhaust tee is streamlined, but didn't wrangle bubbles as well as others tested.
Testers said the regulator was easy-breathing and dry in most positions. Some thought the mouthpiece was a little small, but most liked the "huge range of adjustment" the regulator had to offer. Clearing was smooth and easy both by exhaling and purging, though the front purge cover was "a little stiff."
The R250 earned Excellent breathing scores at the first test point. At greater depths and breathing rates the regulator's work of breathing numbers fell into the Good category across the board.
Scubapro: MK11/R395 and MK11/S555
Excellent performance at a budget price (MK11/R395); compact first stage; nice second-stage adjustment; smooth and dry-breathing in all positions.
Some bubble interference.
The MK11 first stage was the smallest of the test group but held its own, putting up some of the best test scores recorded in this review. This over-balanced diaphragm first stage features two high-pressure and four low-pressure ports, two of which are marked "HFP" for pumping out 15 percent greater air flow. Convert to a DIN connection and you have the makings of a compact tech rig. The big surprise is that the MK11/R395 came in with the lowest price ($384) but with some of the highest performance, earning our Best Buy recommendation.
The R395 second stage is light and simple with just the VIVA venturi to adjust. It uses a large control knob in front of the mouthpiece that's clearly marked "Dive/Predive." Inside the case are a new lever and diaphragm that are designed to reduce friction. The low-pressure hose can be configured on either the right or left side to customize your rig and the flexible cover allows for easy purging. The S555 second stage is pneumatically balanced, which translates into lower cracking effort at depth. The case body and valve lever assembly are designed to prevent freeze-up and it has the same excellent dive/predive switch as the R395.
Our divers found both regs to be smooth and easy breathers. The easy-to-locate front purge covers were effective. The mouthpiece was comfortable for most while some bubbles interfered with viewing in certain positions. Breathing was affected in certain head-up positions with the R395, but not as much with the balanced S555 second stage. Both regulators breathed dry in all attitudes. Most telling: test divers voted the MK11/S555 their Testers' Choice for regulators under $500.
The breathing machine loved these regulators. Work of breathing was Excellent in all tests, and the regs turned in almost identical results.
$384 for the MK11/R395 and $489 for the MK11/S555.