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SCUBALAB 2014: Regulator Review

HEAD-TO-HEAD GEAR TESTING
By Roger Roy | Authored On July 9, 2014
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SCUBALAB 2014: Regulator Review

New regs are like new cars: no matter how shiny and pretty they are, you don’t know what they can do until you put them to the test. That’s that we do each year with the latest crop of fancy new models. We started with clinical testing on the ANSTI breathing simulator at Dive Lab in Panama City Beach, Florida. Then we spent two days with test divers conducting in-water ergonomic trials. The results here are a summary of each reg’s performance on the simulator and in the water. You’ll also find details about our clinical and ergo test procedures and charts breaking down each reg’s performance.

How We Test

Testing was conducted on an ANSTI wet breathing simulator, which measures how much effort — “work of breathing” — it takes to move air through a regulator as it is subjected, underwater, to a precise series of depths and breathing rates. The testing was done at Dive Lab, a commercial testing facility owned by Kirby Morgan Diving Systems International. (Full disclosure: The company manufactured one of the regs in this year’s test.)

Tests are performed at a high-pressure supply of 725-760 psi to conform to European test standards. Per industry practice, regs are tested in the face-forward position, and regs with breathing adjustments are set at the wide-open/no-free-flow point.

The simulator pressurizes the test chamber to simulate depths of 132, 165 and 198 feet of seawater (fsw). Each “breath” by the machine moves 2.5 liters of air through the regulator, and we do this at breathing rates of 15, 25 and 30 breaths a minute. These precisely measured volumes of air — 2.5 liters multiplied by the breathing rate — are called respiratory minute volumes (rmv).

Depths and Breathing Volumes

• 37.5 rmv @ 132 fsw: This represents the maximum recreational depth at a somewhat aggressive breathing rate.

• 75 rmv @ 132 fsw: This simulates the potential demand at maximum recreational depth for a diver at an extremely heavy work rate or two divers buddy-breathing at a somewhat aggressive rate.

• 62.5 rmv @ 165 fsw: This represents the European conformance standard EN250 (you’ve seen this stamped on your regulator). This is also the depth and breathing rate commonly used by manufacturers.

• 62.5 rmv @ 198 fsw: This is the U.S. Navy’s Class A test depth and breathing rate (although the Navy uses a higher HP supply pressure than we do).

The simulator monitors how much effort is required to “breathe” in and out, measuring the work of breathing in joules per liter (j/l). As depth and breathing rate increase (and with it, the density of the air being moved), the work gets harder. Most modern regs are able to perform at 37 rmv and 132 fsw with less than 1 j/l of work — a big improvement over regs of a generation ago.

If a reg achieves these test requirements — the toughest of which the fittest diver would be hard-pressed to keep up for more than a couple of minutes — we push it into even more-extreme conditions.

How each reg performed is found in the charts that accompany the reviews.

Ergo Test Categories

Ease of breathing in a normal swimming position. How well does the regulator deliver air?

Ease of breathing in face-up position. How well does the regulator deliver air when looking up?

Ease of breathing in head-down position. How well does the regulator deliver air when in an inverted, head-down position?

Wetness in normal swimming position. How dry does the regulator breathe?

Wetness in head-down position. When in odd positions, how dry does the regulator breathe?

Bubble interference in swimming position. How well does the reg deflect bubbles from your field of view while swimming?

Bubble interference in vertical/stationary position. When stationary in the water, how well does the reg deflect bubbles?

Ease of clearing, the blowing method. Is it easy to clear the reg by exhaling into the mouthpiece?

Ease of clearing, the purge-button method. Is it easy to find and use the purge? How forceful is it?

Purge-button stiffness. How hard or easy is the purge button to press?

Comfort of mouthpiece. How comfortable is the mouthpiece?

Venturi-lever adjustment. Is the Venturi lever easy to find and use?

Breathing-adjustment knob. Is the adjustment knob easy to find and use? Does it do its job in a reasonable manner?


Looking for more ScubaLab testing? Check out more of our gear reviews:

SCUBALAB 2014: Dive Bag Review
SCUBALAB 2014: Regulator Review
SCUBALAB 2014: BC Review
SCUBALAB 2014: Dive Lights Review
SCUBALAB 2014: Wetsuit Review
SCUBALAB 2013: Fins Review
SCUBALAB 2013: Mask Review
SCUBALAB 2013: Regulator Review

best scuba regulators 2014

2014 ScubaLab Reg Review

Zach Stovall

We tested 14 new regulators to find out which ones deliver on performance. Continue to view the regulators tested in this year's ScubaLab review.


CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST REG REVIEW


The testing was done at Dive Lab, a commercial testing facility owned by Kirby Morgan Diving Systems International. (Full disclosure: The company manufactured one of the regs in this year's test.)

scuba reg review

Dive Lab - Panama City, FL

Roger Roy
Beuchat VR200 Soft Touch HF
Photo by Carrie Garcia; Illustration by Monica Alberta

MSRP: $899 (includes octo and reg bag)
Contact: spearotek.comBalanced-diaphragm first stage; four lp, two hp ports

We liked a lot about the solid VR200 Soft Touch, including that it was easy-breathing, dry, comfortable and lightweight. In fact, it made every test diver’s top-three favorites list — the only reg we tested to do so. On the breathing simulator, the reg demonstrated very good performance well beyond recreational-diving limits, although it dropped off just a little at the most extreme depths. The wide, pliable purge button — set in a lightweight chrome front plate — lived up to its Soft Touch name, with easy, efficient clearing. The dive/predive switch was slightly on the stiff side though effective at preventing free-flows, and the breathing knob was convenient and easy to adjust. We tested other regs that racked up more-impressive work-of-breathing scores at torturous depths and breathing rates on the simulator. But in actual diving, no other reg was rated more highly across the board for comfort and ease of breathing. The VR200 Soft Touch is our Testers’ Choice in this category.

Beuchat VX10 Evolution
Photo by Carrie Garcia; Illustration by Monica Alberta

MSRP: $650 (includes reg bag)
Contact: spearotek.com
Balanced-diaphragm first stage; five lp, two hp ports

The VX10 might look a little like a beefed-up version of the VR200 Soft Touch, but it has heavy finning on the first stage and oversize water-exchange holes on the alloy diaphragm cover that mark this as a cold-water reg. Inside, the details are very different from its smaller brother, with a larger-diameter diaphragm and a huge, oval-shaped exhaust diaphragm. There’s also a 360-degree swiveling turret on the first stage. The diaphragm and exhaust ports make the VX10 a little huskier, but it’s a comfortable reg. Divers rated it very good almost across the board, though some found it just a tad wet in the head-down position. In fact, its ergo scores were a virtual tie with the VR200. On the breathing simulator, the VX10 demonstrated very good performance, even to extreme depths. This is a cold-water-capable reg that’s an all-around good performer.

Hollis 500SE/DC7
Photo by Carrie Garcia; Illustration by Monica Alberta

MSRP: $549.95

Contact: hollis.com
Overbalanced-diaphragm first stage; four lp, two hp ports

The advantage of side exhausts is you can switch sides with a flip rather than a wrench. The trade-off is that side exhausts, including the 500SE, typically use a servo-operated valve, which is a more complicated mechanism than a conventional reg. Despite this, test divers found it to be easy-breathing. On the simulator, its work of breathing was excellent at rec limits, and very good at extreme depths and breathing rates. Testers found that in some positions, bubble interference was worse than conventional regs; tilting the head was usually enough to make interference negligible. There’s no dive/predive switch, but the reg didn’t try to free-flow. While the purge cleared the reg well, several divers thought it operated with enough force that it required a strong bite to keep the reg in place.

Oceanic ZEO
Photo by Carrie Garcia; Illustration by Monica Alberta

MSRP: $689.95

Contact: oceanicworldwide.com
Overbalanced-diaphragm first stage; four lp, two hp ports

The elliptical shape of the ZEO’s second stage keeps it compact, and its lightweight, swivel-joint hose connector and orthodontic mouthpiece make it comfortable. The crescent-shaped dive/predive switch is easy to grasp, if just a bit stiff, and prevented free-flows. The breathing-adjustment dial was easy to use, though it took a few turns to make a noticeable difference in breathing resistance. Divers gave the ZEO scores from good to very good for ease of breathing and delivering dry air in all positions, though some found it slightly damp in the head-down position. On the breathing simulator, the ZEO’s work-of-breathing performance earned a very good rating at maximum recreational depth — even under the heaviest workload we subjected regs to — and its performance was good at the deepest depths of our regular test protocol.

Oceanic Omega 3
Photo by Carrie Garcia; Illustration by Monica Alberta

MSRP: $699.95

Contact: oceanicworldwide.com
Overbalanced-diaphragm first stage; four lp, two hp ports

The Omega 3 shares the same first stage that Oceanic pairs with the ZEO, but otherwise the side-exhaust Omega 3 is very different. It’s another example of how the performance of side-exhaust regs has been honed. The Omega 3 chalked up one of the very best scores for work of breathing on the simulator at maximum recreational depth. Divers gave the reg good scores for ease of breathing and dry-air delivery in all attitudes — although some found it slightly wet while head-down. They also gave it very good ratings for reducing bubble interference with just a slight tilt of the head. On the surface, the purge button seemed a little stiff, but submerged it worked easily and effectively. The Omega 3 has a dive/predive switch that rotates around the air hose, with a large ringlike knob that’s easy to grip and did a good job at damping free-flows.

Kirby Morgan SuperFlow
Photo by Carrie Garcia; Illustration by Monica Alberta

MSRP: $825

Contact: kirbymorgan.com
Balanced-piston first stage; five lp, two hp ports

This reg has some distinctive features that reflect its manufacturer’s history in commercial dive gear. The most obvious are the wide “whiskers” — long, flexible exhaust ports with open slots along the bottom like those on lightweight dive helmets. The reg’s mega exhaust gives it a wide profile, but it’s actually lightweight (and with the purge cover/exhaust port removed, surprisingly compact). The reg cranked out the top work-of-breathing performance in its class on the simulator, with excellent ratings down to 198 feet. Test divers also liked the oversize adjustment knob but added a caution about it. With some regs, you can turn the adjustment all you want and not much changes. On the SuperFlow, the adjustment’s effect is pronounced, and spinning it wide open can invite a free-flow; fine-tune it with care, and this is a very capable reg.

Aqua Lung Glacia
Photo by Carrie Garcia; Illustration by Monica Alberta

MSRP: $825 yoke, $840 DIN
Contact: aqualung.com
Overbalanced-diaphragm first stage; four LP, two HP ports

Aqua lung makes the legend lX Supreme for cold water, but the Glacia is built for even more-extreme conditions. Hence the extensive fins on the first and second stages, the in-line heat exchanger on the hose, and the large water-exchange holes on the front cover — all designed to suck as much heat as possible from water that’s not much above freezing. On the breathing simulator, the Glacia showed its legend heritage, with performance that was rated excellent at high demand rates well beyond rec depths. In fairness, our ergo tests were performed in 72 degree F water, where features like the Glacia’s cold-water mouthpiece and muted purge action — which prevents blasts of frigid air that could cause icing — were bound to be little more than annoyances. Had our test divers been in icy water, they would have recorded higher scores.

HOG Zenith
Photo by Carrie Garcia; Illustration by Monica Alberta

MSRP: Zenith second stage $124.95; Zenith black $129.95; d3 first stage $209.95; d3 cold $229.95

Contact: edge-gear.com
Balanced-diaphragm first stage; two hp, five lp ports; 360-degree swiveling turret

We tested both the Zenith and Zenith Black, and found that they are essentially identical other than their color highlights. Their performance was exceptional, especially since they were nearly the lowest-priced regs we tested (the pricing does not include a hose, which allows divers to select a preferred length). HOG calls itself a “boutique” brand for tec divers, but there’s nothing fancy-pants about the Zenith, which gets right all the details of what works. On the breathing simulator, both Zeniths scored excellent at maximum recreational depth and very good scores beyond. In real-world ergo tests, divers gave the Zeniths the highest overall scores of any reg we tested — not because they excelled in any one category, but because they did well across the board in all categories. The Zenith was our Testers’ Choice in this category.

Cressi MC9/Compact
Photo by Carrie Garcia; Illustration by Monica Alberta

MSRP: $359.95

Contact: cressi.com
Balanced-diaphragm first stage; four lp, two hp ports

This travel-oriented reg is the smallest of any we tested. Made of lightweight materials and with abbreviated exhaust ports, the second stage weighs less than 5 ounces. Its feathery weight and a very soft purge cover made this a comfortable reg. Despite stubby exhaust outlets, divers didn’t find bubble interference troublesome. Paired with Cressi’s top-of-the-line MC9 first stage, the Compact also showed very good performance on the breathing simulator at recreational depth, and good performance even down to our test limits. It has no breathing adjustment, just a well-marked dive/predive lever on the top of the reg. The lever didn’t seem to make a pronounced difference in performance, but then the reg didn’t try to free-flow even in dive mode on the surface. The price tag is also small, making it one of the best bargains in our test.

IST Sports R860
Photo by Carrie Garcia; Illustration by Monica Alberta

MSRP: $430

Contact: istsports.com
Balanced-diaphragm first stage; four lp, two hp ports

IST has given its flagship reg some internal upgrades, but our tests show it’s retained the same easy-breathing characteristics that earned good marks in our 2012 test. On the simulator, the R860 chalked up excellent performance at recreational depth, and was rated good even down to extreme depth and breathing rates. Test divers gave the R860 very good marks for ease of breathing in a swimming position and for easy purge action, though some felt the purge button could be a tad larger. like the first stage — which has a 360-degree swiveling turret — the metal ring that retains the diaphragm cover is a metallic gray that gives the reg a beefy look. But the ring is actually a light alloy that doesn’t add any noticeable weight to the second stage. Divers also liked the breathing adjustment, which has a soft, rubbery knob that was precise and effective.

Scubapro MK21/S560
Photo by Carrie Garcia; Illustration by Monica Alberta

MSRP: $499

Contact: scubapro.com
Balanced-piston first stage; four lp, two hp ports

Everything about the MK21/S560’s performance would lead you to expect bigger numbers after the dollar sign. Test divers liked its smooth, almost-effortless performance. The light- weight second stage is easy on the mouth, and the purge is smooth and sure. The adjustment knob turns easily and to noticeable effect. One rap was the dive/predive switch, which is effective but can be a little hard to grasp. On the breathing simulator, the reg really stood out. When it recorded excel- lent performance throughout our standard test regimen, we pushed into muscle-reg territory to see what it could do: Even at a torturous breathing rate, it didn’t exceed test parameters for work of breathing until we hit 220 feet. No other reg in this test pulled off that feat. For delivering unmatched performance at a midrange price, the MK21/S560 is our Best Buy.

Tusa RS-812
Photo by Carrie Garcia; Illustration by Monica Alberta

MSRP: $499

Contact: tusa.com
Balanced-piston first stage; four lp, two hp ports

Tusa’s newest reg aced our tests on the breathing simulator, earning excellent scores for work of breathing from rec limits down to our most demanding test depths and breathing rates. It also performed well in real-world diving, with test divers giving the RS-812 very good scores for ease of breathing in all positions, and finding it to be a dry breather. It’s a comfortable reg too, with a lightweight second stage and a good swivel hose connection. Divers found the breathing adjustment to be easy to operate and very effective; it required a bit of care in adjustment near the open limit to prevent a free-flow. While the purge did its job well, some divers found it to be a bit stiffer than they liked — especially those with smaller hands. Testers called this a solid reg, a description that aptly fit its performance on the simulator and in the water.

SubGear SG30
Photo by Carrie Garcia; Illustration by Monica Alberta

MSRP: $399
Contact: subgear.com
Balanced, sealed-diaphragm first stage; four lp, two hp ports

As the SG50’s little brother, the SG30 doesn’t have all the upscale features like a swivel connection or braided hose. But the SG30 had excellent performance on the breathing simulator at recreational limits and very good performance even beyond. Divers called it a smooth, dry reg, and liked the same things about it that they liked about its bigger sibling — a compact, lightweight second stage that’s easy on the jaw, with easy and effective breathing and Venturi adjustments. The few niggles divers noted were reminiscent of the SG50 — the sensitive breathing adjustment requires care when near- ing wide open to prevent free-flows, and the purge was on the stiff side, though it otherwise did the job. All things considered, the SG30 offers a lot of performance at a very attractive price.

SubGear SG50
Photo by Carrie Garcia; Illustration by Monica Alberta

MSRP: $499

Contact: subgear.com
Balanced, sealed-diaphragm first stage; four lp, two hp ports

SubGear’s top-of-the-line reg, the SG50 aced its tests on the breathing simulator, racking up excellent ratings down to the most challenging depths and breathing rates. It also gave an impressive performance in the water, earning very good scores for ease of breathing and comfort. The dive/predive switch was easy to use and effective at blocking free-flows. Some divers thought the purge cover was a little stiff, but the purge cleared the reg well. The breathing-resistance adjustment knob has a wide enough range that opening it too much risked a free-flow at depth; however, it allowed precise adjustment that made the reg breathe with very little effort. Divers found a lot to like about the SG50, which offers impressive performance for a relatively modest price.

New regs are like new cars: no matter how shiny and pretty they are, you don’t know what they can do until you put them to the test. That’s that we do each year with the latest crop of fancy new models. We started with clinical testing on the ANSTI breathing simulator at Dive Lab in Panama City Beach, Florida. Then we spent two days with test divers conducting in-water ergonomic trials. The results here are a summary of each reg’s performance on the simulator and in the water. You’ll also find details about our clinical and ergo test procedures and charts breaking down each reg’s performance.

How We Test

Testing was conducted on an ANSTI wet breathing simulator, which measures how much effort — “work of breathing” — it takes to move air through a regulator as it is subjected, underwater, to a precise series of depths and breathing rates. The testing was done at Dive Lab, a commercial testing facility owned by Kirby Morgan Diving Systems International. (Full disclosure: The company manufactured one of the regs in this year’s test.)

Tests are performed at a high-pressure supply of 725-760 psi to conform to European test standards. Per industry practice, regs are tested in the face-forward position, and regs with breathing adjustments are set at the wide-open/no-free-flow point.

The simulator pressurizes the test chamber to simulate depths of 132, 165 and 198 feet of seawater (fsw). Each “breath” by the machine moves 2.5 liters of air through the regulator, and we do this at breathing rates of 15, 25 and 30 breaths a minute. These precisely measured volumes of air — 2.5 liters multiplied by the breathing rate — are called respiratory minute volumes (rmv).

Depths and Breathing Volumes

• 37.5 rmv @ 132 fsw: This represents the maximum recreational depth at a somewhat aggressive breathing rate.

• 75 rmv @ 132 fsw: This simulates the potential demand at maximum recreational depth for a diver at an extremely heavy work rate or two divers buddy-breathing at a somewhat aggressive rate.

• 62.5 rmv @ 165 fsw: This represents the European conformance standard EN250 (you’ve seen this stamped on your regulator). This is also the depth and breathing rate commonly used by manufacturers.

• 62.5 rmv @ 198 fsw: This is the U.S. Navy’s Class A test depth and breathing rate (although the Navy uses a higher HP supply pressure than we do).

The simulator monitors how much effort is required to “breathe” in and out, measuring the work of breathing in joules per liter (j/l). As depth and breathing rate increase (and with it, the density of the air being moved), the work gets harder. Most modern regs are able to perform at 37 rmv and 132 fsw with less than 1 j/l of work — a big improvement over regs of a generation ago.

If a reg achieves these test requirements — the toughest of which the fittest diver would be hard-pressed to keep up for more than a couple of minutes — we push it into even more-extreme conditions.

How each reg performed is found in the charts that accompany the reviews.

Ergo Test Categories

Ease of breathing in a normal swimming position. How well does the regulator deliver air?

Ease of breathing in face-up position. How well does the regulator deliver air when looking up?

Ease of breathing in head-down position. How well does the regulator deliver air when in an inverted, head-down position?

Wetness in normal swimming position. How dry does the regulator breathe?

Wetness in head-down position. When in odd positions, how dry does the regulator breathe?

Bubble interference in swimming position. How well does the reg deflect bubbles from your field of view while swimming?

Bubble interference in vertical/stationary position. When stationary in the water, how well does the reg deflect bubbles?

Ease of clearing, the blowing method. Is it easy to clear the reg by exhaling into the mouthpiece?

Ease of clearing, the purge-button method. Is it easy to find and use the purge? How forceful is it?

Purge-button stiffness. How hard or easy is the purge button to press?

Comfort of mouthpiece. How comfortable is the mouthpiece?

Venturi-lever adjustment. Is the Venturi lever easy to find and use?

Breathing-adjustment knob. Is the adjustment knob easy to find and use? Does it do its job in a reasonable manner?


Looking for more ScubaLab testing? Check out more of our gear reviews:

SCUBALAB 2014: Dive Bag Review
SCUBALAB 2014: Regulator Review
SCUBALAB 2014: BC Review
SCUBALAB 2014: Dive Lights Review
SCUBALAB 2014: Wetsuit Review
SCUBALAB 2013: Fins Review
SCUBALAB 2013: Mask Review
SCUBALAB 2013: Regulator Review