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Mares Epic ADJ 82X Regulator Review

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Testers:  Devatva Raj, Arijit Dasgupta
Article Text:  Vinnie
mares epic adj 82x regulator review
mares-diving-regulator-82x2
The Mares Epic ADJ 82X is the new heavyweight (in more ways than one) from Mares – their top of the line regulator.   As per Mares, it is certified for performance at 200m and proven to work at 400m and so of course, in true Mares fashion, they advertise it on their website as going “perfectly with the SSI Advanced Adventurer” course.   Cos, you know, nothing pairs as well with learning to dive to 30m as a top-end regulator designed to perform at the depths of the human ability.   I am sure the fact that Mares now owns SSI has nothing to do with this forced bit of cross-promotion.
Anyway, back to the regulator.   We tested the regulator at depth, and also compared it to our 2 benchmarks, the Aqualung Mikron (which is currently the easiest-breathing regulator we have ever tried) and the Apeks ATX (which, despite being a supposedly “entry-level” regulator, is my personal favorite as the best-value regulator in the market, period).  We also added the Mares Abyss (their former top-of-the-range model, used for a world-record-beating deep down to past 1000 feet) to see if the new boss was the same as, or better than, the old boss.      So read on.
Disclaimer:  this regulator was provided to us for testing, with the understanding that it would be sent back afterwards.    Whether we buy or test, our reviews are as honest as we can make them.   Unlike magazines who get their money from manufacturers and other advertisers, and so have an incentive to say positive things about everything, we do not get any financial benefits from anyone for our reviews.    Our organizational philosophy is to bend over backwards to make sure that we offer you the best advice (and service) that we can – after all, it is your choosing to dive/get gear from us that keeps us afloat as a business.
FEATURES 
The Mares website touts a lot of features, and is packed with TLAs (Three Lettered Acronyms) which make things sound very profound.   You can GRT (Go Read That) if you want to KST (Kill Some Time), but we’ll SIU (Sum It Up) for you.
The first stage is very sharp-looking balanced diaphragm design (pretty much the de facto standard for most high-end regulators), with a black coating on both the first and second stages.    This coating is done via PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition – a legit TLA, in case you were wondering), and not regular electroplating.   Why does that matter?  Because PVD coatings are typically a lot more resistant to scratches than simple electroplating, and is a better option for a piece of gear that is going to get banged around, jostled, rub against other metal, etc.:  it reduces the chances of unseemly scratches exposing the shiny metal below.      Further, the first stage isnt a simple cylindrical tube like most first stages, but has some decorative contours and curves on it, and in terms of looks, this is one the nicest-looking regulator that we have seen.      It is definitely going to turn heads on a dive boat – I wanted to buy it purely based on how nice it looked!
Moving in to more practical features – the first stage comes with 5 3/8” LP ports (4 on the sides, 1 vertical – possibly for that weird TIE Fighter style Mares Loop second stage, where the second stage hose comes from directly under the second stage and not the sides like normal: a design that carries on the proud tradition of the Mares Hub).   The 4 radial ports are on a swivel turret – a fancy way of saying it moves around – which reduces strain on the hoses and allows for more flexible routing.   The two 7/16” HP ports are also tilted – one downwards, for attaching a traditional SPG and one upwards, presumably to fit a remote air transmitter for your computer of choice.   The ports are also at a sensible enough distance that they are all usable (which is not true of atleast 2 other regulator models I can name).    Nicely done, Mares – perhaps you guys are ready to offer a scuba training course on product design now (SSI course, of course!).
1st stage - mares epic adj 82x regulator

First Stage – you can see the 2 differently-angled HP ports

angled port

You down with OPD?  Yeah, you know me.   Oh, and swivel turrets are good

Like the first stage, the second stage is also made of nickel and chrome plated brass, which is then also given the same PVD treatment.   It contains two adjustment mechanisms:
– A flow control knob at the junction between the first stage and the second stage (aka, VAD):   one position delivers maximum air flow, the other reduces the air flow to provide more of an on-demand breathing experience
– The left side of the second stage also has a more traditional breathing resistance control knob, which affects the amount of breathing resistance before the regulator supplies air.
Why would you ever want this to be anything less than maximum?    For one, regulators with very low breathing resistance/very high flow rate can often free-flow when held upside down.   Second, if you are a slow, deep breather (as you should be!), you dont want the regulator to pump out a lot of air – you want the air coming through the hose to match your inhalation duration and lung capacity.   More is better than less, but “just right” is even better.   Ask Goldilocks!     I generally tune my own regulator to have slightly lower flow rate and also a higher cracking pressure, as i want my inhale to be a measured process.    However, it is always nice to know that a lot more air awaits, merely a couple of knob turns away.
Like the sealed first stage, the second stage is also rated for cold water diving, and as is increasingly becoming the norm for top-of-the-line regulators, Mares provides a superflex (weave) hose as standard with the regulator.      So all in all, you have a very well-specced, well-designed and smart-looking regulator, as one would expect from a top-of-the-line model.
You can see the flow rate controller (VAD) and breathing resistance control knob above

About the only downside is the weight.    Mares states the weight of the first stage with a INT/Yoke vale as 964gm, and the second stage as 329gm, with a total weight, including the supplied regulator hose, of 1429gm.   This does not include the octopus or SPG.   If you get a DIN valve, the system weight reduces to 1255gm.    This is heavier than the XTX200 (1272gm for the INT/yoke), ATX (1130gm for the INT/yoke) and of course, the Aqualung Mikron spanks them all with its waif-like 893gm in the same INT/yoke configuration.    However, leaving aside the travel-oriented Mikron, the weight difference compared to other top of the line regulators isn’t that significant, and shouldn’t be an issue from a travel or packing point of view (and in the grand scheme of things, paying for an extra kg of excess baggage is not even a rounding error, compared to the overall cost of a typical dive holiday).

USE EXPERIENCE/ USER EXPERIENCE
Our intrepid testers, Dev and Arijit, bravely took this regulator, along with the ATX, the Abyss and the Mikron all the way to the depths of the ocean – or atleast, part of the way down the Wall and swapped multiple regulators back and forth at depths which we shall not reveal, while possibly being narced (the things we do in order to play with shiny gear – please don’t try this at home.   Dev and Arijit are professionals).   A fun time was had by all, and there may have been underwater giggling, but since we don’t have any videographic evidence, we wont pursue that line of discussion further.
The breathing from the Epic was as natural as it could get – regardless of depth.   There was no sense of strain at any time, and the regulator was comfortable to breathe at all head angles and body orientations.   Absolutely no complaints.     When turning both the flow control knob and the resistance control knob to their “max flow” positions, a slight tilt of the regulator did make it free flow – but this was with the regulator out of the mouth, and there is absolutely no reason for anyone to keep these 2 knobs set to max when the reg isnt being used.   So in practice, a non-issue.

The entire first stage, including the yoke clamp, is beautifully finished

The only issue was the weight of the second stage, which made a little awkward to hold in the mouth.   The VAD system didn’t help with the weight or the balance of the regulator in the mouth.      However, to put it in perspective, this wasnt extremely awkward or uncomfortable – merely noticeable.     It is something that you definitely notice if you were, oh, i don’t know, swapping back and forth between regulators at depth – but if you were always diving with the same regulator, I think you could probably get used to it as well.
In terms of comparisons:   the easiest regulator to breathe was, surprisingly, the Aqualung Mikron.     This small, plastic, lightweight wonder provided air like an excited Labrador provides drool – in vast, vast quantities and at the slightest provocation.    It has provided more than pretty much every other regulator we have tried – from the entry-level Aqualung Calypsos to the mighty Apex XTX200.    But it is also a little more prone to flee flowing, so there is a trade-off there (do note – it can be tuned to be a little less enthusiastic – a service we provide at no charge if you buy it from us).      The Epic 82X was the next best, with a near-perfect balance between breathing resistance and risk of free flow.    The ATX, the cheapest regulator on test by far, was, by comparison, slightly harder to breathe (but comfortable nonetheless) and did not free flow at all.   The Abyss was the hardest breathing of all 4 and by a significant margin.
So what does this mean?    Should you run and buy the model with the lowest breathing resistance and maximum flow?     In principle, yes, you want the regulator with the lowest breathing resistance and maximum flow.   If you are swimming in a current or working a bit harder, this gives you the comfort of knowing that you are not going to “overbreathe” your regulator.     However, there is a cost associated with this – tendency to free flow.     Keep in mind that the differences above end up being more noticeable when you do a direct comparison:   in normal use, you may not notice.     The Abyss in the test above is one of my two personal regulators, and I have never noticed or felt that it was hard to breathe.  Only when I did an A/B comparison with my XTX200 did I notice the difference.      And I actually prefer a very slight amount of breathing resistance over a fire-hose.   So personal preferences and breathing patterns, as discussed earlier, also play a role.
Of course, Mares being Mares, they are simply unable to release a product without adding atleast one completely unnecessary and useless quirk – but atleast they have gotten to the point where these quirks usually no longer affect the  functionality of the product, but just make you scratch your head and go “err.. what?”.   I call it the “Nipples on a Bull” feature.    For example, on the otherwise fantastic Mares SLS Pure, a BCD that I reviewed in some detail and loved enough to purchase, they added a ridiculously over-engineered locking mechanism for the weights that serves no practical purpose other than to be different and just adds one extra and un-needed step to locking in the weight pocket.   On the Epic 82X, this Nipple-on-a-Bull feature manifests itself in the purge valve.  Now, on most regulators, the external purge is something that you can press anywhere on the surface and it depresses straight in.   On the 82X, the purge valve doesn’t go straight in but pivots.     Mares is very proud of it, too – this is boldly listed as one of the features of the regulator, along with PVD, VAD, PAD, GFY and the rest of the alphabet soup.     Luckily, as i said above, this quirk doesn’t actually affect the functionality and by now, is becoming a somewhat endearing trait of the brand that I look forward to on my reviews.

This is like using a fork and knife to eat a pizza at Pizzeria da Michele – it doesn’t affect the taste of the pizza, thankfully

SUMMARY
Let me cut to the chase there:   this is a fantastic regulator.    Great looks, superb functionality, a lot of adjustability to meet individual breathing preferences and great ergonomics (and that too, from Mares – I guess the lessons from the Hub finally have been absorbed!).    To me, there is no question that it deserves its place in the pantheon of the top regulators in the market, such as the XTX200.
However, with a MRP of Rs 51,750 and even factoring in our special pricing on this (hint hint), this regulator faces the same challenge that other top-end regulators do:   is it worth paying the premium over something like the ATX, which is less than half the price?   This is a tough call.     The logical part of me says – the ATX is functional, it does everything you need it to do.      And you can make the same argument about entry-level computers like the Mares Smart and the Aqualung i200.   So why, then, do I dive with an XTX200 and an Abyss, and have a Shearwater Perdix (for which I paid full retail, btw)?     Hell, why do we drive anything more than an entry-level compact in cities, or pay a premium for anything?
It really is very simple:  the additional features, while not strictly essential, are definitely nice to have and make things a lot more enjoyable on a daily basis: the ability to adjust hose routing on the XTX200, the ability to fine-tune the air supply on the Epic 82X, the amazing display and features of the Perdix – these are things that you only appreciate when you have them.   And once you get used to it, you don’t really want to go back to a more utilitarian model.     So yes, while there are plenty of very reliable regulators at a lot lower price, the additional features, superior ergonomics and yes, the drop-dead good looks of the Mares Epic 82X certainly make it a regulator worth considering if you want something higher-end.
Especially at the great prices that we have for this model.   Contact us if you want to purchase this unit.

Sharkskin Thermal Protection Chillproof – Review

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Disclosure:   The Chillproof Jacket and the green Rapid Dry top were requested by us so that we could do a review, and will be returned.    All the other items referred to in the review are/were the personal property of Vinnie, which he purchased at full retail from shops in Thailand and Malaysia.    As always, our gear reviews are opinionated and represent what we truly feel about the product – we aren’t trying to sell page views or advertising:  we like playing around with gear and we want our fellow divers to get the best possible value for their money.  

One benefit of working at a dive center is that I get to play with a lot of dive gear – both stuff that we try out to use at the dive center and stuff that we try out for sale.    As a result, I have developed a deep-rooted religious aversion to paying retail for anything – after all, why should I, when I have access to the entire catalog of Mares, Aqualung and Scubapro to try out?   Between them, pretty much all my diving needs are covered several times over. There are, however, a few products which I like so much that I am willing to make an exception.   One of them are NOS Cressi Master Frog fins (seriously – if you know any for sale, please let me know. I have had breakups that were less painful than learning that Cressi discontinued these fins). Another is Sharkskin’s range of thermal protection gear.

Up-front alert:  I am a fanboy.   I’ve been using Sharkskin products for 7-8 years now and when I wore through my last one, I walked into a dive shop in Kuala Lumpur, slapped down my credit card and paid full retail for a new one.   As such, I was super-excited to learn that Sharkskin is now available in India, which has prompted this article.

Sharkskin Thermal Protection – Review

Anushka, one of our DMTs, happy and warm in her Sharkskin

WHAT IS SHARKSKIN?

Let’s get one thing out of the way – these are not really made of sharkskin (I know someone who got hate mail about this).    So what are they?   They are amazing, dear reader, that’s what they are.  Amazing.

Sharkskin’s major selling point is what they call their “Chillproof” fabric.   This is an innovative, technical piece of apparel which consists of 3 layers:

  • An inner fleece layer that sits against your skin and wicks away moisture
  • A middle windproof layer which prevents windchill (and if you have ever come up from a dive and shivered like crazy, you know how much windchill can affect your thermal peace of mind!)
  • An outer, stretchable nylon/lycra blend which provides abrasion resistance and UV resistance, and is also water repellant, to shed splashes.

Supposedly, it provides the thermal properties of 2.5-3mm of neoprene – while also being neutrally buoyant (so it wont mess up your weighting), anti-microbial and also odor- and itch-resistant.    No, it is definitely not your run-of-the-mill garment.

IS IT WORTH THE HYPE?

In case I was too subtle in my introduction, short answer:  yes!

Anyone who has dived with me knows that I am a complete and utter wimp, and get cold very quickly (the days of cold water diving in a dry suit/dry hood/dry gloves seem to be very far away).   If I am in the water for a couple of hours, I almost always wear a full length wetsuit, to avoid getting cold.   And even on dives where I am ok in the water, coming out of the water is pretty much a guarantee of the shivers till I can take off the wetsuit, find a towel and put on a dry T-shirt.  As a result, I end up wearing a wetsuit even in warm water – and wetsuits simply are Not Fun:  they are a pain to put on, you need more weight to dive with a wetsuit and there are the post-micturation odor issues that would make even the Big Lebowski shake his head.

Review: Sharkskin Chillproof Thermal Protection

Vinnie posing with his Chillproof Climate Control LS

However, with Sharkskin jackets, I find that not only do I stay warmer in the water, I also stay warmer when I get out of the water.   In practice, I have  found that my threshold temperature for needing a wetsuit has down by 2 degrees compared to other neoprene jackets and vests that I have tried.    In other words, where I would wear a wetsuit in water that is 28-29C, I now can manage with just a Sharkskin top and board shorts in waters down to 26-27C.
Doesnt sound like much, you say?   Well, it means that instead of wearing a wetsuit all year long, now I only need to wear it 2-3 months a year.    9 months less of needing to wrestle in and out of a tight wetsuit every dive.  9 fewer months of being encumbered on each dive.  9 months of less weights, less air adjustments in my BCD and generally a lot more comfortable.
And in cooler (not as warm, let’s say) water, I can wear a Sharkskin under my wetsuit and extend the temperature range of my wetsuit by a few more degrees.    So I am less likely to need a 5mm suit – in fact, ever since I got my first Sharkskin, I stopped using my 5mm suit.
What if you are not a wimp like me?  Well, perhaps you dive in shorts and rash guard and only put on a full length wetsuit at the lower range of tropical temperatures – in this case, you may be able to replace your wetsuit entirely with a Sharkskin!
About the only somewhat negative thing I can say about them – I am not too wild about their hoods.   I like my head to be warm and am used to diving with a 3mm hood all the time.   The Sharkskin hood is a fair bit thinner and doesn’t keep me as warm as a regular hood.   However, the flip side is that the Sharkskin hood is also a lot more comfortable – and for someone who has never tried a hood before, it’s a great way to gain additional warmth without the cloying sensation of a neoprene hood.

THE SHARKSKIN RANGE

 

If there is one thing Sharkskin doesn’t do too well, it is come up with sensible names for their products.    It’s a fairly confusing mess which had me confused for the longest time (and still does), so let me try to demystify it for you.

The core range is the Sharkskin ChillProof Long Sleeve, with a higher end ChillProof Climate Control variant (this has a silver outer layer, which prevents over-heating in the sun as you are kitting up to dive, for example).

 

I used to own the ChillProof long sleeve earlier and replaced with the Climate Control variant recently, and while I haven’t done any controlled testing, I do think I don’t get hot as much with this version when I am traveling to/from the dive site, for example.  So the Climate Control part does seem to work, in my opinion.

Shark Skin chillproof long sleeve

The ChillProof LongSleeves also comes in a hooded variant – one of our current DMTs at the time of writing this article (who may be the only person who gets even colder than me) bought this and it has helped her tremendously with staying warm in the water.   There is no Climate Control variant of the hooded jacket, however.

There is also a full-zip version, called the Chillproof Longsleeve Full Zip.    As the name implies, this zips up and down entirely, giving you more options to regulate your body temperature.   In water, you dive with the jacket fully or partially zipped up and on the boat, you unzip it to stay cool.   In my opinion, the full zipper is an unnecessary complication for divers – at most, the quarter-zip on the Chillproof Climate Control is more than sufficient to make the unit easy to don/doff.

Shark Skin chillproof Hooded Jacket

There is also a Chillproof Hooded Jacket- this jacket meant to be worn on the boat, before/after dives (or also when doing other activities that involve water exposure where warmth is a requirement).

It is a fairly common sight to see dive professionals packing fleece jackets on the boat to stay warm and avoid windchill between dives – but unlike regular fleece jackets, this puppy is designed to be exposed to water, courtesy of those three layers I mentioned earlier.

Shark Skin chillproof vest

Next up is Sharkskin’s short sleeve/sleeveless range, which can be worn as stand-alone units or as base layers under a wetsuit (or a full sleeved Sharkskin jacket).     There are three items here.

First is the Chillproof Short Sleeve, which is available without a hood only.    If you need something a little lighter than a Fullsleeve ChillProof, this is the one for you.   It can be worn stand-alone or as a layer under a wetsuit.

The next two items are primarily designed to be base layers – ChillProof Sleeveless Vests, without and with a hood.   While you can wear them as a stand-alone unit, I would not recommend that if that is your primary usage:   I used to own a  ChillProof Sleeveless Vest With Hood, and found the lack of sleeves let a little more water into my torso than I would have preferred.   For occasional use with shorts, it was fine – but if your goal is to buy something you can wear with shorts to replace a wetsuit, get a version with sleeves, in my opinion.

As base layers under a wetsuit, however, the Sleeveless Vests are fantastic.    They are a lot more comfortable than neoprene or rubber-lined vests, and also feel a lot warmer against your skin.   My old one is torn after years of use, and I will be getting another one to replace it.

Shark Skin Rapid Dry Short and Long Sleeve

Lastly, we have Sharkskin’s answer to the lycra rash guard.     It’s a loose-fitting top with thickness comparable to Lycra, but in a weave-style fabric which feels a lot more comfortable against the skin.    I find most Lycra rashguards feel a little strange (almost sticky) against the skin, and also are prone to bunching and pulling at the joints if the sleeves are a little twisted.   The Rapid Drys are significantly more comfortable and sit against your skin with the comfort that approaches that of cotton

This is one item in their range with which I have not used in the water (the above comments were based on wearing one around on land).   But based on my positive experiences with other Sharkskin models,  I have just ordered one for myself (my third Sharkskin item and 7th overall, if you are keeping track).  I will update the review once I have tried it on. Incidentally, there also appears to be a lime green model in the Rapid Dry, which is not show in the photo above – see below:

Review: Sharkskin Chillproof Thermal Protection

 

There are also other items (such as shorts), which I have omitted from the review, as they are designed primarily for kayaking and other surface activities.

THE ALTERNATIVES

There really are very few products that are directly comparable to Sharkskin.   The typical lycra and neoprene rashguards dont have offer anywhere close to the same degree of comfort, warmth and favorable buoyancy characteristics.

Mares has recently released a range of products called the Fireskin, which utilizes similar principles in construction as the Sharkskin – as you would guess from the name, they are directly taking on Sharkskin with this range of products and the pricing is very competitive (actually, significantly cheaper than Sharkskin).

I have yet to try out a Fireskin unit in the water, but will do so soon and post a review of that.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Thermal protection is important for every diver:  even in warm water and even for divers who don’t get cold often.  There is a big difference between “not getting cold” and “being comfortably warm”, for one – and one that has a tremendous impact on how much you enjoy your dives.      And here, Sharkskin is a product that you should know about.

For those who don’t get cold easily, it can actually replace the 3mm wetsuit as the default thermal protection unit of choice.     I would recommend a ChillProof Long Sleeve as a good option to try out – it is easily warmer than a 3mm neoprene shorty, in my opinion.

For those who do get cold easily, a Sharkskin Sleeveless vest under a wetsuit significantly increases the usable range in which you can wear your wetsuit.   A ChillProof Sleeveless Vest (with or without a hood) is a great way to add extra warmth to your wetsuit without increasing buoyancy.

And if you are the type who gets cold between dives, the ChillProof Hooded Jacket can replace a regular fleece jacket

Darth Vinnie looking for his missing red lightsaber

No, Sharkskin products are not cheap.    You can actually buy a 3mm wetsuit for slightly less than the cost of a Sharkskin ChillProof Long Sleeve top (and the cost of that Sharkskin Hooded Jacket above makes me want to cry).     But they are fantastic and do a great job, which makes them worth the money to me (enough for me to buy several units at full retail).

As those of you who follow my recommendations know, I rarely recommend top-of-the-line stuff unless there is a significant reason to do so.   In general, I feel that functional value in most goods typically resides in the middle of the range:  at the entry level, one gives up too many features to get the lowest price.  At the top of the range, one gets a lot of neat features which are nice to have, but not essential:  and whether or not those features are worth the premium is a personal decision.   Sharkskin is one of the few premium products that I recommend whole-heartedly for everyone – you get a Better Product for your money, and in the long run, that’s a more economical purchase.

And it is not just me –  when I got my first Sharkskin, a fellow instructor liked it so much that he pretty much made me pass it on to him.     I was also relieved of my other Sharkskin, a ChillProof Sleeveless, by another instructor on similar grounds.      So now I keep my current Sharkskins in my room and not in the dive shop – now that it is sold in the country, no one is taking mine from me: they can jolly well order their own damn piece.

And speaking of ordering their own damn pieces:  in the week between my writing this review and it getting posted online, 3 of our dive staff and 3 of our DMTs/Instructor candidates have all ordered Sharkskin products.    And I have also gotten myself a Rapid Dry long sleeve top.

Diveindia sells a full range of Sharkskin jackets – our top recommendations are the ChillProof Long Sleeves (both regular and Climate Control version) for people looking for a better alternative to neoprene rash guards or shorty wetsuits, and the ChillProof Sleeveless Vest (with or without the hood) as something to layer under your existing wetsuit.

A Buyer’s Guide

BCD Buyers Guide: How to buy the right BCD

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Buying or selecting dive gear can be difficult, with an overwhelming choice of brands and models out there.  And the industry is also not averse to using the safety aspect to try to create a false sense of urgency sometimes. We are starting a series of articles that aims to cut through the noise, buzzwords and marketing-speak, and provide divers with a way to evaluate gear themselves, based on their own preferences.
There is obviously an element of subjectivity in all these things, and we encourage you to ask more questions and do more research.  Ultimately, as certified divers, your goal should be to gain enough information that you are able to make a decision yourself, as opposed to relying on pre-packaged answers.
Anyway, here is post 1 of the series – Selecting a BCD:  A Buyer’s Guide.

Review: Aqualung Pro HD and Apeks ATX40 Regulator

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Earlier, I had talked about the benefits of owning your own scuba gear, Here, i would like to start by discussing a BCD and a regulator that I have a lot of personal experience with, and which I think are fantastic value for money: the Aqualung Pro HD and the Apeks ATX40 regulator.

APEKS ATX40 REGULATOR

AQUALUNG PRO HD BCD – SHORT REVIEW

The Aqualung Pro HD BCD is a personal favorite of mine.  I owned the previous version of this (Seaquest Pro HD, before they were re-branded) for several years and found it an extremely comfortable jacket-style BCD.     The air pockets have some structure to them, so the air bubbles doesnt move all over the place (as in some other BCDs) and robust tank support and structure in the back means that the tank stays firmly put, without rolling from side to side.

 

This BCD has integrated weights and one feature i consider near-essental – trim pockets.   These are weight pockets located around your shoulders:  by storing 1-2 kg there, you can move the center of your buoyancy higher up, which allows you to get a better, neutral trim (in other words, you can hold any body position you want – horizontal or inclined – without any issues).    This system of distributed weights (2 integrated weight pockets and 2 trim pockets) gives you more ditch options:   if you are diving in cold water where you need to plan for the contingency of dropping weights, this gives you more options as compared to a weight belt (which is all or nothing).

 

The Aqualung Pro HD BCD uses a high-denier fabric, which is more robust, more abrasion-proof and less likely to fade or look raggedy over time.    Lastly, the BCD comes with more than enough lift to handle cold water diving as well (13kg of lift for a size M).     And it has more than enough D-rings and attachment points to hold all your accessories.
As I mentioned earlier, I used to own this many, many years ago and sold it because i was diving with a tech harness only.     In terms of price/performance, this is probably one of the best BCDs in the market today, period.
AQUALUNG PRO HD BCD

APEKS ATX40 REGULATOR – SHORT REVIEW

I am a creature of habit when it comes to scuba.   I don’t chase the latest technology or the fanciest bit of kit (which usually is finicky and more expensive to maintain).    I have been diving with the same Cressi Master Frogs for nearly 2 decades.   And I have been using Apeks regulators for almost 25 years.    Apeks makes very high-end regulators as well, if you want the latest in breathing rates, materials, light weight, etc. etc.     And they make bomb-proof, ultra-reliable workhorse mid-end regulators that simply work, work, work without any fuss.      I’ve always owned their mid-end line, as that’s where I feel the best value lists – my TX50 has gone down to 94m, has been to the Dorea, has done nearly a 1000 dives in cold water (<10C) and has gone embarrassingly long durations between servicing, and yet has performed reliably.   4000-something dives without any issues.
The Apeks ATX40 is the modern day equivalent of my venerable regulator.    It doesnt have the highest-end features and technology (honestly, I dont even know what they are – we are talking regulators, which are basically pressure-assisted springs whose designs haven’t changed for decades).     However, what it does have is the following:
– A very robust design
– Very easy to breathe at all depths you are likely to go to as a recreational diver (and then some)
– Cold water suitable
– Adjustable flow rate controls for surface/underwater (to prevent free flows)
– Comfortable mouthpiece
Again, if you want higher-end regulators, we have them for sale.   But really, other than trying to save a couple of hundred grams in weight, there is very little in the way of actual, tangible performance benefits that you will notice in real-world diving.
Another price/performance leader, and another one that I have a LOT of experience with, and recommend highly.

We have this combo available at a very good price, with your choice of instrumentation – SPG only, SPG+depth gauge or air-integrated computer. And as always, we have further discounts for our diving alumni. Please contact us for more information and pricing.

Review: Aqualung i300 Dive Computer

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Review: Aqualung i300 Dive Computer

Anyone who has done an Open Water or Advanced course with me knows that I feel that a dive computer is the single most important piece of equipment a diver should own. With a dive computer on your person, you have full control over your dive and are completely self-reliant – which is exactly what you, as a certified diver, should strive to be. A divemaster or more experienced buddy is good to have as an added layer of safety, but your safety is your responsibility and no one else’s.

Yes, it costs a little bit of money – but really, if you factor in the years of use you can get out of it, the annual cost is not that high. And having all the information not only improves your safety, but your confidence as well – and that means you are more likely to dive.

At this point, I can hear someone going “yes, but i can do this with a dive table as well”. Yes, you can, in theory. I did a dive yesterday – max depth 30m, total dive time 58min and at no point did we come anywhere close to our no decompression limits. If you were on tables, you would be out of the water in 24-25 min. Do you really want to pay thousands of dollars on vacation and then give up on >50% of your dive time? Let’s get real. Dive tables are obsolete for recreational divers and for good reason.

But I digress. Getting back to dive computers: until now, it really wasn’t cost effective to buy scuba gear, including computers, in India. However, times are changing. As those of you who are members of our Facebook group know, the scuba market in India has finally evolved to the point where manufacturers are taking it seriously, and now it is becoming increasingly cost effective for people to buy gear here.

So that led to me scouring the various price lists to see if there was a dive computer that could be a sensible alternative to the Suunto Zoop, one of the heavyweights in entry-level dive computer category – and this search led me to the Aqualung i300.

Before we start, a word on ‘entry level’ – that is not the same as ‘cheapest’. The idea is to find a computer which has sensible set of features ie, one which includes everything that is essential, and where you are neither paying extra for a bunch of optional bells-and-whistles, nor saving money by giving up on things that are important (be it features or usability).

Aqualung i300 Dive Computer

THE SPECIFICATIONS

The Aqualung i300 is an over-sized dive computer which has 4 modes: Air, Nitrox, Free and Gauge. The first 2 are for diving, the 3rd for skindiving/apnea and the last for use as a bottom timer when doing technical diving.

The first thing that jumped out at me was that the i300 has user-replaceable batteries. This is a heaven-sent. My personal computer, a Suunto D9TX, requires me to send it to Thailand every time the battery runs out – which means a couple of months without it. User-replaceable batteries are a ‘must have’, in my opinion.

The i300 also comes with a bunch of useful features: backlighting (for viewing in the dark), auto-detection of altitude and fresh water/sea water, the usual depth and time alarms & 2 unique alarms: a ‘Dive Time Remaining’ alarm (which can be set to beep to however many minutes before you hit your no-deco limit) and a nitrogen loading alarm (which can be set to beep when you hit 20%, 40%, 60% or 80% of your max nitrogen loading).

It gets credit for having a sensible Dive Plan mode – on many computers, including several Suunto models, accessing the Plan mode during a surface interval would only provide the bottom time based on the current surface interval. So if you were 30′ into the SI and wanted to get in the water after another 45′, there was no way to figure out how much bottom time you would get then – the Plan mode would only show you how much bottom time you had at that time. Thankfully, the i300 lets you add more surface time to the planning mode, which makes it actually useful for figuring out how long you have to wait or what your depth/time limits would be when you actually got into the water.

Two other neat features – it has a ‘Deep Stop’ option you can enable, if you want, and it also lets you specify the depth and duration of your safety stop.

In addition to the above, the Aqualung i300 also has all the other usual features – dive log mode, total number of dives logged, a conservative factor setting (which lets you make the computer more conservative), metric/imperial adjustments and the ability to sync with a computer with an optional cable (this lets you download your dives for review on a computer or online dive log software, and also lets you upgrade the firmware of the device if need be) and auto-on – although for some inexplicable reason, you actually have the ability to turn off the ‘auto-on’ function, if you so desire.

Lastly, the i300’s Free Diving mode is quite robust: not only does it includes things like a Countdown Timer (before you start your immersion), but the computer actually tracks your activities in Free Diving mode. So that means you can switch from Free Diving mode to one of the Diving modes (Air or Nitrox) at any time – many other computers, including several Suunto models, require a 24-48 hour waiting time before letting you switch modes.

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THE ALGORITHM

All of this is well and good, but ultimately, the main purpose of a dive computer is to help you plan and execute your dives. How good is the i300 at this?

Let me take a step back and sign a paean to Suunto dive computers. They are one of the heavy-weights of the dive industry, and with good reason – sophisticated computer models, workhorse reliability and smart interfaces. However, the big knock against them has always been how overly conservative they are – they use a very advanced model called RGBM, which tries to predict and minimize silent bubble buildup in the body, but the downside to this is that your dive time is greatly reduced, especially on repetitive dives.

The i300 is made by Pelagic Systems – who also make dive computers for Oceanic, Mares and others, and who are one of the leaders in developing decompression algorithms. The i300 uses their PZ+ algorithm, which is a moderately conservative algorithm, slotting in between the liberal DSAT model (also created by Pelagic) and Suunto’s conservative RGBM model.

So in theory, this should give you more bottom time, especially on repetitive dives.

But hold on – isn’t it better to have a more conservative computer? I sort of agree with that – their extra conservative model is the reason we use Suuntos in our dive center, after all.

However, the decision-making for a dive center is going to be different from the decision-making for an individual: we have to take into account divers of all body types, fitness level, age groups, health levels and abilities. You only have to take into account yourself.

And the inescapable fact is that millions of people have been diving safely for years using variations of the Buhlmann model (which is the compartment-based model that you learn in Open Water and even Divemaster), of which the PZ+ is a derivative. So at what point is a computer conservative enough?

Suunto themselves recognizes it to some degree – on their higher end computers, such as the D9, they offered a setting which would let you make the computer less conservative.

Generally, my belief is this – unless you have a condition which requires you to be more conservative when it comes to DCS (age, fitness, overweight), the PZ+ algorithm is going to be more than adequate at keeping you safe – just be careful about watching your ascent rate, give yourself atleast an hour between dives and follow all the concepts of safe diving that you learn in Open Water, and you are good to go.

i300

TESTING THE COMPUTER IN THE WATER

Over the past few days, I have taken the computer for a bunch of dives, along with my Suunto D9TX and a Suunto Zoop from the dive shop. To test how the computers responded to various diving situations and emergencies, not only did I do a day of regular diving, but I also took all 3 computers into decompression, and did a day of reverse profiles (a shallower dive first, a deeper dive second).

The computer behaved pretty much as i expected: on the first dive, I got a bottom time that was somewhere in between my D9TX (which has the reduced RGBM algorithm) and the Zoop (which has the full RGBM algorithm). The difference between all 3 computers was fairly small. On the second dive however, the i300 gave me a little bit more bottom time than the D9TX, and both gave me significantly more time than the Zoop – this is pretty much what I expected, given the algorithms.

The backlighting worked well, the tactile buttons were a pleasure to use, and all the automatic features of the computer worked precisely as they were supposed to. And the readout is very clear and easy to read, with all the essential information available at a single glance.

On the reverse profile day, the same held – all 3 computers gave readouts that were ‘sensible’, with similar bottom times as earlier.

On the decompression dive, there was a significant variation, however. I went down to past 40m and hung around till all 3 computers went into deco (no significant differences in bottom time here) and started to ascend once both computers were showing me 5′ of ascend time. As i ascended to a shallower depth and the controlling compartment changed, the Sunntos gave me credit for off-gassing on the faster compartment and the deco obligation cleared by the time i was at 15m. However, the i300 obstinately kept that deco clock ticking till I ascended to shallower than 10m.

This is a key difference – the Suuntos are designed for decompression diving (provided you are trained and qualified to know how to use them for this), whereas the i300 is strictly for recreational, no-deco dives (and it doesnt pay any attention to that ‘recreational deco’ nonsense) – So someone who is a technical diver or planning to become one may prefer a different computer. However, for the vast majority of recreational divers, this isn’t such an issue. You shouldn’t be going into deco anyway.

IMG_3363

CONCLUSIONS AND FINAL THOUGHTS

2 weeks ago, if you had asked me to recommend an entry-level computer, I would have blindly said Suunto Zoop/Vyper – why? Because i am a long-time Suunto user – and Suunto is also the brand that we use in the dive shop, with excellent results.

However, while the Zoop still makes sense for the dive center, I think that for an individual diver, the slightly less conservative algorithm of the i300 makes it a better buy, especially given that prices are comparable.

There are a couple of cheaper options out there, such as the various 1-button dive computers like the Mares Puck. However, going back to what i wrote earlier about the difference between ‘best entry level’ and ‘cheapest’ – single button interfaces are a pain in the rear. Given that the monetary savings would have been very modest, I ruled those out.

There are also more expensive options out there – what a greater price gets you is a smaller form factor (so you can wear it like a wrist watch – which is actually a really good thing: it goes with you whereever you go, so you are sorted if you make a last-minute decision to go diving somewhere), air integration via optional tank transmitter (so you can see how much air you have left, both in bars and time, based on your breathing rate), an in-built digital compass (that’s nice to have for serious divers and pros) and, at the highest end of the scale, the ability to switch gases between various nitrox and helium blends and rebreather modes (useful for technical divers).

All those features are nice to have, and if budget allows, by all means go for it. A Suunto D6 or equivalent is a great buy in that price range. But if you are a casual recreational diver who is not looking to spend a huge amount of money on unnecessary gear, the Aqualung i300 gets my vote as the first piece of scuba gear you should own.

Buy the i300 at a special price