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REGULATOR Atomic R1

In a world run by accountants, where every product must be made cheaper, not better, the US company Atomic came up with the concept of creating the best regulator ever, regardless of cost.
     The Atomic M1 looks very ordinary - until you get close. It has a conventional piston-type first stage in a tall turret design. It looks superficially old Scubapro. However, its metal does seem to shine more deeply than that of some other regulators.
     There is a neat rubber cap at the blank end and a rubber band round the holes where the water usually flows in, but otherwise youll just have to trust that the works inside are equally beautifully finished, because there is no way you can see them.
     The second stage is a different matter. You can see that it has been made with no expense spared. From the ribbed mouthpiece, the heat-exchanger integrated with the hose-protector and the wide exhaust-T, to the meaty breathing-resistance adjustment knob on the side, it exudes high quality.
     Unscrew the soft front cover to remove the inner soft diaphragm, as you might to remove grit after a careless shore dive, and you will note how nicely the five pieces that you need to remove come apart.
     Inside, you will see a beautifully machined second-stage valve mechanism and the automatically positioned flow vane. This stops the exponential free-flows normally dealt with on other regulators by a venturi  switch. It automatically adjusts as you go deeper and isnt fully active until you get past 20m.
     Its childs play to put it back together, too. Everything fits and screws together perfectly.
     Am I sounding rather over-positive about this regulator Well, to be honest, I had seen pictures of it, and nothing caught my imagination. It was only after I got to use an M1 during last months comparison test of expensive regulators that I saw its advantages first-hand.
     In fact we all did, and during the last couple of days, when I and our test team had some time off to go leisure-diving, squabbles developed among us as to who was going to get to use the Atomic M1 regulator, rather than any of the other high-quality offerings available.
     The philosophy behind the manufacture of this product seems to be something along the lines of never mind avant-garde designs, lets take a good, already-proven design but make it from the best materials and improve details where we can. The effect is astonishing.
     The M1 is a direct descendant of the T1, which was the first all-titanium regulator on the market. It was very expensive indeed but suffered from a rather negative test in this magazine because, unbeknown to me, the example I had been sent had not come direct from the manufacturer but had taken a wobbly route through Europe.
     It had also been in the hands of another diving journalist, who had taken it apart, marvelled at its construction and then reassembled it with the pieces in the wrong order. It should have been rechecked before I received it and, suffice it to say, I didnt get the most comfortable dive with it.
     This time Atomic Aquatics sent me the new M1 direct. Its called the M1 because it is made from a variety of metals, all advanced alloys, instead of being all-titanium.
     Atomic rightly calculated that the people who could afford the best would probably insist on using nitrox for those dives for which it was suitable - and titanium is not the all-round best metal for this.
     There are still some parts that are titanium, such as the second-stage valve lever and valve orifices. Where stainless steel is used, 316 grade is the order of the day, but because even stainless steel can combust, the M1 substitutes a nickel/copper alloy for the high-pressure components in the first stage.
     The M1 is good for use with mixes as high as nitrox 80. As for that deep shine, its a type of zirconium plating which is claimed to outlast chrome by a factor of 10.
     Use of the best materials is not the whole story. Valve seats wear, whether they are in the first or second stages. The design of the M1 means that the second-stage valve orifice touches the seat only when the regulator is pressurised, thereby avoiding premature engraving.
     The first-stage design involves an unusual piston geometry and a technopolymer that is the most combustion-resistant around, and that can be shaped only by machining. In this way, owners should never experience intermediate pressure problems, even at high tank pressures.
     Atomic feels confident enough to offer original owners a life-time warranty, and merely recommends a two-year servicing interval rather than insisting on it to maintain that warranty.
     What about cold-water diving
     Lets be brutally honest for a moment. The reason we dive in cold, fresh water is because we cannot go to places where the water is clear, calm and warm on a week-by-week basis. We dive in inland lakes because we have to.
     Now dont start telling me about the camaraderie enjoyed when everyone is suffering. I know that rich people enjoy camaraderie just as much - but with other rich people!
     Atomic regulators are aimed at those who are prepared to pay for something extra. They pay for seats in business class on aeroplanes, too. Their dive boat picks them up from the beach outside Cobblers Cove in Barbados, or they cruise the South Pacific on a live-in-luxury-aboard.
     They dont care to flog up the motorway at five in the morning on a Saturday to be sure of a parking place outside a flooded slate quarry.
     So forget the lack of coldwater features, even if the manufacturer comes back to me and insists that Ive got it all wrong.
     So what is the M1 like in use Well, it sits in the mouth perfectly and doesnt give you jaw ache. It breathes beautifully, with hardly any effort needed. When you exhale, thanks to a wide exhaust-T, the bubbles come nowhere near your face. There is none of that Jacuzzi effect so common with other small regulator second stages.
     Hoses are easily routed where you want them. There are two high-pressure and four medium-pressure ports arranged around a turret. An additional mp port on top of the turret gives you the possible strategy of mounting the turret sideways on the tank. This would be ideal for H-valve and twin-tank users.
     What are the drawbacks Yes, Im afraid there are a couple. The first is that Atomic supplies only dealers who sell over the counter, and not by Internet or direct mail. Atomic insists that its dealers offer a first-rate service and reasons that this can be achieved only face-to-face.
     Atomic does not yet have an official importer for its regulators in this country, so getting your hands on one might be difficult.
     Once you have located a supplier, youll be unsurprised to find that quality does not come cheap. My best guess is that the Atomic M1 will cost at least £450 in the UK.

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  • Divernet
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    + Beautifully made
    + Fabulous performance



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    - Hard to obtain
    - Only for those prepared to pay for the best