OVER THE YEARS THE HUMBLE aqua-lung has evolved through technical innovation into a compact, efficient life-support system.
 Todays diver has a vast array of state-of-the-art regulators from which to choose, including products designed and marketed for specific uses.
So it can be quite a task to select a model, either as a replacement or, for a new diver, an initial purchase.
It can be bewildering searching for something that fits your requirements and budget, because there are only limited opportunities to try before you buy, but with life-support equipment you really do need to get it right first time. The time to find out that your regulator isnt delivering the goods is not at depth!
Most divers I know have configured their kit based on what their instructors originally used or recommended, or else they follow the fashion and imitate what their buddies or fellow-club-members own. A few look for something fit for purpose to suit their needs, perhaps regulators designed and marketed specifically for travel, cold water, technical or general diving, though in truth these products should all do the same thing, and with ease, regardless of how they're pigeonholed.

hspace=5 With this in mind, DIVER thought it would be interesting to find out how a lightweight regulator designed with travel and the holidaying diver in mind would shape up beside some of the A-listers in the deep dark world of tec diving, or, for that matter, how coldwater models perform next to those designed for a warmer sea. Are there horses for courses, or are todays regulators multi-track animals
I rounded up a selection from all genres for this group test and flew them out to Egypts Red Sea to get them under water in predictable conditions.
I was keen to see how they would perform at or near the maximum pressure of 6bar required by the EUs standard EN250:2000.

hspace=4 The venue
The Camel Dive Club in Sharm el Sheikhs Naama Bay generously hosted this DIVER group test, providing accommodation, unlimited access to equipment, gas and diving as well as supplying its technical-diving instructor Catherine Bates, who joined me to make up the test team.
We dived from the shore at Camels satellite base within the grounds of the Grand Rotana Resort and Spa, which gave us access to very deep water straight off the end of the jetty.
It proved to be an ideal venue that provided a safe, consistent and level playing field for our robust testing regime (www.cameldive.com)

The tests
width=100% The regulators were tested two at a time, set up on manifold twin cylinders with the second stages coming over our right shoulders, pressure-gauge and wing inflation hoses over the left.
When configuring our kit we assessed the hose-routeing options offered by the first-stage layout.
Under water, we wanted to simulate a typical dive scenario – with a few additions.
Firstly, the redundant regulator was handheld facing upward during a giant-stride entry, to assess its ability to resist freeflowing resulting in unwanted gas loss and subsequent dive time.
The regulators were taken to our maximum test depth of 50m, and the breathing resistance, rate of delivery and overall performance were assessed while breathing both normally and heavily.
width=100% The purge function was tested for ease of access, use and efficiency. We inverted the regulators by adopting a feet-up position to check for water ingress via the one-way exhaust valve.
The second stage was dropped from our mouths to check again for its ability to resist freeflowing. We checked for exhaust bubble interference in front of our faces (something underwater photographers find particularly distracting).
Finally, we shared gas via an octopus (alternative second stage), really gulping the gas in synchronised breaths to see if we could overwhelm the first stage and subsequently reduce the delivery.
As it turned out, the results from this exercise were the same for all the models on test, none of them showing any drop in performance.


The Team
 Nigel Wade is a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, TDI advanced trimix rebreather diver and advanced gas-blender. He has been diving for 23 years.
Catherine Bates is a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer and TDI technical instructor. Supplying training and guided dives on hypoxic trimix to 100m, she is currently one of only two female advanced trimix instructors in the Middle East.
Cath has been diving for 13 years, and for the past eight she has been a senior member of staff at the Camel Dive Club.


Apeks XTX 200 Testers choice for tec diving
SPECS
First stage: Balanced
HP ports: 2
LP ports: 4 with optional 5th port
Price: £497. Optional 5th port upgrade £19.95
www.apeks.co.uk

NIGE: One of the big hitters in the tec world but just as comfortable at recreational depths. The pre-dive lever control was easy to locate and operate and effectively stopped any free-flow nonsense when we hit the water. The breathing-resistance control was easy to use too, allowing me to fine-tune the silky-smooth gas delivery to the way I like it. The purge was progressive and at the full extent didnt give me hamster cheeks. Among the UKs tec-diving community this brand and model have a tremendous following, and our test showed why. Pure class.

hspace=4 CATH: The gas delivery was consistent at depth. There was no freeflow when I let it fall from my mouth but I felt a dribble of water enter, creating a damp breath when I was inverted. The purge button is easy to operate even with gloves. The older version is my regulator of choice for technical diving using everything from air through to trimix and down to depths of well over 100m, so I was pleased to be able to try out the new 2013 model. I wasnt disappointed; this is an improvement on my faithful old regulators and a stellar bit of kit.

Aqua-lung Legend LX Supreme Smoothest gas delivery
SPECS
First stage: Over-balanced diaphragm
HP ports: 2
LP ports: 4
Price: £500
www.aqualung.com

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NIGE: This example breathed superbly at all depths. The adjustment controls were responsive and easily accessible. The second stage felt light and unobtrusive in my mouth. At our target depth it was as smooth as Caths one-liners. Bubble distribution was excellent. I wouldnt be disappointed if I found one of these in my Christmas stocking.

width=100% CATH: The first stage is very well designed, with angled low-pressure ports putting the hoses in just the right place. There was no gas loss on entry, and the purge was easy to find and gentle. When I dropped it from my mouth there wasnt even the hint of a bubble. Inverted it was mildly moist. An exquisite performer at all depths.

Atomic Aquatics Z2 Best port options
SPECS
First stage: Balanced piston
HP ports: 2
LP ports: 7
Price: £339
www.atomicaquatics.co.uk

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NIGE: The first stage turret doesnt swivel like the more expensive models from this stable but lots of well-placed ports means theres no drama when it comes to routeing the hoses. The Z2 freeflowed when I hit the water, but I then realised that I hadnt set it to the pre-dive setting. The gas delivery was smooth and consistent from start to finish. Inverted it was damp. Bubble distribution was good. When I dropped the reg from my mouth it freeflowed profusely.
I increased the breathing resistance slightly and tried again – not even a bubble, perfect. The mouthpiece was extremely comfortable. For me the Z2 was a joy to dive.

width=100% CATH: I remembered to set it to pre-dive mode and didnt experience the shenanigans Nigel did when I hit the surface. As I breathed slowly in the shallows the second stage juddered, but as I increased my breathing rate it was smooth, and at depth the judder vanished. I also noticed that the first stage was noisy when inflating my BC, especially at our maximum 50m depth. It took me a while to set the adjustments to suit me, but when I did it was a treat to use.

Beuchat VR2000 Soft Touch Easiest adjustment
SPECS
First stage: Balanced diaphragm
HP ports: 2
LP ports: 4
Price: £400
www.midlanddiving.com

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NIGE: The compact all-black first stage looks great and with an efficient port layout the hose-routeing was well-ordered. The purge button on this model was very stiff and required a fair amount of force to depress; I had to bite down quite hard on the mouthpiece while operating it and this caused a bit of jaw fatigue; the Soft Touch name is a little misleading. Gas delivery was refined at all depths, if a little noisy. Overall, an efficient and smooth performer from the French stables.

width=100% CATH: I had a freeflow at the surface with the lever set to pre-dive mode but it wasnt catastrophic, just a moderate bubbling. I found that the mouthpiece gave a damp breathe, which became soaking when I inverted. If it was mine Id fit a larger version. I also found it a bit noisy when we were deep as it worked harder to deliver air. The exhaled bubbles proved to be a problem only when I looked straight ahead, and a slight tilt forward soon solved that. Overall, it proved capable even past the depth range in which most users would expect to employ it.

Cressi MC9 XG Compact Lightest and most compact
SPECS
First stage: Balanced diaphragm
HP ports: 2
LP ports: 4
Price: £209
www.cressi.it

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NIGE: The lightweight in the pack, a simple first stage with enough ports for reasonable hose-routeing; it may seem unfair to take such a reg down to silly depths but this little featherweight handled the excursion well. The gas delivery was smooth at recreational limits and suffered only at the full test depth, giving a slightly laboured performance. The purge was easy to find and delivered gas progressively. The mouthpiece was a little small for my massive gob and on occasion let a bit of water trickle by. All in all, however, it kept its honour intact even up against the big boys!

width=100% CATH: The first stage is a hefty chunk, but provided plenty of options for neat hose-routeing. There was no freeflow explosion at the surface, proving that the pre-dive setting works well. I found that the Hollis breathed smoothly from the surface to our target depth. The purge button is huge and when depressed provided a ridiculous amount of air – too much, in fact. When Id set the breathing resistance control to suit my needs and took it out of my mouth it freeflowed readily and profusely. Setting it to slightly negative made all the difference. Once done, it was great to dive with.

Hollis 212 DC1 Largest purge button
SPECS
First stage: Over-balanced diaphragm
HP ports: 2
LP ports: 5
Price: £350
www.hollisgear.com

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NIGE: This reg is designed primarily for the tec-diving market, with an extra low-pressure port at the base of the first stage making it suitable for twin- or sidemount diving. Under water the gas delivery was smooth. The breathing resistance control adjustment goes from over- to under-supply, and in fact at its negative extreme I found that I was fighting to get a decent breathe. No problem, however, as a quick turn of the knob and it was back to just the way I like it. Dry when inverted. Face forward there was minimal bubble interference. An inoffensive regulator that would suit my style of diving.

width=100% CATH: The first stage is a hefty chunk, but provided plenty of options for neat hose-routeing. There was no freeflow explosion at the surface, proving that the pre-dive setting works well. I found that the Hollis breathed smoothly from the surface to our target depth. The purge button is huge and when depressed provided a ridiculous amount of air – too much, in fact. When Id set the breathing resistance control to suit my needs and took it out of my mouth it freeflowed readily and profusely. Setting it to slightly negative made all the difference. Once done, it was great to dive with.

Mares Abyss 52 Simplest to use
SPECS
First stage: Balanced diaphragm
HP ports: 2
LP ports: 4
Price: £360
www.mares.com

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NIGE: The MR52 first stage was well laid out, allowing versatile hose-routeing. The second stage freeflowed heavily on entry but was easily stopped by turning the mouthpiece downward. The metal second stage felt robust and solid. I found it dry when inverted, and when horizontal the exhaust bubbles didnt hinder my vision. There are no knobs to adjust the breathing or pre-dive settings; I felt the balance was spot-on at depth but a little gushy in the shallows. It easily delivered the goods well past the recreational depth limits, and delivered them in style.

width=100% CATH: The metal second stage is quite large but didnt feel too heavy. The first stage was well configured to allow neat hose-routeing. In the water at shallow depths I found that the second stage juddered slightly when breathing lightly, and was quite noisy when demanding more air. The purge was easy to locate and depress but quickly delivered an excessive amount. It freeflowed as soon as it left my mouth but stopped suddenly on its own. Putting my tec head on, the venturi tube looks like a good place to clip it off when not in use.

Oceanic FDX10 EOS Most innovative first stage. Caths favourite
SPECS
First stage: Over-balanced diaphragm
HP ports: 2
LP ports: 4
Price: £455
www.oceanicuk.com

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NIGE: A great and compact first stage, making this regulator reasonably lightweight. Tight as a drum when I hit the water, and a lovely breathe throughout the dive. The mouthpiece was the same as the Atomic Z2 and the addition of a really neat swivel connection to the hose made for an extremely comfortable dive experience. There was no gas loss as I dropped the second stage from my mouth with the breathing resistance control set mid to low. An impressive regulator, one of my favourites on the test.

width=100% CATH: A very neat one-way valve fitted to the inlet port means that flooding in the rinse tank is not an option – clever! In the water the breathing was easy peasy right down to our 50m maximum. Inverted, it was as dry as Nigels humour. The purge button is big and easy to locate, but gave me hamster cheeks when depressed. The venturi minus reaches its limit and keeps turning while clicking. I found I kept this regulator in my mouth during our deco stops, favouring it over the alternative; nuff said.

Scubapro Mk25/G260 Most robust second stage
SPECS
First stage: Balanced piston
HP ports: 2
LP ports: 5
Price: £449
www.scubapro.com

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NIGE: Really neat swivel-turret first stage made for easy and versatile hose-routeing. It freeflowed on entry but was a doddle to sort out. The second stage is quite large and felt a little heavy in my mouth compared to some of the other models on test. Gas delivery was smooth and easy at shallower depths but there was a very slight decrease in performance at our virtual floor. However, there was very little not to like about this regulator.

width=100% CATH: At first sight I thought the G260 looked a little old-fashioned, almost military in style, but its certainly robust. The purge was easy to find and progressively delivered more gas than I needed. Inverted it was soaking, easily the wettest of all. An easy breather at all depths, it free-flowed slightly when dropped from my mouth but stopped on its own after a few seconds. Bubble diffusion was good, with none appearing in front of my mask.

Seac X10 Pro Ice Driest when inverted
SPECS
First stage: Balanced piston
HP ports: 2
LP ports: 4
Price: £279
www.seacsub.com

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NIGE: The first stage has angled front low-pressure ports, which aid efficient hose-routeing. I felt that the large second stage was a little cumbersome at first but soon got used to it. There was no freeflow on entry. The gas delivery was smooth at all depths and breathing rates but over-ran slightly at the end of heavy breathes. The purge was progressive but the button seemed a little awkward, with a press dead-centre needed to activate it. Overall, a great performer.

width=100% CATH: An easy-breathing regulator. The first and second stages were quiet. There was no sign of bubbles when I pulled it from my mouth. Inverted it was as dry as a bone. There was some bubble interference from the exhaust valve but not bad enough to be a distraction. The adjustment control is microscopic and proved more than a little difficult to use even without gloves. However I liked this reg and would have no problem using it on a regular basis.

Sherwood SR1 Nigels favourite
SPECS
First stage: Two-piece balanced piston
HP ports: 2
LP ports: 5
Price: £439
www.typhoon-int.co.uk www.sherwoodscuba.com

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NIGE: The first-stage swivel turret provided excellent hose-routeing options and an extra low-pressure port at its base gave even more flexibility. In the water, it proved to be a super-slick breathe at all depths. The only adjustment knob is for breathing resistance and was perfectly sized and positioned and worked faultlessly. The small second stage felt very light and gave me no feeling of jaw fatigue. It didnt even bubble when dropped from my mouth, and was as dry as a bone when inverted. Wow! What a terrific regulator; I want one and I want it now!

width=100% CATH: There were no signs of a freeflow from this regulator on entry; the breathing was Teflon-smooth from the first to the last breath, regardless of the depth. The purge button, which is quite large and progressive, worked beautifully, giving me enough to clear water but not rattling my tonsils. My exhaled bubbles were sent away from my mask, providing me with unhindered vision. This regulator was a surprise package for me, and I loved it.

Subgear SG1000 Most boring (in a good way)
SPECS
First stage: Balanced diaphragm
HP ports: 2
LP ports: 4
Price: £349
www.subgear.com

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NIGE: The compact first stage with a well-designed port layout allowed neat and tidy hose-routeing. The small and lightweight second stage was comfortable, with a long mouthpiece providing plenty to bite on. There were no freeflow troubles on entry and the second stage remained dry when inverted. A smooth performer at all depths, it was in fact a little boring, but thats a good trait in a regulator, isnt it

width=100% CATH: Slow light breathing was easy with this model, and when I wanted more it just delivered it with aplomb. The purge was excellent, with a large area to press giving a progressive supply.
The controls were well placed and the right size, although the adjustment range wasnt enormous. There wasnt a hint of freeflow when dropped from my mouth. Bubble distribution was good. A nice, no-nonsense piece of kit.

Conclusion
Its not likely that youll have the chance to submerge with a dozen different regulators back-to-back on consecutive dives. If you did you would find, as we did, that there is very little difference between each model and brand. Inevitably we had our favourites, a particular model that fitted our personal style of diving and technique. For me it was the Sherwood SR1 and Cath really liked the Oceanic EOS. We both agreed however that for diving within recreational limits we would have no qualms in taking any of these models under water. We also agreed that if we were going really deep and breathing mixed gases, the Apeks XTX 200 would be our choice for the job.