A regulator is the single-most important piece of kit a diver can own. This is your life-support equipment, keeping you alive when you are in the alien underwater world, so you want to make sure you have something which you can rely on.
A regulator comprises a first stage, which mounts on to your cylinder pillar valve, and then a primary second stage, which is the main reg you breathe through. Most also have a secondary second stage, also known as an octopus, which is a redundant reg designed to be there for your buddy in an emergency situation.
The first stage can either be a yoke fitting (also known as an international, or A-clamp) or DIN fitting. A DIN fitting screws into the pillar valve, the A-clamp attaches on to it. Whichever attachment method is used, the first stage regulates the pressure down from the existing bottle pressure (normally up to 300 bar) to an intermediate pressure of 8-10 bar above ambient water pressure, dependent on the manufacturer's specification.
It has various ports – usually two high-pressure and four low-pressure – through which gas can be routed and to which hoses and equipment can be attached. The second stages – both primary and octopus – regulate the final pressure down from 8-10 bar by supplying gas on demand (hence the alternate name of ‘demand valve’).
Usually the exhaust mechanism is on the bottom rear of the stage, directing exhaled bubbles up either side of your mask, but certain manufacturers – particularly Poseidon – use a side-exhaust second stage design. It is advisable to have your regulator tested by a qualified service technician at least once a year, depending on the number of dives you do in 12 months.
Remember, you rely totally on this piece of kit when underwater, it isn’t worth skimping on a service just to save yourself £30-50.
In true Sport Diver Test Team style, we managed to pick a bitterly cold day to conduct our first group test of 2009. With snow on the ground and the air and water temperatures hovering just the right side of zero, the Test Team, let alone the five regs, were pushed to the limit.
It was a year since we last tested regulators, before we had heard of the term credit crunch. Since then everything from a pint of milk to a loaf of bread has increased in price, and unfortunately it seems dive kit is no different. The Scubapro and Seac Sub have both risen £16 and £6 respectively, while the Oceanic is still a bargain at £199.
The Seac Sub P-Synchro performed adequately, but our main grip was the fiddly venturi lever, which when you’re wearing gloves is a nightmare to deal with. Seeman Sub products scored highly in the recent fin group test, so we were keen to try the regs for the first time. The SL200 is a good reg, and a bargain at £169, popular with the testers for its comfy mouthpiece and effective bubble dispersal. However, we were less impressed with the stiff purge button. It ran the Scuabpro R295 close for the Best Value award, being similarly-priced, but we felt the Scubapro had a better all-round performance, ticking most of our boxes for comfort, breathe and price.
The winner though by a long way, was the Apeks ATX40, universally liked by all four members of the Test Team. It does everything exceptionally well, and it’s hard to find any faults. It breathes well, is very comfortable, and importantly, the venturi lever actually makes a noticeable difference to the breathe, rather the being cosmetic. In fact, compared to last year, the Apeks is now actually £4 cheaper, so it presents even more of a bargain. The Apeks ATX40 is the deserved winner of the Sport Diver Choice award.
As with the budget regulator test, it was interesting to see how changes in price have affected how you look at some of these regs on test. Most noticeable was the Tigullio Air Trak Plus, which in 2008 would have set you back a bargain £219 – excellent value for that price. However, in 2009 that very same reg is now priced £325. It’s still a decent-enough reg, but we’d question the thinking behind a price hike of over £100.
The Scubapro Mk17/S555 now costs you an extra £30, while Apeks seem to get cheaper, £8 less for an XTX50 this year. It was clear these two would be hard to beat.
The new Aqualung Titan Supreme was very popular, a strong performer and in the running for one of our awards. Dave Hope said it was one of the best Aqualung regs for several years.
The Atomic Z2 was also well liked, and an Atomic reg for £339 is a bargain considering their other models cost much more. So the Best Value award was extremely close, but we decided on the new Oceanic Neo for a faultless performance and excellent price of £325. You also get a lifetime warranty. If you want to spend a bit less, for just £249 you can’t go too far wrong with the Seemann Sub SL350. The only thing that probably prevented it from snatching the Best Value award from the Oceanic was the venturi control, which seemed to turn endlessly.
The Apeks, Aqualung, Atomic and Scubapro were all in the running for the coveted Sport Diver Choice award. All excellent regs, but three of the four had little niggles which marked them down. The best of the bunch was the Apeks, which performed strongest in every category. The XTX50 is supremely comfortable, with an excellent breathe. The venturi and cracking controls are easy to use and make a clear difference. With the price having dropped from last year, the Apeks XTX50 makes a lot of sense, and a safe bet to spend your cash.
Top of the Range Regulators
As you’d expect, once you get into this price bracket, all the regulators perform to a high standard, and there were none of the regs tested that we wouldn’t happily dive on a liveaboard in the Red Sea or an expedition up to Scapa Flow.
When it came to choosing the Best Value award winner, it was a close-run thing between the Oceanic EOS and the Poseidon Xstream Deep 90. Both regulators gave an excellent all-round performance and both were well-built and constructed to last, but in the end the Oceanic won out thanks to its bargain price, and the fact that the side-exhaust on the Poseidon Xstream Deep 90 split opinion between the Test Team. Some like it, others couldn’t get on with the unique design of the Xstream second stage.
Next up was the Choice award, and this was another difficult decision. It came down to a two-horse race between the tried-and-tested Apeks XTX200 Tungsten and the new-kid-on-the-block Scubapro A700, in this instance teamed up with a MK25 first stage. All the Test Team raved about the performance of both of the regulators, and underwater, swapping back and forth between the two, it was hard to notice any real difference between the two, they both delivered air effortlessly. In the end, it came down to personal choice, and that additional £130 for the Scubapro A700 turned the tide in favour of the Apeks XTX200 Tungsten.