The best scuba diving regulators for beginners and advanced divers
by Jorge Mezcua on Jan 30, 2023
Today we bring you a review of the best scuba diving regulators with interesting releases and new versions of some of the best and most popular diving regulators of the last 10 years.
This review, conducted by Mark 'Crowley' Russell, collaborator of the prestigious diving magazine Dive Magazine, splits the review into two types of regulators according to the use and experience of the diver. On the one hand, we have those regulators for recreational diving under no extreme conditions for divers who have a limited budget. On the other regulators for diving with different environmental conditions (especially in cold water) and for deep dives.
At the end of this article you will see some advices when buying your diving regulator, some terminology applied to better understand which regulator to buy according to the use, as well as how each component of the regulator works.
Regulators for all types of diving
We are not talking about cheap regulators, is more related to regulators that are going to be used in recreational diving or that are great as a first regulator purchase. We are talking about all-terrain regulators, super robust and not too expensive, adapted for beginner divers with limited budget.
Aqualung Core Supreme
Aqualung's most basic regulator, ideal for beginners, would be the Calypso, with its unbalanced piston design, very popular among diving centers for its strength, ease of maintenance and that can be found for just USD 250. But for divers who are looking to buy a regulator with a wider range of options we recommend the Aqualung Core Supreme. It has a balanced diaphragm first stage (at the end of this post you will understand what it means and its importance) with Aqualung's automatic closing device (ACD) that seals the regulator when it's removed from the tank, gaining in durability by preventing water or residues from entering. It has pre-angled ports to better connect the hoses. Both the first and the second stage are suitable for cold waters.
Atomic Aquatics Z2
The 'Z' of this Atomic Aquatics Z2 refers to the Zirconium used on the bronze body of the first stage of the regulator, designed to provide greater resistance to corrosion. The first compensated stage features Atomic's "Jet Seat" technology, with two HP (High Pressure) and seven LP (Low Pressure) outputs, more than most regulators, with LP outputs located on a fixed lid instead of in the rotating body, which allows more options when installing the hoses.
The second stage is balanced and presents Atomic's patented automatic flow control for a much easier breathing. The titanium orifice for the seat in the second stage reduces valve wear, extending the life span and durability of this regulator to a minimum of 300 dives as long as you take care of it and keep it in good condition, of course.
Mares Rover 15X
The Mares Rover scuba diving regulator comes in two formats with identical very compact second stages, but they differ in the first stage. The Rover 2S is the favorite rental regulator of many diving schools, with an unbalanced first stage combination that costs only around USD 120. The Rover 15X is somewhat more expensive, but with a balanced first stage that makes it suitable for a wider range of conditions and types of diving.
The pre-orientated 2 HP and 4 LP outputs provide some flexibility to the configurations of the hoses, while the patented technology of Mares helps these regulators have greater durability and better air flow control, with the mesh grid of the second stage also included.
Cold water kits can be purchased separately but remember that they have to be installed by a certified technician.
Scubapro MK11 / C370
The Scubapro MK2 / R195 combo is probably the most widely used rental regulator set in the world, and with a retail price of just USD 199, a decent choice for entry-level divers on a tight budget. But we bring you the new MK11, along with the new multi-purpose C370 second stage that offers much more for the diver in terms of performance and is not much more expensive.
The balanced diaphragm design of the MK11 is suitable for cold water diving, with two of the four LP outputs of high-flux LP, providing 15% more air than the others. The second stage of the C370, with balanced diaphragm also, has been designed to be compact and light, but very resistant. Along with The MK11, with a weight of 490 g, and the C370 of only 171 g, this combination is one of the lightest available and is excellent for your diving trips.
This regulator of the Italian company SEAC is designed for beginners and the intensive use of regulators in diving centers. It is sold as what it is: cheap, reliable, safe, robust and simple. Exactly what diving centers look for in their regulators.
The first stage, made in chromed brass, uses ultralight technopolymers and, unlike other equipment intended for rental, has a balanced membrane design. It is a basic but robust regulator. A decent option for very tight budgets but that falls short if we use it intensively and travel regularly.
The latest addition of Tusa to its range of regulators, the R-1000 with balanced first stage, is a compact and lightweight diving regulator, suitable for cold water. Two of the four LP outputs are high flow, and provide 15% more air per breath. The unbalanced second stage S-0001 has a compact design with both left and right settings and a special design in the mouthpiece to reduce jaw fatigue.
Zeagle Envoy II
The Tec/Rec philosophy of Zeagle is very clear even in its Envoy II regulator for beginners. Redesigned in 2015, this balanced diaphragm regulator with brass body has five low pressure and two high pressure outputs. The high-performance transmission and precision engineering combined with the balanced second stage have given the Envoy II a reputation for providing excellent airflow and easy breathing.
Regulators for advanced divers and different environments
We have seen the most basic diving regulators and for limited budget, some of them not suitable for cold waters, and now we go with the review of other regulators suitable for advanced and very active recreational divers, who explore different environments (cold and warm waters ) as well as deep diving.
These regulators are usually manufactured with higher quality materials than those we have seen above, they are lighter and are designed with a higher degree of precision to maximize their performance. Many divers will not notice much difference beyond their weight, but those who have several hundred dives in their belts know that these small adjustments that raise the price also increase the performance underwater.
Launched in October 2017, the XL4 is Apeks' latest addition to its catalog. Suitable for all divers regardless of level, has a compact design and, by its own characteristics, also a compact price. The first stage is based on the DS4 and presents an overbalanced and sealed membrane for the coldest conditions. The one-piece body and flexible nylon hose reduce overall weight, while the second stage is aimed at reducing jaw fatigue during long-term dives.
Aqualung Legend LX Supreme
After more than 15 years providing air with their various reincarnations, the Legend have earned their reputation as a legend. The LX Supreme has an overbalanced first stage with environmental sealing for cold water diving and an extremely useful automatic closing device (ACD) that seals it when disconnected from the tank, protecting it from water and debris. The second stage pneumatically balanced comes with the 'Master Breathing System' (MBS), a new adjustment of ergonomic adjustment, which allows in a complete turn to adjust the injection and optimize the opening effort. The Aqualung LX Supreme is a extraordinary regulator designed specifically for cold water diving.
Mares Abyss 52X
The Mares Abyss 52x diving regulator features a fully metallic second stage, with most of the same characteristics of the Rover series, including the Vortex Assisted Design (VAD) that balances the second stage for easier breathing, regardless of depth.
The balanced first stage is designed for cold water dives, with Mares' NCC (Natural Convection Channel System) surface area that improves heat exchange, which makes its use perfect for cold water dives .
2 of the 4 LP outputs are dynamic flow control (DFC) ports, which reduce the intermediate pressure drop during the breathing cycle. The two regulators are connected with a lightweight 'superflex' hose as standard.
Scubapro MK25 EVO / S620Ti
The first stage of the Scubapro MK25 regulator has been a favorite of recreational and technical divers for years, and the latest evolution is no exception. Although the balanced first stage is not environmentally sealed, Scubapro's patented thermal insulation system and antifreeze protection guarantee perfect performance even at the most extreme water temperatures.
It has five low and high flow outputs, mounted on a rotating turret, with two HP ports on each side. The S620Ti titanium is a recent update of the second stage of the S600, smaller and lighter but reinforced and with the membrane of the same size, which reduces the work of the respiratory rate by 37% compared to the S600.
Terminology and tips for buying a scuba diving regulator
Today, in the modern era of scuba diving, we can't say that there are bad diving regulators. Some may not be suitable for diving in extreme conditions such as cold waters and others may not directly like you, the brand does not give you confidence or they seem too heavy or expensive, but today all diving regulators are extremely reliable and are designed with very high standards.
Our life depends on diving regulators and we have the certainty that there is no regulator in the market that can't operate safely and effectively. Indeed, the regulators are not cheap, but there are some relatively cheap models available and with full guarantee as we have seen in the first block of this post.
There are many options available, and being one of the most complex elements of the diving equipment, the regulators come with an associated dictionary of technical terminology that we are going to try you to understand (yes, in our English). The lingo of diving regulator can be somewhat daunting, it's not explained to anyone in depth during the Open Water course and sometimes sellers use it to sell us equipment that we do not really need. Having basic knowledge of the components of a diving regulator before making a purchase is essential, especially if it is the first, so take a deep breath: here's the basics.
What is the first stage of a diving regulator? The first stage of a regulator is no more than the first connection between the diving tank and the regulator, hence its name. Its main objective is to reduce the pressure of the tank (over the 200-220 bar that we usually use in recreational, diving to 300 bar) at an average pressure of 8-11 bar above the ambient pressure.
DIN or INT?
The first stage is connected to the valve of the tank and converts the high pressure of the tank to an intermediate pressure to deliver the air to the second stage, where you breathe. In the INT (International) connection the regulators are adjusted to the valve of the tank and are secured with a screw clamp. DIN regulators (Deutsche Industrie Norm) are screwed into the tank valves with a threaded DIN opening.
DIN regulators are a little less bulky, form a more hermetic seal and can withstand higher pressures, which is why many divers consider it a superior system. DIN tanks have a removable adapter that allows them to be used with INT regulators, but DIN regulators require a separate adapter for use with INT tank valves that do not have a threaded opening.
DIN is fast becoming the standard in the diving industry, but it is not universal. In international diving trips the most common is to find bottles adapted for DIN and if yours is INT we advise you to buy a core for INT (some boats have few and may not be in its best state). Our recommendation, by size, safety and comfort is that you opt for DIN.
All regulators work perfectly in warm water, which is where most divers use their regulators, but compressed gases get colder as they expand (aerosol deodorizers are a perfect example) and can cause that the unprotected regulators freeze when diving in cold water (we consider cold water below 10° C). Environmental sealing prevents cold water and particles from entering the first stage, reducing the risk of freezing or damage. If you plan to dive regularly in cold water, environmental sealing is a must.
Unbalanced, balanced and over-balanced
Unbalanced regulators work by tank pressure, so resistance to breathing increases very slightly as pressure decreases. They are the simplest and cheapest regulator design. Yes, those you see for rent in the diving centers. Balanced regulators are not affected by the pressure of the tank and provides air at the same pressure during the entire dive, regardless of the water pressure. Today, all the most basic regulators are this type. Over-balanced regulators are those that slightly increase the air pressure delivered in depth. It is a feature that many divers consider very interesting but it is not essential so we would recommend that you check if it is a compensated regulator to give you greater ease and less effort to breathe.
¿Piston or diaphragm?
Piston scuba regulators operate using a hollow metal piston opposed by a metal spring. They can be compensated or decompensated but diving in cold water requires that they have an environmental seal or antifreeze technology. The membrane regulators have a more complex design and all are balanced, with the rubber membrane acting as their own environmental seal, so they are preferred for diving in deep and cold water.
In this Scubapro video, you'll see more clues about the differences between both technologies:
Ports or outputs
All regulators have at least one port (also known as outputs) of high pressure (HP) to the gauge and four ports of low/medium pressure for the second stage, jackets and inflators of dry suits. Higher-level regulators can have an additional HP port and additional LP/MP ports, allowing greater flexibility in configuration
The second stage is the end of the hose, where you can find the mouthpiece through which you breathe. The second stage has as its main mission to reduce the intermediate gas pressure to the exact pressure you need to breathe comfortably, provide air and allow you to exhale easily.
Balanced or un balanced
The balanced second stages reduce the "rupture pressure" of the regulator, that minimum pressure required to work, which provides a small reduction in respiratory effort.
The Venturi effect, in which the moving gas causes a reduction in the surrounding pressure, is what makes the regulators work, and also causes them to flow freely, especially on the surface. Most regulators have a Venturi control, often called dive/predive or +/-, which prevents this. Some regulators also have an air flow control that affects the pressure of rupture.
All regulators can be used with recreational Nitrox up to a maximum of 40% Oxygen. Any higher mix requires the use of compatible materials and specialized oxygen cleaning.
The standard rubber hoses are quite inflexible and prone to cracking if we store them improperly. In recent years braided, lighter and more flexible hoses have appeared, very popular because they are easier to transport, offer better options for configuration and reduce jaw fatigue. Swivel hose connectors offer similar advantages to standard rigid connectors. Some manufacturers are now offering braided hoses and swivel joints as standard, but they are always available as optional extras.
Tips when buying your scuba diving regulator
The main consideration when buying your diving regulator is the type of environment in which you plan to dive. For typical recreational diving, in warm waters, any regulator will be worth it, but if you plan to do deep diving or in cold water the range is shortened, not all will serve you.
Size and weight can be important factors when making your purchase decision, like the price. We are lucky to be able to buy a lot of diving equipment online, inform us beforehand and decide between dozens of options without having to go to a store with few options and sellers who want to sell us :-)
The general advice would be to buy the best scuba regulator you can afford, when there is money the decisions are easier, right? For smaller budgets, the basic regulators we've seen are a good option, as long as you keep in mind your limitations. However, as in everything in the world of diving gear, spending a little more in the first place can save you a lot of money in the long term, mainly if you keep growing as a diver and start to add dives and diving trips.