When buying a regulator the first thing the dive assistant tells you is that you want a balanced one. (If you are interested in knowing how they work view our choosing regulators advice page.)
First of all let's clarify what a balanced regulator offers; continuous air flow regardless of depth and/or tank pressure. No brainer, why would that not be perfect? I am not saying it is not but... Accidents don't happen right? We all know they do, we all check our pressure gauge all the time? Never not checked it? Honestly? I suspect pretty much ever diver at some stage in their diving career has had a shock at their air pressure on a dive or two. So we dive on state of the art balanced regulators offering smooth air flow. So the breath from the last bit of air in the cylinder is as easy as the first when you dived off the dive boat. Great. If we dived with an unbalanced regulator that last breath and the proceeding ones would have required more inhalation effort. I am not talking about sucking a thick milkshake through a straw difficult, just the breathing gets a little tighter. In effect a warning system.
Most people's impression of an unbalanced regulator is poorly maintained training kit (which may well not even be unbalanced, just in terrible condition) however, modern unbalanced regulators are extremely good. I suspect most people telling us we must dive on a balanced regulator have never dived on an unbalanced regulator. I have, many times. When I first qualified as a dive instructor I spent a season teaching in the Mediterranean. My main regulator needed a service, so I used one of the schools Scubapro Mk2 R190 now several models of evolution later would be equivalent to the Scubapro Mk2 Plus R195. I completed numerous dives to 35m with no problems, yes the breathing at depth was more laboured than my normal balanced regulator but it was not a problem. Yes I could tell when my tank pressure dropped below 100bar from the increased inhalation effort.
So back to my original question, why are unbalanced regulators now considered unworthy? They have some great advantages, cheap to buy, cheap to service, warn you when tank pressure is dropping. Unbalanced regulators are pretty much resigned to be a pony bottle regulator, (which I will only use if all other options are exhausted.) It seems to me that we have all lost sight of the advantages of basics, too wound up with technical specification of inhalation effort, and abbreviations - TIS, VAD, DFC, to name but a few. The more abbreviations the better the breathe? I understand that when you pass you motor cycle test the instructors advise you start with a low CC bike for a year, then gradually increase the engine size over time. Should we be starting new divers on unbalanced regulators initially before upgrading to the super high performance models?
Now walk into your dive centre and ask what type of regulator you should buy. "A balanced reg." will be the answer... But should it be? Interested in buying a new regulator, click to see our full range of diving regulators.