The third generation of Aqua Lung famous Legend regulators what the product release everyone was talking about on the floor of the latest DEMA and BOOT shows, in Florida and Germany, but also the Paris Dive Show. As I returned to the French Riviera to spend the summer, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to pay a visit to Aqua Lung France who has been supporting my underwater adventures for the 5 past years. To review the Aqua Lung Legend 3 series, I went for a full tour of their factory and laboratory followed by two test dives in Nice. Here is everything you need to know about what make Aqua Lung regulators so legen -wait for it – dary!
The history of Aqua Lung regulators
Before Aqua Lung became Aqua Lung, it was called Spirotechnique, a French company incorporated in 1946 after the patent of ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau and engineer Emile Gagnan. Contrary to everything I read online, the patent was based on the CG43 (C stands for Cousteau, G for Gagnan and the number is the year) and the model put on the market was the CG45. At that time, right after WWII, the use was mainly military. The name “Aqua Lung” is at that time only a registered brand for export sales.
It was in the 1960s that leisure tourism became a thing, giving birth to recreational scuba diving at the same time. The Mistral model, released in 1958, was the flagship regulator of the first underwater explorers. With only one stage to expand the gas from high pressure to low pressure, the breathing must have been a bit rough, but it was at that time revolutionary.
Fast forward in time, the 1990s was the turning point of the scuba diving industry with the introduction of the European standards EN250 for breathing equipment in 1993, enforced in 1997. During this decade, Spirotechnique changed its names to Aqua Lung. While most manufacturers only focused on the performance requirement in Joules per litre of air, Aqua Lung decided to introduce the concept of respiratory comfort with its over-balanced design. Based on these new standards, the first generation of Legend regulators is launched at the beginning of the new century, in 2002.
The second generation of Legend regulators was launched 10 years later and integrated the common-rail design, allowing to connect any hose either way to the first-stage without losing performance. At that moment, the icy waters Legend regulator was still a separate model named “Glacia”.
Only 8 years later, in 2020, the third generation, called LEG3ND, is released with a brand-new simplified range making the most of Aqua Lung’s engineers know-how. Today, it is estimated that since 2002, two Legend regulators are sold all over the world every hour.
Proudly designed and made in France
Located 25-minute driving north from Nice, the headquarters and factory of Aqua Lung in France are located in a lovely setting between the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps. Carros’ shop floor assembles all regulators for the entire world, which means if you have an Aqua Lung regulator at home, it was made in this factory.
I had the pleasure to visit the factory in the company of Manuel Cabrère, product manager for regulators and BCD. He has worked for Aqua Lung for 30 years, so saying he knows a thing or two about how regulators work and are made is an understatement. He even has a picture with Jacques-Yves Cousteau himself framed in a corridor of the building.
I could also have a sneak peek at the prototyping and testing laboratory including regulator respiratory test bench, water pressure test chamber, and a salt mist chamber to accelerate product ageing. You can easily understand I couldn’t just take any picture for confidentiality reasons.
At full steam, they can produce up to 100,000 regulators per year, which represent about 800 regulators per day. Currently, the factory manufactures between 350 and 450 regulators per day (first-stage, second-stage and octopus included).
Quality control in this ISO 9001 facility goes beyond standards since they even control the quality of the raw materials that will be used by the other factories such as Apeks in the UK for the components they don’t manufacture on site. Once assembled, 100% of the regulators are tested for air and water performances. The serial number of each regulator is linked to its test results and bill of components with their own quality control check-list.
Before being sent all over the world, in their new plastic-free and recycled cardboard packaging, the Aqua Lung Legend 3 regulators are dried at 0.02 bar, so the boiling point of water at this pressure is only 43°C; this way, it doesn’t damage the materials of the regulator.
What makes Aqua Lung LEG3ND regulators special?
Since 2002, the Aqua Lung Legend regulators have been synonymous with unparalleled breathing comfort. The Legend series has always been designed with the advanced divers in mind. The idea is if you should have only one regulator in your scuba diving gear bag, it should be a good fit for any dive.
But technically speaking, how do we define breathing comfort?
Most modern regulators now compensate tank air pressure drops during your dive, breath after breath. However, balancing the variations of the ambient hydrostatic pressure as you go deeper is a whole different kind of issue.
Maybe you don’t totally realise it, but depending on your physical efforts (if you have to fin kick harder in currents for instance) your respiratory rate increases and so the airflow you need. Some regulators can give you a harder time than others to deliver the necessary air volume, especially when diving deep (below 20 m); this is then when the sensation of breathlessness can kick in.
In the case of the Aqua Lung Legend, its first stage can overcompensate the interstage pressure to reduce the breathing effort you have to make, even at 40 m with strong currents.
The line-up for the third generation of Legend regulators was simplified with a single first-stage able to cope with any underwater condition, even icy water. It’s like the Glacia model was merged with the standard range of Legend regulators. Each Aqua Lung Legend 3 regulator has now heat exchangers on the first stage and the second stage to slower ice formation in waters colder than 10°C (thermal exchange surface is increased by 30% compared to the previous Glacia model).
The three second-stages you can choose from are:
- Aqua Lung Legend, with a classic venturi switch
- Aqua Lung Legend MBS, with the Master Breathing System knob which combines in a one rotation venturi and inhalation effort adjustment
- Aqua Lung Legend Elite, with a separate venturi switch and an inhalation effort knob for a fully customised respiratory comfort adjustment
Your choice will be based on how much you want to customise your airflow underwater. The standard model can accommodate most recreational divers. Still, if you often go on challenging dives including depths below 30 m, currents and/or cold waters, the Legend MBS or Elite would be a better choice for you.
Testing the Aqua Lung LEG3ND regulators vs. my Aqua Lung Core regulator in Nice
First, here is a little bit of background information of the regulators I used in the last 10 years. The very first regulator I bought in 2010 was the Aqua Lung Mikron. As a warm water dive traveller, it was indeed the right choice. It followed me in Mexico and Indonesia, and I never felt any respiratory issue. However, to be honest, I was still a beginner diver who rarely engaged in challenging dives at that time.
Things started to change when I moved to Scotland in 2014. I got then my first Legend regulator, the Glacia model. It became my best buddy for all my dives in Scotland but also in Iceland or ice diving in the French Alps. To have a separate additional first-stage able to cope with cold waters, I took a few years later the Aqua Lung Core supreme, which proved to be an ideal ratio performance weight for all my trips in the temperate waters of Europe.
As I sent all my regulators together for their maintenance last year, I took the newest version of the Mikron regulator to go to French Polynesia. In the strong currents of some of the passes of the Tuamotu Islands, this is when I felt for the first time the respiratory limits of this travel regulator despite my best effort to deeply breathe in as I tried to efficiently fin kick. I honestly went close to breathlessness.
Based on this recent experience, it made me realise the type of dives I was now doing was much diverse and often involve depth or currents. This is why when I saw the new generation of Aqua Lung Legend 3 regulators was about to be released at the last DEMA show in Orlando, I was quite excited to have the opportunity to try them all underwater. I wanted to understand the nuances in breathing comfort between the three models.
The only way to achieve this would be to have the three second-stages with me during the same dives in the same conditions at a deep dive site. Diving in Nice was indeed a perfect choice thanks to all its deep wall with maximum depths from 40 to 60 m deep.
Thanks to the kind support of CIP Nice dive centre, we organised together with Aqua Lung staff a full day of test dives from Nice harbour. I had a single tank with a dual single stages set-up. I used the Legend Elite as my primary regulator and the Legend MBS as my secondary regulator. One of my two dive buddies mounted an Aqua Lung Legend standard regulator as his secondary.
I went for three dives with CIP Nice off the shore of Cap Ferrat. For the two first dives on the first day, I exclusively used the Aqua Lung Legend 3 regulators. For the third on the following day, I went back to my Core regulator to feel the difference on similar conditions.
On the first dive, I decided to test the three models of second-stage by starting by the top of the line, the Legend Elite, then the Legend MBS to finish by the standard Legend model. I compared breathing comfort at 20 m deep when we descended and then again at 40 m. Each time, I tried swimming a bit faster, but at 20 m any difference was hardly perceptible. With almost no current, I cannot say I faced the most challenging conditions that day, except maybe the thermocline between the surface (26°C) and at 40 m (16°C).
I played for some time, with the venturi switch and the inhalation effort knob, using each fully open or fully closed, then mid position. I could clearly feel the difference, between the venturi switch, which changed the amount of air I received in only a tiny sip, and the inhalation effort which makes it more or less hard to breathe in. As a first-time user, it was difficult to decide which one was indeed the best for me and when to change it. I guess you can only answer that question with experience.
When changing to the Legend MBS, the immediate benefit of having only one knob that both set venturi and inhalation effort together was how quick it was to adjust my breathing comfort. Needless to say that with an underwater camera in hand with already so many buttons to manipulate, I loved how straightforward it was.
The most noticeable difference in respiratory comfort was when changing between the Legend MBS and the standard Legend model, which has only a venturi switch. While there was never a single issue with the airflow, the second stage still delivers precisely what you need, I felt a noticeable difference in the smoothness of my breathing.
The next morning, back down the wall at 35 m with my Aqua Lung Core regulator, the difference was subtle. Still, I could feel a difference in how much airflow the regulator could deliver at the deepest point of my dive compared to the Legend the previous day, slightly less.
To sum up, the Aqua Lung Legend MBS was my favourite model as an underwater photographer for its easiness of use while providing exceptional breathing comfort. I think you need to be a diver who frequently deep dive shipwrecks in the currents of cold waters to truly appreciate the fine-tuning of the double settings of the Legend Elite.
If you have more questions about my test of the full range of Aqua Lung Legend 3 regulators, please let me know in the comments!
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This article was written in partnership with Aqua Lung. As always, all my views and opinions are my own and reflect my experience honestly.
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