Last Updated: November 30, 2023
Looking to buy regulators for your diving gear?
Perhaps, as you research them, you may have come across these two terms, balanced and unbalanced, and kept wondering what they mean. Or rather, you know what they are but are unsure of the option to take.
As a diver, it is important that you know and understand the difference between the two regulators. This will help you make a more informed decision as to which one is more ideal for you depending on your preference, needs and environmental conditions.
When using a balanced regulator, you’ll have a consistent airflow regardless of your tank’s pressure and dive depth. On the other hand, when using an unbalanced regulator, you will have more difficulty breathing as you dive deeper, or your tank’s pressure reduces.
In this article, I’ll explore each of the regulators, explaining how they work and highlighting their differences.
What is a Balanced Regulator?
Suppose you already know about the piston and diaphragm regulators. In that case, you are aware that the regulators’ first stage has a poppet valve assembly or a bias spring with a high pressure seat. These elements respond to and direct air movement in the intermediate pressure chamber.
Within a balanced regulator, these pieces of equipment operate using equal force throughout, regardless of the surrounding pressure levels. So whether the hydrostatic pressure changes due to increased diving depth or your tank’s pressure drops, you’ll have consistent breathing throughout the dive.
The second stage of a regulator can also be balanced or unbalanced.
As you breathe in, a valve tightened by a spring within the second stage’s body opens. The balanced second stage has intermediate pressure on the valve’s backside that restrains the spring tension. With this system, the diver can pull breath more easily from the regulator, thus ensuring consistent breathing from both the first and second stages.
However, if the first stage is balanced, you will be less likely to notice any significant differences in breathing when using either a balanced or unbalanced second stage. Additionally, if you only have a balanced second stage but an unbalanced first stage, the second stage will slightly help you during inhalation.
What is an Unbalanced Regulator?
Generally, when using an unbalanced regulator, you’ll have to exert more effort to breathe in when the ambient hydrostatic pressure rises or tank pressure drops.
How does it work?
Unlike a balanced regulator, the unbalanced regulator’s bias spring and high tension seat operate in response to the tank or ambient hydrostatic pressure. As such, airflow to the second stage gets less consistent, and thus, you’ll have more difficulty breathing.
It is important to note that the difficulty in breathing is not as daunting as it reads. The unbalanced regulators provide optimal safety, and you’ll still get ample air while diving.
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In fact, beginners may be unable to notice the difference in airflow. But as you progress and dive more, you get familiar with the breathing patterns of both regulators. Over time, you’ll notice the small difference in ease of breathing between using a balanced and unbalanced regulator, thus forming the basis of your preference.
The Differences Between a Balanced and Unbalanced Regulator
Efficiency of Air Supply
The balanced regulator is more efficient in supplying air as the ambient pressure increases or the tank pressure drops. As such, this makes it more ideal for technical or deep diving than the unbalanced regulator.
In conditions where you breathe heavily, such as when exposed to underwater exertion, the unbalanced regulator is more likely to be unresponsive than the balanced regulator.
However, for recreational divers diving up to 20 feet, there’d be no significant difference between the two regulators.
A balanced regulator is more costly. This is because the additional design features in its first stage are more expensive and durable. Additionally, the cost of maintenance, replacement and servicing of a balanced regulator is also higher compared to an unbalanced regulator.
When Should You Choose an Unbalanced Regulator?
An unbalanced regulator may be just enough for you if you are a recreational diver looking to explore warm waters. Under such conditions, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to purchase a balanced regulator since both of them work just fine.
Both the balanced and unbalanced regulators work almost the same way to the extent that novice divers may not notice the breathability difference.
But if they have negligible differences, why aren’t they made the same?
One reason is that not everyone needs a balanced regulator. For entry-level divers and those just going for recreation activity, an unbalanced regulator will serve them right.
Also read: Dealing with a Regulator Free Flow
Balanced regulators are a bit more expensive to purchase and maintain, so may not be ideal for individuals on tight budgets.
However, for more technical and deep dives, it is important that you consider the amount of effort it takes to inhale as a diver. This necessitates a more efficient and highly responsive regulator, which is the balanced one.
Nonetheless, both regulators are totally safe and will serve you efficiently. So, you just need to weigh the pros and cons of each, considering their longevity, price and your needs. This will help you settle on the best regulator depending on your budget, type of diving and the comfort levels you desire.
My unbounded love for the oceans and everything it has to offer motivated me to pursue my passion and become a professional scuba diving instructor.
I keep reading, exploring, and learning more about scuba diving and the underwater world all the time, so I’m excited to share my knowledge with fellow scuba enthusiasts and hopefully contribute a little to your development as a diver. I want people to fall in love with the oceans with as much passion as I have. Read more about me here.