Gear Review: FourSevens Maelstrom MMR-X flashlight

I was highly excited to be contacted by FourSevens about reviewing a light powered by an 18650 LiPo cell. I’ve as anyone who has read my previous flashlight reviews knows, I currently carry a modified version of the QT2A-X daily, and have been running it on a 14500 LiPo cell. This light has served me well and is still found in my pocket every day.

I was really intrigued by the possibilities of having a USB chargeable 18650 light. When the MMR-X arrived, I was quite delighted to find that FourSevens was including a number of accessories that allows the user to configure the light in several different ways, depending on the users preferences.

This light is the first FourSevens light to be powered by an 18650 cell.

Specifications for the MMR-X from the FourSevens website:

DIMENSIONS Length: 5.47 inches / Diameter: 1.24 inches / Weight: 3.26 oz
LED EMITTER Cree XM-L2
VOLTAGE RANGE
SPOT BEAM Angle: 7 degrees;Diameter at 3 meters: 360mm
FLOOD BEAM Angle: 60 degrees; Diameter at 3 meters: 3.45 meters
BRIGHTNESS LEVELS Moonlight: 1 lumen, 35 days
Low: 25 lumens, 40 hrs
High:150 lumens, 8 hrs
Max:Burst at 800 lumens, 1 minute
then 400 lumens, 2 hrs
SPECIAL MODES Strobe: 800 lumens at 10hz, 4 hr
SOS: 800 lumens, 4.5 hrs
Beacon High: 800 lumens, 12 hrs
Beacon Low: 150 lumens, 80 hrs
REFLECTOR Smooth highly tuned optical reflector
BODY MATERIAL Type-III hard-anodized aircraft-grade aluminum
BEZEL MATERIAL Stainless steel strike-bezel
Flat black aluminum bezel also included
LENS MATERIAL Optical-grade glass lens, sapphire coating, antireflective coating
INCLUDED ACCESSORIES Holster, 18650 battery (2600mah), USB power adaptor (USA plug), USB cable, lanyard, spare orings, spare rubber boots, flat black bezel, parts for flat tailcap

pic_maelstrom-mmr-x-lg

I continue to be impressed with FourSeven’s commitment to providing good customer service. In addition to the standard spare oring (the wording has actually been changed to plural in the collateral (reflecting that they include more than one with every light I’ve ever bought from them), this light came with spare rubber boots, a flat bezel, and parts to convert the tailcap to a flat cap.

This light is a large departure from the Quark line in many ways, while being relatively small in form factor. Couple this with the fact that the user can reconfigure the light in several ways, and this is quite a versatile light.

Because of its size, I would personally not carry this as an EDC light, though I have a friend who carries a SureFire light that is about the same size (though nowhere near as bright). It has however found a home on my Maxpedition Versipack, and would be super handy in a situation where I needed a lot of light.

For an idea of the size difference between the MMR-X (on the left) and the light I carry daily (on the right), here they are side by side:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

You can see that the MMR-X is substantially larger, but is actually about the original length of the unmodified QT2A light. The head of the light is also substantially larger than the Quark series. Here is another side by side with the MMR-X on the left, and my modified QT2A-X light on the right:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

This is actually a good thing, as the XM-L series emitters that the MMR-X lights use needs a bit larger reflector than the XP-G emitters. This gives the MMR-X a good amount of throw, but make no mistake; the MMR-X is more of a “floody” light, it just also has some pretty good throw. On its highest output, I find that at about 200m the light reaches a point that it does not illuminate the target in a useful manner. At intermediate distances of about 100m though, the MMR-X illuminates the target very well.

One of the key selling points of this light is the incredible 800 lumen maximum output. Yeah, about that.

Let me say up front that I do not have the equipment necessary to test lumens. I believe that the light does put out 800 lumens (and not at the emitter like some manufacturers measure it either). It puts out 800 lumens. For one minute. Then it ramps down to 400 lumens over the next 30 seconds. I don’t know how I feel about that. On the one hand, and let’s be perfectly honest here, if I need 800 lumens, I’m really only going to need it for about 30 seconds, if that. My use case for 800 lumens is as follows:

Oh look, a bad guy! What do I do? I know!

  1. Blind him with 800 lumens to the face! Is he still a threat? Yes?
  2. Burst of three to five, center mass.
  3. Still a threat? No. Don’t need 800 lumens anymore.

Now that’s pretty straight forward. But. On the other hand, what if maybe there is more than one bad guy? What if it’s not clear that I need to shoot them at all, and the light is doing a pretty good job of preventing them from becoming more of a threat/ controlling them? For how long? Is 400 lumens enough?

Don’t get me wrong. If you have ever looked into a 200+ lumen flashlight (guilty), you know that it is not a pleasant experience, and that you are not going to be doing it for very long, and you are definitely not going to be doing anything other than trying really fucking hard not to be looking into the light anymore.

So end result for me is that I really don’t need anything more than a 200 lumen flashlight. Is more better? You betcha. Does it help with illumination at distance? Logic would dictate that it does, so just be aware that you only get that 800 lumens in 1 minute bursts. If that is a limitation that you can accept, great, no problem. Besides, you really shouldn’t be conducting search and rescue ops with a pocket sized flashlight all by your lonesome in any event.

Just be aware that in Strobe, SOS, or Beacon (High) mode, you get the full 800 lumens all the time.

Now, this light offers five distinct operating modes. What does that mean? It means that you can choose how the light functions (and what modes you have available to you), at least you have five different choices.

Modes:

  1. Max output
  2. Max – Low (this is the default as it comes out of the package)
  3. Max – Strobe
  4. Low – High – Max – Strobe
  5. Moonlight – Low – High – Max – SOS – Strobe – Beacon (high) – Beacon (low)

I feel that (of the five modes offered), the default was a solid choice, and what I keep my light in. I do however take issue with how you have to change the operating mode.

To change the operating mode, the light must be plugged into the USB charger (which is included), and must be using the included “special” 18650 battery. This means that for all intents and purposes, you are stuck with whatever mode you select when you set this up. You can change it, yes. But you’d better be in a place where you have the charger with you. Is that a deal breaker? Not really for me, but I broke this down to several of my friends, and they didn’t like it. Of the five guys I talked to about it, they said they would not purchase this light for that alone. Are they serious? I’ll find out if any of them mysteriously acquire one.

I’ve mentioned before that I like the Quark Tactical interface. I like it in large part because I can select from any of the two operating modes of the light. Personally, I find Max – Moonlight the most useful. If I need a middling amount of light, I have other flashlights, but after over a year of carrying a light daily that was set at MAX – Moonlight, I have yet to need anything in between.

With the MMR-X, once you have the “special” 18650 battery, and the light plugged into the USB charger, you then close the switch on the tailcap, and the light will pulse a number of flashes (between 1 and 5) to indicate the currently selected mode. double clicking the tailcap will advance the operating mode to the next mode. So let’s say that you click the cap once, and it pulses once, pauses for about a second, and then pulses again. That means that the light is in mode 1 (Max). If you then doubleclicked the tailcap, it would advance to mode 2 (Max -Low, the default). Double click it again, and it would advance to mode 3 (Max – Strobe). To select the mode, you either unplug the USB cable, or you turn the light off).

I feel like FourSevens missed a huge opportunity here. If you’re going to require that I have the thing plugged into a USB cable to change the modes, why not just require that I plug it into a computer, and then allow me to configure the operating mode directly using the computer? Like I don’t know, maybe MAX – Moonlight? Or Moonlight – SOS, or… well whatever I want?

This frustrates me, because this is so close to an awesome feature, and then we get all of the pain, and none of the gain. Dammit. Oh well, there is always the next version, or model.

I know you noticed the “special” 18650 battery bit. Ok here is the deal. FourSevens decided to include some sort of modified 18650 cell in this light.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

I don’t know what exactly makes it special, but it is a pretty decent capacity cell, and notice how long it is, definitely longer than other protected 18650 LiPo cells that I have seen (I just happen to have a bunch of the things laying around).

And for $15, it’s not terribly expensive as far as protected 18650 LiPo cells go ($15 isn’t bad). I’m kind of a battery geek (simply because of how much I’ve had ot learn about them to use them safely), and I’m kinda intrigued about this cell. I have a feeling that it is not only protected, but it has some sort of charging circuitry in it as well.

The users manual (which is not very well laid out) does claim that you can run other 18650 cells in the MMR-X, but I’m skeptical simply because the manual states that to do you, you need to remove some plastic piece from the tail cap and insert it into the light before using other 18650 cells in the light. There is no plastic piece that can be unscrewed from the tail cap that I can find.

Then again, this was an advance model for review, so something may have changed and simply not been changed in the manual. In any event, the light did work with all of the other 18650 cells that I tried it with. I tried the light with a variety of 18650 cells, including protected ICR cells, unprotected IMR cells (I don’t know if this is kosher with 47’s, or what kind of safety circuitry is in the light, so you should probably clear that with support before doing it, but it does work), and a couple of unprotected hybrids.

Unfortunately, FourSevens states in the manual that using anything other than the “special” 18650 disables the USB charging capabilities of the light (as well as disabling your ability to change configurations). Due to the nature of LiPo batteries, I didn’t feel the need to burn down my house, or destroy one of my 18650 cells and the light to test that. Again, another missed opportunity.

For me the take away on the whole battery thing is that you are kinda stuck using their “special” 18650 cells if you want to be able to change the modes of the light and use the USB charger. That’s not a terribly big problem because they are warrantied for 12 months, and relatively inexpensive, but something about the loss of functionality unless you use their battery just chaps my ass. It smacks of vendor lock-in, and I hate that.

Not a deal breaker, but not ideal either.

Once of the other major selling points of the MMR-X is that it is user configurable, physically. From the factory, the light ships with a “tactical” style configuration. Momentary on exposed tail switch, and crenelated strike bezel. I’m of mixed feelings when it comes to strike bezels.

Take a look at this bad boy:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Yeah, that’s gonna leave a mark. Unfortunately, it is also going to leave a mark in a DA’s mind if you ever had to use it, and to a jury you might as well tape a saw blade to the front of your light. I’m just saying that I don’t particularly feel the need to find out what kind of criminal mayhem charge using that thing might bring. Luckily for me, FourSevens was nice enough to include a basic flat bezel in the box, and I switched that out most riki-tik.

They also include parts to change out the tailcap to make it a flat tailcap, which gives the light the ability to tail stand, which is useful if you want to use it to light a room (or for a rave in an abandoned warehouse if you use the strobe mode).

One thing that I do want to touch on is craftsmanship.

Whatever shortcomings this light may have, fit and finish isn’t one of them. Everything fits well, tolerances are tight, knurling lines are crisp (the knurling could be a bit more grippy for my tastes, but that’s a trade off). The USB charging port was an area of concern here. Shouldn’t have been. The connection is tight, the enclosure is well sealed, and the threads on the protective covering are corase, and squared off, so the probability that they will be damaged or degrade over time is very low.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The red light that you see above indicates that the light is charging, and will turn green once the charging is complete. I do not know if there is cut off circuitry in the light, so you should never leave this light on the charger once charging is complete. LiPo batteries tend to fail in spectacular ways when they over charge, and there is no venting on this light.

Essentially the danger is that when LiPo batteries fail, they tend to do so in a fairly… spectacular manner. It would essentially turn the light into either a grenade or a rocket, depending on what is stronger, the threads on the end cap, or the aluminum body. I’m not saying that failure is likely, but LiPo cells are industrial cells and are not like the alkaline batteries that most consumers are used to dealing with. If you are going to run lights with them, you should do a little bit of research about battery safety and just don’t take any unnecessary risks with them.

Over all, the light is well made, and it does exactly what FourSevens says it does.

Summary

MANUFACTURER:  FourSevens
MODEL:
Maelstrom MMR-X Regen
POWER SOURCE: ICR 18650 cell (x1)
COLOR:
 Black
MSRP: 
$100
WARRANTY:  
10 year manufacturer’s warranty on everything that comes in the package (except batteries, the 18650 has a 12 month warranty)
VERDICT:
A good performing flashlight, I just can’t help but see missed opportunities when I look at this light.

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Gear Review: FourSevens QTLC-AA flashlight

I recently reviewed my latest EDC flashlight the FourSevens QT2A-X, and was extremely pleased with the light. The folks at FourSevens were kind enough to send me one of the new Quark Tactical QTLC-AA lights for evaluation, prior to its release. This light is the same as the QPL-AA I reviewed yesterday, but with the Tactical interface UI, so this review is going to be substantially similar to yesterdays (since I tested the lights at the same time and in the same ways).

This light is an upgrade to the existing QTLC using the new CREE XP-G2 emitter. The use of the Gen2 XP-G provides a 20% increase in output (on all output settings) while maintaining the same runtime as found in the QTLC light. In my testing the light set to maximum output ran for approximately 55 minutes while maintaining a high output. At 90 minutes it was still outputting approximately 50% of the high setting. At the time of this post, FourSevens is one of only a handful of vendors to have a light to market using the new Gen2 XP-G emitters.

The QTLC and QTLC-AA are powered by a single CR123A battery.

Specifications for the QTL-AA from the FourSevens website:

DIMENSIONS Length: 3.2 inches/Body diameter: 0.86 inches/Head diameter: 0.86 inches/Weight (without batteries): 1.4 oz
LED EMITTER CREE XP-G2
VOLTAGE RANGE 0.9V-4.2V
SPOT BEAM Angle: 11°/Diameter at 3mm: 580mm
FLOOD BEAM Angle: 71.9°/Diameter at 3mm: 4.3M
BRIGHTNESS LEVELS Moonlight: 0.2 lumens, 15 days, 1ma / Low: 4 lumens, 2.5 days, 10ma / Medium: 22 lumens, 13 hrs, 50ma / High: 85 lumens, 2.7 hrs, 250ma / Maximum: 205 lumens, 0.8 hrs, 700ma
SPECIAL MODES Strobe: 205 lumens, 1.6 hrs / SOS / Beacon: 0-205 lumens, 12 hrs
REFLECTOR Textured
BODY MATERIAL Type-III hard-anodized aircraft-grade aluminum
BEZEL MATERIAL Type-III hard-anodized aircraft-grade aluminum
LENS MATERIAL Impact-resistant glass, sapphire coating, antireflective coating
INCLUDED ACCESSORIES Battery, lanyard, split ring for keychain attachment, spare o-ring, holster, finger-grip

The output levels listed are for the Gen1 XP-G emitter. As the FourSevens site notes, the Gen2 XP-G emitter will increase the output at all levels by 20%, so that gives an output of ~246 lumens on the maximum setting. That’s a pretty bright light for running on a single CR123A cell.

As was the case with every FourSevens light I’ve handled, the specs list a spare o-ring, and the retail packaging I was sent for evaluation actually contained two. I continue to be impressed with FourSeven’s commitment to providing good customer service.

In my evaluation of the light, I tested it against the modified version of the QT2A-X that I carry daily. I found the QTLC-AA to be extremely comparable to my EDC light in output (which puts out somewhere around 280-300 lumens). I suspect that my EDC light’s use of the XM-L emitter (which is more “floody”) accounts for the perceived narrow difference between the two given that the XP-G2 emitter is more “throwy”.

Speaking of throw, I also tested the QTLC-AA’s rated maximum distance of 107 meters against the QT2A-X’s rated maximum of 112 meters by using the lights to illuminate some homes that are being built almost exactly 100 meters from my property line (give or take 10 meters). The difference in the emitters is very evident at this distance. The QTLC-AA’s XP-G2 emitter delivered enough light to clearly illuminate the driveway and garage door of the target house. The QT2A-X’s more “floody” XM-L emitter illuminated the entire front of the target house, and part of the neighboring house (I wonder if the neighbors noticed the test?).

Let’s look at some beamshots for comparison (white balance set at 5400K for all shots, distance to target: ~6 feet, click to enlarge):

Fenix LD10 – 120 lumens

FourSeven’s QTLC-AA at ~246 lumens

Modified FourSevens Qt2A-X at ~300 lumens

As I mentioned in my review of the QT2A-X, I prefer the Tactical interface UI offered in Quark lights. While it would be nice to have ready access to all of the available light modes, I really only need two: low and maximum.

Like the QPL, the QTLC-AA got rather hot after running on maximum output for ~5-7 minutes. The laser thermometer showed that the body of the light was averaging ~125F, which was pretty uncomfortable to hold tightly.

Having no pocket clip, the QTLC-AA fit well in the bottom of my jeans pocket, though I hould see this being an issue with slacks (as was the Fenix LD10). Also lacking the ability to tailstand is going to make this one light that you can’t set down and use unless you have a completely level surface (or something to hold it down with). However I found that if you use the finger attachment that comes with the light, you can get it to remain fairly still when on curved surfaces.

One thing to note is that the QTL series lights come in two minor variants, the QTL and the QTLC line. The difference is that the QTL lights have a non removable pocket clip attached to the head, and the QTLC does not have a pocket clip at all. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I would definitely prefer a removable pocket clip to either configuration, but with the short length of the light I understand why they do it this way. I definitely do not prefer the clip being attached to the head of the light, as this results in the lens being exposed when the light is clipped to a pocket (again, I’m just nitpicking).

While I’m nitpicking, the model numbers of FourSevens lights are kind of confusing, and FourSevens hasn’t made that any better by tacking an -AA suffix onto a model number for a light that is powered by CR123A batteries. You’ll notice that the QTLC-AA page on the FourSevens site lists the model as simply QTLC, but the model number on the box is shown below:

QTLC-AA retail packaging

Summary

MANUFACTURER:  FourSevens
MODEL:
Quark Tactical QTLC-AA
POWER SOURCE: CR123A  (x1), RCR123A (x1)
COLOR:
 Black
MSRP: 
$59.00
WARRANTY:  
10 year manufacturer’s warranty on everything that comes in the package (except batteries)
VERDICT:  
I think this is a worthy upgrade to the QTLC, and the 20% increase in output is definitely worth the $8 price difference between the QTLC and QTLC-AA.

Gear Review: FourSevens QPL-AA flashlight

I recently reviewed my latest EDC flashlight the FourSevens QT2A-X, and was extremely pleased with the light. The folks at FourSevens were kind enough to send me one of the new Quark Pro QPL-AA lights for evaluation, prior to its release.

This light is an upgrade to the existing QPL using the new CREE XP-G2 emitter. The use of the Gen2 XP-G provides a 20% increase in output (on all output settings) while maintaining the same runtime as found in the QPL light. In my testing the light set to maximum output ran for approximately 55 minutes while maintaining a high output. At 90 minutes it was still outputting approximately 50% of the high setting. At the time of this post, FourSevens is one of only a handful of vendors to have a light to market using the new Gen2 XP-G emitters.

The QPL and QPL-AA are powered by a single CR123A battery.

Specifications for the QPL-AA from the FourSevens website:

DIMENSIONS Length: 3.2 inches/Body diameter: 0.86 inches/Head diameter: 0.86 inches/Weight (without batteries): 1.4 oz
LED EMITTER CREE XP-G2
VOLTAGE RANGE 0.9V-4.2V
SPOT BEAM Angle: 11°/Diameter at 3mm: 580mm
FLOOD BEAM Angle: 71.9?/Diameter at 3mm: 4.3M
BRIGHTNESS LEVELS Moonlight: 0.2 lumens, 15 days, 1ma / Low: 4 lumens, 2.5 days, 10ma / Medium: 22 lumens, 13 hrs, 50ma / High: 85 lumens, 2.7 hrs, 250ma / Maximum: 205 lumens, 0.8 hrs, 700ma
SPECIAL MODES Strobe: 205 lumens, 1.6 hrs / SOS / Beacon: 0-205 lumens, 12 hrs
REFLECTOR Textured
BODY MATERIAL Type-III hard-anodized aircraft-grade aluminum
BEZEL MATERIAL Type-III hard-anodized aircraft-grade aluminum
LENS MATERIAL Impact-resistant glass, sapphire coating, antireflective coating
INCLUDED ACCESSORIES Battery, lanyard, split ring for keychain attachment, spare o-ring, holster, finger-grip

Click to enlarge

The output levels listed are for the Gen1 XP-G emitter. As the FourSevens site notes, the Gen2 XP-G emitter will increase the output at all levels by 20%, so that gives an output of ~246 lumens on the maximum setting. That’s a pretty bright light for running on a single CR123A cell.

As was the case with the QT2A-X, the specs list a spare o-ring, and the retail packaging I was sent for evaluation actually contained two. I continue to be impressed with FourSeven’s commitment to providing good customer service.

In my evaluation of the light, I tested it against the modified version of the QT2A-X that I carry daily. I found the QPL-AA to be extremely comparable to my EDC light in output (which puts out somewhere around 280-300 lumens). I suspect that my EDC light’s use of the XM-L emitter (which is more “floody”) accounts for the perceived narrow difference between the two given that the XP-G2 emitter is more “throwy”.

Speaking of throw, I tested the QPL-AA’s rated maximum distance of 107 meters against the QT2A-X’s rated maximum of 112 meters by using the lights to illuminate some homes that are being built almost exactly 100 meters from my property line (give or take 10 meters). The difference in the emitters is very evident at this distance. The QPL-AA’s XP-G2 emitter delivered enough light to clearly illuminate the driveway and garage door of the target house. The QT2A-X’s more “floody” XM-L emitter illuminated the entire front of the target house, and part of the neighboring house (I wonder if the neighbors noticed the test?).

Let’s look at some beamshots for comparison (white balance set at 5400K for all shots, distance to target: ~6 feet, click to enlarge):

Fenix LD10 at ~120 lumens

FourSevens QPL-AA at ~246 lumens

Modified FourSevens Qt2A-X at ~300 lumens

One of the interesting differences between the two lights is the Pro interface UI in the QPL-AA (the QT2A-X uses the Tactical interface UI). While it is nice having ready access to all of the light’s modes, I find the lack of a momentary on feature very disappointing (this is not a shortcoming of the light, it is the intended design of the Pro interface UI).

The FourSevens website has this to say about the Pro Interface:

The interface used in our Quark Pro lights. Lights with the pro interface have quick and easy access to the Max and Moonlight modes by tightening or loosening the head of the light. The other modes can be accessed by momentarily depressing the tailcap button while the light is on. The mode sequence is determined by whether the head is tightened or loosened.

What I also noticed is that when you turn the light off (in say, maximum mode), and then activate it again right away the light comes on in the next mode (strobe mode given the starting point of maximum mode). I do not like this. It is not intuitive, but then that is why they offer the light in models with two different UI’s.

A feature of the Pro series that I like better than the Tactical series is the ability to tailstand. The tailcap switch on the Pro series lights is flush with the body of the tailcap, allowing you to set the light on a flat surface for use as a “torch”. This is quite handy, and I had not realized how much I missed the feature on my EDC light. I’ve previously mentioned that the Quark series lights are like legos in that the parts are all pretty much interchangeable, so I briefly considered ordering a Pro series tailcap for my EDC light, but the loss of the momentary on feature outweighs the gain of the tailstanding feature (for me anyway).

The only surprise this light gave me was during my runtime testing. After approximately 5-7 minutes of the light running on the maximum setting, I picked it up to move is to a more convenient location and noticed it was HOT. I grabbed a laser thermometer and the entire body of the light was reading right around 130(F) degrees. It was hot enough that it was uncomfortable to hold the light tightly, as you would if you were using it to search an area. The ambient temperature in the house was 68 degrees (yes, I like living in an icebox). I’ve never owned a single CR123A light this powerful, so I don’t know if this is normal or not. Just something to keep in mind.

One thing to note is that the QPL series lights come in two minor variants, the QPL and the QPLC line. The difference is that the QPL lights have a non removable pocket clip attached to the head, and the QPLC does not have a pocket clip at all. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I would definitely prefer a removable pocket clip to either configuration, but with the short length of the light I understand why they do it this way. I definitely do not prefer the clip being attached to the head of the light, as this results in the lens being exposed when the light is clipped to a pocket (now I’m just nitpicking).

While I’m nitpicking, the model numbers of FourSevens lights are kind of confusing, and FourSevens hasn’t made that any better by tacking an -AA suffix onto a model number for a light that is powered by CR123A batteries. You’ll notice that the QPL-AA page on the FourSevens site lists the model as simply QPL, but the model number on the box is shown below:

 

Summary

MANUFACTURER:  FourSevens
MODEL: 
Quark Pro QPL
POWER SOURCE: CR123A  (x1), RCR123A (x1)
COLOR:
 Black
MSRP: 
$59.00
WARRANTY:  
10 year manufacturer’s warranty on everything that comes in the package (except batteries)
VERDICT: 
 I think this is a worthy upgrade, and the 20% increase in output is definitely worth the $8 price difference between the QPL and QPL-AA.

Gear Review: FourSevens QT2A-X flashlight

Like everything in life, tools evolve. I’ve been carrying a flashlight every day for about 15 years in some form or other, and about 10 years ago I decided to get serious about it.

I started with a SureFire 6z combat light (which by today’s standards is huge for the paltry 60 lumens it put out, considering it was powered by 2 CR123A batteries). A few years later I bought an iNova light (I can’t even remember the model) that put out 100 lumens (now powered by 3 CR123A batteries). The quest for more power was on.

About two years ago I discovered Fenix flashlights, and felt that my quest had come to an end when I bought an LD10. Here was a light that was small enough to fit in my pocket that put out 120 lumens (I got the special “Q” model with the Cree R5 emitter) and it could run on a single AA battery (this was a major coup, as I have tons of things that use AA batteries)!

All was well until I found the FourSevens website. They had lights that could outshine my Fenix LD10 by a considerable margin, but the single AA powered QTA light only puts out 109 lumens, so I felt that I was still at the pinnacle of technology with my Fenix LD10. Boy was I wrong.

So about two months ago I was telling a friend about how superior my LD10 was when he pulled out a FourSevens QT2L and lit up the night to the tune of about 230 lumens. I was impressed, here was a light that was about the same size as my (now severly underpowered) Fenix LD10, but it ran on two CR123A batteries. I’d decided that I wanted to move away from the CR123A batteries, as they’re just too expensive, and not common enough for my tastes, and I mentioned this to my friend. To which he replied “well then just get a QT2A, it runs off of two AA batteries and for like $20 you could put an L series body on it and get the same output with a single CR123A, these things are like legos.”

Say what? So I decided to take another look at the FourSevens lights, and when I saw the 280 lumen QT2A-X, I just had to have one. Sure, it’s about one and three quarters inches longer than my Fenix LD10, but it puts out almost three times as much light, and it runs on AA batteries. Here are the technical specs for the QT2A-X from FourSevens’ website:

DIMENSIONS Length: 5.8 inches/Body diameter: 0.86 inches/Head diameter: 0.86 inches/Weight (without batteries): 2.2 oz
LED EMITTER CREE XM-L
VOLTAGE RANGE 0.9V-4.2V
SPOT BEAM Angle: 11°/Diameter at 3mm: 580mm
FLOOD BEAM Angle: 71.9?/Diameter at 3mm: 4.3M
BRIGHTNESS LEVELS Moonlight: 0.3 lumens, 15 days / Low: 2.7 lumens, 3 days / Medium: 24 lumens, 20 hrs / High: 115 lumens, 2.5 hrs / Maximum: 280 lumens, 0.8 hrs
SPECIAL MODES Strobe: 280 lumens, 1.6 hrs / SOS: 280 lumens, 3 hrs / Beacon: 0-280 lumens pulse, 8 hrs
REFLECTOR Textured
BODY MATERIAL Type-III hard-anodized aircraft-grade aluminum
BEZEL MATERIAL Type-III hard-anodized aircraft-grade aluminum
LENS MATERIAL Impact-resistant glass, sapphire coating, antireflective coating
INCLUDED ACCESSORIES Batteries, lanyard, split ring for keychain attachment, spare o-ring, holster, hand-grip

Unboxing

Here is the package as I received it:

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The front flap is held closed with magnets, and gives a good overview of most of the light’s features:

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Here is a shot of the contents (the specs list a single spare o-ring, mine had two):

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A shot of my light unboxed:

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Close up of the tailcap:

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And a shot of the CREE XM-L emitter:

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The User Interface

FourSevens has two interfaces in their Quark line, the Pro Interface and the Tactical Interface. The Pro Interface gives the user quick access to the lowest and the highest settings based on whether or not the head is tightened all the way, and other modes can be accessed by cycling through them with the tail switch. The Tactical Interface can be programmed with any two modes based on whether or not the head is tightened all the way, no other modes are immediately accessible.

Why I chose the QT2A-X

I Would liked to have used the Pro Interface (it would be nice to have easy access to all of the other modes that the light supports), but the Pro series tailcaps do not allow momentary on use of the light. The flashlight I carry is primarily a weapon. It’s primary use is to blind an attacker sewing confusion and creating disarray, use as an actual lighting implement is secondary by a long shot. That being my primary concern, it is extremely useful to be able to momentarily activate the light without locking it on all the way. Had I put more thought into it, I probably would have purchased a QP2A-X (the Pro Interface version of this light), and a Tactical tailcap for another $9. I don’t mind, I found that with the Fenix LD10 I only really ever used the highest and lowest settings anyway, however I am glad I got the Tactical Interface because the lowest setting on the QT2A-X is too low to be really useful (though nice to have in an emergency situation where battery life becomes a major concern).

The QT2A-X uses the CREE XM-L emitter, which compared to the XP-G is a bit more “floody”. If you want more “throw” to your light, the QT2A uses the CREE XP-G emitter which puts out slightly less light, but has a tighter focus, so it delivers that light in a much tighter beam. As I mentioned, my primary use for this light is as a weapon, and I want to be sure that an assailant gets the full power of the light in their eyes as soon as I activate it. Having a wider “hot spot” in the beam is an advantage at the ranges I am concerned with.

I also mentioned that the light was a bit larger than my Fenix LD10, which I found to actually be a good thing that I’ll cover in another post.

Conclusion

The FourSevens QT2A-X is a much higher quality light than the Fenix LD10, and the interchangeability of the Quark line’s parts makes it far more versatile than any other flashlight with similar features. The build quality on the QT2A-X is superior, with the model markings on the head actually being machined into the head, so even when the print wears they will still be readable (unlike the markings on the LD10).

The QT2A-X has nice crisp knurling in all the necessary places, whereas the Fenix LD10 only has knurling on the tailcap (and since the head must be turned to change modes, this never made much sense to me). The knurling is just aggressive enough to make the light grippy, but not aggressive to the point that I feel like it is going to tear up my pockets. You can see the difference in the quality and placement of the knurling in these photos:

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The QT2A-X can be purchased directly from FourSevens for $78, but I found mine at another online retailer for about $65 which brings this light into the same price range as the Fenix LD10.

Summary

MANUFACTURER:  FourSevens
MODEL:  
Quark Tactical QT2A-X
POWER SOURCE:  AA cell (x2)
COLOR:
  Black
MSRP:  
$78.00
WARRANTY:  
10 year manufacturer’s warranty on everything that comes in the package (except batteries)
VERDICT:  
In my opinion the QT2A-X is the top of the line flashlight for my needs, at a price that is almost unbelievable.

Gear Review: SureFire EP4 Sonic Defenders Plus Hearing Protection

I’ve been shooting for more than 20 years, and in all those years I’ve only shot without hearing protection three times (two of which were unexpected defense against animals). The one time I intentionally shot without hearing protection was the last time I intentionally shot without hearing protection. Even outdoors in a large open space, a 9mm handgun is loud. Most of the time I shoot with either some cheap over the ear muffs that I bought like 15 years ago, or with in the ear foam plugs.

Standard foam earplugs

It’s not that I’m a huge fan of the foam plugs, they’re just really convenient. I have a couple plastic bottles of these that I bought (I think at WalMart) maybe 10 years ago, and still haven’t run out. I’ve thought about buying active hearing protection, but I hate having more gear that requires batteries. I first came across the SureFire Sonic Defenders quite accidentally (thank you Amazon), and decided to try out a pair (hey for $13 even if they were total crap it’s still not a big loss).

The first issue I ran into is that of sizing. These are sized based on the size of the Concha Bowl of your ear (which is not something I’ve had occasion to measure in the past, but is certainly a fun phrase to use). Now, I eventually found the sizing instructions on SureFire’s website, but if you are buying these from a physical store, there is a handy sizing chart on the back of the package:

SureFire EP4 sizing chart

And apparently they are correct, the medium size does seem to be a fit for most people I’ve asked (and yes, I did walk up to some people and ask “hey, can I measure your ear?”). I also fall into the majority, so I ordered the medium ones.

The next thing I noticed is that there are actually two different types of these, the EP3 and the EP4. The difference is that the EP3 has two baffles on the part that goes inside your ear canal, where the EP4 has three. The SureFire site states that people with larger ear canals would probably prefer the EP4, but I decided to get the EP4 based on my theory of more = better (I’m pretty sure that’s actually a general constant of the universe). The Sonic Defenders are offered in either black or clear, which is more of a flesh like color (which I opted for).

This is what showed up in the mail a couple of days later:

SureFire EP4 Sonic Defenders packaging

Not the smallest packaging, but at least it came in an envelope, not a ginormous cardboard box. The EP4’s are given an NRR of 24 (with the stopper plugs inserted), and the literature describing the actual testing states (accurately) that NRR is based on continuous noise, not impulse noise (like gunfire). It goes on to state that SureFire has conducted independent testing, and found the EP4’s to protect against impulse noise as well as continuous noise (I’d hope so, you’re marketing these things to shooters).

Alright, so are these just another earplug with a funky design or what? The short answer is not really. The Sonic Defenders use a Hock’s Noise Breaker filter which SureFire claims allows you to hear sounds below 85db at their normal volume, but will reduce noise above 85db to a safe level (below 85db), with up a 34db reduction (so I’m assuming that it is still possible to damage your hearing if you’re standing next to a Howitzer during firing).

Upon opening the clamshell packaging we find some (very thorough) literature, and that there is another smaller clamshell package protecting the actual product which is intended to be used as a protective case. It’s flimsy, but way better than just jamming these things into your pocket or range bag.

Surefire EP4 package contents

There are instructions for adjusting the EP4’s for depth of the ear canal or for use with a radio headset (no noise reduction when used with a radio). The EP4’s are color coded so that you can easily identify which ear they go in (red = right).

SureFire EP4 Sonic Defenders

The actual EP4 units

I was surprised at how small these are. Here is a picture of one with a quarter for size comparison:

SureFire EP4 size comparison

Just slightly bigger than a US quarter

They are also very soft and flexible, so ear fatigue should be minimal for prolonged use. Getting the EP4’s seated in my ears was much easier than I imagined it would be, if you’ve ever worn a Jabra bluetooth headset it’s much the same; you insert the flanged part into the ear canal, while gently rotating the outer flange to be oriented with the Concha Bowl of your ear (I knew I’d get to use that phrase again!). My more = better theory proved correct in the case of baffle count and the EP4 fit is very comfortable in my ear, with a nice seal in the ear canal.

One thing I’ll point out is that (especially with the “flesh” colored ones) the EP4’s are very difficult to see in someone’s ears. If you are shooting somewhere with a Range Officer that vigorously enforces that you wear hearing protection (which is a good thing), you’ll probably have to pull one out to prove that you are wearing ear protection.

SureFire EP4 inserted in ear

Nearly invisible while worn

And that’s from side on at a range of about two feet. If someone is not perpendicular to your ear, they’re probably not going to know that you have these in.

But how do they work? The short answer is brilliantly.

After inserting these there is a noticeable reduction of ambient sound, but you can still hear normal volume conversation fine. I tried these out at my desk with some music playing quietly (you couldn’t hear it from 5 feet away without ear protection in), and could still hear it (though it was notably quieter).

Much better than standard foam earplugs. With the stoppers in things are much quieter, just like wearing foam plugs.

I started at the range shooting a Ruger MkII in .22LR with the stoppers in, and the EP4’s worked fine. Eventually I worked up enough confidence to remove the stoppers, and I have to say, they work. Shots were muffled to well within manageable levels, but normal conversation was easily understandable.

I moved up to a Glock 17 in 9mm (again with the stoppers in), the EP4’s performed just like the standard foam plugs I usually use. With the stoppers out, while perceptibly louder the report was still well within comfortable levels.

Moving up to a Saiga rifle in 7.62x39mm (again with stoppers in), the EP4’s again performed on par with the standard foam plugs. Removing the stoppers produced results comparable to those while shooting the Glock; the report was notably louder, but still not uncomfortably so.

I didn’t have anything else with me (and the range was deserted), so that was the extent of my testing.

SureFire notes that these are intended to last for 3-6 months of regular use, and the units come with a 90 day factory warranty. I’ll let you know how they hold up in a few months.

Summary:

MANUFACTURER:  SureFire, LLC
MODEL:
EP4 Sonic Defenders Plus
SIZE:
Medium
COLOR:
Clear
MSRP:
$14.95
WARRANTY:
90 day manufacturer’s warranty
VERDICT:
Based on my experience with these, I’d definitely recommend these to anyone looking for something between foam plugs and active noise reduction hearing protection.