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The Steam Filled Room: That’s Hot! [PHOTOS]

Grae Stafford Freelance Photographer
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Temperature control vaping is the latest leap in electronic cigarette technology. But what is it, why are people so excited about it, and do you need it?

Temp Control - Grae Stafford 066The first thing to note about temp control vaping is that it’s a huge step up on what real cigarettes can do. Aside from killing you and bankrupting you (although that has more to do with people like Mike) cigarettes are pretty basic physics: A flame burns tobacco and makes smoke. That’s really about all there is to it. There isn’t a whole load of customization. Until recently, e-cigs were very much the same in that respect: e-liquid over a heated coil makes steam.

In any case, there were plenty of things you could customize. You could regulate the nicotine level of your liquid, you could play with your flavoring. Once the computer chip revolution began, e-cig mods started springing up with voltage controls and wattage controls.

The “Watt Wars” were on, and it was all about the clouds. Then sub-ohming showed up, which enabled even more clouds and vapers rejoiced.

Typically coils have always been made of Kanthal wire. Kanthal conducts electricity, is generally forgiving and works just fine, but it is a blunt tool. It’s very much like a light switch. It’s either on or it’s off. With the arrival of more advanced chip technology in more advanced “TC” mods, other materials that hadn’t been unusable as e-cig coils due to their tolerances now are (namely Nickel and Titanium). In a nutshell, these new “TC” mods work by a mathematical algorithm, they don’t measure the temperature of the coil directly, but the algorithm tells the mod when to fire and keep the coil at a consistent temperature.

So, that’s the history lesson and science behind temp control vaping, but is it actually any good in the real world? To help me answer this, the incredibly generous guys over at Direct Vapor sponsored some gear to do a thorough side by side test covering all the bases.

We’re going to test pre-built temp control atomizers vs its standard brethren on both Kangertech’s Subtank Plus and Aspire’s Triton. Then we’re going to have a bit of fun and break out the dripping atomizers. Dripping has always been the way to go if you want depth of flavor, so will temp control make that any better?

To aid in all this discovery Andres from Direct Vapor hooked me up with wire, a sweet 4 post Mutation X V4 drip tip and a Tesla 160 mod with a pair of eFest batteries to run it all on. While we’re on the subject of shout-outs, here’s a hat tip to Fadi at my local vapor store, M Street Vape, for supplying me with my favorite vapor for this test –“Lola.” A beautiful blend of hibiscus tea and strawberries running a 3Mg nicotine level that will be the constant in all the tests.

So, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

First up, the tanks. My go-to for the longest time was the Kanger Sub-tank plus. It’s well-built, solid and I’ve never had any major issues. The only thing I will say is that the airflow to the Kanger is a little labored. It’s nothing to do with the design of the tank (there are three huge holes in the bottom of it) but rather the coils. Kanger runs its coils laterally inside the attys. Aspire runs its vertically. In other words, you breath over a Kanger coil, you breath through an Aspire one.

With a standard atomizer, the Aspire romps home over the Kanger. The clouds that the Triton throws out are deep, solid and richly flavored. It’s like comparing a go-kart to a Corvette. The Kanger didn’t stand a chance. Perhaps it will fare better when we switch to temp contr …. Nope! It’s toast.

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Let’s take a moment first and talk about what the experience is like for temp control vaping. Normally you regulate how hard the e-cig hits with the watts. More watts equals more steam. But as the watts go up, so does the temperature of the steam. I usually run my Triton at 50 watts and my drip tip at 65 watts. Any more than that and the steam starts to get uncomfortable. A couple of times I’ve run my mod too hot and in the morning I’ve woken up and it feels like I’ve been gargling molten rocks.

Now with temperature control you get just that. You can dial in the temperature you want the steam to be, and then adjust the joules to regulate how much steam you get. I like a potent cloud so I will pump the Joules all the way up to 50 and start at a base of 212F.

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What’s it like?

Weird. That’s what it’s like. There are billowing clouds of rich flavorful steam but the heat that you normally get from 50 watts on a standard atomizer is gone. You can feel it immediately. I wouldn’t say it’s exactly like swallowing in fog on a misty morning because there’s more substance to it than that — and even at 212F it’s hardly frigid — but when you breathe out that’s exactly how it feels. As this huge cloud or vapor envelopes your head it feels like you are in your own private screening of “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

The Kanger tries, and the temperature effect is there, but the Aspire with its vertical coil and dual stage airflow system not only breathes better but actually seems to magnify the temperature effect of the steam. The coil fires as you draw on it. Cool air is pulled through the holes in the base, the steam is channeled up through the coil chamber and then up to the top fill cap where the second airflow stage is located. Here more cool air is mixed with the 212 degree steam, cooling it further. I don’t have numbers, but with the top airflow holes closed the difference in the steam is noticeable.

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I sound like I’m beating up on the Kanger but I promise you I’m not. The reality is the coil arrangement really inhibits the subtanks’ breathability. Kangertech seems to be aware of this though, because the Subtank Mini is now running a redesigned atty and also a redesigned re-buildable head. So here’s hoping that will fix the Subtanks Plus’ woes.

But, you may ask, what happens if you go the other way in temp control and push the temperature up? Let’s just say that I only did it once on my Kanger. It wasn’t fun. It was almost as bad a smoking a real cigarette. However with Aspire it’s a different story. With the air flow system wide open it’s actually quite pleasing humming along at 600F. The steam is warm, no doubt about that, but in a pleasing way. I can imagine when it snows this winter in D.C., puffing on this as I trudge about will actually be rather nice. Which leads me to another thing that’s really cool about temp control: You can pair flavor to temperature to situation.

For example. It’s a lazy mid-summer Sunday after brunch with your buddies. Sitting in the shade on a patio, what could be better than firing up a piña colada liquid running at a positively refreshing 212F? Or perhaps you’d prefer the other way. You’re hurrying home in mid-December, it’s snowing and cold but you can run a maple apple pie liquid at a toasty 600F.

All of which means the first round goes to the Aspire, and temp control also gets a big thumbs up. The flexibility to change temperature independently of vapor production is not just a cool party trick, but it opens up huge possibilities of customization.

On to the drippers.

Here I’m going to have to beg, dear reader, for your indulgence as we discuss coils. There is a myriad of coil platforms, designs and types of wire, all of which I will not be able to cover (or indeed build). To keep some sort of uniformity, I’m going to stay simple and equal as possible. Five strands of Kanthal vs. 5 strands of Nickel.

The Mutation X V4 is a striking dripper that comes in multiple parts. There is the deck that has a deep juice well where there are four posts (two positive, two negative). The deck comes with its own airflow. Three holes of increasing diameter are drilled out at right angles emerging underneath where your coils will sit. Next comes the barrel, this slides down over the coil deck. Drilled through the barrel is a series of air holes that line up with the coils. Then there is the top cap. This thing wouldn’t look out of place in a “Predator” movie with is edges carved away like claws.

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But its design is for a function. With the black plastic drip tip installed you can spin the top cap inside of the barrel, revealing more or less air holes. This is smart. What’s smarter still is that the air flow feeding under the coils can be operated independently of the top cap. There is a multitude of options for you to play with and tune. The practical upshot? This is a smoke stack! Like Al-Gore-will-make-a-movie-saying-this-thing-causes-climate-change type of smoke stack.

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Take everything I said about how the temp control is different from regular vaping on atomizers and pump it up on steroids. That’s what temp control dripping is like. The real surprise is when you start plumbing the  lower ends of the temperature scale. Because the temp is cooler, deep inhales are now a doddle. Honestly you run out of lung capacity before you run out of steam. There’s no tickle, no coughing because of hot steam. Just straight, regulated steam that you can dial in according to your preference. I tend to carry both a dripper and a tank on me. The tank is for daily use, the dripper I break out when I’m relaxing and refilling isn’t an issue.

Temp Control - Grae Stafford 068The Mutation is a fantastic addition to my daily carry gear. The multitude of air-flow options give it huge range of control. Even with standard non-temp control wire the experience is eminently customizable. Add in the temp control wire and you have a package that hits all the bases.

But what of the Tesla, which has been reliably chugging away as I swap tanks and drippers off it more often than Taylor Swift changes clothes?

Well the design is gorgeous. The engraving on the front is striking without being gaudy. The entire thing is made of wood and smells like wood. Holding it and using it almost makes it feel like you are vaping out of a cigar box. The door slides into two grooves and is held in place by magnets.

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The buttons are beautifully designed and the finger grooves are a nice touch. It is fair to say, however, that the Tesla is not a Provari. Simply due to the materials it’s made out of, I wouldn’t want to treat it savagely. It will get scratched and marked if it is tossed around. This isn’t a combat mod for dragging through your daily grind. This is one of those mods you relax with and enjoy after dinner — like a good pipe in a wingback chair in a library or a drawing room with your dog at your feet, as you read the works of Dickens in a leather-bound tome.

So what is the conclusion on temp control? In the course of this review I have pressed temp control into my daily gear and when I sat down to write it, I idly put a standard atomizer into my Triton. The difference was palpable. The nuances are gone, the hit is still there but there’s no subtlety to it. I still have a few standard atomizers in packs kicking around the office as well as some standard Kanthal, but after they get used up, I probably won’t be buying any more for a very simple reason.

Temp control is still in its infancy, there are teething issues with it, just like there are with all new tech. Temp control vaping, however, IS the future and the future is bright. True, temp control mods at present don’t measure the actual coil, they work on a theoretical algorithm. (However I can see that changing in the future.) Also I found that running the coil at high temperatures (500 degrees and above) seemed to be aggressive on the cotton wick if you aren’t johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to keeping the tank filled and the cotton saturated. With home-brew coils and user-replaceable cotton I see this being less of an issue.

Just like every other technological advance, benefits will filter down over time and the whole process will be smoothed out. With a lot of mods out there now offering dual use of either Watts or Joules, and winter just around the corner, next time you go to pick up replacement atomizers, spring for a couple of temp control ones, because, as the illustrious Paris Hilton would say.


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Grae Stafford