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Thread: Arc6 Review

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    *Flashaholic* carrot's Avatar
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    Default Arc6 Review

    Arc6 Review

    a hopefully comprehensive review

    by carrot



    Like many of you I am always on the lookout for my next illumination fix. Recently Arc Flashlight's Arc6 went on sale, and, being in my ideal configuration (1x123, multi-stage, twisty, pocket clip) I snagged one.

    Peter Gransee, proprietor of Arc Flashlight, collaborated with Don "McGizmo" McLeish in creating the Arc6. During the two years it was being developed, the Arc6 (then called the "New ArcLS") cultivated an almost legendary status. It was to be the be-all, end-all of flashlight EDC's. It was said to be a light that that offered extreme brightness, but also ease of carry and ruggedness. Indeed, the Arc6 has a lot to live up to, considering its bright heritage, the ArcLS, which lay claim to being the first Luxeon Star flashlight, the Arc4+, the first truly programmable flashlight, and the McLux-III PD, the legendary custom flashlight coveted by many.

    When the Arc6 finally came out in summer 2008, it entered the world with an unforgettable beginning, a light whose "production" was seriously limited by the (un)availability of Lumileds' K2 TFFC LED's, and caused quite a ruckus due to the "eBay fiasco" which I will gloss over.

    Fast forward to today, and I have an Arc6 from a true production run, using a Seoul Semiconductor P4 LED, which is a suitable replacement for the K2, although possibly not as satisfying.



    The Design
    The Arc6 has some undeniable heritage from one famous custom flashlight designer and maker, Don "McGizmo" McLeish. ArcFlashlight does not try to hide this fact, and indeed, the Arc6 is fully thread-compatible with McGizmo's series of McLux PD (piston drive) lights. On the other hand, they don't mention it in any of their literature either, which I find strange, given that the PD design and system is a huge selling point.



    The Arc6 is diminutive, even compared to its PD bretheren. The body is slightly slimmer, and the head much shorter, making for a positively tiny light that still fits comfortably into a fist for momentary activation while easily disappearing into a pocket. The Arc6 comes in two variants, Guarded and NG, signifying the body design. The Guarded, which I picked, is a little bit larger, but offers a tail flange (for a reliable grip) and pocket clip, both of which I consider practically essential features. The NG body is as small as they could make it, and is best for those who wish to pocket their lights, rather than clip them. You can buy whichever body you didn't get originally from Arc's website for about $50.

    The overall design of the Arc6 is very good, with Peter Gransee of Arc Flashlight taking many subtle features I enjoy on Don's custom lights and adding his own "flair" to the overall package. For instance, the flaired tail flange and body ribs make it easy to depress the button for momementary activation, and together the pocket clip and head scallops make it easy to twist the head of the light one-handed for constant activation. Peter's own major addition to the design, the ribbed tail flange, makes it even easier to activate the light when slippery or wet.



    Those of you familiar with the Piston Drive system will readily agree with me that it is one of the best switching mechanisms being used in flashlights today, and, subsequently, offers one of the best user interfaces for a two-stage device. Those of you so unfortunate to have not used the Piston Drive system may try to compare it Surefire's two-stage switch, found on the A2, L1, L2, K2, LX1 and LX2, which is functionally similar but mechanically different. The Piston Drive is electronically and mechanically superior, and features no rubber or silicone tailcap boot to wear out or tear.



    Rather than re-state what has been written many, many times, I will simply quote Surefire's words, and Don McLeish's own. More thoughts on switches may be read at my flashlight guide.
    Quote Originally Posted by SureFire
    Press for momentary-on low-output LED, press further for momentary-on high-output LED, twist for constant-on at either level
    Quote Originally Posted by McGizmo
    The piston is an electrically conductive sleeve that houses the battery riding on a contact spring. The environmental seal is achieved by an o-ring riding at the lower part of the piston making contact with the inner wall of the body. The piston is exposed at the rear end of the light (see pic above) and serves as momentary switch. The cool thing about this very complicated and innovative switching method is that it allows for a fully regulated 2-stage switching at the driver board location with the perfect electrical path (see diagram) in a completely anodised light body for maximum protection from harm while retaining the perfect seal from the environment. There is no electrical path through either the body or the head and both are completely anodized with no breaks in the plating.


    The Arc6 uses a chromed aluminum piston, and, combined with its thinner body, results in a light that feels a good deal lighter than its McLux bretheren. The piston is machined to allow the end-user to insert a tritium vial, which increases a flashlight's findability in the dark when turned off. I have heard a lot of complaints about the piston spring in the Arc6 and I agree with all of them. The pressure required to activate the light is too high. I was able to adjust the spring tension by removing it (with a bent paper clip) and compressing it. I replaced the spring into the piston by using the hollow body of a broken Zebra F301 pen to push it into place, which happened to be the exact right size to place the spring.

    The thinner body brings a welcome decrease in weight and increase in pocketability, though structural integrity may be compromised compared to the much thicker walls of the McLux PD lights that the Arc6 is based on. In practice, the Arc6 appears to be quite durable enough though in theory it is not as sturdy as its predecessors. I have already dinged the tail of my Arc6 a few times, at the point where the aluminum is thinnest, but they are small dings and only noticeable in good lighting. The anodizing is fantastic, glossy and as durable as Arc has come to be known for, but it has some uneven coloration where you can see the grain of the metal, which is normal but may bug some. I personally like it.

    Titanium is also used in the Arc6, and it is put to very good use here. The pocket clip and bezel ring are both titanium, and titanium's properties are leveraged for the best. Titanium is a springy metal, and makes for an exceedingly good pocket clip, one that is both forgiving and strong, allowing for excellent pocket retention. The pocket clip is identical to those on the McLux PD, and tucks the flashlight safely away deep inside your pocket where it is safer from getting lost or misplaced. Unfortunately, a small oversight has placed the pocket clip a little too close to the edge of the flashlight's tail, which causes the Arc6 to be a little unsteady when tailstanding, though it still does a fine job of doing so. My sample of one had an extremely tight pocket clip, which was rectified by flexing to loosen it up.

    The titanium bezel of the Arc6 is a little on the thin side, but appears to be large enough to provide adequate protection to the sapphire crystal window. It remains to be seen whether the bezel itself is too thin to resist permanent deformation due to impact damage. Onto the sapphire crystal window itself (sometimes mistakenly called a "lens") -- I am told that it is AR coated on both sides, and sapphire is a very hard window material, often used on high-end watches due to its scratch resistance. The window is pressed by the bezel against a nice, large o-ring, which should help prevent the crystal from breaking on hard impacts. This is exactly the same design as on my McLux PD lights, which I have constantly abused for the past three years with no failure. I have one complaint with regard to the titanium bezel, which is that it has some very sharp edges and really should have been chamfered for a $200+ flashlight that borders on custom prices.

    The soldering job on the light is a bit messy, and it does not seem to affect reliability or performance, but it is worth noting.

    Making light
    I would be much amiss if I didn't write something about how the Arc6, besides being nice to look at and hold also happens to make light.

    The Arc6, despite having a very small bezel, has a surprisingly deep reflector, and has a wonderful beam. I'm unfortunately not setup to do beamshots, but the beam is exceptionally smooth and clean, free of artifacts or rings, and has a very smooth transition from hotspot to spill, making it a joy to use both close up and at distances. It does not excel at throw, since the bezel is small and not very deep, but it does an admirable job anyway. I consider this flashlight to have a perfect beam.

    The Arc6 is also programmable, which many consider to be a benefit. I don't, because I don't generally use programmable flashlights, but it is very nice to be able to pick the output levels you want your flashlight to be at. Like other PD lights, the Arc6 offers two stages, and adds an ingenious little hack that allows the light to emulate a third, virtual stage. If the flashlight is off, and you press the button all the way, this is akin to slamming the brakes on a car and the Arc6 will activate the virtual stage, which, according to Peter Gransee, should be used as a sort of "turbo" mode. The Arc6 distinguishes between the virtual stage and the second stage by how quickly you press the button -- if you take less than half a second to go from off to stage one to stage two, it activates the virtual stage. This hack can be disabled, but is a nice nod to those who believe a third stage is necessary.

    I have stage one set to level one and stage two set to level three. The virtual stage is set to level seven, not so much because I require the brightness but for the novelty of it. On level seven with an RCR123, the Arc6 appears to put out more light than the Ti Quark 123 (Cree XP-G R4) on turbo but almost imperceptibly so. I find this a bit disappointing, since the Arc6 draws 3A on level seven. According to Gransee, seven is a bit of an exception and does not regulate the same way as the other six levels. The other levels should be significantly more efficient, although I did not test them thoroughly yet. Using an RCR123 is necessary if you wish to make the most out of the higher levels, and I am told that IMR RCR123's (which I have not yet obtained) are even better.

    Programming the Arc6 is an absolute piece of cake. I won't go into exact detail here since the instructions are given with every Arc6 and also provided online, but I'll provide the basic jist of it: you twist the light into constant activation on low and press the button repeatedly. It will enter a menu where you first select a stage to modify, and then you select the output level you wish for that stage. It will save the level, or you can choose to exit without saving.

    Conclusion
    I admit that the Arc6 is a little disappointing after all the hype. Perhaps this is why it has received so little discussion on the forums. It does have its flaws, but overall it is a solid light. Attention to detail in the finishing process could be a bit better, but on the other hand there are many more lights out there that get far more things wrong than the Arc6 and are more popular.

    It is a solid light that anyone could be proud to carry, is well-designed and well-constructed, and should serve many years of (ab)use. I like mine, and I would buy another should I need to replace it, but I doubt it will replace my usual EDC, one of Don's PD lights. I recommend it, although I believe Gransee's asking price of $250 makes it a hard sell since there are so many excellent lights at nearly half the price.

    It's no McLux but it's still an excellent light. Even with my nit picks, I still love the damn thing.
    Last edited by carrot; 12-10-2009 at 03:12 AM.
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    *Flashaholic* carrot's Avatar
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    reserved?
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    Flashaholic* Moka's Avatar
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Awesome Review Carrot... Great Job...
    Making me consider one of these from the B/S/T...

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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Really cool looking light. Because of the style of it I thought it was massive until I saw the pictures with the 123 cell to compare!

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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Nice review carrot .

    The Arc6 has quickly become my primary EDC light.

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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Great review, Carrot.

    I bought an Arc 6 during last years sale. The light is really nice and performs very well, but in my opinion has one fatal flaw, which you also referenced: the spring is too darn tight. I find it painful to push the piston. I know a member was selling lower tension springs on CPF, but I missed that (and in any case the lower tension spring should not have to be an aftermarket fix).
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    *Flashaholic* carrot's Avatar
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Do try to fix the spring tension yourself. I have heard some recommendations to clip the spring but you might see if you can just compress the spring a bit between pliers to soften it up. As I noted it is easy to remove using a bent paper clip and similarly easy to replace using a hollow pen tube. After that much needed modification my enjoyment of this light has increased significantly. I believe you may also be able to source lower tension springs from The Sandwich Shoppe.
    Last edited by carrot; 12-10-2009 at 09:42 AM.
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    You really have to take the Arc6 onto a darkened path through the woods to be able to appreciate Level 7. It might not look much more impressive than Level 6, but there is a noticeable difference between the two under the right conditions. My Arc6 (prior to being modded with a neutral-white Luxeon) could shine a wall of light in the woods like nothing else I own.

    Also, a lot of the added value of the programmable driver isn't apparent unless you mod the light. While the 7-level triple-mode isn't remarkable by itself, the fact that the brightness and tint of each level can be adjusted after assembly means that not only is each Arc6 exactly the same as the next, but pretty much any single-die emitter can be installed and the driver can be tweaked appropriately.

    I'm not sure why your light had a sharp bezel; mine certainly doesn't. Must just be a natural variation in machine-work quality.

    Last edited by fyrstormer; 12-10-2009 at 09:56 AM.

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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Quote Originally Posted by carrot View Post
    Do try to fix the spring tension yourself. I have heard some recommendations to clip the spring but you might see if you can just compress the spring a bit between pliers to soften it up. As I noted it is easy to remove using a bent paper clip and similarly easy to replace using a hollow pen tube. After that much needed modification my enjoyment of this light has increased significantly. I believe you may also be able to source lower tension springs from The Sandwich Shoppe.
    The problem with conical springs is that the smaller coils at the tip contribute just as much height as the larger coils at the base, but because the actual amount of wire is shorter the smaller coils don't flex as much. Clipping off one or two of the smallest coils and then bending the wire end so it doesn't gouge the battery will make a big difference in the spring's responsiveness. Compressing may also work, but if it works it's because those smaller coils are more likely to exceed the limits of their elasticity when the spring is squeezed flat, which means the smaller coils will get permanently squished, and the spring will still be shorter than it originally was, though the method is different. I suppose you could try compressing it and then clip it too if compressing it isn't enough.

    Also, McGizmo is selling low-force springs for 3/$1 + S/H, if you ask nicely. They aren't silver-plated like the stock Arc6 springs are, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything in real life.
    Last edited by fyrstormer; 12-10-2009 at 10:13 AM.

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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Really nice review! I have himmed and hawed about an Arc6 for some time and appreciate the very detailed and honest evaluation. I ended up going for a Milky Creemator which is not exactly the same thing but in the same ballpark.

    I do like the virtual stage as I think with the kind of bandwidth current emitters can handle two stages is no longer really enough for how I use a light given that I like a low low for nighttime navigation which means you really do need a general use and high output choice on top of that (and I like my E1L for example but it definitely doesn't take full advantage of the emitter). It is a clever workaround for a design that is rather clearly built around the two stage interface.

    I admit that the spring and the P4 have kept me from pulling the trigger - the spring for all the reasons stated and the P4 since there are emitters that will withstand the 3A draw more efficiently. I sure with the K2 had been the production choice although Fyrstormer has successfully modded his to a K2 with IIRC positive results in terms of output and you certainly don't worry as much about driving that emitter hard on level 7.

    I admit that despite those items, I remain intrigued... the size/bandwidth remains a pretty compelling package.
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Excellent review! Very comprehensive and descriptive. Moving it to the Reviews section.
    Resistance is futile...

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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Carrot,

    Nice review. My ego dictates that I comment that the flutes in the tail of the pack were my idea and design. One of Peter's design goals was that of minimum weight and these flutes fit such a goal. They also enhance the rotational grip of the light and were a concession to the added mass of the guarded pak over the NG pak which was Peter's preference at the time (as I recall).

    The real feat in this light's design, IMHO, is the electronics itself which is all Peter's and the more complex and challenging packaging of it in the reduced size of this light. There is little wasted space in that head and the milled bulkhead allowing for component intrusion is just one example.

    There is a softer spring that was brought to the community's attention some time ago by a member and my apologies for not remembering who it was. In private, I have offered to a few people seeking these that I would send them 3 pieces if they would mail me a SASE along with a buck. I consider the softer spring an improvement for all of the PD based lights I have tried it with but I would add that the lighter force required for activation also means less force available for returning the piston to the off position.
    Build Prices .... some mods and builds (not 4 sale) "Nature can be cruel- but we don't have to be."~ Temple Grandin

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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Looks good except for the 3 amps into a P4 Ack!

    I think a XP-G R5 would be about the same brightness at 1.2 amps (400 lumens) and would pull the heat off the die much better. Yes, the light has been in design for two years but it costs $250 and needs to update the LED. At least bring the drive level down, the K2 is gone so no need to hammer the LED at 3 amps.

    So now that the Arc6 is out, when will a new Arc LS arrive? Make mine a single AA, XP-G R5 4500K warm with the Piston Drive please. Keep the titanium bezel and tail ring, just make it thicker since I tend to be very harsh on my EDCs.
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    You know as I recall one of the design goals (buried somewhere in the Arc LS thread in the Arc forum) was an upgrade path - not in the Dereelight pill sense but that the parts would be made in a manner that modding would not be a miracle of science to accomplish. Fyrstormer's mod took him IIRC about an hour which isn't bad considering and I don't recall him noting any huge stumbling blocks. A K2 for a P4 swap is to my understanding relatively easy, however.

    but Peter did recalibrate it for the K2 which is also kind of cool and certainly verges on the custom light territory.

    I wonder if there would be any additional interest in a new spring group buy?
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    A correction needs to be made: based on my conversations with Peter when I was selecting a new emitter for my Arc6, Level 7 allows a current flow of ~1.4 amps @ 3.7 volts, not 3 amps @ 3.7 volts. As far as I know, there wasn't any LED that existed when the Arc6 was designed that could withstand 11 watts! Level 7 is 5.2 watts, which is at the upper end of what the K2 and the P4 can handle, but 11 watts would burn them out in short order.

    The hardest part of modding my Arc6 was physically removing the old P4 (which destroyed it) and using a Dremel router bit to remove the old epoxy. I also had to nibble away at the metal immediately adjacent to the emitter before the K2 would fit, but that wasn't hard in itself because it was the exact same thing I had to do to remove the epoxy. It's possible I installed the emitter backwards, I dunno; maybe it would've fit just fine without any nibbling on the heatsink plate if I'd thought to flip it 180 degrees.

    Regarding using a Cree emitter, I haven't tried that specifically, but based on my recent retrofitting of a Cree light with the spare SSC P4 reflector from my Arc6, I have to say the beam looks like it would do just fine even without a Cree-specific reflector.
    Last edited by fyrstormer; 12-10-2009 at 03:31 PM.

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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Quote Originally Posted by fyrstormer View Post
    You really have to take the Arc6 onto a darkened path through the woods to be able to appreciate Level 7...

    That is so true! I field tested mine out on a misty beach outside of Crescent City CA. The Arc6's beam is a really fat cone of light. It's not quite a wall of light but it is close. I also took it camping at Lava Beds National Monument and it worked great.

    I bought mine when they 1st came out and do not regret it.

    If these lights were WWII fighters they would be the following; the Arc6 would be the Zero, a light weight warrior; the HDS/NovaTacs would be the P47 Thunderbolt, big and tough; and the McGizmo's would be P51s, "Cadillac of the Sky" (can you name the movie this quote came from and the actor?).


    Nice job Carrot!

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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Quote Originally Posted by kelmo View Post
    That is so true! I field tested mine out on a misty beach outside of Crescent City CA. The Arc6's beam is a really fat cone of light. It's not quite a wall of light but it is close. I also took it camping at Lava Beds National Monument and it worked great.

    I bought mine when they 1st came out and do not regret it.

    If these lights were WWII fighters they would be the following; the Arc6 would be the Zero, a light weight warrior; the HDS/NovaTacs would be the P47 Thunderbolt, big and tough; and the McGizmo's would be P51s, "Cadillac of the Sky" (can you name the movie this quote came from and the actor?).


    Nice job Carrot!
    The quote is from Empire of the Sun and the little boys name is Jamie Graham (I remembered the movie but admit I had to look up the characters name on IMDB...).

    I like the analogy however.
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Played by Christian Bale!

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    *Flashaholic* carrot's Avatar
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    I never said that the Arc is putting 3A to the LED, just that in one test it appeared to be drawing 3A from my RCR123.

    Can someone verify this for me?

    Also, McGizmo, I may just take you up on the offer of softer springs.
    Last edited by carrot; 12-12-2009 at 01:06 PM.
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Does this light perform better on rcr123's or imr 16340's?

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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Great review, Carrot. One of those lights I may only dream about, but now my dreams will be much more accurate.

    Geoff

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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Nice review. I just received my ARC 6 a week or two ago, and I am enamored with it. Just a fabulous light. Wonderful design, UI, beam...everything.

  23. #23

    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    A thorough review. Thanks for posting your impressions of the light.
    "The World is insane. With tiny spots of sanity, here and there... Not the other way around!" - John Cleese.

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    Flashaholic* Cuso's Avatar
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Kick-ass review. Well done. I must admit I was surprised to see a new review of the ARC6 , but still fun to read. I have been toying with an ARC6 purchase since it came out, but like most I was put off by the availability of the K2 version and I'm waaaaay past P4 emmiters.

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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    I was really interested until they went with the P4

    If it had a neutral white XP-G in it I would be really interested again

    Sverre

    PS! Nice review Carrot

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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Just curious, if one was to replace the P4 with the latest and greatest emitter without too much reflector modification, what would it be? I know that the ARC6 can put out some serious voltage so maybe a large die or multiple die unit could work?

    Regards
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    I've admired the ArcPD for awhile.
    The initial problems and fiasco turned me away immediately.
    The circuit and host are without equal in many respects. I'm not a big fan of CR123 lights but I'd make the rare exception for this light... even with the $250 asking price. However to tempt me to buy one the emitters would need to be upgraded to neutral (or "outdoor") Cree XP-E or XP-G emitters in the next couple months.

    Thanks for the review, it's nice to see such a potentially good light get attention.
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    We need beamshots!

    Very nice informative review!

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    *Flashaholic* carrot's Avatar
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Just a quick update...

    I have been carrying the Arc6 since I received it and I still really like it. I have submerged it in water and used it in heavy rain and snow on several occasions in this winter weather and it has performed to my expectations.

    I did notice that it seems to have inductor whine on all but level 1 and I find this very annoying for reading in bed but in daily use I do not notice it. So, this is not the best bed-reading light, but besides that it has been nothing short of fantastic. I do go through rechargeable batteries like crazy on this thing though, mostly since I use the turbo "because it's there."
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    Default Re: Arc6 Review

    Fantastic review Carrot and it's even better reading it now that I have a couple Arc6's. My first on has the P4 in it and I couldn't resist when I got a chance at a K2 model.

    The P4 is a very nice user friendly light that with it's 3 levels should do for most anyone in the real world, but for those who want to surprise yourself, the K2 really makes the Arc6 come to life.
    Marduke - Solitaire...I've seen matches which are brighter AND have a longer runtime. 光陰矢の如し

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