Warning: pic heavy, as usual.
Welcome to the latest iterations of the venerable Tiablo A9.
This is somewhat nostalgic for me – I was one of the first CPFers to buy the inaugural Tiablo light, the A8 (which shared a common build to the A9) back in the summer of 2007. It is pretty rare to see a physical build remain this constant in the flashlight world. Build-wise, these lights haven't changed very much – but we do have some new emitters to take a peak at …
FYI, I did a review of the "Special Edition" XP-G R5 version back in 2010.
Here are the specs for the two new versions to be examined here, the XR-E R2 "Throw King" and XM-L U2 "Flood"
Common Build - Manufacturer Reported Specifications:
- Circuit: High efficiency DC-DC regulator
- Working Voltage: 2.7V to 10V
- Battery: Two CR123 batteries or One 18650 Li-ion Battery
- Switch: Tactical 2 Stage Output
- Reflector: SMO Reflector 42mm x 36mm Deep
- Lens: Toughened ultra clear glass with AR coating
- Waterproof: IPX-8, beyond 5m depth
- Size: Head diameter 45mm, Length 158mm
- Body: Hard Anodized Type III Aerospace Grade Aluminum Alloy T7075
- Weight: 155 grams, excluding battery
- Gift Box includes lanyard, spare O-Rings, and spare glow in dark tail cap button.
- LED: CREE XR-E R2
- Output: High 280 Lumen @ 1A for 2.6 Hours
- Low 65 Lumen @ 300mA for 8.5 Hours
- MSRP: ~$90
- LED: CREE XM-L U2
- Output: High 556 lumen @ 1.8A for 1.9 Hours
- Low 65 lumen @ 100mA for 26 Hours
- MSRP: ~$100
The lights come in the standard Tiablo hard cardboard box, with magnetic closing flap. Inside you find the light with attached rubber grip ring (removable), manual, warranty card, GITD boot cover, good quality wrist lanyard, and extra o-rings.
From previous reviews, Tiablo had also sent me their common aspheric head:
Like the rest of the build, the aspheric optic head hasn't changed from the earlier version first released in 2008.
From left to right: 4GREER 3100mAh 18650; original Tiablo A9 XR-E Q5; A9 XP-G R5 "Special Edition", A9 XR-E R2 "Throw King", A9 XM-L U2 "Flood", A60G (no battery extender).
All dimensions are given with no batteries installed:
Tiablo A9 Original (XR-E Q5): Weight: 152.7g, Length 158mm, Width (bezel) 45.1mm
Tiablo A9 Special Edition (XP-G R5): Weight: 154.6g, Length 158mm, Width (bezel) 45.1mm
Tiablo A9 Throw King (XR-E R2): Weight: 155.1g, Length 158mm, Width (bezel) 45.1mm
Tiablo A9 Flood (XM-L U2): Weight: 156.7g, Length 158mm, Width (bezel) 45.1mm
Xeno G42: Weight: 224.3g, Length 161mm, Width (bezel) 46.6mm
4Sevens X7: Weight 146.9g, Length: 151.5mm, Width (bezel): 38.7mm
Scorpion V2 with Turbo Head: Weight: 188.3g, Length: 171mm, Width: 41.0 (bezel), 37.0mm (tailcap grip ring)
As previously mentioned, the external build of the A9 hasn't changed much over time. Except for the new emitters, they look pretty much the same. That said, early A9s had a choice of anodizing colors (black or natural), and a different contact plate in the head. Tiablo informs me that the seal for the front lens has been improved on newer models (they claim to have tested it up to 22m under water without failure). Anti-shock has also been improved, and they report the light survives 7m drops onto concrete.
As always, the lights feature anodized screw threads, allowing for tailcap lock-out.
Lettering is sharp and clear, bright-white against the black matte background. Anodizing is type-III (HA).
The tailcap spring is encased in a gold-plated contact cover. Lights can tailstand due to the raised tail ring. Switch is a reverse clicky (but a single-stage forward clicky switch used to be available).
I personally like the rubber grip ring - I find these types of rings to be easiest on the fingers.
The emitters are all well centered on my samples, thanks to the white centering plastic disc.
To best understand these lights, you need to look directly at the business ends. Below are the head-on photos of the emitters, for each model, including the earlier versions:
A9 XR-E Q5 Original (2008)
A9 XP-G R5 "Special Edition" (2010)
A9 XR-E R2 "Throw King" (2012)
9 XM-L U2 "Flood" (2012)
Also, there seems to be a small dark spot on the emitter dome of my XM-L U2 version. This is not as dark or as pronounced as it appears in the pic above, and it doesn't seem to affect the beam.
Scroll down for beamshots from each light, including with the aspheric head.
UPDATE March 25, 2012: Since the headshots above are not all that clear, I have taken macro shots of the actual XR-E emitters. It seems the "Throw King" XR-E R2 is using the standard EZ1000 die (and not the smaller EZ900 that I originally suspected based on simple visual inspection).
Don't be fooled by the yellow vs silver background around the dies in the shots above (that is just an artifact of which Cree manufacturing plant the emitter comes from - it has no effect on output). I have measured the relative characteristics, and the lights above have identically-sized emitter dies, - both consistent with the standard EZ1000. The EZ900 would be ~10% smaller, based on published macro comparison shots.
This hasn't changed over the models. With the standard reverse clicky, click and release for the light to come on in Lo mode. Click and release again for it to advance to full power. Click again to turn off.
Although there is a "dual-mode DC-DC regulator" circuit in the head, the Lo output mode is actually controlled by a resistor in the tailcap. This is rather rare today – but was quite common in the early days of digitally-regulated LED lights (i.e. when the A9 was originally launched). A side effect of keeping the build consistent, but it does seem very reminiscent of the mid-2000s …
For a more detailed examination of the build and user interface, please see my video overview:
Video was recorded in 720p, but YouTube typically defaults to 360p. Once the video is running, you can click on the configuration settings icon and select the higher 480p to 720p options. You can also run full-screen.
There is no strobe/SOS mode. There is also no PWM, given the resistored Lo mode.
White Wall Beamshots:
And now, what you have all been waiting for. All lights are on 1x18650 (AW Protected). Lights are about ~0.75 meter from a white wall (with the camera ~1.25 meters back from the wall). Automatic white balance on the camera, to minimize tint differences.
First, with the smooth reflector heads:
The "Throw King" XR-E R2 clearly has the best throw of the group. The 2010 "Special Edition" XP-G R5 had reasonable throw with a very clean beam (i.e. without the rings of the XR-E versions). The "Flood" XM-L U2 version has the least throw with the broadest hotspot, as expected.
And now, with the aspheric head. For these shots, the lights are ~5m away from a while wall, with the camera ~2m away from the wall. Placement and focusing is only approximate, but it will give you the general idea of how these lights compare.
The XR-E R2 "Throw King" is clearly the best throwing member of this family, under both reflectored and aspheric heads. The XM-L U2 "Flood" is the highest output, with the least focused throw.
For outdoor beamshots, these were done in the style of my 100-yard round-up compendium 2011 review. Please see that thread for a discussion of the topography (i.e. the road dips in the distance, to better show you the corona in the mid-ground).
First off, how does the aspheric head compare to standard reflector? Let's check it out on the best throwing specimen, the "Throw King" XR-E R2:
Obviously, that's a focused amount of light with the aspheric.
How do the various A9 models compare with each other, on either their reflectored and aspheric heads?
Like with the white-wall beamshots, you can see the difference in the hotspot size/throw. But I think these outdoor shots also help you compare the overall spill patterns in the "real world". Keep in mind though, these shots are under-exposed compared to what I see in real life with these lights (i.e. for the reflectored shots, the spill is brighter in person, and the hotspots aren't as clearly defined)
Finally, here is a comparison of the A9 XM-L U2 compared to the Thrunite Scorpion V2 Turbohead:
As you can see the A9 "Flood" XM-L U2 actually throws as well as the "Turbohead" version of the Scorpion V2 ...
All my output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, a la Quickbeam's flashlightreviews.com method. You can directly compare all my relative output values from different reviews - i.e. an output value of "10" in one graph is the same as "10" in another. All runtimes are done under a cooling fan, except for any extended run Lo/Min modes (i.e. >12 hours) which are done without cooling.
I have recently devised a method for converting my lightbox relative output values (ROV) to estimated Lumens. See my How to convert Selfbuilt's Lighbox values to Lumens thread for more info.
Throw/Output Summary Chart:
My summary tables are reported in a manner consistent with the ANSI FL-1 standard for flashlight testing. Effective March 2012, I have updated the Max Output ANSI FL-1 lumen estimates to represent peak output measured at 30 secs (my earlier gray tables were based on a later time point for Max output). Please see http://www.flashlightreviews.ca/FL1.htm for a discussion, and a description of all the terms used in these tables.
Note that all throw measures above were taken at 5m and extrapolated back to estimates at 1m. 1m actual measurements would give you highly misleading results, as the beams of thrower lights don't have time to converge by that distance.
For your viewing pleasure, I have added throw results for the aspheric lens on 1x18650, on all four A9 models.
For these, I provide two numbers – the "average" reading I obtained around the centre of the beam (the first number), and the absolute highest reading I obtained (the second number). If you "hunt around" the border areas of the die image segments, you can get regional pockets that score much higher. Having both numbers gives you an idea what to expect.
Max output is slightly higher on 2x battery sources than 1x18650, but the difference typically isn't that noticeable in terms of output. Where it may make a bit of difference is in the aspheric throw values (sorry I didn't do aspheric head measures on the higher output 2x battery sources). But you can reasonably extrapolate approximate lux numbers by the relative changes in the reflector throw values.
Reported ANSI Fl-1 lumen specs seem quite accurate (I presume these are based on 2xCR123A). Note that the output level of the Lo mode is variable, depending on battery source used (i.e. lower output on 1x18650, higher output on 2xRCR).
As you can see, overall A9 throw is quite good for the output level, on all emitter types. The "Throw King" XR-E R2 is definitely the best thrower, especially on the aspheric head, where you can expect to see ~50-60K lux@1m on 1x18650 (likely ~60-70K lux@1m on 2xRCR).
Although the "Flood" XM-L U2 is billed as flood light, it actually has among the best throw of any of my 1x18650-class XM-L lights at the moment (i.e. comparable to the Xeno G42 or Thrunite Scorpion V2 Turbohead).
Basically, the overall performance characteristics of the A9 haven't changed much between the XR-E and XP-G versions. Output and/or runtime increased, but otherwise the lights are not very different on these measures. It is really the throw differences that matter here (scroll up for the Summary Tables).
The "Flood" XM-L U2 is a different matter – output-wise, it is much brighter than the XP-G or XR-E lights. This light appears to be driven to a respectable level for its class.
Note that the lights are all fully regulated on Hi on 2xRCR/CR123A, but appear to be largely direct-drive on 1x18650 (at slightly lower initial output levels). This is not uncommon on multi-power lights.
On Lo, the lights' tailcap resistor produces a classic slowly dropping off pattern on 1x18650. I have only tested a couple of lights, given the runtimes involved. Note that the resistor reduces the output on Lo by differing amounts, depending on the battery source used (again, scroll back up the Summary Tables).
In keeping with its older design, the A9 is a single-stage circuit that uses a resistor for its Lo mode. This is less efficient than most modern multi-stage circuit designs. It is also more variable, as the resistored-Lo output level will vary depending on the battery source used (i.e., depends on the input voltage).
Light always comes on Lo first. A second click is required to advance to Hi, with a third click to turn off.
Although the "Flood" XM-L U2 light has a bright and wide spillbeam, it actually has excellent throw for this class of light.
The Tiablo A9 has a long history here as one of the more popular inexpensive thrower lights. Although there are a few other long-standing members that can match or beat it on pure throw (plus some newer lights), you do get a couple of new emitter options in these latest "Throw King" and "Flood" iterations.
Overall build is unchanged from the "Special Edition" XP-G R5 I reviewed back in 2010 (which was itself a minor updating of the original 2008 version). The A9 has always been a reasonably solid light, popular for its simplicity and ease of use. That said, the presence of a tailcap resistor for the Lo mode may be a surprise to many here who are used to modern circuit-controlled multi-level lights. It's been about 4 years since I've seen a mainstream light use a resistor for Lo. But it gets the job done, and my testing shows the performance is actually reasonable.
The "Throw King" uses the XR-E R2 emitter, which is the highest output bin for this emitter. This combination will you give you excellent throw. However, my sample seems to use the standard EZ1000 die - the smaller EZ900 die would give slightly improved throw with the aspheric head. Also, while the A9 is not driven quite as hard as some other lights in this class, the >21K lux@1m on 1x18650 (50-60K on the aspheric head) is still quite good. On 2xRCR, you can expect >25K lux@1m (or ~60-70K on the aspheric head).
The "Flood" XM-L U2 is a bit of a misnomer in some ways. As it uses the same relatively large reflector as the other lights, it actually has quite good throw. In fact, the reflectored peak throw is actually one of the highest I've seen for an XM-L light in this class. That said, it does provide for a wide and bright spill, so the "flood" title may not be so far off. The output level on Hi is certainly quite respectable for the class.
These new emitter options for the venerable A9 are welcome. Overall build hasn't really been updated in some time, but both new emitter options performed well in my testing, and could well meet your needs if you are looking for a simple two-stage light in either class.
The A9 "Throw King" XR-E R2 and "Flood" XM-L U2 were provided for review by Kit-Tronics.com on behalf of Tiablo.