SPARK, unlike most other manufacturers, got their start in the high-end flashlight world via headlamps. In late 2010 they launched their first products, the ST6 series headlamps, which were very well received by enthusiasts. They eventually intro'd their first flashlights in mid-April of 2011 which came to fruition two months later. In spite of the critical acclaim for their flashlights, there was no steady stream of new ones. It wasn't until April of this year that they released two new EDC lights but a month prior, the forums were abuzz due to a certain dealer thread proclaiming a pretty special light forthcoming from SPARK. Although it hit some delays, without further ado, here is the SP6:
MSRP: $399 USD
LED: 5x Cree XML Cool White T6 (this review) or Neutral White T5
Output and Runtime
- Max: 3500 lumens, 1.3 hours
- Med2: 1800 lumens, 2.6 hours
- Med1: 500 lumens, 14 hours
- Low: 80 lumens, 100 hours
6 x Panasonic CGR18650CG 2250mAh Rechargeable Li-Ion battery (included) or 12xCR123A (not Included)
SCHOTT Ultra clear anti-reflective coated lens
- Without batteries: 780g
- With batteries: 1050g
- Lengths: 270mm
- Width: 87mm
PACKAGING / CONTENTS
The SP6 arrived in a pretty large cardboard box w/magnetic flap:
(18650 battery for comparo purposes)
Additional accessories included were:
1 x 25.2V 1A charger
6 x Panasonic CGR18650CF 2250mAh LiIon batteries
1 x large & 1 x small o-ring's
1 x shoulder strap
1 x flexible key ring
1 x instructions/specs sheet
[EDIT 8/8: I was mailed the finalized User Manual for the SP6 which features specs/instructions in English on one side and Chinese on the other:
CONDENSED VIDEO SUMMARY
In order to provide you with timely info, I've created this quick high-level review of the light and will be fleshing out the rest of the review in the coming days:
And here is a deep dive of the quad-flector and emitter array:
DESIGN / FEATURES
Ostensibly, the SP6 looks just like any other large turbo-head flashlight:
While it features multi-emitters (five to be exact) they are arranged unlike any other light currently on the market; in a significant departure from the norm only one of its five emitters is forward-facing:
The single emitter with a small reflector is housed centrally at the tip of the emitter stalk:
Despite it's forward-firing position, it actually contributes to the flood and not throw as the tiny reflector doesn't collimate much of its output.
The other four emitters are arranged in a N, E, S, W pattern at the base of the stalk:
These side-firing emitters have their output directed via the "quad-flector".
They make up the bulk of the throw in addition to providing great flood as well.
It is really a piece of functional art:
The bezel on my sample was not glued down and removable allowing relatively easy access to the lens, reflector and o-ring:
The lens and o-ring are both reasonably thick.
However, it is worth mentioning that due care must be taken not to dedome any emitters during reflector removal.
Some additional shots of the front of the reflector from various angles:
The OD of the reflector measures 76.3mm (3") and is about 42mm (1.65") in depth:
The two machined grooves in the reflector fit into two prongs that helps center it perfectly:
Here is a head-on shot of the emitter stalk with the reflector removed:
I would've liked to have seen some thermal compound applied on the surfaces where the base of the reflector mates with the light since the reflector is a decent chunk of aluminum and should contribute to helping draw heat away from the stalk. I'll be adding some and running some thermal testing.
Here are various shots of the stalk:
I used a paper to surround the stalk in bottom-left shot to better illuminate it. Bottom-right shot is the stalk self-illuminated (but not color corrected).
Getting back to the bezel, there are fine threads on the inner diameter at the tip which can accomodate 82mm camera filters:
This can be useful to apply different tints and perhaps even diffusers.
There are three "fins" (counting the ends) that serve as the first set of heat-shedding elements right after the bezel; the six milled grooves also provide some anti-roll capability (albeit not the best). The throat of the light features additional heating "fins":
There are two flat surfaces around the throat on which one side features the battery indicator and the other, a rubber cover w/SPARK's logo that covers the electronic switch.
The body features six circumferential grooves with eight grooves that are milled perpendicular to them:
While there is rhombic texturing, it really isn't necessary as fingers fit between the circumferential grooves so well creating a very solid grip.
[NEW 8/18: There is no spring in the base of the head, rather it's incorporated into the battery carrier (more on this later):
While the (trapezoidal-cut) threads are identical on both ends of the tube, it was only designed to fit one way w/the longer end of the tube towards the head. If reversed, the o-ring on the head end would be exposed with the tailcap fully threaded, although the head end would now sit flush.]
The tailcap also features some machined grooves that aid with grip. There are four oblong holes to accomodate a lanyard (none is included) or (just barely) the included shoulder strap (more on this later):
The base of the tailcap is perfectly flat allowing reasonably good tailstanding.
[NEW 8/18: The included strap is mounted to either end of the light via large lobster claws:
The strap attachment clip at the head can be removed if desired.
The strap features SPARK's logo and is reasonably heavy duty; it can be extended from a minimum of 27" (68.6cm) to a maximum of 52" (132cm):
Before we get to the charging, it's worth doing a deep dive on the battery carrier, after all, it's what contributed to the delay of the release of this light. The initial carrier had plastic screws at its base:
They were intentionally used since the carrier's structural stalks are part of the electrical path in the carrier and metal screws would've created additional exposure points for the positive path. These were deemed to be brittle thus SPARK redesigned the carrier to use metal screws that are recessed to reduce the risk of shorting on them or with the central plates in the based of the carrier (where the center contact point carries the positive path and the outer circle the negative).
With the top removed, it's easy to see the electrical paths in the PCB:
The exposed brass circles (bottom-left one has screw in it for easier identification) are what mates w/the exposed ends of the carrier stalks. This is what allows the cells to all be inserted in the same direction, however, care should be taken not to nick these stalks.
There is one stalk in particular that carries the positive path from the charger up to the head:
It's identified with a small rounded white rectangle symbol on all three PCB's (center one not shown) and helps ensure that the electrical paths are correctly aligned.
The new carrier arrived w/the cells shrink-wrapped:
Per my reply below (#11), these were confirmed to be Panasonic CGR18650CG's that are considered good quality (but unprotected).
As previously mentioned, the battery carrier featues a spring on the positive side which is necessary due to the flat contact point in the base of the head. Those screws (which aren't recessed like in the base) are also potential points of contacts for shorts:
The end of the carrier features a central negative contact point with the outter circle carrying the positive path from the charger. These match to the corresponding springs in the tailcap.
While there were no fit issues w/my shortest or longest cells, I did note that in certain cases (as can be seen below) only the very tip of the springs were making contact w/the Panny cells as they didn't compress the springs as much:
L: PNSC CGR18650CG @ 65mm | R: XTAR 18700 @ 69.2mm
There is a charging port in the base of the tailcap that is protected from water ingress with an o-ring and cover. The cover features rhombic texturing that provides very good grip (and reminds me fondly of Gamera's shell; any other Kaiju fans out there?):
The plug from the charging adapter simply plugs right in.
As mentioned earlier, charging of the SP6 is handled solely by the external adapter and not through any internal electronics (the voltage indicator in the head of the SP6 isn't required to complete the charging circuitry):
The charging indicator in the corner of the charger will be green when it's first plugged in to the outlet, it will turn red while charging and back to green once charging is completed:
The charger puts out approx. 25.3v but charging will not initiate above a certain voltage threshold (see charging section for details)
There is no addiitonal circuitry in the base. It simply passes the voltage straight-through from the adapter with the larger outer spring carring the positive path and the smaller center spring carrying the negative.
As such, I elected to conduct the graphing outside of the SP6 as it simplified the connections I needed to make:
The caveat here is that the graph doesn't take into consideration the draw from the battery indicator; which at 2.1mA (stabilized) actaully isn't all that trivial during standby but not really impactful during charging:
The charger exhibits a very good CC/CV charge curve. The current starts off at a hair above 1A and will begin to decrease once voltage hits 25.04v (roughly 4.17v each cell). I had a camera on intervalometer mode taking pics every 5min and I indicated the 5 minute section (via the two vertical lines in the Voltage curve) where the indicator was last red and first turned to green which the charge time of 176min reflects and is a reasonably quick way to charge up the six Panny cells. The current at this point was roughly 80mA but doesn't terminate immediately and will continue a gradual decline until the end of my recording (which ended early since the computer went into sleep mode) where it reached 1.8mA. This is just barely enough to offset the draw from the battery indicator so it would actually start a very minute draw.
The ending voltage was 25.32v with each cell charged to 4.22v despite having different starting voltages. While it's above the suggested 4.2v, it's still within mfg specs (with allowance of +/- .05v):
This should also reinforce the notion that as long as one uses good quality matched cells (via internal resistance measurement), it should greatly reduce the likelihood of unbalanced cells during charging.
To test whether charging would reinitiate after a full charge, I conducted some "cut-off" testing whereby I either unplugged the charger from the SP6's base (but w/the charger still plugged into AC outlet) OR I cut off the voltage to the charger altogether (to simulate a power outage) and I wasn't able to induce it to charge under multiple tries using either method:
I graphed a 12 minute test whereby I used either method to see if the charger would reinitiatie charging but as can be seen above, the current never rose above 1.1mA when plugged in. As a matter of fact, it even registered a current draw of roughly 11mA once power was cutout. The perfectly vertical bars indicate where I unplugged/replugged the charger from the SP6's base and the curved increase indicates where the power was cutoff completely to the charger and it was almost as if it was charging some kind of internal capacitor before the current stabilized (the slowly fading LED charging indicator lends support to this hypothesis). Again, keep in mind that this is with the carrier out of the light so not taking into account the 2.14mA draw from the batterty indicator so overall, I feel that this is a very good and safe charger.
However,as discussed in multiple replies to this review, given charging is done in series there is a chance for unbalanced cells but as I mentioned in reply #51, and especially now seeing the charging algo (CC/CV), I feel pretty comfortable using this charger with any cells capable of handling a 1A charge rate (and again with the other caveats mentioned).]
SIZE & HANDLING
L to R: NITECORE TM11 | Sunwayman T60CS | APEX 5T6 | ThruNite TN30 | XTAR S1 | SPARK SP6
The SP6 is easily the largest light in my collection but despite the extra length required to accomodate 2 x 18650's in a row, it only eclipses the XTAR S1 by a few inches. The is due to the relatively shallow reflector (by comparison to the S1).
While the SP6 is definitely head-heavy, thanks to the fantastic grooves, it creates a very solid grip helping to offset the weight bias.
[NEW 10/31: rdrfronty sent me his SR90 for testing so I decided to take a size comparo shot to give an idea of how the SP6 stacks up:
L to R: L3 Illumination K40 | ThruNite TN31 | XTAR S1 | SPARK SP6 | Olight SR90 Intimidator
The SP6 features four output levels (Low, Med1, Med2, Max) as well as a hidden strobe mode that is all controlled through an electronic switch that operates quite similarly to the T60CS. Below is a chart indicating operation:
The lower output levels are controlled via PWM (which I'm sensitive to but I couldn't detect) and not by means of turning on individual/combinations of LED's. All 5 LED's are always on regardless of the output level selected.
[NEW 8/18: FIT & FINISH
The SP6 feels extremely substantial in the hands. However, upon closer inspection, there are minor issues that betray the feeling of utmost quality that the heft may convey. While the threads were amply greased, there was some minor grittiness; this was easily resolved on the head end of the tube w/some cleaning and new grease. On the tail end, I notice there were some minor residual burrs that contributed to the gritty feeling. Even a cleaning and decent amount of grease didn't make it fully go away.
There was anodizing missing on various areas of my sample, in which some cases were applied over with a sharpie around the switch. It's also not perfectly matched between the head, tube and tailcap:
Despite this, I do feel it's reasonably tough as I only incurred minimal markings while trying to attach the strap with the plus-sized lobster claws that was fairly difficult to install:
The same can't be said for the painted finish on the lobster claw. I suppose this is why they supplied the flexible key ring.
The laser engravings were all very nice and sharp w/out any blotchiness:
I am however concerned with the fine threads being right at the tip of the bezel which may potentially be easily damaged. It would've been neat had SPARK created a custom double-sided AR coated 82mm UCL filter in lieu of the standard lens so as to cover these threads and still have a lens in place.
The electronic switch doesn't feel as crisp as the ones I've grown accustomed to on my Zebralight's:
They have an ever so slight mushy feel that might be due to the particular rubber used but regardless of the cause, this is just my personal preference so it's totally subjective.
I did notice that occasionally when changing modes, the light would almost go into a two step change for the two medium modes. It's almost as if it went: High -> Med2(High) -> Med2 -> Med1 (High) -> Med1 -> Low. It would still stop at the correct Med2 and Med1 levels but just that it's a little confusing seeing the two-step change as I'm counting the distinct changes to determine which mode I want. Last but not least, there also appears to be a very brief pre-flash on High when activating Low mode with the SP6 off.
On the plus side I didn't encounter any issues during full-out runtime testing with or w/out the use of a fan, in which the latter case, I created this video based on carl's request to test the SP6's heat management past 5 minutes without a fan:
(please read reply #23 down below for my thoughts on this testing)]
For details of the above indoor shots and comparo vs. many other lights, please check Epic Indoor Shots Trilogy
Here are two quick shots to get an idea of the beam profile:
The relevant battery stats are provided above each runtime graph along with:
- Voltage of the battery at the start and end of the test
- Current draw as taken right before the test
- Actual runtime using ANSI FL1 (first in HR and then in M so for the OEM batteries on Max, read this as 1.9hrs OR 111min)
- NEW (as of May 2012): Lumens measured on PVC LMD @ 30 seconds
- Also for Max, captured the temperature: ambient, the head at start and the max it reached (fan was used for all bats)
The interesting thing about the SP6 is that there is a slow "ramp up" period of about two minutes or so. As you can see, it actually turns on at about 500+ lms and shoots up to around 3K (in about 2 seconds) and then slowly climbs to a max of 3180lms (on this run) over a period of about two minutes before slowly decreasing. There are distinct step downs at various stages of battery depletion. At the end of the run, I measured the ending voltage to be 16.86v which would equate to 2.81v for each cell (if all were equally discharged). There is no flashing to indicate low voltage rather the SP6 will just abruptly shut off. However, given the multiple step down's and corresponding reduction in output, not to mention the battery indicator itself, there should be ample warning when the batteries are running low. The SP6 will get fairly hot around the fins surrounding the button/battery indicator with max temp reached of nearly 133F! However, given the ample material in both the head and tube, it doesn't really transmit fully down so it can still be held comfortably if a bit warm. I didn't encounter any issues with flickering during this run but more testing to come.
[EDIT - 8/6: Just wrapped up runtime on Max w/6 x XTAR 18700's (2600mAh) and on this run, the temp nearly hit 140F at the fins (however, check the video below for testing w/out fan). Incidentally, one of the cells tripped ending the test a little prematurely thus the total time achieved was less than with the Panny cells despite the higher capacity of the XTAR's. Lumens achieved was slightly higher but still short of claims.
The interesting bit is that despite the tripped PCB on one cell, the light was still able to run. While the carrier seems to be wired in series (6S1P) there is a redudant positive path in the base of the carrier. Further more, upon removal of the cells, I measured the voltage of the five non-tripped cells to be: 3.23, 3.4, 3.25, 3.27, 3.3 for a total of 16.45 which is close to the ending voltage for the Panny with 6 cells (on a subsequent run, I measured ending v of the 6 cells to be: 2.96, 2.66, 2.79, 2.59, 2.91 & 2.87 for a total of 16.78). I will do a deep dive on the carrier to figure out the exact routing path since the tripped cell was coincidentially in the one slot that allowed it to still run on 5 cells (more to come on this).]
[NEW 8/18: The Med2 run features one of the more unusual graphs on a LED light as it continues the trend of a long drawn out gradual ramp:
It'll turn on at roughly 1600lms and then increase to about 1700 at the one minute mark and then continue this slow increase up to a max of 1870 at the 25min mark. This very slow 170 lumen increase will not be visible to the naked eye (especially when drawn out over that duration) however, given it's not touted as a feature, I'm not certain what to make of it. It does earn the distinction of being able to pump out 1800+ lumens for nearly three hours while only running moderately warm.
The SP6 has been an absolute delight performance-wise. It offers an outstanding combination of output and throw created by it's unique "4+1" quad-flector which is a marvel to look at. It accomplishes this in a form factor that's not terribly large (however it's on the edge of what I'd personally consider carrying around). Based on what I graphed, the charger utilizes very good CC/CV charge algo and is reasonably safe in that I wasn't able to get it to reinitiate charging after the cells were fully charged. It's also convenient and reasonably quick, charging up all six included cells in roughly three hours. While the issues I highlighted may be nitpicky, I feel it's warranted considering the luxury light designation its price commands. Hopefully the issues were just limited to my early sample as I'm aware SPARK has made some changes already (e.g. the threads are now square-cut). On paper, it is without a doubt the highest ouput light in my collection but I haven't gotten outdoors for actual real-world testing. That should be happening in a few weeks w/my upcoming camping trip so for now, here are my initial impressions:
- piece of art reflector that performs as good as it looks
- outstanding combo of output and throw
- no issues encountered during runtime testing w/out fan
- electronic switch allows easy access to output levels or instant strobe
- included charger very convenient to use and allows reasonably quick and safe charging of all six cells
- potential for unbalanced cells over time after charging
- no protection built-in to the carrier
- drain from "always-on" battery indicator is not trivial and would potentially kill the cells in over a month's time (lock out when not in use)
- fine threads in bezel might be easily damaged (inconsequential though if you never plan on using a filter)
- missing anodizing on my sample
- attachment for charging cover to reduce likelihood of losing it
- revision to carrier and charging system to allow balanced charging
- smaller lobster claws for the strap that actually fit (and preferably nylon/metal like the Nite-ize s-clips)]
SPARK SP6 ALBUM
Disclosure: SP6 provided by sbflashlights for review.