Review: Lighten7 Max X3A (3 x XM-L2 | 1 x 18/26-650)
Lighten7's Max X3A marks two firsts for the budding flashlight manufacturer; it is their first foray into multi-emitter territory and it's also their first light to utilize CREE's XM-L2 emitter, three of them as a matter of fact:
Short of some design differences, the emitters, black HAIII anodization and a different UI, it is just about identical to Shadow's SL3. If anything, it's like a v2 of the SL3 so let’s see how it stacks up...
MFG FEATURES & SPECS
• CREE XM-L2 T6 1A cool white LED *3
• Maximum output at 1550 lumens with max. runtime over 17 hours
• Powered by 1x26650 Li-ion battery (Kit set bundles battery and charger)
• Easy access side switch for on/off control, output modes changes and strobe
• Advanced driver provdes constant current discharge, reverse polarity protection, low voltage warning
• All-in-one circuit room structure enhances heat conduction and dissipation
• Aerospace class aluminum alloy with military class type III hard anodized body
• Stainless steel strike bezel to provide protection to flashlight head and lens
• Smooth reflector to deliver central focus beam with extended throw distance
• Compact design with powerful output for demanding application and outdoor activities
PACKAGING / CONTENTS
The X3A arrived in a sturdy cardboard box with decent foam cushioning:
I received the stripped down version of their kits that normally includes:
- 1 x 26650 battery & charger
- 1 x 18650 sleeve
but since this is a review sample I only got the last two items:
DESIGN & FEATURES
The X3A features a flat SS bezel that I’ve been unsuccessful at removing (not sure if it’s glued down or not):
The lens doesn't feature AR coating.
The emitters are each centered perfectly within its own slot in the tri-flector:
You can see the two bond wires and lack of "sections" in the die that distinguishes the XM-L2's vs. the three bond wires and six rectangular sections on the XM-L's.
The design of the head is rather staid with a bunch of concentric rings milled around the circumference of the head that is tapered as it reaches the throat area:
The throat of the X3A houses the side-switch that features a nice SS ring around it:
The collar that the side-switch rests in features alternating textured curved and flat sides.
Unlike the SL3, the X3A’s battery tube is truly milled from a single solid piece as there isn't a "plug" at the base which incidentally is perfectly flat allowing relatively stable tailstanding use. In keeping with the overall staid looks of the light, there are no additional engravings beyond the model name and more concentric rings serve as the only aesthetic elements:
The base of the tube again features concentric grooves but this time they are raised and broken apart every few mm with a small milled "cutout". The lanyard holes are nice and large so can easily accommodate the lobster claw on your typical lanyard.
There is a brass nodule at the base of the head that while small should be raised enough to allow the use of most flat-top cells:
A large spring sits within the base of the tube which incidentally has enough room within it for the KK battery that I was able to induce some battery rattle with vigorous shakes (not so with an 18650 battery and the optional sleeve).
The kit version includes an optional 18650 sleeve that allows the use of said cells:
Given the current draw from the trio of XM-L2's, one should use a good quality 18650 cell that can withstand a sustained current draw of ~4A.
Here is a complete video summary of the X3A :
SIZE / HANDLING
vs. other 26650-sized lights:
L to R: King Kong 26650 | Shadow SL3 | Lighten7 Max X3A | Shadow JM26 | Shadow JM07-Pro | Shadow JM07 | Elektro Lumens Big Bruiser
The 26650-sized form-factor feels great in my medium-sized hand:
The button is soft-enough that it can be easily triggered with the pinkie in an overhand grip and is also large enough so use with gloves shouldn't be a problem.
FIT & FINISH
The X3A is a tough light that should be able to withstand some hard use. The anodized finish is applied evenly around the entire light, however the head is just a smidgen darker:
NOTE: Flash intentionally used to highlight shading differences.
Overall, the anodizing has been applied well with none missing in the crevices, texturing or around edges:
As can be seen on the tail end pic above (as well as some other shots throughout this review), there is a slight greenish hue to the finishing under certain angles and lighting conditions.
The SS bezel is threaded on flush and the laser engravings are also nice and sharp with no blotchiness:
However the model name is perhaps 1/10th of a mm or so towards the left of center.
The threads aren't square-cut but did come decently greased. While there was some grease applied, I encountered a little squeaking during use that went away after applying additional grease:
There is no overrun of glue around the switch:
One nitpick I had was that while the overall underlying finish is a concrete like style, it wasn't consistent in that one particular flat side had more "dimples" vs. the other sides:
Likely not an issue for most but OCD types be forewarned!
The UI on the X3A is very straightforward. To turn it on, depress on the side-switch once and it'll immediately turn on in Low. Once on, each depress of the side-switch will cycle through the three output levels: L > M > H. Strobe can be activated at any time with the light on or off by depressing the switch twice. To shut off the light, hold the side-switch for at least two seconds or just quickly lock-out the light and twist the tube back on. While this is a nice change from the Shadow lights, of note is that it's now relatively easy to incur accidental activation.
What hasn't changed though is that the strobe function is still too easy to accidentally invoke while cycling through the output levels since the spacing isn't tight enough. There is no memory so it'll always come on in L, to expound; if you last used the light in L and then either shut-off the light or change the batteries, the light will always come on in L. There is no electronic lock-out but the light can be physically locked-out since the threads are anodized.
RUNTIME & OUTPUT
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
- Actual runtime using ANSI FL1 (first in HR and then in M so for the KK on High, read this as 2.3hrs or 135min)
- NEW (as of May 2012): Lumens measured on my PVC LMD @ 30 seconds
- Also for High, captured the temperature: ambient, the head/fins at start and the max it reached (fan was used for all bats)
Max output measured @ 30 seconds was 1630lms w/an AW IMR 18650 (1600mAh).
The X3A runs semi-regulated at turn-on until step down which is timed for approx. 3 minutes. It'll then continue to run in semi-regulated mode until the cell can no longer sustain the current and begin a gradual decline in output. This should give one ample warning as to when change the cells. With an optional spacer, the X3A is capable of running on a single 18650 cell (must be able to handle at least 4A draw sustained) so I included the RL3400 in the runtime test. There is no LVW during either of these runs and given the relatively aggressive step down, the X3A doesn't get hot at all, provided High is not reactivated again.
As I stated at the beginning of this review, the X3A can be best though of as a v2 of Shadow's SL3. The XM-L2's offer a nice little bump in output as well as runtime, of course these can be within limits of variations of samples for each light but there is enough real world examples out there that demonstrate the advantages of the XM-L2's barring that the Vf can be met. I suppose the adage of "be careful what you wish for" rings true with regards to the UI change since one of the previous complaints was that it took too long to turn on the SL3 due to the delay but now that it's gone, I can see accidental activation being an issue if the light isn't locked out; in which case you'd lose the advantages of quick turn-on with one hand. The reverse order from L to H is also a nice touch (subjectively) but of course that'll depend on each individual's use and personal preference. The major draw remains that this is one of the most compact single-cell, multi-emitter light currently available with great output and flexibility in terms of cells it can accept. The one major subjective criticism I'd have would still be the outdated UI. The strobe is still too easy to activate accidentally and the simple 3 level output while not necessarily a bad thing from a simplicity point of view would benefit greatly from the flexibility of a Zebralight UI. This has become my go-to light when I want to travel light but yet pack more than ample output. Hopefully a v2 (if ever released) would take into consideration a more advanced UI but until then, here are my initial thoughts:
- compact powerhouse offering >1700lms in a stout form-factor
- XM-L2's offers a nice little bump in output and runtime from XM-L models
- optional sleeve allows use of 18650 cells thus increasing flexibility of fuel source (however, given high current draw before step down, cell must be able to sustain ~4A draw)
- anodized threads allow physical lock-out
- two-piece setup feels very solid
- while brass nodule in head is raised, it might not be sufficient enough for all types of flat-top cells
- finishing not a true black, has some green cast to it under certain lighting conditions
- quick cycling of output levels can accidentally trigger strobe
- accidental activation relatively easy as there isn't a 2 second delay; best to lock out when not in use or during transport
- spring in place of the brass nodule positive contact point
- revised driver that would allow 2-cell operation with an extension tube
- tighten-up timing required to activate strobe
- electronic lock-out feature
- AR coated lens
- more output levels implemented via different UI (a la Zebralight)
X3A provided by Lighten7 for review.