Sunday, January 27, 2013

Aroma Ace vs. Lotus vs. Spa Mist Review: Three Way Diffuser Shootout

It’s been a while now since I received my Christmas present, the Aroma Ace diffuser. Prior to receiving it, I was sure it was the hands-down best diffuser you could get. Now that I’ve spent some time with it, however, I find that there are still concerns to address. At this point, I’ve now owned and used on a regular basis the Lotus, the Spa Vapor, and the Aroma Ace. doTERRA has their own summary of the pros and cons of the Lotus and Aroma Ace, and in general I feel their summary is quite accurate. They don’t compare either of the diffusers they offer with other options, however, so I’m going to do that here. We’ll go in order from least expensive to most expensive.

Spa Vapor

Considering the Spa Vapor can be had for just $20 plus shipping, you might think it’s complete junk. On the one hand, I will say that the build quality as well as quality control leaves something to be desired. On the other hand, you could buy four or five of these for the price of one of the other two diffusers and have a diffuser in every room of your house (or close to it).

The output of our two Spa Vapor diffusers varies quite a bit, especially if you start with both near the “full” mark; one puts out a decent amount of mist the entire time while the other only works well when the water/oil level is lower. Making sure that the diffusers have been thoroughly cleaned is a major part of getting good output from the Spa Mist, though, and that might play a role. The instructions recommend cleaning (with a vinegar rinse) after every use, which seems a bit excessive, but in practice you definitely need to clean the Spa Vapor regularly, probably after ever three or four batches of oil at most, I’d say. The color-changing lights are somewhat cool for kids to look at initially, but long-term we almost never use them. The lights also flicker a bit during use, which I find distracting—like they’re 40Hz or so rather than a steady brightness.

Now, on to the good aspects: the Spa Vapor is quiet enough that using it next to your bed or in your bedroom isn’t a problem. Even with the lights off it does have a dim red glow, but not enough to be annoying. I also like that it will run until it detects the water is gone—or very nearly gone. (This might also be considered a negative, however, as short of manually shutting it off there’s no timed sequence.) At that point, it does blink brightly about ten times to let you know it’s out of oils before turning off, and the other night this was enough to wake up my wife, but it’s a minor issue really. The price is also a major bonus, and that makes this a good diffuser to let people borrow where you wouldn’t have to worry too much about them breaking it.

If you fill the Spa Vapor to the full mark and put in five or so drops of oil(s), it will typically run for anywhere from two to six hours, depending on your unit—our “not as good” unit will mist only slightly for the first four hours, and then the water will reach a low enough point that it starts putting out more mist and ends up being done in a couple more hours, give or take. The other diffuser will typically only take two or three hours before it’s done, so if you want a diffuser to last all night long you’ll either need to figure out how much water to put in a Spa Vapor so that it doesn’t finish too quickly, or else get the Aroma Ace.

Pros:
Inexpensive
Runs until depleted (several hours)
Color cycling lights
Lights can be turned off
Quiet

Cons:
Cheaply made
Inconsistent output between units
Requires very frequent cleaning (after every two uses recommended)
Blinks brightly when empty
No timed cycle—always runs until empty or manually turned off
Requires frequent refilling

Lotus Diffuser

In principle, the Lotus and the Spa Vapor operate on the same ultrasonic vibrations to turn the water and oil into a mist. In practice, the Lotus seems to be far more consistent at working well and putting out a steady amount of mist over its cycle. You can set the timer for either one hour or 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off (for around 90 minutes as far as I can tell, though doTERRA’s page says this mode also runs for just one hour). There is no auto-shut off when empty feature, but since the worst-case is that it will run 60 minutes with nothing in it, this apparently isn’t a problem. As with the Spa Mist, operation is very quiet and wouldn’t be disturbing in your bedroom, at least from the noise. The bright blue LEDs on the other hand are enough to light up a decent size room quite well, and for this reason we have not used our Lotus in bedrooms after a few initial attempts. (I suggested putting duct tape over the LEDs, but that was apparently too ghetto a solution for my wife.)

As a piece of modern art decoration, the Lotus also stands out quite nicely. I imagine in a spa or massage parlor or similar environments, the blue lights will be a welcome feature. Aesthetically, it’s definitely the most eye-catching of the three options, though I’m sure some will think it looks ugly. There is a potential for it to get knocked over a bit more easily than some of the others, but so far that’s happened three times with our Lotus (thanks to our 2-year-old and baby) and other than spilled liquid there’s been no problem. If you fill the Lotus up with 70ml of water with a few drops of oils, you can typically get three cycles before you need to refill, so it lasts about as long as the Spa Vapor in total. Overall it’s a nice diffuser to have around, but I’m not sure it’s worth the cost compared to other options unless you really like the blue lighting effect.

Pros:
Looks nice (depending on your opinion)
“Soothing” blue lights
Consistent output with infrequent cleaning
Quiet
Timer runs for one hour/90 minutes

Cons:
Looks ugly (depending on your opinion)
“Annoying” bright blue LEDs are always active
Doesn’t allow you to run until empty
Requires frequent refilling
Should be periodically cleaned with vinegar rinse (monthly?)

Aroma Ace

This is the most expensive of the diffuser options, and it’s supposed to be the most advanced diffuser around. Do note however that the Aroma Ace comes with a 15ml On Guard bottle, a $32 wholesale value, so the real cost is only about $8 more than the Lotus. Anyway, I’m not sure if the Aroma Ace is truly the most advanced diffuser, but it definitely gives you the most control options and it has some great features. One of the biggest reasons to get the Aroma Ace is that it doesn’t require frequent refilling—you can connect an oil bottle directly to the diffuser and it will happily run until the bottle is empty (and it will keep running on empty as well, incidentally). This can be good or bad—if one of your kids happens to set it to “Maximum Output”, you could easily burn through a 15ml bottle in a day or two, which would be pretty excessive.

The Aroma Ace has three control knobs. The top sets how long the diffuser will run each cycle, from 1 to around 20 minutes. The second determines how long the diffuser will stay off each cycle, again from 1 to 20 minutes. The third knob is the output power, which in theory scales from very low to very high; in practice, the first third or so is low output, and then once you pass a certain point the volume goes up substantially, and through the rest of the range it just seems to get a bit stronger. So basically, you get three settings: low, high, and really high—use the latter two with caution if you’re using a pure oil, as the oil can go quickly.

What we’ve ended up doing personally (and I have a cousin that does the same thing) is we mix around 20-40 drops of oil(s) in a bottle and then fill the rest with water. This way, even if you’re at the medium (high) setting and use up the bottle in a few days, you’re really only using up a sixth of a bottle of oil and the rest is water mist. I’ve heard some people suggest using water could actually damage the Aroma Ace, but I don’t see how—it seems like the unit just vibrates loudly and blows out air (maybe with a short sucking action before each blow pulse), so whether it’s oils or water in the bottle the result is a very fine (invisible) mist.

As far as complaints with the Aroma Ace, there’s really only one major item: it’s loud. At the lowest output, it’s a noticeable hum, and once you turn it up to the next level of output it’s quite loud—think refrigerator cooling system loud, only a lower pitched hum. As with the Lotus, my wife isn’t too keen on sleeping with the Aroma Ace in our room. This is exacerbated by the on/off cycling—there’s no way to just have the diffuser run continually, which seems like an oversight. I understand having the adjustable off cycle, but it should range from 0 (no delay at all) to 20 rather than from 1 to 20. A continual hum isn’t nearly as distracting as a hum that goes for a few minutes and then disappears, then comes back, then goes away, etc. I’ll try to post a follow-up with the actual noise levels of the diffusers, as I have an SPL meter (Sound Pressure Level meter) that will tell you how loud in decibels the noise in a room is; the other two diffusers come in below the 30dB limit I’m guessing, but the Aroma Ace probably starts closer to 35dB and hits 45-50dB at max output; check back for a post with real-world testing later!

Despite the noise factor, the Aroma Ace does do a good job at diffusing oils into a room. We’ve had a sick baby the past week, and I mixed some Breathe and On Guard in a bottle with water and set the diffuser for “medium” a five minutes on, 15 minutes off cycle. After closing the room, I came back a little while later and when I opened the door you could really smell the oils. I find that’s only partially true of the other diffusers—you can see the water mist they put out, and there’s some aromatics certainly, but it’s far more localized in my opinion. In fact, in our bedroom we now have a Spa Vapor located right near a fan (the fan being there mostly for white noise so our kids don’t wake us up with small noises); this gets the aroma spread around the room far better than just the diffuser on its own would do, but the Aroma Ace doesn’t need the help of a fan in my experience.

Pros:
Lots of cool looking knobs (if you’re a geek like me)
Compact size
Quick-change system
No annoying lights
Runs continually until turned off, with adjustable on/off cycle time and adjustable output
Effectively puts aromatics throughout a moderate size room
“Free” 15ml bottle of On Guard
No cleaning required (as far as I'm aware)

Cons:
May look a bit utilitarian (depending on your taste)
Anything above “low” makes quite a bit of noise
Adjustable output doesn’t seem to have a setting between “low” and “high”
On/off cycle always requires at least one minute off for 20 minutes on
If you’re careless (or have careless kids), you could easily waste a lot of oil

Wrap-Up

So which diffuser is the best, then? The answer, as usual, is “it depends.” If you can only have one diffuser and money isn’t a problem, despite the noise I think the Aroma Ace is the one to get. It’s simply far more flexible, and in our case having the ability to put oils into a room at a steady pace all night long is great for our children (and us as well on occasion). If money is tight on the other hand, the Spa Vapor is inexpensive enough that it’s hard to go wrong there—don’t expect the equivalent of a $100 diffuser for $20, but it’s a surprisingly competent replacement for the Lotus.

As for the Lotus, it seems a bit the odd man out; the only reason I'd get get one over the Aroma Ace is if you get it as part of a kit (e.g. we got ours with the Natural Solutions enrollment kit), or if you really like the way it looks. For businesses where the diffuser will be visible, the Lotus could be a great fit, but for most homes I think you’re better off with the Aroma Ace or Spa Mist. On the other hand, if you don't like the noise of the Aroma Ace and you don't want to have to clean your diffuser every couple of uses, the Lotus is far more convenient than the Spa Vapor.

--== doTERRA Skeptic ==--