Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Arc 6 Review

Well, its time to go to the graveyard and take a peek at a light I no longer own. That statement alone tells you a lot, but in this case, I think it is worth exploring why this particular light failed in more detail. It is a great cautionary example of how things can go drastically wrong in the world of high end flashlights. Here is a picture of my Arc 6:

The Arc 6 is a semi-production version of the McGizmo McLux III PD (see here for a SWEET line up of the McLeish originals). The original McLux III PD used a piston drive actuator instead of the normal twisty or clicky systems. Here is a quote from carrot's Guide to High End Flashlights on how the PD system works:

Piston Drive

The piston drive is an ingenious switching mechanism designed by Don McLeish, also known as McGizmo. The design is great because it puts all the electrical "action" at the head, making the design less complicated and more reliable while retaining the highly-prized dual output and momentary feature of the two-stage twisty. In the words of the maker (I apologize in advance for including all this tech-talk):

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.

It used to be that the only way to get a piston drive light was to order an expensive, custom light from the maker himself when he had a new "wave" of lights in stock, but happily as of mid-2008 he has granted permission to several makers to bring the wonderful design to the masses. The piston drive design has been licensed and adopted by Arc Flashlights LLC for the Arc6 and by NiteCore & 4Sevens for the Smart PD* series of lights. I consider the PD switching system to be the best design for flashlights both in ease of use and reliability, followed closely by the two-stage twisty.

*By UI design and interface operation it could be argued the Smart PD is a sort of clicky and will be discussed again later in a section below.

Arc lights were cutting edge designs ten years ago. They were the first LED lights. The Arc 4 is a design many people still like today. It served as the chassis for both the HDS Ra (Twisty and Clicky) and the Novatac series. The Arc 6 was (supposed to be) the next step in this beloved line of flashlights. When I first started reading about flashlights there was nothing better than the Arc.

The Arc 6 was supposed to be a cheaper alternative to the McLux III PD, which came in a premium material (titanium) at a premium price. Here is the Arc 6 product page. The original price of the light was $300. Around two years ago, it dropped to $200. There were no other retailers so there is no street price. Here is a link to a CPF Arc 6 sale thread. Here is a link to carrot's review. Here is another review from Light-Reviews.com. Here is the CPF review.

Why would I bother to review a) an older light; and b) a light that has been reviewed so many times already? First, I think this is a light that because of its design and price, might send some folks out hunting for it. Its promise is tantalizing--a McLux III PD at half the cost. So even though it appears to be out of production (they have been sold out for about 6 months now), some might think that it is worth the time to track it down (here is an out of production light worth tracking down). Also, even though there are three reviews out there, I feel like I have a unique perspective. First, this review was after about six months of use. Second, for reasons explained below, I owned TWO Arc 6's whereas I assume that the other reviewers only had one.

Design: 1

The original McLux III PD is a great little light and Peter Gransee, the owner of Arc, collaborated with Don McLeish to make the Arc 6. There is one major difference--Peter redesigned the head of the light to make it smaller. Now there are very few instances when smaller is not better in an EDC light, but unfortunately this is one of them. Instead of making the light the right size in a hammer grip, this light is just too small given the diameter of the body tube. It is amazing that the ONE new thing in this light does not work. If the Arc 6 were a novel, that would be foreshadowing.

Fit and Finish: 0

Okay, so the first Arc 6 went back because it would NOT stay on high. After about 30 seconds it drop down from the afterburner mode to the normal high. That didn't bother me, but the next drop did. It went from there to Level 6, then 5, and then 4 in about 3 minutes. So there is a problem. I sent the light back. It took an extraordinarily long time for Arc to get around to replacing the light. Here is my jeer in the feedback forum on EDCF recounting the entire epic process. Every manufacturer can make one bad unit, so I sent it back. I got my new one and when I opened it up to put a battery in the bottom of the head just fell off. There was no solder holding the little CPU in place. And that was two.

Even the light that worked was still not great. The scalloped bezel was sharp enough to cut paper, and while that is good if that is the intention of the designer, that is clearly not the case here. The clip was mounted poorly and this caused the light to wobble when tailstanding. The HA III coating was splochier than a teenager's skin. The coloration did not match between the head and the body tube (see the next picture below). It was terrible. And finally there were pronounced swirls and machine marks in all parts of both lights.

If this were a DX special, I would expect all of this, but from a $300 light with the heritage that Arc lights have, this is COMPLETELY unacceptable.

Grip: 0

As was mentioned above, there is just something wrong ergonomically speaking. I can't put my finger on it. It is like hearing an unusual sound in your car--you might not know exactly what noise it is, but you know there is just something out of whack. The body tube is too fat and too short to get a good grip on. A change in either dimension would make a world of difference.

Carry: 1

It uses the McGizmo clip so it can't be terrible. Unfortunately, the dimensions again, just seem off. Furthermore, this particular version of the McGizmo clip was REALLY tight. The two lights killed the pockets of two different pairs of jeans.

Output: 2

In the afterburner mode (the mode above high) it produced something more than 200 lumens, probably around 250 lumens. At the time that was very good. Now it is bested by the Lumapower Incendio or a dozen other lights. It was also very neutral in tint. Overall, very good. Rechargeables boosted the output as well.

Runtime: 0

Read the other reviews. Check the runtime charts. And then look at the manual. You aren't getting a lot of runtime on high (30 minutes at very best, and really only 30 seconds on the true high) or low (maybe two or three hours), compared to even the most middling production light out there, even at the time the Arc 6 was released. Runtime is a bit better on rechargeables, but not enough to make it respectable.

Beam Type: 1

A very undistinguished flood. Nothing special at all. Even a little throw would have been nice, but again you can't expect much with such a small (i.e. shallow) head and reflector.

Beam Quality: 1

The beam was very nice and clean with few artifacts. It was as good as the nicest production light in this respect.

UI: 0

I recognize that there are people out there that light the PD UI. I do like the PD UI used on the Nitecore lights, where it functioned more as a clicky. Here it just worked to activate the light momentarily. The only way to really turn on the light was to use it as a twisty and twist the head. Even as a momentary on, the PD was imprecise and lacked the feedback that a clicky has (especially the perfect McGizmo clicky). It was also hard to use and set output levels.

Hands Free: 0

The light won't roll because of the clip, but it also could not stand still while tailstanding because of the misaligned clip. The clip actually protruded about a 1/8 of an inch from the bottom of the light. On some surfaces it was not a big deal. On others, narrow, very flat surfaces like a window ledge, it didn't work.

Total Score: 6 out of 20

The Arc 6 is a failure of a design. Even for the time it was exceedingly expensive and a poor performer. It had a limited runtime even when it operated ideally, and in my experience of two different lights that was never. I have seen modded version that make excellent lights, upgraded the electronics and LED (thus boosting the runtime and output). The body tube is really hardy too, making it durable. As a host, it is not that bad, but as a light, unmodded, this is a failure.

The lack of support and any real updates from Arc bodes poorly. After the company was sold it seems as though Peter lost all control of quality and design. Now that it is part of some larger corporation that spirit and ingenuity that won over and arguably created flashaholics a decade or so ago is gone. This product is a piece of junk.


  1. Funny that we have the same taste in lights. I also had an Arc6 and did not like it. Ended up selling it.

    Enjoy the blog.


  2. I too, loved the ARC' s previous designs and still have and use many of them today. But the purchasing of my ARC6 was such a tortuous and heartbreaking affair that I really didn't have the strength to like the light when it finally arrived. I live in the UK so any purchase also carries the sting of customs tax and handling fees. In this case to the tune of £38 in all. The first ARC6 worked for one turn of the head then got very very hot and refused to work again - burning circuit boards smell like disinfectant! The second refused to turn on at all - despite protestations from the girl at ARC that she checked it thoroughly before sending (Maria). The third came with the wrong body, but it worked... for about a day before heating up and breaking like the first. The one I have now is my fourth. It works rather well and I hope it always will. Trouble is, with all that unreliability there is no way on Earth that this light is ever going to be an EDC or even anything other than a shelf queen! In addition to this I have paid the Tax and handling on each light I have had shipped over totaling £152 and for that I could have another light - or have forked out for the McGizmo in the first place!!! Shame on ARC who offered no recompense for my five month ordeal.

    BTW nice review.