Aspire Nautilus Observations
This document discusses the author’s vaping experiences using the Aspire™ Nautilus Clearomizer tanks and the Aspire Bottom Vertical Coil (BVC) atomizers. It specifically addresses:
This document is not a review: it assumes the reader is familiar with the Aspire Nautilus and does not address the basic features and characteristics of this device. If you are unfamiliar with the Nautilus, review the Nautilus information available on the Aspire website and some of the numerous Nautilus video reviews published on YouTube™.
All Aspire products used in the development of this document were verified as authentic by:
While the author has only tested the Aspire Nautilus, the findings in this document concerning the BVC atomizers should also apply to the Aspire Nautilus Mini.
For the author’s procedures for cleaning the Nautilus, see “Cleaning the Aspire Nautilus.”
Your humble author ended a 40-year cigarette-smoking habit by switching to e-cigarettes, specifically a ProVape™ ProVari™ v2.5 and Aspire Nautilus tanks. I decided to start vaping using equipment near the top of the market rather than “work my way up” from the usual starter kit, through a series of increasingly expensive mods, to eventually buying a ProVari. If you’re serious about vaping and can afford it, I recommend starting with a ProVari: there is no substitute, especially regarding safety, consistency, and ease of use.
Prior to buying my ProVari and Nautilus gear, I had unsuccessfully tried quitting using the blu eCig®. While I found the blu™ to be a better nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) than nicotine patches or gum, it was an unsatisfying vape. Over several months I devoted some of my spare time to researching advanced personal atomizers (APVs, aka “mods”) and clearomizer-style tank systems. I learned a considerable amount from reading the E-Cigarette Forum and watching YouTube videos published by Phil Busardo (PBusardo), Dimitris Agrafiotis (VapinGreek), Chris W. (IndoorSmokers), and Michael Murphy (Vape Miser).
I purchased the ProVari and four Aspire Nautilus tanks due to the universally stellar reviews these products received. I purchased four Nautili anticipating the following pattern of use:
I paid an average price of US$18.95 per Nautilus, excluding shipping.
While the ProVari has performed flawlessly, I’ve had mixed results with Nautilus atomizer longevity. Reviews of the Nautilus are correct in that it is a superb vape. Nevertheless, few reviewers address atomizer longevity: they try the product out-of-the-box, film a review, and quickly publish it to YouTube. All reviews cover the same ground: they unbox and break down the Nautilus, discuss the atomizer configuration, demonstrate a vape, and then proclaim its excellence; if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
Searching the Web for information on BVC atomizer longevity yields results that are all over the map and largely unhelpful. What is needed is empirical data from which guidelines may be drawn. It was my intent to rigorously track my vaping to develop such data and thereby derive some useful advice to share with others who may be having similar issues.
BVC atomizer life expectancy
Aspire BVC atomizers are often colloquially referred to as wicks, heads, or coils, but I will use the term atomizer as this is the terminology employed by Aspire. While wicking material and a coil of resistance wire are parts of the atomizer, you’re buying the combination of these and other parts, i.e. an atomizer.
Factors affecting atomizer longevity
Numerous factors may affect atomizer longevity, such as what you vape (e-liquid chemistry) and how you vape it (Voltage, Wattage, vaping style, etc.). Assuming one has an authentic Nautilus and BVC atomizer and that one vapes within the voltage limits specified on the atomizer, e-liquid is the critical factor in atomizer longevity, particularly the flavoring ingredients. Reports about BVC atomizer longevity should include the following information:
Aspire’s longevity advice
Aspire provides limited and somewhat conflicting advice on atomizer longevity. Based on the following, I interpret their atomizer longevity forecast at 10-14 days, assuming one is operating the atomizer within its recommended voltage range (3.3-6.0V) and is using an e-liquid with a VG ratio of 50% or less.
Longevity claims on the Web
The Web offers a variety of opinions on atomizer life expectancy: I’ve read forum posts and watched YouTube videos claiming BVC atomizers lasting for weeks, whereas I’ve also read many posts lamenting atomizers that last only a few days, at best. These reports generally lack important details about the factors affecting atomizer life. For example:
I’m glad these fellows are experiencing long-lived BVC atomizers. Unfortunately, while these are interesting observations, they lack virtually all of the useful data cited above. An inexperienced vaper who isn’t achieving these results may hear these claims and believe that they have a defective product or are using their Nautilus incorrectly. Experienced vapers should provide complete, detailed, and accurate information to support such claims.
The true measure of atomizer life
Atomizer life should be measured in milliliters (ml) of e-liquid vaped. Vapers vape at different rates: I vape an average of 3 ml of e-liquid daily; some vape less, many vape far more. In my opinion, the true measure of atomizer lifespan is the number of milliliters (ml) of e-liquid you vape before the atomizer fails. I define atomizer failure as any of the following:
BVC atomizer longevity data
The following table is a subset of the empirical data collected from my vaping experience with BVC atomizers. These e-liquids were all produced by Forever E-liquid , have a 70/30 PG/VG ratio, and were manufactured in the past 6-12 months. E-liquids where I was able to vape an entire 30 ml bottle on a single BVC atomizer have their names highlighted in bold. The complete data set showing all tests and additional information can be found in the companion document, "Aspire Nautilus BVC Atomizer Longevity Data and E-Liquid Reviews."
From the data I draw the following four conclusions:
1. Atomizer life expectancy is highly variable
You cannot compare your BVC atomizer longevity experience to others without objective data. Track your vaping as if documenting an experiment and record your results, especially the milliliters of e-liquid you vape before you need to change the atomizer. To perform a longevity test on an e-liquid, start with a new BVC atomizer and a new bottle of e-liquid; if you can vape an entire 30ml bottle on the same atomizer, then I think you’re doing well.
2. Flavoring ingredients are critical factors in atomizer longevity
Assuming one is vaping a BVC atomizer within specifications and all other factors being equal, the flavoring ingredients in your e-liquid are critical factors in atomizer longevity.
Dark or sweet e-liquids generally shorten atomizer life
Dark e-liquids, e.g. coffee flavors like Big Daddy Cafe, and sweet e-liquids, such as Hummingbird, shorten atomizer life. For example:
In discussing this with several experienced vapers who use rebuildable tank atomizers (RTAs), dark and sweet e-liquids tend to foul coils quickly. This is generally solved by dry burning and re-wicking the RTA coil, but Nautilus atomizers cannot be dry burned.
Light colored, unsweetened, and tobacco flavors generally deliver longer atomizer life
I have experienced good atomizer longevity when vaping light colored, unsweetened, and tobacco flavors and have received similar reports from friends. For example:
Unflavored e-liquids maximize atomizer life
Unflavored e-liquids contain only PG, VG, and nicotine. As shown in test 17 in the table above, I was able to vape over 44 ml of Nude Janice, an unflavored e-liquid, over 21 days without any noticeable degradation in atomizer performance. This test appears to prove that flavoring ingredients are the primary cause of diminished BVC atomizer life, presuming one is vaping the atomizer within specifications.
3. Try a different e-liquid
If your ADV isn’t delivering acceptable BVC atomizer longevity, then your choices are as follows:
Before purchasing new e-liquids, ask about its affects on BVC atomizer longevity. The shop where you purchase e-liquids should be able to tell you how any e-liquid they sell will affect BVC atomizer lifespan. It’s better to know that a specific e-liquid quickly degrades atomizer longevity before you buy than after: caveat emptor!
4. Buy 1.8 Ohm BVC atomizers
My test data demonstrates to me that the 1.8 Ohm BVC atomizers deliver better longevity than their 1.6 Ohm counterparts.
General Nautilus tips
This section details various Nautilus tips I have gleaned from my experience and, in some cases, the Web. The interested reader may also wish to peruse the E-Cigarette Forum topic “Has anyone else tried the New Aspire Nautilus Mini BVC? Your thoughts…” for additional tips on using Nautilus devices and BVC atomizers.
Before using a new Nautilus or BVC atomizer, do the following:
Follow these guidelines to avoid common problems
Common problems assembling, disassembling, and refilling the Nautilus can be avoided by adhering the following guidelines:
Take time to properly break-in a new BVC atomizer
The Nautilus and Nautilus Mini manuals recommend filling the tank and then waiting two minutes. On the Aspire forums, moderator Tina posted instructions to let the device “stand for 3-5 minutes before use”; while those instructions were in response to a Nautilus Mini question, both devices uses the same BVC atomizers. This again demonstrates a conflict between the information published by Aspire in their manuals and the advice provided by their forum moderator.
After filling the tank, connecting the bottom hardware, and attaching it to my ProVari I wait five minutes before starting the break-in process. I adjust the airflow to maximum, take a few unpowered puffs, set the ProVari to 3.3 V, and then take a few powered vapes. I then increase the voltage 0.2 - 0.3 V, take a few powered puffs, and repeat until I reach the desired voltage. I generally do not inhale the powered break-in puffs because they are sometimes dry. My process is similar to that recommended by Michael Murphy (Vape Miser) in his 16 June 2014 “Coil Prep of the Aspire Nautilus” YouTube video.
Even after this break-in process a new BVC atomizer often needs additional time before delivering optimal performance: depending on the e-liquid, it may be 30 minutes or more before the best flavor is achieved. Sometimes, like homemade lasagna, the vape from a new BVC atomizer tastes better the second day.
Use proper vaping technique and higher airflow settings
Given that I began with the Nautilus as a new vaper, I thought I might be “doing it wrong” and researched proper vaping technique. When I began using the Nautilus with its included BDC atomizers, I found I was vaping more like a cigarette smoker, i.e. a shorter puff with the airflow set at the 1.1 mm (second-lowest) setting set for a tighter draw. After learning proper vaping technique, I found the vape improved considerably on the 1.8 mm (highest) airflow setting, with occasional, temporary use of the 1.4 mm (second highest) airflow setting if the vape was a bit dry or the flavor waned. Tighter airflow settings may produce flooding or gurgling with prolonged use; this may also degrade atomizer life. Once the atomizer has broken in, I tend leave the airflow set at maximum.
Reading the e-liquid level
The tick marks indicating e-liquid level are a nice feature of the Pyrex tank, but lighting and background can make them hard to read. For an accurate reading I do the following:
The space between the tick marks varies to account for the volume of the bell and chimney sections of the upper hardware.
Refill when the e-liquid level is just under 1 ml
I do not vape the tank much below 1 ml. Both the Nautilus and Nautilus Mini manuals state to refill the tank at 0.5 ml. Unfortunately, there is no 0.5 ml mark and it’s difficult to judge this level: the top edge of the liquid’s meniscus in the tank may read 1 ml, but the actual fluid level — the bottom of the meniscus — is lower and there’s no way to judge this at these levels. Therefore, when the liquid level is just below the 1 ml mark, I refill.
Store the Nautilus in an inverted position overnight
Another good tip from the E-cigarette forum: if the Nautilus is flooded or gurgling when you draw your first vape of the day, this may be due to the viscosity of your e-liquid. To prevent this, store a filled Nautilus device in an inverted position — drip tip down — after your last vape of the day. This is easily done with cylindrical APVs, such as the ProVari: pack a large, heavy coffee cup with paper towels, turn off the firing button on your APV, remove the drip tip, and place the APV with Nautilus attached upside down into the cushioned volume of the coffee cup. Box mod users will need to develop their own rig for inverted storage or detach the Nautilus from the mod and store it in a similar manner overnight.
Assuming the atomizer has not failed, flooding and gurgling are commonly caused by:
If you find your Nautilus floody or gurgling, try the following tip I adapted from RTA users:
E-liquid consumption appears higher with BVC atomizers
In my experience with identical e-liquids at identical voltage, BVC atomizers consume more e-liquid than their BDC predecessors. Then again, the BVC atomizers are a better vape.
Light-colored e-liquids darken as you vape them down
Light-colored e-liquids tend to darken as you vape them from a full tank down to the 1 ml level. This darkening sometimes degrades taste and I tend to discard the darkened e-liquid near the end of a tank before refiling.
The only scientific explanation I've found for this phenomenon is thermal decomposition of the e-liquid. Dr. Kurt Kistler, Ph.D. and chemistry instructor at the Pennsylvania State University offered this explanation to Jeanne Kerswill in her 14 November 2014 interview of Dr. Kistler when she posed a similar question at timestamp 00:46:20. At timestamp 00:46:52, Dr. Kistler states "Dark is generally the hallmark of thermal decomposition." In other words, heating the e-liquid is breaking chemical bonds, resulting in darkening.
Experienced vapers with whom I’ve discussed this issue theorize that it is due to coil heat or coil residue fouling the e-liquid: liquid drawn into the atomizer that is not vaporized may pick up residue from the wick and coil, flow back into the tank, and discolor the liquid in the tank.
Nicotine oxidation — a result of exposing the e-liquid to light and the atmosphere — also contributes to e-liquid discoloration. Dr. Kistler discusses this at timestamp 01:14:22 in the previously cited interview. UV exposure from sunlight may darken the liquid over time due to the clear Pyrex® tank: a Nautilus containing e-liquid should be stored in a cool, dark place until you are ready to vape it.
Your APV may initially measure resistance ~ 0.1 Ohms higher than the atomizer specification
In measuring the resistance of a filled tank with a new atomizer on my ProVari, new 1.6 Ohm BVC atomizers read at 1.7 - 1.8 Ohms and new 1.8 Ohm BVC atomizers read at 1.9 Ohms. I suspect the additional resistance is due to the 510 pin because the ProVari is measuring the resistance of the Nautilus, not just the installed BVC atomizer. I observed the same variation with two BDC atomizers I tried: they read about 0.1 Ohm higher than spec.
Regularly check atomizer resistance
Virtually all modern APVs can display the resistance of the attached atomizing device, be it a dripper, clearomizer, or rebuildable. With some e-liquids, I have found atomizer resistance increases as one vapes. For example, the initial Ao reading on my ProVari may be 1.9 Ohms; over several days of vaping the same BVC atomizer, Ao climbs to 2.0, 2.1, or 2.2 Ohms. I find Ao readings of 2.3 Ohms or higher signal the atomizer is approaching end-of-life and should be replaced. I check the resistance of the Nautilus before my first vape of the day, before and after refilling, at the end of the day, and whenever I suspect the flavor may be starting to fade.
Voltage is e-liquid dependent
The voltage at which a Nautilus device delivers the best flavor depends on the e-liquid. If you remain within the atomizer specifications, I suspect voltage doesn’t substantially degrade atomizer life: it’s the e-liquid that matters. For example, whether I vape Big Daddy Cafe at 3.9 or 4.4 V, I can only run about 10 ml through a BVC atomizer before the taste becomes unpleasant and I need change the atomizer. Nevertheless, with problematic e-liquids, i.e. those that diminish atomizer life, higher voltages may help by atomizing more of the e-liquid and reducing the accumulation of residue on the coil.
Try a third-party drip tip
The drip tip supplied with the Nautilus appears to be stainless steel, but not surgical stainless and they tend to chap my lips. I now use — and highly recommend — Cherry Vapes drip tips, particularly their Ming style: I picked up an Emerald Ming acrylic drip tip from the local Vapor Bar store and later custom-ordered two black Delrin Ming-style tips directly from Cherry Vapes. At the time of this writing the Delrin Ming drip tips are unavailable through their Web site, but you can contact Cherry Vapes to place a special order for them in either black or white.
Refilling the current tank vs. swapping the current atomizer to a clean tank
I’ve experimented with transferring any remaining e-liquid to a clean Nautilus, moving the used atomizer to the clean Nautilus, then cleaning the used Nautilus and putting it aside to dry. This has not shown any affect on atomizer life vs. simply refilling the Nautilus I was using.
Given the nature of the ceramic wicking material in BVC atomizers, I suspect residue from any flavored e-liquid would contaminate the flavor of a different e-liquid should I change flavors without changing atomizers. Therefore, I do not change flavors: when I install a new BVC atomizer, I commit to vaping the entire 30ml bottle of the flavor I've elected to vape. The one exception to this would be switching from an unflavored e-liquid to a flavored e-liquid while continuing to use the same atomizer. If you enjoy vaping different flavors throughout the day, I recommend purchasing additional Nautilus tanks, dedicating each tank and its atomizer to a specific flavor until you have either exhausted your supply of that e-liquid or the atomizer needs replacing.
Cleaning BVC atomizers is pointless
I’ve researched BDC and BVC atomizer cleaning techniques, but decided that the effort and additional expense for spirits commonly used in the process, such as Everclear or Vodka, to be pointless relative to the declining cost of replacement atomizers. Furthermore, people who have cleaned the atomizers report mixed results: some atomizers vaped well for a few days after cleaning, others did not. Time is money: stock up on atomizers and save your spirits for cocktails!
Dry burning BVC atomizers is pointless
Several YouTube videos discuss a procedure for dry burning BVC atomizers. The assumption is the ceramic wicking material enables dry burning. The procedure involves washing the atomizer, letting it dry thoroughly, dry burning the atomizer, washing it again, and letting it dry thoroughly. As cleaning the atomizers has already proved problematic for those who've attempted it, this bring the entire dry burning process into question.
Dry burning also risks damaging the cotton liner surrounding the wicking material. If you review Pauly Meatballs 26 July 2014 BVC atomizer autopsy, you will see a cotton liner wraps the ceramic wicking material. One of the coil leads runs between the wicking material and the cotton liner. Dry burning the BVC atomizer risks burning the cotton liner, leading to a persistent burnt taste in the vape. In two of the YouTube videos, the videographers note a burnt taste, but claim this is temporary. Nevertheless, why waste good e-liquid trying to vape away a burnt flavor that may never disappear?
Furthermore, none of these videos provide evidence that dry burning greatly extends atomizer life. Does one get an additional hour, day, or week of vaping from this procedure? No such information is provided.
I have never tried — and never plan to try — these dry burning procedures. The time and effort involved far exceeds the potential benefit. I've paid an average of $2.43 per BVC atomizer, including shipping: any savings from this dry burning procedure isn't justified given the low cost of atomizers and the e-liquid wasted by attempting to vape away the burnt taste.
Rebuilding BVC atomizers is likewise pointless
The BVC atomizer is a consumable: it is designed to be purchased, used, and discarded at the end of its useful life. In my opinion, the Aspire BVC atomizers are designed to foil rebuilding. This opinion is shared by Vic Mullin in his 28 July 2014 review of the BVC atomizers.
Nevertheless, both Pauly Meatballs and Rip Trippers have published videos on YouTube detailing their BVC rebuilding attempts. I would personally rather save time than money, hence I don’t recommend attempting to rebuild the BVC coils.
BDC atomizer rebuild videos have been published on YouTube by Vic Mullin, Rip Trippers, and others. One could rebuild a BDC atomizer and use it in lieu of a BVC, but it’s a fiddly business and I’d again rather buy new BVC atomizers than attempt to rebuild a BDC atomizer using these methods.
The most interesting approach to rebuilding Nautilus atomizers I’ve found in my research is the “Nautilus Rebuildable Coil” kit sold by UK-based Vape ’N’ Quit. The kit essentially turns a Nautilus into an RTA with the atomizer serving as build deck. The kit includes:
While I have not tried this kit, it looks interesting and is perhaps the best option for those wishing to rebuild Nautilus atomizers. There are several explanatory videos on the “Nautilus Rebuildable Coil” Web page, including an independent review and several build demonstrations.
BVC atomizer wicking material safety
The safety of the ceramic wicking material used in the BVC atomizers has been a source of concern for some. Specifically:
In an apparent response to this, Aspire posted an undated news item entitled “The Safety of our BVC Coils” stating that the wicking material had been certified to be “both nontoxic and heat resistant.” The news item included a PDF download of an 8 July 2014 report from the Guangzhou office of SGS S.A., a Swiss-based testing, inspection, verification, and certification service. While I am neither a chemist nor a materials engineer, the report appears to concern testing a sample of “fiberglass paper” submitted by Shenzen Eigate Technology Co., Ltd., Aspire’s parent company, for a number of toxins and concludes that the levels of such toxins were found to be within limits specified by the EU Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS Directive 2011/65/EU). The last page of the report contains a photograph of the sample material, but it is difficult to tell if this is the ceramic wicking material noted by Pauly and Rip in their videos.
My opinions on this matter are as follows:
Based on Pauly’s autopsy video, I consider the matter closed and will continue to use my Aspire BVC atomizers.