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Gear review – Chauvet Professional AmHaze II

Minor change to the website announcement – this blog is not intended to be commented on, it’s intended as a place for my design company (me) to write about industry news and products. I have globally disabled all comments on all entries, everywhere, for all time, because all that was happening was spam for Ugg boots and Nike shoes. If you want to respond directly to something I’ve written, use the contact page.

I began using the Chauvet Professional AmHaze II on the Alan Jackson tour this year as our primary hazer, provided by Elite Multimedia. These haze units replaced the venerable (and noisy) ReelFX DF-50 Diffusion hazers, and marked a switch from oil-based to so-called “water-based” haze. This name is disingenuous, as water is not the active ingredient in the haze, the active ingredient is propylene glycol, but I suppose “water-based” rolls off the tongue easier and assuages the fears of audience members prone to psychosomatic coughing. For these reasons, I will refer to this type of atmospheric effect as “water-based” from this point on.

The hazers take the general form of the successful Base hazers (themselves a derivation of the Unique2 technology), and enclose the entire unit within its own road case with a single removable lid for operation. The front of the unit has a PowerCon input, (with about the most poorly-put-together cable I’ve ever seen in my life, more on that later.) 3 and 5-pin DMX inputs, buttons for the menu system and a small status display, the output nozzle, and a bottle that holds the fluid.

Setup is very easy, just fill the bottle with fluid and turn the unit on. This is where we ran into our first problem – the included cables with the PowerCon ends were very, very poorly-made. The cable had been stripped back further than the strain relief could grab, so the three wires going in were simply hanging out the back of the connector. We also found out that the wires weren’t screwed into the contacts very well – there was too little insulation removed and the screws were not tightened down. PowerCons aren’t hard to fix, but it was still annoying.

We took two hazers with us on the road – water-based haze being notoriously more difficult to keep in the air than oil-based, due to evaporation. One of the first problems we had with one of the hazers was a unit that suddenly stopped being able to pull fluid out of the bottle and into itself. During some downtime that day, my L2 got around to looking at the unit and discovered the issue – the hose that goes from the bottle to the inside of the bottle had developed a crack, spraying fluid all over the inside of the machine and preventing the internal pump from being able to develop the vacuum necessary to pull the fluid in. The tubing for this is remarkably flimsy, and the connection between the unit and the tubing. This was, in fact, the area where the tubing broke. As the tubing goes into the unit, it fits over a protruding nozzle, and there is a small metal nut that fits over the whole assembly, presumably to keep the kind of break that happened from happening. However, this tubing is very easy to break regardless of protection, even unintentionally, and were I going to re-design any feature of this unit I would insist on changing this clear thin plastic tube to some tubing reinforced with a nylon weave or some other material to give it more strength. It would be reasonable, in my opinion, to more adequately reinforce the entire fluid transport line, provide better strain and compression (such as a hand throwing a lid on top of the unit) relief on the bottle and haze in/outputs, and do away with the metal nut that looks like it would be really good at cutting the hose if you press on it the wrong way. Another small note: I called Chauvet Professional’s tech line when I first found out about the issue, and was unable to find a number for an after-hours technician. I don’t know if this is because I don’t have the right number, or if because Chauvet does not provide this service. We were ultimately able to fix the problem without them, however.

The rest of the unit was solidly-built, there’s only one thing to remove to get the unit operational, no lifting it out of a grease-soaked road case, just plug and haze. The nozzle attached to the front of the unit has a sort of removable “cowl” that directs the haze about 45 degrees either direction along the plane of the machine when lying flat, and can be removed completely to blow the haze straight out perpendicular to the unit. This cowl works for directing the output quite well. The internal fan, which can be adjusted via DMX, kicks the haze out a good 15 feet or so, but for any kind of arena setting, you will need a fan to get the best coverage.

And this brings us to the final point to review about The AmHaze: how well does it haze? As it turns out, an external, powerful fan is very nearly mandatory for use with this unit. Without a very powerful blower to get the haze up and away from the hazer after it’s emitted, the effect just sort of…peters out after a minute or two. It might be that the droplets, once sprayed out, have a certain time to live before they evaporate to the point of irrelevance, and having a fan that spreads them as far as possible is what lets you see the effect before evaporation. I don’t know if there’s more to it than that; I’m not an expert on the physics of propylene glycol atmospheric effects. I had the best results the night I used a massive industrial carpet blower provided by the house to do the job, and I had the worst nights when there were any kind of air handlers over the stage that worked to move air up and out away from the deck. The haze that comes out of these things is very patchy and has a very “billowing” quality that is undesirable, and I ended up wanting to keep them as far away from the deck as possible. Having the fans directing the output helps with this billowing effect a lot, and next time I take them out, I’m going to look into getting some ReelFX RE2 Fans – big, fast, powerful fans that would make Michael Bay happy.

Overall, I found these to be usable haze units that performed adequately. I think for an arena tour, four would definitely be better than two, and six would be ideal, and one will need some very large fans to get the best atmospheric effect possible out of them. The effect works only if there’s no air handling working in the building with it, and if one comes on mid-performance, good luck. That said, these are issues common to all water-based atmospheric effect generators, and not specifically the AmHaze. If the effect you’re looking for requires haze no matter what, get lots of hazers, or go with oil.

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