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Last Updated: August 3, 2022
The Concept2 Model D rower has been the gold-standard rowing machine for decades. This sturdy, simple rower is used in rowing competitions the world over due to its quality construction and unlimited resistance. The PM5 monitor used on the Concept2 rower is surprisingly functional. It can be paired with any number of external apps for data collection, competitions, or even VR rowing experiences. Anyone with any familiarity with indoor rowing will know and respect the Concept2.
The Hydrow is a new rower that is attracting attention in the home-based rowing market. This high-end rower is akin to the Peloton bike with an attached touchscreen and subscription content designed to help average people learn and enjoy rowing. Unlike the Concept2 which has a devoted following of gym enthusiasts and CrossFit athletes, the Hydrow is geared more towards those who may not have much experience with rowing — but want to learn and gain the benefits from this exceptional exercise.
In this review we will compare the two machines and look at their targeted demographic, construction, overall functionality and benefits vs drawbacks. Let’s take a closer look at the Hydrow and Concept2 Model D!
Hydrow: Who is it designed for?
The Hydrow rower is designed for those who want to learn and enjoy rowing in their own homes. The Hydrow is good for users who:
- Need a quiet rower – the Hydrow uses electromagnetic resistance so it is much quieter than comparable air rowers
- Want something that looks chic and stately in their home
- Want or need training content to help them stay engaged and learn the basics of rowing
- Are looking for something comfortable and low-impact
- Are able to sit down and lean forward when working out
- Can pay the higher price for the Hydrow in addition to a $38 monthly subscription
- Will use and value this investment
- Recognize the benefits of rowing and are willing to stick to the training regimen to learn this valuable exercise
Hydrow Pros & Cons:
Concept2: Who is it designed for?
The Concept2 rower is geared toward those with a bit of rowing experience who want freedom to design and customize their rowing program. The Concept2 rower is best suited for users who:
- Already understand rowing fundamentals
- Do not need or want subscription content (or already use a compatible app)
- Are able to use the rower in a different room or garage due to its higher noise output
- Understand the nature of air rowers and how to use a damper
- Can stay motivated on their own
- Are able to sit down and lean forward when working out
- Desire something simple and lightweight that is easy to move and store
- Do not want to have to plug in their rower
- Are looking for an affordable, functional rower
Concept2 Model D Pros and Cons:
The size of both the Hydrow and Concept2 rowers are pretty similar. The Hydrow is a bit taller, but it is a foot shorter. The Concept2 has a removable phone clip that can be attached to the top of the PM5 monitor. The Concept2 weighs less and supports more user weight than the Hydrow.
- Height: 47” (top of touchscreen)
- Length: 86”
- Width: 25”
- Monorail height: 14”
- Seat height: 16”
- Length of monorail: 54”
- Weight: 145 pounds
- Weight capacity: 375 pounds
- Height: 42” (top of PM5) 47” (top of removable phone holder)
- Length: 96”
- Width: 24”
- Monorail height: 12”
- Seat height: 14”
- Monorail length: 54”
- Weight: 57 pounds
- Weight capacity: 500 pounds
Both the Hydrow and Concept2 are sturdy, well-built rowers. However, there is a significant weight difference between the two. The Hydrow weighs 145 pounds and the Concept2 is only 57 pounds. Much of this is due to the nature of the resistance — the Concept2 uses air resistance, so it has a flywheel with fan blades inside to move air — which is a relatively lightweight system. The Hydrow uses magnetic resistance, with an internal magnetic system that creates and measures resistance levels. This system is a little more intricate and weighs more. The Hydrow also has a heavier track and monorail. On their website, the Concept2 is rated to support up to 500 pounds of user weight (*However, according to the European Stationary Fitness Equipment Testing Standard, the Concept2 Model D is only rated for 300 pounds or 135kg). The Hydrow will support 375 pounds of weight.
Since the Hydrow is a newer model, we don’t have data on long term usage or durability; however, it does feel strong. The track sits firmly on the ground and the rower does not rock or lean when in use. The Concept2 has been around for decades and has a well-established history of durability. The chain on the Concept2 may require lubrication from time to time while the nylon strap on the Hydrow doesn’t require any maintenance.
The Concept2 rower folds in half. A connector at the junction of the monorail and catch can be released to allow the track to fold down for storage. Many people lift and store the Concept2 unfolded with the flywheel on the floor and the track up in the air. Concept2 doesn’t recommend storing the rower this way because it can be knocked over, but due to the weight, it’s easy to lift and roll into a corner, so we often see them stored vertically.
The Hydrow does not fold. It can be stored vertically, but due to the weight, we wouldn’t recommend this unless you purchase the extra $70 tether system to assure it won’t get knocked over. The Hydrow screen will fold in gently so it’s not in the way when lifted vertically.
The pedals on both rowers are nearly identical. They both have 12” high by 5” wide sturdy footboards and 12” long textured, adjustable footplates with nylon straps for support. Either rower will support shoes of any size. The footplate on both rowers has a ridge to support your heel and you can adjust the sizing up or down so the strap fits securely over the top of your foot. The footplates are designed to lift and move a bit while you row which allows for necessary ankle flexion while the footboard provides a solid feel underneath.
The seat on the Hydrow is more cushioned; it is also shaped more circular along the backend while the Concept2 saddle is more square and not quite as soft. We were pleasantly surprised at the comfort of the Hydrow saddle. Since the Hydrow is designed for new users who may not be used to rowing (or sitting on a rower) for 30+ minutes at a time, it makes sense that they went to extra effort to make sure the seat is comfortable and adequately padded. The Concept2 seat isn’t uncomfortable, it is just a bit more utilitarian.
The handles are relatively similar as well. Handles on both machines are 18” wide and roughly 4 inches in circumference. The Hydrow handle is slightly more spongy, but they feel really similar. The main difference is the Concept2 has a vented center area you can lace your fingers through for one-armed pulls. The Hydrow handle is solid through the center.
Chain vs. Strap
The Concept2 uses a nickel-plated chain to connect the handle to the flywheel while the Hydrow uses a nylon strap. A chain is both durable and reliable, although it is also noisier and requires occasional lubrication. The nylon strap is nearly silent as it moves in and out of the rower; it doesn’t require lubrication and shouldn’t break. The strap is akin to seatbelt material that would be very difficult to cut or shred.
On the Hydrow, the point at which the strap emerges from the rower is 26” high from the floor. The Concept2 Model D chain emerges at a height of 25” from the floor. The Hydrow strap is 20” long from the handle to the machine and the Model D chain is 22” long. Both rowers have good ergonomics so the person rowing can sit upright, face the monitor and not have to lean forward unnaturally at the catch. Also, the position of the footplates matters as well. If the plates are too close to the end of the track, users have to open their knees to complete the stroke. On both the Hydrow and Model D, the footplates are set back enough to provide room for the user to lean forward while keeping the knees in line with the hips for a proper ergonomic row stroke.
Resistance is where these two machines differ significantly. The Concept2 Model D uses air resistance while the Hydrow uses electromagnetic resistance. Let’s outline some of the pro’s and con’s of these types of resistance:
Concept 2 Air Resistance Pro’s:
- Virtually unlimited resistance
- When a user pulls on the handle, the chain rotates a cog inside the rower that then turns the fan blades, which circulate a certain amount of air through the flywheel. This amount of air is entirely determined by the strength of the rowing pull. More wind = more resistance. Stronger users will naturally generate more resistance while newer users will generate less. This is part of what makes the Concept2 rowers so adaptable – they provide the right amount of resistance to each user with each stroke. There is no limited resistance.
- Simple, lightweight design
- The design of air rowers is simple and functional. There are only a few moving parts: the chain, cog, and fan blades — and these have been designed to be lightweight but functional.
- No electricity required
- Air resistance does not require any electricity; nor are any of the parts electronically powered. The console uses AA batteries but the monitor simply measures the speed and power of the stroke, it doesn’t regulate it.
- Damper lever adjusts the amount of air flow to modify the FEEL of the pull, but doesn’t specifically change the resistance.
- The lever on the side of the flywheel is the damper which affects the drag factor on the Concept2 rower. The drag factor simulates the type of boat you are rowing. A heavy rowboat will have significantly more drag than a lightweight rowing scull. When you adjust the damper it limits the amount of air that can be circulated through the flywheel which adds more or less drag. Many people assume this is the resistance setting, but it isn’t really. Resistance is completely determined by the power in the rowing stroke; the drag factor just affects how the stroke feels. Adjusting the drag on the Concept2 is both easy and adjusts the level of difficulty without modifying the resistance itself.
Concept 2 Air Resistance Con’s:
- Air resistance is noisy
- As air moves through the flywheel spins the fan blades, it creates a significant amount of noise. Air rowers are one of the loudest types of exercise equipment. While the sound is the rhythmic whirr of air flow, it is roughly comparable to a high powered fan. The Concept2 rowers are most often used in gyms, garages and basements where they can be enjoyed without disturbing others in a shared space. The noise is a factor when considering where to use your machine.
- Air resistance doesn’t have preset levels you can quickly jump to
- While the resistance is completely determined by the user and the amount of power in the row stroke, it doesn’t have preset resistance levels you can quickly set or jump to. You get real-time data about the strength of your pull after each stroke, but not before. For those who may want to train at a set level of resistance, this is more difficult to specifically manipulate.
Hydrow Electromagnetic Resistance Pro’s:
- Magnetic resistance is much quieter. Magnets, rather than air, create resistance inside the rower. This creates a slight whirring sound, but it is much less significant than the noise of an air rower.
- Specifically calibrated
- With magnetic resistance, specific levels can be digitally set. This helps each user know exactly how much resistance they will pull against with each stroke. The Hydrow has 300 resistance levels that constantly readjust to match the level and power of the person rowing.
- No friction points; minimal contact points
- Magnetic resistance doesn’t create heat or friction. All resistance is generated by magnetic polarity which eliminates friction between moving parts.
- Minimal maintenance
- The nylon strap requires minimal maintenance and the other elements of magnetic rowing do not need to be serviced or maintained.
- Allows for targeted resistance training
- Magnetic resistance is perfect for users who want to follow a preset program that outlines what level of resistance to use. Rather than have to guess based on how hard they are pulling — magnetic resistance allows for more targeted training in rowing classes and routes.
Hydrow Electromagnetic Resistance Con’s:
- Expensive to produce
- Magnetic resistance requires more expensive materials and more engineering. Most fitness machines that utilize magnetic resistance are on the higher price scale.
- Resistance is limited to a maximum level
- There is in fact, limited resistance. Granted, it would be hard to “out-row” the Hydrow, but in theory a person could find the maximum resistance to be too easy for them.
- Makes the machine a little heavier
- Magnetic resistance does add some weight to the machine as evidenced by the weight difference between the Concept2 and the Hydrow.
Hydrow Touchscreen vs. PM5
The biggest difference between the Hydrow and the Concept2 Model D is the PM5 monitor on the Concept2 rower and the 22” touchscreen on the Hydrow.
The PM5 monitor on the Concept2 is surprisingly extensive — you get real-time feedback about each row stroke; you can sync the Concept2 via Bluetooth or ANT+ with any number of chest straps or compatible devices; and the PM5 will even sync with external apps via a phone or iPad. The PM5 monitor is the most updated monitor offered by Concept2 and is used on their newest machines like the SkiErg and BikeErg. It has a gray backlit background with large black digital numbers. Users can select different display screens for data readout. The screen automatically turns on as soon as you pull the handle to row. The PM5 uses AA batteries, but gets supplemental power from each row stroke so the batteries last forever. Concept2 includes a phone mount that clips onto the top of the PM5. An adjustable angle arm allows the PM5 to be lifted or lowered slightly for good visibility.
The touchscreen on the Hydrow is bright and easy to see. It automatically loads to a main menu page with a highlighted workout of the day. The touchscreen controls are sensitive and easy to navigate and the position of the screen is the right distance from the catch. The screen will rotate side to side and angles up and down gently for the right view. The screen has front-facing speakers and is Bluetooth compatible so you can use wireless headphones on the Hydrow.
Concept2 PM5 Programs
The PM5 monitor on the Concept2 has impressive functionality. In addition to the preloaded programs, it will sync with external apps for enhanced training. You can use programs like Regatta, Krew or Asensei to train on the Concept2. All data can be stored in Concept2’s ErgData app. Rowing data can also be uploaded to any number of external sites to compete in rowing competitions or challenges. While the PM5 may look like a simple LCD screen it has extended functionality. Preloaded games, settings, and various display screens can be easily toggled on the main menu. The default for the PM5 is “Just Row” – just climb on, pull the handle, and you’re good to go!
The Hydrow app is designed to provide training, guidance and instructor-led rowing sessions all over the world. The Hydrow subscription app offers Live classes, preloaded classes, rowing competitions and challenges, a Leaderboard, interactive options between rowing participants, and data collection. It is more of a Peloton-type experience on a rower. While the PM5 only offers a handful of training programs, the Hydrow app has over 15,000 workouts that are constantly updated. Just like on Peloton, users can opt to join a Live Class, choose programs from their favorite instructors, or select classes depending on length or location. The Hydrow offers valuable instruction on proper form, which is very helpful for those who may be unfamiliar with rowing. Hydrow outdoor sessions are filmed with multiple camera angles so you don’t just look back at the person rowing or down at their feet the whole time. A boat follows both in front and behind the instructor to film different angles; there is also a camera mounted on the front of the rowing scull for added footage. The combination of outdoor routes, impressive videography, professional rowing instruction, guided challenges and interactive options make the Hydrow an excellent training option for both new and experienced rowers. Rowing resistance adjusts while you row to match that experienced by the instructor on the water. All of this works together to create a very real rowing experience. The default for the Hydrow is to select a rowing program. It has limited “Just Row” options since the programming is the main emphasis here.