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The Parker Variant and Mergress Adjustable: A Side by Side Test and Review

The Parker Variant and the Mergress Adjustable
A Side by Side Test and Review


Summary:
The Parker Variant is an excellent, well made adjustable razor; much more readily available than the Mergress and cheaper. But it's not noticeably better in use, and may not be any better that the Mekrur Progress.


Why this Comparison?
I chose to test these two razors because I wanted to see whether a close copy of the Merkur Progress was in fact an improvement, and if the Parker Variant was in fact a better buy. Now I know what your thinking I'm testing the Variant against an enhanced Progress, the Mergress, so isn't that unfair? Well yes, it is a little. The Mergress (I believe modified by Eric Mer?) replaces that nasty plastic knob on the Progress with a chrome knob, but more importantly ensured that the settings were consistent. I bought my Mergress second hand. Some report that you have to press the handle into the head initially on the standard production Progress for correct alignment, but I have never found blade alignment or settings with my Mergress to be an issue.

The Razors

In fact I don't own a Progress! However my Mergress has the same head as the Progress, and so I think the test is fair. There is more: The Mergress is hard to get hold of. I believe there are none in production currently. When available they range from about $60 to over $150. By contrast the Variant is readily and widely available from a number of re-sellers and the importers Super Safety Razors.

I have used my Mergress many times with many different blades and it is probably my second favorite razor at this time; just a shade behind my new love, the RR Wunderbar slant, in terms of efficiency. However, being adjustable it's probably more user friendly to a wider range of folk than the Wunderbar, because it can be set at a very mild setting, as can the Variant.

I've shaved with the Varaint only five times. I started with a slick looking black handled version. However, the blacking peeled immediately. Howie and Helen being very attentive and honest business people, replaced it instantly with the satin version. I believe the black handled version has been temporarily withdrawn, whilst they amend this production glitch.

Visually the heads are very similar. The Variant has four drainage holes on the bottom of the base plate, and the Mergress has none, but the wide channel under the blade in both razors make rinsing easy.

They are both two piece razors, with long handles and quite heavy. Amongst the biggest, and heaviest razors I own, and some of the longest and heaviest on the DE market. I feel the Mergress is a little better balanced, but they are both very easy to use. They are both easy to use around the problem areas of the neck, jawline and chin, and under the nose. The Mergress looks a little more solidly built, and the screw joining the head seems stouter on the Mergress, but this does not affect performance in the Variant.

Aesthetically I much prefer the bright chrome of the Mergress to the dull satin of the Variant, but this is a test of efficiency, not beauty, which, I confess, remains in the eye of the beholder!

How I Use and Adjustable Razor
When using an adjustable, (and following advice from others on this forum, including Jim Chandler, plus my own long experimentation) I've found the best way, for the smoothest and most comfortable shave is to INCREASE the aggression with each pass. It seems counter-intuitive at first but it really works best. It's like lowering the blade on a lawn mower to get a closer cut. I increased the aggression on each pass on this test.

With these razors I wanted especially to test them in the upper range (more aggressive) of their setting for three reasons. Firstly, because a number of users switch to an adjustable razor because they want the option of a more aggressive razor. Secondly, because I wanted to feel how these razors compared with other more aggressive razors, and to some extent other adjustable razors. Lastly, because I only had a moderate amount of growth and when this is the case I use a more aggressive razor because this produces a close shave with minimal irritation.

I shaved using exactly the same setting on both razors WTG at setting #2, XTG at setting #3 and AGT at setting #4. Final cleanup, touch up, buffing and J-hooking was done at setting #4.5.


My previous shave was about 22 hours before when I tested the the Merkur Futur and it's clone the Ming Shi 2000s against each other. That test left me with a close, long-lasting shave, so the growth was only moderate. But I have a fast growing, coarse beard, so I think this is a reasonable test.

The Blade used for the Test
I chose to use the Rapira Platinum Lux. I've found this blade to be consistent and reliable in just about every shaver, and it's always good for at least four shaves, often six, in just about any razor. It's sharp, smooth, comfortable, quite cheap, and easily available and my personal favorite of the Rapira line.

I have had many close comfortable shaves with my Mergress using this blade, and so I felt it was reasonable to assume that the very similar Parker Variant would like this blade too. Indeed it did. I loaded each razor with a blade that had been used for one previous shave. Again a deliberate choice because most of us don't shave with a brand new blade every day. From many shaves with many other razors using this blade, I knew that the Rapira Platinum Lux would have plenty of life left in it.

The Routine
For testing I go through the same routine.

I clean my face and wet the beard by washing with a glycerin soap. I rinse off the soap, wet it thoroughly and apply two drops of a pre-shave oil.

I use an Arko shave stick applied directly to the beard and lather with a Stirling Synthetic “Kong” brush. I rinse and lather again between passes. I thoroughly rinse the head of the razor between passes. I remove the blade from the razor when I'm done. I dry it with a microfiber cloth. Naturally I dry the razor too when I'm done.

I finish with an Alum block which is a good indicator of razor burn or irritation.

The Shave
I used the Variant on the right half of my face the Mergress on the left half, switching razors between passes. My beard growth is very even, with perhaps the left being a touch more challenging, so the Mergress had the harder job but only very slightly so.

The WTG pass was smooth, comfortable and easy with both razors. No perceptible difference.

XTG was also very good with both razors, but I noticed a difference; I had to do a little more work with the Variant and it did not feel quite as smooth as the Mergress.

AGT is often where the rubber meets the road, or perhaps more accurately the blade meets the face! Both razors did a fine job, but the Mergress felt smoother, especially under the nose, where I had to shave a little more gingerly with the Variant.

In the buff and touch up, I had to do more with the Variant to get the BBS result, but it got there.

No nicks, cuts, or weepers from either razor, and a BBS result. Feedback from the alum block was minimal with perhaps a touch more from the side shaved with Variant, reflecting the fact that I had to do more work there.

Conclusion
Would I swap my Mergress for the Variant? Absolutely not. I believe the Mergress is better and perhaps by extension the Progress is too. However the Variant is a very fine razor, with a better look than the standard Progress, with a better adjustment knob, and usually cheaper to buy.

Despite some rave review for the Variant (including Mantic59) I don't think the Variant is the new holy grail. However, it's very good, an excellent adjustable, and I'm happy to include it in my rotation. I congratulate Parker for bringing a new adjustable to the market; it's long overdue.

If you own a Mergress, is it worth buying a Variant? Only if you're a RAD addict like me! If you have a Progress? Probably not either. If you are buying your first adjustable the Variant is in my estimation a better first choice than the Futur, or Ming Shi 2000s, because it has milder settings. It may be a better value that the Progress, but I doubt a better shaver.



I will do a side by side test against my Gillette Slim, but my guess is the Variant is probably better, especially as it's not always easy to buy a vintage adjustable where the setting work well. Ditto the Fatboy.



Let me know what your own experimentation and experiences have revealed!
 
Great review, thanks. Kindda gets me thinking whether I should try a modern adjustable...
They're a lot of fun. Of course, I'm a razor junkie so perhaps not the most balanced view! But they deliver great shaves, especially if you increase the aggression on each pass.
 
I have Progress and i find the chrome finishing on it excellent. I also have Futur and lately I have been mostly my Futur. If I had to choose between Progress and Futur I would no doubt choose Futur.

The finishing on the Variant does not seem excellent in some pictures I have seen.
 
I have Progress and i find the chrome finishing on it excellent. I also have Futur and lately I have been mostly my Futur. If I had to choose between Progress and Futur I would no doubt choose Futur.

The finishing on the Variant does not seem excellent in some pictures I have seen.
I agree it's not the best finish. Rather dull. My Mergress is shiny. The Variant is a solid razor though. I posted a side by side review of the Futur and it's clone (well copy) the Ming Shi 2000s. I think you would enjoy reading it. Let me know your opinion.
 
The Merkur Progress is my new daily shaver. Been using a new one for about a month now (Merkur made new Progress molds in 2016). BBS shaves with 2 passes and a little buffing. Any blade seems to work great. Stepped up from a Merkur 34c.

The Progress is a work-of-art to me.
 
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The Merkur Progress is my new daily shaver. Been using a new one for about a month now (Merkur made new Progress molds in 2016). BBS shaves with 2 passes and a little buffing. Any blade seems to work great. Stepped up from a Merkur 34c.

The Progress is a work-of-art to me.
How does the 2016 Progress differ from earlier ones?

Sent from my Nexus 5X using Tapatalk
 
I have a Mergress that I had Eric convert a couple of years ago and the satin Variant I just sold. Both pretty much shave the same to me. It's the same head. I prefer the short handled Mergress as I found the Variant handle a bit too long for me.
 
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How does the 2016 Progress differ from earlier ones?

Sent from my Nexus 5X using Tapatalk
To tell the difference between the old and new; the new has very small alignment marks on the head and cap, almost unnoticeable. The older ones have large alignment marks shown in most Internet pictures.

Someone wrote Merkur and they said they redesigned the molds because of wear over the years.
 
Nice review, thanks!
I shaved today with my Variant (3 days growth) and my last shave before was with my Fatboy (3 days growth). I used the same Astra SP (3rd and 4th shaves) and the same soap, Stirling Ben Franklin. My conclusion, without any reasonable doubts... the Variant shaves circles around the Fatboy. Way more efficient razor in MY hands. Having a Rockwell 6s also, I am getting to the point where I only like my Fatboy and Slim to look at them. Unlike my British SS flare tip which is a world class shaver... Anyway, count me in with the Variant fans, great shaver!
 
Great review. One day I may spring for a Variant but I'm waiting to see how they are addressing the issues identified in the early production runs.
 
I have a Mergress that I had Eric convert a couple of years ago and the satin Variant I just sold. Both pretty much shave the same to me. It's the same head. I prefer the short handled Mergress as I found the Variant handle a bit too long for me.
Is Eric still making these? The shave is very similar. There's not much in it, but the Mergress feels a tad smoother.
 
Nice review, thanks!
I shaved today with my Variant (3 days growth) and my last shave before was with my Fatboy (3 days growth). I used the same Astra SP (3rd and 4th shaves) and the same soap, Stirling Ben Franklin. My conclusion, without any reasonable doubts... the Variant shaves circles around the Fatboy. Way more efficient razor in MY hands. Having a Rockwell 6s also, I am getting to the point where I only like my Fatboy and Slim to look at them. Unlike my British SS flare tip which is a world class shaver... Anyway, count me in with the Variant fans, great shaver!
Thanks, I appreciate your comments!
 
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