WaterRower vs. Concept2

Introduction

When comparing the WaterRower and the Concept2 RowErg, there are several key differences and similarities to consider.

An image collage showing a woman rowing on a Concept2 and a WaterRower tank
Erg battle: WaterRower vs. Concept2 — what's your pick?

In this review:

For starters, all of the WaterRower's offerings across their wooden and metallic lines (including monorail models) use — you guessed it — water resistance. The Concept2 options (including the RowErg and the Dynamic) use air resistance. This has a series of implications that we'll get into in greater detail below. 

The two competitors also have very different approaches to design from a stylistic perspective: The WaterRower is clearly targeting the in-home workout demographic (as are their key partners at Ergatta), which is why there is an emphasis on aesthetics and noise reduction; Concept2 is less concerned with appearance and more with pure function, although from the standpoint of basic design principles, the very simplicity of the Concept2's structure (as well as practicality in terms of mobility, lightness, durability, etc.) can be equally pleasing. 

Let's take a closer look.

Design

WaterRower

As mentioned above, the WaterRower uses a unique water flywheel system to create resistance, and features a options that have various wooden frames that are made to look good in a living room setting. And they do a great job —just look how well it fits into this mid-century modern space in the below marketing image from Ergatta.

Image via Ergatta/Facebook

However, while it may seem immediately like the better fit for the in-home experience (and aesthetic), there are some important considerations tied to those design decisions.

Real rowing 'feel'

Water resistance, somewhat counter-intuitively, doesn't give the exact same feel as the boat moving through the water in this setting. The good part is, it's a little more natural for a novice or beginner rower to get the feel for how to apply pressure using water resistance. The downside is, the pressure remains fairly constant throughout the stroke, which is not the same sensation you get when in a boat (as the boat accelerates, the handle begins to feel lighter through the back half of the stroke cycle — this is more accurately represented by air resistance on land). 

Adjusting the drag

Water tank as resistance also means that your only way of adjusting the drag is by adding or siphoning off water from the container, which is obviously more cumbersome than just adjusting the damper setting (the amount of air being allowed into the flywheel) on a Concept2.

Dual rail vs. monorail

Also, the dual rail design on the WaterRower's standard model (and the Ergatta) causes the footplate to rest between the rails, necessarily limiting the width of the footplate, which can feel cramped. (Note: This is not true of the WaterRower's A1 model or their CityRow partnership, which feature a monorail design and footplates on either side of the rail — a more standard and in our opinion better design overall). 

The footplates on the standard double rail models are also higher than the monorail versions (as well as the Concept2 rower), which can contribute to that feeling of being cramped.

Upright storage

An upside of having a water tank as resistance is that it weighs enough to make storing the machine vertically very safe, given its wide base and weight when filled of roughly 103 pounds. 

The sound (and the noise)

Tortured reference to Marshall Mcluhan aside — one of the important things to consider is the sound of any piece of equipment you may be using at home. And in this case, WaterRower is great — it's very quiet, and the water whooshing around inside the tank has a pleasant sound that is a reminiscent of rowing on the water. 

Concept2

The Concept2 RowErg uses a flywheel and damper system, and has a more industrial design made of aluminum and steel. It looks like it means business, and it does. 

I said it in our review of the Concept2 rower, and it's worth repeating here — I've had the same machine (a Model C with a PM2 monitor) for more than 20 years, and it still works great. Concept2s are like the Toyota pickup trucks of rowing machines — they simply last forever. 

Rowing 'feel'

While the Hydrow has been testing the limits of how accurately a rowing machine can mimic rowing feel with electromagnetic resistance, the Concept2's air resistance flywheel approach is phenomenal in that it does replicate the real feel of rowing very closely. As in rowing on the water, there is a natural acceleration and lightness in the handle that creeps in across the second half of the drive. 

Drag settings

Adjusting the drag is incredibly easy — all you have to do is open or close the damper on the side of the flywheel. The monitor also allows you to set the drag very specifically, so if you want to get more granular than the damper settings, you can easily do that. (Note, however, that rowers usually set their drag at roughly 105-120 — so even if you're feeling particularly good this morning, don't just go in and set the damper to 10.)

Durable monorail design

The Concept2 rower's monorail design sets the footplates on either side of the rail, and lower in comparison to the seat than the standard WaterRower, which is more comfortable from a drive mechanics and leverage perspective, as well as closer to rowing on the water (if you look inside a rowing shell, you'll see that the footplates are in shallow cutouts that fall below the deck of the shell, where the sliding seats are located). 

Upright storage

The Concept2 can be stored vertically as well, as you'll see in boathouses or CrossFit gyms across the country. But it's not quite as stable in that position as the WaterRower, due to it's lighter weight overall (only 57 pounds). If you're nervous about that, you can always break it down into 2 pieces. 

Noise level

One of the distinct advantages that the WaterRower has over the Concept2 is the noise level, as well as the quality of the sound each machine generates. While many of us who rowed in college may have fond (or otherwise) memories of the noise of Concept2 flywheels whirring up a storm during land workouts, it's definitely not going to be congenial to your housemates, nor is it as sonorous as the whooshing sound mentioned above generated by the WaterRower's tank. 

Size and Weight

The standard wooden Water Rower is slightly larger and heavier than the Concept2 RowErg, coming in at just over 100 pounds when the tank is filled, but both machines are relatively easy to store and move around. 

While the Concept2 is lighter, it's also longer — the RowErg measures some 96" in length, which is 14 inches longer than the 82" standard WaterRower design. 

A key thing to note is that the standard WaterRower has a max weight limit of up to 700 pounds, while the Concept2 RowErg has a weight limit of up to 500 pounds. Both are higher than some of the other rowers on the market, including the Hydrow, which (while the machine itself weighs over 140 pounds) is only 375 pounds.  

User Experience

This is another area where things get very interesting. 

As I detailed above, the Water Rower has aesthetics on its side and the sound factor is an important one. The Concept2 RowErg, however, offers a wider range of metrics and data through its advanced monitor, as well as more training options through its compatibility with third-party apps and software.

The thing with the WaterRower monitor is that it is basic to the extreme. There are ways to look at your speed or progress in a workout that are unlike other machines (like mph instead of split per 500m), but overall it's a little like an old-school clock radio. On top of that, the metrics (split times, etc.) that it does offer vary greatly from that of the Concept2, which is the machine that is used for all official indoor records and racing through World Rowing. 

In general, I've found that my 500m splits are much faster on the WaterRower.

For example, the effort required to pull a 1:35 split on a Concept2 would get you a much lower split time on the WaterRower (well into the 1:20s). I'm not sure why the calibration is so different, but it is. And if it matters to you to have accurate data, to be able to make apples-to-apples comparisons with a huge number of rowers worldwide (including elite athletes), or to track your workouts over time, then the Concept2 standard monitor is far superior. 

Now, when you start adding the other apps and subscriptions, it can become a little less clear. 

While Concept2 is compatible with multiple third party apps, and has a device-holder attachment if you just want to watch a class (or a movie for that matter) while you row, the folks at WaterRower have partnered with two different companies — Ergatta and CityRow — to offer distinct, connected experiences with advanced touchscreen monitors. 

To learn more about the Ergatta experience, read our in-depth Ergatta review.  

Price and Value

The Water Rower is generally more expensive than the Concept2 RowErg, with a base price of around $1,160 compared to the RowErg's base price of around $900. However, the WaterRower's unique design aesthetic and relatively silent (albeit sonorous — there's that word again) performance make it very compelling for in home use. 

From the Concept2 perspective, it's really hard to say anything can beat the standard Concept2 RowErg (formerly Model D) on value. I mean, this is practically something you can hand down to your kids. They also take great care in making sure its easy and practical for people to order spare parts or make repairs themselves, and the maintenance needed is minimal (keep it clean, maybe grease the chain a bit every few months or years). 

All of that, and it's the cheapest serious rower (yes, please ignore all those random options on Amazon for $300 — not really viable options) on the market. 

Pros and Cons of the WaterRower

Pros:

  • Smooth and quiet rowing experience via belt drive (nylon strap) and water resistance
  • Elegant and sleek design
  • Easy to store and minimal footprint
  • Good for novices as the resistance is easy to feel

Cons:

  • More expensive than Concept2
  • Limited metrics and training options with standard monitor
  • Footplate narrow and a little high compared to seat level on standard dual rail model
  • Handle a bit narrow, straight — doesn't have ergonomic shape

Pros and Cons of the Concept2 RowErg

Pros:

  • Wide range of metrics and data available through the monitor
  • Compatibility with third-party apps and software
  • Durable and reliable design
  • Ergonomic handle design 
  • Same machine used worldwide for international competitions via World Rowing, as well as the CrossFit Games

Cons:

  • Larger footprint than WaterRower (longer)
  • Noisy due to air resistance via flywheel design (and bike chain drive system)
  • Industrial design may not be as aesthetically pleasing

Conclusion

Overall, the decision between the WaterRower and the Concept2 RowErg comes down to personal preference and priorities. 

If you're looking for something that fits almost seamlessly into a living-room setting, and are willing to invest in a more expensive machine, the WaterRower may be the better choice. 

However, if you prioritize a wider range of metrics and training options, and want a more affordable and reliable option, the Concept2 RowErg may be the better choice. It's the gold-standard for a reason — and even as other connected rower options continue to emerge, the sheer quality and practicality of Concept2 continues to make it a front runner in the rowing machine world. 

WaterRower A1: Best of Both Worlds?

The WaterRower A1 is, in my opinion, their best machine — and it comes at a lower price point (just under $1k). It has a monorail design, weighs 98 pounds with the tank filled, and has a more comfortable construction overall. The downsides here are the max weight (which is only 300 pounds), and the monitor, which is not nearly as advanced as the Concept2. 

I've used this model extensively as an indoor rowing instructor, and it's a solid machine — again, it does come down to priorities and preferences (what are you willing to give up in terms of data, how do you enjoy the feel of water versus air resistance, etc.). 

Read our other rowing machine reviews:

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