Voxelab Aquila S2 review: an excellent 3D printer for beginners

Late last year Voxelab, a subsidiary of FlashForge, launched the Aquila S2 as an upgrade to its popular Aquila line of 3D printers. Offering many upgrades over the previous generation, the S2 model now offers a direct-drive extruder with an all-metal hotend capable of reaching 300C, which is the main feature of the printer. So, without further ado, here’s our hands-on review of the Voxelab Aquila S2 3D printer, and our decision on whether it’s the perfect place for a beginner to start, or if you should look elsewhere to begin a journey of 3D printing. 3D printing.

Practice with the Voxelab Aquila S2

While 3D printers used to be quite expensive, now you have pretty much everything under $500 for an entry-level or beginner model. However, many of these 3D printers, until later, lacked features that were often found in more expensive versions. Voxelab tries to bring the entry level price down while still delivering a solid feature set with the Aquila S2, and I have to say it was a great experience.

Coming to $299, the Aquila S2 is on the more budget side of the 3D printer space, especially for the features it offers. Leading the way is the direct-drive extruder that ditches the Bowden tube in favor of feeding filament directly into the hotend, essentially. This is a pretty unique feature in this price range and allows for easier printing of more flexible filaments like TPU, if that’s something you like. Additionally, the hotend itself can reach over 300°C, while most 3D printers cap out in the 230-260°C range.

But, before we dive into the full review, let’s take a closer look at the Voxelab Aquila S2 specs.

  • Direct extruder with all metal hotend capable of 300C temperatures
  • PEI magnetic and flexible steel plate
  • Aluminum base heating plate
  • Resume printing in the event of a power failure
  • Build Volume: 220mm(L)×220(W)×240mm(H)
  • XY axis accuracy: ±0.2mm
  • Octoprint/3rd party firmware supported on some models
  • Filaments supported: PLA, TPU, ABS, PETG, PETG-CF, wood, etc.

9to5Toy’s take

I’ve had the Voxelab Aquila S2 for about two weeks now, and I can count on one hand how many days it hasn’t printed since it arrived. Arrived a few weeks ago, I set about assembling the Aquila S2. Having never used a 3D printer before, let alone assembled one, the instructions were…correct. I wish there was a better instructional video available online that wasn’t just a time lapse recording of someone assembling it from afar. I’ve built both small and large CNC machines in the past, so it’s not like I don’t already have a ton of experience in the field. However, after about an hour or so, I was up and running, ready to start tuning the Voxelab Aquila S2.

On the adjustment side, it took quite a bit of adjustment to set it up, as there is no automatic bed leveling feature here. However, after a few days of work leveling the bed and dialing in things like my retraction settings, speed, and temperature for the specific filament I’m using, everything went smoothly. Honestly, aside from auto-leveling the missing bed, retraction and temperature settings are things you’ll need to do on any printer, and even when changing filament, so those processes are the ones you’ll want to go with familiarize. However, in two weeks of printing and dozens of hours of machine operation, I haven’t had to re-level the bed once, which I feared I would have to do often. I’m planning on picking up a BL Touch at some point to get me the rest of the way as manually leveling the bed really only gets you about 99% flat but so far it hasn’t bothered any impression I made – even those that take up the whole size of the plate.

Ever since I set it up and connected it, I’ve been printing non-stop. As a beginner 3D printer, the on-screen menus were easy to maneuver, and I was able to create a design in Fusion 360 (or upload one to Thingiverse), slice it in PrusaSlicer, and easily place it on the microSD card . I finally set up Octoprint on a spare Raspberry Pi 3B to allow me to connect PrusaSlicer directly to the printer and take advantage of some of the software’s more advanced features, but in the end it was also extremely simple to configure.

The version of the Aquila S2 I received contains the N32 chip, which means it’s compatible with the aforementioned Octoprint, but it’s also community firmware. After using the printer for a few days on the original firmware from Voxelab, I flashed the firmware from Alex from the community. The process takes a little time, and if you’re not used to doing things like that, I wouldn’t recommend it. However, once I flashed both the machine’s firmware and the LCD, I was quite happy with the added functionality. Things like leveling the bed became easier as I didn’t have to manually move my head on the screws as the firmware has buttons for bottom left, bottom right, top left, in top right and center. Just click the button and the Z axis goes up, the X and Y move the head to the right place, then the Z goes down to where it needs to be level. It helped me dial things in even more than the stock firmware, and if you’re comfortable with it, I highly recommend you do it.

I also really liked the quality of the prints. Of course, I did the stock prints with the included 50g PLA filament that Voxelab puts in the package, but I quickly switched to using the PETG that I bought from Amazon. While I started with TECBEARS, which is among the most economical deals on Amazon, I’ve since chosen Overture as my filament of choice. I chose to use PETG for most of my prints because a lot of them will be used to organize my woodworking shop, which can get quite hot in the summer, so I wanted extra durability over PLA. I’ve heard that PETG has always been harder to print, but honestly, I had no problem printing it on the Aquila S2, and was quite impressed with its quality. Whether I’m doing a draft print of a new design at 0.3mm layer height with a single perimeter and top/bottom layer, or doing the typical 0.2mm layer height with multiple perimeters and additional top/bottom layers, they always come out crisp and clean. In my opinion, very little post-processing needs to be done in most cases before a print is ready for use.

While there are printers in the $350 range that have features like auto bed leveling and the like, the Voxelab Aquila S2 at $299 is my personal recommendation for those new to 3D printing who also want high-end features. While the Ender 3 is $189, the Ender 3 Pro $239, and the Ender 3 V2 $279, none of these printers have the same feature set as the Aquila S2. The direct-drive extruder and 300C hotend make the Aquila S2 a more versatile printer overall, and the included magnetic PEI sheet is something no Ender 3 model comes with.

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