The Dr. Dabber Aurora doesn't turn heads... but that's a good thing. (Chris Thomas, The Cannabist)

Dr. Dabber Aurora gives the concentrate curious an entry-level option (review)

Vape pen for load-your-own waxes and oils offers no-hassle use, but needs a little engineering TLC

You could easily be forgiven for being uncomfortable with dabs.

They’re quite potent — cannabis concentrates used in dabbing can range from 60-95 percent THC — and deeply embedded doubts about drug use still haunt the collective consciousness of those who grew up in an era of prohibition. Hell, even the traditional way to consume oils and waxes (blowtorch, nail and a modified bong) is said by some to resemble something you might find in a PSA from the height of the War on Drugs. But for a great many people, they’re a convenient vehicle for a more appropriate dose.

That’s where the portable concentrate pen comes in, and the Dr. Dabber Aurora is one of the more polished load-your-own products in the sub-$100 price range. Easy to use and discreet, this vape pen has the fit and finish to be a convenient option for both patients and casual users alike.

If you’re new to concentrates, I won’t be discussing them in-depth here. All I’ll say is that you should read up on the subject because there’s a bit of a learning curve.

Gaze upon the Aurora

There’s a lot to like about the Dr. Dabber Aurora. It’s a matte black unit with very little flourish on the outside, but it’s extremely portable and convenient. It’s about the same size as a fancy pen, and the battery lends a satisfying heft to it.

A black and white photo of the Dr. Dabber Aurora being held in a hand.
The Dr. Dabber Aurora fits the bill of an unassuming portable concentrate pen. (Chris Thomas, The Cannabist)

The pen itself is composed of three discrete parts: the mouthpiece, battery unit and one of three atomizers included in the box. Undoubtedly the best thing about the Aurora’s construction is that it’s held together by magnets (instead of threaded sockets), making it far faster and easier to use or disassemble. The downside is that they don’t fit together perfectly, and can easily be wobbled around in your fingers. On top of that, newbies may mistakenly cover up the airflow holes near the top and middle of the unit. Hold it from the battery component to avoid sealing your Aurora with your fingers accidentally.

For concentrate users looking to make the jump away from a traditional rig, this is the type of wax pen I’d suggest you start with. Not only is it dead simple to learn on, but it’s much less expensive than getting a high-quality setup for home. Even though I found the internal temps to be higher than the claimed “low temp” range of 450 degrees Fahrenheit to 650 degrees, over fifty measurements with an infrared thermometer tell me it never exceeds the ideal dabbing temperatures at its hottest (750 degrees), so there’s little need to worry about the health concerns of pushing the titanium wire to high heat. If you’re unsure of which atomizer to use, I suggest the quartz option. Not only is it easier to see when it needs cleaning, but it’s the only one I felt comfortable using. That ceramic rod atomizer gave me the willies: it’s not high-quality material by any stretch.

A close-up photo of the Dr. Dabber Aurora's ceramic rod wicks. (Chris Thomas, The Cannabist)
Here’s an extreme close-up of the ceramic wicks. If you’re worried about silicosis, broken edges don’t inspire confidence. (Chris Thomas, The Cannabist)

Before your session, you can drop some oil into the atomizer, or use the dab tool to load a ball of wax about the size of a grain of rice onto the heating elements. Just don’t go crazy — overfilling the chamber voids the warranty. Set the Aurora to one of the three preset temperatures by pressing the Dr. Dabber logo button three times. The lower your temperature, the more terpenes you’ll save, so green (450 degrees) is best for flavor, while blue (550 degrees) and pink (650 degrees) are for faster concentrate vaporization.

Once your temp is set, turn the unit on by mashing the power button five times, and hold while drawing. Though that may seem a little strange, being unable to turn the unit on accidentally is a necessary safety feature. Seriously, your pants or jacket catching fire shouldn’t be something you have to worry about when buying electronics (et tu, Samsung?).

Should you buy it?

This is a good option for light users, or those who only need a hit or two. If you’re a frequent or heavy user, look elsewhere.

When you first use the Aurora, you’ll be happy with it. It has the performance you’d expect to deliver cannabinoids not usually preserved with a traditional dab rig. As far as portable vaporizers go that’s high praise; usually at this price point there are some bigger trade-offs. However, I’m not convinced that concentrate pens are quite where they need to be for heavy, frequent use. The high heat required for dabs is a tough mark to safely reach without some beefy components, and the Aurora’s delicate atomizers have trouble regulating its temperature.

That’s potentially dangerous (key word: potentially), over a long period of time. Heat has a way of degrading lithium-ion batteries like the one found in the Dr. Dabber Aurora, and prolonged exposure can cause thermal runaway: a process where batteries heat up intensely, then explode. While these incidents are extremely rare, the way to make them happen is to compromise the structural integrity of the battery itself — usually with extreme heat or a puncture.

With that in mind, heavy users should probably save more involved or social sessions for a traditional rig at home just to be on the safe side. Should something fail, Dr. Dabber offers a one-year “no questions asked” warranty, and you can pick up replacement parts relatively inexpensively.

You may already be aware that many Dr. Dabber products are re-brands of other units mass-produced in China. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you can go to Alibaba and find some suspiciously familiar no-brand models. But it’s tough to knock when Dr. Dabber has obviously put in some extra effort to make the Aurora a complete product.

For a $100 pen, this is a decent way to go if you have access to commercially-made wax or shatter. I don’t recommend it for true novices or heavy users, but light users and patients in need of an emergency dose will find the Dr. Dabber Aurora a workable companion for infrequent short-session use. If that sounds like you, keep the Aurora in mind when you shop.

The Dr. Dabber Aurora retails for $99.95 on the company’s site.

A photo of the Dr. Dabber Aurora in its charging station, on a wooden desk.
The USB charging station for the Dr. Dabber Aurora is as convenient as they come, and a looker to boot. (Chris Thomas, The Cannabist)