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Concept2 Model E Review: Why It’s Better than the Model D

Most people have always preferred the treadmill or the elliptical machine to the boring, old indoor rower. The tide, however, has been turning as people are beginning to realize the powerful benefits of rowing indoors.

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably one of those people who have been converted into the quickly growing global club of rowing fans. And you’ve most likely zeroed in on the Concept2 Model E.

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Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve most probably heard of Concept2 if you’re starting to get serious enough about rowing that you want to buy your own. Concept2 is the gold standard when it comes to indoor rowing. And while there are other brands with the same stellar reputation (Check out the WaterRower, the best water resistance rowing machine out there), the general consensus in the rowing community is that no one can hold a candle to Concept2.

You’ve also probably heard of the Concept2 Model D (which we have reviewed extensively in this article), but Concept2 has another less popular indoor rower that has pretty much the same praiseworthy build and quality and provides the same effective cardio workout to its user.

The Concept2 Model E is a different model designed for people who have more particular needs, which we’ll talk about in more detail below. If you’re up in the air about whether to get the Model D or Model E, the comparison chart below can help you decide which rowing machine to get.

More specifically, we’ll look at whether this exercise machine is a durable, long-term investment and whether or not you’re bound to get your money’s worth.

We’ll tackle the nitty-gritty as well. Little things such as the construction of the handle and foot rest, the comfort level of the seat and the evenness of the seat gliding along the rail are actually big things that can help you make up your mind about the Model E.

Lastly, we'll touch upon briefly on your buying options and where to buy the Concept2 Model E so you can get the best deal.

Or, if you would like to jump ahead to the parts of this review that you are specifically interested in, check out the Table of Contents below. ​

In a Nutshell...

What We Like:  

  • Extremely durable, will definitely last for years
  • Provides self-paced resistance suitable for all fitness levels 
  • Seat height of 20 inches, perfect for people with mobility problems
  • Best of its kind top-of-the-line Performance Monitor 5
  • Ergonomic design; has angled handles, sturdy foot rests, and long rail
  • Very easy to assemble and maintain 
  • Excellent customer service

What We Don't Like: 

  • Makes more noise than a WaterRower
  • Seat may be too hard for some people 
  • Has larger footprint than Concept2 Model D

Why the WaterRower is Good for You

Indoor rowing mimics the movements of rowing in the outdoors. Have you ever seen a professional rower on TV? They have tapered backs, muscular arms, and strong, athletic legs – and it’s all thanks to rowing.

Working out on a WaterRower helps you become fit and healthy. It will most likely take years and a whole lot of dedication before you start looking like an Olympic rower, but it won’t take long before you begin to feel strong because of rowing.

As a total-body workout, rowing allows you to combine both your strength and cardio training in a single efficient workout. You’re training your heart and your muscles at the same time, while also working out all your major muscle groups from head to toe.

Gym buffs and professional athletes alike swear by the benefits they get from supplementing their training with indoor rowing, but it’s also a good exercise for pretty much everybody else. Yes, that includes fitness-conscious nonagenarians who like to keep moving even as they age. Rowing has practically zero impact on the joints, so it doesn’t cause undue pressure for people with joint problems or have had injuries.

It’s also pretty easy to learn. Your success with indoor rowing depends very much on your ability to master the technique. But it takes a little less than 10 minutes to get the moves right. And if it doesn’t, you can always spend your next workout practicing the technique.

How is the Model E Different from the Model D?

Both the Model D and Model E are excellent pieces of exercise equipment that will provide you with an amazing workout. These two rowing machines offer the same superior quality and customer service that Concept2 is known for. The difference lies in the ergonomics of both machines.

The most prominent of these differences is their height. The Model E has a higher seat at 20 inches off the floor, which is just around the average height of a regular chair. If you have mobility issues (more about that later) or if you simply prefer the look of the Model E, it is the better choice for you. 

On the other hand, if you have no problems getting on and off the lower Model D, and you're satisfied with how it looks, you can save a couple hundred bucks on the cheaper model.​

Both machines also come equipped with the same monitor, the Performance Monitor 5, but vary in terms of how accessible the monitor is to you. In the Model D, you can swing the plastic monitor arm at practically all angles. This allows you to adjust its position so that you can see what’s on the display from wherever you are on the rowing machine.

On the Model E, the monitor arm is at a fixed angle, perhaps owing to the model’s larger design. You won’t be able to move the monitor to any position you like, though you can tilt the display itself up and down for better visibility.

You’ll also notice that the Model E sports a one-leg, welded steel design that’s better suited for the height of the machine. Although the Model E has the same 500-lb. maximum weight capacity as the Model D (It’s actually much lower at 300 lbs., according to the European Stationary Fitness Equipment Testing Standard), the increased stability this design brings makes it better than the Model D for people on the heavier side.

Lastly, the Model E is double-coated with powder for a glossy black or light gray finish. This makes the Model E look more luxurious than the Model D with its single powder coating. The additional layer also adds a bit more protection on the Model E.

Check out the comparison chart below to get a quicker look at the differences and similarities of the Models D and E.

Concept2 Model D

Concept2 Model E

Dimensions

8 feet (length), 2 feet (width), 14 inches (height)

8 feet (length), 2 feet width, 20 inches (height)

Support Legs

Aluminum front legs and steel rear legs

Welded steel front and rear legs

Monitor

PM5 mounted on ABS plastic, adjustable monitor arm

PM5 mounted on non-adjustable monitor arm

Chain

Nickel-plated chain in partially enclosed housing

Nickel-plated chain in fully enclosed housing

Maximum User Weight

500 lbs. according to Concept2, but 300 lbs. according to European Stationary Fitness Equipment Testing Standard

500 lbs. according to Concept2, but 300 lbs. according to European Stationary Fitness Equipment Testing Standard

Power Source for PM5

Two D Cell batteries combined with power from mechanical energy of spinning flywheel

Two D Cell batteries combined with power from mechanical energy of spinning flywheel

Storage

Separate flywheel and rails

Needs 25 in. x 33 in. x 54 in. of storage space​

Separate flywheel and rails

Needs 27 in. x 45 in. 54 in. of storage space

Weight

57 lbs.

65 lbs.

For those of you who are heavier on the visual, check out this video comparison of the Concept2 Model D and Model E below. 

Is It Heavy-Duty Enough for Your Needs?

Is the sky blue? Is the Pope Catholic? The Concept2 holds a massive reputation for offering the highest-quality rowing machines in the market. Like the bestselling Model D, the Model E is a commercial-grade, durable piece of equipment that will withstand years and years of rowing for millions of miles. In other words, the Model E is built like a rock.

This is thanks to the welded steel frame that provides the stability to keep the rower strong and stable on virtually all kinds of surfaces. It also comes with the same aluminum I-beam rails and stainless steel track used for the Model D.

This particular combination of materials and the one-leg design of both the front and rear legs is the reason why, despite its height, the Model E will sit flush on your living room floor without swinging or swaying during your workout.

The double powder glossy coating also adds an extra layer of protection that makes this rower look sleeker and plusher than the Model D, even though the quality of exercise is still the same.

But don’t take our word for it. Check out this rower at your local fitness center. If the gym near you doesn’t have a Model E, they most likely have a Model D, the more popular model. Like we said, both models are practically identical when it comes to the quality of their craftsmanship and the type of workout you can get from them.

Try at least one of these models out for a few workouts to get a feel of how it is to exercise on a Concept2. This will help you see whether the numerous claims about Concept2’s superiority is true.

How to Customize Resistance Levels

Like the Model D, the Concept2 Model E relies on air resistance to increase or decrease the intensity of your workout. It’s fairly simple to adjust your resistance level. Unlike what many people mistakenly believe, you don’t have to move the damper level to change your resistance. You simply have to row faster or slower.

Resistance on the Concept2 is caused when the flywheel spins in its housing. When you row harder, the flywheel spins faster and causes more resistance. In contrast, when you row slower, the flywheel also turns slower. This causes less resistance, making your workout easier.

Here’s an easier way to picture it. If you want a heart-pounding, sweat-inducing heavy workout, row harder. This will make it feel as though you’re rowing upstream in a river. On the other end, if you want to take it easy, simply row slower. This is akin to idling by on the river and allowing the current to carry you downstream.

In between these two extremes is moderate rowing. It’s like rowing on a lake. It’s still, unmoving water and you don’t have to work as hard as rowing upstream in a river, but you’re not as relaxed as when you’re rowing downstream.

Concept2 Damper Settings

concept2 model e height

Image Credit: Concept2

So if that’s how you create resistance, what are the damper settings for? The damper settings of 1 to 10 refer to the drag coefficient of the machine. In English, the settings refer to the mass of your boat and crew had you been rowing in real life.

While resistance is caused by how fast the flywheel spins, drag is affected by the amount of air that passes through the flywheel. The more air passes through the fan, the more drag you will feel, and the more difficult it will be for your muscles. Consequently, less air passing through means less drag.

If you’ve ever rode on a bicycle before, which we're assuming you have, it’s like switching the gears of your bicycle up and down. You’re not really changing the level of resistance you get, but you’re still changing the way the imaginary boat feels when you row.

If you turn the damper all the way up to 10, you’ll feel like rowing a huge, heavy boat that’s practically impossible to tip over without the help of Mother Nature. It takes a lot of muscle work and will quickly make you tired.

The lower you go down the damper settings, the lighter and more streamlined the boat becomes. The lowest setting of 1 will feel like you’re rowing nothing at all. For beginners, a damper setting of 2 to 3 is recommended. This makes it feel like you’re rowing a slim, fast racing shell effortlessly gliding across the water with a single stroke.

This is where many beginners (and show-offs) make a huge mistake of messing with the damper settings. A higher damper setting of 10 does not equate to more resistance. It will simply prevent you from getting a good cardio workout because you will get tired right away. That alone defeats the entire purpose of buying a rowing machine, doesn’t it?

Most experts recommend that you set the damper settings somewhere between 3 and 5 and adjust the resistance level with your own power. As you get stronger, you can then think of tweaking the damper settings, but most people actually find they don’t even have to do that to get a great workout.

Ready to buy your indoor rower? Click here to visit Amazon and check out great prices and discounts on the Concept2 Model E. 

How Noisy is the Concept2 Model E?

For the most part, noise is relative. What may sound irritatingly noisy to you may be music to our ears. That said, the sound that the Model E makes while you’re rowing may be unpleasant to some but acceptable to others.

Let’s say, for instance, that you’ve rowed on the WaterRower. The WaterRower is a wooden rowing machine that uses water for resistance. It is practically noiseless except for the meditative sound of water sloshing around inside the tank as you row.

If you’ve fallen in love with the sound of the WaterRower—because many people have—it may suddenly feel like the sound of air whirring through the Model E’s flywheel is fingers scratching on a blackboard.

However, if you haven’t rowed on the WaterRower, you might not be bothered at all by the sound of a Concept2. We personally think the sound of the Model E is not loud enough to be a deal-breaker for most people.

It’s not too loud and you can still watch TV, listen to music on your iPhone or have a conversation with someone else in the room, though for some people, you might have to turn up the volume a bit if you want to hear the sound of the TV or your iPhone above the sound of the rowing machine. If you’ve heard a dishwasher at work, that’s about how loud the Concept2 can get.

concept2 model e

Image Credit: Concept2

If you’re really bothered by the sound, one thing you can do is to muffle it using a floor mat. Concept2 sells its own PVC floor mat for its rowers, but you can purchase other models you like. We recommend the Supermats PVC Mat, available on Amazon right here. Carpet also works well, plus the Model E actually stays stable even on carpeted floor.

In many cases, noise isn’t going to be much of a problem. However, if you live in an apartment complex where your neighbor can hear everything you’re doing, or if you live with someone who can’t be bothered by the least bit of noise, you might have to forgo this rowing machine.

We wouldn’t make all the decision based on the noise level, though. In fact, the sound of the Model E can actually provide feedback on your workout. One of the weaknesses of a self-paced exercise machine is that there’s no direct way for you to find out if you’re actually working harder or if you just think you are. There’s a way to work around that, though, by using the noise level as a feedback mechanism.

Here’s an example. If you want to increase resistance and row harder, listen out for the sound of air whooshing through the flywheel become louder. If it becomes softer, you’ll know you’re rowing slower and with less resistance.

Also, the sound of the chain moving in and out of the chain housing can remind you to keep your proper form. If you’re rowing the right way, you’ll hear the sound of the chain moving first before you move your legs. That’s because you have to straighten your arms first before you go back to the catch. Otherwise, you’re doing your workout wrong and you’re not getting the most out of it.

How Comfortable is the Concept2 Model E?

concept2 model e

Image Credit: NickC2

The best exercise machines are designed for comfort. We're not talking about the kind of comfort that involves lazing around on a sofa and pigging out on chips and donuts. We're talking about the kind of comfort that pushes you to maintain proper form without feeling pain anywhere in your body.

It might not seem obvious at first, but seemingly small aspects of the Model E’s design has a large impact on how you exercise. It’s these things that determine whether you end up fit as a fiddle or injured like an amateur who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Let’s talk about the seat first, since this seems to be the one of the biggest concerns for most people. The seat is positioned 20 inches from the floor. That’s half a foot higher than the Model D and is about as high as a regular chair.

If you have mobility issues, such as a lingering knee problem or a height above average, this makes it easier to get on the rower since you don’t have to bend so low as with the Model D. This also makes the Model E a great exercise machine for people on wheelchairs.

However, one thing that a few people keep pointing out is that the seat doesn’t offer enough protection. If the seat is too hard for you, you can use a gel pad or even a makeshift cushion made of a hand towel for more padding.

If you really want a seat upgrade, Concept2 actually offers a tractor seat that provides more protection for a bony bottom. The company doesn’t really promote this because the seat’s sloping low back might prevent you from getting a full range of motion at the end of the drive, although most people who maintain their form will likely not have that problem.

The tractor seat is a bit larger than the regular seat. More importantly, it offers way more protection than the latter. To install it, you only need to unscrew the original seat from under the rails and fasten the new tractor seat in place.

That’s one option. The other option is to grin and bear as you wait for your glute muscles to toughen up enough over time. It’s not the most attractive of choices, but it’ll show you if your rowing has paid off, at least for your glutes.

Other Design Decisions You Should Know

It’s not just the seat that needs some adjusting to. The rowing handle may or may not be designed to your liking. Concept2 clearly thought of this, as they positioned the handle with a 10-degree bend for a more natural arm position.

However, if you’re new to rowing or if you haven’t rowed for a long time, you may experience some pain in your forearms for the first few workouts. If you keep at it, though, it will likely go away.

Thankfully, the foot rest is another matter. It’s probably one of the more well thought out parts of the Model E. It can be easily adjusted to accommodate extreme foot sizes. In fact, it won’t be a problem if you have big feet and you want to share this rower with children of school age because you can easily adjust the foot rest as you go.

Lastly, keep in mind that the rail is 54 inches long. That’s about a little less than 4 1/2 feet. Even people with really long legs won’t have issues fitting themselves into the Model E. 

How to Assemble the Concept2 Model E

The Concept2 Model E comes in two separate boxes packed into one bigger box that’s almost the size of a refrigerator. It’s not exactly the smallest of packages, and you will most definitely need the help of someone else to carry it inside your house.

Assembling this rower is not as cumbersome as carrying it inside the house, but it does take up more time than putting the Model D together. We wager, however, that it won’t take you more than an hour if you follow the instructions down to the letter.

The sad part, though, is the assembly instructions come with more pictures than words. For those who process things visually, that’s not going to be a problem. But if you’ve never set up a rowing machine before and you have difficulty making sense of what’s in the pictures, you’re going to have a bit of a difficult time making sense of the instructions.

Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to assemble a Model E, and if you’re really having difficulty with it, come back to this article and take a look at the instructions below.

1. Turn the flywheel over. Take the front leg and fasten it to the upturned flywheel using the screws and the allen wrench Concept2 included in the shipping box. Turn the flywheel right side up.

2. Unscrew the bumper on the back of the rails and fasten it to the rear leg with a couple of screws. Now, you can join the rear leg to the rails and keep it in place with more screws.

3. Take the monitor arm and remove the the arm cover. Pull out the pickup wire from below the flywheel and thread it through the monitor arm. Put back the arm cover into place and screw the monitor arm into place.​

​4. Take the PM5 and attach it to the end of the monitor arm with screws. Plug the pickup wire into the left side of your monitor.

5. Put the flywheel section and the rails together. Take the flywheel by the foot rest and hold the rails with the other hand. Mate the groove of the rails into the crossbar in the middle of the flywheel section. Put the two sections down and make sure to put the lock in place.​

If you find that some parts don’t seem like they’re locking into place, don’t screw in your fasteners all the way while you’re still assembling the machine. Keep them loose until you have everything in the right place, then go back to the screws and tighten them.

If you’re still confused, you can always call up the Concept2 customer support department. The company is one of the best when it comes to after-sales service, and you won’t go wrong contacting a rep to help you deal with the unwieldy assembly instructions.

Once the assembly is done, your Model E will take up a considerable amount of space. At 96 inches long and 24 inches wide, It’s actually not longer or wider than the Model D, but you’ll have to find a space big enough to accommodate the Model E’s height.

How to Store the Concept2 Model E

concept2 model e storage

Image Credit: Concept2

Storing the Model E is no different from storing the Model D. You simply need to pull the rail and flywheel section apart so you can put them in their proper storage place. Like the Model D, the Model E’s flywheel section has caster wheels so you can roll it in and out of the storage area.

The difference, however, is that this model takes up a lot more space, so you’ll need a bigger corner for this baby. Specifically, Concept2 says it requires a space of at least 27 x 47 x 54 inches for storage.

However, if you have quite a lot of space, you might even consider leaving the rower in place in your home gym or your living room. It’s not much of a looker compared to the WaterRower, but it certainly looks much better than a bulky, clangorous treadmill. Plus, it makes storage practically a non-concern.

How to Maintain Your Concept2 Model E

Even though Concept2 products are built to last, you still have to put a bit of effort to make sure your Model E works flawlessly throughout the years.

One thing you can do is to wipe the rails every day with a piece of soft cloth or a non-abrasive scouring pad to keep it dust-free. Every now and then you can use a soap and water or any glass cleaner to keep it shiny as well, but do not bleach or acid if you don’t want to completely ruin the rower’s metal frame.

Around every couple of months or so, you’ll also need to oil the chain. The nickel plating contributes to the chain’s smooth movement, but regular oiling will make it even smoother. You’ll need only a teaspoon of mineral oil and a paper towel to rub it along the length of the chain. Apply more as needed, but remember to wipe off the excess when you’re done.

You can also use 20W motor oil, but never, ever use cleaners or solvents such as WD-40, unless you want to damage the chain and void your warranty. Regular oiling will also help prevent the chain links from turning stiff. If, however, you find a stiff link, you’ll have to contact the Concept2 support desk and ask for a chain replacement.

After several months of use, you might also notice that the handle has stopped going all the way to the flywheel housing. If this happens, check the shock cord and make sure it hasn’t become loose. If it has, tighten it up. If the shock cord displays signs of wear and tear, get in touch with Concept2 and get a replacement.

Take note, use only a shock cord provided by Concept2. Using another shock cord will likely adversely affect the way the stroke feels, preventing you from getting the good workout Concept2 promises.

You’ll also need to inspect the nuts and bolts every now and then, as they may have loosened over time. This is natural and a few screws here and there will really go loose as you give the rowing machine a good beating.

And lastly, check for dust gathering on the blades of the flywheel. A dusty flywheel affects how much air passes through it and how fast it goes. If you suddenly feel that the same resistance level you’ve always worked out in is no longer as intense as it used to be, it’s most likely because dust has accumulated on the flywheel. Give your Concept2 a good vacuuming every several months to keep dust away.

Concept2 Performance Monitor 5

concept2 pm5

Image Credit: Concept2

A brand new Model E automatically comes with a PM5. This is the latest version of Concept2’s highly approved performance monitor, which is actually one of the brand’s biggest selling points.

Unlike its competitors, which are barely basic stroke and time counters, the PM5 is a powerful mini-computer of sorts that lets you track your vital stats and sync it with your computer or mobile phone. And on those days where you feel like not working out at all, the PM5 can even provide a little bit of motivation.

The PM5 can also give you rowing tips and instructions to help you perfect your rowing, which is particularly helpful if you’re completely a novice when it comes to rowing and haven’t bothered to check out the rowers at your local gym (which we strongly suggest you do).

Once you get to the point where you won’t need the PM5 as a rowing coach, you can still use it to monitor your speed, distance, pace and total calories burned. It also tracks the power of every stroke and displays it in watts.

The PM5 is also compatible with certain wireless heart rate monitoring systems so you can monitor your heart rate before, during and after your workout. You’ll have to buy your own heart rate monitor yourself, and keep in mind you’ll need one that has ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart (a totally different tech from Bluetooth) so you can use it with the PM5.

After your workout, you can transfer your data to your iPhone or Android phone using Concept2’s mobile app ErgData (available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store). In turn, the app uploads all the info to the Online Concept2 Logbook, where you can make better sense of the data. You can also upload it to your PC or Mac using a USB flash drive. Take note, though, use FAT or FAT32 formats to do this properly.

However, that’s as far as the PM5 can get when it comes to syncing. If you want to really go high-tech, it looks like you’ll have to wait a few years before Concept2 upgrades its performance monitors to be compatible with the latest fitness trackers and smartwatches with fitness-tracking capabilities.

For instance, if you just purchased the Apple Watch Sport from Amazon particularly so you can sync and track your fitness data all in one place, the PM5 won’t make it easy for you to do that. It looks like fitness trackers have a long way to go before going mainstream, however, so if you don’t have an Apple Watch or a Fitbit Blaze, another popular fitness band on Amazon, yet, this won’t bother you at all.

The PM5 also gives you access to a bunch of pre-programmed workouts and games, which is great if you find yourself getting tired of the same standard routine. Others may find this gimmicky, but we really like how Concept2 is giving the motivational aspect of the exercise much thought.

One of the games, called Fish, helps you learn to control the intensity of your strokes, since various levels of intensity will move your fish to the right places. Other games, such as Darts and Target Training, train you to be consistent with with your power and stroke rate.

The display on the monitor is large enough so you can play these games. And if you’re rowing at night, the monitor has a backlight for better viewing. Once you start moving on the rower, the PM5 will automatically turn itself on. And if it senses you’ve stopped rowing for four minutes, it will automatically turn itself off.

The PM5 is powered by a pair of D cell batteries, which come with your rower, though you’ll have to buy a new pair when the first one runs out. Here’s a nice thing about the batteries. The PM5 gets some of its power from the mechanical movement of the rower when you start rowing, allowing you to extend the life of the batteries.

Where to Buy the Concept2 Model E

concept2 model e

Image Credit: Concept2

Concept2 Model E is available from Amazon with free shipping. The machine will come with a limited five-year warranty for the metal frame, and a shorter two-year warranty for the parts. Plus, you'll still receive the same rock-star customer service from the company if you buy from Amazon.

Before you lay your money down, however, we strongly suggest that you take the Concept2 Model E out for a spin. Most gyms and fitness centers in every major city in America have their own Concept2 rowers. Some may have the Model E, but like we said earlier, this is practically identical to the Model E, save for some minor differences. 

It's always best for you to try out the machine first when you can. After all, you're not going to buy this item for a few dollars. Why not make sure you're going to get a high-quality machine first?

The Verdict: Is the Concept2 Model E Right for You? 

The Concept2 Model E is the rowing machine of choice for people who have mobility issues. If you have no difficulties bending down low, we suggest you take a look at the Model D, Concept2’s bestselling indoor rower, which is also cheaper than the Model E. Both air resistance rower models are known for their excellent quality and the outstanding rowing workouts they provide to their users.

Other great options you might want to check out are the WaterRower Club and the WaterRower GX, two gorgeous wooden rowing machines that use water resistance. ​

On its face, paying a costly price for an exercise machine may sound crazy, but you’re actually making one of the best investments in your health for the long-term. The Model E will actually start paying for itself with its longevity, coupled with the full-body cardio and strength workout you can get from it.

Once you start feeling the changes in your body (You’ll be more energized, focused and overall readier to take on your day—and that’s only the beginning!), you’ll realize that buying the Model E is worth it.

If you still want a rowing machine but don’t have the budget for a Model E, or even a Model D, there are cheaper alternatives. Just remember to keep your expectations low, as nothing cheaper than a Concept2 has proven to be just as good as the gold standard.

If the Concept2 Model E doesn't seem like the right rowing machine for you, click here for our list of top 10 indoor rowers to check out other great brands.

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