The Best LED Lighting for Reef Tanks.
LED Lighting for Reef Tanks.
LED lighting systems are the rage these days for Reef Tanks. It makes a lot of sense why. The best LED lighting systems will have a lot of user friendly features like timers, ramp up and ramp down features, the ability to adjust spectrum, and multiple mount options. The main attraction for LED though, is the power savings features. LEDs are a lot more energy efficient than traditional T5s and metal halides.
In today’s post, I’m going to go through the best LED lighting for Reef Tanks. I will break down what these systems are best for, what they are good and not good at, and offer our recommended picks. The end goal is to provide the necessary information you need to make an informed decision as to what is the best LED lighting system for you. Let’s get started!
BENEFITS OF LED LIGHTING FOR REEF TANKS
Before we go through the various reef LED lighting systems, let’s talk about why LEDs have gotten so popular with reef tanks. In the past, reef tanks were run with VHOs or T5s that were equipped with manual timers. They provided great even spread of light with no shadowing, but they did not produce a lot of light intensity (PAR). Then came metal halides which produced a lot of light intensity and you have hybrid halide and T5 systems. These systems provided a great environment for all reef tanks, but consumed a ton of power and kept tanks hot sometimes to the point of requiring fans or a chiller to keep the temperatures down.
LED came out with an promise to decrease the energy cost for a reef tank. They are far more energy efficient than metal halides and T5s. They also have unique drivers that allow them to be customisable. Many LED fixtures will have electronic timers built in that will turn on and turn off the light for you. They will have dimmable features and will ramp up and ramp down simulating morning and night time effects. Others will even run on your smartphone via an app!
LEDS ARE SAFE TO USE
One of the main advantages in safety that reef LED lighting systems have is are the construction. LEDs are not made of metal filaments or gas that halides are made of.
Since manufacturers have been embracing LEDs in reef tanks, you are starting to see additional safety features. Some LED fixtures are splash proof or even water proof. A good example are Kessil LED systems, which have been know to survive falling into the tank and not electrocuting the tank or shorting out.
REEF LED LIGHTING CAN BE COMPACT
The compactness of several reef LED lighting systems is the very reason they are the ideal choice for nano reef and smaller tanks. Many reef LED systems are made in “pucks” which means the unit is far more compact than traditional T5s. They are also lightweight, which means many can be mounted on the rim of the aquarium creating a very clean and modern look on rimless tanks where a canopy can be left out.
BEST LED AQUARIUM LIGHTING FOR CORALS, REEF TANKS REVIEWS.
1. CURRENT USA ORBIT MARINE IC PROS – COMPREHENSIVE LIGHT WITH CONTROLLER PACKAGE
First up we have the Current USA Orbit Marine IC Pros. This light comes with it’s very own controller that can power not only the LED system itself, but can controller the Orbit Marine EFlux Wavemaker and EFlux Return Pump for a completely integrated package. I feel that these IC Pros have its best value with their 72″ model as it represents a VERY attractive purchase for those of use with 6 foot long mixed reef tanks.
The controller itself runs off a remote and is pretty easy to use and program. It comes with a ramp up and ramp down feature that is is a standard 2 hour ramp up and ramp down. You can adjust the daytime, sunset, and night settings so your reef tank can adjust it’s lighting accordingly as the day goes on. When paired with the Eflux Wave maker, you can you can adjust the flow and use the gyre settings when using 2 wave makers and even use a feed feature that will shut off the pumps when feeding. There are other features of the light like a lighting and cloudy weather feature, but I feel they are more for the cool factor than function. The lights themselves are moderately powerful, which makes them idiot proof for beginner reefers as Orbit Marine publishes PAR output information on their website for easy reference and tuning.
The final great point for this light is that it can be rim mounted for a very clean and modern look. Most lights that cover this long of a tank have to be hung on a ceiling or mounted on the tank with brackets which both have downfalls (some people don’t want to put holes in their ceiling and the bracket mount can look ugly).
The cons of this unit is that you will need to purchase the Current USA Heavyweight mount if you have a larger glass rimmed tank like a 125 gallon tank as the standard rim mount will only work for rimless aquarium. The other issue I have is that in order to use the unit through an app, you need to separately purchase the Current USA Bluetooth Controller. I really wish that the unit came with the app functionality out of the box. Nevertheless, this is a great value for those of you with larger tanks or those looking for an integrated system. The Current USA Orbit Marine IC Pros are best for mixed reefs up to mixed reefs with starter SPS corals.
- Great value – especially for larger tanks
- Love the integration of the controller to their wave makers and return pump
- Can be rim mounted giving a very clean and modern look
- PAR output readily available from Orbit Marine
- Have to purchase the bluetooth controller separately to run off an app
- The lights themselves are easy to crack since they are so lightweight
- Heavyweight mount rim accessory for larger tanks can be a little pricey
Best For: Mixed Reefs with some SPS (starter SPS only)
2. ECOTECH RADIONS – THE LED SYSTEM OF CHOICE FOR PRO REEFERS AND CORAL SELLERS
There is a reason why big time coral sellers like World Wide Corals and major pro reefers use the EcoTech Radion G4s to light their reef tanks. Two reasons why – controllability and power.
The EcoTech Radion controllability is really second to none in the industry. The Radion’s are powered by a cloud-based command centre known as EcoSmart Live that runs off a web browser. The software updates the lighting system automatically and there are various lighting modes available from many hobbyists. The Reef link that is separately available allows you to connect your Radion’s via smartphone vs. through the standard USB functionality that the unit comes with. The spectrum of the lights can be changed, the intensity can be adjusted, the lighting schedule can be modified. It’s really unlimited flexibility with these units.
The Radion’s can be mounted with various options including rail mounted or our favourite, rim mounted. A diffuser kit is can also be purchased separately in order to reduce PAR and eliminate hot spots and mitigate shadowing.
Power is what it is all about with these units. They are VERY powerful and can easily burn corals when running at 100%. As a result, a lot of tuning is required and recommended with a PAR meter, but this unit is made for hardcore reef junkies so the intensity makes sense.
The biggest con with this unit is the price. They are the most expensive lights on this unit as well as the most feature rich. You have to purchase the reef link separately to run on a smartphone and the diffuser is also a separate purchase. They are also not plug and play and require a lot of tuning to get correct.
- Nearly unlimited customisation
- Powerful lights – can handle hardcore light intensive corals
- Industry standard among commercial coral growers
- Very expensive
- You need to buy Reef link separately in order to use on an app
- Not plug and play – requires a lot of tuning and adjustment to get running
Best For: High End Mixed Reefs, SPS Dominant (with diffuser and hybrid solutions), Commercial Use
3. DSUNY REEF LED LIGHTS – A CHINESE BLACK BOX THAT CAN BE RIM MOUNTED
One thing that really annoys me with Chinese black box lights is the inability to mount them on the rim of the aquarium. The DSUNY Reef Aquarium Lights answer the call with a competent black box that can be rim mounted.
This reef light includes a controller that can be controlled by a mobile app. This is a unique feature that you do not see with many basic black box units. It’s a pretty comprehensive app that. The newest generation models also have water proof connections.
The main issues I see with this light is the colour array. There are too many whites and I would have preferred more blues. It is a fairly bulky unit when rim mounted so it still gives off that cheap look. There also aren’t a lot of reference photos of tanks running them.
- Can be controlled via a smartphone app
- New gen models have waterproof connections
- Can be rim mounted
- Too many whites in the lighting array – would have preferred more blues
- Still pretty bulky looking even on a rim mount
- Old gen models have been reported as not very reliable
Best For: Mixed Reefs
4. HIPARGERGO AQUA KNIGHT LED AQUARIUM LIGHT – INCREDIBLE VALUE AND A GREAT CHOICE FOR SMALLER REEF TANKS
If you are building a nano reef or similar under 40 gallon reef tank, the Hipargergo Aqua Knight is a strong consideration for the light of choice. It is a very affordable light, being the least expensive unit on this list, but also very powerful and competent to be used in most mixed reef setups.
It is a small light with a small light spread, making this a perfect light for nano reef tanks under 40 gallons. What I really love about these lights is the manufacturer completely backs up their lights with a 30 day money back guarantee and are happy to answer your questions 24-7. You really can’t go wrong with this light if you have a smaller light. In fact, Inappropriate Reefer used this light in his 10 gallon nano reef build.
The main drawbacks are its size. This is a very affordable light, but it serves only nano reef tanks. The touch sensitive can be annoying because sometimes they don’t read correctly when you touch them. It’s so bad sometimes you have to pray that the light is reading your touches. Finally, while it does come with a rim mount, the mount itself can be too long for some nano reef setups. Overall though, this is the choice if you are building a nano reef and well below name brand offerings like the AI Prime HD and Kessil A80.
- Cheap price
- Powerful for their size and “idiot proof” to use
- Adjustable 2 channel light system
- Small light spread, best for nano reefs
- Touch sensitive controls can be a bit finicky
- Mount is too long for some nano tanks and doesn’t adjust
Best For: Nano Reef Tanks
5. HYDRA LED SERIES LIGHTS – A CHEAPER RADION WITH LOTS OF CUSTOMISATION
For those of you interested in a EcoTech Radion, but are slightly out of budget for one, the Hydra Series LED Lights by sister Company Aqua-Illumination are a light to look at.
The big advantage over the Radion is that all Hydra series lights do not need a controller. They function of a wonderful smartphone app. The app has incredible customisation, allowing you to modifying your spectrum settings, manage up to 30 lights at once, and set up timers. There is even a coral accumulation setting that allows you to introduce new corals safely into your system. All of this on a smartphone that you can use anywhere in the world and at no additional cost!
The Hydra series comes in both the Hydra 26 and Hydra 52 models that will satisfy the vast majority of reefer’s need. AI makes a number of different mount options with a rail kit, rim mount kits, and even a flex arm solution so you can work with what they have to pull off the look that you want. They even come in white or black. For those with smaller aquariums like nano tanks, the AI Prime HD offers similar functionality.
So what are the drawbacks of this unit? Well, even though it’s cheaper than the Radions, they are still on the expensive side for many reefers. PAR wise, they aren’t as powerful as Radions and will definitely need a hybrid solution for heavy SPS as a diffuser kit is not available. The Hydras themselves will serve the vast majority of reefers well alone though and are well worth the money.
- Included mobile app is easily the best on this list with great customisation
- AI makes various light mounts that fit your needs and looks
- Many purchase options available for your tank setup even for nano reefs
- Still on the expensive for many reefers
- No diffuser kit for heavy SPS tanks – you should go hybrids for heavy SPS
- Not as powerful PAR wise as Radions
Best For: Mixed Reefs
6. OCEAN REVIVE 247-B – NOT YOUR AVERAGE BLACK BOX
The Ocean Revive T247-B is a black box in value, but not in looks. Far cheaper than the EcoTech Radions and AI Hydra, this unit can compete with the Hydras in power and what it can grow as evidenced as being the light of choice of Pacific East Aquaculture, a Maryland licensed coral aquaculture facility providing high end corals to reef keepers since 2000.
Knowing that facilities and even some LFS (to save money but they will still try to sell you Radions and Hydras ^_^) use these units says a lot about them. They have the power to grow all types of corals from soft corals to Acroporas and the unit comes in a study package that does not look cheap.
Ocean Revives are also one of the few units on this list that actually get cheaper the more units you buy. Because of how the manufacturer prices their stock, they grant sellers like us the ability to give bulk discounts to reefers so if you are looking to purchase 2 or 3 units you can save even more money!
The Ocean Revive, however, is a no frill LED system. It has no ramp up or ramp down features. Like most black boxes, there is not a readily available rim mount. Either a ceiling mount or ugly looking bracket mount are your standard choices. All the functions of the unit are on board with the light itself as there is no separate controller or mobile app to run. Its functionality is really much like the old T5s fixtures from back in the day, but the light is a very powerful and functional unit that will server reefers well and save you lots of money over the brand names.
- A pro level light at a very reasonable price – better value with multiple units
- Very powerful and great spectrum
- Does not look cheap like other black boxes
- No ramp up/ramp down features
- No rim mount
- No mobile app to control unit or spectrum customisation
Best For: Mixed Reefs
7. KESSIL 360X – THE NEXT GEN A360X DELIVERS
Kessil is very well known in the industry with high quality lights best suited for mixed reefs that are about as plug and play as you get. Kessil’s next gen A360X is an upgrade of the original A360 offering 25% more light output with a 30% smaller package. Kessil’s design on these units have already been pretty bulletproof and nothing like other units you have seen. They are sealed units and I have witnessed myself old A360s accidentally getting dropped in water and still working just fine. Kessil’s roots go further back than just reef lighting. They are a professional company started by a biologist, computer scientist, and physicist. The parent Company is Dicon Fibre-optics. The Company has been specialising in elite quality lighting for over 30 years.
While Kessil does sell a spectrum controller, the default spectrum that Kessil supply you with has been heavily researched by their R&D department. You really shouldn’t need to adjust it as Kessil really goes out there to make sure you have everything you need to succeed out of the box. The intensity and spectrum can be adjusted on board with the knobs on top of the unit. In addition to the A360X, Kessil offers a similar built A80 that is ideal for nano reef tanks.
My main gripes with this next gen model is the price. I was expecting these new models to be around the same price as the old A360s, but they are still at a premium price that venture into Hydra territory and starts putting it out of reach for some reefers. The PAR output still isn’t that high, but that has always been Kessil’s thing as they design these lights for mixed reefs and know that heavy SPS tanks need a hybrid system with LEDs. You still need a spectral controller to adjust your spectrum and a mobile app would have been nice.
However, at the end of the day this is a Kessil branded light. Kessil’s construction is top notch and their reputation speaks for itself.
- Bullet proof design – these units can take a beating!
- Top of the line spectrum.
- Still idiot proof like the last gen, no need to adjust like other high end units
- The next gen model is more expensive than the old 360s
- The PAR is still not that high
- Spectral controller required for full control
Best For: Mixed Reefs
8. KESSIL AP700 – PRO LEVEL LIGHT FOR PRO REEFERS
The Kessil AP700 is Kessil’s top of the line light. It still offers the idiot proof plug and play out of the box functionality like other Kessil units, but in a larger comprehensive light that is ideal for 36″ x 24″ for SPS tanks and 48″ x 24″ for mixed reefs.
This light addresses my biggest gripes with all Kessil lights, the lack of a fully functional mobile app. The AP700 comes with a mobile app that has all the features that you want. It has a manual mode, program mode, a coral accumulation mode, lunar cycle, weather effects and more!
The main drawback of this unit is the price. While a single unit can serve a 48″ long mixed reef well, it still is a pretty expensive light. It also is not as compact as the Kessil 360Xs and the PAR performance is mildly powered like most Kessils (since they are all designed to run without adjustments out of the box).
- Plug and play idiot proof pro level light
- Great mobile app included with full customisation
- Multiple mount options including a rim mount
- Not compact
- Not as powerful PAR wise as the Radions
9. MICMOL AQUA AIR SMART LED REEF SYSTEM – A CHEAPER AQUAMAXX PRISM
Some of you may have heard of the AquaMaxx Prism LED lights. Well, the dirty secret is MicMol is the original creator of the led and AquaMaxx private labels these lights from them. The MicMol Aqua Air Smart LED Reef System is a plug and play LED designed for Softy and LPS tanks. These are an upgrade to the original Aquamaxx Neo-lights, which was reviewed by Reef builders with PAR figures showing ideal PAR for softies and LPS.
This new generation light is about 30% more powerful than the Nemolight. This puts the light in the sweet spot of most LPS corals so for LPS dominated tanks this is an ideal light that is ready to go without any adjustments. The MicMol lights are more popular over in Europe versus the US. They just don’t spend a lot of time marketing their lights, but it’s a very affordable light with highly quality chips and led’s. This particular model has no fan which will make them extra quiet over fanned models. Since the light is not super powerful, the built in heat sinks are adequate for the light.
This light comes with it’s own controller that comes with a variety of settings like a clock, timer, and channel special effects. That’s a lot of features for this price range and very welcomed for these plug and play models.
The main drawback with these lights is they are not very powerful so they are best for LPS and softy tanks. It’s a great light nonetheless.
- No fan – super quiet
- Good functionality for the price point
- Moderately powerful – best for LPS and softies
- No mobile app
Best for: Primarily soft and LPS coral reefs
10. MICMOL AQUA AIR G3 PRO MARINE LED – A CHEAPER KESSIL
With the release of the new Kessil 360X, the price range has gone out of the window for some. The MicMol Aqua Air G3 Pro Marine LEDs offer Kessil like quality and power at a more reasonable price.
The new G3 Pros use an all-in-one control system that run off an onboard controller system that is an upgrade to the Smart LED system reviewed earlier. These are also strong PAR output lights more in line with the Kessil 360X’s. The other thing I love with this unit is the mounting system. The aluminium mounting system is so flexible as it can be raised and lowered to suit your lighting needs and is a rim mount. It is a very clean and compact package and small enough to be utilised in Hybrid T5/LED combo systems. The fan is very quiet and the lighting array is the ideal blend of blues over whites. This is all topped off by an electronics system that is UL rated. There is also a MicMol Aqua Mini Pro version available for small reef tanks.
There are a lot of pluses with this system, so you may be wondering what are the minuses. Well, the main thing missing is a mobile app. I’m just a sucker for though mobile apps, but it’s not a deal breaker. The other is the price. While it is still less than a Kessil, it still is a pretty high price for a non brand light – though in its defence, this is not a “black box” light.
- Very competent light for the price
- Mount system is adjustable
- Very compact and can be used in hybrid LED/T5 systems
- Less expensive than Kessils, but still a bit pricey
- No mobile app
Best for: Mixed Reefs
11. VIPARSPECTRA LEDS – REEFING ON A BUDGET WITH A QUALITY BLACK BOX
The Viparspectra LED Aquarium Light is your traditional “Chinese Black Box”, but they have a more reliable name brand and recognition in the industry. What I like about these lights is that there are a lot of success stories using these lights in mixed reefs and SPS tanks. The main reason why they can work in SPS tanks is the how powerful they are. The PAR output of these lights is in the Radion territory. So you are getting a cheap light with the power behind that with proven field cases where they have grown high end and more difficult to keep corals. The price for these lights are really hard to beat!
The price comes at a cost though. The LED light is very bare bones as it only has a timer built in and a dimmer to tone down the intensity. There is no ramp up or ramp down and there is no mobile app that powers this. They are traditionally bulky units , like all black boxes, so they do not look pretty when hung and really are best hidden in a canopy vs. a rimless aquarium setup. For those of you concerned with the electronics rating, the competing Mars Aqua unit is UL rated. I just prefer the Viparspectra.
A note for those of you running heavy SPS tanks. These units are best modified by removing the lenses to reduce the hot spots, reduce the disco effect, and spreading out the PAR distribution. Here is a video showing how to perform such a function. The video is a Mars Aqua light, but the operation is still the same.
- Powerful, can handle LEDs and SPS
- Easily diffused by removing lenses.
- Bare bones – no mobile app and little control-ability
- No stock rim mount – they are bulky anyway
- Not plug and play
Best for: Mixed Reefs
12. AQUATIC LIFE T5/LED HYBRID MOUNTING SYSTEM – THE SYSTEM OF CHOICE FOR STICK HEADS
You have seen all these LED systems, but for those reefers with heavy SPS, the major issue with LEDs is spread and shadowing. A hybrid system like the Aquatic Life T5/LED Hybrid Mounting System is the best solution to go with when it comes to making a fully distributed lighting system for stick heads.
This unit comes with a T5 system that holds 4 T5s in total. The middle section of the unit is to mount the LEDs. The unit comes with a pendant mount that will work on the original Kessil 360 and a universal mount bracket that will work for EcoTech Radions, AI Hydras, and even the MicMold G3s. Aquatic life even sells a cabinet mount if you do not want to mount the unit to the ceiling.
The main drawback for this unit is that you have to purchase the T5s and the LED units separately. It would have been nice if there were bundles available to purchase, but with all the MAP polices of all these brand names, it makes sense that Aquatic Life cannot offer a bundled system. I also wish they made this unit as 72″ model for us 6 foot long tank reefers. You have to purchase two 36″ units for a 6 foot long tank which is a bummer. Other than that though, this is the unit of choice for stick heads who want the electricity saving and control-ability advantages that LEDs provide without the shadowing issues.
- The best lighting solution for heavy SPS tanks – no shadowing!
- Can be combined with many LED systems
- Can be cabinet mounted for rimless tanks
- You have to purchase the T5s lights and LED units separately
- Not compatible with Kessil 360X (As of this time)
- Does not come in 72″
Best for: Acropora heavy reef tanks
THE BEST LED LIGHTS FOR REEF TANKS (OUR RECOMMENDATION)
There are a lot of light choices that fit multiple budgets and needs, but you may be wondering what we suggest. Since, reefer needs differ, we have the following recommendations based on the criteria below:
- Nano Reefs – AI Prime HD (Premium) or Hipagero (Budget)
- Mixed Reefs Up to Easy SPS – Kessil 360X (Premium) or Current USA Orbit Marine Pro IC (Budget)
- Mixed Reefs Heavier SPS – Radion G4s (Premium) or Ocean Revive (budget)
- Acropora Heavy – Aquatic Life Hybrid + Radion G4 (Premium) or Ocean Revive + T5 with DIY light mount or inside canopy
WHAT DO YOU FEEL ARE THE BEST LED SYSTEMS FOR REEF TANKS?
I hope after this article you are able to make an informed decision on what aquarium LED lighting system works best for the reef tank you are planning. The major brand lights are all very high quality, built to last, and all have ideal spectrum to grow lights. The cheaper lights we have provided in this post will definitely grow corals and have high quality spectrum, just not as functional as the name brand lights. Please let us know in the comments your thoughts about what lights have worked for you. Happy shopping :).