Nathan Hill tries out these tinned alternatives to frozen fish foods, and gets a pleasant surprise.
I completely misjudged what was going to be in these tins, and how good it all was. At a glance, I expected some kind of dry food, freeze dried inverts, maybe.
Then I spied the fork on top of each tin, and my mind turned to tuna lunch kits from supermarkets — those premium tins they offer that nobody ever seems to buy.
Opening up the tins was like uncovering some ancient secret. Inside each one is densely packed, perfectly preserved wet food.
Let me dwell on the quality here, because it’s exceptional. My biggest gripe with frozen foods is that they become damaged in storage. When I get a blister pack of, say, Artemia, there’ll be bits of shell, torn off legs, stray heads and so on. Once defrosted and in the tank, it’s making a mess.
With the tinned equivalent, there is zero transport and preservation damage. I imagine I could go through the whole 100g with tweezers, extracting one brine shrimp at a time, and each one would be perfectly formed.
As well as being perfectly formed, they’re perfectly coloured too. There’s nothing anaemic about the way the contents have been stored.
They all smell great too. There’s nothing pungent or ‘dead’ emanating from the tins. To all intents and purposes, they could all be asleep and not dead, they look that fresh.
To be sure, it isn’t all plain sailing. Aquarium Systems makes a curious claim with the packaging. ‘Double the quality of frozen food’ is how it’s worded, and after brooding on it, on and off for a week, I’ve still no idea what that means. How do we quantify quality?
Another claim is ‘will not cloud aquarium water’, which just sounds like a challenge to me. Give me ten tubs of it, a nano tank, hold my drink and watch what I can do…
However, they can claim a somewhat exclusive take on sterilising the food, using their ‘heat steam technology’ as an alternative to the radiation favoured by some other
Out of the tin, Aquarium Systems assures food that is virus, fungus, bacteria and parasite free — so you’re feeding something as nutritious as live food with zero associated risk.
Each tin is 100g, but it looks a lot more once you open it up and start using it. It’s like noodles from a Chinese takeaway — the more you consume, the more it seems to grow.
You can reseal the lids with a plastic preserver (supplied) and keep it in a fridge after opening, but for the life of me I cannot remember what the active life is once the airtight seal is broken — I shared mine with a fellow fishkeeper and between us we nailed all tins inside a week.
Value wise, that makes each tin slightly pricier than an equivalent packet of quality frozen food, But personally I prefer the consistency of this by a long way. Whereas my frozen foods always feel mulchy once defrosted, these are as firm as it gets.
The only thing I would say is that the bloodworm are huge things, compared to most of the flimsy, skinny things I get sold. I watched some mid-sized Corydoras try to eat them, and eventually give up because they couldn’t fit them in their mouths. Perfect for bigger cichlids though.
If you use a lot of fresh foods but struggle with the availability of live, then stock up on these. Your fish will thoroughly enjoy them.
Price: 100g tins currently retailing at £3.49 each.
More info: www.arcadia-aquatic.com
Nathan Hill checks out this unusual take on the popular internal canister filter.
Here’s a no bluster, straightforward canister filter. Don’t get me wrong, I love features on a filter — I’ll take rotating duck bills, Venturi outlets, in-built spray bars and flow displays all day, every day. But sometimes I just want a bog standard pump with foam and some suckers that I can whack in a tank and leave to it.
The ASAP 700 filter is a curious design. While most of us are used to having our internal filters top heavy, with the pump sat near the water’s surface, this thing does it all backwards — it’s a pusher, not a puller. Where usual designs drag water through various stages of media and finally yank it through an impeller chamber and spit it back in to the tank, the ASAP 700 pump sits underneath the media. It drags water in through a removable plastic body, and then pushes it up through a long chunk of foam, and out of a spout at the top of its smokey-cased canister.
The benefit of this design is that it’ll run in a shallow set-up, like an aquaterrarium. As long as the motor is submerged, it’ll pump through — 5cm of water depth is all that’s needed. So, that quirky, half-filled tank you always wanted to try? Now you can. That’ll also come in handy for breeding projects where it’s beneficial to slowly lower the water level before replicating rainfall.
Flow rate on the 700 is 650 lph, and that uses up just 6.8W of power. AquaEl claims this will filter an aquarium of up to 250 l capacity, which I guess it will if it’s really lightly stocked. Personally, I think this will be good between in tanks between the 120 and 180 l range, which I base on sponge size and how much it churns out.
You can twist the entire filter cartridge through 180° to direct flow, but that’s where controllability ends.
Cleaning the filter is straightforward enough, though not the easiest task. By rotating the canister fully, it comes away from the pump assembly, and you’ll see a black inlet on the bottom of it. With a little fighting, this inlet pulls off, giving you access to the foam.
Prepare to get messy extracting it, as it’s a bit of a ‘ship in a bottle’ moment where the foam is larger than the hole you’re trying to pull it through. Getting it back is slightly worse, as you’re trying to make sure the foam sits flush to the top of the canister (otherwise the water will just bypass it), while trying to ensure the media is sat in such a way that you can get the inlet nozzle behind it. After a minute of faff, I just say ‘that’ll do it’ and give up.
Getting to the impeller, however, has to rank as one of the easiest assignments I’ve ever had in fishkeeping. The cover comes off with a basic clip action, and goes on just as simply. It’s actually harder to clean the foam than the working parts — go figure.
Despite the ASAP 700 lacking user comforts, there’s a plus side. This thing is cheap, a bit like a budgie. A little snooping around and I find it out there for under £20, while I can get a couple of spare foams for under a tenner. Now that’s a bargain.
It does a job, and it does it for a fair price. No frills, and it isn’t the prettiest thing out there, but that’s not the point, I guess. I’d buy one.
Ease of use: 3/5
Value for money: 5+/5
Price: Around £18.99
More info: aquael.com
Nathan Hill takes a look at two specialist foods aimed at some of the more difficult to feed fish.
The single greatest obstacle to housing the most exotic of fish is usually feeding. For the last century, the most popular fish have been those that would eat anything — Goldfish in the 1920s were fed a mix of breadcrumbs, insects and other daily food scraps.
In recent times, we’ve come to love many fish with fine culinary demands. Catfish, particularly the suckermouths of South America, turn out not to be the universal algae guzzlers they were initially thought to be. Inspection of teeth structures have revealed wood eaters, carrion feeders, worm gobblers and even fish that comb algae for the microorganisms living within. These are not fish that will accept breadcrumbs and scraps.
The Repashy range fills a massive gap in the market. While economies of scale have driven many food manufacturers to opt for fish meal and cereals as their base ingredients, the specialist market for exotic feeders has been largely ignored. By utilising an omnibus of ingredients, Repashy has created diets for some of the finickiest feeders out there.
This food is designed to cater to aufwuchs eaters. Aufwuchs is a German word that describes a mix of quality algae and the tiny organisms that live upon it. In the confines of a tank, with limited space, it can be hard to maintain sufficient amounts naturally for specialist feeders.
Designed to act as an aufwuchs replacement, the ingredients list is vast. One tub of Soilent contains (brace yourself): Spirulina algae, Algae meal (Chlorella), Krill meal, Pea protein isolate, Squid meal, Rice protein concentrate, Fish meal, Alfalfa leaf meal, Dried brewer’s yeast, Coconut meal, Stabilised rice rran, Flax seed meal, Schizochytrium algae, Dried seaweed meal, Lecithin, Dried kelp, Locust bean gum, Potassium citrate, Taurine, Stinging nettle, Garlic, Rosehips, Hibiscus flower, Calendula flower, Marigold flower, Paprika, Turmeric, Salt, Calcium propionate and Potassium sorbate (as preservatives), Magnesium amino acid chelate, Zinc methionine hydroxy analogue chelate, Manganese methionine hydroxy analogue chelate, Copper methionine hydroxy analogue chelate, Selenium yeast. Vitamins: Vitamin A supplement, Vitamin D supplement, Choline chloride, Calcium L-Ascorbyl-2-Monophosphate, Vitamin E supplement, Niacin, Beta carotene, Pantothenic acid, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine Mononitrate, Folic acid, Biotin, Vitamin B-12 supplement, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex. That’s pretty impressive, and leaves you with a nutritional make up of 40% protein, 8% fat and 8% fibre.
This is an invertivore food — many of our favourite catfish like nothing more than a belly full of grubs, larvae and insects. While many such fish might survive on a fish-based flake and tablet diet, they may not thrive on it, so Repashy has aimed to make something where all protein and fat sources come from invertebrates. I’ll spare you the full ingredients list this time, but the four greatest components are Krill meal, Insect meal, Mussel meal and Squid meal, followed by a further 40 ingredients. This one is a tad richer than Soilent Green with a protein level of 45%, fat at 10% and fibre at 12%.
Though sold as a gel, what you actually buy is a fine powder that you need to make up into a gel (a small pot makes a lot of food). For that you’ll need some freezer or sandwich bags and a kettle.
Just mix one part powder with three parts boiling water (add powder to water, not water to powder), then pour the resulting mix into a ziplock sealing bag. If you lay the bag on its side, you can slowly flatten the mixture out until no air remains inside, then simply seal it and let it set at room temperature. Store it in a fridge for a couple of weeks, or six months in a freezer.
If you need it firmer or softer, then you can increase or decrease the water to powder ratio accordingly. Once made, chop it into chunks, slices, or whatever takes your fancy.
Verdict: Aufwuchs and invertivore food is something of a niche for specialist feeding fish, and probably won’t be much use in an everyday community, but if you want to add a finicky feeder, here’s your access point. For keepers of unusual L-numbers and mbuna, Soilent Green is a must-have.
Price: Soilent Green and Bottom Scratcher cost £10.99 and £11.49 for 84g respectively.
More info: repashy.co.uk
Nathan Hill finally gets to play with one of the new Aquascaper aquariums from Evolution Aqua. So was it worth the wait?
I'd been awaiting the arrival of an EA tank for way too long. From the early days, when the dimensions were mentioned to me in confidence, I was dancing on the spot like a dog who knows there’s a sausage inbound.
The Aquascaper range has been designed, exactly as the name alludes to, for aquascaping, with emphasis on a substantial footprint.
I want to very quickly shut down any anti-aquascaping prejudice you might have at this point. ’Scaping is a polarising subject, with its share of lovers and haters. I’d never really grasped just how passionate some fishkeepers are in their dislike of aquascapes, for reasons I only vaguely comprehend. If you’re in that camp, just note that these tanks also make the best biotope footprints I’ve worked with outside of public aquaria.
Back on track. Out of the six tank sizes, I have the 600 model to play with, which has 600 x 500 x 360mm dimensions. You read that right, it really is 60cm long and 50cm wide. The thing is, those dimensions aren’t as imposing as they look on paper, and as a cornerpiece in a room it works exceptionally. I’m biased, as the low, flat and wide model of tank is something I flirted with for decades (years of maintaining touchpools in public aquaria planted a few seeds) but EA has nailed it with this size.
The glass is 8mm thick (other models with different dimensions vary between 5mm for the AS300 up to 19mm for the AS1800). It’s branded as ‘Super White’ which is a low iron, high transparency glass, perfect for photography. There’s no ‘green’ about it, and at best a subtle hint of blue when you look end-on through panes.
Everything is held in place with some tightly beaded, clear silicone — it’s not quite up there with ‘that’ Japanese aquascape brand for silicone precision, but you have to get mighty close to notice. There are no braces, no lips, and no trim, either. As tanks go, the emphasis is on minimalism, so that you’re less distracted by the tank itself, and free to focus on what you put in it.
On the flipside, if you want a hood on it, then there’s nothing that comes as standard. Personally, I think a hood would destroy the aesthetic of the tank entirely, but I know plenty of folks who still like them. The- open top means you’ll need to consider your livestock carefully, as any jumping fish are going to launch themselves.
I’d say that lighting the tank could be a problem, but it isn’t. In the time I’ve had mine, I’ve assembled goosenecks twisted around it, and LEDs on sliding rails directly on top. Illumination is no obstacle.
Underneath, there’s a discrete black base mat, fixed in place. I’ve seen it becoming fashionable for some ’scapers to ‘take the risk’ and put their tanks flat on to cabinets without any kind of dampening, but
EA isn’t letting you take that risk. That’s pretty sensible, in my opinion.
The cabinet is as sturdy as they come, as is EA’s style. It comes pre-built, so there’s no fiddly flat-packed assembly — something I know can be a deal breaker for some aquarists. You’ve 16 colours to choose from, ranging from natural woods like Royal Oak and Japanese Pear, through basics like Ultra-Gloss Black and Super-Matt Grey, to the likes of Raw Concrete Grey. It’s quite the palette.
The cabinet on the AS600 comes with removable cut-outs in each side, to allow for power cables, pipework and CO2 to run up the sides as opposed to the rear of the tank — freeing up creative options for the rear view.
From my perspective as a man just over six feet tall, the tank on the cabinet is a delight to work with. I’ve dealt with tanks set so low in the past that ten minutes of bending over to plant them leads to searing lower back pains. The wide open top combined with a lack of obstructions means you’ve a lot of elbow space.
I’ve not tried a true, planted ’scape in mine yet (that’s the next job) but I have used it for a hardscape layout as a biotope (which you’ll be able to see next month) and it was bliss to decorate. The extra depth front to back means that pieces of wood usually restricted to two-dimensional positioning can run a full 360° orientation. Furthermore, the extended width of the tank means it can be viewed ‘side on’ as a layout in its own right. That makes for some fun at the planning stage, and in my case of laying out for biotopes, it means that I could factor in caves that are easy to peer into from certain perspectives — before, I was lucky if the resting place of the decoration afforded me a glimpse into hidey holes.
From a dedicated aquascaping perspective, the mileage is unreal. Whether you like Iwagumis, Dutch tanks, decor breaking the surface and planting orchids — whatever —you can do it with impunity here. That extra 20cm or so of standard width makes miles of real-world difference.
Volume when filled to the brim is 108 l, and the temptation is to fill it to that brim. I did for a while, and it looked amazing.
The dimensions are really redesigning layout potential, while the open top makes it stand out from most of the competition. I used it for a biotope, and it came out great. I’ve seen it used for a ’scape and it looked great. It almost makes me want to try a traditional community, because I know it’s going to look great set up as that, too. Keep an eye out for next month’s step-by-step guide where I’ll show you what I did with mine.
Ease of use: 4/5
Value for money: 4/5
Overall score: 4/5
Price: AS600 tank only £199; AS600 tank and cabinet combined £399.
More info: evolutionaqua.com
Nathan Hill reviews two new pond treatments, ideal for the new season.
Pond Equaliser is a logical progression from envii’s existing range of biological pond supplements. In a nutshell, the company was puzzled when its biosupplements worked in some ponds but not in others. On investigating, what it found was that those ponds where the treatments were ineffectual had pH and KH levels way outside of levels required for functioning nitrification — biofiltration struggles where hardness is excessively low, and in acidic conditions.
Such conditions arise in old systems — in aquaria we call it ‘old tank syndrome’ and it is a situation where hardness has been gradually reduced by filter activity, while pH is lowered as bacteria produce acids (part of the nitrification process involves a huge release of acids as a by-product). Left long enough, it can cause an outright crash as filters run out of ‘fuel’ in converting fish wastes.
In steps Pond Equaliser, which stabilises pH, KH and GH in ponds. Used at the recommended doses, it will shift pH values to between 7.5 and 8.5pH, while lifting KH and GH to above 5°H (respectively). With those values now stabilised, bioactivity can resume.
As a bonus, Pond Equaliser also neutralises heavy metals and ammonia present in the pond, meaning that if the collapse in mineral content has caused a spike, the equaliser will both resolve the issue and detoxify it.
Envii recommends dosing three times a year, though I’d be inclined to base it on water testing — some ponds may deplete more rapidly than others, while those with very low biodensity may need minimal supplementation.
Packaging comes in three sizes — 250g for 2,500 l of water, 500g for 5,000 l and 750g for 7,500 l.
Blanketweed Klear is another extension to an existing product, in this case Pond Klear, which seeks to starve out blanketweed by denying it a food source. The only catch was that for some, Pond Klear was slow to act, so Blanketweed Klear works immediately.
Primarily hydrogen peroxide based, the powder is simply dispersed directly on to the top of blanketweed growth, at which point you sit back for 24–48 hours while the product oxidises the nuisance algae. At that point, you then remove the dead blanketweed and follow up with a Sludge Klear/Pond Klear treatment to convert any resulting organics.
Like other products in the envii line up, Blanketweed Klear also needs a sufficient level of hardness and buffered pH in order to function, so you might want to test and consider using in tandem with Pond Equaliser if things have slipped a bit.
There are three sizes in the range: 300g for 10,000 l, 600g for 20,000 l and 1.2kg for 40,000 l.
Prices: Pond Equaliser, 500g £27.59; Blanketweed Klear, 600g £24.48.
More info: bio8.co.uk
Polish company Aquaforest offers a comprehensive range of marine products. And on the strength of those I’ve tested so far, I think you’ll be hearing a lot more from them in the coming months, says DAVE WOLFENDEN.
EU made, and produced to laboratory standards, the Aquaforest range is being distributed in the UK by Evolution Aqua. Diving in to the products, it quickly becomes clear that we’re not talking about the odd supplement to be added here and there on an ad hoc basis. While there’s no reason why you couldn’t pick and choose from the range and use various media supplements or foods in isolation as you see fit (and no doubt many folks will), Aquaforest has clearly designed the range to be part of a complete system in its own right.
The packaging is sexy, and well designed in a distinctive purple. This gives it a professional impression, inspires confidence and I think definitely gives the range a big ‘grab factor’.
Perishable items are marked with an expiry date, and dropper bottles are of decent quality. Many aquarists like to know what they’re actually adding to their tanks, yet a lot of manufacturers are quite cryptic with the make-up of their additives. In this case there is reasonably clear information about the components of each product, and simple dosing instructions; I’ve certainly seen worse.
The range of products on offer is huge. It might seem bewildering at first, with various salts, foods, supplements, media, probiotics and bacterial products. The range isn’t just for hardcore ultra-low nutrient system (ULNS) reef aficionados (despite the slogan ‘colour your corals’ on the packaging of most products), and there really does seem to be something here for everyone. Aquaforest has set out a nifty guide suggesting which products to use depending on your system and goals.
The range is split between four categories, and these are:
Fish only: This comprises a basic salt (‘Sea Salt’), plus phosphate-adsorbing media and carbon, and bacterial additions with each water change.
Soft corals and LPS with fish: Includes ‘Reef Salt’ (with boosted calcium and magnesium), plus phosphate media and carbon, bacterial additions and calcium, magnesium and alkalinity supplementation accordingly.
LPS and less demanding SPS: As above, but with the option of using ‘Probiotic Reef Salt’, and extra supplementation or the use of a ‘Component’ system (a bespoke three-part Balling-style dosing regime).
SPS probiotic system: As you might expect, this ups the ante, and introduces bacterial strains and carbon dosing as part of the regime. Many folks will opt for further additives to achieve the pastel coral colours characteristic of ULNS systems. Some of these need to be used with care; ‘Coral E’, (a liquid nutrient preparation), for example, contains copper to inhibit zooxanthellae populations, allowing the coral’s fluorescent pigments to come to the fore. This is a tried-and-tested technique, but you’ll need to get dosing spot-on.
With each of these four approaches, various coral and fish foods and supplements are available. These include garlic oil and vitamin solutions, SPS and LPS feed, and even a specialised Ricordea food; you certainly can’t accuse Aquaforest of giving you limited choice. Having tested various products for a few weeks, I’m impressed — they do exactly what they say, last for ages and using them is straightforward.
How do prices compare?
Well, they offer good value; the SPS/probiotic-focused products, for example, will give Korallen Zucht a run for their money.
On top of all this, Aquaforest will imminently be offering ICP-OES (inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry) testing of 36 elements to hobbyists — and this is a big deal. If you’ve ever used ICP testing, you’ll know what a powerful technique it is to really dig into the minutiae of the aquarium’s water parameters, allowing for measurement of elements in the parts per billion range.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the introduction of ICP testing is a game-changer. We need to be a little careful interpreting certain ICP test results, but it has the potential to flag up issues where corals are not doing so well because of imbalances in trace elements which we couldn’t detect previously, and highlight where, for example, certain heavy metals may be at toxic levels (or identify microelements which may need additional dosing).
When the corals in the company’s system started taking a dip, an ICP test was performed which revealed elevated levels of cadmium. This was eventually identified as being from people burning tyres locally to keep warm, and the resulting cadmium released into the atmosphere was being injected into the water by the system’s skimmers — who knew? Basically, you’d never pick that up from a hobbyist kit.
For those running ultra-low nutrient probiotic systems, this is a powerful tool to help maintain ideal parameters and tweak chemistry towards the needs of particular coral groups; equally, regular ICP tests have a place in any system to check on parameters we can’t accurately measure with a test kit.
Aquaforest’s ICP testing will be available from around March. RRP is to be confirmed but early suggestions are that it’ll be competitive, and will include testing of a sample of the aquarium water itself plus the RO water used as well.
A well thought-out and comprehensive range. Whether you’re running a simple fish only system, a full-on ULNS with eye-popping SPS or something in-between, these products are definitely worth checking out.
More info: Tel. 01942 216554, or visit www.evolutionaqua.com
Nathan Hill takes a look at this new in-pond filter combo from Fish Mate.
I’ve a lot of time for Fish Mate. They seem to toil away with their R&D departments tinkering about quietly, and then it’s like they sneak good products on to the market.
The 5000 S-UV submersible pump, filter and UV is one of their more recent offerings, and it’s a good one. At a glance, it has that characteristic Fish Mate look, with the token green plastic (always surprisingly unobtrusive in the bottom of a pond) and an exterior design that isn’t unnecessarily frilly. I mean, it’s going in to the bottom of a pond to clean up sludge — I don’t need designer insignia and ergonomic connection points.
The design and function mimics a lot of the in-pond filters currently available. There’s a large straining surface area (great for removing solid particles of waste), a long fountain stem (mine stretches comfortably to a total length of almost 50cm with tap and rose fountain head attached). Combine that with the (roughly) 12cm tall filter depth, and you’ve got something that’ll both filter and give you a fountain effect in a 60cm deep pool. Unless you stand it on something, of course.
The pump is capable of shifting 1,200 lph and is rated for a pond of between 500 –1000 l, based on a stocking level of 15cm of fish per 500 l of water and depending on whether the pond is in the shade or full sun — 500 l in full sun with 15cm of fish or 1000 l in the shade with a maximum stocking level of 30cm of fish. I found the information on the packaging a tad confusing here, as elsewhere on the box it states that it is only recommended for a 500 l pond in either case. On contacting PetMate to clarify, they agreed that that this could cause confusion and would look at this when the carton was next reprinted.
Either way, the flow to the fountain can be controlled via a ‘purge’ style valve that will also lead off to a waterfall if necessary.
There’s a gutsy 11W UV tucked up inside, which isn’t the easiest thing to get inside, but then none of these designs ever are. As a big plus point, the pump and UV separate easily, meaning you can get inside the pump to the impeller and clean it (a feature that’s actually omitted in at least one rival model). It’s one of the easiest to clean I’ve met so far.
Either charmingly or annoyingly (pending your stance) the 5000 S-UV requires two power sources, one for UV and one for the pump, but there’s a good reason for this, as Fish Mate explain: “Given that in most smaller ponds, this will be the only filtration, we decided to offer the option of keeping the biological filter alive and the pond aerated even if the UV is turned off. As you are aware, most medications and blanketweed treatments require that the UV is turned off, as do filter maturation products containing active bio cultures. Many fish retailers recommend a prophylactic treatment when adding new fish and again it is important not to lose biological filtration at this time.”
Personally I’d prefer just one cable and a switch option, but hey.
Media wise, there’s lashings of coarse foam, and what turns out to be inert quartz chippings innet bags. Fish Mate tells me that this is to provide some extra weight to stop the unit toppling in winds — which makes sense, to be fair. Accessing it all is as easy as unfastening two click-fit retainers and removing the top panel — you’ll need to pull off the fountain stem for this, too.
Four different fountain heads come as standard: bell, column, plume and tiered. There’s a three-year warranty as standard, and a clearwater guarantee — as long as the device is used in accordance with the instructions.
It’s not going to reinvent the way we keep ponds, but it’s a good contender in a somewhat niche area of pond filtering. The 5000 S-UV is rugged and reliable, and pretty easy to use, too.
Ease of use: 4/5
Value for money: 4/5
Overall score: 4/5
Price: Currently on offer from the Fish Mate website for £132.23 (usual RRP £264.43).
More info: www.fishmate.co.uk
“Fish food made with love” says the packaging, and if you ever meet the man behind the brand, you’ll realise that’s not hyperbole, says Nathan Hill.
Chris Englezou is passionate about the aquatic world, and it shows in his products. This latest, Naturekind, comes as the result of over five years of ongoing research and trial.
Naturekind is a veg-heavy, broad range frozen food diet designed to cater for most omnivorous fish.
Chris has done his homework — compare the plant and algae matter to meat ratio of a typical ‘wild’ diet to what he’s made, and the two are very close. The main ingredients are (wild) fruits, vegetables and algae. There’s egg in there, along with fish and fish derivatives, molluscs, crustaceans, aquatic inverts and even insects.
I should add that Chris has sought out fruits that match those found in gut analyses of wild caught fish. That gives us a green, squishy frozen food with a 45% protein content — I’ve long worried (and expressed my views) about protein levels over 50% leading to non-assimilation (and subsequent mess) in fish, so I’m happy feeding this knowing that I’m not going to get an undue ammonia burden.
Handling it is so simple. I dislike traditional frozen food blister packages, so I’m glad that Naturekind doesn’t come in one. Opening some blister packs is as unpredictable as popping champagne corks, as the food suddenly pops out of its moorings, flies across the room and under the fridge, never to be seen again. With Naturekind, the food is a slab, but more like a big chocolate bar with 28 chunks. Chunks snap off easily, and then you simply reseal the Ziploc pouch that it comes back in and slip the remainder back into the freezer. Next up, leave the portion to be fed to one side to warm through until it becomes soft and malleable.
You can toss it in frozen, and let fish nibble on it, but I prefer to copy Chris’s example and flatten the portion out with the edge of a knife, scrape it off as a thin sheet, and then slice it, first one way and then the other, so that you’re left with dozens of tiny ‘pellets’. Then in they go, and sit back to enjoy watching your fish feast.
You can also squish it straight on to the glass and let your fish nibble it from there, if you prefer. Or just let big chunks sink down so your catfish can gorge on it.
Fish love it. Every fishkeeper I know who tries it loves it, and I kinda love it too.
Price: 100g packs retail for around £5.99.
More info: www.cefishessentials.com
Lighting giant Philips has added aquarium LEDs to its product range, and with the CoralCare system, it looks like it means business, says Dave Wolfenden.
Philips’ Electronic Engineer Luc Vogels has led the development of its new CoralCare luminaire over three years with tests courtesy of Coral Publications’ Tim Wijgerde and trials on a number of coral systems, so the company can’t be accused of skimping on R&D. The upshot of research commissioned by Philips appears to be that the CoralCare luminaire supports comparable coral growth to T5 lighting, with improved (up to 30%) efficiency.
In looks, the new luminaire has a metallic grey finish and the feel of a repurposed industrial light fitting.
There’s a good reason for that — the housing is derived from one of Philips’ models of warehouse light; as a result, some folks find the look a bit of a turn-off. Each to their own, but I liked its no-nonsense, rugged and unfussy appearance. Build quality is outstanding, and very confidence-inspiring. The luminaire has a two-year guarantee, but it looks like it’ll last forever.
A 25,000 hour lifespan is claimed for the LEDs; this is running them at the full available power (actually, the LEDs are never driven at anywhere near maximum capacity, helping to ensure longevity). Run them at a reduced power level from the available maximum, and that lifespan will increase further. At full power, expect to draw around 190W. There’s a generous 3m power cable. Measuring 450 x 350 x 130mm high, it’s a brute. The main thing that struck me about the unit was its sheer mass — at 10kg, you’ll need to make sure it’s safely mounted. A hanging kit is included, featuring hefty-looking steel cables and snap hooks which look like they’d suspend a baby elephant. The height of the fitting is easily adjusted with the supplied locking brakes.
Wherever you’re hanging it, just ensure it’s going into ceiling joists or structures that can take the weight. That weight is largely down to the huge amount of metal used in the construction.
The housing incorporates numerous fins which give a large surface area for heat dissipation — effectively, the luminaire’s body is a giant heat sink. This means only passive cooling is necessary, and no fans are needed — so it’s silent. Failed cooling fans can mean frazzled LEDs, and whilst some units incorporating fans have safety features to protect the LEDs in the event of failure, the use of passive cooling such as this eliminates any worries on that score. (This luminaire features a thermal cut-out to protect the LEDs should ambient temperature ever reach over 50°C; Philips recommend a maximum ambient temperature of 35°C for general use.)
There are 104 LEDs in total, in a 13 x 8 array. This comprises five LED types, all from Philips’ Lumiled brand: l 40 x Luxeon TX 6500K/70 l 32 x Luxeon T Royal Blue l 16 x Luxeon UV 420nm l 8 x Luxeon Rebel Cyan l 8 x Luxeon Rebel Phosphor Converted Amber They really are top quality LEDs, and expensive to buy. Philips states that these are subject to a custom ‘kitting’ and ‘binning’ process. Individual LEDs can vary in their characteristics (even if they’re manufactured identically), and binning involves sorting them into groups (bins) with similar characteristics — a quality control process that ensures consistency. Kitting involves the placing and grouping of LEDs from different colour bins in points on the luminaire which will achieve homogenous light distribution and colour temperature.
Rather than using clear glass, the light guard has an almost frosted, hazy appearance. This looked a little odd at first, but it’s apparently designed to reduce light scattering outside the aquarium which can create distracting caustics (glitter lines) where we don’t want them — i.e. on the floor around the tank.
The light guard assists with creating a pleasingly blended light output, avoiding the ‘disco effect’, where individual LEDs on the luminaire create noticeable, distinct points of light in the aquarium, which can look very unnatural. Switch it on, and it’s certainly bright, and capable of belting out PAR values suitable for light-hungry SPS corals.
Aesthetically, the light has a very even appearance (perhaps Philips are really onto something with the light guard). The spread is, frankly, amazing; self-shadowing of corals is minimal to non-existent, and I’d imagine this would only be a problem for larger plating colonies.
Coverage of up to 100 x 80cm is suggested for a 90cm deep tank, but this will vary according to the animals’ lighting needs and the layout; for undemanding species and with optimal positioning, you could well get away with more coverage than this.
The overall effect is very similar to T5 lighting, but perhaps a touch more dynamic. It’s maybe a little flat for some tastes but in spite of it not being a full-on point source of light, it is possible to create shimmery glitter lines with sufficient surface water movement.
Thanks to the lack of active cooling, the unit is IP65 rated, so it’s well protected from salt ingress and the occasional water splash.
You can run the CoralCare luminaire as a standalone unit, but then you’re not making the most of its inherent controllability. Many of us will want to start tweaking settings and devising custom schedules.
You’ll need the CoralCare Controller which uses the 3m long low-voltage cable leaving the unit from a gland on the upper side. Some will berate the lack of native Wi-Fi connectivity, but it is what it is.
Rather than allowing individual control of each of the five LED types, Philips has simplified the programming process by grouping the LEDs into just two channels. Channel 1 (blue) is made up of the T Royal Blue and UV 420nm LEDs; Channel 2 (white) is made up of TX 6500K/70, Rebel Cyan and Rebel Phosphor Converted Amber LEDs. By driving the channels at varying power, the unit will produce colour temperatures from 6500°K to a deep blue. While some programmable aquarium LED lighting allows for the creation of custom settings to rival the lightshow at a Sisters of Mercy gig, it’s far simpler with CoralCare; don’t expect big effects like passing cloud cover or lightning simulation.
When programming, altering the lighting’s parameters involves simply selecting how the blue and white channels are driven (thereby changing the colour temperature and overall intensity). Philips suggests that this simplified approach offers control over the lighting in a practical manner, while ensuring the quality of light is consistently maintained; this reduces the risk of coral health and growth being compromised by the selection of inappropriate LED combinations by the user.
Available as an optional accessory, the CoralCare Controller is a dinky black box, which connects to the luminaire and runs a custom lighting schedule. Setting up involves a little light screwdriver work, and you’ll currently need a Windows computer to use the CoralCare software. (Philips confirmed that Mac support is in the pipeline but there is no definite date yet).
Place it well away from humid areas, and above all avoid anywhere it’ll be subject to splashing and salt creep. You’ll need to install the CoralCare software — the interface for adjusting parameters and dialling in time points (unless opting for third-party control) which is free from Philips’ website. A USB cable is plugged into the Controller via a five-pin fitting — fiddly, but once in, it doesn’t need to be removed. Plug the Controller into the computer’s USB slot, install the driver for the controller (‘CoralCare Virtual Com’), and you’re set.
The interface is a cinch to use; you can set the current time, which is then stored in the Controller, and get playing with the parameters. In all, it’s very intuitive. The luminaire doesn’t need to be connected to the Controller when devising a programme, but if it is, you’ll get real-time feedback on how the settings look, thanks to ‘live mode’, whereby the current colour temperature and intensity are fired up, and ‘demo mode’, which runs through the complete 24-hour light cycle in a couple of minutes .
A total of 20 time points can be selected, and within these, points can be selected to the minute so there’s plenty of scope for subtle, granular shifts in parameters. You can assign colour temperature and intensity at each time point by twiddling virtual sliders on the screen. The settings between time points alter smoothly, ramping up or down for natural transitions from sunrise through to sunset and moonlight effects.
Hooking up the luminaire involves unscrewing one of the Controller’s end covers and inserting the appropriate wires into the connector blocks.
Once the Controller is programmed, the USB can be removed from the computer and plugged into a wall socket using the supplied adaptor. Up to four luminaires can run the same schedule from one Controller, as it outputs four groups of two channels.
A useful feature is the ‘task light’, where light of a pre-programmed colour temperature and intensity is activated at the push of a button, overriding the current setting — ideal for spot checks after lights out. Press the button again to return to the programmed setting. The current programme is stored for ever in the event of a power cut, and the time for up to 48 hours thanks to an internal battery.
If you’re introducing new corals and temporarily want to dial in a shorter photoperiod or lower intensity, you’ll need to plug the controller back into your computer and alter the settings (or load in a previously saved ‘acclimation’ schedule).
Benefits from the software include the ability to download programmes from, and share programmes with, other users, and several prewritten schedules can be downloaded from Philips’ website for tweaking or for use as they are.
The Coralcare Controller can be used with 0-10V aquarium control interfaces such as Apex or ProfiLux instead of opting for Philips’ own software.
Some may not like its rugged industrial aesthetic, but there’s no denying this is a top-class luminaire. Philips surely deserves a big hat tip for investing in the extensive development involved, and the results from real-world testing suggest it is a viable replacement for T5 lighting. It’s not cheap, but at this level it’s not extortionate either; a great fitting which will last for years with superb quality LEDs.
The CoralCare Controller is neat and affordable, and there’s the added potential for third-party control.
CoralCare Luminaire: `
- Ease of use: 4.5/5
- Features: 4.5/5
- Value for money: 4/5
- Overall: 4.5/5
- Price: Around £626.
- Ease of use: 4/5
- Features: 4/5
- Value for money: 4.5/5
- Overall: 4.5/5
- Price: Around £62.
More info: www.philips.com/coralcare
Got a finicky feeder in your marine tank? Nathan Hill reviews a new food that might well solve your problems.
Let me get my cynicism out of the way first, because it’s eating at me. ‘Lyophilised’, which looks incredibly fancy, actually means freeze-dried. Nothing more exciting than that. Dehydrated food.
Except this food really is exciting. Oh my, yes. This stuff has my feathers well and truly ruffled. While I’m usually stubborn about watching any product videos, I took the plunge and was startled to see a Harlequin shrimp — those obligate starfish-feeders that always starve to death — binging on a glob of the stuff.
Masstick comes in a fine powdered form. In the packet (I’m playing with the 42g version), you get three resealable bags of 14g each. To the bags you add 7ml (one and almost a half teaspoons) of RO or distilled water, seal and squidge. You’re aiming to mash it all up into a firm putty.
The putty can then be rolled into bits, dropped in as chunks, or even pushed against the glass, where it will stick and fish will graze on it. While there, it stays firm, not dissolving to slurry, and not giving off powdery puffs of particles with every fish bite. As paste foods go, it is up there as possibly the cleanest. Once made up (14g is a big old portion) you can then freeze it and it’ll stay good for five weeks, so you can keep breaking chunks off, defrosting and feeding.
Because it’s a powder, you can add ingredients of your choice to it. Specifically, I’m thinking worming powders or other ingested medicines. If you want to boost spirulina content, go for it. If it’s in powdered form, and you want to get it into fish, here’s your entry point.
The main ingredient is a shrimp species (Palaemontes varians), that Easy Reefs produce and harvest themselves. To the freeze-dried powder that they make from this, they add micro and macroalgae powders, though beyond that the exact ingredient make up is guarded. What we do know is that there is no fishmeal in the diet (so lower phosphate than some) and that there’s nothing of terrestrial or freshwater origins included. It’s a focused marine food for marine livestock from marine sources, chiefly from their own supplies on an 11.300 hectare nature sanctuary.
If Easy Reefs are protective over some ingredients, the same accusation doesn’t hold for the nutritional profile, which they are proud to scream and shout about. At 52.33 protein, 5.7% fats and 19.59% carbs, it looks a bit protein heavy for herbivore fish, though easy reefs does claim to be a general diet. That said, I watched a video of a tang going at some Masstick on the glass, and it was like a hungry hippo.
Someone looking to criticise the product might look at the 18.6% ash level in the nutritional analysis, but most who do this don’t know what ash content actually means. The confusion is that people often (incorrectly) assume ash to be an added ingredient, like a bulking agent.
From a nutritional profile point of view, ash is the amount of inorganic residue that is left when the organic materials and moisture have been removed. Still, 18% is high (most natural foods have around 5%, while processed foods are in the 10% upwards category), but when you account for things like sodium making up the ash content, it makes a bit more sense.
It looks pricey at first, but when you see how much it makes up, it’s actually good value. And I’m going to finish close to where I started — I saw a Harlequin shrimp eating this stuff. Wow.
There are plenty of paste foods out there now, but Easy Reefs have come in at a heavyweight level to join the fight. I imagine that with a little trial and error, quite a few finicky feeders might start weaning on to this. Good stuff.
Ease of use: 3/5
Value for money: 5/5
Price: Early signs suggest around £12.99 for 42g.
More info: easyreefs.com
Marine expert Dave Wolfenden gets to try out one of the new off-the-peg sump units from Evolution Aqua.
EA’s range of reef and aquascaping aquariums have superb build quality and attention to detail — and the new ProSumps (now available separately) are no exception. I don’t know how they do it, but the sump is beautifully put together, and looks great with its black sealant. If you’ve ever tried to construct an aquarium with black silicone, you’ll appreciate that it’s not the easiest stuff to work with. I had a go once, and the end result looked like I’d made the thing in the dark, wearing oven mitts. EA told me that they spent a long time perfecting their techniques to get the product just right, and boy, does it show. There’s not a smudge of stray silicone, there are no sharp edges (with all the outer panes being polished and chamfered), and there’s no danger of getting cuts from any of the glass; it’s such class, in fact, that it’s almost a shame to have it hidden in a cabinet rather than on view, but there you go.
What’s in the box?
I tested the ‘large’ version, which has an overall size of 800 x 380 x 400mm (L X W X H – external dimensions). EA recommends this size as being suitable for aquariums up to
300 l/66 gal, but this will vary according to the volume of water which overflows from the tank in the event of power interruption and you’ll need to check with your system whether there is enough capacity to account for this. There are four chambers in the sump — three are linked together, with the fourth (with a nominal volume of 21.7 l) being physically separated, and intended for top-up water. EA suggests that the first chamber be used to house a skimmer (and, of course, a sock holder can clip onto this section nicely), the second housing reactors (carbon, phosphate remover, biopellets, etc.) or a refugium, and the third being designed for the aquarium’s return pump. However, it’s obviously your call how it’s configured — folks running Triton, for example, can incorporate a refugium into the first chamber, run the skimmer and reactors from the second, and dose into the third (return) chamber.
The ProSump is solidly constructed — the outer panes are 6mm glass. The first and second dividers are chunky 8mm glass, the first having a large rectangular hole for water flow, and the second with a series of very neatly cut slots. Both of these dividers also have three rectangular holes towards the upper edge — useful as emergency overflows. The quality of the work on these panes is very impressive — I’m not sure how the folks at EA manage to cut such neat slots and holes in 8mm glass, but they deserve a hat tip for it. The final divider (separating the return chamber and top-up section) is 6mm glass. A nice feature is the inclusion of a black foam mat on the sump’s underside. This looks really neat, and saves any faffing around cutting polystyrene to shape.
The water level in the chambers (with the exception of the final top-up section) can be adjusted thanks to the nifty baffles included with the sump. These are sheets of blue acrylic which can be fixed in place at varying heights using the included nylon bolts. The adjustable baffles aren’t watertight (and they’re not intended to be), but they work excellently when the sump is in use to fine-tune the levels in the first three chambers. This gives a good degree of flexibility; it comes in handy, for example, when using skimmers that are sensitive to water level, allowing for a consistent water height to be achieved in the appropriate chamber rather than bodging a stand for the skimmer. It also just generally makes the sump very versatile, allowing users to adjust water levels according to future modifications and system tweaks.
Using the baffles allows the water height to be varied from around 195mm to around 250mm in the first chamber and 130mm to around 250mm in the second chamber — there is no theoretical minimum water level in chamber three, but you’ll obviously need sufficient depth to run the return pump. Depending on the equipment used and the system’s requirements, some degree of experimentation and a ‘suck it and see’ approach will be necessary to arrive at the best arrangement of the baffles, but having the option of altering the sump’s levels is a big plus point.
The instructions are clear and well laid out; aquarists with even a little experience will have a good idea of what they’d like to achieve, and have no problem figuring out how to set the sump up. I would have liked to see a little more detail in the instructions for novice aquarists; perhaps some visuals outlining possible equipment placement options or how to best incorporate a refugium would help here (but I’m being picky there if I’m honest).
Also available is the smaller ‘medium’ version. This is more compact and designed for smaller tanks and cabinets (it’s recommended for aquariums up to 150 l), being only 500 x 380 x 400mm (L x W x H). The design of this version is really clever — it still utilises four chambers as in the large model (it also features the same moveable baffle concept), but instead of a ‘linear’ layout, the chambers are arranged in a ‘2 x 2’ format (think of a slice of Battenberg cake and you get the idea). So while the sump is just as feature-packed and versatile as its bigger relative, the reduced length means it’s going to be better suited to smaller cabinets. I can see some mileage in even larger versions of my test model for bigger aquariums.
EA’s Jeremy Gay confirms that an ‘XL’ version is in the pipeline, with an ‘XXL’ form also being a possibility for really whopping systems — so watch this space…
This is a very well thought-out sump design, offering bags of features and being extremely flexible. The build quality is superb, and if you’re after a well-made and versatile off-the-peg sump for a build from scratch, or looking to upgrade an existing sump — well, I think you might have just found it.
Ease of use: 4.5/5
Value for money: 4.5/5
Price: RRPs £149 (Large); £99 (Medium).
More info: visit www.evolutionaqua.com, or tel. 01942 216554.
Oh ho! Remember how much you all loved those Pleco plushies from GreenPleco? Well, I guess they brooded on how they could possibly trump the existing range, says Nathan Hill, and in true American style, they have now made them bigger and brighter than ever!
For $39.99, you can now purchase a 60cm/ 24in jumbo Zebra plec with all the features of the smaller designs. The anatomically correct shape is there. The sucker for a mouth is there (and it really does cope with the extra weight still). This time the plecs glow, too! If you charge them up under a decent light for a couple of minutes (we had the delight of holding ours under intense studio lights) they shine brighter than a blast furnace full of yule logs. And shine. And shine. The brightness outlasted my patience in a dark store cupboard.
The only downside in the UK is that there’s a postage cost from the States, which works out at $22 for a single jumbo Plec. All I can advise there is that you club together with a few other potential buyers (trust me, a lot of people really want these) and try to get a bulk order together to drive the transport costs down.
Oh, and a minor niggle (that is only an issue when it’s on flat) is that the size of the dorsal fin makes it a bit floppy, so it won’t stay upright. But seeing as they are supposed to be stuck vertically on something, that’s kind of a derelict point.
Yeah, they’re awesome. The small ones were awesome, and now these jumbo ones are awesome too. I have to guard mine from the hawks in the office, because if I take my eyes off for a minute, they’ll be gone.
Price: $39.99 (plus $22.00 postage)
More info: greenpleco.com
Trust me when I say my face when I first saw these cans was exactly like yours when you read that headline just now, writes Nathan Hill. Aerosol pond treatments. That’s not a typo.
But for the initial craziness, there is a big plus point to containing pond (well, any) treatments this way. Think about it — what is the single greatest spoiler of additives and biosupplements that you add to a tank? If you just thought ‘oxidation’ then you’re correct. Whenever you buy a bottle of anything, you immediately impact on the lifespan of it when you unscrew the top. Oxygen gets in, the contents oxidise, and a few months later, you’re left with expired products.
The Prodibio aerosols go one way. That is to say they are cans of supplements and pressurised nitrogen, and even when you’ve used a liberal amount, there’s no more oxygen in the can than when you started. For product longevity, that’s not too shabby an idea.
There’s also a claim that aerosols are easier to use, and to an extent I’m inclined to agree. Instead of having to pour out liquids into measuring cups, or count drops and pipette stuff about, you simply spray, and the length of time you spray is relative to the amount of water you’re treating. In the case of the Prodibio treatments, it equates to one second of spraying for every cubic metre (1000 l) of water.
There’s also a reasonable point about increased immediate dilution. It has been a while since I added a medication to a pond, only to see a fish swim right up into the dense cloud of it, leaving me wondering what health problems might come on the back of gulping up a big
dose. But the memory still sits badly. In spraying on to the surface, I avoid the big and potentially dangerous ‘glug’ of chemicals slowly diffusing.
In the range there are three products. BioPond Bacter, BioPond Plants, and BioPond Nutris — two are obvious, the last one less so.
BioPond Plants is a weekly supplement for plant growth, presumably micronutrients, and definitely iron — getting the complete make up is tricky. It is at least nitrate and phosphate free, on the assumption that there’ll be plenty of these chemicals in the pond already. I can’t really argue with that. The 200ml can treats up to 40,000 l.
BioPond Bacter is also a weekly supplement, and I will have to presume it to be heterotrophic bacteria in the can — those bacteria that gobble up solid wastes and assist in decomposition, rather than the ammonia and nitrite oxidisers that live in the filter. Amongst the things it claims to reduce are green water, odour, and sludge formation as well as (by extension) reducing fish disease incidence. Many supplements of the heterotroph nature are now well understood, and I’m seeing outstanding results elsewhere, so there’s good reason to be optimistic.
BioPond Nutris is something that Prodibio excels at — boosting extant biological filtering. They’ve products for freshwater and marine tanks of exactly this kind, which have a robust reputation for doing what they claim, and if the formula has just been tinkered for aerosol form, I see no issue with it. Dosed weekly, a can will treat up to 50,000 l of pond water, and the spray contains a medley of vitamins, amino acids, enzymes and trace elements that act as nothing more than a catalyst to faster biofiltering. So there it is. Bacteria booster.
The only downsides I can foresee are the requirements to spray evenly over the pond surface — easy to do with a small pond, or if you have arms like a Boxing shrimp with a large one — and the inability to gauge how much is left in the can. I suspect some pondkeepers may baulk a little at the price, too, but given how much each can treats, it’s not extortionate.
I started off wary, but it makes perfect sense as a solution to the oxidation problem. Bravo, Prodibio. Bravo.
Ease of use: 4/5
Value for money: 3/5
Price: £19.99 for 200ml
More info: prodibio.com
The hugely popular Fluval FX6 — famous for its powerful flow rates and filtration capabilities — now has a baby brother. But does this scaled down version live up to the family name? Nathan Hill reckons so...
Hagen, the company that owns the Fluval brand, managed to hit every right note when it tuned up its FX range. The old FX5 model brought affordable filtration to heaps of giant tanks across the UK, and became something of a tankbuster staple.
The FX6 — it’s lower consumption, jet black replacement — has become synonymous with big flow and prominent filtration. I’ve yet to hear any serious complaint against it. It’s a versatile beast, supposedly coping with tanks up to 1500 l/333 gal capacity (though a 1500 l, heavily-stocked tankbuster set-up might be a push).
That means that there has traditionally been a big void in what can be filtered with Fluval externals. The flagship canisters, the ’06 range, only go as far as the Fluval 406, rated for tanks up to 400 l/88 gal capacity. If you’re in the 700–900 l/155–200 gal tank range, you’re stuck between the choice of multiple canisters, or something oversized.
In steps the FX4. Rated for tanks up to 1000 l/220 gal, it boasts a 2650 lph pump output (compared to the 3,500 lph of the FX6), and a filter circulation of 1,700 lph (compared to 2,130 lph). For its flow, it guzzles up just 30W. The reduced flow of also means the maximum head level is reduced, to 2.1m.
The major difference between this model and the FX6 is its physical size and media capacity. Things are understandably a bit tighter in here, but there’s still a generous 14 l of filter volume, with 3.9 l of that dedicated to biomedia. There’s also 1,400cm2 surface area of mechanical foams curled up inside.
Getting inside is easy, but you do need to remember to turn the flow taps off before dismantling the unit. Some of us are too comfy with self-sealing connections, but the FX4 doesn’t carry them. It takes seconds to unfasten the eight screw clamps, and the whole lid comes away. Before scrabbling about with the media, locate the two handles (they’re red) on either side of the media crates and lift out everything in one go — it makes life so much easier. If you’re putting the filter together, take care to remove the biomedia from the plastic packaging first. I’d also suggest buying a little more — the FX4 comes with two biomedia pouches, but I’d have three or four, personally.
The FX4 contains the same SmartPump technology of the FX6, measuring output and ramping flows up or down accordingly. That also means you get the helpful (but unnerving if you’ve never met it before) stop/start feature where the pump turns off for two minutes every 12 hours to let air escape. If you’re not familiar with the technology, it might catch you off guard when you first prime the filter — when you turn the canister on, it’ll run for one minute then shut down to let air back out. The user who hasn’t read the instructions could mistake this for a fault and end up with egg on their face in taking a perfectly functioning filter back to their local store.
Remember those dials on the early FX6 that didn’t really serve a purpose unless you manually moved them? They’ve gone. In their place there’s now a hoseclip, which is real handy for the new FX gravel vac (see the review on this).
Water changes with an FX4 are dreamy. Buy up some extra hose to go on that outlet at the bottom of the canister, and you’re ready to go. Lead the outlet hose into a bucket (or down a drain if you have enough of it), open the valve, close the return valve from the top of the filter back to the tank, and away you go. When finished, simply switch the drain tap off, open the return valve again, and you’re all done — aside filling the tank back up again, of course.
All hosing and fittings (aside a drain hose) are included. The stop valves are gloriously chunky, like a plastic Yorkie bar, and the inlet strainer unashamedly prominent. Yeah, use it with tiny fish and you’ll likely lose the lot, but that’s not really what the FX4 is aimed at.
Getting to the pump is a bit trickier, but only because you need a screwdriver to extract it. Three crosshead screws hold the thing in place, and you need to be careful not to drop the sealing ring as it comes away (or pinch it when replacing). I don’t need to remind you
that you need to empty the canister before attempting this, do I?
Well done, Hagen. We wanted this filter, and you delivered it. It’s not exactly going for pennies, but it’s well worth it for what you get. I bet it’ll last donkeys years, as well.
Ease of use: 4/5
Value for money: 4/5
Price: £259.99 RRP, usually sold around £199.99.
More info: uk.hagen.com
What a treat this is — a gravel cleaner designed to be powered by either an FX4 or an FX6 Fluval canister, writes Nathan Hill.
Best of all, this gravel cleaner currently comes as a free gift when you buy a new FX filter (read our review of the new FX4 here). The bad news is that if you want one, and already have an FX filter, you can’t buy it separately at the moment. The gravel cleaner is what it says on the box, but in this case the canister filter powers it. In the package you get the gravel cleaning attachment, some hosing, a pre-filter/strainer, and some suction cups. So far, so good.
The reach of the gravel cleaner is subject to how many attachments you use (two come as standard, each 365mm long). The cleaner connects to a hose, which in turn connects to the pre-filter — a clear chamber with a fine filter bag inside. This is where the waste collection happens.
The pre-filter has a quick-fit connection at the base, which you attach to a hose leading to the bottom port of your FX canister. At this stage, you sucker the pre-filter chamber to the side of your tank, and you’re ready to start.
Operation involves closing the inflow of the canister, but keeping the return open. When you open the valve on the bottom port to which the gravel vacuum is hooked up, flow will begin, drawing water through the cleaner and returning it to the tank.
Controlling the flow is performed with a ‘thumb tap’ on top of the device. Insert the gravel cleaner into the substrate, open the tap, and it’ll lift substrate up and swill off dirt. When the gravel is clean, close the tap again and let the substrate drop back out. It’s basically the same as any other gravel cleaner in this regard.
That’s pretty much it, apart from subsequently cleaning out the bag afterwards. Hagen’s website lists two grades of filter bag — fine and super fine. In a really dirty tank, that bag will clog pretty fast, so don’t expect it to be outstanding if you’re in the habit of leaving your tank for months between cleans — which you shouldn’t do anyway.
If you’re still unsure of how to operate it, Fluval even has a pretty good ‘silent movie’ tuition video using universal hand gestures — scroll down to see it.
I really hope they start selling these and not just giving them away to new FX buyers, because eventually everyone with one of those canisters will want one of these to accompany it. Easy enough to use, and makes a fiddly job a lot simpler.
Ease of use: 4/5
Value for money: 5+/5 (it’s free!)
Price: N/A, currently a free gift for FX buyers.
More info: uk.hagen.com
Hagen has gone the whole hog with its Fluval LED range, and the nano model compliments the offering at the smallest end of the scale, says Nathan Hill.
Running at just 6.5W, and churning out 9000K, clean white light from a cluster of 14 diodes, the ECO Nano is a scorcher of a light for the budding pico aquascaper, or micro-reefer.
This light is dual purpose – it’ll work on either a freshwater or a marine set up. The lens allows for a 120° spread, so you’ll not end up with a spotlight effect, laserbeam of light shooting straight down.
Hagen claims the light features C.O.B. technology (meaning chip on board), which it suggests leads to heightened efficiency and output. To my eyes, it looks like a punchy LED.
Installation, just as with the other Fluval nano LED designs, is a sore point. The fixing has to be adhered to the glass, and once it’s on, it’s on. If you break your tank, or move to an upgrade, you’re stuck. It annoys the heck out of me, because I get through lots of tanks, and want the option to switch it about.
The other thing with the adhesive sticker is that on really hot days, it loses its stick. I’ve come home before and found mine laid back at a casual 30° angle, peeling itself away. Worse still, when you do initially stick it to the glass, you need to wait 24 hours before adding the light. I’m way too impatient for that jazz. And seeing as I can’t establish how to extract the cable during the curing period, it’s just hindrance after hindrance.
With the holder in place, you need to screw the light on to it. Three screws are involved, and there’s an included tool for the job. Avoid cross threading at all costs — easier said than done. Then, once in place, you can swivel it out of the way for maintenance.
You get around 50,000 hours of light (proposed) but I’ve not had mine anywhere near long enough to comment.
If you’re not planning on changing it, this is a great light. If Hagen made a screw-fix, removable holder, it’d be a billion times better.
Ease of use: 2/5
Value for money: 4/5
More info: uk.hagen.com
A few months back, I lamented the lack of variety in the tank and cabinet world. With hindsight, I was being a little hasty, and some absolute gems are appearing, says Nathan Hill.
The Emotions Nature Pro range from Portuguese manufacturers Ciano has filled a gap for a smart, affordable set-up. I’m deadly serious about the affordable part, too. I went out on a bit of a mission, looking at comparable product lines and the prices they were retailing at. I saw far inferior looking packages in some stores going for £100 more.
The cabinet is as smart as it gets. My test sample is clean white, neither reflective or tacky, and it goes together a lot more easily than the assortment of parts would suggest. We had ours built inside of half an hour, and once we’d put it into place and filled the tank, there was no wobble, no movement, no play. The only mistake I made — possibly something innate in my genes, as it’s the same mistake I’ve made with every cabinet I’ve built, ever — was putting the door hinges on back to front and needing to rectify them. The doors didn’t even take much adjusting in order to sit flush. I’ve lost the best part of half a day in the past on that job alone.
The tank comes with a fixed trim and tidy corners, and reeks of attention to detail during construction. Everything aligns nicely — these tanks aren’t rushed out. The dimensions are 102 x 40 x 61cm, making it stand tall, but without looking too thin. Some tanks have a gangly, ‘undernourished’ feel about them, but this isn’t one of them. The cabinet stands slightly taller, at 83cm. For those reaching for a calculator, I’ll beat you to it — there’s a volume of 197 l/43.8 gal in there.
The backing of the tank will make aquascapers squeal with delight. The rear pane comes frosted as standard, and you need no other backing on there. Any wall blemishes are gobbled up, and the lighting in the tank illuminates it nicely. Pro aquascapers pay a premium for frosted backs, and here’s Ciano giving it away as standard…
The lighting (included) is an LED strip of 30W, with fierce output. My PAR meter has gone awol, but anecdotally speaking, it looks punchy as anything, in a crisp, clean 9000 Kelvin looking temperature. It’s sharp white, not yellowed, violet or blue.
The filtration is snazzy looking, but a little breathless for my liking, which is a shame. Don’t get me wrong, it’s capable enough for everyday stocking, but as a fishkeeper who has been blessed with years of filters that belt out flows like tsunamis, the 550lph (claimed) from the Ciano CFBIO250 filter is rather limp. Physically the pump is a bit of a tiddler.
The filtration comes in several stages. The unit itself is a big box, with limited places to be rigged up inside the tank — it hangs on pre-fixed hooks. There’s a dedicated space inside it for the included 200W heater, and then there are three stages of media. The first is a large (genuinely large) long foam mechanical filter. Then there is a curious slatted ‘rack’ into which you place filter ‘capsules’, two filled with biological media, two with chemical resins.
When you initially set everything up, you can also install an app onto your smartphone, which will notify you of which media need changing, and when. You can also get a ‘stop algae’ insert to replace the chemical resins if needed. Prices for inserts start at £5.29 for one medium Water Clear (chemical), through £5.69 for one medium Bio-Bact or Stop-Algae respectively, to £5.69 for the foam. The chemical inserts need replacing on a 30-day interval, the foams at 90-day intervals, while the biomedia is changed every 140 days — I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but I’m wary of changing biomedia willy-nilly, and I might ignore that replacement suggestion.
There are two things I don’t like about the tank, and both are relatively trivial. The first is the shortness of cables. The filter and heater come with some of the stingiest power cables I’ve met, and without an extension you’ll not reach your plugs.
The other is that the two holes at the rear of the tank (to allow the cables out) are set just a shade too low when the tank is filled. Pop a bag of fish in there, or even put your arm in for a routine algae wipe, and the water sloshes out, straight down the back of the tank, meaning that after every bit of maintenance so far, I’ve had to follow up with squeezing my arms into the crevice at the rear of the set-up, clutching kitchen towel and swearing my head off.
Heaps of tank for your money, with one of the smartest designs going, and a frosted backing that is literally like icing. I’m actually upset that I put this tank in someone else’s house in order to review it. I want it back.
Ease of use: 4/5
Value for money: 5/5
More info: http://ciano.pt/en/produto/emotions-pro-100
A simple design constructed well can be a wonderful thing, and this kit is definitely one of those things. If only we could purchase these direct in the UK, I’d be delighted, says Nathan Hill.
So how do you spruce up what is essentially a very thin syphon? Aquarium Münster found a way. First of all, there’s the shepherd’s crook, a rigid, bent walking stick of tube with a foam strainer on the end. Yup, a strainer. There’ll be no stray bits of leaf suddenly plugging up this nozzle and ruining everything.
Then there’s the manual starter. Just below the walking stick resides a bulbous, squeezable bubble of plastic. Pinch it a few times and the water flow begins.
Towards the delivery end of the syphon, there’s the flow controller. Rather than a traditional clamp or valve, there’s a rolling ‘mangle’ design that turns out to be a quadrillion times better for fine tuning than it looks.
Finishing it off is another, fine filter, and a sucker to hold the outflow in place. For something that’s just designed to transport droplets of water, it’s comprehensive.
The final touch, the flourish of the kit, is the tiny 10ml bottle of stress-protect. Think dechlorinator with aloe vera, iodine and vitamins added, and you’ll be close. A few drops in the transport water helps to shore up any mucus lost in transit, in turn boosting the fish’s own defences.
Does everything right and takes the frustration out of acclimating fish. Essential buying for anyone who collects delicate species.
Ease of use: 5/5
Value for money: 3/5
More info: www.aquarium-munster.com/en/
Nathan Hill plays with this new aquarium from Cubic, designed for jellies.
The last time I reviewed a jellyfish tank is going back a few years now, and I loved the thing. That was also a Cubic model, the much larger Pulse 80, and at that time the only reservations I had were the price, and the ease with which the tank could be scratched.
The Orbit 20 is smaller, sleeker, and wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Tron. I’d say it has smooth lines, but pretty much everything is curved in a gloriously circular design.
It’s rounded for a reason, and that reason is flow and circulation. Jellyfish break easily, especially when they collide with anything, and so for decades the desired outcome by designers has been a tank in which the inhabitants contact nothing. To do this, they employ the ‘kreisel’ system, a German word that translates as ‘carousel’. The kreisel is a method rather than a particular product, and involves pushing water around a drum design, sometimes perforated, sometimes not. The idea here is that as the water rotates, multiple vortices or inflows at the edges keep the jellyfish pushed away from them. The inhabitants end up suspended in the central parts of the water column, while water flows in, around, out and through a filter. It’s a simple design that’s a beast to fine tune and get just right.
Providing the flow for this purpose is one of the dinkiest pumps you’ll ever witness — it’s not even 4cm across the longest stretch, and connects up to a tube that feeds a single spraybar. That doesn’t mean you can see the pump, because it’s hidden between the ‘inner circle’ where the jellyfish go (the clear bit) and the ‘outer ring’ where the hardware lives.
The Orbit 20 requires some input from the owner. With the pump in place, you need to tweak the inline valve until you have the desired flow. Be advised that this will involve some faff, but it’s a necessary evil. Too slow and your jellies will bounce around the edges like a bad game of air hockey. Too fast and they might as well be in a blender.
Filtration is entirely hidden from view in the outer ring. You’re supplied a mixture of porous biomedia that looks like lemon bonbons, and a chunky doorstep of mechanical foam. How often you’ll be cleaning these will depend on stocking density. Jellies are messy creatures, with their demands for repeated plankton-sized feeds, and as the efficiency of the set-up relies on controlled, constant flow, you’d do well to keep on top of that foam. Getting the biomedia back out should you need to is ‘awkward’ if you want to keep the tank running, because it falls to the bottom of the circular design. If you happen to have bones like most humans, you might find them somewhat prohibitive during retrieval.
You need to top the tank up regularly anyway, so get used to looking at the filter when you do. If the water level drops, you lose your overflow, and by extension pretty much everything else.
Lighting is incorporated, in the form of a controllable LED grid built into a removable hood. You can have white if you want white, but otherwise you can select from a range of red, green, blue and yellow options using the supplied remote control. You can go full party mode with strobes and all sorts, if that’s your gig. The jellies won’t really notice, what with their lack of advanced eyes.
One pleasant feature is that you can change the ring trim on the front and back. Mine came with black as standard, but for £24.99 you can also get a red or a white option. On the downside, the magnets embedded in my trim weren’t sealed 100% and with a little rough handling became dislodged, needing gluing back into place.
Rough handling is something to avoid if you want longevity. The construction is acrylic throughout, and that means that even a surly bumblebee could possibly scratch it if it wanted to. Small scratches can be rubbed out — I used to do it all the time with Brasso — but a big gash would be trickier. Be gentle.
You also get some sundry bits in the package, including a hydrometer. Sites selling the tank suggest you get a swing-arm type, but my own was a good old fashioned, bobbing beer-style hydrometer (which I prefer). Getting specific gravity right is essential, as it affects jellyfish buoyancy. Too low and they’ll sink like the Titanic. Too high and they’ll each bob like a Portuguese man o’ war.
There’s also a feeding baster (think turkey baster), so you can target feed your copepods/Artemia/whatever, as well as a siphon tube with hand-powered starting pump. It’s a small bore, which means you’ll not be dragging your jellies out in seconds, and you might be using it frequently — the minimalist nature of the design will be quickly ruined by a smattering of decaying ‘ook’ on the bottom.
A heater doesn’t come as standard, but there are two discrete ports at the base of the tank — an inflow and outflow — that you can connect up to whatever you like. If you want to plump for your own filtration, connect something up and away you go. Get a pump and an inline heater and you can go full blown tropical. Splash out on a chiller, and you can keep some delicate species happy.
At 23 l capacity (including the outer ring), you should choose jellies to fit. The usual Moon jellies will soon overgrow, while the lighting — as pretty as it is — isn’t likely to sustain the demanding photosynthetic species. To be fair, it’s not exactly feasible to be cruel to a jellyfish in any traditional sense, so even if you did just stick whatever species in and it didn’t fare too well, the only thing that would suffer would be your bank account.
But where on earth do you get jellies from in the first place? It’s not exactly something you see in your everyday aquatic store. As luck has it, more and more retailers are taking the plunge, and Cubic can direct you to any local to you. Or you can just get online. Stores like glass-ocean.co.uk specialise in selling squishy spineless lumps.
Look about your room right now. Is there anywhere that a lava lamp would look cool? If there is, then one of these would look a total treat there.
You get a fair bit for your money, and insofar as it’s possible with jellyfish, the set-up is pretty ‘hands off’. Construction is sturdy enough for peace of mind, and unlike glass tanks, you’ll struggle to break this in a topple.
Even non-fishkeepers will be all over this — plenty of them have already been sniffing around my sample model in the office.
Ease of use: 4/5
Value for money: 4/5
Price: Cubic Orbit 20 £249.99, extra trim rings £24.99.
More info: cubicaquarium.com
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Except in the case of the Fluval U range of internal filters. They’ve changed, and they’ve gotten a bit better, says Nathan Hill.
As Paul Trott (Hagen’s UK marketing manager) puts it, “this is evolution, not revolution.” He’s hit the nail on the head too, as the upgraded designs, subtle though they are, give the U range slightly more edge in the development race between filters. It’s also nice to see a company persevere with a good design, too. All too often, I find a product with just a couple of minor teething issues, and instead of addressing them, the parent company will just drop the whole line and release something new — which then turns out to have glitches of its own.
So what’s changed? The first ‘tweak’ appears minor, but is actually essential. A tag on the front of the filters, as soon as you extract them from their boxes, shows you how to remove the impeller and give it a clean. If the pictures are confusing, then you can always scan the QR code instead, and watch a video about it.
That might seem a pretty minor advance, but knowing the history, it isn’t. Impellers breaking through dirt and lack of maintenance are the single biggest cause of returned pumps. If you think about it, that also means that they’re the biggest cause of tanks going from mature and filtered to suddenly crashing. Anything that can highlight the importance of impeller cleaning to newcomers is just fine by me.
The second difference is the ‘media offer’. Remember that middle chamber with the loose biohoops that would rattle like maracas in your hand? It’s had a rejiggy so that you can now fit in a new media pouch, specifically designed to drag out nitrate and phosphate (so maybe not the choice for budding aquascapers). The biomedia still lives in there, alongside the new pouch, but it’s a tight fit, and you don’t feel like you’re losing out. That new media pouch can be used with the Fluval U1, too, courtesy of a cut out compartment in the foams.
The third change is the media container, and this one might be my personal favourite. Pretty much every filter I’ve owned, and Fluval were no exception, has had this habit of spilling its contents back into the tank as I remove it. You’ve probably experienced this, trying to lift the filter out as gently as possible, like it’s the trigger for a nuclear bomb that’s rigged up in a puppy orphanage, only to let it slip 5° over and witness it pouring rich, brown sludge right back into the water.
To counter this, there’s been a redesign in the chambers that hold the filter foams. Now, instead of little bits of waste accruing all around the gills of each chamber, there’s a blank panel in the bottom half of it. This retains any loose waste as you lift the filter up, and keeps it in there until you can get the filter to a bucket. I can’t tell you how effective it actually is, as I’ve not had one running long enough yet.
The last tweak involves accessing the motor — which is now the same shade of blue as the internal filter chambers, indicating that it can be removed. Where the old motor was restricted by the power cable that ran up the rear of the filter, the newer design allows for the cable to be pulled from its moorings, freeing everything up.
Aside that, the filters look the same (apart from now having blue motors), the flow rates appear the same, they have the same functions, you still get into the media through the flip-top lid, and you can still change things while the filter is running (though technically, you should turn off all electrical equipment before putting your hands into the tank).
The X-Men would be happy to see these evolutionary mutations, and so am I. The inclusion of features that add to the design can only be a good thing, and I hope to see this line of thinking stretched to encompass more products. Evolution and not revolution indeed!
Ease of use: 4/5
Value for money: 4/5
Prices: RRPs U1 £31.49, U2 £46.99, U3 £61.99, U4 £76.99, Clean & Clear Cartridge (two packs) £6.99.