“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.
Nathan Hill plays with a clever new approach to aquascaping for those of us who lack the skills to do it ourselves.
Do you completely suck at aquascaping? You’re not alone. My own efforts involve lots of work for very little gain, and then I just hope that the plants will overgrow everything and compensate. Which they don’t.
But you might not be able to grow plants and hide things anyway, in which case this Hugo Kamishi bundle, while not exactly the cheapest way to fill a tank, could be your way of saving face if you’ve got all the artistic skills of a blind potato.
The skills required for assembly are those you’d need to put together a child’s puzzle. If you can construct a Hello Kitty face from ten jigsaw pieces, then you can definitely do this and make your tank look the absolute business.
To make things real easy, there’s a pictorial guide included in the package. The artificial rock hardscape comes in seven parts, mainly big pieces but also a couple of small ones, while there are… lots of plants. Forgive me for not counting, but the bags are bulging and I’ve only just scooped them all up and put them back. The pictures should give you an idea.
Assemble the rock layout according to the annotated pictures that come provided, and then just add the plants as advised, and you have a heaving plastic aquascape (plasquascape?) that outshines a lot of natural efforts.
Or don’t! You have freedom with this kit to do whatever you like. Hugo gives a few suggestions with the included paperwork, but you could lose days just trying out different combinations of rock and plant. And given the quick play that I had, I think you’d struggle to make any combo look bad. I’d just advise leaving some access to all the decor with a toothbrush, because I worry that a little algae could ruin the effect.
Assembly time is in the region of five to ten minutes, but maintenance may be high. If you get strands of algae in your tank, you might be pulling plants back out and rinsing them off. Still, it might still be quicker than a weekly plant trim.
The size recommendation is open to some interpretation. The kit is pitched at 80–100cm/32–40in tanks, but I think there’s easily enough to do two 60cm/24in set-ups, and if you don’t like maximalism then you could stretch even to a 150cm/60in tank without it looking too sparse.
I can’t say at this stage whether the colours will eventually bleach under aquarium lighting (an all too common problem with ornaments), but I can say there are no sharp edges on mine, and there are no visible cracks, splits, deformities, warping or obvious weak spots.
As construction goes, it’s very good. The only drawback is that some of the rocks have been designed to interlock, and so left exposed in a different configuration you might find yourself looking at a curious notch. A couple of well-placed plants (you’ll easily have enough spare) will sort this out.
Note that the two parts come separately; the rock kit is standalone from the plant kit. Either will work individually, but in seriousness, you are robbing yourself if you don’t go for both.
Hugo Kamishi’s finest hour, maybe, with this piece of kit. Consider it a layout equaliser, because for the first time, I can say without irony that anyone from the most entry level, flying-blind aquarist can have a spectacular layout. It isn’t so cheap, but on some mental maths, it’s still cheaper than the equivalent in real rock and plants, by a long, long way.
Ease of use: 4/5
Value for money: 3/5
Prices: Hugo Rock Display £89.99, Hugo plant display £69.99.
Describing something as the 'Rolls-Royce' of its kind, tends to conjure up images of obsessive attention to detail, impeccable build quality, tons of features — and an eye-watering price tag! On that basis, Dave Wolfenden brings us the 'Rolls-Royce of aquarium pumps'…
According to Alexander Grah (co-founder of German company, Venotec), the objective when designing their Abyzz range was to produce the most efficient and sustainable pump possible, without worrying about the end cost as a constraint. Their approach was to redesign the aquarium pump from the ground up — and hang the expense.
Abyzz pumps are fast gaining popularity with reefkeepers, but they’re suitable for freshwater systems too, with the larger models even capable of running stuff like bead filters on Koi ponds. There are three pumps currently in the Abyzz 'A' Series range: the A100, A200 and A400 (named according to their maximum wattage).
I got my sticky mitts on an A200 to see what all the fuss is about.
What’s in the box?
There are two parts to the package — the pump itself and the so-called 'Abyzz Super Silent Driver' (the pump won’t run as a stand-alone unit).
The pump feels solid, chunky and heavy, although it’s compact considering the output (the A200 is approximately 12 x 17.5 x 17cm high). The impeller housing has four substantial Allen bolts holding it onto the pump body (no fragile clips). The ABS impeller itself is an impressive orange affair — more akin in terms of design to the substantial impellers seen on pool pumps. The overall impression is one of a professional-standard piece of equipment. The inlet and outlet of the A200 will accept 50mm and 40mm fittings. As the pump body is made of ABS, you’ll need to use a 'transitional cement' if using PVC fittings to ensure proper bonding and fusion.
The Driver is basically a very sophisticated inverter, a gizmo that allows the pump to run at variable speed as a three-phase unit on 240V mains electricity. This is a masterstroke, as three-phase pumps are super-reliable, more energy-efficient and much more controllable compared to their single-phase counterparts.
This thing is just class — dig deep into the specs and you’ll understand why it’s pricey. The magnets alone are extremely strong, very expensive, and encased in titanium to provide unparalleled protection. The power cable (available in either 3m or 10m lengths) is sheathed in submarine-grade polyurethane (rather than mere PVC), and the impeller shaft is a specific titanium alloy to ensure a long life. Bearings are silicon carbide rather than ceramic, which reduces wear from sand or other debris that may work its way inside. So in terms of expense, it’s worth thinking about the materials themselves, as well as the labour involved — and just think of the R&D costs for these things alone!
The Driver has a simple control interface, with four buttons and a backlit screen. The pump connects in securely via a dedicated plug that’s bolted in place, and the Driver is then connected to the mains. There are 'master' and 'slave' D-sub ports for linking pumps to the Abyzz Control System (ACS) — available separately, and used to coordinate the activity of multiple pumps through one interface. A large heat sink forms the rear part of the housing (inverters tend to generate some warmth), and the Driver can be screwed to the wall — choose somewhere with adequate ventilation. Mount it somewhere it won’t get splashed or be subject to salt creep or humidity — it’s rated IP30 (obviously the pump itself can be used fully submerged or plumbed in on the dry side).
Plug the Driver in and switch on, and the unit beeps, the display letting you know the current status of the pump; a blinking LED lets you know the unit is running even when the display is off (a press of any button illuminates the display, which shuts off after a few minutes to save power).
An optional 'boost' setting can be dialled in to give an additional burst of flow at programmed intervals. The Driver’s display scrolls through various key snippets of information every few seconds the display is lit, including its temperature, the current mode, the pump’s current output, wattage consumed, and the length of time the unit has been running for.
Programming the Driver is reasonably straightforward — for example, to change the mode, press the 'M' button, scroll to 'Mode', then press 'Start/Stop' to begin editing. You can then adjust the settings accordingly, using ‘Start/Stop’ to confirm at each stage, and then store the programme. The Driver protects itself and the pump by preventing dry running and it won’t work if it’s overheated for whatever reason.
The A200 can chuck out water at the rate of 14,500 lph, and has a maximum head height of 9m. But the real beauty is its programmability. Tap into the potential of the Driver, and you’ll be creating wave and surge effects you wouldn’t have believed possible.
An advantage of running an uber-controllable three-phase pump through an inverter is being able to exactly match the flow to your requirements. Reducing the output of a regular pump typically involves closing valves to create an artificial head — the pump’s power use remains the same, so in effect this wastes energy. The Abyzz pumps, however, allow the pump’s power draw to be reduced by tweaking the speed of the motor, for a more energy-efficient approach. Abyzz calculates that reducing the pump’s flow rate to half the maximum capacity makes for an energy saving of over 75%.
Pump noise is literally non-existent (although there’s still noise from the movement of water); the instructions suggest that new pumps may be slightly noisy at first as the bearings bed in, but my test model had already seen some action, so was silent from the get-go. The pump isn’t self-priming, so it will need to be placed below the water level.
Pretty much the only maintenance is periodically cleaning the impeller (this involves unbolting the pump head — not difficult, but not a five second job). I was a little concerned at the lack of a strainer or guard on the inlet side, but this won’t worry most folks — in any case, Abyzz produces a stainless steel mesh guard for submersible use, or alternatively, a nifty inline strainer for dry side plumbing (both available separately).
Four operating modes
'Permanent' mode sees the pump run continuously at a set speed (the speed being set on a percentage basis).
In 'wave' mode, the pump’s speed can be set at an upper and lower level, and the time interval between these programmed.
Additionally, there are two 'random' modes – in the first of these the upper and lower speed levels are set, and the output randomly changes between these within a programmed time interval; in the second of these modes, the time interval itself is randomised.
In terms of running costs, there are some significant savings to be made over other pumps — but you’ll need to take the long view when calculating at which point you’ll break even, on account of the high costs of the Abyzz pumps themselves.
I made some calculations, and the break-even point when replacing other pumps varies, but in most cases, an Abyzz will effectively pay for itself after a few years. For example, a 700W pool pump running a Koi pond filter costs nearly a grand a year to run. Replacing this with an A400 means a saving of almost £400 a year in running costs — taking the initial purchase of each pump into account, the Abyzz’s break-even point is just under five years. After that you’re effectively saving yourself cash.
And that’s based on current electricity prices, which are likely to go up, and assuming the Abyzz is being used on maximum draw 24/7. Running it in reduced speed/energy modes will make potential savings even greater.
The Driver software can be subject to periodic optional upgrades — in such cases Venotec will pimp your Driver for a small nominal fee if you wish.
A final point worth mentioning is Venotec’s 'lifetime' (10-year) warranty — you’ll need to activate this shortly after purchase to extend the standard one-year warranty, but it’s free. Abyzz is confident the pumps will last well over a decade, suggesting that in most cases impellers might simply need replacing to make them as good as new after this period. Alternatively, the company will repair and refurbish pumps (for a charge) past the extended warranty.
You have to take your hat off to Venotec for producing such beautifully-made and uncompromising pumps. Sure, you’ll pay top dollar, but many fishkeepers will see them as a worthwhile long-term investment, with the potential to save energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint. In this respect, I’d suggest that the 'value for money' rating below should be viewed on a subjective basis according to your own wallet. There are other very good pumps out there that are more affordable, but in view of their superb build quality, unequalled efficiency and the aftercare offered by Venotec, the Abyzz might seriously be the only pump you’ll ever need to buy. Heck, I think this thing might even outlive me…
Ease of use: 4.5/5
Value for money: 3.5/5
Price: Abyzz A100 £941.06; A200 £1,287.28 (3m lead), £1,319.77 (10m lead); A400 £1,740.94 (3m lead), £1,773.28 (10m lead). All prices RRP.
More info: www.abyzz.de or contact Seneye on 01223 911075.
Nathan Hill plays with a real bruiser of a pump from EcoTech Marine.
It’s been a while since I played with anything for big set-ups, so I tracked this down and now I’ve got nothing large enough to connect it to. Typical, huh?
The Vectra L1 is a beautiful brute that can run as a sump pump, or an inline external pump. That in itself may not be too exciting, but I promise you it gets better.
What makes the L1 unique is that it’s the first EcoTech sump pump to run on a DC current, as opposed to the usual AC lumps we’re all used to. AC pumps are great, and all, but their Achilles heel is controllability. If you have an AC under your tank, you need to rig up inline taps and valves, and purge valves if you want to avoid a build-up of pressure/leaks/explosions. And if you’ve got an AC set up and want to have funky features like surges and gyre effects — forget about it!
EcoTech Marine are safely established as the kings of controllability. Pretty much everything they have comes with the ability to be connected up to a phone or tablet, at which point you get so many options that EcoTech only just stop at making their devices self-aware and able to think about the downfall of humanity. The Vectra L1 continues along this proud line of absolute manipulation at your fingertips.
Physically, the L1 punches at a weight that belies its smallish stature. At peak it’ll consume 130W of energy, and for that it can pass through 11,500lph of flow (head level pending). With a maximum head level of 6.5m, this is not some trickling powerhead to stick on a 60cm tank.
Mine measures in at just under 18cm from rubber feet to the the top of the threaded connection, just shy of 20cm long, and around 12cm wide. You get options of pipe sizing in and out (rigid only) of either 50mm (threaded) or 38mm (quick coupling) on the inlet, and 38mm (threaded) or 25mm (quick coupling) on the outlet.
Accessing the internal parts involves an Allen key and four nuts (they drop out, so don’t lose them) at which point you expose a beefy impeller which just pulls out of its well. EcoTech advises six-monthly thorough cleans of the impeller, but with no kind of strainer or protection ahead of it, I’d be more frequent than this, especially in a typically sandy, mucky sump.
Now, that controllability. If you’re looking at an EcoTech pump, there’s a chance you already know about the existence of EcoSmart Live and ReefLink. If not, you really need to look up these two names, but in a nutshell what we have is a whole range of gear that runs on Wifi, through a wireless bridge (ReefLink) and into EcoSmart Live, which is a cloud based control for all things EcoTech.
Assuming you have spent the last few years in a cave, on the moon, with no internet access, and no reading material, we can safely say you might not know of EcoSmart Live, in which case you can play with the Vectra driver (the physical controller for it).
There are two ways of running the Vectra L1 — as either a return pump in a sump (the default setting of the device) or in a closed loop pattern (piped in/piped out of the tank). In return pump mode you get pretty limited control.
There’s a constant speed selection, which involves turning a dial and watching what happens. I’d advise keeping the driver well out of reach of roaming hands if you’re going to use that one. You also have a speed lock facility, which is a way of setting the flow you want and then deactivating the dial — safer if you have kids with exploring fingers. There’s also a feed mode, which is just a ten-minute 'go slow'.
Calibrate the device for closed loop running, and you get more options, including 'lagoonal' which amounts to low energy turbulence; 'reef crest' which is high energy turbulence, and 'gyre' which is on on/off surge you set to whichever power and frequency you like.
But this is all very basic compared to what you can do once you’re rigged up to EcoSmart Live. At that point, you can start planning peaks and troughs, ramping up and down of flow, changes of effects, the whole shebang, and over a 24-hour cycle, so you can time it in synch with lights and any other EcoTech Marine products you might have.
Although there’s not one presently available from the manufacturers, there’s even a port for a float switch in the driver, so the future hints at the potential of more controllability and safety.
Are there any drawbacks? The big criticism of DC pumps is that they run hot, but I’m not in a position to currently see how much heat mine welts out. Historically, DC pumps have a bad reputation for unreliability, but given that this model has been out for coming up to ten months, and it isn’t plagued with pages of online frothing and forum beastings, I’m going to have to guess that either it’s pretty reliable, or nobody has bought one. But then I know people have been buying them.
There’s some noise made about the size of the fittings for rigid pipe, which is predictable with anything that uses rigid fittings. The thread, assuming you want to screw something straight on, is in British Standard Thread size, so you’ll need to shop carefully for that. Also, it’s noted that because the fittings on the Vectra L1 are made from ABS plastic, you’ll need different cement to usual when connecting to PVC pipe.
Oh, and there’s the option to connect up an emergency EcoTech battery backup. Get a powercut? Pump can still run.
Reefkeepers with big systems looking for hefty flows and controllability will be clawing the windows of their local retailer already. For big projects this is where it’s at, and freshwater keepers looking to put together the ultimate crashing river biotope will want to have a look as well. If you already own other EcoTech Marine products and have the chance to put everything under one controlling umbrella, I can’t see why you’d even look elsewhere.
Ease of use: 4/5
Value for money: 5/5
Nathan Hill plays with this latest lighting offering from Rolf C. Hagen.
Let me start off with a recap of how I felt about the last lot of Fluval LED lights. I was simultaneously overjoyed and underwhelmed, all in one package. I loved the shape of the bars, I loved the price and I loved how they were, for the best part, bulletproof. I hated the anaemic look of the light they emitted, and hated the way corals just looked ‘meh’ underneath them. And then I noticed that corals loved the ‘meh’ light and grew like Jack’s giant beanstalk underneath the things.
What you couldn’t do before was put them on a timer, because of the annoying button activation, and you couldn’t alter the spectrum.
In steps Fluval’s LED Mk II. Here’s the formal Fluval commentary on it: "Pairing bright White and RGB LEDs, Aquasky offers infinite colour blends and 11 exciting sky effects for a customised environment that can be controlled from the palm of your hand."
Let me unpackage some of that. The first claim, that there’s a mix of white and RGB diodes is entirely true. They’re punchy, too, at 16W for a roughly 55cm long light bar. Does Aquasky offer infinite colour blends? They’re in tricky territory there, because there are only so many colours in the universe.
Eleven exciting sky effects? Sort of. There’s blue, less blue, and less blue again (shades of moon), cloudy, cloudier, even cloudier and cloudiest, and then there are three storm settings (dark and flashy, darker and flashy, and just flashy). I’m not sure about the 11th effect — I press the button and not much seems to happen.
The effects I really am not fussed about, though. It’s like when somebody puts a storm setting on a £5,000 light. I take one look, think to myself 'never going to use that' and feel sorry for the poor soul who wasted his life putting it in. The effects for me are not the clincher for this deal, but then I do get out of my house quite regularly. The only part of the ‘gimmicky’ side of the light that makes me smile is the sunrise and sunset effects. Read that as fade on and fade off, and you get the idea.
Controlled from the palm of your hand? Oh yes. Ohhhhh yes. A snazzy remote, with a layout so simple and obvious it could have been designed by Fisher-Price, takes care of everything. Here’s where the action starts.
You’ve got six colour pre-sets on the remote, but not the kind of garish, all out colour varieties that I have come to hate. No, press blue, and you get a subtle shift in spectrum. Likewise violet, white, orange and yellow. It’s nice.
From there, you can alter colours to suit yourself, boosting individual channels in the RGB or just the white, and then you can save four of these tailored combinations. Controllability at last! The packaging says that you have a spectral spread from 3000 to 25,000K, but although I can easily pick out the high end, I’m not sure how to get things as low as 3000K. Or I might just be being stupid.
The light is made up from a mixture of 28 6500K, and 14 RGB diodes (42 total) and it belts out a claimed 1100 lumens.
The Aquasky doesn’t stop there. Got a canopy on your tank with fitted T5 or T8 lights? Can’t remove them without spoiling the look of the tank? Fluval has this covered. On the ends of the extendable mounting arms, you can add mounting brackets that fit straight in to your fluorescent ballasts.
The issue of remote timing is now taken care of courtesy of the inline controller (sold separately) which can run up to two lights independently (it’s a bit of a chore to program each in, but it’s no biggie).
The spread of light is nice and wide at 120° from each LED, meaning you avoid that annoying spotlighting effect in the tank, with some areas of scorched earth next to abyssal dark. It also means you can have the light set much closer to the water than many other brands, which in turn means more energy spent illuminating your tank, and less energy lighting the whole room with light spill.
The Aquasky is suited for both fresh and marine tanks, but there’s no specific mention of coral growth. At this stage I honestly have no clue how it’ll compare with the original models, but given how much I was surprised first time around, I hope I’ll be equally pleased by the new offering.
If it’s anything like its predecessor, it’ll stand up to the occasional accidental dunking. I drowned a few of the old lights, and though I panicked every time, I never had a strip light die that way on me.
There are four sizes to choose from: 12W, 38–61cm; 16W, 53–83cm; 25W, 83.5–106.5cm; and 30W, 99–130cm. Extra peace of mind should come with the three-year warranty Fluval is offering, but diode life is expected to be around 50,000 hours upwards.
Digital double lamp timer
Instead of having to switch on and off lights manually, this light can be controlled with the in-line timer, which includes a sunrise and sunset function. Timer price around £20 to £25 in stores.
I like lots, feel indifferent about the effects, and dislike the little remote sensor that needs to be stuck on to the tank/lid/wherever in order for the buttons to work. Other than that, this light is going places.
Ease of use:
Value for money:
£99.99 RRP, on sale around £79.99.
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Ireland's KoralSea has branched out into live phyto- and zooplankton in the form of K-Zoo, K-Phyto and K-Fuzz. Dave Wolfenden tries them out.
At first glance, you might be thinking you’ve mainly bought water. However, look closely, and you’ll see the bottle is actually populated with numerous copepods. Look even closer, and you’ll see it’s teeming with tiny rotifers. Together, these little beasties make a great addition to the reef aquarium in a sort of zooplankton cocktail.
The copepods include two species: firstly a harpacticoid (Tigriopus), which is primarily a substrate-hugging benthic ’pod. These will happily graze away at biofilm and detritus on any substrate in the aquarium, acting as a miniature clean-up crew; they’re also superb food for small fish species, notably mandarins. Secondly, Parvocalanus is included, which is a midwater swimmer and great food for fish, as well as SPS corals and various other invertebrates. Copepods are a good source of HUFAs (highly unsaturated fatty acids) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), so nutritionally you’re onto a winner with these.
Rotifers are even smaller than copepods, and make an ideal food for some filter feeders as well as larval fish such as clownfish. Not only that, they’re highly efficient at processing detritus and bacteria from the water, so adding them to your reef is a no-brainer.
KoralSea suggests a dosage of 50ml per 100 l at least once a month, but I suspect more might be necessary in practice. To get the most out of K-Zoo, regular additions to the aquarium will keep populations of ’pods and rotifers topped up, and using it in conjunction with phytoplankton (such as KoralSea’s K-Phyto) will help, as this feeds the zooplankton. ’Pods and rotifers will reproduce in the aquarium, especially if a refugium is available, but they may be snaffled quicker than they can breed.
K-Zoo is ideal for seeding a sand bed/macroalgae refugium, but additions directly to the aquarium will also be very beneficial. If adding with the intent of establishing healthy populations rather than as an immediate food source, acclimating the little critters by slowly bringing the temperature and salinity in line with the aquarium is a good idea. As far as shelf life goes, you’ll get a good few weeks out of a refrigerated bottle.
Ease of use:
Value for money:
250ml RRP £12.00; 30ml 'shot' bottles RRP £2.00.
K-Phyto contains four species of live phytoplankton with sizes ranging from 5 to 20 microns. This product will be of interest to anyone wishing to directly feed clams and soft corals, and it’s also going to be helpful in potentially boosting zooplankton populations, perhaps in tandem with K-Zoo.
KoralSea’s method of preparing K-Phyto for storage involves separating the algae from the culture medium (F2/Guillard’s nutrients), with a claimed 99% survival rate. They’re not giving much away on what method is used exactly, presumably for proprietary reasons, which is fair enough. The reasoning for separating the algae out is that F2 actually contains things that we don’t really want to be adding to the reef aquarium, such as phosphate and heavy metals. Dump a batch of regular phyto in its medium into the system, and you’re also adding those nutrients, so this approach offers a ‘cleaner’ culture. The trade-off is that K-Phyto has a shorter shelf-life than some commercially-available phytos, although it will keep for a reasonable while in the fridge (as with all of the products here, ‘best before’ dates are included on each bottle).
The bottle needs a good shake before use, as the algae can settle out in storage, but once agitated, it turns a nice dark green, suggesting a concentrated solution. A dosage rate of 5ml per 100 l daily is suggested, so a 250ml bottle is sufficient for ten days in 500 l aquarium. But you can go crazy with the stuff if you want, as it’s difficult to overdose.
Ease of use:
Value for money:
250ml RRP £12.00; 30ml ‘shot’ bottles RRP £2.00.
The niftily-named K-Fuzz is a live temperate macroalga from the genus Acrochaetium, and as such it needs to be kept refrigerated, otherwise it’ll rapidly go off. It also won’t survive in the tropical marine aquarium, so this is strictly for immediate consumption by the fish. The alga takes the form of little filamentous pieces in pink-coloured water which has a strong, pungent 'seaside' aroma. Shake the bottle, and simply add as much as required. It appears a little messy, and the fish take a little getting used to it, but for aquaria containing damsels, tangs, angels, etc., K-Fuzz could make for a good ‘treat’ food. It’s claimed to have vitamins not contained in nori sheets, but I’d have liked some info on its nutritional profile, and perhaps a direct comparison with nori. But variety is the spice of life, so at least using it as a supplementary feed makes sense.
I asked KoralSea where the Acrochaetium is sourced from, and they state that it’s cultured, which means it’s pathogen-free and you can be sure it’s from a controlled environment, and will be of a consistent quality — which is good to know.
Ease of use:
Value for money:
250ml RRP £12.00; 30ml ‘shot’ bottles RRP £2.00.
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We asked PFK reader Michael Hughes to take a look at this latest retrofit lighting offering from iQuatics.
My immediate thought when opening the Aqualumi light bar was how heavy the unit was when compared to my existing Juwel counterpart. It’s only upon more vigorous inspection that you realise the unit consists of a complete metal frame, as opposed to a plastic frame on the Juwel design.
The design is simple but effective, for those who aren’t particularly tech savvy, and installation is so straightforward that I doubt you’d even need to refer to the included instructions when putting the unit together. Each tube slots into the lighting extension arms, where there are waterproofing seals and screw caps to ensure it’s a tight, safe fit.
Once each arm has been completed, inserting them on to the main unit can be a little tricky. Overall it took less than 30 minutes to remove the old lighting unit, build the Iquatics Aqualumi and fit it to my tank.
The unit consists of two plugs, with one plug operating the middle two tubes and the second plug operating the outer two tubes.
Note that there is no switch on any part of the lighting unit, which I think could be frustrating if you don’t use timers like me. That said, because there are two separate power inputs, you get great flexibility on the lighting intensity and duration.
Once in place I was duly impressed at how smoothly the standard Juwel cover flaps integrate into the unit.
Fitted to the tank, the four-tube light unit takes up most of the top of the tank, which means that there’s less arm space for manual work within the aquarium. For maintenance purposes, I have to remove the unit or balance on the side of the tank.
I was moving from the standard (twin tube) Juwel T5 HiLite tubes, offering a total of 56W of light, compared to the double output of the four-tube Aqualumi which is a total of 112W plus reflectors. To avoid melting my plants or causing an algae explosion, I initially set â€¨up the lights on a staggered on/off cycle.
My outer two tubes with reflectors would come on for three hours, followed by the inner two tubes (minus reflectors) for the last hour. The next few weeks involved monitoring the plants and slowly increasing the lighting intensity and duration.
The sudden boost of light is something that planted aquarium owners will want to keep in mind.
- Well-built unit.
- Simple and easy to use.
- Fits existing Juwel covers and integrates seamlessly.
- Two plugs offer greater flexibility to lighting set up.
- No individual switch for the lights, so if you don’t use timers, turning the lights off will mean unplugging them.
- Once the unit is place, there is little room to get your hands into the aquarium for cleaning and maintenance
- Currently only one tube type for tropical.
The Aqualumi is a great unit which has really transformed my plants and my overall viewing of the fish, but it’s up against stiff competition, as for a similar price I could buy an LED set-up. This gives the space I need to access the tank and doesn’t produce the heat of the T5 bulbs.
However, if your existing Juwel lights do break, or don’t produce a high enough light intensity, and you’re not looking for LED, then I can highly recommend this unit.
If you're dead set in your mind that you don't like lifestyle tanks, you'll hate this. But I implore you to remain open if you're on the fence, as the Norrom has novelty mileage, says Nathan Hill. Unlike many tanks from non-aquatic companies, this one has been thought through.
Let me reinforce the point above. In the comprehensive and concise instruction manual come some 'do not' points. They include' do not overstock your aquarium — the total length of fish should not exceed 20cm; do not overfeed your fish — a hungry fish is a healthy fish; do not replace the sponge, carbon pellets of ceramic rings at the same time as each other — it can cause a lethal chemical imbalance'. Furthermore, Norrom 'strongly recommend cycling your aquarium before adding any fish, in order to ensure that the water quality is habitable...' Yes, that’s right. An aquarium company is actually suggesting cycling before you add fish. There’s even a link to a webpage to talk you through it.
The Norrom is a 40 l, upright cylinder made from some of the nicest acrylic I’ve seen. The top and bottom trim, in a selection of finishes, is easy to remove and swap (should the urge take you) and if you’re the kind of person who has a 3D printer knocking about, you can download a template to make your own replacements at will.
The filter runs on an uplift principle, and the tube screws into place with an unrivalled precision — there’s no shaky push-fit affair here. In the filter chamber sits a foam mechanical filter into which there is a clear cut trench for carbon (or other resin media, if you so choose), while biomedia sits around the outside. On top of that you can place your decorative stones, which come as either white or black cobbles (supplied, and you choose which you want).
What’s very clever is what you don’t see, not what you do. The air pump sits under the tank, with a non-return valve feeding through to the base of the uplift, and — brace yourself — the light is also down there. I was initially thrown by that as well, but yes, the lighting, a cluster of LEDs arranged in a ring, are fixed to the base of the tank, meaning there are absolutely no cables running up the height of the aquarium. It is truly standalone.
The lighting beams directly up, and then bounces off a mirror built into the inside of the hood. Now, some of you will likely want to shout at me about how 'unnatural' or stressful for the fish it might be. Well, unless you’re sat on a perfect biotope replica for your own fish, with rainfall, sunrise and sunset patterns, and seasonal changes, then you’ll excuse my rather pronounced throat clearing. Maybe some fish won’t get on with this lighting set-up, but it’s no worse than the flickering fluorescents I see all too often.
The light is controlled with a dimmer switch, though I don’t know how easy it’ll be to change or repair in the event of a fault. Is it any good for plants? Maybe, but the substrate system won’t be, so it’s all a bit academic.
The stumbling block for many will be the lack of heating. You could probably add one, but at the risk of ruining the cable-free appearance. Otherwise, you’ve a choice of temperate fish, of which Norrom suggests a few such as Zebra danio, WCMM, and — temperature consistency pending — Neon tetra. What’s wonderful is that there’s no mention of goldfish. I’ve been all over the website, manual, packaging — everywhere. I hope other manufacturers are seeing this, because it is what we want.
In its standard form, this will appeal to a certain subset of IKEA shoppers, and it should come as little surprise that Norrom is a Swedish design (though it is built in the UK). The limited range of substrates and fish mean that it will for the best part be relegated to being an attractive ornament in stylish homes. But that’s not to say it’s without potential.
As a nano reef with bright zoanthids, some tinkering with additional lights, and a couple of tiny gobies, it could be the project of the year. As an aquascape with some alterations to the filter system, it could be a tube of green heaven, crawling with shrimps. I even think I could make it work short term with a handful of young shiners and some plastic plants.
The price might put some off, but for a small-batch, one off design of this standard, it’s about right.
I opened it up in an office of hundreds of people, and not a single one had a bad thing to say about it. I’m already bored of telling people they can’t have it.
A new venture done right, Norrom has researched the market and understood what it needs to do to be a part of it. When it’s bumping out better advice than some major manufacturers, it’s worth taking note. If you fancy making some tweaks and personalising one, I doubt you’ll be disappointed. I can’t wait to experiment with mine.
Ease of use:
Value for money:
From £279 to £329 pending trim finish.
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