What was the most hotly anticipated aquatic product of 2011 has been on test with editor Jeremy Gay since Christmas. So does this new LED light live up to all his expectations?
Created by EcoTech Marine – the company that revolutionised aquarium flow pumps with the VorTech range – a patent had been filed for a new LED light, with a launch following shortly after.
Why was this lighting unit so hotly anticipated? Because we all saw what EcoTech did with pumps. We then tried them and most of us never looked back! If the company could apply that same fresh thinking to LEDs, it could potentially produce a very good and very different product. And EcoTech didn’t disappoint!
The Radion XR30W (pronounced Ray-dee-on,) is so named because it is 30cm/12" long and not 30w energy consumption as some first thought.
It does in fact use up to 120 watts of energy and is packed with eight Cree XP-G Cool White LEDs run at 5w each, eight Cree XP-E Blue LEDs at 3w each, ten Cree XP-E Royal Blue LEDs at 3w each, four Cree XP-E Green LEDs at 3w each and four Osram Oslon SSL Hyper Red LEDs at 3w each.
Those ensure this light is as bright as a 250w metal halide, but the array of different coloured LEDs also guarantees the light is very colourful.
With all those white and blue LEDs you get the necessary marine lighting, but with added RGBs (red, green, blues) you also get all the colour you could ever want. It’s customisable too and also suitable for even difficult coral species
The 30 x 18 x 3.9cm/122 x 7 x 1.5" light has basic controls on the top. Plug it into a basic timer, not supplied, for timed on and off and go through any of the seven pre-set kelvin ratings. This is called the basic mode.
These offer spectrums varying from a 5,000K low Kelvin freshwater spectrum through to a very blue 20,000K marine light. Default setting is 12,000K and this would be the optimum level for most reef tanks.
For each setting you can then press 'raise' or 'lower' to brighten or dim the light through a large range of brightnesses. The unit can also run through a demo of all its capabilities and, even in basic mode, still create a thunderstorm.
Feed mode tells wirelessly-connected EcoSmart pumps to power down while your fish feed.
However, those manual settings are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of this unit’s capabilities and the real bells and whistles chime in when you connect to your PC via the supplied USB cable and download the Radion software via the EcoTech Marine website.
Connect, download and you open up a whole world of lighting control capabilities we have never experienced before.
The EcoSmart configuration utility has its own clock and timer, so can turn itself on and off, and you can set it for gradual fade in and out for dawn, dusk and moonlight simulations.
It has thunderstorm and lightning simulation too.
Nothing new there then, but you get to tweak the colour of the light by moving on-screen sliders which control the white, royal blue, blue, green and hyper-red LEDs all separately.
So, if you don’t like one of the many preset Kelvin and brightness spectrums you can control each slider to give you more royal blue for example, or less green, and change brightness from 100% to say 74%.
Brightness and individual colours are all controllable from 0% through to 100%, so you could use the red light on its own for acclimatising fish, just like the expert wholesalers, or just the blues for a rich, actinic light.
If you can think it, this light can pretty much do it, and software and firmware upgrades will be available as technology progresses — as will new LED clusters.
Get a touch-enabled PC screen and you can adjust colour sliders and brightness by dragging your finger on-screen, just like an iPad. PC control also enables natural mode and potentially geographical weather simulation mimicking, cloud cover and simulation of the lunar cycle.
Then there’s the wireless capability. If you use two VorTech pumps one can be set how you want it and the other set wirelessly at the same time. No-one had done this before…
EcoTech has also made the Radion lights wireless. So if you have three on a large reef tank you can control them as one — and they can even tell your pumps to create a storm!
What we think
The top is gloss black, so will blend in with your widescreen TV, but it does have a white, remote ballast which would ordinarily go inside your tank cabinet.
The unit itself isn’t waterproof, so must be suspended above the tank. This means that you won’t see any UK-legal luminaires for it any time soon either. The main reason it’s not waterproof is the cooling fan that’s sat in the middle of the unit.
I’m not keen on fans in LED lighting. Fan cooling is known as active cooling, as opposed to passive cooling of metal as heat sinks through the outer body design. LEDs die if they get hot, so fans are the only way to keep cool many of that output clustered together in a 30cm unit.
Yet if a cooling fan dies the LEDs quickly fry and, by the nature of the air intake, any unit with a built-in fan will not be waterproof because, if dropped into the water, it would go straight through the fan and into the electrics. Note That the Radion cleverly powers down in the event of fan failure, preserving the precious LEDs.
Fans also create noise. I was greeted by a whoosh of the very effective fan pushing air through the electrics when I plugged in the Radion — as opposed to the silence of my TMC AquaRay units. I prefer my aquariums to be as quiet as possible…
However, once fitted and suspended over the tank the sound becomes more of a 'sshhhh'.
At the time of writing the Radion continues to exude consumer satisfaction and my other half has even noticed the improved colour in the aquarium. It has all the colour, and more, of multiple T5s, all the penetration and shimmer of metal halide and all the features, controllability and future proofing of LED.
The unit is still only PC compatible, so joins a growing list of PC-controllable products that don’t work on Macs. It also costs £750 and when quoted at lighting a 60 x 60cm/2 x 2’ area per unit it certainly ain’t cheap.
However, like the VorTech pumps, it’s so tied up in patents you won’t see a cheaper imitation any time soon. Yet even with my slight grizzles about fan noise, price and lack of Mac compatibility it wouldn’t affect my five out of five star rating. It’s an amazing product.
Price: £749 RRP.
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