We compare 20 aquarium pH test kits with prices ranging from £5.99 to over £300. How do they measure up?
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY: GABOR HORVATH
Checking the pH of the aquarium water should be part of every fishkeeper’s weekly routine, as it could help to detect or avoid serious problems. There is an abundance of pH tests and meters on the market, but not all are equally reliable in every condition — results can be influenced by temperature, ionic strength of the water and by the pH levels you want to measure.
Can you trust your readings?
Having a correct buffering capacity is an essential factor in maintaining a steady pH. Fortunately it can be easily measured by a KH (carbonate hardness) test and adjusted if required. At close to neutral pH and at relatively high KH most of the tests here will give you quite reliable — and similar — values. But as soon as you move towards lower pH values, especially if paired with low carbonate concentration the results will be more scattered. Let me explain it through an example.
Think about pH as a noise and the pH tests as microphones. To be able to record the noise it has to be loud enough, or at least louder than the noise the microphone itself makes (I will come back to it later). The dissolved material content of the water — also called ionic strength — acts as an amplifier, making the signal stronger. Low KH water has low ionic strength, therefore you need more sensitive ‘microphones’. The problem is that the test liquids — being solutions — have their own ionic strengths, therefore if the external signal is lower than the internal ‘noise’, then there will be no reaction and no colour change at all. I found this particularly prominent in the case of broad range pH liquids. The same applies to the pH probes: most work fine in ‘normal’ conditions, but a few struggle at low KH.
How we tested
With the wide range of creatures with very varied requirements, that I keep, I was able to test these products in different — and sometimes quite challenging — situations. I tried to cover the most commonly used pH ranges as well as some of the extremes. Among the tested aquariums I had acidic, low ionic strength ones as well as alkaline tanks with high KH content. However, my tests were limited to freshwater only.
Before the tests I calibrated all the pH meters according to the manufacturers’ instructions and made sure they had new batteries. To get the final results I repeated the measurements three times in every tank and — if necessary — averaged the readings. From the results table we can see that at the ‘normal’ pH 6.4–7.6 range most of the methods gave suitably accurate results.
This is good news, as it means you can choose almost any brand or product if your water falls into this band. At a higher pH there were some differences, but it was the acidic water that really tested the tests (pun intended). Even the broad range liquids struggled to give even near correct readings. So, if you need to accurately measure low pH it seems that a reliable pH pen or monitor would be your best option.
3 types of test kit
These are probably the most well known and are based on the colour change of the indicator caused by the level of hydrogen ion concentration of the water. The resulting colour is then compared to a standard colour chart corresponding to a known pH. Some of the drop tests can measure a broad pH range (e.g. 3–10 or 4–10), but I found them quite inaccurate in acidic conditions. You could get better results with tests in the range 6–7.6 or 7.4–9.
These can give you a quick, albeit often less accurate result. Just dip the test strip in the water and match the colour on the reference chart or use your camera phone to take the readings for you. The test strips are sensitive to high humidity and can age quickly, so always keep the tub closed.
Using a handheld or built-in electronic pH meters eliminates the use of indicators and also gives you an option to quickly check the pH in several tanks or monitor it in a permanent way. The most frequently used probes have a glass electrode and a reference electrode. They determine the pH of the water by measuring the voltage (potential) between them. The results strongly depend on the sensitivity and the quality of the probe, so it’s worth investing a bit more in a reliable meter to ensure you have accurate results. Some will even control and maintain the pre-set pH for you. Another issue that can have a strong influence on accuracy is calibration. Electronic pH probes must be calibrated regularly. The cheaper versions use only a one-point calibration (at pH7), but the better ones have two- or three-point (at pH4, pH7 and pH10) calibration. Check the manual as to whether your probe requires dry or wet storage, as the dried out electrode will deliver false results.
The broad range pH tests are like ‘one size fits all’ t-shirts: they cover most people’s basic needs but will only really fit a few. If you believe that you can’t live without such a test, then the TetraTest pH seems to be the most reliable among them.
In a ‘normal’ community tank you would be better off with one of the pH6–7.6 tests. They all returned good results and there was nothing to separate them in terms of reliability. Based simply on cost per measurement the API test is the most economical, so this is my best buy
in this category.
For the basic end of the pH scale I have only tested the JBL 7.4–9 indicator, which I received as part of the JBL Testlab set. It is, however, also available to purchase separately and is a must for alkaline fish.
The paper dip tests are suitable for quick indicative results. Out of the three tested brands I would pick the JBL ProScan, as it was accurate enough and also measures several other parameters. I gave it a win over the Tetra test because the ProScan will allow you to retake your readings (I found that the second reading after ten seconds gives you more accurate results) while with the Tetra app you would need to redo the whole test.
Among the pH pens one emerged as a clear winner. It is the product I was most impressed with. The DTK PH-1 proved to be quite fast and accurate, and even its price is affordable — a very useful addition to the fishkeeper’s toolbox.
The pH computers in the test had excellent build quality and seemed equally fit for purpose. The only significant difference is the appearance: the AquaMedic pH computer has an industrial feel with its rugged design, while the white touch-screen display of the JBL ProFlora pH Control Touch would look right even in modern homes. Therefore my best buy goes to the JBL ProFlora pH Control Touch.
Three species of shrimp get to try out 28 different foods, supplements and snacks in this special buyer’s guide.
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY: GABOR HORVATH
Adding new inhabitants to your aquarium is always a bit of a challenge — you have to find out what water parameters they prefer and what diet they like. If you are an aquarist with at least some experience, sorting out the food for a new fish shouldn’t be a problem (with a few exceptions). But if your new arrivals happen to be shrimp, which you have never kept before, then you might be in trouble.
You can check the Internet and join shrimp-related discussions online for some help, but the responses can be confusing and sometimes contradictory. They will all agree that the biofilm growing on the soil and decorations is a must, but when it comes to commercial foods there is always a difference of opinion. Almost every shrimpkeeper has their favourite brand and will swear that it is the best possible choice for your shrimp.
There are several brands to choose from — and the number is constantly increasing with more and more companies realising the market potential of this expanding branch of the aquarium hobby. Furthermore, these foods come in many forms and shapes: you can buy granules, pellets, sticks and pads, making it very difficult for a rookie shrimpkeeper to make a decision. This article gives some guidance for choosing the best shrimp foods to suit their needs.
The most common types of shrimp food
These can come in varied length and thickness. After dropping them into the water most pellet type foods will swell up very fast and fall apart into smaller or larger pieces, forming a carpet on the aquarium floor. During this process they release a significant amount of scent, so the shrimp usually get very excited pretty quickly. After finding the softened pellets they start to dig in and will be quickly surrounded by a cloud of food particles, so even the tiniest shrimplets get a meal, but it can lead to increased water pollution, clogged soil and a boom in the snail population. To avoid this, use a feeding dish or a Catappa leaf as a dinner plate. Pellets are usually easy to dose — just break off the required amount.
These dissolve very slowly, so the shrimp can nibble them for hours — unless the snails overtake them, which can happen even with a moderate- sized snail population. If you have no snails and want to keep your aquarium mess free, then pads are for you. As they don’t fall apart it is very easy to remove the leftovers even after 24 hours. On the down side, young shrimplets may have difficulties getting their share, especially when the adults form a tight “shrimpball” around the food. Breaking up some of the thicker pads to the required size can also be problematic.
These seem to have the advantages of both of the previous foods. They are small enough to feed individual adult shrimp or a small group of youngsters, yet remain solid for a relatively long period.
Granules are very easy to dose, making them a perfect holiday food. Just ask your shrimp-sitter to place a certain number of granules in your tank.
Feeding granules has an added benefit in that it also offers a good opportunity to take pictures of your shrimp, as after grabbing a grain they usually climb up to the vegetation or decor and stay there for a long time, nibbling on their treasure.
How the foods were tested
Having kept shrimp for nearly ten years, I have tried several foods from different brands, some more readily accepted by my shrimp than others. I’ve always wanted to see how the different products can perform in a face to face comparison, so I asked the most frequently mentioned and used brands to provide samples for my test.
I received 28 foods from UK and overseas suppliers. The samples were put through a very rigorous test: they were fed in a random order, which was unique for every single tank. With this the interferences of external environmental effects — like water or temperature changes — could be minimised. I fed the shrimp only every other day (as many shrimp breeders do), dosing only bacteria (GG BacterAE), mineral powder or immune boosters (Boss Booster and GG Betaglucan) on the “fasting” days. Please note that my shrimp tanks are only lightly to moderately stocked, therefore they could find sufficient biofilm even between feedings to keep them full. In a highly stocked or freshly started tank they need to be fed every day.
Altogether, 27 shrimp tanks were used for testing, out of which 16 contained Cherry shrimp, Neocaridina davidi, colour forms. In ten of the tanks I had Caridina logemanni shrimp, including Crystal red and Crystal black shrimp, as well as Taiwan bee varieties. The last tank was home to Super princess bee shrimp, Paracaridina sp.
As my resources didn’t allow me to compare the long term dietary and health impacts of the foods, I concentrated on the shrimp’s reactions to the different products. What I experienced while carrying out these tests, however, was the positive effect of the varied diet: my shrimp looked happier, many females became berried and the survival rate of newborn shrimplets improved significantly.
What was tested?
JBL NovoPrawn: Medium sized granules in easy-dose packaging. It is relatively hard and slow to dissolve, so it’s easy to remove leftovers (you won’t get many). All the shrimp quite liked it and the snails were not attracted to it.
JBL NanoPrawn: A smaller tube size of NovoPrawn for those with only a few tanks. The results are almost identical, which is not a surprise, as the ingredients are exactly the same. The only difference is the higher Vitamin C content of the NanoPrawn.
Hikari Shrimp Couisine: Very small but hard granules that don’t colour the water. Slow to dissolve, they had a long lasting attraction, especially for the Neocaridina. For some reason the Taiwan and Princess bees didn’t like it too much.
Dennerle Crustagran: Relatively large and medium soft grains, which soften up quite quickly (around three hours), releasing some pinkish-orange colour and probably lots of scent, as the shrimp got very excited. The young shrimp loved it.
Dennerle Complete: I’ve never seen snails moving at such a high speed as they did when they raced towards these pads. Unfortunately the shrimp only started to look 20–25 minutes later, by which time the food was covered by snails. In tanks without snails this very slow dissolving food is a good choice, as it doesn’t make a mess.
GlasGarten Shrimp Dinner granules: Large and very soft granules, disintegrating within 30 minutes. It is quite a messy food, but created lots of excitement among the shrimp, adults and young likewise.
GlasGarten Shrimp Dinner pads: This almost black food started to colour the water almost immediately. There are probably also other substances released, as all the shrimp, including the newborn ones, got very excited. They stayed on the food nibbling it for a long time, not being disturbed by snails, which for some reason didn’t find these pads attractive.
Lowkeys Hiden No Esa: This food feels very hard, but softens up slightly after three hours. It has a very strong smell and had a bit of a ‘Marmite effect’: some of my shrimp loved it; others hated it. This phenomena didn’t depend on species — I experienced it across the board.
Lowkeys Ultra Supple: A hard but easy to portion pellet-type food, which falls apart almost immediately in water, releasing a brownish colour and forming a cloud of particles. Fairly messy, but loved by all the shrimp — and the only one my hard-to-please Princess bees found irresistible.
Lowkeys Ebi Supple: This is a very thick and hard pellet, so quite difficult to break off the right sized portion. After dropping it into water it softens up and disintegrates pretty quickly.
Benibachi Big and Small Mix: This is a mixture of granules and large food pads, the idea being to provide food for both large and small shrimp at the same time. I only have two problems with it: the small granules are at the bottom of the pack, so you have to dig deep if you want a mixture. Secondly, it’s usually the bigger shrimp that grab the granules, leaving the pad for the shrimplets — and these slow to dissolve pads attract snails like magnets, so the youngsters need to wrestle with the gastropods for their fare.
Boss Aquaria Shrimp Crack: A green coloured vegetable-based product from Australia. Quite hard and slow to soften up, it drove the shrimp absolutely mad. After the initial craze the Neocaridina stayed, the others left.
Aqua Eden Essential: Another quite hard pad, which is very slow to dissolve. It had a positive effect on the Caridina. The leftover food was still in one piece next morning — surrounded by snails.
BorneoWild Grow: A small, thin square pad type food, which softens up very slowly. This wasn’t very popular among my shrimp.
Enhancers, additional foods and shrimp snacks
Dennerle Color: This colour-enhancing food is red in colour itself, but this doesn’t wash out in water. It was slow to attract the Neocaridina, but the Crystal reds loved it. Stays hard for a long time.
Dennerle Protein: A brown, relatively quickly dissolving pad providing protein rich meal for extra growth. It was quite readily taken by all of the shrimp.
Dennerle Mineral: A special food for those who prefer to provide the necessary minerals for shrimp in oral form and not as dissolved compounds. The shrimp didn’t go crazy for it, but ate the necessary amount.
Dennerle Pea and Leaf hoops: A ‘Hula Hoops’ kind of snack for shrimp! Give it to them if they have behaved well — they will be grateful!
Lowkeys Vitamin Kale: Exactly the opposite of the previous food: if that was the snack then this is a “must eat” dish. It smells of cabbage, and the shrimp will munch on the slowly disintegrating pellets
BorneoWild Color: A colour enhancing food, which gave a blue tint to the water. Its thin ribbon shape makes it easy to dose.
GlasGarten Artemia: A tablet shaped food, which is hard to break up but starts to disintegrate pretty soon. It releases some green colour and attracts mainly Caridina.
GlasGarten Löwenzahn: Dandelion has been a favourite of shrimpkeepers for a long time. If you can’t collect some, use this.
GlasGarten Mäulbeer: A snack for the shrimp of a town-dwelling hobbyist. This quickly dissolving pellet gives your shrimp a chance to taste the famous Mulberry. They will not refuse it!
GlasGarten Kräutermix 1: Herbs for shrimp? This soft pellet disintegrates and expands almost immediately, leaving a carpet of herb pieces that attracts shrimp like moths to a flame. It had an effect on my Neocaridina I’d never seen before.
GlasGarten Kräutermix 2: Another herb product, but not as good as the previous one.
Hikari Mini Algae Wafers: Not a shrimp specific product, but a good source of algae, so a wise choice — especially if you are also keeping algae-eating fish.
Aqua Eden Green Food: Another product that provides “five-a-day” veg.
Benibachi Spinach Cubes: Aimed as a substitute for fresh spinach. You need to soak the cubes first, or they float.
Scoring the foods
I measured the time it took for 20% of the stock in the given tank to find the food.
Under 30 seconds — 5
Less than one minute — 4
Less than three minutes — 3
Less than five minutes — 2
Over five minutes — 1
Shrimp can get very excited if you drop something that smells good into their tank. I measured the excitement that the food created according to the percentage of the population swimming up and down in search of their dinner after five minutes.
More than 80% — 5
60–80% — 4
40–60% — 3
20–40% — 2
Under 20% — 1
If they are dissatisfied for any reason, shrimp can lose interest fairly quickly,
so I measured their level of interest according to the percentage of the shrimp that were still feeding after half an hour — staying in the close vicinity of the food, or still holding and eating
More than 80% — 5
60–80% — 4
40–60% — 3
20–40% — 2
Under 20% — 1
How the foods compared
The order in which we’ve listed the foods in the table (right) does not represent value or quality. The highest score in each category is highlighted. Based on the comments above and the table, you can hopefully decide which foods best suit you and your shrimp. But don’t just stick to one — a varied, balanced diet is the key to success.
- JBL: www.jbl.de
- Hikari: www.hikari.uk.com
- Dennerle: www.dennerle.com
- GlasGarten: http://www.glasgarten-aquarium.de/english/index.html
- Lowkeys: www.lowkeys.co.jp
- Benibachi: www.facebook.com/benibachieurope
- Boss: www.eastcoastaquatics.uk/
- Aqua Eden: www.aquaristchamber.com
- BorneoWild: www.easishrimp.co.uk