Review: EcoTech Marine Vectra L1 centrifugal pump

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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.

Verdict

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
Features: 5/5
Value for money: 5/5
Overall: 4.5/5

Price: £399.00.