Review: Vertex Alpha Kone 170 skimmer

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I confess to having a strange fascination with protein skimmers, both in terms of form and function. So when I first clapped eyes on the Alpha Series from Vertex it was love at first sight, writes Jeremy Gay.

The model featured here, the Alpha Kone, is the stunningly beautiful love child of two quality marine equipment manufacturers — the superlative-loaded Royal Exclusiv, maker of both the Bubble King skimmer and pump par excellence the famous Red Dragon, and Vertex Aquaristik, which not only makes excellent marine equipment it’s gear looks good too!

Yet if all this means nothing to you so far, let me put it another way. You know when car manufacturers Lamborghini and Audi came together to produce the super fast, super sexy Audi R8? For the purpose of this article, Royal Exclusiv is Lamborghini and Vertex Aquaristik Audi. See what I’m hinting at here?

This thing is a pin-up and if Top Trumps made a set for protein skimmers it would be one of the highest-scoring cards in the pack.

The stats

The model I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on is the Alpha Kone 170.

Aimed at marine tanks up to 200 US gal, or 757 l/167 gal in our language, it’s big, at some 58cm/23” high and 23cm/9” diameter, not including pump.

So make sure you can fit it in your sump, in your cabinet and, importantly, that you have enough room to lift the collection cup off and to take it away for cleaning.

In terms of build quality the skimmer body is the best I’ve felt, made from thick, glossy acrylic, and the collection cup is huge, screwing on bayonet-style to ensure you don’t get any leaks or lifting.

For the tech-savvy reef owner the Alpha Kone is manufactured exclusively for Vertex by Royal Exclusiv in Germany, where everyone can keep a close eye on production quality.

Vertex declares: "Owing to its full-body conical reaction chamber the Alpha Kone eclipses all the traditional conditions of conventional protein skimming. By allowing the foam mass to accumulate in a gently sloping transition zone, protein extraction is remarkably increased.

"An inside view of the conical reaction chamber showcases the oversized, turbulence reducing bubble plate and remarkably fastidious CNC millwork that goes into it.

"Here is the core from which the Vertex Alpha Kone derives so much of its matchless performance.

"Finally, the unit can be fully disassembled for routine and thorough maintenance. All the body components are fashioned from high-grade cast acrylic or solid PVC. The fasteners are manufactured with highly corrosion resistant titanium."

The pump

Another major draw for the knowledgeable protein skimmer shopper is what powers this skimmer – the legendary Red Dragon pump. As skimmer and sump pumps go these things are more or less unrivalled, being known for super efficiency, excellent build quality, absurd bubble producing capacity and almost silent operation.

Depending on model, these things can retail for between £300-800 just on their own, yet people invest in them and, from what I see on the forums, once they’ve made the upgrade they never go back.

Some misinformed reef forum frequenters state that the Red Dragon is the same as a Laguna pond pump from Hagen, though I’m in the privileged position to be able to hold both in my hands and compare them.

There’s a world of difference, from energy consumption, to weight, to impeller design, that massive silencing impeller housing on the Red Dragon — even down to the large, soft, vibration dampening rubber feet. It’s the best sump pump I’ve received yet.

In terms of performance, the Alpha Kone 170’s supplied Red Dragon pump draws just 18 watts but produces 1000 lph of air. Tweak the Venturi and the makers claim you can achieve 1200 lph.

In the ten years I’ve been reviewing skimmers for PFK I remember writing then that 300 lph was a lot, then later 600 lph — and now this!