Further Revised 9/11/14
Aquarium LED Light Information
With some information provided with copyright permission from this Article: Aquarium Lighting, Researched Information
- Further Benefits of LED Lighting
- Current Reduction vs. Pulse Width Modulation
- LED Light Comparisons/Tests
- Further LED Fixture Emitter Information, Myths
- LED Cautions
- RGB Features
- Watt per Gallon?
- Emitter Combinations versus Specimen Placement
- DIY LED Light Fixtures
- Basic Mounting Suggestion
- T5 to LED Comparison
- Proper LED Ventilation
- LED Summary
- LED News, Developments
Information includes the TMC XRE AquaBeam, NP Ultima, Optima, & other LED Lights
Forward; I would like readers to know that while you read this article it will appear as though I have bias toward a few particular LEDs and do not care for many others. I need to say this is based on use, research (which IS cited here), and much input from true aquarium professionals that maintain. These are people that set up aquarium systems for a living, and many of my contacts are well known as the largest importer of marine life in North America (based out of Los Angeles).
My biases are based on the above, not because I work for work for the company (which I don’t!).
Complaining that I have a bias is a “Straw Man”, “ad hominem” argument!
Should I or anyone else recommend something other that what I know works, based on so much professional use, feedback, and current research?
From patents, PWM drivers, PUR, and more, the science speaks for itself!! The repeated experiences back up the science! Lighting and aquariums ARE science!
Please consider reading my other article about Aquarium Lighting in general, as this provides some foundation to the hows and whys of this article, including all aquarium light types:
AQUARIUM LIGHTING BASICS; Parameters, Lights Technology
This aquarium light type uses semiconductor technology as its light source. A light emitting electrical diode.
The difficulty in developing LEDs for aquarium use (both reef and freshwater planted) is getting the correct wave length (in light measurements called, nanometers) and ultimately the usable light (PUR) of the emitters (PUR = Photosynthetically Usable Radiation).
The picture above is of an office with several reef aquariums (which includes stony corals, SPS and LPS) set up with AquaRay LED lighting systems, please click to enlarge
Please reference this forum post for more about this picture:
Essentially, the best LED fixtures are NOT aquarium lights in the traditional sense, even the emitters are not a “bulb” as many people think.
High end LED fixtures use complex circuitry to evenly spread voltage over emitters and drivers to control each emitter precisely. Because of this, LED Lights do NOT loose spectrum quality unlike ALL fluorescent lights.
Forth generation AquaBeam Ocean Blue NP 1500s & Reef White NP 2000s are utilized in the aquarium pictured above.
Please note that the Ocean Blue XG 1500 has been replaced with the 4th generation Ocean Blue NP Ultima 1500. These LEDs include the unique specifically reef designed Osram Olsam NP emitter.
First of it’s kind in the world; to actually be exactly nature perfect in it’s color as a full spectrum PUR blue emitter.
See this product source:
AquaBeam 1500 Ultima LEDs
For an ongoing University experiment using the AquaBeam NP 1500 Ocean Blue, please read this resource:
St Mary’s Marine Biology Experiments
Besides the excellent plant growth with only 60 watt of energy used, it is noteworthy that this aquarium utilizes a bare bottom & potted plant method.
Please Click on the picture to enlarge
See this product source:
600 Ultima LEDs (GroBeam, Marine White, more); at American Aquarium
Unfortunately many planted freshwater aquarium keepers utilize LED fixtures such as the EcoTech Radion or Evergrow LED with too high a kelvin temperature due to too much blue light energy produced, since these were more designed for reef use.
The result is a light that might grow plants, but also will grow more algae, especially BBA.
Aquarium Algae Control; BBA
More About LED Emitters:
The LED emitters utilize certain compounds to provide the essential light energy required.
For example and only for a second I will get too scientific, the infrared emitter uses Gallium arsenide (GaAs) and/or Aluminium gallium arsenide (AlGaAs) for its semiconductor material while Blue (460 nm) uses Zinc selenide (ZnSe), Indium gallium nitride (InGaN), Silicon carbide (SiC), and/or Silicon (Si).
Having certain colors dialed in are important and which is why I want to note that this is just one of the reasons manual adjustable emitters are a bad idea.
One way to think of the high end LED Fixtures (not low end LEDs which have more in common with an LED flashlight) is that these are computers that emit light placed over your aquarium. This is why certain care should also be provided.
(See Proper LED Ventilation later in this article).
Above/left is a hard coral growing out under “quality” LED Lighting
Current Reduction Versus Pulse Width Modulation:
What is also missed by many “lesser” knock off LED fixtures is the drivers/circuitry used to power each emitter. Unlike daisy chaining Christmas lights together, one cannot simply daisy chain an LED emitter without changing voltage and spectrum to each emitter in the chain. It is this circuitry that separates 80% of LED fixtures from the 20% that have the correct and thus more expensive drivers to maintain exacting voltages between each emitter.
Emitters are meant to be ran at a certain voltage to maintain their spectral quality. Without the proper divers, the emitters will shift in voltage, which shift color, and long-term use cause them to fail.
This concept applies to controllers that dim and brighten an LED fixture, as a controller best maintains the spectral output via pulse width modulation (PWM). There are brands that have dim-able drivers in the fixture to allow it to use these controllers using PWM. Only quality brands have this technology.
This is important as PWM is effectively turning the LEDs on and off very quickly (faster than the eye can see) so there is no change to the spectral output as opposed to using current reduction and manual intensity controls used by many brands of LEDs.
This technology also always for lower watts to be used in fixtures, which really save in operation costs.
HOWEVER this technology is not cheap! Up front. Compared to the lesser brands on the market, the cost might be $100-$200 more. But, the idea is to save more power for savings down the road.
Unfortunately the vast majority of LED fixtures utilize current reduction (manual controlled rheostat), which can and does alter the light spectrum and also produces much more excess heat due to how “current reduction” works.
This is why so many high wattage output LED fixtures require a fan and how low end LEDs get away with “current reduction”. This is only done by only utilizing low output emitters. This is why some LED fixtures can have only 12 emitters, while others have maybe 30-50, and use more watts.
What is also worthy of note is this wasted heat then requires a cooling fan, which represents wasted energy, that could have gone into lighting your aquarium. This is why ANY aquarium LED utilizing “current reduction”, which is the vast majority, requires a higher wattage and more emitters to provide the same PUR (visible light) (not PAR, useful light) to provide the same results as an aquarium LED that utilizes PWM and drivers!!!
Also with current reduction, you are wasting considerably more energy not just in wasted heat, but also when lights are dimmed. In fact, if you dim your lights at night, you are still using considerably more watts of electricity than with PWM. PWM uses only the amount of energy required to drive the emitters at the voltage required. This cannot be said for a simple intensity control (even little digital screens intensity control!)
So your long term energy costs with any LED that uses current reduction (which is MOST) is going to be considerably higher, often paying for the PWM technology in most cases under a year!!
“The main advantage of PWM is that power loss in the switching devices is very low. When a switch is off there is practically no current, and when it is on, there is almost no voltage drop across the switch. Power loss, being the product of voltage and current, is thus in both cases close to zero. PWM also works well with digital controls, which, because of their on/off nature, can easily set the needed duty cycle.”
YouTube Video Circuit Skills: PWM (Pulse Width Modulation)
Lack of PWM (& use of Current Reduction) along with daisy chaining of circuitry is just one MAJOR reason to NOT consider ANY LED that uses dozens of emitters to provide the amount of desired light lumens.
So the circuitry required to properly supply voltage to provide more exacting PUR required for OPTIMUM reef/planted aquarium lighting would be cost efficient.
YET most the LED fixtures with dozens of emitters are priced low enough, but these LED fixtures are essentially daisy-chained together, thus using a shotgun approach (& more wattage/wasted energy) to provide required lighting.
In fact even an emitter from a “newer” bin such as Cree XTE that is simply daisy chained together will lose emitter spectral quality too if just used in current reduction or manually dimmed. Versus the same Cree emitter that has the correct constant current drivers to tie each and every emitter together.
Examples of these current reduction fixtures include the Blue Moon, TaoTronics, SkyLED, Marine Skkye, among MANY others.
Better would be the LEDs that use fewer QUALITY emitters, yet with better drivers with the end result much better light energy with less electricity (“watts”) used and get the color that everyone is looking for.
Many companies just add colors to their LED fixtures which adds more PAR to the fixture, but not PUR.
The color emitters are used to make colors pop out in the tank (which many reef keepers desire). However these colors only add to energy used and are not required with full high PUR lighting spectrum.
With the proper spectrum you can have a naturally colorful tank that thrives while using less input wattage.
Examples here include Aqua Illumination and EcoTech (see pictured to the left), & the better yet Kessil and AquaRay (the AquaRay utilizes PWM technology ).
The AquaBeam 600 Ultima is TMC AquaRay’s newer generation LED Fixtures with the Cree XLamp ML-E emitter.
Reference: AquaBeam 600 Ultima
The picture to the left displays this light with a “MountaRay” bracket for easy attachment to small tanks.
This Mini 500 LED includes Four lensed CRee patented XP-E 10,000K and one unlensed Blue CRee XP-E (the White LEDs can be switched off for “moonlight” mode).
Similar is the TMC Mini-400 for nano freshwater planted or refugium tanks.
See this review of the 400 (from Aquarist Magazine):
TMC Aquaray Mini LED 400 Aquarium Light Tile Review
See this Product Source for the Mini 400 & 500:
AquaRay LED Lights; Mini 400 & 500
The Kelvin temperature rating is commonly used to describe the type of light one can expect from a light fixture and is loosely connected to the light energy in Nanometers (this measurement of lighting is used by the aquarium industry).
Simply put Kelvin Temperature is basically a measure of the light color, however one can achieve this “color” with many different nanometer wave lengths. Many of these wave lengths are useless to the symbiotic zooxanthellae found in corals, clams, etc. This is what make a coral thrive and gain great color.
Aquarium Lighting; Kelvin
Think of how 1+9=10 as well as 5+5=10, as there are many ways to reach a Kelvin Temperature and not all are best for your photosynthetic aquarium inhabitants.
Similar can be said for planted FW aquariums.
Using this same example and assuming 1 and 9 ware nanometer wave lengths that are desirable and 5 is not, the light using the second example are poor even though they achieve the same Kelvin rating!!
For this reason one cannot compare a DIY LED, low end LED or older generation to the newest LEDs available with the best drivers possible (& likely these newest LEDs will fall short of LEDs available in 2 years).
The latest technology LED Lights are very fine tuned in exacting nanometer outputs found within the best Kelvin Color temperatures.
Based on my research and interviews, beginning in 2008 (and continuing to improve as of 2014), high end LED aquarium lighting started to become a viable replacement for metal halide in reef tanks under 30 inches and surpass most T5 aquarium lighting as soft and hard corals are able to thrive under the newer exacting high output LED’s.
Many planted freshwater applications were already having success such as with the 6500K PAR 38 lamps, not to be confused with the low output 3000K PAR 30 sold by Home Depot & others.
See: 6500K PAR 38 Planted Aquarium Lights
Now the best LED fixtures join T5, T2, and SHO lights as the industry standard for newer technology, higher output aquarium lights.
Many of the LED Aquarium Lights now available can provide the “cool” shimmer effect that is like the sun that was previously only exclusive to Metal Halide lights (even the lower end Marineland and Ecoxotic Stunners).
That said many of the lower end LEDs should ONLY be employed for this cool effect (such as a compliment to T2s or T5s) or very basic fish only tanks.
For those who need exceptional freshwater plant growth or for their reef coral to “pop” with growth, should stay with the very few patented LEDs available such as the Pacific Sun, DiCon, or Orphek, & TMC AquaRay (with exclusive CRee & OSRAM OSLON emitters, drives and PWM technology).
Reference: Cree Licensing Overview
- High Output LED lights do not have the heat problems of Metal Halides, use VASTLY less electricity, often last 50,000 hours, and are very compact. Some LEDs to produce a lot of heat too. If the fan fails, the fixture has to be replaced.
- The best LED Fixtures produce less useless yellow/green spectrum light than traditional lights (in aquarium adjusted configurations), as these new technology LED emitters can be selected for the exact wavelength of light, thus almost no or little useless yellow or green light is emitted, so although the LED may seem less bright than some HO lights with the naked eye (such as T5s or MH) the actual output of light energy in spectrums we cannot see (CRI) is much higher, this is why gauging a light by what you see is highly inaccurate.
- LED lights with proper Kelvin, Nanometer, PAR & most importantly PUR output emitters may prove to be more suitable for planted tank lighting and reef tanks because they offer superior flexibility when compared with traditional fluorescent lighting.
When the better LED lights operate, the photometric radiation remains within a narrow band on the electromagnetic spectrum. Specific photometric wavelengths are often beneficial to some aquatic plant life and reef tanks.
Controlling specific wavelengths becomes possible through a basic network of certain colored LED lights connected to a digital LED controller.
- Since LEDs emit light only in very specific direction, the installer has the option to illuminate a precise area by simply rotating the polycarbonate tube casing. For this reason the LED does not need to produce as many lumens of light for the same results as most conventional lights. With most conventional lights, many lumens of important light energy are lost due to lack of focus, this includes power compacts and fluorescent lights in general, which need higher lumen outputs to achieve the same lighting parameters. One test shows at least a 166% difference of lumens at 20 inches in favor of the Aqua Ray LED for the same given wattage as compared to a compact Fluorescent.
- Another advantage over ALL fluorescent lights, is that LED Fixtures do not loose output over time, most specifically the important PUR wavelengths found in PAR. Fluorescent lights on the other hand do, and this is easily tested by placing a lit one year old fluorescent of the exact same type, next to a lit new one of the exact same brand/type.
With a 6500K fluorescent, the new one clearly has more blue than the more yellow older lamp!
- A positive aspect of new generation LED emitter technology is by controlling exact Nanometer spikes/range, undesirable UV-B can be avoided. Many Metal Halides, often have some below actinic light energy, even if in small amounts this UVB can burn delicate corals.
Please note the LEDs in the graph above are 2008 generation
- With many of the better LED aquarium lights, the best amount of PAR/PUR “Blue” and “white” light can also be controlled.
While 20,000K Fluorescent lights are popular and achieve reasonable results, many are not correctly applied, however similar can be said about the incorrect use of blue in LEDs either due to the amount of blue emitters or due to low quality emitters and/or drivers that produce too much blue without the essential red spikes.
What readers need to understand is that reef corals, clams, etc. as well as some aquatic plants adapt to certain amounts of blue due to their natural depth that they generally are found in.
HOWEVER with the sun versus even the best of any light sold for aquarium use, 3 feet of ocean water (as an example) is not going to be the same as 3 feet in an aquarium with artificial light.
So when one places an LED that is 75% blue or a 20,000K fluorescent light over a 18 inch or less in depth aquarium, you are likely simulating much more depth than the corals, clams, etc. are naturally used to as per PAR and PUR.
This does not mean this cannot work, rather you are providing less than desirable lighting for your reef inhabitants!!
Think of it this way, if you have an automobile that is designed to run on 91 octane fuel and you use 89 octane, likely your vehicle will still run, but not to its potential and with possible long term damage too; this is what happens when not all aspects of Photosynthetic response are met due to over use of blue lighting in a relatively shallow aquarium.
*Aquarium Lighting, Photosynthetic response
See Reference: Aquarium Lighting; PUR, Useful Light Energy
LED Light Comparisons/Tests
For this test, full spectrum LED Grow Lights similar but with a lower output to the newest version of the TMC GroBeam 6500K Daylight or 6500K TMC Mini 400 were used.
In this test, the LED Lights were PROVEN to substantially surpass Metal Halide Lights in growth.
The above/left picture displays the plant growth results comparing the same LED and Metal Halide Lights (please click to enlarge view):
The results of this controlled test has reef and planted aquarium implications, as photosynthesis is the same whether it be a terrestrial plant, a freshwater aquatic plant, or symbiotic zooanthellic algae found in corals. The only difference would be that light energy is quickly absorbed by water.
Many Metal Halide (such as a 14,000K or 20,000K) have excellent depth penetration, however modern LED lights such as an AquaBeam 600 or Eco Tech Radion, with its 8x Cree XP-E Blue LEDs, have similar penetration up to 24-30 inches.
See: EcoTech Radion Review
A 14,000K or 20,000K Metal Halide is still generally your best choice for lighting, at least in part, for tanks over 30 inches deep.
It is still easy to make assumptions from the raw data based on this study with plants that a 12 Watt LED can at least replace a 100 watt MH of equal Kelvin ratings in aquarium applications. The TMC AquaBeam 1000 or 2000; 30 Watt LED should easily replace one 175-250 Watt Metal Halide of similar rating (14,000K for example) for marine applications up to 24-30 inches in water depth.
See this link for more: Premium Aquarium LED Lights
It is worthwhile pointing out that one needs to compare “apples to apples”, and at this current time (as of any updates) you still cannot compare a 400 watt 20,000K Metal Halide to any LED, including the TMC AquaBeam 600 Reef Blue for both output or depth penetration. However many modern LEDs can compare favorably with many common Metal Halides of 250 watts or under, especially for tanks under 24 inches.
*Dark Blue = LED Lights
*Light Blue = Necessary PAR Spectrum of Chlorophyll
*Lavender = Metal Halide.
PUR from what I know, have read, and been taught is what all aquarium lighting really comes down to. This is not to discount the amount of PUR energy delivered as in watts.
PUR is basically the USEFUL portion of PAR, and often many will measure PAR (with PAR, Quantum Light Meters), not realizing that these meters only measure light within the roughly 400-700nm range of PAR, NOT the exact wavelengths contained therein which are ESSENTIAL for corals and freshwater plants!
Remember my earlier example of 1+9 or 5+5 both equaling 10, it applies here!
See reference: Aquarium Lighting; Useful Energy for Photosynthetic Life
One can have a high PAR LED that is primarily 550-600nm light energy that is far less efficient than a high PUR LED of lower PAR readings as the majority of popular LEDs utilize higher numbers of lower quality emitters and drivers. Their actual PUR output is lower than better LEDs that may have a lower PAR.
It is quite obvious that the AquaRay Reef White has a considerably higher percentage of near infra-red and blue in essential PUR energy light when compared to the EcoTech Radion (which is at least 35% composed of useless yellow & green light energy while the Reef White is less than 25% of yellow/green along with much more near infra-red)
This YouTube Video displays a reef aquarium with one TMC AquaRay 600 Marine White and one TMC AquaBeam 1500 Ultima NP Ocean Blue on a TMC Multi Controller.
This reef tank has hard corals including one Montipora capricornis and one Acropora yongei.
Further LED Fixture Emitter Information, Myths:
- Correct Wave Lengths:
As earlier noted, it is important to understand that not all emitters are equal, even the Cree-XR-E emitters sold commonly for other applications are only as good as their correct wavelength output.
Achieving the correct wavelengths in the correct amounts has been the challenge and is why a simple LED flashlight has about as much in common to an advanced aquarium LED as paper glider to a Boeing 777 airplane. Try hanging several LED flashlights to grow your delicate coral or plants; it will not work!.
This however is also the advantage as useless green and yellow light spectrums can be partly omitted as well, by using the best and newest generation emitters & drivers. these colors are really only meant to plants and corals reflect the colors back for something like a “pop”. Colors can be achieved very easily other ways.
This is where there is much misunderstanding as to emitter abilities based on emails friends and I in the aquarium hobby/industry have received.
Many think that high end patented emitters are equal to emitters sold for DIY projects or the many lower end LED fixtures readily available in stores or the Internet (such as the Marineland Double & Single Bright & other Chinese knock offs), which is simply 100% incorrect!
In another example; the nanometer range in the patented “emitter bins” used in the CRee XR-E for their blue are very specific, utilizing the maximum PAR range of 465-485nm found in the blue spectrum (400-500nm), unlike other lights and even other LEDs which either have multiple spikes.
Others such as the Cree XT-E peak at 420nm.
By peaking at these important spikes, maximum PAR needed by zooxanthellae photopigments in many corals is achieved.
Reference: Useful Light Energy for Photosynthetic Life
For instance, Cree Emitters used by Tropic Marine Center AquaRay/AquaBeam should not be confused with “off the shelf” Cree emitters sold for other lighting applications, as these do not produce the correct PUR of Light required for delicate marine reef and freshwater inhabitants and plants. There are emitters that are designed specially for plant and reef use.
Assuming a Cree emitter is used, as noted elsewhere even within specific bins, many are updated regularly and then sold under exclusive contract.
Those who use the logic as I read on a forum post about wattage such as this: “maybe a nice fixture but its way to small and you would need 12 of them” [30 watt TMC Reef White] to light my 120g” totally misses the PUR output concept of a modern LED fixture and is still using the logic that is similar to placing 12 40 watt cool white T12 fluorescent tubes over a his aquarium.
The fact is, he is 100% incorrect and as per light energy as only 4 of these lights would be required for this size tank!
Unfortunately many still refuse to either read or do their homework when it comes to “high end” LED fixtures.
(The Marine Aquarium to the above/left is pictured with TMC Reef White 1000 tiles & 500 Strips)
Be careful of many capable LEDs now flooding the market that appeal to consumers with “bells & whistles” that while certainly adequate for reef use fall short of being the best based on the known facts of proprietary emitter bins (as well as practical use).
As an example the AI Sol Blue provides 8 Royal Blue (XP-E) and 16 6500K white OLDER generation Cree LEDs (AI does NOT have access to the exclusive Cree patents).
As well while 6500K is certainly an excellent general kelvin temperature for planted freshwater aquariums, it simply does NOT have the best penetration for most reef application. While this is a nicely made and presented LED, it is a good example where lighting facts are covered by “flash” and good marketing.
The bottom line is while their proprietary 40 and 70 degree lenses and feature rich controllers may be useful, these do not make up for the basics of PUR necessary for marine life!! It’s a bell and whistle to district the buyer into note know what light is being shined in the tank and how much wattage they are using.
Again, this is NOT to say the EcoTech and Aqua Illuminations are not Reef capable, use by many reef keepers proves these are capable, only that these LED Lights require a higher wattage input to product the same amount of useful light energy as those using proprietary emitters, no green emitters (or other useless PUR emitters), and PWM technology!
Please reference this article for more:
PUR vs PAR, Wave Lengths in Aquarium Lighting
- LED Cautions
It is important to note that there are many LEDs now available for the Aquarium market that are not intended, or worse, improperly marketed as the primary aquarium lights.
These LEDs often make unaware aquarium keepers or those who do not do their homework to make the false assumption that these LEDs will work for their planted or reef aquariums when in reality these LEDs are not powerful enough to keep photosensitive aquatic life. The truth is that there are only a handful of LED light fixtures that can properly light your high light need aquarium, such as the before mentioned TMC Aqua Rays, as well as a few other LED fixtures such as the lower PUR (but still reef capable) Aqua Illuminations LEDs.
This is why some LED lights have 90-120 watts with 30-50 emitters, compared to 12-30 watts with 8-12 emitters.
As an example; the “Acan Lighting LED lights”, these are generally made with low end emitters that have poor useful light energy output, as well as the gimmicky use of mostly PUR useless; green, cyan, & magenta emitters.
Also as noted earlier in the Overview Section, many of these same LED Fixtures simply “Daisy Chain” the emitters together which can and does change spectral quality.
See also: PUR, Useful Light Energy for Photosynthetic Life
As a comparison the well designed TMC AquaBeam 1000 or 2000 ‘deeper penetration’ LED at 30 watts will far exceed many of the 90 watt “cheapie” panels that have flooded the market.
This goes more so for the newer ‘wide angle’ Ocean Blue NP Ultima with 2 new patented Cree emitters and cutting edge patent pending Osram Oslon NP emitters (designed specifically for reef use).
See: TMC AquaBeam 1000 or 2000 LEDs & Ocean Blue NP Ultima LEDs
Think of it this way, you could actually light many planted or low end reef tanks with cheap hardware store T12 cool white bulbs (I know a friend who kept higher light planted 60 gallon tanks with six 40 watt T12 cool whites back in the early 1980s), however it takes literally multiples of these versus what a few much “higher end” T2 or T5 fluorescent lamps with a more appropriate kelvin and in particular PUR output to achieve the same results.
So comparing these 90-120 watt LED panels with “off the shelf” non-specific emitters to high end LEDs that use the newest patented CRee or Osram Oslon emitters is an apples to oranges comparison where the 90 watt or larger panel likely will produce poorer results with more energy consumed than the 30 watt AquaBeam LED (or less).
Here are a few examples of LED Fixtures that are less than reef or planted aquarium capable or simply using a “shotgun approach” so as to be capable:
- E.Shine (Stark):
E Shine LED, a Chinese LED knock off manufacturer, uses older CREE XR-E emitters that can vary from 6000K to 9000K without the specific wavelengths necessary for peak PUR. Instead they have more wasted yellow and green wavelengths.
As an example even E.Shine’s own web site (& documents shared by a friend that was solicited by E.Shine) admits that the older generation 3 watt CREE XR emitters used for their Daylight Aquarium LED Lights vary from 6000~9000K; not the exacting emitters used by TMC AquaRay, Orphek, & a few others!
The picture to the above/left is of an E.Shine LED that is often sold under many brand names such as the Stark LED. This is not the best light one should place over their delicate reef specimens unless multiple panels are used. The newest generation LED’s have vastly more PUR and are more efficient!
The “out of patent” XP emitters used by e.Shine, Stark, etc. have an output of around 250 lumens when driven at their maximum current.
The most recent Cree emitters produce 390 lumens when driven at the same current.
The bottom line is while the E.Shine will work for a reef tank, it will take considerably more energy to produce the same results of a newer technology LED Panel (& thus a higher electrical bill)
Similar is the TaoTronics “Aquarium Coral Reef Tank White/Blue LED Lamp” with non-descript 1 Watt low end LED emitters as well as the somewhat reef capable TaoTronics “New Design LED Aquarium Coral Reef Tank Blue White 2:1 LED Grow Light”.
The TaoTronics LEDs utilize a shotgun approach with less capable unexacting nanometer emitters without adequate drivers to regulate voltage. While these can and do work in reef applications, they partly defeat the reason of having an LED light to save energy as this LED fixture uses considerably MORE energy for the same results.
This compares somewhat to my friend’s use of a dozen “shop lights” (cool white fluorescent lights) over his planted aquariums to produce the same results one modern GroBeam, T5, or SHO Light will produce.
I will however note that at least the Taotronics utilizes a decent American emitter (Bridgelux) in a Chinese made fixture, HOWEVER Finnex is a Chinese made fixture that utilizes the Chinese made Epistar emitter that is not even to the PUR standards of the Bridgelux or older generation Cree emitters!
What makes these popular is: (1) price, (2) ease of out of the box set up, and (3) availability since these are sold by mass merchandisers.
HOWEVER, it you are looking for a truly planted aquarium capable LED light the Finnex is far from it based on what I have already laid out in this article, not to mention their terrible warranty which is but 1/10th of the best planted aquarium LED light warranty.
- Example of very low quality emitters (Sky LED, Fluval LED):
A really good example of very low quality emitter use in mass is the “SkyLED 36″ Aquarium Light” with 378 LED emitters (sold by Amazon, Truaqua, & a few others). At 23 watts and 378 emitters, this comes to only .06 watt per low PUR output emitter. Even an online search of pictures/videos shows that this large LED fixture is nothing more than a replacement for a standard 36″ T8 aquarium lamps (cicra 1980) and should certainly never be used for a Reef or high light planted aquarium.
Another similar LED fixture with this same shotgun approach is the “Freshwater Bright LED by Beamworks” with .2 watt per LED (as well as too much algae growing blue for a freshwater aquarium)!!
Another yet is the “New Fluval LED” with 312 emitters providing only 25 watts. There is no way to correctly regulate voltage over this many emitters, especially for the price point Hagen offers. Which is why all Hagen and the mass merchandisers selling this LED mention is CRI, not PAR or PUR.
These previously noted LED fixtures have about as much in common to a TMC AquaRay, AI Sol, EcoTech Radion, Pacific Sun, Orphek and other higher end LED as a two AA cell LED flashlight.
The bottom line is the SkyLED should NEVER be used for delicate marine reef life nor the Fluval LED or Freshwater Bright LED for a medium or high light planted freshwater aquarium!!!!
Many professionals have used and tested many LED light fixtures/panels with these “off the shelf” emitters that simply do not produce the important light energy needed to support aquarium life, often resulting in multiple emitters necessary for good results.
- Other Decorative Only LEDs; Ecoxotic Stunner, Marineland Double Bright:
An example of a popular LED light system that is not Reef or freshwater plant capable is the “Ecoxotic Stunner LED Strips” sold by some supermarket type aquarium and pet stores. The Ecoxotic are well constructed, however the emitter bins used are lacking in many aspects such as lumens per watt, focused lumens, and most importantly; PUR/useful light energy. The PUR is expressed by not being as “fine-tuned” to the exacting nanometer ranges of the high end patented Cree emitter that TMC AquaRays have access to with their exclusive rights (see Cree Licensing Overview).
These Ecoxotic (as well as Marineland Double Brights) are fine to use as compliments to your better T2, T5, SHO, VHO, etc. lights, but not as a primary lighting source for reef or planted freshwater aquariums!
Another popular trend is LED fixtures that allow the user to control color temperatures. These gimmicky and misleading RGB and Capacitive Touch features are completely useless, however these are popular “bells and whistles” that unfortunately many without a full understanding of lighting PUR fall for.
Controlling your RGB (Red, Green, Blue) of your light has little bearing on obtaining the exacting nanometer spikes necessary for photosynthetic life.
In fact the best emitters are designed to run at a specific color whether it is a XT-E cool white or XT-E 10,000K, and attempting to alter the color simply degrades the PUR.
Other RGB features utilize green, red, yellow, and other color emitters, but again, by attempting to dial in say a 6500K or 18000K Kelvin temperature, all you are doing is wasting copious amounts of energy in light spectrums that provide little or NO useful PUR for photosynthetic life!
The bottom line is there is no benefit from the RGB feature and in fact, they’re stressful/harmful to coral or can encourage algae growth with freshwater LEDs with this gimmicky feature (this feature is my main complaint with the otherwise good Pacific Sun LED).
- Watts Per Gallon?
This is basically an “out of date” equation when used to cross compare lighting types, however we still can use it when comparing apples to apples.
In other words the newest generation LED emitters such as the similar patented CREE emitters would only require about .6 watt per gallon for high light Planted Aquariums and .8 watt per gallon for most Reef Tanks (under 24 inches). About .2 watt per gallon can be added to either (FW or Reef) for even more light or more depth over 24 inches.
However this does not apply to the many lower end LEDs now flooding the market such as the “New Fluval LED Lights” which provide little specifications other than CRI, which is not a parameter that should be used to rate any aquarium lights. These would be more like 1.5-2 watts.
- Emitter Combinations versus Specimen Placement
Specimen placement is a major determining factor for which emitters to use (in nanometer/Kelvin output), in fact this is more important than the actual tank depth if for example all the high light requiring specimens are placed at 12 inches or higher in a 30 inch deep tank.
As a generalization the use of more blue and/or higher Kelvin daylight is necessary for specimens that are deeper in the water column (such as 14000K daylight for depths past 12 inches). Another consideration is whether the emitter is wide angle or more focused (such as the AquaBeam 1000s), as this can determine which emitter combination is best based on specimen placement.
For instance a Maxima Clam that is placed on the bottom of a 24 inch deep tank will likely do best with more Reef Blue emitters (50,000K @ 465-485nm) in the emitter mix, or even supplemental 20,000K Metal Halide.
Or better, I would suggest placing the Maxima Clams on shelves higher up on your “live rock” reef. (To keep your Clam off the bottom away from bristle worms, etc. as well as provide better lighting to your clams) Depending upon how far under the surface you place these and other photosynthetically sensitive inhabitants will allow for more wide angle LEDs such as the 1500 Ultima Ocean Blue.
Coral such as an Acropora coral placed on your tank “reef” at 6 inches under the surface may do well with lower daylight emitters that still have a high output and light spread.
With Freshwater plants, this also holds true to some degree, so if a tank is well terraced, standard 6500 daylight emitters should be fine for most plants up to 20 inches, however adding higher Kelvin daylight, such as the Marine White 14000K might be suggested for tanks deeper than 24 inches.
- DIY LED Fixtures:
This brings me to DIY LED fixtures, I will be brief and point out that this may well be a worth while endeavor (if only for the enjoyment of building your own equipment).
Many have had reasonable success with over the counter Cree emitters as well as Bridgelux emitters.
Even the over the counter Cree emitters are still more capable than the Bridgelux, however with a shotgun approach of Bridgelux emitters many have still successfully kept reef aquariums with these DIY Bridgelux LED emitters (resulting though in much more electrical usage, which defeats the purpose of using LEDs).
Please note all that has been stated here as per emitters and realize that to achieve good results you will need good drivers/ballasts to power your emitters (many prefer magnetic even though they run hotter and use more energy), and as per the emitters themselves you need to follow more of a shotgun approach since the best emitters are not sold over the counter.
Think of it this way; if you as a automotive ignition system seller have developed (at considerable cost) a new automotive ignition system that increases fuel mileage by 50%, you would want to sell this at the highest possible price with the most up front money to recover development costs.
So Ford offers you a good price for exclusive rights to your ignition system you would likely take it, but this also rules out selling this ignition system over the counter or to other auto manufacturers!
This is basic business sense as any manufacturer is going to want to recover development costs as quickly as possible and “off the shelf” sales is NOT the way to do this; AND CRee and Osram Olson are no different than any other manufacturer in licensing their products!!
This is what happens with the best patented emitters, so while you will be able to build your own LED fixture, you must realize that you will need to take more of a shotgun approach with many more “off the shelf” emitters than say an Orphek or TMC AquaRay LED requires with their exclusive patented emitter bins!
Of course this also applies to LED fixtures such as the “Marineland Reef Capable” that utilize off the shelf, often older generation CRee and other emitters.
The bottom line is a successful DIY LED Reef Light is a reasonable goal, but you WILL use vastly more energy for the same results when you compare DIY Bridgelux LED fixture to a patented emitter LED fixture.
You will also need a strong understanding in wire, lighting, and maintenance.
Basic Mounting Suggestion
Installation with these modular LED Strips (500/600) or tiles is quite simple, whether it be a simple light retrofit in a hood/canopy, suspending the lights, or a DIY rack as shown in the picture to the left (click to enlarge).
In fact a DIY rack such as the one featured in this picture does not take much DIY ability at all and easily supports most LED Fixtures.
In my opinion it is superior to the pricey modular LED rack system sold by TMC, although this is where my friend in the business and I part ways, as he really likes the TMC modular system.
HOWEVER TMC now has a really nice MountaRay System that is worth checking out, especially for the Mini #400 & #500 model LEDs for planted freshwater and reef nano aquariums.
See: MountaRay; TMC Modular System
See this related Aquarium Article Digest Post for further installation options/ideas:
Aquarium LED Light Installation Options
As well I strongly suggest reading this section: Important LED Ventilation
T5 to LED Comparison
*(2) 18 Watt T-5 Dual Fixture = $60
*(2) 18 Watt T-5 Bulb = $30
(it takes two T5 to equal one AquaBeam 600 12 watt in actual useful light energy)
*Startup cost for Fixture and bulb = $90
*Average yearly electrical cost = $15.77
*Yearly Bulb replacement cost = $30
Total T5 cost for 5 years = $318.85
* TMC Led Fixture = $150
*Startup cost for LED = $150
*Average yearly electrical cost = $5.26
Proper High End Electronic LED Venting, Moisture Prevention
Please read the above article section about the importance proper care and mountain of your LED Fixture Investment
In my conversations with aquarium professionals, as with ANY lighting or change of lighting; you should see results WITHIN 6 weeks, whether positive or negative!
Regardless of your lighting type, if your corals or freshwater plants take a turn for the worse in say 3 months after a lighting change, likely there are other lighting parameter issues at play!
Back to LEDs in particular;
The flaws of LED aquarium lights are quickly disappearing and based on the energy savings in electricity in wattage of the lights (as compared to MH) as well as electricity use for air conditioning or the cost of a chiller often necessitated by larger Metal Halides. I should also note that LED light technology is growing by “leaps and bounds” and many of the bugs including price are currently being improved upon.
LED Lights such as the The Aqua Ray LEDs, Orpek and a small handful of other LEDs are constantly improving their PAR and more importantly PUR by utilizing the latest (often expensive) patents or high in house development costs (or both)
Unfortunately many popular LEDs that would be considered “good” as recently as 2010 such as the Current Power Brite LED light strip are slowly falling further back
As an example, the “Current” is more of a supplemental LED with an output that is about ¼ that of the best LED Strips.
As already noted earlier in this article, many “new” LED fixtures rely more on slick packaging and cool features rather than the essentials of reef or planted aquarium lighting: “Useful Light Energy”, and sadly this has fooled many forum readers from the feedback I have received.
LED Light systems are easily complimented with T2 fixtures for smaller applications or possibly the high in PAR for large tank applications (the SHO are a bit more DIY in applications, but if handy, they are often worth the extra time, especially for heavily planted freshwater aquariums).
The picture to the above/left is a planted freshwater aquarium with 4 GroBeam LEDs and 4 6400K T2 lights (click to enlarge)
The bottom line is, when you compare an LED Aquarium light to the many popular CFLs in terms of lumens per watt, focused lumens, lower wasted light energy, low heat output, energy consumption and long life (50,000 hours vs. 8000 hours), the modern LED is generally a better light.
In long term cost since (as an example) a 12 Watt Aqua Ray GroBeam (natural Daylight) can easily replace a 55 Watt power compact (such as a Helio) when you compare ALL aspects of lighting as presented in this article (approximately 20-25% of LED wattage is required when compared to a typical HO G11 CFL).
When compared to even older T8/T12 aquarium lights, a third generation TMC Aqua Ray requires only 17% (or less) of the wattage for the required light energy of a planted or reef aquarium.
Another thought to add to this summary, I have found the newest generation high end LED Aquarium Lights to be one of the best lighting innovations for Reef or planted freshwater aquariums, however as of the latest update, there is no LED yet that can replace a 400 watt Metal Halide (currently the best I can give a thumbs up in replacing is a 250 Watt MH). An LED that can replace a 400 watt MH may be available in the future.
As a final note, reading reviews about LED Lights from forums or blogs that have not been updated since 2009 is about the same as a review of a 1993 Computer’s capabilities compared to those of a 2010 computer. As well even then, not all emitter bins are the same, and many otherwise nicely constructed LED lights such as the Ecoxotic Stunner are not using the best technology emitter bins (most of these bins are exclusive) and cannot be used in most LEDs for this reason.
For further information, please see this full Aquarium Lighting Article from which this Digest article has been allowed to quote some information from:
Aquarium Lighting; Facts & Information
Also see this newer article for LED Installation Ideas:
Aquarium LED Light Installation Options
*XLamp XT-E White:
“Cree XLamp XT-E White LEDs are the highest-performance white LEDs available. The XT-E LED delivers twice the lumens-per-dollar of previously available LEDs in the popular XP footprint. By leveraging the popular XP footprint, customers can easily incorporate the XT-E LED into existing XP LED designs to shorten design cycle and improve time to market.”
Such as this quote with further verification of our comments about the EXCLUSIVE Cree/TMC emitter rights:
“TMC, in tandem with Cree, tailored the newest Cree XR-E diode Kelvin temperature so as not too waste energy in the unneeded spectrum range. And, the TMC tiles do not use cooling fans”
*Input from several aquarium professionals including: Aquarium Design, and Quality Marine USA (the largest importer of marine fish in North America)
*Red Slime Algae; Cyanobacteria in Aquariums
I should note that if you also have a UV Sterilizer, changing the UV Bulbs every six months can help with Red Slime control along with the more important aspect of good lighting with little of the yellow light bands.
So as to keep this already long article readable; NO Further Comments will be allowed; Thanks for understanding
Recommended Replacement UVC Lamps:
Recommended source for UV Sterilizers:
Copyright 2014, By Steve Allen