Top Rated Aquarium Light Reviews
I think few new aquarists really appreciate the role of light in the aquarium. Nothing makes an aquarium look more beautiful than using the right light for it. Even a poorly aquascaped aquarium can look magical and high-end with the right light quality. So it’s too bad that I see so many aquarists cheap out on their lighting; rather spending their money on a fancier tank or more starter fish.
Light is not only a question of looks, however. Light is a very important part of your aquarium’s ecosystem. It affects all the living things in the tank, can affect the water chemistry itself, and will govern some of the natural cycles in your captive microcosm.
If you have a planted tank, in particular, it matters very much what spectrum and power of light you have. There are many variables, but you can easily find a “watts-per-gallon” calculator for lighting. If you want your plants to thrive you need to provide them with enough photons to eat. On the other hand, if you overdo it you might face problems with algae or other light-sensitive parameters.
In marine reef tanks the role of light is even more complex and important. Many corals live symbiotically with microscopic organisms that need light in the right doses. Often mysterious tank crashes or other inexplicable reef tank failures can be traced back to improper lighting.
The whole aquarium lighting industry has changed in the last few years. While fluorescent lights were the de-facto standard for many years, the LED light has essentially become the only lighting technology worth looking into. These lights are power efficient, cool, durable, and can provide many functions that fluorescents simply can’t, such as color-changing and dimmability.
The most important thing to remember with lighting is not to underspend. Tank decorations and inhabitants can always be bought later, but buying good lights on day one will ensure a much better aquarium experience.
So let’s look at what I consider to be the best aquarium lights you can buy online today.
The Best Aquarium Light: GalaxyHydro Led 55x3w Dimmable 165w Full Spectrum LED
This light from GalaxyHydro is one of the best-selling LED aquarium lights on the market and it’s pretty clear why that is. It has almost all the features that I would put on my personal checklist when shopping for an aquarium light. Bear in mind that this light is specifically designed for marine coral reef tanks.
I Got the Power
This light has a liberal amount of wattage. Each of the 55 LEDs has 3W of power at maximum, which means that this light by itself has enough juice to light a 55-gallon planted tank, using the 3W-per-gallon rule of thumb for minimum planted tank wattage. However, in practice you’ll want two of these for a 29-gallon or similar tank since you are unlikely to run them at full power.
Mix and Match
You’ll notice that there are actually two sets of independent LEDs at work here. There is one set of 28 lights that are a mix of cool white, warm white, red, and green. The other 27 LEDs are blue, purple, and royal blue.
Each set of lights is independently dimmable, which gives you great control over the spectrum you want to simulate for a given depth. Overall you have access to the full spectrum all the way from violet to red. You can simulate sunrise, sunset, and everything in between.
The two sets of lights each have their own controller chip, which GalaxyHydro claims are high-end models that provide extra brightness and better reliability. Specifically, they say that brightness is 30% more than that of comparable LED lights.
The loss of luminosity over time is also less than what older technology suffered. The lenses, which are an important part of the brightness equation, are made from a new acrylic formula that has better light transmittance and ages better.
With that much wattage even LEDs are going to get hot and that heat leads to failure if not managed. Luckily these lights are actively cooled by fans. Yes, that does mean that they add to the noise of your aquarium, but HydroGalaxy is using “mute” fans that are designed to keep noise levels in check. They say that other fan solutions of similar performance are 31% louder.
Live Long and Prosper
The rated lifespan of the light is 30,000 hours. Reef tanks generally need between eight and twelve hours of light, so that provides you with nearly seven years of operation using twelve hours as a basis. Of course, if you run them dimmed or for shorter periods, that figure may be higher.
Like many reef lights, this one is meant to be suspended above the tank or otherwise mounted into an overhead reef tank setup. Wires to suspend the light are included in the package.
Priced to Perfection
While it might seem expensive for a light, this is one of the best value-for-money reef lights you can get. Marine tanks are expensive to run and the lighting is usually a major factor, but here we have a good quality light for a reasonable price. They are not cheap by any means, but very attractive given their specs and the competition.
Barring a few dud units, the overwhelming majority of people who have bought these are over the moon. The only real criticism is that the spread is a bit narrow, so the light may have to be lifted a bit to get to all the corners of the tank. The only open question is whether these lights will last as long as they claim. At this price however, they could last half as long and still be more than worth it. This is not only a great light for beginner marine aquarists, but for established ones looking to be smart about how much they spend on their hobby.
Personally the only thing I’m disappointed by is the lack of programmability. It would have been nice to set a day and night cycle, but other than that this is a great package.
The Next Best Lighting: Finnex Planted+ 24/7 Fully Automated Aquarium LED
It was hard deciding between this light and the one above for first place. In the end, the GalaxyHydro won out thanks to its excellent wattage and price. For large reef tanks you need all the help you can get and it really represents the most cost effective way to get light where it needs to go in those tanks.
What if you don’t need that much outright wattage? Then I think this light from Finnex becomes much more attractive.
This light comes in a variety of sizes. Here we are looking specifically at the largest, a 48-inch unit. Getting exact wattage figures is tricky – for the 48-inch unit I’ve seen both 29 watts and 46 watts. Either way, it provides the full spectrum of light from cool dawn to blazing noon and then red sunset. The light is always on and at night will do a starry moonlight simulation. In practice this light is going to be OK for a 29-gallon tank of average depth, and perhaps a 55-gallon tank at a stretch.
All of the lighting is programmable or automated, allowing you to recreate the 24-hour cycle your aquarium life would have undergone in nature. Among all the different LEDs in the cluster there are proper daylight wavelength units. That makes this an ideal light for planted aquariums, although with the relatively low wattage you may want to have two.
This may all seem like a lot to handle with a simple light, but it comes with a really cool remote that lets you adjust everything and makes setting it all up a cinch.
Third Pick: Koval Inc. 78 LED Aquarium Lighting
Not every aquarium needs a high-wattage light, but every aquarium can benefit from having the right wavelengths available to help your plants grow and your fish sleep. This light from Koval may not have the raw power, but it has the spectrum you need at a very nice price indeed.
This is a very nice light for smaller tanks in the 20 to 30 gallon range and, although it is not
dimmable, the wattage is low enough to make longer sustained lighting acceptable. I think that for a beginner aquarist with a relatively small tank who wants to get the perfect look or grow a planted tank, this is a good place to start. However, don’t pay full price for this light, they go on sale often and are a much better deal with a significant discount.