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Having your aquarium run automatically is a dream for many fish tank owners. Every wants a device that can automate many of the mandate tasks of fish and coral keeping. What if I told you that such devices exist today? They in fact do exist, and many do an excellent job of making your aquarium keeping life easier than ever before! They are called aquarium controllers and the technology is now over 10 years old and mature in our industry. But what is the Best Aquarium Controller? There are a number in the market now and they require a lot of research and development to create a long-standing product.
Today’s posts I look at the best of the best and tell you which ones are the ones to purchase today. So let’s get started and see what the marketplace offers. You will be excited to see what these things can do now!
What To Look For When Buying An Aquarium Controller
Before we start comparing aquarium controllers, we need to talk about what to look for when purchasing one. Controllers are a complex technology and not every Company can maintain the product line in the long run.
A controller is a premium piece of aquarium equipment. It is one of the most expensive devices you can purchase for your tank and for very good reason. They are capable of automating many tasks in your tank.
For these controllers I’m reviewing today, this is my criteria:
- Features and Accessories
- Brand Name
The Aquarium Controller Candidates
Now that we know the criteria I’m looking at, let’s see who makes the cut. The list below are the picks I would be proud to put into my tank setups. They are offered by high quality manufacturers who have been around for years. There is no up and coming venture backed company here. These are all high quality name brand controllers. Let’s continue further below.
In a hurry? I recommend the Neptune Apex!
|Neptune Apex||Click For Best Price|
|Neptune ApexEL Controller||Click For Best Price|
|Hydros Contol 2 Starter Pack||Click For Best Price|
|GHL ProfiLux||Click For Best Price|
|Neptune Trident||Click For Best Price|
|GHL KH Director||Click For Best Price|
|Aqua Logic Aquarium Temperature Controller||Click For Best Price|
|American Marine Pinpoint pH Controller||Click For Best PriceBuy On Amazon|
The 8 Best Aquarium Controllers – 2021 Reviews
Below I go in detail of each recommended controller. Let’s see what these made the cut!
1. Neptune Apex – The Best In Aquarium Automation
The Neptune APEX was the original aquarium controller released in the United States and continues to be to this day the best controller on the market. What makes it stand out is its ability to integrate with nearly all modern reef keeping equipment today. Every high end manufacturer wants to market as an “APEX Ready” or APEX capable controller or they risk a large loss of sales. This type of brand name recognition makes the APEX the premier controller and the go to for modern tank automation.
The APEX package comes with four probes out of the box – temperature, salinity, ORP, and pH. The salinity probe is the biggest selling point of this set as a salinity monitor is usually a separate purchase – and it isn’t a cheap add-on. These probes are lab grade and have a longer lifespan due to their double junction construction.
The new APEX model runs of wi-fi, eliminating the need to have your controller plugged into a labtop to access. You can run it on your desktop, laptop, tablet, even on your phone while you are away from your tank. It is total piece of mind when you can monitor many parameters while you are way or even have a maintenance profession log into your console and see your setups.
The energy bar 8 is an ETL certified power block that holds up to 8 devices. Each outlet has independent monitoring to your console. Voltage is a key parameter to measure when it comes to equipment as low output could point to upcoming equipment failure and an early warning sign to replace equipment.
And this is all just talking about what comes in the box! The APEX has a number of add-ons you can bolt onto the system. Such add-ons include a leak detection kit, dosing automation, flow monitoring, an ATO line, PAR monitoring. The most recent add-on, the Trident, promising complete dosing automation. This is the holy grail of reef automation. It really is a complete aquarium monitoring system.
The future is bright with the APEX Neptune. It is a solid investment that comes with you with any aquarium you keep and can even be used to run multiple tanks. The biggest downfall is its price. If you are running an aquarium with prized exotic livestock and corals, the price actually doesn’t seem that bad compared to the value that is housed in the tank.
Pros & Cons
- Integrates with most aquarium equipment
- Capable of dosing automation
- Peace of mind when travel
- Requires coding knowledge
2. Neptune ApexEL – A Budget Apex
The biggest issue with the APEX Neptune is the price. This Neptune ApexEL line is Neptune’s answer for a budget friendly aquarium monitoring system. The APEX EL still has the same great tech with the wifi capability, energy bar 8 hub, and the ability to add all the major Apex add-ons.
What’s missing from the EL model? It’s three main things
- The APEX EL does not have a salinity probe
- The console hub is missing a 0-10v port which doesn’t it allow it to connect with devices like Kessils and Varios pumps
- The APEX EL does not have an ORP port or probe
All three missing items can be added back with add-ons if you chose to purchase them. I feel what is missing is a good sacrfice compared to what is include. The salinity probe, while great to have isn’t completely necessary and is also new technology to the hobby. The missing ports are only a factor if you purchase Kessils in my opinion. Finally, many reefer tank owners don’t even bother with ORP monitoring, so a missing ORP probe is not a dealbreaker.
This is a great alternative model to the main APEX model. The price can still be too expensive to some. For the price it sells out, there is a lot of value. If you want something cheaper, I have a great option below at #3.
Pros & Cons
- Cheaper than Apex
- Can expand with additional modules
- Still expensive
- Does not come with salinity monitor
3. Hydros Control 2 – A Modern ReefKeeper Lite
If you reefed in the early mid 2000s, you were treated to this wonderful early level controller called the ReefKeeper Lite. It was praised across the hobby as the bang for the buck controller that would one day save your tank from a aquarium heater malfunction with its temperature controller. It provided the most essential pieces of tank automation to you with its 4 outlet power block. However, the company who created the ReefKeeper Lite – Digital Aquatics, went out of business in 2018. Ever since then the hobby has been search for the next ReefKeeper Lite in a world that was dominated by high end controllers like the Neptune Controller.
Enter the new kid on the block – the Hydros Control 2 kit. This is CoralVue’s answer to the demand of the return of our beloved ReefKeeper controller. Now with the backing of a major manufacturer like CoralVue, the Hydros as the ability and capability to provide what we love out of the APEX without the crazy APEX price.
This Control 2 model is the closest match you will find to the old ReefKeepers. With this package you get
- A 4 outlet power supply
- Temperature probe
- WiFi capacbility
- Hydros Control App
The Control App is a great step up to what we are used to seeing with the Reefkeeper which was just a simple interface with button pushes. The control runs off a mobile app. It allows you to program the controller without coding knowledge. One of the biggest frustrations with high end controllers is they are too complex to use for newcomers. The Hydros app is user friendly
The price of this controller is more expensive then the original Reefkeeper Lite, however, the value they provide is greater. The price for these I still feel is entry level and a solid investment. The sense ports currently support optical sensors, leak detectors, water level sensors, flow rate sensors, and switches. This package has incredible value and my #1 pick when it comes to the best budget option for a controller.
Pros & Cons
- Entry level price
- Has all the main features included
- Backed by CoralVue
- Does not come with salinity monitor or pH probe
- New to market
4. GHL ProfiLux – Germany’s Answer to the Neptune Apex
The GHL ProfiLux is Europe’s version of the Neptune Apex. It is German made and has quickly grabbed market share away from Neptune as Reefers have realized how reliable and durable these controllers are. The controller is globally recognized for its accuracy and reliability, being used in research institutions and public aquariums.
Aside from the global recognition of the controller, what else makes this controller stand out from the APEX? In short sum, here are the main points:
- The GHL has future proof internal boards that are replaceable and upgradeable
- Better detailed control of lighting, temp, pH levels, pumps, etc
- Easier to program through their logic gate programming
- Simple yet more durable build quality
One of the biggest selling points from the GHL controller is how long they last. You will find owners in the community who have been running the same GHL controller for 10 years. They run the older models, not needing to upgrade to the newest model because GHL continues to support the older models with firmware updates. Try to find someone who is still using one of the original APEX models, you will be hard-pressed. Some have failed over time while others have just wanted the latest and greatest.
German and Italian made products are of the highest quality in the aquarium industry and have been for many years. It shows again in this controller. It doesn’t beat out the APEX on this round up because of its lack of presence in the United States. Most manufacturers shot for being APEX ready and don’t market to other controllers. It’s also harder to find other aquarists who use these controllers. It’s a niche user base, though a very loyal and happy one. If you want one, be prepared to pay slightly more than you would for the APEX. However, you can expect your controller to last for many years.
Pros & Cons
- German Made & German Engineering
- Used in research and museums
- Easier to program
- More expensive then APEX
- Not as well known in the US
5. Neptune Trident – True Dosing Automation Is Here
The Neptune Trident when it was announced created a huge buzz around it. It is a game changer for reef aquariums. This is a Dosing controller that attempts to completely automation dosing and monitor the best 3 parameters of coral reef keeping – alkanity, calcium, and magnesium. Stability is everything when it comes to a reef tank, especially when you get into more advanced corals like SPS.
It works by testing your water multiple times a day then adjusting the dosing schedule based on the results. It uses regents in order to test your water. It takes away all the work of having to test your water every week and tests with excellent precision giving accurate readings to the following:
- Alkalinity: + or – .05 DKH
- Calcium: + or – 15 PPM
- Magnesium: + or – 15 PPM
The Trident interface will also let you know the parameter tests and how much regent you have left. Your reef tank will be its more stable ever with one of these installed in your tank.
The main drawback is its price. The regents also add up in monthly costs. This is the benchmark for doing automation to date and well worth the investment
Pros & Cons
- Works directly with Apex
- Automations dosing and monitors all main reef parameters
- Regents add to maintenance costs
6. GHL KH Director – An Excellent Trident Alternative
The GHL KH Director is GHL’s answer to the Neptune trident. It focuses on the primary reef tank parameter monitor for corals – Alkanity. Changes in Alkanity also affect Calcium, so have a device that focuses on Alkanity will also work with keeping Calcium stable as well as pH.
The KH Director works with Lab-grade accuracy. It can work standalone with a GHL Doser 2 or can work with the ProfiLux controller. I really like how GHL has this flexibility since not everyone wants to get a controller.The GHL Doser 2 is also one of the best and accurate dosers on the market so pair them together is a solid choice.
The regents also last much longer than the Trident. A regent will last you up to 3 months while the Tridents only last 1 month and require multiple types of regents. This gives you a cheaper ongoing costs over the Trident. It won’t test all the core reef parameters like the Neptune does, but I feel the KH Director is one of the best dosing automation controllers on the market.
Pros & Cons
- Cheaper than Trident
- Integrates with GHL controllers
- Will work with old GHL controllers and dosers
- Doesn’t do as much as Trident
7. Aqua Logic Temperature Controller – A Simple To Use Controller
The Aqua Logic Temperature controller makes the list as the premier controller for aquarium heater malfunctional prevention. It only does one job, and it does that job very well.
Because it only does only function, it is simple to use and easy to install in your system. These are extremely reliable controllers that will last a lifetime. They are not prone to glitches or errors in software because they are based on tried and true technology that originates in the HVAC industry. It is a commercial level device that has been implemented into home aquarium usage.
The big con with this product is that it only does one function. Most controllers these days offer temperature controllers as part of their package. It is also expensive for what it does. The link on this product is the single stage controller. The dual stage temperature controller is a more expensive offering.
Pros & Cons
- Extremely reliable
- Easy to use
- Won’t control your other equipment
8. American Marine Pinpoint pH Controller
The American Marine Pinpoint pH controller is a standalone controller designed to work with equipment like calcium reactors and CO2 regulators. It is accurate within .01 resolution with its lab grade pH probe. They are extremely durable controllers that are designed to work for a lifetime.
They will shut down equipment if the pH goes out of range and are easy to use and calibrate. They are excellent for what they are designed for and plug and play.
The main downfall is they are designed for one purpose. They lack the functionality of what modern controller can do. However, these are extremely reliable controllers and if you have one thing you want to monitor like a Calcium reactor or planted tank, this is a great deal for a product that is known to last for many years.
Pros & Cons
- Good Price
- Great at it’s job
- Easy to use
- Modern controllers offer pH monitoring now
- Only serves one function
The Best Aquarium Controllers (Our Expert Editor’s Choice)
The Neptune continues to be the best overall brand when it comes to aquarium controllers. I highly recommended the Neptune Apex for those looking for full aquarium automation at the highest level. The Neptune ApexEL is a cheaper alternative for those wanting to build up to a premium system over time. The Hydros Control 2 is a new entry level controller which I feel is a reincarnation of the Reefkeeper Lite. It will do everything that budget controller used to do and more!
Benefits of Aquarium Controller and Monitoring System
A controller can have many benefits to your aquarium. The biggest benefit is peace of mind and automation. Many of the controllers I have featured here have reporting dashboards that can be loaded on your smartphone, tablet, or PC. They allow you to monitor many aspects of your tank. If something breaks, the controller will know. If something is not operating correctly, you will usually know from the voltage readers on the Neptune Apex.
Regarding automation, controllers have come a long way. The biggest need from a controller is temperature automation, as many of the heaters these days are not high quality and a proper monitoring system is required to keep your tank safe. Controllers can also control your reef light, know when you turn on your aquarium chiller, keep your pH stable, monitor your aquarium wavemakers, and automate your dosing schedule and parameter testing.
The other great benefit is anyone can see your parameters if you grant them access. This is a huge perk if you have a maintenance company working on your aquarium. Some higher end maintenance companies will require you to have a controller for big setups so they can monitor and tweek your tank settings as necessary.
When used correctly, aquarium controllers can offer a ton of peace of mind and save you from an expensive tank crash. They are stellar investments to protect your prized aquatic pets.
Aquarium Controller FAQs
What Is An Aquarium Controller?
An aquarium controller is a computer device that work on monitoring equipment in your aquarium. It also automates several maintenance tasks and are highly customizable to suit the tank setup and needs. They will typically send alerts and texts to your phone if an issue is detected and can also shut down equipment in an emergency.
What happened to Digital Aquatics?
Digital aquatics closed its doors in 2018 and ceased all operations. They were well known for creating entry level aquarium controllers. The new Hydros Control 2 is considered a successor to the Digital Aquatics ReefKeeper as they have a similar price and updated technology
Do I need an aquarium controller?
You do not need an aquarium controller to have a success in the hobby. Prior to the controller technology innovation there were many and continue to be many new setups that are successful without a controller. A controller offers a lot of automation and monitoring, which will reduce the maintenance you have to do in the aquarium. It also gives you peace of mind when you are away from the tank. Given the price of livestock these days, the investment is well worth if you have thousands invested in your tank.
What does an apex controller do?
An Apex controller can do many things in your aquarium, but it’s best to focus on core functionality to see what makes them so great. They can shut off your heater if it malfunctions, saving you from a tank crash. They can detect leaks, your monitor water level, and shut off equipment or the tank before your home is damaged from a flood of tank water. You can monitor your tank while you are on vacation. You can setup auto dosing to keep your aquarium stable for your precious corals.
One of the biggest perks if you willing to do a setup is automated water changes. With the proper setup, a controller can automate the water changing function completely making your tank nearly self-running.
Controllers are really amazing pieces of equipment. They have made our maintenance lives so much better and I look forward to see more advances with the technology as it matures. I hope you enjoyed this article and it helps you make an informed decision. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. See ya next time :).