Saltwater Aquarium Equipment Review – Save 100s (EVEN 1000s) With These Equipment Picks

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I won’t lie to you…

Saltwater Aquarium Equipment is Expensive!

With the added marketing efforts and push towards high tech and cool looking saltwater aquarium equipment, it’s easy to find equipment like LED lighting costing over $800 that just covers a 2×2 space. Where does this madness end! It’s easy to get scared away from forums, the LFS, and big equipment e-stores telling you the cheap stuff is junk and doesn’t last.

I’m here today to help guide you show you the gold standard in the industry and the cheaper alternative that can literally save you hundreds even thousands of dollars.

I will pull out no stops here and will throw out equipment I don’t even carry for the sake if saving you dollar bills. The way I see it, if I can supply you with alternatives for the high end saltwater aquarium equipment the more money you will have to enjoy the hobby! We will use a standard 4 foot 120 gallon reef tank equipment setup as our example.

RODI Systems

This is the heart of a larger tank setup. Lots of water top off and the ability to store water when you need it in a pinch is a really big deal when you are running a larger saltwater aquarium and reef tank.

Best RODI System

The SpectaPure MaxCap RODI System is the top of its class when it comes to a high end RODI system. With the best membrane rejection rate on the market and quality construction this is the unit to purchase if money is not an issue.

Editor's Choice
SpectraPure MaxCap

The Best RODI Unit

With industry leading membranes and a 2:1 waste ratio rate, this is the best overall RODI system you can buy

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Cheap RODI System But Still Reef Worthy – LiquaGen 5 Stage RODI

The Spectra Pure RODI System commands a premium price tag of several hundred dollars. That’s not exactly cheap. There are two alternatives I will provide here. The first is a similar 5 stage RODI System from LiquaGen. This system is easily half the cost of a comparable Spectrapure system and will do the job for many reefers out there.

Best Value
LiquaGen - 5-Stage RODI

Best Value

A complete 5 stage RODI unit without the excessive price

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The RODI Unit for Budget and Nano Reefers – LiquaGen 4 Stage RODI

For those with smaller tanks the Aquatic Life Portable Aquarium RODI 4 stage system is a great solution to free you having to get RODI water from your LFS or distilled water from the grocery store. Nearly half the price of the 5 stage, this unit should be able to fit the smaller budgets of small tank builds and nano reefers.

Budget Option
Aquatic Life RO Buddie

Budget Option

Compact and great for smaller tanks. This is the best unit if you live in an apartment or dorm

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Protein Skimmers 

Ah yes Protein Skimmers, the heart of the vast majority of successful reef tanks. They have been a staple of many saltwater aquariums. Unfortunately, they tend to get VERY expensive at the highest end levels. Fear not though, I have you covered.

Best Protein Skimmer 

The Nyos Quantum 120 Protein Skimmer is definitely one of the best protein skimmers on the market. Sure there are some skimmers at this 120 gallon reef tank example size that can command a higher value and we are not over sizing in this case, but the Nyos has been the go to of one big YouTubers like FishofHex

Editor's Choice!
NYOS QUANTUM

The Best Protein Skimmer

German made, super silent, and world class performance. This is the pinnacle of skimmer technology today!

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Bubble Magus – The Go To Cheap Protein Skimmer

The Bubble Magus Curve Series has been the go to for a cheap protein skimmer for many years in the hobby. Well trusted, reliable, and works very well. it will serve you well in your system. It should be around half the cost of an equivalently rated Nyos skimmer.

Budget Option
Bubble Magus Curve

Budget Option

Great skimmer for a great price

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Return Pumps 

Let’s talk about return pumps. This is a central piece of any reef system using a sump. I would argue next to a heater, it is the one major component of a reef system that you cannot afford to fail. When selecting a return pump, reliability and durability are above any feature a manufacturer can offer in my opinion.

Best DC Aquarium Return Pump – Abyzz DC Controllable Pumps

If money is no object, the Abyzz DC Controllable Pumps are top of mind of the best things out there. It is a DC pump that is backed by a 10-year warranty. This German made DC pump puts out no stops when it comes to quality and the price shows. For the 120 gallon tank we are using as an example, the A100 is the model we are going to select and at a massive $1,499.99 price tag, this DC pump will provide years of worry free operation.

Abyzz Pumps

Cheap Aquarium DC Return Pump – Reef Octopus VarioS

The Reef Octopus VarioS series DC pumps offer a solid cheaper solution for a DC return pump. While it does not have the 10 year warranty, the VarioS pump does offer a 2 year warranty and has been often called the best value among DC return pumps on the market. In today’s market of high tech reef toys, the Varios DC return pump really focuses on quality and they provide a good mix of quality and value. I would definitely consider these over a Jabeo return pump.

Reef Octopus VarioS DC Return Pumps

Cheap Aquarium Return Pump – Fluval Sea SP4 — We Are Going Old School! 

Yes you are reading this correctly, an AC return pump. Now why would I put a this Fluval Sea SP4 AC Return Pump as the best value for cheapest and highest quality return pump for your sump? Well various returns actually:

  • An AC pump has less failure points than a DC pump with only the motor and impeller. A DC pump can additionally fail on the controller and the power supply – of which both tend to fail quite frequently
  • An AC pump handles head pressure better than a DC pump, which means it is more worry free if you are using manifolds or having to restrict flow
  • The Fluval Sea SP4 is built off the the same tried and true tech of return pumps that have run in the field for over 10 years – the Askoll Motor Block
  • The Fluval Sea SP4 is made in Italy – no cheap Chinese parts
  • The Fluval Sea SP4 is backed by a solid 3 year warranty. At its entry level price point you can buy several Fluval SP4s and still have enough money for other equipment over an Abyzz

And flow if you are wondering is easily controlled by a gate or ball valve on an AC return pump. There are other very solid very durable options like a Danner Magnum Pump or Eheim Hobby Pump, but the Danner tends to be loud and the Eheim Hobby Pump does not produce enough GPH for it to be applicable to our 120 gallon tank example. The Fluval Sea SP4 completely crushes it with quiet operation, a solid Italian made pump, proven durable AC technology, and good looks. Get one today and forgot about it for the next 10 years – Askoll built pumps are that good!

Fluval Sea SP

Designed with the reliable Askoll motor, these Italian made AC return pumps are a great pickup

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Reef LED Lighting

Our last core piece of equipment we are going to touch on is Reef Led Lighting. This is a section where you can spend $1,000s of thousands on top end of lighting, but I’m going to show you a few alternative so you don’t break the bank.

Best Reef Tank Lighting System – EcoTech Marine Radions 

There is a reason why top coral sellers like World Wide Corals rely on EcoTech Marine Radion. They are incredibility flexible in functionality and well built units and with the diffuser upgrade are able to handle heavy SPS coral reef tanks. If money is no concern for you on this 120 gallon example 2 Radion XR30w units will do the job and handle any coral build and is considered by many the best lighting system for a reef tank.

Used by World Wide Corals
EcoTech Radion G5

Editor's Choice

The newest Radion G5 is a massive update to the prior generation. It's the light of choice for pro level reefers.

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Cheap LED Reef Tank Lighting System – Mars Aqua LEDs

Ah the Chinese black box. While other sellers try to scare you away from them, the Mars Aqua LED Reef Aquarium lighting system offers a quality light that is fully capable of growing corals in a mixed reef system and even heavy SPS reef tank. They are ETL rated, which is considered an equivalent of UL rated. Two of 165W models will work for most reefs and two 300W could be considered for a heavier SPS setup. They are easily hundreds of dollars less than a Radion.

Another additional option would be the Evergrow LED Reef Lighting System. Evergrow models are the same lighting manufacturer used by Reefbreeder’s older generation models that have been well received by the reefing community.

What Other Saltwater Aquarium Equipment Picks Do You Have?

Have another piece of saltwater aquarium equipment that you would recommend? Leave a comment below. We’ll follow up with a part 2 in the future that will go over other key equipment so you can continue to save money and still buy quality equipment.

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

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