LED Aquarium Lighting Review & Guide – 5 BEST Reef LED Light Brands

This is a review and guide for the 5 BEST of the BEST LED aquarium lighting brands. That doesn’t mean they can’t fit your budget. These companies produce some pretty flexible and adaptable solutions that perform at a stellar level when it comes to light quality and coral growth.

The following is a rating of each brand overall on 5 key metrics. Be sure to read further and factor in your personal needs and desires though. I tried to be as objective as possible and I’ll admit when I tallied up the scores I was impressed at how closely they all ranked. 

BEST 5 Reef LED Lighting Brands

Aqua Illumination

Ecotech Marine

Giesemann

Kessil

Maxspect

Build Quality

4.5

5

5

5

4

Light Quality & Aesthetics

3.5

4

4

5

4.5

Hardware Aesthetics

4

3.5

5

5

5

Software & Controllability

4.5

5

3

4

4.5

Upgradeability & Parts Availability

5

5

3

3

3

Value

5

3.5

4

4

4

How To Setup LED Aquarium Lighting

Most LED reef lights come with a cluster of LEDs called a puck. Small fixtures typically have one puck and the manufacturer will offer larger models that have more pucks for larger aquariums. One-puck lights typically cover a 24″ square area. Follow the manufacturers recommendations. Different designs will mean different light spreads.

If you’re on a budget you don’t have to have a light that covers your entire tank in it’s most effective and brightest area. You can position your higher-demand corals directly beneath the LED fixture and you can have lower demand corals on the perimeter.

Rim Mounts, Wall Mounts, and Hanging Kits

The look of your aquarium equipment is as important as the inhabitants within it. How you mount your lights and manage wiring is crucial to the aesthetics. Flex mounts are a very popular option as well as rigid rim mounts. Some manufacturers offer wall mounting systems and most offer ceiling suspension kits. Give some serious consideration to your purchase decision based on the available mounting options. I’m a fan of the ceiling suspended hanging kits. It’s a great look with a rimless aquarium.

How high above the waterline do you need to mount your LED lights?

When it comes to placing your lights it is going to vary a bit from light to light. Some fixtures will have lens that focus the light and you will need to suspend them slightly higher. Some will scatter the light more and you’ll need to hang them lower. Read the manufacturers recommendations for your light. You’ll also need to take into consideration the lighting needs of your corals. If you don’t yet have corals then you can purchase and place them according to what your light can support. If you already have an established tank, you may need to consider moving your corals. Also, some lights come with an acclimation mode that will help the corals adjust to the new lighting parameters.

How long do you leave the lights on in a reef tank?

8-12 hours is the typical range that is acceptable. Most will program in a schedule for 12 hours and if they have a refugium with macroalgae they’ll have the refugium light scheduled to come on while the main display light is off. This is to minimize Ph swings in the water parameters.

Awesome Features of Premium LED Tank Lights

Most high end fixtures will have the following features. Some will have them all and some will have only one or two.

Scheduling On/Off and Ramping Up/Down

Have your lights scheduled to come on and off automatically really is a must and today manufacturers know this. Most premium LED light manufacturers will have this ability built into the hardware of the light itself. Not only that but many will have the ability to slowly increase and decrease intensity to simulate sunrise and sunset.

Storm and Cloud Simulations

Another cool feature many premium manufacturers offer is simulated lighting and cloud effects. This doesn’t really do much other than look really amazing and is pretty handy for showing off.

Lunar Cycle Simulation

In the real ocean reef light intensity at night goes up and down with the lunar cycle. While this is a pretty nifty look  you may not think it has any significant benefits. You’d be wrong though! Lunar cycle lighting has been shown to encourage reproduction in some reef tank inhabitants and calms so active fish which helps prevent night time jumps out of your aquarium. It’s seriously depressing to wake up and find a prized fish laying on the floor.

Acclimation Mode

Corals can be very finicky about changes in lighting. Best practice is to keep lighting parameters as consistent as possible. However, when purchasing a new light parameters are going to change and there’s nothing that can be done about that. Some premium manufacturers are now including an acclimation mode that’s designed to be used when you add your new light to your aquarium or when you make an adjustment and want to ease your corals into the new parameters.

Lights in the Cloud and your Phone

Everything is connected to the Internet these days and that goes for your high-end LED reef lights. It can be a real hassle to make all of the adjustments you need to make to your lights with a knob or button and a tiny little display. Many manufacturers integrate WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity into their lights or offer an additional module to connect your lights. This allows you to more conveniently access your settings via your phone through a specifically designed app or through a web browser on your computer.

Aqua Illumination – SCORE: 26.5

The AI line of LED lighting products excels in a lot of areas including value and that’s what gives it the edge over the rest of the pack. Since each light fixture is essentially just a Prime with more LED pucks you get the same high quality lighting no matter which route you go. You save money by going with more pucks in one fixture but buying multiple 4 Prime HDs for instance versus one Hydra FiftyTwo allows you to place the individual pucks precisely where they will be most effective in your particular tank thanks to their slim form factor.

Lighting

The CREE and SemiLED LEDs in this light are optimal for providing the spectrum needed to keep your corals healthy. With the ability to fully control the light spectrum and even overdrive some LEDs there is a lot of power to tweak at your control. Many reefers successful with parameters have posted their ideal settings online which is very helpful for beginners.

Control

Their software for controlling their lights is available via smartphone apps as well as a web interface by connecting your light to your WiFi router. They offer a great deal of good features including scheduling, lunar mode, and acclimation mode. A cool feature that’s also available is the ability to add a Google Nest Cam to monitor your tank. Sadly, the HD lights are not controllable via the Neptune Apex reef controller which to me is a real disappointment.

Construction & Aesthetics

The Hydras are pretty industrial looking and not much to brag about in the looks department but they get the job done well. The Prime is quite slick though. The Prime HD is about as low cost as you can get in a premium reef lighting fixture.

All Aqua Illuminations products are engineered and constructed in Iowa. Construction quality is very solid and AI uses high quality CREE and SemiLEDs in all of their fixtures.

Aqua Illumination Product Line

Prime HD

We tend to think of bigger as better with a lot of things but the Prime HD is a powerhouse in a small and sleek package. It features the same LED puck design that comes in the 2-puck Hydra TwentySix and 4-puck FiftyTwo but in a much more attractive housing. While you can save a few bucks going with the larger models you can get a cooler look going with multiple Primes or just get a better coverage pattern suited to your specific aquarium and preferences.

Includes the following modes:

  • Schedule – Dawn/Daylight/Dusk
  • Schedule Easy – Simplified Version of Schedule Mode
  • Manual Mode
  • Acclimation
  • Weather
  • Lunar

Length – 4.88in. (12.4cm)
Width – 4.88in. (12.4cm)
Height – 1.34in. (3.4cm)

Hydra TwentySix HD

Identical to the specs and features of the Prime HD except it contains 2 LED pucks for twice the LEDs. It includes a fan and a much larger heatsink. It’s slightly cheaper to purchase 1 Hydra TwentySix than 2 Prime HDs.

Includes the following modes:

  • Schedule – Dawn/Daylight/Dusk
  • Schedule Easy – Simplified Version of Schedule Mode
  • Manual Mode
  • Acclimation
  • Weather
  • Lunar

Length – 7.28in. (18.5cm)
Width – 5.375in. (13.7cm)
Height – 1.6in. (4cm)

Hydra FiftyTwo HD

Like the TwentySix, the FiftyTwo is double the LED pucks of the smaller model. That comes with a slightly lower price than buying two Hydra TwentySix’s and even more of a discount than purchasing four Prime HDs. 

Includes the following modes:

  • Schedule – Dawn/Daylight/Dusk
  • Schedule Easy – Simplified Version of Schedule Mode
  • Manual Mode
  • Acclimation
  • Weather
  • Lunar

Length – 11.875in. (30.2cm)
Width – 5.375in. (13.7cm)
Height – 1.6in. (4cm)

Ecotech Marine – SCORE: 26

If the Ecotech Marine line of products reminds you of the Aqua Illumination line, that’s for good reason. They are sister companies. They share a lot of similarities but not everything. The Ecotech brand is positioned as the premium product and it’s reflected in the cost as well as performance and features.

The Radions scored very well with the only exception being aesthetics. If that’s not a concern for you or you don’t mind the look of the Radion design then it’s even more of a good choice. They’re not bad looking by any stretch, just rather plain.

Lighting

The Radion line of fixtures is the most powerful of the bunch. If High PAR is what you need then a Radion is one to consider. The lenses on the Radions are not for focusing light like some competitors but instead help defuse the light to better blend the colors from the individual LEDs and reduce shadowing.

Control 

Controllability is also best in class with the Radions. Ecotech offers the ReefLink product to have an always-on connection the cloud. You can still access EcoSmart Live without a ReefLink but it requires a USB cable connected to your PC or Mac. EcoSmart Live is Ecotech Marine’s name for their cloud system. With EcoSmart Live so you can control your system from anywhere with a web browser. The EcoSmart Live is not required to control your lights but it does give you additional features. Not only does Ecotech provide a huge amount of controllability but they are compatible with third party controllers like the Neptune Apex controller.

Construction & Aesthetics

The fixtures themselves are fairly industrial so they’re not much to look at but they’re pretty slim and don’t draw a lot of attention to themselves. The mounting options Ecotech offers are very flexible and attractive, especially the hanging kit.

Ecotech Marine Product Line

RADION XR15W G4 PRO

This single puck fixture is a force to be reckoned with. It’s powerful and highly controllable.

Length – 7in.(18cm)
Width – 7in.(18cm)
Height – 1.5in.(3.9cm)

RADION XR30W G4 Base

This is NOT a 2-puck version of the Radion XR15W G4 PRO. It’s pucks are missing 2 Violet and 1 Warm White LEDs per puck. The tradeoff is a pretty significant cost savings.

Length – 11.8in.(30cm)
Width – 7in.(18cm)
Height – 1.5in.(3.9cm)

RADION XR30W G4 PRO

This IS the 2-puck version of the Radion XR15W G4 PRO and is state of the art but it won’t be cheap.

Length – 11.8in.(30cm)
Width – 7in.(18cm)
Height – 1.5in.(3.9cm)

Giesemann – SCORE: 24

German engineering and design form a truly quality fixture. The second highest rated in the bunch. One downside worth mentioning though is that Giesemann only offers one LED light fixture – The VerVve. It comes in two versions – one master and one slave. The master includes Bluetooth connectivity for controlling via a smartphone app. 

Lighting

Giesemann has focused a lot of effort on tuning the blues for coral health and use 4 different blue spectrum LEDs – Royal Blue, Deep Blue, Lagoon Blue, and Ultraviolet (not true ultraviolet but near ultraviolet). This gives it a super wide curve in the blue spectrum and approaches the curve of the ATi T5 Blue Plus fluorescent bulb that has solid proven results. There are no lenses on the LEDs which helps with evening out intensity, reducing shadows, improving color blending to reduce the disco ball effect, and reducing shadowing problems. They are also not pushing the LEDs as hard as some of the competitors which means a longer lasting and quieter fixture. All of these benefits come at the expense of high PAR output but PAR is still very acceptable.

Control

Controllability is great thanks to the smartphone app but impressively you can also fully control it via the integrated display controller. You also don’t need to purchase any additional hardware to to connect your smartphone app to the light. It features Bluetooth connectivity built in although it doesn’t have WiFi and can’t be controlled via the Neptune Apex so you’re limited to making adjustments while standing near your aquarium.

Construction & Aesthetics

The VERVvE is a 2-puck design with a gorgeous custom aluminum heatsink that is also it’s entire body. It sports a grand total of 52 LEDs. It uses high quality CREE and SemiLED LEDs as well as the very well respected Mean Well power supply. Did I mention it was German-designed?

Giesemann LED-Only Product Line

VERVvE Plus

Giesemann’s only LED-only light fixture. Uses Bluetooth for connectivity with a smartphone app. It’s not able to be controlled away from your tank but it does have built in controls.

Includes the following modes:

  • Daylight Reef One
  • Daylight Reef Two
  • Lagoon for shallow reef tanks
  • Deep Blue for a darker deep reef look
  • Fish mode for FOWLR (Fish Only With Live Rock)

Coverage: ~80cm(31.5in) x 60cm(24in)

Length – 13.7in.(35cm)
Width – 9.8in.(28cm)
Height – 1.35in.(3.5cm)

VERVvE One

Identical to the VERVvE Plus except it is not controllable beyond the built in controls unless you pair it with a VERVvE Plus which can wirelessly communicate with it. You can have up to 99 VERVvE lights with only one needing to be a VERVvE Plus for control.

Coverage: ~80cm(31.5in) x 60cm(24in)

Length – 13.7in.(35cm)
Width – 9.8in.(28cm)
Height – 1.35in.(3.5cm)

Kessil – SCORE: 26

A top performer and my personal favorite. Kessil is a company owned by a larger lighting company that has been around for decades.

Lighting

They design their own LEDs as opposed to using 3rd party brand LEDs like Cree. Cree LEDs are great but Kessil is able to design a single small lens with 45 LEDs packed tightly underneath it. No one else in the industry is doing this. Because of this, Kessil is the leader in lighting quality. They achieve a level of shimmer the wider spaced LEDs on other fixtures can’t touch.

Control

The Kessil product line offers a variety of products that feature very good control to nonexistent. Only the AP700 has the ability to be controlled via a smartphone app. The next step down are controlled via the Kessil Spectral Controller or a third party device like a Neptune Apex. Next down the list are models only controllable via knobs. And finally models that are simply on/off.

The onboard controls for Kessil lights are typically very simple and consist of a color knob and an intensity knob. What’s brilliant is that Kessil designed the lights to maintain proper spectrum despite your preferred color setting. The simple knob setup and lack of ability to adjust the true spectrum is great for beginners but might be a turn off for some advanced reefers. That said, Kessil offers a great controller at an additional cost. Although unlike some competitors there is no smartphone app or web access. You can connect it to a Neptune Apex controller which in my mind is preferable to having a slew of controllers for all of my reef gadgets.

Construction & Aesthetics

The internal construction is very efficient with ultra quiet fans and super efficient heat sinks. The form factor of a Kessil pendant is also very unique in the industry due to their ability to design and build everything themselves. The fixtures are super sleek, and compact.

Kessil Product Line

H80

The H80 is designed to be a nano tank light for a planted aquarium or a refugium light. It is cooled completely passively which means there’s no fan and no noise.

Despite it’s small size and price point it still has a decent amount of power. Also it is controllable via the Kessil Spectral Controller or a third party controller like the Neptune Apex.

The optional Spectral Controller offers the following Modes:

  • Quick Set for Dawn/Daylight/Dusk
  • Acclimation

Coverage: Up to 24″ surface diameter

Diameter – 4.88″
Height – 0.98″

A80

The A80 is designed to be a nano tank light and is able to support small corals. It is cooled completely passively which means there’s no fan and no noise.

Despite it’s small size and price point it still has a decent amount of power. Also it is controllable via the Kessil Spectral Controller or a third party controller like the Neptune Apex.

The optional Spectral Controller offers the following Modes:

  • Quick Set for Dawn/Daylight/Dusk
  • Acclimation

Coverage: Up to 24″ surface diameter

Diameter – 4.88″
Height – 0.98″

A160WE

The A160W is a nano aquarium light similar to the A80 but is more powerful for supporting more demanding corals.

The optional Spectral Controller offers the following Modes:

  • Quick Set for Dawn/Daylight/Dusk
  • Acclimation

Coverage: Up to 24″ surface diameter

Diameter – 4″
Height – 2.48″

Kessil A360

A360NE
Narrow Pattern

A360WE
Wide Pattern

A360-E (Narrow & Wide)

The A360-E models are nearly identical to the A350s but with the following differences:

  • 15% more intensity (Hence the “E” designation)
  • Light spectrum and intensity is tunable while maintaining consistent output
  • Is able to be controlled via a reef controller like the Neptune Apex or the Kessil Spectral Controller

The optional Spectral Controller offers the following Modes:

  • Quick Set for Dawn/Daylight/Dusk
  • Acclimation

Coverage
A360-WE (Wide):
Up to 24″ surface diameter
A360-NE (Narrow): Up to 18″ surface diameter

Dimensions
A360-WE (Wide):
3.6″ x 4″ (Length x Diameter)
A360-NE (Narrow): 4.5″ x 4″ (Length x Diameter)

AP700

The AP700 is the first panel LED light from Kessil. Many have complained about the cost but I think it’s important to note that the size of the LED matrix in each of the 2 pucks is much larger than their other models. It also comes with the ability to be controlled via a smartphone app unlike the other Kessil models. It also can be controlled via a controller like the Neptune Apex. It is still an expensive product all things considered.

The optional Spectral Controller offers the following Modes:

  • Quick Set for Dawn/Daylight/Dusk
  • Acclimation

Coverage
For a Mixed reef:
 48″x24″ hanging 15″-18″ above water surface.
For an SPS dominant: 36″x24″ hanging 5″-7″ above water surface.

Length – 20in.(51cm)
Width – 6.4in.(16cm)
Height – 1.5in.(4cm)

Maxspect – SCORE: 25

This review is limited to the Ethereal and the overall score is specific to this model alone. There is a new iteration of the Razor line being released very soon and not all the new specs are known. What I can say is that it looks like a HUGE step forward for the Razors. It will be Neptune Apex ready! I will be controllable via the Maxspect ICV6 Controller which supports a smartphone app. The LED pucks have been upgraded. There will be 4 channels of controllable LEDs instead of just 2. Exciting stuff.

The Ethereal is a relatively new offering from Maxspect but is very impressive and a premium product when compared to the Razor line of old. It is very well thought out and is better built. It isn’t a cheap light. To control it you need the ICV6 Controller Maxspect offers. It’s a fairly square fixture with a max 30″ square coverage area with 24″ being more ideal. If your tank size fits well with the Ethereal it would be a really stellar light system for your aquarium. The light spectrum is optimized well for corals and a lot of effort has been put into color blending and spread. It produces good and even light. Unfortunately it’s not Neptune Apex compatible but the ICV6 controller can do the job nicely If you purchase other Maxspect products, like their really awesome Gyre pumps, you’ll be able to use the controller with those as well.

NOTE: The ICV6 controller is REQUIRED for this fixture to work.

Lighting

Very different lighting design which gives more smooth and higher quality light.

Control

Controllable via the REQUIRED ICV6 controller. Does not support third party controllers like the Neptune Apex.

Construction & Aesthetics

What a stunner! Probably the best looking light by any of the manufacturers listed. The solid metal plates sandwiching the fan provide excellent passive cooling which reduces the need for the fan to run.

Maxspect Product Line

Ethereal 130 Watt

A large multi-mini-puck light

Built-in Modes:

  • Color Spectrum
  • Photo Period

Coverage: Up to 24″ x 24″

Length – 9.5in
Width – 11.8in
Height – 1.3in

Wrapping Up

For me personally, the Kessil line of light fixtures is the best fit. The things I value like light quality and controllability via a reef controller are huge for me. I’m not terribly worried so much about upgradeability or parts availability since I tend to geek out on these lights and if I have a problem with a light sometime down the line it’s an excuse to get a new toy. Given that Kessil is the weak in the upgradeability just doesn’t matter to me. You may be similarly swayed by your own preferences for a different brand.

All of these LED Reef Lighting Brands manufacture incredible quality products. You won’t go wrong with any of them. Your personal preference is really what will dictate what light is best and not me. My goal was to provide you with all the info you needed on these lights and I hope I’ve done so. Good luck and happy reefing.

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