BEST Saltwater Aquarium for Beginners – 3 Budget Rimless Starter Tanks

Saltwater aquariums for beginners should be manageable. Ideally they’ll contain everything or at least almost everything you’ll need in a starter tank. In this review we are going to focus on the best rimless aquariums in the 40-50 gallon range. This is a great size for stability due to the decent amount of water volume. Also, the price point doesn’t start to hit the astronomical territory at this scale. Last, manufacturers are producing some really compelling kits for reefers interested in getting into the hobby.

The BEST Budget Rimless Starter Aquariums

Reef Tank Resource

Approved
SC Aquariums 50 Gallon PNP
  • Starfire Glass
  • Great Reputation
  • Best Value
Top Pick

Reef Tank Resource

Runner Up
Cad Lights Versa 42
  • Starfire Glass
  • Large Sump
  • Good Value

Reef Tank Resource

Also Good
JBJ Rimless 45 Gallon
  • Seamless Corners
  • Includes 2 Pumps
  • Popular Option

SCA 50 Gallon PNP

CAD Lights Versa 42

JBJ Rimless 45

Total Water Volume

68 Gallons

57 Gallons

45 Gallons

Dimensions

24” x 24” x 20”

30” x 18” x 18”

26.5” x 21” x 19”

Stand Included

Glass Thickness

10mm

10mm

8mm

Starfire Glass

External Sump

Return Pump Included

Protein Skimmer Included

Light Included

Heater Included

Overall Value

5

4.5

4

Saltwater Aquariums for Beginners

First, since we’re talking about beginner aquariums, let’s cover some things to consider before taking the plunge.

  • Where will you put your new starter tank?
  • What fish and corals will you be keeping?
  • Think about adding a cleanup crew after the tank is established.
  • Next, Consider the things that won’t come with your aquarium like:
  • Most of all, find a local fish store for help in a pinch and for purchasing ready-made saltwater and RO water.

Traditional vs. Rimless Aquariums

Rimless aquariums have become more popular than traditional braced aquariums due to the more clean and modern look that the lack of plastic trim and bracing around of the aquarium top gives. We all remember the faux wood plastic that used to trim the bottom and top of almost every 55 gallon tank. Welcome to a brave new world of modern tank design. Saltwater aquariums for beginners don’t have to look like a starter tank.

Although they are not braced traditionally, rimless aquariums are engineered to be more than capable of handling the water volume they’re designed to hold. You can go either glass or acrylic as well. Glass is stronger and will allow for thinner walls but acrylic can allow more creativity.

Pros of a Rimless Starter Tank

It’s all about the look. Rimless aquariums are really quite stunning. They get out of the way and allow the tank environment to take center stage. There is no lid or canopy. This adds to the openness of a rimless tank. A lighting system either clips to the glass or hangs from the ceiling.

Cons of a Rimless Starter Tank

  • Increased evaporation due to the open top
  • Salt creep from the evaporation
  • Increased expense for the tank itself
  • Snails may crawl out
  • Some more active fish may end up jumping out

Top Pick

SC Aquariums 50 Gallon PNP

Saltwater Aquariums for Beginners

Reef Tank Resource

Approved
SC Aquariums 50 Gallon PNP
  • Starfire Glass
  • Great Reputation
  • Best Value
Top Pick

Review

First, of the 3 reviewed aquariums the SC Aquariums 50 Gallon PNP one is the largest. It includes a good size sump in the stand which really increases water volume and adds stability. Saltwater aquariums for beginners benefit from more water volume.

Also, this aquarium comes with almost everything you’ll need. It includes a sump, protein skimmer, and return pump, as well as the stand. The minimum you will need to get going is a light and heater.

Having a protein skimmer included is a real cost savings for a new reefer. While not absolutely necessary, I would suggest all beginners have one. They do a great job at removing biological matter prior to it breaking down into harmful nitrates and phosphates.

Another nice detail is the overflow tower location. It is located in the center of the back of the aquarium. This design means that viewing from one side or the other won’t be blocked by an overflow in the corner. The plumbing for the overflow includes a Durso-style standpipe for silent draining to the sump. The tank also has filter pads and bio media for use in the sump.

For some detailed pics and more info check out mr70ss’s post on Reef2Reef.

This is the most complete option of the bunch. It also has the largest water volume and currently the cheapest price at $695 as of 10/20/2017 3:22pm Eastern.

Tank Features

  • Dimensions – 24″W x 24″L x 20″H
  • Glass Thickness – 10mm
  • Starfire Glass (Low Iron Glass for increased clarity – No Green Tint)

Additional Equipment Included

  • Glass Sump (3 Chamber)
  • Protein Skimmer – SCA-301 65 Gallon skimmer with PH1100 needle wheel pump
  • Return Pump – PH2500
  • MDF Stand

Runner Up

CAD Lights 42 Gallon Versa

Saltwater Aquariums for Beginners

Reef Tank Resource

Runner Up
Cad Lights Versa 42
  • Starfire Glass
  • Large Sump
  • Good Value

Review

Second, the CAD Lights 42 isn’t quite a cube tank but it is very similar to it’s competitors. It features Starfire glass, an overflow tower, and a nice stand. The added width of the stand will help a bit with accessibility beneath the aquarium. It isn’t as large as the SC Aquariums tank but it does come with a nice sump.

The overflow tower is in the left corner which isn’t a deal breaker. Especially if you intend to put this aquarium in a corner where the left side faces a wall. It does come with a Durso standpipe for silent drain to the sump.

Included equipment is slim compared to the SC Aquariums model. No protein skimmer is included nor is there any filter pads or media. It does come with a return pump however. A protein skimmer is going to another $100 or more.

It does come with a glass lid which can significantly help with evaporation however you may find that this cover may not look as nice as a truly open top rimless aquarium. It will also generate a little salt creep around the edges.

The CAD Lights 42 is the smallest of the group but it does have a 16 gallon sump which pushes the total water volume past that of the JBJ. It is also the most expensive of the group currently and is listed at  $729.99. Remember to check prices as they change from time to time.

Tank Features

  • Dimensions – 30″W x 18″L x 18″H
  • Glass Thickness – 10mm
  • Starfire Glass (Low Iron Glass for increased clarity – No Green Tint)

Additional Equipment Included

  • Glass Sump (3 Chamber)
  • 500 GPH Return Pump
  • MDF Stand

Also Good

JBJ Rimless 45 Gallon

Saltwater Aquariums for Beginners

Reef Tank Resource

Also Good
JBJ Rimless 45 Gallon
  • Seamless Corners
  • Includes 2 Pumps
  • Popular Option

Third the JBJ 45 Gallon Rimless aquarium is a good alternative to the previous 2 tanks. It does lack in glass thickness and overall water volume. However, it does have the beautiful bent glass corners. The glass isn’t Starfire unfortunately.

There is no sump in the stand. The sump is integrated into the back of the aquarium itself. This has pros and cons. It reduces risks of water overflowing onto the floor due to a plumbing issue. Also, saltwater aquariums for beginners should be easy to work on and having the sump in the back is a lot easier to access. However it comes at the expense of overall water volume and equipment flexibility.

This tank does not come with a protein skimmer but it does come with filter pads and bio media. Protein skimmers aren’t cheap. Your choices will be limited since space is a premium since the sump area is in the back of the tank. Not having filter pads and media shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

Additionally, it comes with 2 return pumps which is very nice. Everything eventually fails and will need to be replaced. By having 2 return pumps you can be a little less panicked when one eventually fails. You’ll at least be able to have the other flowing some water to maintain your aquarium. Be sure and purchase 2 pumps though because the other one is likely going to fail soon since they’re the same age.

The JBJ is currently priced at $699 which is fairly competitive.

Tank Features

  • Dimensions – 26.5″W x 21″L x 19″H
  • Glass Thickness – 8mm

Additional Equipment Included

  • Glass Sump (3 Chamber)
  • 500 GPH Return Pump
  • MDF Stand

Summing up the Best Saltwater Aquarium for Beginners – 3 Budget Rimless Starter Tanks

The SC Aquariums 50 Gallon PNP is the bargain starter tank of the bunch. When it comes to saltwater aquariums for beginners, you couldn’t do much better. The CAD Lights 42 Versa is a good fallback if the SC Aquariums 50 is unavailable. The JBJ Rimless 45 is also a great fallback, especially if you’re looking for a little simpler setup to start off.

I wouldn’t get too hung up on the equipment that comes with these aquariums. It’s great that the SCA 50 Gallon comes with a protein skimmer. It’s a good money saver as nice skimmers will cost well over $100. Most people will upgrade their equipment over time as they find out what works best for them.

There is no reason you need a rimless aquarium. Even though you don’t need one, you know you want one. The clean lines are awesome. The fact that the aquarium itself almost disappears is reason enough.

If you’ve decided to give rimless a go, one of these will be a great fit. These manufacturers also offer various other sizes and shapes if these don’t fit your goals. Good luck and happy reefing!

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