The best aquarium wave maker isn’t one that simply makes waves. The point of a good wave maker is to stir up debris in the tank. Wave-like flow allows the debris to get dislodged from corals and avoid dead spots where debris can collect. Constant flow on a coral can stress it. Varying the flow increases the health of the corals.
What Is Flow?
Flow is simply the amount of water cycling around in your aquarium. This isn’t to be confused with turnover. Turnover is number of times the water in your aquarium is cycled from your display tank to your sump and back again. Your return pump is what handles turnover. Powerheads or circulation pumps are responsible for flow. Your return pump does create flow but you’ll need more to get the amount of flow you need. Flow in your aquarium should be 20x to 40x the volume of your display tank. 40x if you have SPS corals and 20x for LPS and softies.
Flow is essential for getting water into your live rock. Live Rock is where the good bacteria in your aquarium lives. The good bacteria breaks down the waste produced by your fish and uneaten food. Ammonia breaks down into nitrite. That is then broken down into nitrate. Nitrate is broken down into nitrogen gas which bubbles out of your aquarium harmlessly. Higher flow is necessary for the health of SPS corals. LPS and softies need lower flow for their more delicate structures.
Constant flow is typically sufficient but it’s not ideal. A strong current continuously blasting away at your corals can stress them out, cause damage, or even kill them. Varied flow is best because it gives your corals a break. It’s also good because it helps stir up waste so that it can be cycled through to the sump. Good varied flow will also help dislodge debris that can get caught in corals. This is how a real reef works. The closer we can get our tanks to a true reef environment the happier our fish and corals will be.
Wave makers are basically just controllers that are programmed to vary the output of your powerheads. The simplest of wave makers just turn your pumps on and off in a pulsing fashion. This will get the job done but can be hard on the powerheads and shorten their lifespan. The better wave maker systems can ramp up and down the volume of flow. This avoids the harsh and abrupt on/off cycling of your powerheads. The best aquarium wave maker is one of this type. It also can be programmed to create a wide variety of flow patterns.
Wave makers can be programmed to make an actual wave in your tank but that’s more for show than anything. Varied flow with turbulence produced by intersecting flow patterns from multiple powerheads is ideal. A great varied flow pattern would be to aim 2 powerheads at each other and ramp one up while ramping the other one down. Once one reaches 100% the other should be at 0%. Then reverse the process. This causes the turbulence intersection to pan back and forth across the aquarium. This way all parts of the tank should get very good flow.
AC powerheads run on standard current from a wall outlet and require no power brick to convert the power. They are technically more efficient because of this but they are not able to be adjusted in speed. When on they run at 100% of their capacity. They can be used for wave making but they have to be toggled on and off to do so. This process of frequently turning on and off of the powerhead can be quite harsh and shorten the life of the powerhead. It’s suggested that you try to purchase a more robust quality powerhead and try to use longer wave cycles to cut down on wear and tear.
DC powerheads require a power brick to convert the AC power to DC. These powerheads can be adjusted from 0% to 100% of their capacity and usually come packaged with a controller. The controllers vary widely in their abilities from manufacturer to manufacturer. The better controllers allow you to control multiple powerheads and create all the wave patterns that you would need.
Third party controllers can also provide features and flexibility that the manufacturers controller can’t. Reef controllers are usually the most ideal solution since they can be used to sync wave making with other equipment and parameters of your aquarium. They also usually have very good reporting features that can alert you to issues.
There are a huge range of AC powerheads available on the market today. This list is of the best of the best. No cheap knockoffs or bargain powerheads with unknown reliability.
AC powerheads are the majority of the market for cost reasons. Adjustable DC powerheads can be pretty pricey. Also, a good a quality AC powerhead setup can get the job done extremely well.
The Tunze Turbelle Powerheads are excellent for several reasons. First, their compact size is ideal for being less noticeable in your tank. Also, they are extremely powerful for their size. In addition to this, their ability to be positioned easily to direct flow is excellent.
Tunze quality and durability leads the pack amongst powerheads. Online reviews of the Tunze powerhead line as well as Amazon reviews and other online shop reviews generally glow about their previous experience with Tunze and their satisfaction with the product. Another huge plus for Tunze is their customer support. They are very good about addressing concerns promptly and effectively.
Recommended Tank Size
Turbelle Nanostream 6015
Turbelle Nanostream 6020
2.6 x 2.4 x 2.8 in.
Turbelle Nanostream 6025
Turbelle Nanostream 6045
Turbelle Stream 6065
Turbelle Stream 6085
Turbelle Stream 6125
Hydor makes an excellent powerhead and the Koralia line is no exception. The Evolution is a little bit large for it’s output. Also, it doesn’t quite have the range of directional adjustability of its competitors. It is decently adjustable though to direct flow where you need. The biggest differentiator for the Hydor Koralia though is it’s low cost.
Koralia Nano 240
2″ x 3-3/4″
Koralia Nano 425
Koralia Nano 565
Koralia Evolution 600
5.5” x 2.75” x 2.75”
Koralia Evolution 850
Koralia Evolution 1150
Koralia Evolution 1500
Koralia Magnum 1650
6.5” x 4” x 4”
Koralia Magnum 2200
Koralia Magnum 3250
Koralia Gen 3 1350
*Wide Flow Pattern
4.5” x 3” x 3.25”
Koralia Gen 3 1950
Koralia Gen 3 2450
Sicce is an Italian pump manufacturer and known for quality and reliability. The Voyager powerhead is quite large for its output. The great thing about the Voyager line is it’s built like a tank for dealing with the harsh on/off cycling of a wave maker controller. If you’re going to go with a solution that simply turns on and off the pumps to create varied flow patterns these pumps would be an excellent choice.
265 to 607 gph
*360 Degree Rotating Head
< 15 Gal
5.95” x 3.2” x 3.05”
Voyager HP 2800
Voyager HP 3200
Voyager HP 3600
Voyager HP 4000
The XStream line of pumps by Sicce are incredibly tiny for their output. This is obviously great for hiding the powerheads in your aquarium. Unfortunately you’ll pay significantly more for the tiny XStream compared to most other powerheads with similar output.
Up to 70 Gal
Up to 90 Gal
Up to 120 Gal
Up to 150 Gal
There are a huge range of DC powerheads available on the market today. This list is of the best of the best. No cheap knockoffs or bargain powerheads with unknown reliability.
If you have the cash to spend DC powerheads can’t be beat for configurability. They make it much easier to ensure that flow stirs up debris in every nook and cranny of your aquarium.
The Electronic is a big step up from the normal Turbelle Stream & Nanostream powerhead. This is a controllable powerhead and comes with its own controller. You can also chain together multiple Nanostreams and have them work in sync, opposite, or varied cycles to create many different types of flow patterns.
These 3 optional controllers are designed to specifically work with Tunze Electronic powerheads. The Tunze Multicontroller 7095 is a more advanced and flexible version of the controller that comes with the Tunze Turbelle Stream & Nanostream Electronic powerheads. It is able to control up to 8 Turbelle pumps. The 7095 also comes with a moonlight LED for simulating lunar cycles. The 7096 is similar to the 7095 but offers a USB port for connecting to a computer to configure the flow patterns as opposed to the more cumbersome knobs on the 7095. The 7097 is even more advanced than the 7096 and comes with more options. It has the ability to control Tunze LED lights and can control switchable outlets. Unfortunately it is only capable of controlling up to 6 powerheads.
Turbelle Nanostream 6040
up to 800 Gal
Ecotech is a high end manufacturer of aquarium products and the Vortech line of powerheads has a strong following. Vortech powerheads have a unique design that keeps the motor outside of the tank. It does this by driving the impeller via magnets. The motor sticks to the side of the aquarium and the impeller is magnetically coupled to the motor through the glass. It’s excellent to have less electronics in your aquarium. You also have a much lower profile inside the aquarium to detract from the fish and corals. The downside of this design is that you loose the ability to aim the powerhead aside from where you physically place it. Aside from the power cable running to each pump, there are no other wires necessary for controlling them since they communicate wirelessly with their controller.
*NO Wireless Functionality
They Gyre is a completely different approach to powerheads. It uses a linear impeller which has a lot more surface area than a typical circular impeller. This means it is able to produce a huge amount of flow for its size. The unique design of the Gyre allows it to be placed very close to the water surface and not suck in air. It is also very low profile which is a huge plus. I am strongly considering buying a Gyre for my next aquarium setup. Early models suffered from spotty quality but they appear to have that sorted out much more now.
10” × 2.95” × 1.57”
11.8” × 2.9” × 2.4”
14.8” × 3.8” × 2”
The best aquarium wave maker controller is the Neptune Apex. This is actually a full aquarium controller but that’s what makes it the best. The ability to control your powerheads in sync with not just other powerheads but with all other aspects of your tank is huge. Not to mention the alert features. It’s pretty expensive but it just can’t be matched in it’s expandability. It’s online interface is a breeze to use and the Neptune Apex community has loads of configurations and suggestions to draw on. The strong runner up is the Digital Aquatics ReefKeeper. It’s a great controller at a much more reasonable price point. Just make sure it supports the products you have or intend to run with it.
The Wave Surfer is a great wave maker but is a simple on/off controller. It doesn’t allow you to ramp up or down the flow of individual pumps. You can set timers for each pump though. The controllability for setting the timers is fairly limited but if you’re looking to get a wave maker system up and going on a budget this is a good option. It isn’t limited to Sicce brand powerheads and can be used with any AC (On/Off Only) powerheads from any manufacturer.
Hydor’s Koralia Smart Wave wave maker controller is very similar to the Sicce Wave Surfer. It is a simple on/off controller that allows you some basic abilities to set alternating timers for the pumps. This is another great budget wave make controller. Also like the Wave Surfer, this wave maker will work with an AC wave maker from any manufacturer.
The Digital Aquatics ReefKeeper Elite or Lite would be a very wise option to consider versus spending a lot of money on a controller that only controls a single product or only products from one manufacturer. The ReefKeeper Lite is very reasonably priced and can do a lot of very powerful things like monitor your temperature, monitor your salinity, and alert you to problems. I can do this in addition to being a wave maker controller. It doesn’t support the ability to control all powerheads out there so before purchasing this controller make sure it will work with your powerheads.
If cost is no object then the Neptune Apex is without a doubt the best aquarium wave maker controller. It’s able to control all of the powerheads in this review. It also has a huge amount of add ons to monitor many aspects of your tank and automate an amazing number of tasks. What may be the most compelling selling point to the Apex is the huge following and community that uses it. They share all kinds of helpful tips, tricks, and solutions to make your life easier.
The overall setup that leads the pack is the Neptune Apex controlling 2 Maxspect Gyres. Tunze Turbelle Stream/Nanostream Electronic powerheads or Ecotech Vortech powerheads will perform just as well but may be a little more conspicuous in your aquarium compared to the Gyre. You can opt to skip the Neptune Apex and just go with any of the DC powerheads and use their supplied controller for stellar results as well. This could be a great route to go if you’re building your system and plan to pick up a Neptune Apex or Digital Aquatics ReefKeeper later. If you’re looking for a more budget friendly option the Hydor Koralia Evolution Powerheads and Koralia Smart Wave are a solid performer and much better than just plugging in some powerheads that never vary in flow at all. At the price point it’s an amazing value.
Choose the strength of flow based on your corals needs. Remember 20x display tank flow for softies and LPS. 40x display tank flow for SPS. Good luck and happy reefing.
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