Best LED Aquarium Lighting

Choosing LED aquarium lights over older methods of lighting brings a lot of benefits to the table. Combined with the constantly shrinking price, picking the best LED aquarium lighting of 2016 is now a priority for aquarists across the globe.

Only a few years ago even the best LED aquarium lighting fixtures were far from affordable and did not possess the strength/reliability they do today. Because of this many view LED aquarium lights as an expensive luxury well out of their reach when in reality the cost is actually lower than most other forms of lighting in the long run.


Galaxyhydro Dimmable Full Spectrum LED Aquarium Light

Current USA Orbit Marine Aquarium LED Light

Marineland Reef LED Light Strip
Light Strength: 10/10 Light Strength: 8/10 Light Strength: 9/10
Price:$$ Price:$$$ Price:$
Warranty: 1 Year Warranty: 1 Year Warranty: 1 Year
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Advantages Of LED Aquarium Lighting

When you choose an older light set up of bulbs or metal halide lighting it’s typically because of the lower cost. However only a few months after buying these pieces of equipment do you run into trouble. Replacing light bulbs can cost a fortune where as metal halide lights create dangerous amounts of heat and often require chillers to be run along side them.

With LED lighting there are few if any maintenance needs. In fact most LED aquarium lights have a shockingly long life time.

Here’s brief rundown of the advantages LED lights:

  • Exceedingly long lifetime, often over 5 years
  • No need to constantly buy bulbs
  • Low heat levels
  • Powerful light strength
  • Amazing cost over time

The cost over time is something I would like to highlight. When compared side by side many owners pick fluorescent lighting, as they see the hood and bulb cost 80% of what the LED aquarium light does. After just one year they will end up buying enough bulbs to even out the cost of the lights. Over five years, if the fluorescent hood even lasts that long, the LED will cost almost half as much as the fluorescent setups do.

The same can be said for metal halide lighting, as their bulbs will need to be replace two to four times a year. Combine that with the insane amount of watts used by metal halide and you have yourself one powerful money sink.

Simply put there is a minor barrier to entry in aquarium lighting. Those who can spend a little bit more will save hundreds down the line while those who choose to buy fluorescent or metal halide will be shooting themselves in the foot.

Finding The Best LED Aquarium Lighting

Sadly everything in life today has been over marketed. along every product is an asterisk that tries to hide some crucial fact to sell horrible products. The world of aquatics is no difference. You need only to hear a few heater or power head horror stories to know this. So what exactly makes the best LED aquarium lighting? Adding to our previous list we have:

  • Confirmed Light Strengths
  • Reasonable Price
  • Warranty
  • Customer Service
  • Proven Results

The last of the list may seem a bit cold hearted, as this means we rely on others to find the faulty items for us. Nevertheless if we did not learn from their experience we would only suffer from low quality equipment.

Customer service and warranty are both crucial as a standard 5 year lifetime means nothing if your lights arrive broken. Typically when the customer service is decent they will also give very specific light strengths so that those with corals and high light demanding plants can always make the right choice.

Finally we need a reasonable price. I doubt there is an item in the world that couldn’t be made better if the price tag was raised a hundred bucks. For lighting we just need light, not a hologram projector or built in radio. This doesn’t mean you can get the best light for under $20 but there are some great fixtures for less than most people think.

Galaxyhydro Dimmable Full Spectrum LED Aquarium Light


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Dimensions Watts LEDs
15.8″ x 8.4″ x 2.4″ 165 28 Cool white, warm white, red 660nm, green 520nm
27 Blue 460nm, purple 410nm, royal blue
55 LEDs Total

Kicking things off with a dazzlingly strong LED aquarium light, the Galaxyhydro is an absolutely top of the line choice.

Features

First off let’s talk about the case itself. At a glance the case make look like your run of the mill cheap plastic casing. This couldn’t be much further from the truth. Whether it’s for aesthetics or cost the case simply looks plastic, but in fact is actually made of a durable sheet metal. This gives the light a bit more weight but also prevents any melting or burning worries owners may have. Additionally it helps for the clumsy owners such as myself.

This light comes with a lot of value tucked into its frame. Located atop the case are the dual ventilation fans that rid the light of any excess heat. This prevents the light from over heating and extends the lifetime of both the fixture and LED bulbs.

The lens themselves have been made from a high quality acrylic that allow for more light production than standard glass.

Next to the fans are the lights power switches and controls. Both the blue and white lights have their own individual settings that can be adjusted using the knobs on the back. By lowering the lights strength we can simulate a more realistic morning and night time environment for our fish, save on power or even turn down the lights if they surpass our expectations. Sounds silly but the number of people who run these at just under 40% is astounding. After you fiddle with the light strength awhile you’ll easily find the best settings for your tank. Just keep an eye on your fish for panicked swimming, plants for light burning and corals retracting.

Finally the fixture comes with its very own hanging hooks included. These are specially designed to fit with the light and hold them securely in place. If you really wanted to you could create your own legs and mount this directly over the tank, but hanging the fixture is far more practical. My recommendation is to keep the light between 6-12 inches above the water.

Light Strength & Distribution

This is the hard hitting section of lights. Does it provide the light we need and if so how is it spread? For this light the short answer is yes and narrow.

Even when used in combination with deep tanks the Galaxyhydro LED Aquarium Light can provide both SPS and LPS corals with plenty of light. In fact if you visit your local fish store it is likely they have these lights hanging above their own coral tanks. My LFS has recently upgraded to a larger building and added these lights to each of the coral tanks. As they have been selling corals for over 15 years it gave me quite the confidence boost for my own fixtures.

The thing that new owners need to learn about is light distribution. On this particular fixture the light has a spread of about 120 degrees. While that may sound huge it actually doesn’t allow the light to spread too far without suspending it quite high. For tanks like a 30 long this may not be an issue but much more than that and you will need multiple lights to avoid the darkness.

Lifetime & Warranty

On average most aquariums are supposed to receive 8-10 hours of light. More realistically we have our lights on say 12 hours a day. The Galaxyhydro lives a well established 30,000 hours on average with a one year warranty. 30,000 hours/12 hours/365 days a year gives us an average of 6.85 years. One heck of a life time for such strong lights.

If you use a timer and actually follow the 8 hours a day you’re looking at 10.27 years. This makes the light cost around $10 a year. Fluorescent bulbs alone already cost more than that and are replaced 2-6 times a year. So does the buy in for this light far outweigh saving on a cheaper light fixture? Absolutely.

Customer Service

The sellers of the Galaxyhydro offer some of the best customer service available. Simply inform them of your problem and they will often fix it free of charge. Honestly unless you tell them you smashed your light with a baseball bat I doubt they would refuse you. The people who respond are very friendly and patient. More surprisingly they actually know a fair bit of aquarist jargon which makes describing the problems even easier. Combining all these factors easily rates this as one of the best LED aquarium lighting fixtures

Current USA Orbit Marine Aquarium LED Light


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Size Dimensions Watts LEDs
18″-24″ 16.8 x 3.5 x 0.44 18 Watts 72 LEDs, 36 Dual Daylight/36 Dual Actinic LEDs
24″-36″ 22.8 x 3.5 x 0.44 23 Watts 98 LEDs, 48 Dual Daylight/48 Dual Actinic LED
36″-48″ 34.8 x 3.5 x 0.44 36 Watts 144 LEDs, 72 Dual Daylight/72 Dual Actinic LEDs
48″-60″ 46.8 x 3.5 x 0.44 46 Watts 192 LEDs, 96 Dual Daylight/96 Dual Actinic LEDs

After a suspended LED aquarium light I figured it’s time to bring in a more introductory version. The Current USA LED aquarium light rests on top of the aquarium and comes with all sorts of features, including an advanced timer complete with remote control.

Features

First of all the legs on the Current USA can change sizes. This takes the “I hope they fit” questions out of the equation. Once you have them at the right length they stay in place.

As for the casing of the Current USA LED aquarium light it is made of a solid aluminum housing that gives a sleek and modern look to the light strip.

The box and remote seen in front of the light is actually a controller for the light. This allows for a great amount of flexibility with your lights. In fact I have previously written on how to use the timer in great detail. Essentially it will allow you to set full, specific, day long light cycles as well as control both the blue and white lighting elements separately. Honestly it is the best timer on the market, so coming with the light is an enormous benefit.

Using the remote you can control your light from a distance at the push of a button. This may sound lazy but after using a touch sensor light for a few years the buttons are a welcome gift.

The controller allows for four different light cycles, each of which can be fully customized and saved into the controllers memory. The lights intensity can be set from anywhere between 0-100% intensity.

The one big downside here is that you cannot lose the remote. If you do it becomes impossible to do anything with the light. The remote is pretty big and hard to lose imo but still be extra sure to not lose it too badly. Still if you have it set to a normal day cycle when you lose the remote the light works just fine.

Light Strength & Distribution

As for the light strength the Current USA is fairly strong. It combines both 12,000k white lights with 460nm actinic blue lights to cover the needs of almost any coral. It will easily grow any soft corals or highly placed high light demanding corals. If you are going to be growing plants rather than corals this light will easily cover all of your needs.

A general rule to follow when growing more demanding coral is to allow 1 watt per gallon. The Current USA runs at 46 watts, allowing one light to be strong enough for 45 gallon tanks. Any larger and you will need multiple light strips. Remember if you use multiple light strips to add them gradually. One light unit a week. Too many new lights at the same time will stress the inhabitants.

If you would like an example of the lights strength I can personally tell you it is strong enough to keep bubble tip anemones and hammer corals quite happy. My clown fish got over the hammer coral making me get the anemone but the light was able to support it. No harm no foul you crazy clowns.

If you wish to use this light to grow corals of higher demand it can be done. As many growing aquarists learn this is done by using multiple light strips. The deeper your tank the more light strips you will need. If your tank is over 18″ deep you will likely need a second to grow any corals sitting at the bottom. This of course can be countered by placing the coral much higher in the tank. An easy way to do this is to use your rocks to build a formation and allowing a large rock to rest upon the top. This lets your corals be much closer to the light without making the tank have any unnatural elements.

Overall I wouldn’t recommend light this for coral enthusiasts but if you plan on a fish only with live rock set up or low light demanding corals the Current USA LED aquarium light has you covered and then some.

As for the distribution, the Current USA light is able to bring light to the entire length of the tank. That being said the light is fairly thin, coming in at 3.5 inches wide with a 120 degree spread. If you own a wide tank you may benefit from a second light. Alternatively you can use this to your advantage for aesthetics. Putting the light more forward on wide tanks lets the back of the tank become shadowed, creating a deep ocean vibe. It also gives more skittish fish a place to hide.

Lifetime & Warranty

The standard warranty that comes along with the Current USA LED aquarium light lasts for one year. The lifetime of the light itself is around two to three years. This may seem a bit short, however when you subtract the cost the controller brings along with it the complete system is actually fairly cheap. Buying a timer separately, even avoiding such high tech ones like this, will cost between $40-60.

One special note I have about the warranty is this. They do not cover water damage. Odd for a piece of aquarium equipment but none the less be sure your light is not able to fall into the tank. Typically I use glass covers so this cannot happen but many owners will leave their tanks 100% uncovered. If you do this please fasten your light and give it some bump tests to ensure it cannot fall.

Customer Service

The customer service here is very hit or miss. If you call in and get someone who cannot understand your problem or only offers to sell you new items it is actually best to hang up and call again.

All in all I’d say you have a two out of three chance to get someone actually helpful. If you don’t just try again no matter what they tell you on the phone. Some of these assistants are merely trying to reduce their overall call time which is why they don’t go into detail. Thankfully the majority of them will actually try to help you as that is the fastest way to solve any customers problem.

Marineland Reef LED Light Strip


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Size Watts LEDs
18″-24″ 21 Watts 21 LEDs, 18 Daylight 14,000k LEDs/3 Lunar 460nm LEDs
24″-36″ 27 Watts 27 LEDs, 23 Daylight 14,000k LEDs/4 Lunar 460nm LEDs
36″-48″ 42 Watts 42 LEDs, 36 Daylight 14,000k LEDs/6 Lunar 460nm LEDs
48″-60″ 54 Watts 54 LEDs, 46 Daylight 14,000k LEDs/8 Lunar 460nm LEDs

A solid pick from a well known company, the Marineland Reef LED aquarium light strip brings a lot of light strength to the table at a great price.

Features

This is one of the newer versions of the Marineland LED lighting. As such it has brought a lot of new features along.

First off Marineland has actually increased the units light strength by 20% over the previous model. I’ll discuss this more in depth later but simply stated it now brings 14,000k light strength per strip.

Additionally Marineland has built a timer into the light strip itself. This allows you to create your own day cycle without any additional programming. For those setting up reef aquarium LED lighting systems this is a god send for multiple reasons. The first is that you can adjust each light strip individually, allowing you to dim the lights in one section at a time. This is ideal for simulating the end of a day and slowly shutting off the lights. No more sudden darkness shocks.

The second reason a built in timer is so beneficial is that it needs no additional outlet. I don’t know about your specific tank But mine always takes more than a single power strip to plug in every piece of equipment. Not having to add on multiple light controllers really helps me out here.

Lastly the use of any timer at all is a tremendous benefit to aquariums. When the lights are not automated it is likely they will be one for a few more hours each day or even forgotten some days. My poor ten gallon had to suffer one or two light-less days a week until i buckled and bought a timer. Too bad that light hadn’t come with a timer like this one does.

Moving away from the timer and onto the next feature we have the lights adjustable legs. As with the Current USA this light strip has legs that can be set to fit your aquariums length perfectly.

The last feature I would like to mention is the power efficient design on this light. The previous model of this light generated a bit of heat. Nothing too bad but still not what a light is meant to do. With the newer edition almost all the energy is directed straight into the lights, creating a savings in electricity of almost $50 a year once mine was replaced. That alone paid the light off itself in the two years. Needless to say its efficiency will actually pay me back over an even longer stretch of time.

Light Strength & Distribution

As previously stated the Marineland LED aquarium light fixture brings in a nice 14,000k lighting temperature. This combined with the Lunar 460NM lamps provide a full spectrum of light to please any and all corals.

A quick warning here is actually not an expected one. Despite coming fully equipped with a built in timer, the light actually cannot be dimmed down in strength. This means more shallow tanks with low light demanding corals such as mushrooms may need to look elsewhere.

If your tank is of varying height, basically all non breeder tanks, than even low light demanding corals can be happy when placed near the bottom of the aquarium.

The spread of this light is a bit more generous than the Current USA light strip. Even so if your tank is over 18 inches wide you will need a second light. When raising high light demanding corals I would still place the corals near the top of the tank. While the light does reach to the bottom of the tank with ease, more light is always better for many corals and putting it closer to the light is the easiest way to achieve this.

Lifetime & Warranty

The model is fairly new so the lifetime has to be extrapolated from older models. Given that they would often last for over 5 years and the company themselves claim a 10 year lifetime, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the most cost efficient LED aquarium lighting available.

The warranty offered for this tank is one year, however the company is well known for supporting its customers well after the warranty has ended. Many owners even report being given two to four free repairs with multiple being after the warranty has ended. Frankly this is the benefit that more established names often bring, and Marineland is no exception.

Customer Service

While my lights themselves have not broken down yet, I have had a Marineland product fail before. After calling them they agreed to a free repair after I sent in the item. Two weeks later I had a brand new piece of equipment that I couldn’t even remember the name to. They were just kind enough to find that out for me and fix it themselves. Since then I have always logged what equipment I have and the purchase information, but helping me when I was very new to the hobby has put Marineland on my most trusted aquarium parts manufacturers.

Because my own account is not really enough to solidify their good customer service I’ve done some research on several of their products. This is indeed the norm from the company and they are always happy to help you. Simply call them or even post a comment on their website and you should be helped quite promptly.

Looking for more aquarium lighting? Check out our guide on the best freshwater aquarium lighting.

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