Waterbox Marine AIO 30.2 Plus With LED Lights

Build A 50 Gallon Saltwater Aquarium For $2,750

Updated 2024

Welcome to the $2750 Saltwater Aquarium High Tech Build guide! We’re about to take your saltwater aquarium to a whole new level of beauty and technology. This build is designed to be both stunning and easy to maintain, giving you the freedom to customize it as you wish. And don’t worry, we’ve made this guide as “plug-and-play” as possible, so you won’t be overwhelmed during the setup process! Get ready to dive into a world of high-tech wonders!

Innovative Marine Nuvo EXT 50 Gallon Complete Reef System

High Tech Build Stats:

Size: 50 Gallons

Aquarium Dimensions: 30″ L x 23.6″ W x 16.1″ H

Stand Dimensions:30.12″L x 23.75″W x 35.81″H

Aquarium Bundle

I don’t know when Innovative Marine came out with this, but evidently I’ve been in the dark!  I always considered IM great intro tanks because their AIO design with a rear filtration chamber.

They also had external overflow tanks, but just the tank and the overflow, nothing else, so I could never recommend them to beginners.  But low and behold, look what we have hear!

A 50 gallon tank with APS stand, pre sized hard plumbing, and external overflow, and yes, an acrylic sump!  Mmmmmm, I’m salivating just thinking about this build! And too boot?  When there is a sale, this whole thing is under $2,000!  That crazy talk.

Here’s what this bundle comes with:

  • 50 Gallon EXT Aquarium
  • Black APS Aquarium Stand
  • Reef Filtration Series 22″ Long Acrylic Sump (RFS22)
  • Mighty Jet XL DC Submersible Return Pump w/ Controller
  • Complete Preassembled Plumbing Kit

Some more details on the aquarium:

  • Diamond Edge Polishing
  • Ultra Thick Low Iron Glass
  • Flare Nozzle Loc-Line
  • Bean-Animal Overflow
  • Laser Cut Back Panel
  • Pre-Drilled Holes 
  • External Overflow

And a few more details for the sump:

  • Primary Drain, Secondary Drain, and Emergency Drain design for triple redundancy and safety
  • Laser etched water level indicators (both front and side views)
  • Adjustable baffle wall
  • Vertical heater compartment with cord management
  • Polycarbonate noise-reducing lids
  • Reinforced double-walled acrylic frame construction
  • Includes many bells & whistles– filter media cups, filtration media, drain filter sponge, silencing plates, RODI / dosing line fittings, cord holders, refugium light bracket, etc.

Here are some pics of this beauty


New lights released in 2023, the AquaIllumination Blades have taken off.  They come in a lot of different sizes and in four color configurations.  The best general all around is the Blade Grow.  A mix of blues and whites, specifically designed for coral growth

What’s really handy about the Blade light, is it doesn’t need a mount because it comes with detachable feet that it directly on the rim of your tank.

For this IM 50 gallon tank, the 30″ Blade is the right size, and one will work just fine.  If you want to have anything more than soft and large polyp stony corals, you may want to go with two of these lights.  You could go with one grow and and glow if you like that fluorescent pop of color, or just go with two grow lights.

Filtration and Filter Media

This is our first build list to feature a sump, and that means we can, but don’t need to, up our filtration game.  The nicest things about a sump is it can hide all of that filter gear so you don’t have to stare at it in the rear filtration chamber.  And, there is more space for more filtration.

But, just because you can add more filtration, that doesn’t mean you should.  Over filtering the water is a real problem, and you don’t want to load your new tank up with every type of filter possible.  Go slow, start with the basics, and then add different types of filters only as need be.

This IM bundle comes with two filter media cups and fiber media balls which will work okay to get you started.  Honestly, I’m not much of a fan of filter balls as I just don’t think they catch as much gunk and are a pain to rinse out (well, so are filter socks I guess).  Personally, I prefer filter socks, and this sump can hold up to two 4″ filter socks at once.  That right there is a ton of filtering, and is all I would start with.  

That being said, you will want to pick up at least four filter socks, as you will need to swap them out every 3-4 days.  If you get eight, then you won’t have to wash the socks for two weeks.

I haven’t actually seen the sump in person, but I’m guess the 4″ x 8″ socks will work just fine.

Protein Skimmer

In the past, I would have recommended buying a protein skimmer day 1… but my thoughts have developed and changed on this subject.  Yes, there may come a time where a protein skimmer is the right choice to put in your sump, but that day may never come.

Instead of a skimmer, you may opt for a macroalgae refugium or a turf algae scrubber. Or you may just do larger water changes and keep your water a little “dirtier.”

That all being said, if you do eventually decide to get a protein skimmer, I can only recommend getting one with a DC pump.  AC power protein skimmers just can’t be dialed in like a DC pump, and what is the point of getting a skimmer if it’s not dialed in and working optimally.

There are many good brands out there, but I’ve had success with Royal Octopus and Bubble Magus skimmers.

RO/DI Water Filter

The RO/DI filter is a water filtration unit that transforms tap water into nearly pure water through the process of Reverse Osmosis Deionization. 

While some online hobbyists might emphasize the necessity of an RO/DI filter for any saltwater aquarium, this claim isn’t entirely accurate. Although it offers long-term cost benefits and advantages, there are other simpler options for small and beginner saltwater aquariums.

One option is purchasing pre-made saltwater and purified water from your local fish store. Alternatively, you can use filtered water from a grocery store.

Over the course of a year, a $300 RODI filter will save you hundreds of dollars, so while it may seem a bit steep of a price to pay up front, it pays for itself rather quickly.

Salt Mix

To fully maximize the benefits of your RO/DI filter, it’s essential to pair it with the right salt mix. There’s a variety of salt mixes available, and most of them work well for a saltwater aquarium. Some are more basic, providing the minimum water parameters needed, while others are more advanced with elevated levels and additional additives.

I personall love Tropic Marin Pro Reef Salt.  I use it in all of my tanks at home actually.  It mixes clean and stores long term really well.  And I actually like that it has a lower alkalinity because that means I can dose kalkwasser with no problems thus keeping my pH much higher in the hot desert summers!

Gravel Vacuum / Siphon

Apart from using filters and filtration media, another essential part of aquarium maintenance is water changes. It’s a straightforward process of removing some saltwater from your tank and replacing it with fresh saltwater. During this procedure, you can also use a siphon to “vacuum” and remove any detritus, such as fish waste and leftover food, from the tank.

For this specific aquarium, I’d recommend the 2″ medium or large size.


An essential piece of equipment for your saltwater aquarium is the heater. As mentioned earlier, stability is key to keeping your aquarium inhabitants happy, so a reliable heater is crucial.

Most saltwater aquariums house tropical organisms that thrive in a stable temperature range between 77-78 degrees Fahrenheit. Unless your house maintains that temperature consistently, you’ll need a heater to ensure the well-being of your aquatic friends. On the other hand, if you live in a very hot climate, you might require a fan to cool your aquarium instead.

Sicce has done something ridiculous… A glass controller with a 5-year warranty… that is set via your phone!  A 5-year warranty is unheard of, but if anybody can pull it off it’s Sicce. You’ll need the 200W size for this build, and I always recommend buying two  so if the first one fails, the second one can turn on automatically at 74 degrees and save your tank!


To be honest, my favorite thermometer is actually this one below.  Yep, it’s a waterproof meat thermometer.  It’s so affordable, waterproof, easy to clean, easy to store, and it’s been quite accurate to boot.

Temperature Controller

Maintaining a stable temperature in your saltwater aquarium is crucial, as we previously discussed. Even the most reliable heating equipment can fail, leading to a complete aquarium crash. However, you can avoid such disasters with a simple and affordable solution priced at just $35. This device monitors your aquarium temperature, ensuring it stays within a precise 0.1° F range and prevents your heater from getting stuck in the “on” position, which could boil your saltwater.

The best part is that this controller can also handle cooling tasks! In my case, living in the desert, I use a fan during summers to keep my aquarium cool. I plug the fan into the “cooling” outlet and the heater into the “heating” outlet, maintaining a constant 78° F throughout the year. This impressive device also includes a built-in alarm, alerting me promptly if there’s a failure in the heater or fan. Remarkably, all these features come at an affordable price, making it an ideal addition to your budget-friendly aquarium build. With this controller, you can rest assured that your aquarium’s temperature remains stable, providing a safe and comfortable environment for your aquatic companions.


A refractometer is a handy tool used by saltwater aquarium hobbyists to gauge the salinity of their aquarium water. They are highly accurate as long as you let the water warm up to room temperature before taking a reading!  You can also pick up a bottle of calibration fluid as well… that way you will know it’s reading correctly!

Or just pick up this BRS refractometer below and it comes with Refracto Juice… Just salt water pre-mixed to 1.026 salinity.

Water Test Kit

Having a basic test kit is essential for any saltwater aquarium hobbyist. It proves most useful at the beginning of your aquarium journey, allowing you to test for the completion of the nitrogen cycle.

While this test kit may not be the absolute best on the market, it remains affordable and provides a ballpark reading that is suitable for most hobbyists. It serves as a valuable tool for monitoring your aquarium’s health and identifying any potential issues before they manifest as algae or bacteria blooms within the aquarium. Being proactive with testing can help you maintain a healthy and thriving saltwater aquarium.

front view of api saltwater test kit in original packaging. it's a semi-clear plastic box with a blue plastic lid. A label sticker covers the front, it's blue and yellow, and says API Saltwater Master Test Kit on it

Calcium / Alkalinity Test Kit

If you want to have corals, you will need to frequently test for calcium and alkalinity.  At this point I’ve used almost all of the test kits available on the market, and these are my two favorite.  The Salifert Calcium test kit is simple and inexpensive, but gives consistent results.  And the Hanna Alkalinity checker… well… it just can’t be beat.

Water Additives

After testing your saltwater aquarium parameters, you might discover the need for adjustments. Typically, you’ll need to dose to increase the levels of essential elements that your corals consume as they grow.

While there are many products and methods for dosing, we recommend an all-in-one product that simplifies the process. It’s highly concentrated, so be careful not to overdose, which is a common mistake among new reefers. Follow the directions, start with a low dose, test regularly, and most importantly, be consistent in your dosing routine!

Dosing Pump

Don’t worry about buying this right now.  Eventually if you have coral, you will have to dose your tank, which is why we included powdered All-For-Reef as our additive of choice in this blog.

For tanks that aren’t packed too heavily with coral, dosing something like kalkwasser in your ato reservoir will work absolutely perfect.  But if you do eventually want to dose something like 2-part, I really like these BRS dosers.  I prefer the slower 1.1 ml/minute just so I can dose really slowly if I want.  

But if you end up going with one of these dosers, they don’t come with any sort of timer so you will need to use something like a digital timer or a wifi power strip to turn them on and off.


Once you get to the 40 gallon size tank, you will likely need a wavemaker if you want to keep coral.  This AI Nero 3 is a great DC pump, controllable, and quiet.  Probably just the right size for this 40 gallon long build.  Plus the low profile means it will blend into the background so you aren’t staring at a pump!

Reef Rock

Rock plays a crucial role in every saltwater aquarium as it serves multiple purposes:

1. It provides a habitat for beneficial bacteria to thrive, aiding in the aquarium’s overall health.
2. The rock creates hiding spots for the aquarium inhabitants, giving them a sense of security.
3. It also acts as a surface for attaching coral, enhancing the beauty and diversity of your tank.

While there are various types of rock available, this particular option is both affordable and visually appealing, making it an excellent choice for a budget-friendly saltwater aquarium build. Embracing the importance of rock in your setup will contribute to the overall success and enjoyment of your aquatic world.

You might be able to get away with 40lbs for this aquascape, but getting a bit more will just give you more options


Sand might not be a must-have, and some hobbyists are opting for bare bottom tanks these days. But, adding sand can really transform your aquarium into an authentic slice of the ocean. It not only enhances the aesthetic but also plays a vital role in biological filtration. Plus, it becomes a cozy hideaway and a source of food for certain creatures.

When it comes to sand, we recommend sticking with the CaribSea brand for the best options. A 20lb bag will be perfect for this build. Happy decorating!

wet live sand for saltwater aquariums close up shot of 10 pound bag
Fiji pink sand in 20 lb bag with close up of grain size
clear bag of aquarium sand with CaribSea label and close up of grain size.
CaribSea Original Grade Ocean Direct

Algae Scraper

An algae scraper is a straightforward and practical tool for any saltwater aquarium owner. Despite maintaining your aquarium diligently, algae will inevitably grow on the glass. The affordable scraper is a quick and easy way to get rid of algae without the need to get your hands wet and messy! Moreover, when you siphon out the scraped algae, you’re also aiding the filtration of your saltwater aquarium.

Nothing beats the Flipper Float.  Just be sure to pick up the exact size below.  The nano will be too small!

Fish Net

Having a net is a must for every saltwater aquarium hobbyist, and the best part is that they are incredibly affordable! It’s one of those tools that you’ll find indispensable.

Not only is it handy for catching and transferring fish, but you can also use it while thawing frozen food to remove any fillers or phosphates. The net’s versatility makes it a valuable and practical tool to have on hand for various tasks in your aquarium.

Optional Items

Power Strips

One crucial piece of gear you might already have, or need to consider getting, is a power strip to accommodate all the equipment in your saltwater aquarium. While it may be tempting to cut corners here, it’s essential not to skimp on safety. Electrical accidents or fires are serious risks that should not be taken lightly.

Investing in a reliable surge protector/power strip is highly recommended. This particular option not only provides protection but also offers the convenience of turning off individual pieces of gear without having to unplug them. This feature is especially useful during saltwater changes, where it’s advisable to turn off the heater to prevent damage caused by exposure to air while still powered on. By choosing a quality power strip, you can safeguard your equipment, ensure the well-being of your aquatic animals, and create a secure and efficient setup for your saltwater aquarium.

Bacterial Additives

In our saltwater aquariums, there’s a bustling community of residents, even though they may not be visible to the naked eye. Microscopic organisms thrive in the sand, rocks, and water, playing a crucial role in the health and beauty of your tank. One prominent example is biological filtration, which is vital for maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

Though there are numerous other uses and benefits of bacteria supplementation, our focus here is on buying bacteria to aid in cycling your saltwater aquarium and maintaining its balance in the future. Check out this quick video that explains it further! Using these products will speed up the process of making your aquarium healthy and ready while ensuring its long-term success.

External ATO (Auto Top Off)

You don’t need fancy auto top off units.  You can just refill your tank each day with RODI water.  But it gets tiring fast, and if you ever want to leave your house for more than a day, you will need something or somebody to do it for you.

Enter the ATO, aka auto top off system.  This can be as simple as a 1 liter can of coke flipped upside down in your rear filtration chamber, or as fancy as digital sensors and acrylic reservoirs.

Make your own choice here, but I’ve put a couple higher end options below.  I currently use this Tunze Osmolator Nano on one of my tanks and love it.  I just have a five gallon bucket underneath the tank as the reservoir.

Coral Dips and Foods

Did you know that corals are actually animals with photosynthetic organisms living within them, giving them their vibrant colors? To keep them healthy and displaying their best hues, they need proper nourishment. However, there’s also a risk of them carrying parasites or unwanted hitchhikers that could harm your saltwater aquarium and its inhabitants.

To ensure the well-being of your corals, it’s a good idea to use a coral dip. This helps remove any potential pests before adding the coral to your aquarium. Additionally, consider providing some coral food for occasional feeding. Surprisingly, there are “non-photosynthetic” corals that don’t require light to survive but instead thrive on a good amount of feeding!

Fish Foods

Of course, one of the obvious necessities for your saltwater aquarium is fish food. There’s a wide variety of options available, so it’s essential to choose the right food based on the types of fish you have. I’ve made a lot of videos on fish food, but this is my best.  Click HERE to learn a ton more about fish and coral food!

And the link below is one of my top three favorite fish foods!

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