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Top Five Beginner LED Lights

There are so many different lighting options out there: T5 fixtures, metal halides, hybrids, and LEDs.  You can have success with any and all of them if you know what to look for.

But my top five list only has affordably priced LEDs.  Why? LED lights can last for 5-10 years, have low energy consumption, don’t produce much heat, and can be set to mimic the natural sunrise/sunset pattern of the actual reef.

When considering what five LED lights to recommend to beginners, here were my criteria:

  • Cost- Some of these fixtures are exorbitantly priced so I stayed away from the high end items.
  • SPS/LPS Coral- What’s the point of buying and LED light if you can’t use them to grow corals?
  • Mounting Style- Some like to hang their lights from the ceiling and others want it attached to the tank.
  • Experience- I’ve either owned or tried each of these lights, and they all work well for what they are.

Be sure to read the pros and cons of each to be sure you choose the right one for you.  And don’t forget to purchase the right size for your tank!

#5 MarsAqua 165 Watt ~ $110

Most of us in the hobby call this a “Chinese Black Box” LED.  All we mean by that is it is a large, inexpensive, mass produced LED that various companies slap different labels on to make their own.

I have owned three different versions of this light, and the MarsAqua so far is my favorite.  They all operate pretty much the same. You can individually control the whites and blues, and they are dimmable.  They are not programmable, so if you want to set them and forget them, you will need to purchase an inexpensive programmable digital timer like this one:

You can’t beat the price, and they are strong enough to grow corals.  But there are downsides. First is that if you have them turned all the way up, you can hear the fans.  They can only be mounted using a ceiling hanging kit (which is included), so you can’t place them on the side of the tank. Depending on if you get the 165W or 300W size, you will have one or two large power cords popping out of the top, so can be kind of an eye sore.

But if the most important thing to you is price, these will work fine.  I use the 300W version on my coral/invert quarantine tank.

#4 Kessil A160WE Tuna Blue ~ $239

Kessil is a big name brand in the hobby, and are known for their compact LED fixtures that give off a great shimmer effect.  They accomplish this by concentrating their tiny LEDs into a single point so all of the colors blend together at the outset.

Don’t get me wrong, these are great lights, but they frustrate me in a couple of ways.  First off, you have to purchase the gooseneck (or mounting arm) mounting kit separately, which is annoying.  Who can use a light without a way to mount it?

Secondly, if you want to be able to program the light, you have to purchase a different spectral controller.  What?!?!  It is already an expensive fixture so why not include it?

So why is it on my list?  Because for all of its flaws, it is a great quality light… as long as you are willing to pay for it!

I would use this in a tank up to about 20 gallons, because much bigger you would need to purchase a second light (and a second mounting arm!) to get proper coverage.

Mounting Arm
Spectral Controller

#3 Coral Box Moon LED Plus ~ $209

Now we’re talking!  A small LED light, that comes with a mounting arm and a wifi app!  That’s why this bad boy/girl comes in at #3!

The Coral Box Moon LED Plus is a great value at just over $200.  It is a full spectrum light, that is relatively easy to set up and program with the app.  The LEDs are much more spread out, so you probably won’t get the total shimmer effect of a Kessil, but I personally don’t care about that.

It’s also a cool light because not only does it include a mounting arm, but it also includes a ceiling mounting kit.

#2 Aqua Illumination Prime 16 HD ~ $209

The AI Prime has been around for a while, and continues the trend of a small profile LED fixture as seen in the Coral Box and the Kessil.  Comes in either white or black, the Prime has a single set of LED lights. But for a larger tank, you could upgrade to the AI Hydra 32 or even the 64 HD!

Unlike the Kessil, this fixture is wifi ready, so just download the myAI app and program to your hearts content.But like the Kessil, this fixture does not come with any way to mount it above or to your tank (ugh!), so you will need to purchase the hanging kittank mount, or flex arm.

#1 Reef Breeders Photon V2+ ~ $374-$

Hands down my favorite LED light for a beginner is the Photon V2+  It is the most expensive starting at $374, but with its sleek design, LED spread, and multiple mounting options, its a no brainer for me!  I own two of these myself.

It comes with a controller which is not the easiest to use, but there are some videos out there with explanations.  You just have to set it once, and then you can forget it.

Comes with lightning mode, cloudy mode, and moonlights.  I personally like this fixture the most out of all of the options because you won’t have shadows over your tank.  With small fixtures you can often have issues where some of your rock casts a shadow (which can look cool granted).  But with this fixture, that doesn’t happen so your entire tank can support corals.

If you have a little extra money to spend, treat yourself to my #1 LED light for beginners!