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Top Five Beginner Controllers

Updated 2023

The market is filled with various types of aquarium controllers, catering to different needs. You can find controllers for pumps, auto top off units, and temperature regulation.

In the saltwater hobby, when we talk about aquarium controllers, we usually refer to the following:

  1. Temperature controller – This handy tool comes with a temperature probe and a heating/cooling outlet that you can set to specific parameters, helping you regulate your aquarium temperature more accurately. It’s a wise choice to opt for a temperature controller rather than relying solely on the heater’s internal sensor.

  2. All-In-One controller – Now, there are a few options out there, but in the United States, one brand dominates the scene – Neptune Apex. This controller is like a mini-computer for your tank, allowing you to use various probes, program pumps, automate tank dosing, and much more. But here’s the catch – it comes with a steep price tag.

Now, I’ve personally invested over $1,000 in the Neptune Apex, and while it’s a fantastic piece of equipment, I have to admit it might not be the best choice for beginners. It’s quite expensive, and truth be told, 95% of beginners won’t even use half of its features. But hey, as your systems grow and become more complex, and you gain a better understanding of this hobby, then you might consider the Neptune Apex.

So, for beginners, I’d recommend starting with a reliable temperature controller and later, once you’ve gained more experience and your tank becomes more sophisticated, you can explore the possibilities offered by the Neptune Apex. Remember, it’s all about finding the right fit for your needs and budget! Happy aquarium keeping! 🌊🎛️

5. Neptune ApexEL Aquarium Controller


The Neptune ApexEL comes at a significantly lower price point compared to their flagship product, while still offering almost the same features. The “EL” in its name stands for entry-level, and it sacrifices a few functionalities like built-in ORP, salinity monitoring, and 0-10V ports.

Here’s the drill on how it operates: You connect the base unit to your WiFi network, place the temperature and pH probes in your water, and then plug in any equipment you want to control into the energy bar. This includes things like lights, return pumps, and wavemakers. Not all devices are compatible with the Neptune Apex, but if you only require a basic on/off function, it will work just fine.

To get started, you log into the Apex Fusion cloud-based software, where you can monitor and program your outlets. Now, fair warning, it might feel a bit overwhelming at first, and you might get an information overload. Don’t be tempted to panic and start adjusting numbers frantically, especially when you see fluctuations like your pH decreasing every night. The key is to monitor and observe.

Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend a beginner to invest in this controller right away. It’s undoubtedly a fantastic piece of equipment, but it might be too much too soon for someone starting out. However, if you’re eager to give it a shot, go ahead and give it a try!

As you gain more experience and confidence in your saltwater aquarium journey, you can gradually expand and add other Apex gadgets, such as the Trident, two-part dosing pumps, and an ATO unit. It’s all about taking your time and building up your setup as you become more familiar with the hobby. Happy exploring! 🌊🔌

4. Inkbird WiFi ITC 308 Temperature Controller

There are several different Inkbird Controllers on this post, and they are all variations on the same thing.  

Let’s talk about the ITC-308, which is a WiFi version boasting these features:

  • WiFi app compatible with IOS and Android devices
  • High/Low temperature alarm
  • A 6′ metal probe
  • 2x outlets for heating/cooling

Now, it’s a decent controller, but there are a couple of aspects that I’m not particularly fond of. Firstly, there’s the metal probe. Sure, it works underwater, but I’ve had experiences with these going bad.

Secondly, if the sensor decides to call it quits, the only way to add a new one is to crack open the Inkbird body and do some soldering yourself. Not exactly an ideal situation.

However, one thing I do appreciate is the WiFi app. It’s pretty nifty since you’ll receive push notifications if your tank water ever gets too hot or too cold. That’s a nice touch for added peace of mind!

3. Inkbird ITC-306T Temperature Controller

Here’s a bit of a twist with this Inkbird model, different from the WiFi ITC-308. Introducing the ITC-306T, featuring the following:

  • Two outlets for heating, none for cooling
  • A waterproof aquarium sensor
  • No WiFi capability

This controller comes at a price that’s about $20 less than its WiFi counterpart. However, you won’t be able to control it with an app or receive push notifications in case of issues. But on the bright side, the waterproof aquarium probe is built to last, although it’s not designed for easy probe replacement.

Keep in mind that this version has a slightly lower temperature range (58°-210°), but it’s still more than adequate for saltwater tanks!

2. Inkbird ITC-308S Temperature Controller

Inkbird comes pretty close to perfection with the ITC-308S. It’s got almost everything I want, except for one crucial thing – WiFi!

This model boasts an easy-to-replace waterproof aquarium probe and features two outlets for both heating and cooling. It’s got a lot going for it, but if only they could add WiFi functionality, it would be an absolute dream! With WiFi, you could connect a heater and a fan, enjoy the convenience of a replaceable waterproof aquarium probe, and receive push notifications right on your phone.

The good news is that they’ve actually started manufacturing this “dream” controller, but it’s not yet available on Amazon. I’ll be sure to update this post later to include it once it hits the market!

Now, you might be wondering why this item isn’t topping my list, and there are two reasons:

  1. I’ve had two Inkbirds fail on me in the past, which has made me a bit hesitant.
  2. Personally, I prefer the box shape of the Bayite Temperature Controller, which happens to be my #1 choice!

So, while the ITC-308S is almost there, the Bayite still holds the top spot for me. But who knows, with that WiFi addition, the ITC-308S could become a real game-changer!

1. Bayite Temperature Controller

I’m a proud owner of not one, but three of these little wonders, and let me tell you, I absolutely adore them. Now, sure, they might not have those fancy specialized aquarium probes, but honestly, I’ve never encountered any issues with their probes failing on me. And even if by some rare chance it does go out, you can easily grab a replacement waterproof probe and plug it right into the Bayite controller without a hitch.

The Bayite Temperature Controller has all the features I need and more. It boasts both heating and cooling outlets, a replaceable temperature probe, and two mounting brackets (just a heads-up, screws are not included) that securely attach this beauty to your stand.

You’ll find it in two versions – a 10 amp and a 15 amp one, but for most of us, the 10 amp version will do the job splendidly.

And the cherry on top – it comes in at under $40, and honestly, I can’t complain about that price tag. Now, would I love it if it were a WiFi controller? You bet! It’s always great to get alerts whenever there’s a temperature hiccup in the tank. But even without the WiFi, I still absolutely love this little guy for what it is – reliable and efficient.