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Top Five Beginner Controllers

There are quite a few different types of aquarium controllers on the market.  There are controllers for pumps, controllers for auto top off units, and controllers for temperature.

In the saltwater hobby, when we talk about aquarium controllers, we are usually referring to one of the following:

  • Temperature controller – contains a temperature probe and heating/cooling outlet that you can set to specific parameters to regulate your aquarium temperature.  It is a lot more accurate to use a temperature controller than to just rely on the heater’s internal sensor.
  • All-In-One controller – there are a few on the market, but the United States at least is dominated by one brand… Neptune Apex.  This expensive controller is a mini-computer for your tank.  It allows you to use various probes, program pumps, automatically dose your tank, and a lot more… but for a steep price.

I have spent over $1,000 on the Neptune Apex, and while it is a great piece of equipment, I find it hard to recommend for a beginner.  It is a lot of money, and 95% of beginners will never use 1/2 the features.  But, as your systems grow and get more complicated, and you have a better understanding of this hobby, and then may be the time to consider the Neptune Apex.

5. Neptune ApexEL Aquarium Controller


The Neptune ApexEL is several hundred dollars less than their flagship product, but almost the same.  The “EL” stands for entry level, and you lose the built in ORP, salinity monitoring, and 0-10V ports.

Here’s how it works.  You connect the base unit to your WiFi network.  You put the temperature and pH probe in your water, and you connect any piece of equipment you want to control, into the energy bar.  Things such as lights, return pumps, and wavemakers.  Not all are compatible with the Neptune Apex, but if you just need a simple on/off function, it will work just fine.

Then, you logon to the Apex Fusion cloud based software, and you can begin monitoring and programming your outlets.  It’s a bit overwhelming and probably will give you too much information at the beginning.  The largest temptation is to panic and start chasing numbers.  For example, your pH will decrease every night, and you might panic and try to increase it.  Don’t!  Just monitor and watch.

I really don’t recommend that a beginner spend the money on this controller.  It is a great piece of equipment for sure, but it can be too much too soon for a beginner.  But, if you want to give it a shot, go right ahead!

Over time you can purchase and add other apex gadgets such as the Trident, two-part dosing pumps, and ATO unit.

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.  

The ITC-308 is a WiFi version with the following features:

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

This is a decent controller, but there are a couple things I don’t like about it.  First is the metal probe.  Yes, it does work underwater, but I’ve experienced these going bad. 

And secondly, if the sensor craps out, the only way to add a new sensor is to open up the Inkbird body and solder one in yourself.  Not ideal.

But the WiFi app is nice because you can get a push notification if your tank water is ever too hot or cold.

3. Inkbird ITC-306T Temperature Controller

This Inkbird is a bit different than the WiFi ITC 308.  The ITC-306T has the following features.

  • Two outlets for heating, none for cooling
  • Waterproof aquarium sensor
  • No WiFi

This controller is about $20 less, but you can’t control it with an app or get push notifications when there is a problem.  But the waterproof aquarium probe should last forever, although this model also does not allow you to replace the probe easily.

The temperature range of this version is significantly lower (58°-210°), but still good enough for saltwater tanks!

2. Inkbird ITC-308S Temperature Controller

Okay, Inkbird almost gets it perfect with the ITC-308S.  It has everything I want, except the WiFi!

  • Easy to replace waterproof aquarium probe
  • Two outlets for heating and cooling

It they could just make this version with the addition of WiFi, it would be perfect! That way you could attach both a heater and a fan, have a waterproof aquarium probe that can be easily replaced, and receive push notifications on your phone.  

They actually just started manufacturing this “dream” controller, but it’s not yet available on Amazon.  I’ll update this post later to include it!

So why isn’t this item #1 on my list?  Two reasons:

  • I’ve had two Inkbirds crap out on me and
  • I don’t like the shape.  I prefer the box shape of the Bayite Temperature Controller, which happens to be my #1 choice!

1. Bayite Temperature Controller

I own three of these, and I love them.  No, they do not have the specialized aquarium probe, but I’ve never had an issue with their probes going out.  If it ever does go out, you can just buy a replacement waterproof probe and easily plug it into the Bayite.

The Bayite Temperature Controller has both a heating and cooling outlet, replaceable temperature probe, and two mounting brackets (screws not included) which securely attach this unit to your stand.

It comes in both a 10 amp and 15 amp version, but for most of us the 10 amp will be plenty.

Coming in at under $40, I have no complaints.  Do I wish this was a WiFi controller?  Of course!  It is always a good idea to get alerts when there is a temperature problem.  But for what it is, I love it.