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Top Five Beginner Controllers

Updated 2024

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 Apex Jr.

The Neptune Apex Jr. comes at a significantly lower price point compared to their flagship product, while still offering almost the same features. The Jr. doesn’t come with everything that it’s pricier big sister has, but it comes with enough.  You get a pH proble, temperature probe, leak detection probe, and a water sensor.  Plus, it’s completely expandable in the future to the entire range of Neptune products.

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, then set up your leak detector and water level sensor. 

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 ITC 308S Dual Stage 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-308S, the baseline unit with no wifi.  One of my favorites actually.

  • High/Low temperature alarm
  • A 6′ rubber probe
  • 2x outlets for heating/cooling

It’s a nice controller, no complaints here.  The rubber probe is great for the saltwater environment, and the alarm is nice and loud.  I have one of these and it just saved my tank a few weeks ago!

It’s not wifi, meaning you have to be home to hear the alarm, but I’m almost alway at home anyways, so that works fine for me.

3. Inkbird WiFi Aquarium Heater Controller

Now this is not my favorite controller, because of two things.  First, I have always found the Inkbird app to be a bit glitchy… which is super annoying.  And second, unlike the other Inkbirds on this list, there is not a heating and cooling plugin.  Rather, this is meant for two heaters.  Both outlets will turn on and off at the same time.

Now, if you live in a cold environment and never have a need for a fan, then this one works great.  But if you live in the desert like I do and need a fan all summer, this one is not the best.

Still a great unit, the double waterproof temperature probe is a nice redundant feature.

2. Bayite Temperature Controller

I’m a proud owner of not one, but five 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.

1.Inbird ITC-308 WiFi Dual Stage Temperature Controller

For me, this version of the Inkbird is the best.  It’s the most versatile, comes with a rubber temperature probe, and has wifi.  I plug my fan into the cooling port, and my primary heater into the heating port.

I set my tank to 77.5 degrees, and have the heater kick on when the temperature gets to 77, and the fan kicks on when it gets to 79 degrees.

I’m currently using one in my HelloReef tank, and its reliable and just works.  I actually don’t even use the wifi functionality, but that’s just because I’m almost always at home.  It’s a great product and I wouldn’t run any aquarium without this or some other temperature controller.