There are a lot of options out there when it comes to return pumps, but they basically break down into two categories: AC and DC.
AC pumps (alternating current) are your standard fixed flow pumps. They pump only at one speed, run quite warm, and use a significant amount of energy. For a small tank these work just fine, and I use them to power all of my tanks.
DC pumps (direct current) are controllable pumps that have a varying flow rate, use less energy, and run virtually silent. These pumps are generally more expensive, which is why a lot of hobbyists don’t use them.
My list below has a mix of AC and DC pumps, starting at $40 and topping out at $300. Take a peek below to see which pump fits your needs the best!
5. Current USA eFlux 6009 DC Flow Pump 1050 GPH ~ $180
Starting things off is an awesome DC pump from Current USA. The eFlux 6009 is a variable speed pump topping out at around 1,050 gallons per hour. For most beginners, this pump will be a bit overpowered.
In a standard beginner tank, you want your total water volume to turn over 5-15 times each hour, so if you had a 20 gallon tank, you would want a pump rated for about 200 GPH.
So why does this pump break into my top five you might ask? Several reasons.
First off it is a DC pump, which means less energy consumption, less heat, and you can control the flow. The eFlux DC pump series is also a part of the LOOP control system. So if you buy the Loop Marine Bluetooth Controller, you can plug in your Current USA LED lights, wavemakers, and your return pump and control them all via your phone.
4. Cobalt Aquatics MJ1200 Powerhead/Pump 295 GPH ~ $41
The MJ 1200 is just simply my go-to utility pump. I have owned several over the years, and they provide consistent, long-term performance.
I currently have one installed in my 20-gallon office tank as the return pump, and then use them in my RO/DI trash can to pump water, and in my saltwater mixing container.
At 295 GPH, the MJ 1200 is a perfect size for small tanks up to about 25 gallons. You can’t beat the value for the price, so if your tank is under 25 gallons, I would strongly consider buying this pump.
3. EcoTech Marine Vectra S2 DC Pump 1,400 GPH ~ $300
I went back and forth about adding the Vectra S2 to my list. It is a high-end pump in terms of cost, and its high flow rate of 1,400 GPH makes it much too large for many beginner tanks.
EcoTech Marine is a well-known name in the hobby. Their best known productsare their LED lights and wavemakers. They have only recently gotten into the DC pump market, but their reputation has already made these pumps some of the most popular out there.
I am not sure what the lowest setting is, but you could probably run the Vectra S2 at 20%, which would work for say a 40-gallon breeder type tank.
There are so many great things about this pump. Comes with several different modes, from constant speed to feed. If you purchase the ReefLink controller, you can use your phone to program it. It is Apex Ready, so it pairs simply and seamlessly with your Neptune Apex Controller. And you can purchase the emergency Battery Backup, creating an extra layer of redundancy in case of a power outage.
2. Jebao DCW-2000 Return Pump 528 GPH ~ $60
Jebao is a Chinese company that makes inexpensive aquarium pumps and powerheads. Some hobbyists don’t understand the appeal, but I do. It’s the price.
This DCW-2000 has largely positive reviews, but as with all inexpensive options, there are lemons out there. The biggest complaint I have read is that the flow seems to fluctuate randomly at times, which is not great.
For for $60, I don’t see any other low-cost options that can compete. It comes with a controller, so you can set the flow wherever you want. And being a DC pump, it is energy efficient and virtually silent.
Worst case scenario you lost $60 on this pump, and best case scenario you made a huge score!
1. Sicce Syncra Silent 2.0 568 GPH ~ $80
I love this pump and have used it for years. It is a no-frills AC return pump and runs semi-silently and provides consistent and long-term flow for your aquarium.
It comes in various sizes, so just be sure to choose the right amount of flow for your tank.
While not as fancy as other DC pumps on the list, you don’t need to be fancy to power your tank. For less than $80, you will be purchasing a return pump that could last you for many years (given you clean it regularly!).
Great pump, no complaints, worth the price.