|Equipment and Supplies: One Hobbyist’s View of What Works|
So what is the best filter? And what is the most reliable heater? And which aquarium line is really the best? Well, we’d all like to know. There are reviews here and there on the Web on the equipment and supplies we use, but not much is definitive. In large part, because the subject so subjective. You may have had a bad experience with something that has worked flawlessly for me. On the other hand, it is always nice to hear what experiences others have had on products we’re considering. While one person’s account alone is insufficient to base a purchase on, a series of similar experiences from different people is helpful.
So here are my experiences (mostly good) with the products and equipment I have purchased and put into use in the past six months.
Aquariums and Stands.
I have two Oceanic aquariums with stands, both with cherry trim. They could not be more attractive. Based on my reading, Oceanic is considered one of the premier brands and while some argue that quality has gone down due to it no longer being an independent company, I cannot comment. All I can say is the seals are solid, the glass seems strong and the look is perfect!
I have a Fluval 205 on a 30-gallon tank. It should be more than enough filtration for my water volume. I’m not sure it is, though. First the positives. The filter is very easy to use, even for someone who has never set up or even seen a canister filter before. I was able to do it alone using the directions and didn’t have to watch the CD-Rom. I made only one mistake in connecting the intake and outtake hoses to the top of the filter. I didn’t screw the connections in the correct direction and they were essentially not locked in (something I realized one day when the hose came loose and shot water all over my hardwood floor). But that was user error. The canister is very easy to open for maintenance. However, the flow does not seem very, shall we say, energetic, and I’ve toyed with upgrading the filter. But the tank is going along perfectly and the fish are healthy and for the time being I’ve decided to leave it alone. On a different tank, I also recently installed a Marineland C-220, a new canister filter that is getting mostly rave reviews. I like it quite a lot. It is considerably larger than the Fluval 205 and holds a considerable amount of media. It also was relatively easy to put together, although the instructions didn’t seem quite as clear as with Fluval. The flow is fantastic and the whole set-up feels a bit more serious. I cannot vouch for longevity on either in such a short time. Both are very quiet.
I have a Visi-therm stealth heater, which is very unobtrusive in the tank. The knob to set the temperature is a bit difficult to use, though. I panicked about this heater initially as the temperature dropped in the tank by a few degrees one night, and I immediately replaced it. Since then, I’ve used it in another tank and it’s fine. Actually, it’s pretty accurate. The replacement was the Rena Cal Top Light Excel. I like the fact that this has a light indicating when it’s working. It is a bit less sleek than the Visi-therm. It is also less inaccurate. I have to set mine at 74 in order for the water to be 78. However, once I “calibrated” the level of offness, it has been consistent at that temperature. I also have an Ebo-Jager as a back-up heater out of an abundance of paranoia.
I use the API freshwater master kit, with the addition of KH and phosphate tests. Great tests. No complaints. (OK, one complaint. I wish the colors were a bit farther apart to make it easier to judge.) Far superior to any strip and reasonably priced, especially when purchased online.
I do use Ed’s color flakes for my community tank, although they don’t create as much enthusiasm as I’d like. Ed’s shrimp pellets and sinking algae disks are much loved by my bottom-dwellers, though. Ed’s color balls are completely ignored. I tend to feed San Francisco Brand bloodworms and brine shrimp most of the time, which are big hits. For my African cichlids, I feed New Life Spectrum almost exclusively. They love this food. It is highly recommended by others, who have kept cichlids much longer than I. I do not disagree.
I have used and thrown away several PH adjusters, including Discuss Buffer. I now use RO water to lower my PH from the tap. The only conditioner I now use is Prime. It is highly recommended by others and it seems to do the job. It’s also nice to have it on hand for its ability to neutralize ammonia and nitrites, should I ever need that in a pinch.
I’ve used BioSpira on both my tanks. It works. Hands down. I usually keep a packet in the refrigerator at all times, just in case I do something stupid with the filters. It’s like my emergency back-up cycle. While I’ve read some people have gotten “bad” batches, I’ve had nothing but success. It’s not necessarily cheap, but when you need it, it’s invaluable.
I use the Seachem line, including Excel, Flourish, Iron and Potassium. I do NOT use them to the schedule set out by Seachem, which seems like huge overkill. I do use Excel daily, with Iron and Potassium twice a week and Flourish once a week. My plants are fantastic. I also have some Eco-Complete substrate mixed in with my gravel (somewhat after the fact) and that works well, too.
I use a DIY version from the store, Red Sea Bio Turbo. It is suitable for tanks up to 40 gallons. It has to be refreshed about once a month, using either the Red Sea refills or your own mixture. Many people turn up their noses at such systems, but it works just fine for me. I have a relatively small tank and couldn’t seem to get my mind around the whole paintball/CO2 canister, bubble counter, etc. I was also terrified by several horror stories of CO2 gone amok. My system works just fine and seems largely idiot-proof.