The Best LED Lighting for Reef Tanks [With Buying Guide]

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A lot of new fishkeepers don’t know this, but reef tank lighting systems are different from freshwater tank lighting systems. This is mainly due to the fact that coral reefs require a specific type of light in order to grow at a healthy rate.

So, if you are planning to set up a reef tank, you should add an LED reef tank lighting system to your shopping cart. There are plenty of options to choose from and all of them share a similar spec list.

So, what is the best LED lighting for reef tanks and which modern features should you be on the lookout for? (considering you are looking for the best reef lighting 2020)

Don’t stress out. This detailed list should help you out.

1. Current USA Orbit Marine Aquarium LED Light - Best Lighting for Coral Reef Aquariums

Current USA Orbit Marine Aquarium LED Light

If you are extra sensitive about the lighting system for your reef tank and don’t want to compromise, the Current USA Orbit Marine Aquarium LED Light is the correct option.

It may not have a smart system or offer the ability for you to operate it with a modern app-based system, but you will have the highest-grade perfect light quality with this one.

It has different modes, a handy remote-control system, and realistic time cycling. All of these features help to offer you the perfect light.

So, if lighting quality is your only concern, you should look no further.

​Notable Features​

​- Wide range of color spectrum, from 445nm blue light to 8000K white light
- Has wide angle dispersion lenses for even light spreading
- Multiple modes to break the monotony including storm, dusk, lunar, and midnight lighting
- Realistic time cycling
- IP65 water resistance rating
- Four models in different sizes are available

Pros

  • ​Offers full spectrum which is generally required for marine and reef tanks
  • ​Wide light coverage
  • ​Remote control and programmable
  • ​Water resistant
  • ​Multiple lighting modes

​Cons

  • ​No other control system apart from the remote control system
  • ​Lack of single colored lights

​2. Kessil AP700 LED Aquarium Light – The Premium Choice

Kessil AP700 LED Aquarium Light

We are in the 21st century and living at the peak of technological advancement, so why shouldn’t you get a lighting system that looks like it comes from a sci-fi movie?

Kessil AP700 LED Aquarium Light fits this description. Not only does it have a sleek futuristic look, it is also loaded with mind-blowing features.

For example, the system has Wi-Fi connectivity. This means that it can connect to your home router and give you seamless control using the app. Currently, the app is only compatible with iPad. However, iPhone and Android apps are currently in the beta testing phase.

The light quality is superior and so is the thermal management system. Overall, this could be the perfect candidate if you don’t have any issues with budget.

However, it is expensive.

​Notable Features

​- Connectivity to Wi-Fi networks
- Fully controllable with apps (for iPad only)
- Different light modes with various weather modes including lunar, cloudy, day cycle, and many more
- Two sets of sixty LED lights which automatically optimize to offer the perfect lighting setup
- Hybrid optics can imitate the vibe of a T5 and metal halide bulbs
- Easily programmable for adjusting the color and intensity of the lights
- Offers realistic shimmer

​Pros

  • ​Superior color and intensity which almost perfectly imitates natural lighting
  • ​A “smart” lighting system with Wi-Fi connectivity and apps
  • ​Better tonal contrast, color blending, and shimmering effect with hybrid optics
  • ​Sleek design concept
  • ​Heat dissipating fan ensures constant temperature

​Cons

  • ​Expensive
VIPARSPECTRA Timer Control Dimmable 165W 300W LED Aquarium Light

Okay, I have talked about the best option and the premium option. It wouldn’t be fair if I don’t talk about the best budget option now.

VIPARSPECTRA Timer Control Dimmable 165W is certainly the winner of the entry level category. Although this product has an affordable price tag, it doesn’t compromise on quality.

In fact, after looking at the build quality and the features, the low price tag almost feels unfair on this product.

The light is bright, it can be customized and there is a heat sink. It doesn’t let you down in any way. In addition, the light works to promote a healthier life for coral.

​Notable Features

- Full spectrum lighting that specifically works to benefit the fish and the coral reefs
- A timer system with an on/off button to help the non-tech-minded fishkeepers
- Complete dimmability allows you to adjust the light from 0% to 100%
- Comes with a fan and aluminum heat sinks for better heat dissipation
- Two channel LED setup with the following colors: violet (420nm), royal blue (450nm), blue (470nm), green (520nm), red (660nm), neutral white (6500k), cool white (12000k)
- Hanging kits for installation

​Pros

  • ​Bright and intense lighting system with dimming capability
  • ​Timer option for easier control
  • ​Specifically designed for reef tanks
  • ​Easy to install
  • ​Superior heat sink option
  • ​Remote control system
  • ​Budget friendly option

​Cons

  • ​Average build quality compared to premium models
Kessil Tuna Blue A80 LED Light w/ mini gooseneck

Not everyone has a gigantic tank. Some people prefer nano or small tanks. If you fall into this category, you shouldn’t spend a fortune on buying huge light systems.

Kessil Tuna Blue A80 LED Light w/ mini gooseneck could be the perfect partner for your small tank. The light quality is impressive, but the adjustability and installation process make the product even more impressive.

As it has a gooseneck style installation kit, you can attach it to any corner of your system and focus the light anywhere on the surface.

The fact that the light consumes only 15W of electricity per hour made me fall for this product even more.

​Notable Features

- A smaller option for nano reef tanks that requires only 15W to operate
- It has two dial-knobs for controlling color and light intensity
- Complete aluminum build ensures better heat management and sturdiness
- Superior lens and reflector ensure wider light dispersion
- Due to the smaller form factor and gooseneck clamps, it can fit into any small corner

​Pros

  • ​Superior build and nice form factor
  • ​Easy to install
  • ​Perfect for nano and small marine tanks
  • ​Has up to 24” light coverage
  • ​Better heat dissipation system

​Cons

  • ​Expensive for its size and usability

​5.​ Phlizon 165W Dimmable Full Spectrum Aquarium LED - Best Light for Coral Growth

Phlizon 165W Dimmable Full Spectrum Aquarium LED

The most crucial element of a reef tank is the coral. Without the proper growth of the coral, the whole tank will lose its appeal.

Phlizon 165W Dimmable Full Spectrum Aquarium LED is, in my opinion, the best LED aquarium lighting for coral. It offers the correct toned white and red color for promoting the growth of coral.

​Notable Features

​- Full spectrum light including UV, blue, purple, red, white, and green colors
- It has proper toned white and red colored lights to promote fish and coral reef growth
- Double dimmer function allows you to control the light from 0% to 100%
- Two different control knobs can control the two different light channels separately
- Perfect for small to medium sized tanks (up to 57-gallon tanks)
- The low noise cooling fans keep the noise under 60dB

​Pros

  • ​Great for planted reef tanks
  • ​Metal casing ensures a robust body
  • ​Specifically designed for reef tanks to promote coral growth
  • ​Eliminates the need for daisy chain cords as you can link the lights with the power cords
  • ​Low noise cooling fans

​Cons

  • ​The individual LED bulbs can die out prematurely

​6.​ MarsAqua Dimmable 165W 300W LED Aquarium Light – Best Thermal Management

MarsAqua Dimmable 165W 300W LED Aquarium Light

I have seen a lot of experienced fishkeepers throwing out quality lighting systems just because of overheating issues.

Overheating is the number one problem with aquarium lights if you have temperature sensitive fish or plants in your tank.

MarsAqua Dimmable 165W 300W LED Aquarium Light offers the best quality heat management system.

It comes with aluminum heatsinks, copper wiring, and cooling fans with an extremely low noise level.

​Notable Features

​- Full spectrum LPS/SPS dual channel lighting system includes violet (420nm), royal blue (450nm), blue (470nm), green (520nm), red (660nm), neutral white (6500K), cool white (12000K)
- Separate day and night setup to offer efficient growth for aquatic plants
- 25% more transmittance offers deeper light penetration
- Uses copper wire for better thermal management
- Double universal cascade ensures easier light combination
- Low noise cooling fan operates at 58.9 dB noise level
- Parallel LED connection ensures better system upkeep
- Two different models available – 165W and 300W

​Pros

  • ​Superior lighting setup with full spectrum lighting
  • ​Deeper light penetration
  • ​Great cooling system with low noise level
  • ​Specially designed for faster coral growth

​Cons

  • ​You will require additional installing kit to add more than one light to large tanks

​7. ​Fluval Sea Marine Nano Bluetooth LED (20 Watt) – The Best Nano Reef Tank LED System

Fluval Sea Marine Nano Bluetooth LED (20 Watt)

Fluval Sea Marine Nano Bluetooth LED is a nano tank lighting system that can be controlled via an app. It offers individual color lighting, multiple color modes, aluminum shelling, and IP67 water resistance rating.

This is everything that any aquarist could need in their lighting system. I could just go on and on about the tons of features it has.

However, you can only use this light in a nano tank which is a big letdown.

​Notable Features

​- Controllable with the FluvalSmart app via your smartphone
- Fully programmable system with 24-hour daily cycle
- Different habitat-oriented lighting configuration such as sunny reef, deep sea glow, color burst, etc.
- Features a modern over-the-glass mounting system with complete adjustability
- Complete aluminum shelling offers better heat dissipation
- IP67 water resistance rating

​Pros

  • ​A completely smart solution
  • ​Fully programmable
  • ​Individual color control
  • ​Strong aluminum shelling
  • ​Easy to install
  • ​Deep coverage with dead spot-free lighting

​Cons

  • ​Only suitable for nano tanks

​Benefits of LED Lighting for Reef Tanks

Due to the nature of the tank elements and water chemistry, reef tanks are quite different to typical freshwater tanks.

Furthermore, you can’t expect optimum growth of your aquatic plants and coral in your reef tank if you are planning on using an LED lighting system which is designed for freshwater tanks.

Why is that?

It’s because coral demands red and white light for faster growth, whereas freshwater plants only require blue light.

So, your reef tank will need a different lighting system.

Okay, but why should you consider installing an LED lighting system rather than traditional tungsten bulbs or fluorescent tubes?

Because of energy efficiency and color versatility.

You should know that LED lights are far more energy efficient and have a much longer life expectancy.

For example, fluorescent bulbs tend to have 7,000 to 15,000 hours of lifespan. On the other hand, LED bulbs have 50,000 to 100,000 hours of lifespan.

In addition, LED bulbs will consume much less energy compared to other types of light.

Perhaps I should talk in more detail about the benefits of LED lights. So, check out these crucial decision-making points:

Brighten Up the Aquarium

Why are you using lights in your aquarium? To brighten up the aquatic environment, right? So, the main and the most important function of lights is to brighten things up.

And when it comes to brightness, LED bulbs outshine any other kind of light. In addition, LED lighting systems can deliver different kinds of visual effects as well as creating a really bright environment.

And that’s not all.

You will probably find different pre-set or programmable modes with many lights on the market right now.

So, it’s safe to say that LED lighting systems are the most advanced lighting systems, technologically speaking, with the brightest lights.

More: Best Salt for Reef Tank

Safe to Use

Having an electric system near an aquarium can be a worry. Nobody wants to electrocute their beloved fish.

A lot of LED lighting systems offer water resistance so that you can have them near your aquarium, eliminating the need to worry.

Even LED lights without a water resistance rating are much safer than older metal halide and fluorescent bulbs.

For example, metal halide bulbs contain tungsten which can burst under many conditions, and fluorescent bulbs contain hazardous gasses. These bulbs can burst, causing the leakage of harmful elements.

With LED bulbs, you won’t need to worry about such unwanted situations.

More: Best Sand for Reef Tank

Generate Less Heat

Most members of your aquarium (both fish and plants) are temperature sensitive. They prefer to live in an optimum temperature condition.

Many of you will use aquarium heaters for this reason, but lights will also dissipate heat with prolonged usage.

Therefore, the water temperature will increase gradually which can bring about an unhappy situation.

Due to the nature of LED bulbs, they tend to produce much less heat. In addition, most good brands include various heat dissipating mechanisms in order to minimize the low heat produced by the lights.

Two of the most common heat dissipating mechanisms include:

- Fan

- Heat sink

Generally, you can expect less issues with excess heat coming from your LED lights.

Better Growth of Plants and Marine Animals

Light is one of the basic needs of life. This is especially true for aquatic plants and coral.

Plants are dependent on light for the process of photosynthesis and coral requires optimum light for a healthier growth rate.

Typically, plants require 6500K of white light. Almost every single LED light on the market surpasses that level. Some lights even offer 10,000K or 12,000K of white light.

More Compact

We all want to have a clutter-free, minimal looking aquarium, at least on the outer peripherals.

In this regard, one of our enemies is wires randomly hanging out of the tank.

The good thing about LED lights is that most systems are compact.

Furthermore, these bulbs are much easier to install and have modern installation mechanisms.

More: HOB Protein Skimmer 101

Features of the Best LED Lighting for Reef Tanks

Suppose you are in the market to buy the best LED lighting for reef tanks. What should you look for?

Wattage? Color availability? Light intensity? Or something else?

The correct answer is all of these and more!

Many of us choose a lighting system that simply looks great. This is a marketing technique which is used to make you fall for looks rather than functionality.

So, let’s not fall for such cheap marketing tricks. If you want to own the best LED lights for a reef tank, you should look for these essential features:

Power Consumption

As the lights will need to operate for at least 14 hours a day, you should look for an energy efficient option. Yes, LED lights are generally energy efficient, but there are some models which are more efficient than others.

However, there is a strong relationship between power consumption and light intensity. If a light consumes more power, it should offer more light.

You need to find a balance.

However, there are certain models which offer bright shiny light despite their low wattage.

Installation Process

Not everyone is good with tools and if you don’t have advanced level tools in your house, you should check for the installation process of a lighting system.

Some brands offer a simple installation system, such as using suction cups and simply powering up the system, while some models are just too complex to install.

Make that you buy a simple one.

Ease of Use

How hard can using an LED light be? Don’t push your luck as some LED lighting systems can be very difficult to operate.

This is especially true if the system control has 30+ buttons with programmability. You will need to deal with various modes and settings too much.

Yet again, we are looking at a trade-off. If a lighting system is loaded with features, it will certainly have a complicated usage procedure.

But it shouldn’t be so complicated that you can’t operate it properly. If you are a non-tech-minded person, you should just stick to simpler systems.

Lighting Capabilities

Perhaps this is the most crucial feature of them all. You should never compromise with light capability.

Reef tanks demand more light compared to planted or freshwater tanks.

What is the ideal LED watts per gallon for reef tanks?

It should be somewhere between 4 and 8 watts.

So make sure that your preferred lighting system offers that.

There are a few things which you should check first:

​​> How many colors does the system offer?
> What are the wavelengths of these colors?
> What is the light dispersion angle (a wider angle ensures wider light dispersion)?
> How many channels does the system have?
> How many individual LED bulbs does the system have?

These are some of the basic questions which you should ask about a specific model.

Durability

Aquascaping is not a short-term hobby. It’s not like you are aquascaping one day, and the process ends after 2-3 months.

It requires long-term commitment.

As with your own personal commitment, your LED lighting setup should also demonstrate a long-term commitment.

Typically, an LED bulb lasts for approximately 50,000 hours. I would say that this is a good figure. However, you should aim for those with the longest life.

Some brands promise lights with a 100,000-hour life or even longer! However, you should still enquire about the warranty period.

​Conclusion

I think the winners are pretty clear today.

The number one spot for the best LED lighting for reef tanks goes to Current USA Orbit Marine Aquarium LED Light. It’s an obvious choice as it offers the finest quality lighting.

Next, second place goes to Kessil AP700 LED Aquarium Light in the premium category.

And finally, third place goes to VIPARSPECTRA Timer Control Dimmable 165W 300W LED Aquarium Light for being the perfect budget-friendly option.

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