Owning an aquarium means much more than buying pretty fish and throwing them in a bowl of water. Caring for your fish’s habitat requires an investment larger than just buying them food. That’s why aquarium lights have grown so much in popularity. But even choosing the right light for your aquarium requires a little bit of research. If you light it up too much, the water can end up having algae and that’s something you do not want to deal with. On the other hand, light that’s not powerful enough will prevent your coral, plants and, fish from growing. SO let’s figure out what’s the best LED lights for freshwater aquariums as well as salt water.
Quick Comparisons of 6 Best LED Aquarium Lighting
|NICREW Classic LED Aquarium Light
|KOVAL INC. Aquarium Lighting
|Current USA Orbit Marine Aquarium LED Light
|Current USA Satellite Freshwater LED Light
|COODIA Aquarium Hood Lighting
|MarsAqua LED Aquarium Light
Types of Aquarium Lighting
Before picking one of the 4 main different types of aquarium lights, you have to ask yourself the following:
- Will you be using the lights in a reef tank or a planted aquarium?
- Do you need a light timer?
- Is a light fixture that goes on top of the aquarium a better option?
Great light for your tank is just as important as the filter and other accessories. Choosing the best aquarium light is a decision based on a series of factors that are related to what’s inside the tank and your personal intentions. Each type of plant or fish living inside an aquarium requires different conditions to thrive.
That means that’s it’s your duty as an aquarium owner to research the different life forms that you plan on purchasing and discovering what every subspecies needs. In consequence, you will be one step closer to choosing the right lights. Plants are more reliant on light for photosynthesis compared to fish. Some types of aquarium lights will produce more heat than others, which may lead to high water temperatures and your species won’t survive.
Basically, an aquarium light fixture needs to imitate the natural habitat of the species if you want to ensure a healthy and long lifespan. That’s why lights will have different settings during day and night times. That’s why it’s important to know as many things about the fishes and plants you own as possible. For example, tropical plants and fish usually benefit from around 12 hours of daylight. That means that you will need a timer for your fixture in order to replicate the natural conditions.
Also known as the most common type of aquarium lighting, LED lights are made from a circuit board with various small diodes attached to them. Since a lot of people prefer LED lights, the options are now numerous: from light rails and tubed, floodlights, and even complete fixtures. The light’s color spectrum can also be customized, as well as its intensity. LED lights are common because they are more energy-efficient and have a longer lifespan. As a consequence, they will help you have money over time and save you the trouble of having to change them too often.
They don’t eliminate any excessive heat either. LED lights were commonly used for nighttime lighting, but they have gained a lot of popularity and are now the main light source for a lot of aquariums all around the world. However, LED lights are not suitable for fish-only saltwater aquarium and the investment can sometimes go as high as $2,500.
Normal Fluorescent Lights
These lights are known for their convenient prices. Their heat output is low and you have a wide variety of options to choose from. They are more efficient compared to incandescent bulbs, but they won’t last as long as LED lights. They are suitable only with fish saltwater tanks.
Compact Fluorescent Lights
Due to their high light intensity, compact fluorescent lights are good for small systems. Even if they don’t generate too much heat, the output is still higher compared to the other 2 types of aquarium lights we presented earlier. Even if you have the possibility to create a personalized lighting system, you should know that bulbs and hoods may not be compatible. That’s why you should always buy lamps made by the same manufacturer that created the original hood.
Metal Halide Lighting
This is a very common choice for reef aquariums because the light and heat intensity output is very high. In fact, you will probably need a small fan placed across them to remove some of the water’s heat. Because they produce a lot of heat and intense light, they also consume a lot of energy. Even more, the light bulbs are also more expensive compared to those needed for other types of lighting. Since their intensity is well-known, some fixtures require the additional installation of UV shields, to cut down radiations.
Top 6 LED Aquarium Lighting Reviews
Since LED lights are the most common choice, let’s review some of the best LED lights you can currently purchase.
1. NICREW Classic LED Aquarium Light
- Dimensions: 11 x 4 x 1.4 inches
- Number of LEDs: 36
- Compatible with aquarium size: 11 – 19 inches
This is one of the best LED aquarium lights for growing aquarium plants. A bestselling item, NICREW LED lights seem to have gained a lot of popularity amongst aquarium owners. The LEDs they produce promise to be energy efficient, but bright enough to give your fish tank the light it needs. The metal brackets at the end of the panels are broad enough to fit aquariums from 11 to 19 inches, as long as the thickness of the tank does not exceed ½ inch. The light fixture itself measures 11 x 4 inches, but the hood with the extended brackets can reach a size of 19 x 4. You can choose between 2 lighting modes. The white and blue combination is good for daily use, while blue LEDs are ideal for nighttime.
The NICREW LED lights are suitable to be used over glass aquarium covers. By using a glass canopy, you can expand the lifespan of the panel, as moisture will have a harder time reaching the lights. As you order your own kit, you will receive the LED panel itself, as well as 2 expandable brackets, the adapter and, the user manual.
- 2 different lighting options for day and night time.
- Comes with adjustable brackets.
- Brackets feel very cheap.
- It’s not waterproof.
- Cord only works in a very specific position.
2. KOVAL INC. Aquarium Lighting
- Dimensions: 24-3/4 x 5 x 1-1/4 inches
- Number of LEDs: 78
- Compatible with aquarium size: 24 – 30 inches
This is one of the top-rated lights on the market. Featuring 5 different colors that expand over 78 LEDs, the KOVAL INC. is another great option for aquarium owners that want high-quality lighting for their tanks. The panel is made of 6 blue LEDs, 4 pink ones, 62 whites, 4 reds and, 2 greens. The lights can function in one of three different modes: all the LEDs are turned on, only the blue LEDs on or all of them turned off.
As advertised, this lighting system should run for a total of 50,000 hours. Since the panel has an aluminum alloy shell, it should be more durable compared to the ones made from plastic. Inside the package, you will find the light panel, as well as an adapter and 2 extendable brackets. If you need something bigger, you can always opt for the other 2 available panels, one with 129 LEDs and the other one with 156.
- Great for saltwater aquariums.
- Comes with 78 different lights and 5 colors.
- 2 lighting options.
- High number of defective units reported.
3. Current USA Orbit Marine Aquarium LED Light
- Dimensions: 22.8 x 3.5 x 0.4 inches
- Number of LEDs: 10 LEDs, 39 Dual Actinic LEDs, 33 Dual Daylight LEDs
- Compatible with aquarium size: 18 – 24 inches
If you’re ready to take things up a notch, we introduce the Current USA Orbit LED lighting panel. The wireless infrared remote is one of the first things that stands out when you first discover this product. The second one is the waterproof feature of the product, meeting the IP65 standards. With the Orbit Marine, you get a LED lighting panel that features dual daylight and actinic spectrums to meet your aquarium lighting needs. The thin design measures less than half an inch in thickness. The LEDs are created and distributed in such a way as to provide around-the-clock lighting solutions, thanks to the 24-hour lighting cycle.
The light modes are playful enough to create effects like cloud cover or storm. If you’re willing to go the extra mile, you can additionally purchase the Wave Pump hub and 3 eFlux wave pumps to create a wave-like effect. This takes the aquarium experience to a whole new level of surging water currents and pulsating waves. If you order the Orbit Marine kit, you will receive the LED fixture, alongside the wireless remote control, the power supply, a LOOP light, and wave pump controller, 1 LED light HUB, 2 adjustable docking mounts, and the instructions manual. We have to give kudos to the user manual (first because there actually IS a user manual, unlike cheaper fixtures that leave users clueless on how to work the lights), as it explains everything you can do with the Orbit Marine, to get the best bang for your buck.
- 24-hour complete lighting cycle.
- Includes 1 wireless remote control.
- Highly comprehensive user manual.
- Adjustable mounting brackets.
- Lights are only white and blue.
- Lights not as bright as expected.
4. Current USA Satellite Freshwater LED Light
- Dimensions: 22.8 x 2 x 0.4 inches
- Number of LEDs: 66 white LEDs, 24 blue LEDs
- Compatible with aquarium size: 24 – 36 inches
Next on our list of best LEDs for aquariums is the Current USA Satellite model that features bright LEDs and a sleek fixture. The edges of the fixture are host to sliding docks that allow you to position the lights panel over the aquarium. While the specific model we’re presenting today is suitable for aquarium size of 24 to 36 inches, you also have the possibility to choose a fixture for a smaller aquarium or upgrade to one of the 2 larger models. The Satellite fixture has been IP65 rated which makes it waterproof and adds peace of mind to users who are constantly worried about their fixtures coming in contact with water.
The fixture comes with a lot of functionalities considering its average price. There are 3 fading modes that create cloud cover effects, as well as 2 lunar modes. The dusk mode is suitable for evening use, thanks to the 6500K white LEDs and the 445nm blue LEDs. Upon ordering the Satellite kit, you will receive the LED fixture, the 2 adjustable docking mounts, the power adaptor, and the wired LED remote control.
- Generous number of functions.
- Highly affordable.
- Waterproof fixture.
- Poorly made on/off switch.
- Many units delivered without the power adapter.
5. COODIA Aquarium Hood Lighting
- Dimensions: 13.7 x 4.6 x 2.5 inches
- Number of LEDs: 36
- Compatible with aquarium size: 11 – 19 inches
Moving on to a more affordable unit, we have the COODIA model that promises to deliver good LED lighting to your aquarium. You can opt for fixtures that cover 11 to 19-inch aquariums (this is the fixture we will refer to in this subsection), but there are also larger models, compatible with sizes of 19 to 28 inches, 28 to 36 inches, and 37 to 45 inches. A quick glance at the remote control informs us that there are 16 different colors to choose from. Last year, COODIA updated its remote control and you are no longer required to point it directly at the receiver for it to work.
The expandable brackets allow for multiple aquarium fitting possibilities, while the 7500K white mode color temperature should be more than enough for growing plants inside the tank. With dimmable brightness and quality RGB LEDs, the COODIA will make your water tank look clean and prosperous.
- Multiple colors available.
- Remote control included, work without having to point it at the receiver.
- 7500K white mode color temperature.
- Dimmable brightness.
- Expandable brackets.
- You can only set the fixture to one color at a time.
- No timer function.
6. MarsAqua LED Aquarium Light
- Dimensions: 31.5 x 2.5 x 7.4 inches
- Number of LEDs: 50 blue LEDs, 50 white LEDs
- Compatible with aquarium size: 30 x 24 inches
To end today’s series of reviews in style, we’ve chosen a more premium lighting fixture, capable of proving day and night light configurations for your aquarium. The specific item we’re referring to now is the 300W LED one. There a lot of features that contribute to the high price tag of this lighting panel. The first one is the thermal conductivity of the unit which stands out because it’s made of copper. Suitable for coral tanks for 38 x 24 inches, the MarsAqua light panel comes with 2 dimmers, so you can control the white and the blue lights separately. This allows for greater light customization. The first dimmer is used to control the 50 blue LED lights, while the second dimmer controls the 50 different white lights.
Since the system was conceived to work in a parallel circuit, the entire panel won’t be affected in case of one light not working.
- Great for corals and reefs.
- 2 dimmers to control the white and blue lights individually.
- Generous types of white light: 14 Cool White, 10 Neutral White, 10 Warm White, 4 Red, 4 Green, 8 Blue.
- Blue and white LEDs have separate on/off switches.
- Parallel circuit connections allow the panel to function even if one light is off.
- Bigger water tanks will require additional fixtures.
The Bottom Line
Just so you know, this is the section we most dislike about our review articles. That’s because it’s often hard to choose a favorite product amongst others that are very similar as far as functionality is concerned. Most products are subjective purchases and a fixture that works for you, might not work for someone else. But, since we do have to pick a winner, the MarsAqua would have to be it. Since this is a pricier unit, some of our readers may not be thrilled with spending this amount of money it.
But if they do, they will receive a powerful and sturdy LED light fixture, with white and blue lights that are easily customizable thanks to the 2 separate dimmers and the separate on/off switches. We also love the parallel circuit board choice, as it would be rather annoying to have all the lights turn off if a single bulb is damaged. Since there aren’t so many size options for the MarsAqua, it’s only suitable for aquarium owners of large tanks.
However, you are looking for something more affordable, COODIA Aquarium LED lighting might be more suitable for you. The update made to the remote will make it easier for you to control the fixture even at a distance, without having to point the device straight to the unit. There are a lot of size options available, even for tanks that measure up to 45 inches. Even if there are 16 different color options to choose from (each one with a separate button on the remote control), you can only set one color at a time, so don’t say we didn’t warn you. Even so, the COODIA offers a lot of features considering the affordable price of the kit. We have to give special kudos to the Current USA Orbit Marine Aquarium LED Light system, as it is well tied to the COODIA in terms of how awesome it is.