Economy Planted Aquarium LED; Fluval Aqualife & TMC AquaBar

In this post, I will look at two LED lights marketed for planted or fish only freshwater aquariums, with price a consideration in both build and marketing
The “Fluval Aqualife & Plant LED Strip Light” is already well known since it is being sold in PetCo and other major online and brick and mortar retailers, as well it has the marketing power of its owner corporation, Rolf C Hagen behind it as well.
The AquaBar [now discontinued] is sold by TMC, which is also a well established company, but is more well known by aquarium professionals and then for “higher end” products, so this LED light is somewhat of a diversion for TMC in my opinion. Notwithstanding, TMC is also only sold by higher end brick & mortar and online retailers, NOT at PetCos, Amazon, etc.

First here is my outline as to while I support the Aquaray LEDs I prefer in my aquarium service business:
Why Aquaray LED Light Fixtures, Review?

 

REVIEWS;

Fluval Aqualife & Plant LED Light Review
Fluval Aqualife & Plant LED Strip Light

I will use the 25 watt Fluval Aqualife LED for comparison
This LED uses (312) 5500K LED 120 degree emitters daisy chained together in 61 cm LED strip

The emitters are non descript generic emitters of different colors to produce a 5500 Kelvin Color temperature, notwithstanding 5500K is not the best kelvin temperature for plant growth.

 

The picture below displays this these emitters in a reflection over the water of a planted freshwater aquarium:
Fluval Aqualife & Plant LED Strip Light Reflection Review

The Fluval Aqualife & Plant LED can clearly grow plants and displays fish colors reasonably well too, however there is little shimmer when compared to high end planted aquarium LEDs such as the GroBeam or TMC Mini 400.

Fluval Aqualife Plant LED Light emitters, review
A major negative is that since this LED uses so many low end emitters just to obtain a 25 wattage output, regulating voltage CANNOT be done correctly while keeping the price that these LEDs are sold for.
The more emitters, the more complex the circuitry to regulate the voltage over each emitter. Otherwise the alternative is simply daisy-chaining lights similar to Christmas lights, and this results in a voltage drop along this “chain” of lights. Since LED emitters are designed to run at specific voltages, life expectancy of emitters will be lower and color spectrums will not be the same. Think about a dimmed incandescent bulb, as it goes from full on to almost off, it gets less white.

 

Reference: LED Aquarium Lights, Lighting; Circuitry & Daisy Chained LEDs

The end result is a very poor PUR light spectrum with plant growth simply achieved via a shotgun approach, which with this poor light spectrum, the end result is higher algae growth; in particular Black Beard algae and cynobacteria.

The warranty is good, but deceptively limited since Hagen will only repair and even then only if more than 5% (16 or more) of the LED emitters cease to function. Repairs can leave you without a light for some time

In Conclusion; if you are looking for a cheap LED light, this is still better than the Finnex [with only a 180 day warranty], but this is certainly not even close to the level of the GroBeam or TMC Mini 400 as these LED lights at 12 watts each, can produce more useful light energy than this Fluval at 25 watts based on the science of PUR. Generally speaking
As an example; only one 12 watt GroBeam is required for a 20 gallon “high light” requiring planted aquarium versus a 25 Watt Fluval Aqualife LED for best results.
Interestingly, when one takes into consideration that the GroBeam 12 watt is less expensive than the Fluval 25 watt, has the highest PUR of any comparable LED, and is available with an unlimited 5 year warranty, what light to purchase should a no-brainer.

TMC AquaBar freshwater 500 LED mounted over aquarium, ReviewTMC AquaBar Freshwater

This is TMC’s foray into more economical lighting.
As an aquarium professional who has used many of TMC’s products for years, just because they were often the best of the best and built/designed with aquarium professionals in mind, I do not really agree with the reasoning here.

The TMC AquaBar model 500 for freshwater aquariums is a 12 watt 50cm (19.7″)LED light strip with (30) 6500k White Samsung LED emitters.
Whereas it is not PWM capable as with the TMC Grobeam, it is still run by advanced circuity similar to many other advanced aquarium LEDs that run similar numbers of emitters.

TMC AquaBar freshwater 500 LED side view, ReviewThe appearance in the water with the more blue heavy with little yellow light energy AquaBar Freshwater LED is more blue than many freshwater LEDs, including the GroBeam.

While definitely a step above the Fluval and especially the very unreliable Finnex LEDs, it is clearly a step below the high end GroBeam and Mini 500 LEDs that TMC offers for those seeking the best in planted aquarium lighting based on the science of PUR.

Below is the Spectrogram for the AquaBar.
Note that lack of yellow light which tends to make this LED appear more blue. This would be a plus since yellow in particular has a tendency to grow cyanobacteria [blue/green algae]. Yellow is much more pronounced in the Fluval LED.
Spectrogram courtesy of “Aquarium Article Digest”
TMC AquaBar LED Spectrogram, Review

Here is a video with a planted aquarium utilizing an AquaBar LED Light
New tmc aquabar 50 cm colour rendition

The TMC AquaBar does not have as much of the cool shimmer of the more advanced GroBeam

Further AquaBar Information:
Aquarium LED Light Review; TMC AquaBar

In Conclusion; early results shows this to be clearly the best of the economy LED lights, however for me, I would prefer to spend the 25% more to get the shimmer, more accurate PUR, and longer warranty of the GroBeam LED.
But for those who need to watch every penny, this is probably the next best freshwater LED with $30 -$35 savings per strip over the GroBeam.

Further reading, references:
# Cyanobacteria; Blue Green/Red Slime Algae in Aquariums & Ponds
# PUR vs PAR in Aquarium Lighting (LED); Spectrographs
# Purchase Aquarium LED Lighting; What to Know
#PUR or RQE, YouTube Video Fail- Guide to lighting a planted tank

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