Aquarium LED Lights, Controllers, PWM; What is Best

Reef Aquarium with best LED lightI will look at three important facts of LED Aquarium Lighting:
(1)Pulse Width Modulation versus Current Reduction
(2)RGB Features
(3)Emitter Technology, Cool White Emitter Use and More

Revised 12/14/16

OVERVIEW

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Important update (1-14-15) about EcoTech lack of disclosure about spectrum control over their LED fixtures. See end of article

Rather than review actual equipment, I am going to look at the science behind what goes into Aquarium LED Lighting, in particular for reef or high light planted freshwater aquariums.

To be blunt, my reason is simple, it’s to hopefully stem the tide of misinformation that many forums in particular seem to be spreading, whereby otherwise intelligent people will recommend clearly inferior light despite facts of known science.

Then, rather than discuss the facts, many will resort to “Straw Man” personal attacks on persons counting myself arguing that I or others are biased.
To this argument, the simple answer back is, “OF COURSE I’M BIASED”!! If both the science and results say something is better, why would I use the inferior equipment in my clients aquariums?
The one forum that really stands out is “Reef Central” where a comment I read elsewhere on the internet backs up my own observations and that is, if you disagree with EcoTech LEDs, this will bring out the “ban hammer” for RC faster than you can turn your head!

Now to the facts!!

Pulse Width Modulation versus Current Reduction:

There are two major approaches to dimming/controlling LEDs: PWM and Current Reduction [aka linear or analog, reduction of electrical current over distance].

PWM dimming greatly reduces color spectrum changes in the LED with varying brightness levels or ramping up or down.
Since the LED utilizing PWM essentially runs at a constant current when it’s on and at no current when it is off. However, PWM comes at the additional expense/cost to create the PWM waveforms.

While LEDs are complex semiconductors that convert an electrical current into light, one of the advantages are that LED emitters can be modulated (turned off and on) at high speeds without degradation, which thus favors PWM.
Reference: Light-emitting Diode (LED)

One potential negative of PWM is some switching “noise” can be produced, but this is easily filtered with an inductor and a capacitor, the result is any noise is very minimal and normally drowned out by water of the aquarium.
More importantly, this very minor potential negative is often exploited by less than honest internet articles or especially forums as a way to distract from the facts that the use of linear or analog dimming employed by the vast majority of aquarium fixtures is vastly inferior, wasting a considerably amount of PUR spectrum and light energy as heat!!!!
Any almost inaudible noise from LEDs controlled via PWM is going to pale in comparison to the fan noise due to the heat LEDs create by using “reduction of current” dimming, which produces more excess heat!

In depth reading about this subject for naysayers (this means you Reef Central & Other Forums!):
How to Dim an LED Without Compromising Light Quality

“Current Reduction” or aka “reduction of current” or “analog” dimming can use a simpler and thus less expensive circuit, but the variable current supplied to the LED means that the regulator supplying the current to the LED must absorb any power not supplied to the LED.
This additional power arises from the difference between the raw supply voltage powering the LED/regulator subsystem and the voltage across the LED. This results in wasted heat energy that then often requires cooling fans.
This wasted heat equals wasted energy and is why ANY LED driven by “Current Reduction” WILL REQUIRE a higher wattage of energy input to provide equal PUR output, thus partly defeating the purpose of purchasing an LED to save energy.
As well many have reported break downs or even fires with these cooling fans.

JUST AS IMPORTANTLY, “current reduction” (analog) dimming may be inappropriate for applications such as aquarium reef or planted aquariums that require a constant color temperature. An LED emitters color WILL change depending on the current driven through the device.

Notwithstanding, many of the most popular aquarium reef LED lights utilize Current Reduction; this includes the Current Satellite LED, EcoTech Radion, Aqua Illumination, TaoTronics, Ocean Revive, among others.

Also notwithstanding, some controllers utilize modified PWM similar to how some A/C to D/C Inverters use modified sine wave conversion versus true since wave conversion.
The Current Controller is one such example (the price often tells the story here).

Further Reading:
Aquarium LED Reviews; EcoTech
Review of Ocean Revive & Evergrow LED Lights for Reef Aquariums

OK, ready readers for my bias?
The aquarium LED light that utilizes PWM is the AAP/TMC AquaRay, which has enjoyed considerable popularity in Europe and in fact has been around longer than many of the popular LEDs, but thanks to excellent marketing by EcoTech, Evergrow, Ocean Revive, and others, as well as a public fed by this marketing and forum posts that refuses to read any science based information, it is not as well known in North America.

Currently, the STILL industry leading AquaRay is the ONLY aquarium LED on the market to fully utilize PWM, with the only other opinion being DIY. NONE OF THE POPULAR BRANDS DO!
This is part of the reason the AquaRay LEDs do NOT need fans that break down regularly for heat control!

This is not to say that these before mentioned LEDs cannot keep a reef aquarium, as to say so would immediately disqualify anything I have stated since many advanced aquarium keepers have done quite well with these other fixtures, I am only stating that these are not maybe the best and that anyone looking into a new reef aquarium LED fixture needs to do more homework than just reading forum posts.

See the graph below for a better visual understanding:

PWM versus Current Reduction in Aquarium LED Lights, Lighting

Please also reference:
*Aquarium Lights, Lighting Information
*Aquarium Lights, Which are best?
And my post dealing with the wide difference in LED warranties and how manufacturers handle these:
*Aquarium LED Warranties; Reef or Planted

RGB Features versus PUR:

This is another popular feature, that is nice from the human prospective, but has no bearing on reef marine aquarium life or planted freshwater aquariums.

Controlling your Red, Green, Blue emitters and thus the term RGB has no bearing on exacting nanometer spikes essential to light sensitive aquatic life.

The misinformation here arises from the over use of PAR meters which will NOT tell the difference in an aquarium LED light using RGB features and one utilizing more exacting LED emitters.
What is important is PUR (aka Photosynthetically Useful Radiation, Useful light), not as much PAR.
This of course can vary from plant to plant and coral to coral, depending upon the natural strata of water these aquatic life forms are found in.

The Finnex Ray 2 is a popular LED in some planted aquarium forums, but again by using cheap Chinese made Epistar emitters in large quantities, it achieves excellent PAR readings, but totally misses the boat when it comes to the all important PUR.
Why else do you only see PAR noted for these LEDs and not PUR?

If you are actually still considering a Finnex LED, you need to read this article that compares LED warranties; if this does not convince you as a reader that this is a LED that no one should purchase, I have some beach front property to sell you on the Arctic Coast of Alaska:
Aquarium LED Warranties, Including Finnex

Further References:
*LED Aquarium Lights, Lighting; RGB
*PUR Versus PAR in Aquarium Lighting THIS IS A MUST READ WEB ARTICLE!!!

Emitter Technology, Warm White, Cool White Emitter Use and More:

This is one of the more comical aspects of many who promote inferior LED Lights, and that is the use of Cool White and Warm White LED emitters.
This includes the EcoTech LED’s use of Cool White emitters and the Maxspect Mazarra LED’s use of Warm White emitters.

As I have read elsewhere, these same persons recommending these two LED before mentioned LED fixtures would NEVER recommend a T5, T8, CFL or any other aquarium light that is either “warm white or “cool white”, YET SOMEHOW THESE LEDS GET A PASS ON THIS POOR LOGIC???

While these before mentioned LEDs along with many others such as the TaoTronics have certainly proved themselves in aquarium lighting, they are doing it an expense of the best emitters, the best controllers/drivers, and gimmicky features that only lower light quality.
All at a higher electrical cost for results these LEDs do achieve as well as a lifespan as much as 1/4 of the better builds.

Many will attempt to use a PAR meter to prove their LED quality, but again this can be very misleading when one looks at the facts.
Please Again Reference:
*http://www.aquarium-pond-answers.com/2012/03/pur-vs-par-in-aquarium-lighting.html

The result is extra heat and a requirement for more electricity used for the same results.

THE FACTS ARE, an EcoTech Radion at 140 watts is going to product less usable light energy (PUR) Per Watt than a 30 Watt AquaRay Ocean Blue NP 1500

To say your EcoTech Radion at 140 watts produced better results is an apples to oranges comparison. When PER WATT, the numbers says otherwise.

In the end, the facts are inarguable, despite what many might say in forums that often result in attacking the authors of articles such as this or making up silly & inaccurate statements about noise from fixtures employing PWM such as one I read on Reef Central, then further resulting in others copy and pasting this BS all over the internet!!!!

Important Update

A another professional in the field sent me an interesting email about his interaction (or lack of) with EcoTech customer support and control over the spectrum (PWM) for their LEDs. This professional understands the importance of PWM and wanted to understand EcoTech “control”, because of his interest in obtaining new LEDs. The professional emailed EcoTech, and simply asked them how they control their spectrum of the LEDs. See the screen shot of the email sent to EcoTech:

EcoTech, AquaRay, LEDs, Controller, Spectrum, PWM, Shift in spectrum, customer support, opinion

Wanting to know how EcoTech controls spectrum of their LEDs.

So, from what I have gathered, this professional emailed EcoTech and from my understanding, STILL has not received a response back back to answer the question. First, WHERE IS ECOTECH SUPPORT? Moreover, WHY ARE THEY NOT ANSWERING THE QUESTION? AT LEAST MAKE SOMETHING GOOD UP ECOTECH! Anyone reading this article can take a guess. CAUSE THEY DON’T CONTROL SPECTRUM SHIFT IN THEIR LEDs!
HOW’S A PERSON TANK LIGHTING IS BEING AFFECTED??? No one knows, and that’s the point! People put so much effort into their reef tanks, why not provided them with the best, or is colored emitters and user gimmicks your game?

People can be getting far more USEFUL light energy with their aquarium LED lighting! Since this article is so popular already, I’m hoping people get the memo and EcoTech gets the hint. CONTROL YOUR SPECTRUM PEOPLE! Your reef and plants deserves it.

OTHER REFERENCES:

*http://fab.cba.mit.edu/classes/MIT/961.04/topics/pwm.pdf

*http://www.digikey.com/us/en/techzone/lighting/resources/articles/how-to-dim-an-led.html

*Wikipedia; Pulse-width modulation

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Reefbuilders LED Showdown; Reef Central LED Police

Revised 12-5-15

I do not know whether to laugh or cry when I read blogs such as this one:

http://reefbuilders.com/2013/01/18/led-showdown-round/
Skewed LED Aquarium Reef Light Showdown

While this blog “showdown of LED lights” is intended only for those that came out in 2012, it has the implication that these are the best, which simply is not true when looked at scientifically and as per warranties.

Just because an LED such as the EcoTech Radion is released in 2011 does not mean it is inferior to those in 2012

As well many LED Fixtures that officially are older yet by a year or two are updated constantly with new emitters or other upgrades
An example here would be the TMC 1000 Ultra which is a few years old, but has the newest patented Cree XR-E emitters AS OF 2012.

Using the implied logic in this Reefbuilders blog, a Ford F150 that has been around for years, but has a new engine is somehow inferior to a new model truck from company XYZ.
Gee, I thought a 2013 Ford F-150 was different from a 1970 F-150 model, but if I used the implied logic from the “LED Showdown”, I guess I am wrong??!!

Also missing were the 2012 AquaRay Mini 400 & 500s.
While these are not the top of the line LED, rather more than a niche LED, these are still vastly superior to the Finnex with its Chinese made Epistar emitter. Sadly the Finnex made this list while the AquaRay did not.
See: LED Light Information; Finnex
As well the excellent TMC AquaRay Fiji Blue 600 also released in 2012 was also snubbed, hmmmm.

Interesting too as per the TMC AquaRay snub, AquaRay has released the new & incredible Ocean Blue ND Ultima; Review and 600 Ultima; Review in December of 2012, so this competition is skewed here as well. One might argue that these lights will not be available to most until January or February for most of the buying public, but this is splitting hairs.


Revision, August 2013;
Reef Builders is showing their ‘true colors’ with this inaccurate review of the AquaBeam NP 1500 Ultima. In this review they get some very basic facts wrong.
See:
AquaBeam Ultima 1500 NP; Review Correction Reef Builders


Revision December 2013

I suggest looking at these two posts from this website, the first factually looks at warranties and the second looks at the facts of PWM versus Current Reduction Drivers, with the vast majority of over rated LEDs utilizing “current reduction”, including most featured in this ridiculous Reef Builders Poll.

*Aquarium LED Warranties; Reef or Planted
*Aquarium LED Lights, Controllers; What is Best


Revision December 2014

I actually have to praise Reef Central for one thread that while some comments were the usual Reef Central anecdotal BS, in the thread below many of the comments were more scientifically spot on:
http://reefcentral.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2391677

One in particular caught my attention in that he [Bryopsis] called out the lack of knowledge of PUR and the so-called lack of popularity of the TMC line of LEDs in the USA, when in much more seasoned European aquarium keeping circles they are well known. The facts are, as also pointed out, that TMC does no spend $$ marketing like EcoTech and others do in the USA, more on simply developing a better product with a warranty 2-3 times longer than all others.

Here is a quote:
“They’re a household name in Europe. As far as I know, there’s only 1 distributor here in the states.

PUR is a completely appropriate topic though when it comes to lights. It’s still another measurement that means something. It’s not just a fancy word like AI, Radion, Kessil, Maxspect would like you to believe.
You might think PUR is unnecessary or the brand isn’t well known, I see the opposite of this.

Why does nobody use the balling lite system, or even the Triton method? I don’t see a lot on the Triton method, that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. That’s why I enjoy my time on the European forums more than the US forums. Any way you slice it, the Europeans and other countries have been keeping fish much longer than the United States folks. I surely won’t dismiss anyones methods etc, but I think the bottom line is they have more experience in the fishkeeping hobby. (by several hundreds years at least)

Over in the European forums you see these crazy tanks running for years with no water changes yet doing just fine supplementing additives.
In the USA, people say additives are the devil and I see the majority of people asking how to keep some of the basic chemistry in check.

I won’t make any assumptions on who’s right, but I see a lot of bickering on the US forums as compared to legitimate progress between multiple people in the Euro forums. It’s definitely something to think about.”


I should point out that there are some good LEDs in their “showdown”, but limiting this “competition” to just 2012 LED releases based on hobbyist preferences and snubbing one of the top notch LED brands used by many professionals makes for a VERY skewed competition.

In another ReefBuilders thread, a person commenting hit the nail on the head about how this website along with Reef Central are NOT places for those desiring scientific reasoning should visit.

Here is his comment (from; http://reefbuilders.com/2012/01/10/2011-led-showdow/):
You mean the purchased badge? Just like Ecotec purchased out reef central? Anyone dare say anything against ecotec and they get the ban hammer faster then the black plague.. Its too bad everyone else in this showdown didn’t get a chance to mass span everyone begging for a vote.

This person has exactly summed up my experience along with others.
Even EcoTech’s own emails ask those inquiring questions to go to this forum.
WHY; because they have bought and paid for this forum.

How otherwise intelligent persons can recommend a LED fixture that utilizes “cool white” emitters and uses “current reduction” instead of the vastly superior “pulse width modulation” to control their LEDs screams out that this forum is bought and paid for!!!!

If you disagree, you WILL get attacked at the very least with straw man arguments that attack the person, NOT the facts.

NOTE:
What is interesting is the comment I quoted from Reef Builders about the Reef Central “Ban Hammer” was scrubbed clean as well as all other comments!
You think they made too good a point and hit a raw nerve with the Reef Central LED Police????

Further Revision;
The Reef Central Link Police have struck again (as a ping back to this webpage found):
Reef Central LED Aquarium Light Police
From this thread:
http://www.reefcentral.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2386209

With again personal attacks at Reef Central on author credibility rather and address the facts, including comments such as this:
“No way TMC makes the best LED on the market. GHL and Ecotech”
AND “IF that were the case don’t you think there would be countless threads and posts referencing this relatively small player in the LED game “
REALLY?!

Gee, what about PUR? The SIMPLE FACTS of lost energy as heat instead of light? The use of PROVEN useless green emitters? Lack of PWM by EcoTech?????
TMC simply has not bought their way into forums such as Reef Central here in the USA. Even some simple investigation will show that EcoTech is a late comer to the high end LED market, not TMC (which is very popular in Europe, certainly not a small player).
As well science is NOT a popularity contest, sure if you want to be lemmings and follow these buffoons at Reef Central over the cliff go right ahead.

Reef Central continues to show itself as a dishonest, heavy handed forum, where SIMPLE scientific facts are thrown out the window in lieu of personal Ad hominem attacks.
They cannot even get simple facts straight of which LEDs were available on the market first.

In fact I remember when the EcoTech did come out, and I was discussing this light with others at an LA marine livesotck dealer, the others thought the EcoTech would not get very far because it lacked essential lighting elements and was much more gimmicky than the already well established premier TMC Aquaray lights. Admittedly we were wrong here, as we did not anticipate how well Reef Central would be able to pour the Kool Aid down the throats of so many gullible persons who read their awful forum, then cut and paste into other gullible forums such as PNWMAS!

Highly Suggested Further Reading:

Why Aquaray LED Light Fixtures, Review? This is one of my posts outlining the facts that separate the Aquray lights I have come to support and all others.

http://aap.atrixnet.com/?p=338
The above link has an excellent graph that plots the PUR of actual emitter used by the EcoTech.
If this does not convince any reader why the EcoTech is far from the best LED, I have some beach front property to sell you in Barrow Alaska!

St. Marys Marine Biology LED Experiments
Professor Walter of St. Mary’s College of Maryland University LED Study.

Suggested Reading that I found for those looking for a more factual comparison:
Aquarium LED Comparison
Make sure to look over the chart near the end of the article!

The bottom line, while this “showdown” might be entertaining to read; realize this is simply a good read while enjoying some good cannabis and nothing more.