BRStv Investigates: Diving into the Aquatic Life T5/LED Hybrid fixture
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A hybrid of T5 fluorescent tubes and a high-output LED fixture has proven to be among the most effective methods of producing a full spread of light over a coral reef aquarium. You get the control and power of the LED fixture alongside the coverage and even spread of the T5 lamps which result in a very even blanket of light, without shadows or color spots.
Aquatic Life was the first to mass-produce a "retrofit" LED/T5 Hybrid fixture that allows you to use your existing LED light and Ryan puts it to the test by coupling the Hybrid with some of our favorite LED lights - Kessil A360X, EcoTech Marine XR15, and Aqua Illumination Prime HD. We examine the performance by taking par measurements and comparing both the aesthetics and available features of each of the various LED/T5 combos to help you make the best decisions for your own reef.
Ultimately, providing the right spectrum and PAR is what will sustain the health of our corals. We measured the PAR inside a 24" x 24" cube aquarium and a 48" x 24" aquarium to get an accurate snapshot of how much PAR the light can provide and how well the PAR is distributed. When used over the 24" cube tank the 24" Aquatic Life Hybrid was used alongside a single LED fixture. Over the 48" tank we used two LED fixtures inside the 48" Hybrid.
In all of the tests, the Aquatic Life Hybrid was stocked with x4 ATI Blue Plus T5 lamps which have long been the most popular and effective T5 lamps for reef aquariums because of the ideal spectrum it produces. This sort of sums up our evaluation of spectrum too because the T5 lamps will give you that successful spectrum and even spread of light no matter what. You can then fine-tune that spectrum using the LEDs to accommodate personal preferences without going outside what is appropriate for the coral.
Aquatic Life Hybrid Only - x4 T5 Lamps, No LED
- 24" x 24" Average PAR @ 12" Depth: 116 PAR
- 24" x 48" Average PAR @ 12" Depth: 145 PAR
Aquatic Life Hybrid w/ AI Prime HD
- 24" x 24" Average PAR @ 12" Depth: 202 PAR
- 24" x 48" Average PAR @ 12" Depth: 219 PAR
Aquatic Life Hybrid w/ Kessil A360
- 24" x 24" Average PAR @ 12" Depth: 260 PAR
- 24" x 48" Average PAR @ 12" Depth: 270 PAR
Aquatic Life Hybrid w/ EcoTech Marine XR15
- 24" x 24" Average PAR @ 12" Depth: 292 PAR
- 24" x 48" Average PAR @ 12" Depth: 299 PAR
This is how well the light creates the appearance you desire in and around the aquarium. That includes both the way the fixture itself looks when mounted over your aquarium as well as the aesthetic it creates inside your tank in the way of color pop, shimmer, contrast, dimming, and even the lunar lights. Being a T5/LED hybrid, some of this can be hard to compare because having the T5 lamps across all of the options really creates a consistent look, which most will agree is desirable and a big reason why we love the hybrid approach.
You can create pretty much any spectrum and level of color pop you desire by choosing the right combination of T5 lamps. Combine that with the given spectral adjustments using the Prime HD, A360, and XR15, and fine-tuning the light to meet your personal preferences is incredibly easy.
This is how well the light covers your aquarium with light and dark areas to create that sense of depth. Once again, the Hybrid shines because you get that even blanket of light from the T5 lamps combined with the high-contrast output of the LEDs. It's a perfect balance and surpasses the Metal Halide/T5 combos of days past.
The level of shimmer you like to see inside the tank is most certainly a personal preference. That said, the T5 lamps create no shimmer whatsoever while the LEDs do a fantastic job of creating that natural shimmer and movement inside the aquarium as light reflects off the water's surface. The choice of LED will play a big role and the Kessil is known best for producing a very natural shimmer that is not-overbearing or harsh.
The original Aquatic Life Hybrid we tested in the video was not capable of dimming meaning your only option for adjustment was using the LED fixtures. Since the filming of this video, Aquatic Life now has dimmable hybrid fixtures that allow you to adjust the intensity of the T5 lamps alongside your LED fixture.
Again, limited to the LED lights only, the Aquatic Life Hybrid does not come with any kind of Lunar Light options but really isn't any loss because the LEDs alone can suffice for this purpose. Having control over the spectrum means you can produce any color you want inside the tank at night.
Compared to using an LED fixture alone, the hybrid fixtures do add some bulk above your tank. That said, they have a flat profile and are fairly lightweight meaning you can suspend them easily from your ceiling or light rack. Very much subjective but when compared to bulky metal halide fixtures of days past, they are much more contemporary and streamlined and supply equal if not better output across the board.
The Hybrids come with a suspension kit and mounting brackets that accommodate most of the popular LED light fixtures. You can do away with your Led's native mounting option and simply suspend the hybrid which will hold your LEDs above the tank. The original hybrids are not controllable but the newer Dimmable Hybrids have the 0-10v control capability which means they can be controlled using an aquarium controller like the Neptune Systems Apex.
In the way of the spectrum, you choose the T5 lamps you want and will only have to adjust the spectrum of your LEDs. The Kessil, Prime HD, and XR15 all have intuitive controls and provide a successful template for you to build upon. There are no fans or noise to deal with so you will only be hearing the noise of your LEDs.