Unless you're gifted with the superhuman ability of precognition, the ability to avoid troubles with your aquarium without using an aquarium controller is not in the cards. Consequently, using a controller is like engaging a superpower and will help secure the future of your fish, corals, and other aquatic pets. 

Monitor vs Controller

There is a difference and it's important to understand. A monitor simply keeps an eye on your tank and the best monitors will notify you when something goes wrong, even when you're away from home. The most impactful monitors will track temperature, pH, and salinity which covers many common problems we encounter with aquariums. A monitor that can sense power to your aquarium and water on the floor are quite useful as well for obvious reasons.

A controller does everything a monitor can do in terms of tracking parameters or conditions in your tank but also allows for the automation and control of connected equipment. This not only helps automate some of the more mundane tasks associated with your tank but also gives you the ability to take action in the event something goes wrong.  

Some controllers and monitors are much more advanced than others and whether you realize it or not, you probably using a controller on your tank right now. Temperature controllers like those that manage your heater are basic controllers.  Your auto top-off system and DC pump require controllers to operate. These are examples of very specific controllers that manage one device.

Multi-parameter controllers and monitors like the Apex family of products from Neptune Systems bring an additional layer of redundancy to the table and allow you to automate a much wider variety of tasks further protecting your aquarium from disaster. You also benefit from remote access via the internet and smartphone apps which allows you to check on your aquarium from anywhere in the world. 

Aquarium Controllers

1. What can an aquarium controller do for you? 

  • Prevent tank crashes
  • Reduce maintenance times
  • Organize & automate tasks
  • Sleep and travel with peace of mind

2. Every piece of equipment on your tank will eventually fail and you will make mistakes

As we said earlier, unless you're gifted with superhuman capabilities, you will eventually encounter some kind of unexpected trouble with your aquarium. Whether that is a failed piece of equipment or some mistake on part of human error, these things will eventually happen and there is no way two ways around it. 

The key to surviving these bumps in the road is being prepared. Monitoring is the first step because you cannot fix what you don't know is broken and getting notified BEFORE your aquarium suffers is pivotal. Taking that a step further and gaining control over your tank even when you're away is the best possible approach to keeping your aquarium safe for years to come. 

3. Take advantage of alarms

A smart aquarium monitor can produce a local audible alarm and trigger mobile notifications right on your phone in real-time to alert you of the conditions in your tank. This may include but is not limited to:

  • Leaks or water sensors
  • pH fluctuations
  • Temperature changes
  • Power outages
  • Flow rates
  • Calcium, alkalinity, & magnesium levels
  • Salinity
  • Water level
  • Water quality
  • Malfunctioning equipment

At a bare minimum, this allows you to drop what you're doing and give your aquarium the attention it needs. You can also identify trends and attempt to prevent a major catastrophe before it happens. 

Tunze pump controllers

4. Some controllers are smarter than others

99.9% of aquariums rely on controllers but many of these are "dumb" controllers that don't communicate with each other and don't really communicate with you directly. While these simple controllers make our lives much easier, there is a better option. Multi-parameter controllers like the Neptune Systems Apex and GHL Profilux tie all of your equipment together using a single platform allowing for communication across the board and opening up a means of layering redundant protection. 

5. Remote control puts the power in your hands

Controllers may seem complicated when you start to think about programming but at the most basic level, they are simply remotes that allow you to turn your equipment on/off when you're not home. Just like the TV remote that gives you the ability to turn ON your TV from the couch, an aquarium controller allows you to turn your pumps on and off when you are out to dinner or on vacation. 

Eheim Jager heater temperature dial

6. Redundancy is automated protection

While having manual control over your equipment is helpful, the real value is redundancy or automated protection. Redundancy is where the solution is automatically triggered when some conditions are met.  

For example, you can plug your temperature controller into an Apex. The native temperature controller will manage the daily on/off cycles of your heater.  The Apex can be programmed to cut off power to the entire heating system should the water temperature rise above 82° F. The Apex will only come into play should your primary heater fail and cause a spike in temperature. 

In the example above, your primary temperature controller is the first layer of control and the Apex overheat protection is the redundancy.

7. Which controller comes first?

When creating redundancy, the controller that is most likely to fail should probably come first.  It's better to have the peace of mind that your most reliable layer of protection is the failsafe rather than the primary control.

8. Controllers make your life easier

Modern aquarium controllers are incredibly powerful and the most valuable features are somewhat subjective. While most would agree that protecting your tank against a crash is ultimately the most valuable feature, some may appreciate the time savings and task automation just as well. You can take notes, keep a log of your parameters, control your pumps, and even automate your water changes ...the point is, a controller can be quite simple but also quite complex depending on how you use it. Whatever benefits you the most and makes your life easier dictates how to best use your controller..

Neptune Systems Apex alert 

9. 100/100 tank owners would agree that knowing the moment something happens makes all the difference

Early warnings give you the chance to take action BEFORE your tank inhabitants suffer. Things go south fast and knowing is half the battle. Waiting until you notice that your animals are suffering is far too late. 

10. Redundant heater protection alone is worth the cost of a controller

A heater is your tank's biggest weakness and is the most likely piece of equipment to fail on any tank. Having that redundant protection against heater mishaps drastically improves the success rate of first-time tank owners. 

Most heater manufacturers warranty a heater for only 6 months! This is because they are simply under heavy use and are not rated to last much longer under normal aquarium circumstances.

Replace your heating element proactively or at minimum, keep a spare heater on hand at all times.  Set up alarms to be notified of shifting temperatures right away and create automated protections to negate the risks of equipment failures.