The BRStv Buyer's Guide To Return Pumps is our commitment to your success! We give you the most up-to-date and insightful advice possible so you are armed with the necessary knowledge to make the right move when it comes time to purchase a return pump. After all, a return pump is one of the most critical pieces of gear on your tank because it moves water through your sump and aquarium. Essentially, it's like the heart of your tank, pumping water through the filtration system. 

Best Selling Return Pump - Sicce

Best Selling Return Pump

Not surprising but true nonetheless, Sicce takes the cake for being the MOST POPULAR pump brand on our website.  Most popular meaning we sell more Sicce pumps than any other brand. In fact, Sicce sales out-compete others by 4:1 which just goes to show the value is real.

Sicce is an Italian pump manufacturer that is laser-focused on pumps. Pumps are what they do and the only thing they do which really shows in the performance and value. They make long-lasting, quiet water pumps in a range of styles suited for a variety of uses in and around your saltwater tank. The Syncra Silent pump series specifically is one of the best AC-powered return pumps to have ever hit the saltwater aquarium hobby, you just cannot find a better-performing AC pump for the price.

Best Selling DC Return Pump

Leading DC Powered Pumps

Compared to AC pumps, DC pump sales are spread fairly evenly across the different brands. Whether it's brand loyalty, price, or it simply looks good alongside your sump and PVC, we find there is no distinct winner in terms of a customer favorite based on sales. 

Red Dragon - Best Seller

We have our favorites which we will get to in a minute but among the DC-powered water pumps, there are a couple of brands that out-shine the others in the way of features and performance. These pumps also come with a price tag to show it so it is not fair to put these high-end DC pumps on the same playing field. Abyzz and Royal Exclusiv are both manufactured in Europe and are extremely dedicated to producing pumps that stand out with unique user experience and quality of craftsmanship that cannot be rivaled by many. Looking at your dollars spent, Royal Exclusiv Red Dragon pumps are the best-selling high-end DC return pump. 

Neptune Systems Fusion with COR Pump Notification

Randy and Ryan's Favorite Return Pump

It is no secret we are big fans of Neptune Systems Apex Aquarium Controllers here at BRS and both of our beloved hosts would choose the Neptune System COR water pump for use on a reef aquarium outfitted with a Neptune Apex. For tanks without a controller, our boys both agreed that Sicce was their own personal favorite pump to be used on a reef tank, especially when an AC-powered pump is desired.

Now that we have presented our favorites and the brands the entire community chooses most, we are breaking it down by what matters most to you. As you follow along, just think about which one of the following values speaks most to you and your tank. What is most important to YOU when it comes to a return pump.

Lifegard Quiet One Pro - Most Affordable

Most Affordable

If price is the priority, the clear winner is the Lifegard Quiet One Pro pumps. These are no-frills AC-powered pumps that will get the job done without a fuss. The connection outlets are threaded for easy plumbing on a majority of the models and they also have an adjustable intake strainer that will allow you to make some minor adjustments to the flow.  

Quietest Pump

Any DC-powered pump will run substantially quieter than the AC-powered models. This is just one of the big benefits of choosing a DC Pump, they are extremely quiet.  All of the DC pump options we stock run pretty quiet so if noise is your concern, go DC every time.  Even with the higher flow Abyzz or Red Dragon models, you can expect a whisper-quiet flow. 

Most Reliable - Two pumps instead of one

Most Reliable

In terms of which pump will be most likely to keep your tank alive in the event of a failure, the answer isn't any particular brand rather a configuration. Run two pumps instead of one to ensure you always have a working pump.  If one pump breaks, you have that second pump to keep your tank afloat.  

AC-Powered vs. DC-Powered

It is pretty well proven at this point that when cared for properly, a classic AC-powered pump will outlive a DC pump when used on an aquarium. DC pumps are just more sensitive to the kind of abuse our pumps encounter so if longevity is your priority, choose an AC pump. 

Best Warranty

Warranty is a big indicator of exactly how much a manufacturer trusts its own craftsmanship. Each pump will come with an individual warranty but the point here is to choose a pump that comes with an acceptable warranty for the price.  Industry-leading Abyzz pumps come with a 10-year warranty and are one of the most expensive pumps on the market. Sicce, on the other hand, offers a 3-year warranty, an excellent reputation, and a reasonable price point.    

External Pumps

Up To The Highest Heights

If you are in a situation in which you require water to be pushed to considerable heights, external pumps are the way to go. They can deliver much higher water pressure and move water a long distance should you require it.  Be sure to review the specifications before choosing the right pump as some models are designed for higher flow rates and larger pipe diameters while others are designed for higher pressure, just a matter of choosing the right model for your particular tank.   

Most Accurate GPH Control 

If precise control over your pump is important, be sure you're looking at DC water pumps.  DC pumps use electronic speed controls to speed up or slow down the pump motor in turn giving you incremental control over the flow rate.  This can be extremely useful in the case of UV sterilizers and tuning your return flow based on your overflow box drains. 

Abyzz or Royal Exclusiv Red Dragon

Abyzz vs. Royal Exclusiv

As discussed earlier, these high-end pump brands set a much higher standard for themselves and their products. When you get into this level of quality we are pretty confident you're going to be impressed no matter which route you go. 

Smallest Footprint

If you need the pump to be small, the Eheim Compacton is the most space-saving design in terms of footprint to flow ratio. On that note, if your looking specifically for a controllable DC pump, look no further than the Reef Octopus VarioS - 2.  The tiny VarioS-2 is a great choice when space is limited in the pump chamber of your sump but want to have the extra security of dual return pumps.  

Which return pump is best for you?

Other Things To Consider

  • Does the pump have an auto-shutoff or is it compatible with a float level switch?
  • Assume that your actual water flow will be about 50% of the maximum flow advertised water flow after going through your plumbing.
  • You only need about x3 total tank volume turnover per hour.  For example, A 50-gallon tank will only require 150 GPH of flow through the sump.
  • Only use external pumps when you absolutely have to and if you do, choose a pump designed specifically for external applications.
  • Does your pump provide you with notifications in the event of a problem? Is this feature important to you? 
  • Always register for the warranty.