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AI Hydra 64: Did we just change light testing FOREVER? | BRStv Investigates

BRStv has an all new approach to testing LED lights for reef tanks unlike anything else that has been done before! This is our very first video with the new methods and Randy focuses on the Aqua Illumination Hydra64 LED Light to show off our new approach and give you a solid foundation for choosing the right LED light for your reef tank.

Lighting questions

There are four critical questions new LED light owners need to answer before using an LED light successfully. We set up a series of tests to answer these questions and then formulate data driven recommendations for setting up your Hydra 64 LED Light.

You can expect to get a solid understanding of the Hydra64 performance and obtain the necessary knowledge you need to make installation quick and easy over either an LPS/Softie tank or an SPS dominant display. The data also helps to paint a much clearer picture of how LED lights in general are effectively lighting our reef tanks.

Phosphate Levels of Cured Rock

Mounting Height

We mounted a single Hydra 64 at 6 inches from the water’s surface and set it to run at 100% output across all 7 color channels. We took a full grid of PAR measurements and then raised the fixture mounting height in 1 inch increments, recording a new PAR grid at each increment.

What we’re looking for is the best spread possible, meaning a reduced center hotspot and increased PAR on the outer edges while also minimizing the amount of light spilled into the room. Upon comparing the grids and calculating the average PAR values, the sweet spot was obvious.

Mounting height experiment

At 6 inch mounting height, there is an average PAR of 335 with a super intense hotspot in the center of over 1000 PAR. As we progressed, the average PAR values across the entire grid continued to drop but we experienced a much more even spread throughout indicated by the rising outer ring measurements and reduced center hotspot. Once we hit a mounting height of 13”, our average PAR loss across the entire grid surpassed our 15% loss threshold so we called it.

Aqua Illumination Hydra 64 PAR Grids

At 12 inches from the water’s surface you will get the best balance of light spread with minimal light spill over a 24” x 24” area using the Hydra 64 HD LED Light.

Aqua Illumination HMS Mounting System

It just so happens that 12”inches is about the maximum height of the single and multi-light Aqua Illumination HMS mount kits making this 12” height fairly easy to achieve.

Light spacing experiment

Fixture Spacing

To test spacing multiple lights on a longer tank we mounted two Hydra 64 fixtures over a 48” long 120 gallon tank for LPS dominant systems and then added a 3rd fixture to get some data for SPS dominant systems. Generally speaking, LPS systems will have a lower demand for light compared to SPS dominant tanks and it is important for you to consider these requirements before lighting your tank.

We started taking PAR measurements with the lights evenly spaced from the center of each fixture over the top of the 4ft tank. We then increased the distance between the fixtures, 1” at a time, until we saw the best coverage with the most even spread of PAR across the entire grid.

LPS Coral Spacing Results

Hydra 64 Fixture Spacing For LPS and Soft Coral Reef Tanks

After reviewing the data it was clear that spreading two fixtures a little farther apart, 14” from the left and right edges yielded the best results with the most evenly distributed PAR for LPS and Soft Corals.

SPS Coral Spacing Results

Hydra 64 Fixture Spacing For SPS Coral Dominant Reef Tanks

After adding a 3rd fixture into the mix and rotating to a perpendicular mounting position over the 48” 120 gallon tank, we found that mounting one fixture perfectly centered and the remaining two only 10” from the right and left edges yielded the best results.

Aqua Illumination Hydra 64

Now that we know how high to mount the lights and how to space them, there are only two questions left. What kind of spectrum can the Hydra 64 LED light produce and how can we combine all of this data to create real world settings for both LPS/Soft Coral and SPS dominant tanks?


Spectrum Offering

To explore the spectrum, we used a spectrometer mounted underneath the 60 gallon cube to create spectral graphs. We adjusted the output color using the myAI app and individual LED color channel sliders.

Hydra 64 compared to ATI Blue Blus

The Hydra 64 with all channels at 100% produces a very familiar looking spectrum with a full spectrum spread and a substantial spike around the 420-500nm range.

When compared to one of the gold standards of reef tank lighting, the ATI Blue Plus T5 bulb, we see that although it doesn’t hit as wide of a band in that 420 to 500 range as the ATI, it does provide a pretty solid representation.

Individual color channel spectrums

In order to see what each of the color channels looks like individually, we isolated them one by one by reducing all other channels to 0% and taking measurements. The results are as expected with spikes in the corresponding color spectrum. We can use these individual spectral graphs to get a better understanding of exactly how adjusting the color channels will affect the overall spectrum.

Dynamic Spectrum Test

Dynamic Spectrum Test

In order to test how well the colors blend we set the fixture to our custom BRS spectrum settings and took 10 measurements under the 60 gallon cube while a powerhead created turbulent flow on the water’s surface. We do share the custom spectrum settings below but first, let's look at these results to better understand how we came up with the settings.

The goal here was to identify any major shifts in color spectrum caused by the surface agitation. The idea is that the smaller the changes in spectrum, the more evenly blended the light source will be.

Dynamic Spectrum Test Results

As we cycle through the 10 measurements we see some moderate fluctuations in the 400-410nm range and also in the 470nm range. Beyond that, there really wasn’t any noticeable fluctuation across the remaining spectrum offering. This means you will be able to see some mild color separation in the tank but nowhere near the worst we have tested.

BRS Custom settings data analysis

Custom BRS Settings Using myAI

Aqua Illumination does not really provide any settings recommendations for the myAI app. Using the data we collected and our observations and experience, we proceeded to create our own. We came up with different custom settings for both an LPS and SPS dominant reef tanks over both the 60 gallon cube and 120 gallon tank.

In order to find those settings we put an emphasis on the blue color spectrum for PAR and energy for corals. We then adjusted the white channels to fine tune the visual appearance and also added some red and green sparingly. We adjusted the intensity to accommodate the average PAR requirements of the corals being kept with 75 - 150 PAR for LPS/Softies and 200-350 PAR for SPS corals.

LPS Settings for a 60 gallon cube using Hydra 64 LED Light

Hydra 64 Settings for LPS Corals in a 60 Gallon Cube

With a single Hydra 64 mounted 12” from the surface over a 60 gallon cube tank we targeted a spectrum range with proven results for coral health coupled with a pleasant visual appearance. We then adjusted the spectrum intensity until we achieved an average PAR throughout the entire tank within 75 - 150 PAR.

LPS Settings for a 120 gallon using Hydra 64 LED Light

Hydra 64 Settings for LPS Corals in a 120 Gallon Tank

For the larger 120 gallon tank, we mounted two of the Hydra 64 fixtures using both the optimal spacing and mounting height data we found earlier in the test. We then set them to run the same settings as our 60 gallon cube. With the additional fixture, we are able to achieve the target PAR values of 75 - 150 throughout a majority of the tank without the need to adjust any of the channels.

SPS Settings for a 60 gallon cube using Hydra 64 LED Light

Hydra 64 Settings for SPS Corals in a 60 Gallon Cube

For SPS corals, the target PAR range is 200 - 350 PAR throughout the tank and so we ramped up the intensity across the board to achieve the output we needed. Again, this is a single Hydra 64 mounted 12” above the water’s surface over the 60 cube.

With these settings we are covering at least 70% percent of the entire 60 gallon cube with PAR values in the 200 - 350 range. With this kind of coverage no matter where you place your SPS corals the vast majority of them will be within PAR ranges proven to produce solid results.

SPS settings for a 120 gallon rectangle tank

Hydra 64 Settings for SPS Corals in a 120 Gallon Tank

Over our 120 gallon 4ft tank, we mounted three lights at 12”inches above the water and oriented perpendicular to the tank for maximum coverage front to back. Based on our spacing test we followed the same mounting guidelines with one fixture centered and the other two mounted 10” from the left and right edges.

In this case, that third fixture gives us the extra output we need to achieve as much as 72% of the tank covered in light within the 200 - 350 PAR range. All things considered that means most any usable space within the tank will be suitable for healthy SPS coral growth with the only exception of far corners and edges which are pretty tough areas to mount a coral anyway.

PAR Meters

We are confident these data-backed settings will produce great results and you now have the necessary knowledge to hit the ground running with your new Hydra 64. One thing to remember is that your particular aquascape and the exact size and shape of your tank will have an effect on performance. That being said the most foolproof way to get your light dialed optimally for your tank is to verify the settings with a PAR meter.

If your one of those reef tank enthusiasts that just can’t get enough and would like to dive deeper into the subject of reef aquarium lighting, we highly recommend Episode #11 in the BRS/WWC System video series. Ryan does an amazing job explaining aquarium lighting but also makes a strong case about T5/LED hybrid lighting and why this hybrid technology functions so well over SPS dominant reef tanks.

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