What is a Controller?

The most basic definition of a "controller" is essentially an electronic device that controls something.  Your television remote is a controller that controls your TV, an RC car or Drone has its own controller to steer it and control acceleration.

As it pertains to aquariums, there is a wide variety of equipment that can be controlled which means there is a wide variety of controllers. A simple Wifi timer is a type of controller you might use to control your lights or turn off your pumps during feeding time.  A temperature controller monitors your tank temperature and controls the operation of your heater and/or chiller to keep the water within a suitable temperature range. All of your pumps, lighting, dosers, and even the ATO system can have their own controllers. You can imagine, to fully automate and control everything on your tank, these controllers will add up fast. 

Wouldn't it be cool if all of the various equipment on your tank could be controlled centrally using your smartphone? 

This is exactly what a multi-element aquarium controller is designed to do. Aquarium controllers are designed to control a variety of different things using a central control platform and software to help make your life easy. They work using a variety of different technologies including Wifi, Bluetooth, 0-10v signals, electricity, and even radio frequency to control the various pieces of equipment you have on your tank. You can then set up and program the controller using some kind of software or connected interface.

Controller vs Monitor

Controller vs Monitors

Most aquarium controllers are capable of monitoring but monitors typically cannot control anything.  For example, a pH monitor simply gives you a pH reading just like a thermometer only gives you a temperature reading.  A pH controller, on the other hand, will monitor pH and is also able to control a device based on that pH reading. The same goes for a temperature controller, it monitors water temperature and is also capable of turning your heater on/off.  

An aquarium controller can work as a simple timer to turn your lights on and off each day. You can then program a safety feature where the controller will turn your lights OFF if the water temperatures reach dangerously high levels. The best controllers can then send you a text message or email when that shut down occurs!  Using a combination of a simple timer and a thermometer, the controller is capable of performing this task and that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the automation and control you can achieve. 

Types of Aquarium Controllers

We sorted of hinted at this already but controllers can be broken down into two distinct categories. 

  • Single element controller: controls one device
  • Multi-element controller: controls multiple devices

A wifi plug is a single element controller, it turns something on/off based on time by controlling electricity. A Neptune Systems Apex is a multi-element controller that can control a variety of different pieces of equipment and monitor a wide range of parameters that can then be used to control those devices. Think of it like a souped-up smart energy bar that you plug your equipment into, attach monitoring probes and/or additional accessories, then access everything using an app. 

There are a handful of multi-element controllers on the market, with just a few that dominate the market because of their usability and compatibility with a wide range of different aquarium products. For the most part, when hobbyists say "aquarium controller" we are referring to one of these major multi-element controller brands. 

Neptune Systems Apex

Controllers Are For Beginners Too

While it might seem complex, an aquarium controller is extremely powerful and not limited by experience level. Not only do controllers automate a variety of things and help operate your equipment, but you also get the ability to monitor your tank and the equipment that supports it. You can protect your tank against a wide variety of problems with the proper use of an aquarium controller. Thanks to modern technology you can access everything from your smartphone and get real-time updates and notifications about your tank. 

This kind of automation technology is quickly becoming a part of our everyday lives with smart devices and home automation, your aquarium controller really is no different.  The aquarium controller companies work hard at creating software that is user-friendly and guides you through setup no matter what the particular application might be. 

Benefits of an Aquarium Controller

  • Get notified on your phone when things go wrong - leaks, overheat, pH drop, overflow, etc.
  • Temperature control - automate your heaters/chillers and protect yourself against equipment failure
  • Feed mode and maintenance mode - with a push of a button you can turn off pumps for a set length of time to perform a task
  • Automate your water changes!!!
  • Redundancy - create backups for your backups. 
  • Control all of your equipment remotely.
  • Monitor power consumption and water flow
  • Graph and log water parameters
  • Leak detection

BRS Recommended Aquarium Controller

The Neptune Systems Apex is our preferred aquarium control solution for a variety of reasons. The most economical choice is to start with the standard Apex package but you can also go with the Apex EL which is a bare-bones Apex that doesn't include all of the modules as the standard Apex package. In either case, you get the full power of the Apex control system and can completely customize and tailor the control system to suit your needs with additional modules and accessories.

Learn More with BRStv: A Complete Guide To The Neptune System Apex Controller