Aquarium controllers are essential for those looking to keep their aquarium running flawlessly. Easy to use, these are available in do-it-yourself kits to monitor the ambient temperature, pH level, and CO2 levels, and several other parameters inside the fish tank.
From maintaining the ambient temperature of aquarium or water levels in the tank, doing these functions manually is an inefficient and unfulfilling way. These aquarium controllers have hi-tech sensors through which they control multiple functions and parameters.
It is hassle-free automation that takes good care of your fish and keeps your aquarium healthy by maintaining the right habitat for them without human intervention.
We have reviewed the ten most-desired aquarium controllers catering to varied requirements.
10 Best Aquarium Controllers for 2023
1. AutoAqua Smart ATO Automatic Top Off Aquarium controller
This smart ATO system continuously monitors the water level and tops up when required. Built with sophisticated technology, the AutoAqua Smart ATO has a control using which you can set the desired water level. It has a failsafe mechanism and also alerts the user in case of critical failure to prevent overfilling. Built from quality components, the brushless DC motor in the pump is rated at 30,000 hours of life.
The system can pump water up to a height of 6.5’ and the maximum flow rate is 74 gallons per hour. This ATO system uses a mere 4.5 watts at 12 volts that results in less power consumption. The water tubing is quite sufficient at 6.5’ long and has a magnetic mount attached.
Customers report that it is straightforward to install and would take 30 minutes. Users report that the optical sensor does its job as advertised. People using timer-based refill pumps have found AutoAqua’s product to be much superior. The magnet is sturdy and does not disappoint.
The kit’s quality is top-notch, and the pipes, valves, sensor, motor, and length of wires are reported to be adequate for most situations. One user reported using it in a 120G aquarium.
However, if used with Kalk, the motor degrades faster.
- Easy to install, less than 30 minutes required
- Powerful motor, suitable for 50-gallon aquarium
- Good quality works as advertised
- Needs maintenance when Kalk is used
- Little pricey for the features it offers
- Reports of premature failure
2. Inkbird Freezer Thermostat Plug Temperature Aquarium Controller
This temperature-controller thermostat can be used to set your aquarium to an adequate temperature. The Inkbird has two outlets – one for the heating device and one for the cooling device.
You’d need to place the attached temperature probe in the aquarium and connect the heating and cooling systems and the aquarium temperature controller maintains the set temperature.
The Inkbird can handle a temperature range of -50 to 99 degrees Celsius. The length of the sensor is 6.5ft, and the system is equipped with alarms for overheating and sensor fault.
This unit has ventilation ducts, so it isn’t waterproof. The thermostat does retain its settings after a power cut.
Customers have called the Inkbird a brilliant product. They feel it is an outperformer for the $35 price range. Users have utilized this not only for aquaria but also for water tanks, refrigerators, space heaters, and beer coolers.
Many customers have reported successful use in aquaria without significant problems in long-term use.
Pinpoint precision is reported for temperature control. Individuals have verified the accuracy using professional thermometers. The Inkbird thermostat is straightforward to set up and use, and buyers appreciate the programming of temperature being intuitive.
Dead on arrival, premature failure, and lack of proper calibration are the top reasons why some customers were disappointed.
- Easy to install and use
- Varied application areas
- Temperature calibration
- Few complaints of DOA / early failure
3. Inkbird Dual Stage Temperature Aquarium Controller
This thermostat, rated at 1100 watts, handles both heating and cooling. The plug-and-play Inkbird device comes with an NTC sensor-equipped thermal probe which has a cord length of 6.6 feet for ease of use. The sensor is rated for use between -50 to 99 degrees Celsius. Temperature can be displayed in Celsius or Fahrenheit.
Equipped with a dual display for showing the hot and cold temperatures, this dual-stage controller is straightforward to program.
There are two buttons, one each for adjusting temperature, and a set button. Once set, the settings are not lost in case of a power cut. The temperature sensor is detachable, and the unit has individual sockets for cooling and heating.
Apart from aquariums, this dual-stage thermostat is ideal for home-brewery, hot tubs, and greenhouse plants, this controller is available at an affordable cost.
Users have reported using this controller for aquaria, home, and even for medical use. Customers have provided a moderate-term review saying that the thermostat did not have any issues even after 1000 hours of use. Accuracy is reported to be within 1 degree C, and the unit has been used for beer fermentation as well.
Premature failure is the most common concern for those who’ve rated it 1-star. Few users have also complained about the system not keeping proper temperature.
- Easy to install and use
- Varied application areas
- Unit not holding proper temperature
- Few complaints of DOA / early failure
4. Hydor Smart Level Aquarium Controller
The Hydor smart controller is ideal for the automatic topping of water in aquariums. The system can be paired with a 50 watt (max) motor which is not supplied with the package.
The system comes with plastic support for the sensor and a magnetic suction cup. The sensor requires a top-up time between 25 sec and 10 min. The paired pump should adhere to these time limits. The sensor cord is 6.6’ in length, and the system is insensitive to the surface movement of waves.
It is recommended to keep the water supply pipe above the maximum desired water level to prevent the siphoning effect. The sensor must be cleaned once every three months for proper maintenance. The system is rated for use at 120-240V at 50/60Hz.
The Hydor has mixed reviews from customers. Customers have used it with different sump capacities, and one user reported a proper functional system at 90 gallons.
Quality, design, and life have been appreciated, and a long-term user reported zero issues after multiple years of use.
Some users report that they were not aware of the top-up time requirement and hence have to face the blaring alarm. They feel it would have been better if they could turn it off.
- Good quality
- Usable across 120 to 240V
- Min and max top-up time restriction
- Blaring alarms in case of quick fill up
5. Glass CO2 Drop Checker with pH solution
This carbon dioxide level measuring equipment indicates whether the concentration of CO2 is adequate for the proper survival of fish and aquatic plants.
This glass indication system comes with a pH reagent and the 4dKH solution mixed together so that you can directly use it out of the box. The drop checker has a suction device affixed so that you can attach it to your aquarium just opposite the diffuser.
The system uses three colors to indicate the level of CO2. If it shows green, the level is within the optimal range; the blue color indicates that there is less than optimal CO2, and yellow, on the other hand, means there is too much gas.
Users reveal the ease of use with the pre-mixed 4dKH and pH solution. Customers are satisfied with the amount of solution provided with the drop checker and report that it takes just 6-7 drops of solution mixed with distilled water.
The color chart provided with the apparatus is a big plus as it tells the ppm level of carbon dioxide.
The fragility of the glass is reported to be an issue with this product. Dissatisfied customers also have had an unpleasant experience with the chemical. The complaint was the light color of the indication.
- Ease of use
- Premixed solution
- Accurate and colorful
- Only a few drops of solution required
- Fragile glass equipment
- Light-colored indication
6. Bluelab CONTPH pH Controller with hands-free monitoring
The Bluelab controller is an electronic device used to measure and adjust the pH level in a solution.
This device has a built-in screen and button to set the desired pH level. The range can be set from 0.1 to 13.9 with a resolution of 0.1 pH which makes it suitable for almost any size of water reservoir. The Bluelab controller can regulate the pH even for a large volume of water.
The controller uses an automatic temperature compensation system and requires a two or three-point pH calibration. This system works well up to a capacity of 760 liters and is supplied with an international power supply.
A 13 ft acid/alkali dosing tube is provided in the package. RO water would be harmful to probe life and hence Potassium Chloride solution is required for probe maintenance.
Customers are delighted with the product and say it is straightforward to use. A few had to refer to the manual to figure out the inlet and outlet ports as it can be confusing.
This device is known to correctly maintain pH level measurement and accuracy. Buyers have said it may work for a week before it requires recalibration. One user reported that the equipment got faulty and stopped regulating pH.
- Ease of use
- Accuracy of measurement and regulation
- Requires frequent calibration
- Problems when the equipment is dry
7. Zoo Med AquaSun Aquarium Timers
The AquaSun from ZooMed is a programmable light timer for aquariums. This device can be programmed for a full day cycle of 24 hours which allows you to provide a day-night cycle for your fish.
The aquarium timer uses LEDs to provide a nature-like light cycle. It is a single plug design that works well with all kinds of aquarium lamps. The timer is rated at 15 amps / 1875 watts and should not be used with extension cords to control multiple devices.
This timer comes with a big dial like a watch. The dial can be rotated to set the timer to the desired interval. It requires a one-time setup, and then you can remain worry-free about turning the lights on and off manually.
The AquaSun timer comes with a three-pin receptacle for added safety through grounding. There is also a manual override to bypass the timer setting.
Users report easy installation and use and appreciate that it does what it is supposed to do. It makes a faint mechanical sound while it is in operation.
Besides the aquariums, users have tried using it with other devices, and report that it works well there too.
Many users report that the timer’s clicking gets very loud over time. Inaccuracy in timer management is reported by many users. Customers also complain about the lack of adequate information/documentation.
- Ease of use
- Inaccurate timekeeping
- Loud clicking noise over time
8. Milwaukee Instruments 716690 pH Aquarium Controller
Milwaukee’s Aquarium pH controller is small and compact and is designed especially for aquariums and hydroponic systems. A double junction pH probe is provided to sense the alkalinity level of the water.
It has a set point range from 5.5 pH to 9.5 pH with an accuracy of 0.2 pH. It has a power plug socket for dosing and is powered by a 12V DC power supply.
The kit consists of 20 ml of pH 7.01 solution for calibration. The best part of this system is that it has real-time pH reading.
This is only a controller and cannot independently control the pH of a system. It can only turn the equipment ON or OFF that changes the alkalinity.
Users say it works as advertised and is easy to calibrate. Customers have used it with the CO2 system for capacities as large as 120 gallons. They report that it works well once it is calibrated using the provided buffer solution pouches.
Not only for this, but consumers are also positive about other instruments from Milwaukee.
Those who gave a single star to this instrument complained about the controller working for a short time before dying. Others said it was DOA (dead on arrival). For some complainants, it did not work correctly and wouldn’t regulate the pH properly.
- Ease of use
- Real-time pH measurement
- Easy calibration
- Works for larger systems too
- The probe may require replacement every few months
9. Finnex Digital Heater Controller with Deluxe Titanium Tube
A Finnex temperature controller is a compact unit that comes with a 300-watt titanium heating tube. The controller comes with a two-digit seven-segment display for temperature display, and there are six buttons on the unit.
One is for turning the unit ON and OFF; two buttons for setting the alert level for low temperature and high temperature. There is a button to toggle between Celsius and Fahrenheit. The last two buttons are for increasing or decreasing the temperature.
The system has a temperature control range from 0 F to 99 F with an accuracy within 2 F.
The Finnex Controller can be paired with one of 300 W, 500 W, or 800 W titanium heaters. Multiple Finnex controllers can be used together for larger reservoirs of water.
Customers reported the Finnex heater being accurate and that it works as advertised. Users have used it not only for large aquariums but also multiple units of the same for maintaining the temperature in small pools.
One point bothering users was that the instructions to configure are mentioned on a box rather than a piece of paper.
The Finnex controller dying prematurely was the reason for most of the single-star reviews. Some people feel the higher-powered heating elements are expensive.
- Multiple power options
- Instructions mentioned on the box
- Higher powered elements are expensive
10. Hygger Titanium Aquarium Heater for Salt Water and Fresh Water
The Hygger is built for use in marine and freshwater conditions. The Titanium metal heater is exceptionally light and durable making them the perfect buy.
These heater kits are available in four options for specific size requirements:
- 50 watts – 5 g to 10 g
- 100 watts – 10 g to 25 g
- 200 watts – 25 g to 45 g
- 500 watts – 60 g to 120 g
Rated at 110-120V, this controller has an operating range between 32 F and 104 F. Extremely easy to use, there are two buttons to adjust the temperature and a set button.
The heater and power cords are 5.5’ in length and are quite adequate, and the thermometer cord is 4.4’.
The manufacturer recommends that the system not be used for acrylic or plastic tanks. Also, the heater and thermometer shouldn’t be placed close to each other.
Customers are happy that this system has a separate heater and thermometer. They say that this system works better than most other systems and the Accuracy too was as expected.
Dead on arrival and faulty units were the reasons for the minimal number of negative reviews.
- Multiple power options
- Heater and thermometer separate
- Not for plastic/acrylic
What functions can the aquarium controller perform?
An aquarium controller is designed to make the work of an aquarium hobbyist easier by helping to monitor various parameters/features attainable within the aquarium. It entails a highly efficient alarm system and sensors, LCD unit, control hub/unit amongst other integrated features/components that enhance its functionality. we shall now discuss the functions that an aquarium controller can perform under the following heading:
- Heating and cooling rate: An aquarium controller can check if the temperature of the aquarium water is within the appropriate range, and then either activate or deactivate the heater or chiller as the case may require to restore the (normal) temperature range.
- Oxygen level: The aquarium controller should also be able to tell you if the dissolved oxygen is at the optimal level within the tank.
- Ammonia level: Having a controller integrated into your aquarium can also check the concentration of ammonia thus helping you take corrective measures before the situation gets out of hand.
- Oxidation-Reduction Potential (ORP): This is simply a measure of the cleanliness/quality of the water and it is reflected in the level of dissolved oxygen. An aquarium controller can keep track of the ORP range – of which the safety standard is set between 200 – 450 millivolts – within the tank.
- Lighting: An aquarium controller can also be built to check the light setting with regard to timing/schedule and light intensity.
- Pump control: The rate of circulation within the tank is another aspect that can be monitored with the aquarium controller even as it activates the pump/filtration when necessary.
- pH level: The alkalinity or acidity level of the water in the aquarium is also checked by an aquarium controller.
- Water level: The aquarium controller can track the water level and trigger a top-off and play the role of auto top off system for aquarium when the level drops below the normal range.
- Feeding: With an aquarium controller within the set-up, the feeding of your angelfish species can be programmed thus ensuring that they are fed as at when due.
Why do you need an aquarium controller?
The benefits of an aquarium controller are hinged on convenience; in essence, this device makes fish-keeping or growing plants within the aquarium a stress-free exercise. More so, for anyone having a busy schedule, the aquarium controller is a ‘savior‘ of some sort as it would help bridge the gap to an appreciable extent. It keeps things within the tank within acceptable/normal range even with little or no interference [from you].
Lastly and consequentially, the aquarium controller ensures the safety of the pets inhabiting the tank as it promotes and sustains the cleanliness/healthy status of the water therein. In summary, the aquarium controller helps save time, energy, and lives – as your pets are concerned.