Last Updated on April 25, 2023 by Coral Realm
Most of us care for our pets unconditionally, and the same goes with your fish as you strive to create a fantastic habitat. One great way to ensure their health is optimal is to provide them with the best LED aquarium lighting you can.
These unique aquarium lights are designed specifically to enhance the life of plants and corals, which have become increasingly popular over and above fake plants (this is a good thing)! After all, plants and corals need light to grow and photosynthesize, but you can’t leave a glass box full of water in direct sunlight. Such LED lighting is suitable for most types of fish, both freshwater and saltwater.
LED lights are manufactured to support aquarium life by enabling conditions under which plants and fish can thrive. They provide the ideal temperatures and lighting scenarios for them. Though the LED lights have practical functions, they’re a solid foundation of the modern aquarium; aesthetics. Special lights enhance the coloring of corals, natural plants and even the freshwater fish or saltwater fish themselves.
IN THIS ARTICLE
Areas to think about:
The LED aquarium light market is huge. The fishkeeping industry is extremely large and lighting companies almost always have an aquarium LED range. But not all types of lighting are suitable for aquariums. There are some key areas to think about before you buy the best LED aquarium light for your tank. Let’s go through them one by one so you can make an informed decision.
1. Size of the your fish tank
This is an obvious one for LEDs. The first aspect to consider is going to be the size of your fish tank, depending on how large or small your aquarium will determine what caliber of LED lighting is needed.
It might seem really obvious but it’s not simply down to covering a larger space. A large aquarium will be wider, deeper and you’ll need an LED whose light can penetrate the entire tank. It is easy to find sub-par lights with poor coverage, that might be suitable for a small or shallow tank. There are many types of saltwater aquarium, such as Fish only, Fish only tanks with Live Rock (sometimes abbreviated to FOWLR) etc.
2. Types of aquarium plants
Another crucial factor is the aquarium flora that you’re keeping. A mature tank with fully developed plants will require a varying level of light intensity than say, a newly planted tank. A newly planted tank will be very much in the growing phase – and your coral or tropical plants will need strong light to develop.
There are many types of aquarium plants, and each of them have different light requirements. That means there will be unique LED setups for each version, which is why it’s important to consider this when you’re planting your tank. If you don’t you’ll end up with plants that require different types of light and that’s a logistical nightmare.
3. Varying light spectrum and LED brightness
Look at the image to the left, there are so many LED spectrum’s and intensities for an aquarium. Some lights are programmable for different limits, but cost will be a factor. The vast majority have one setting and it’s important to find the right one.
The varying levels of brightness and spectrum’s of the lights are unique to the fish and fauna that you have. That’s why we’re fans of having tanks that contain the fish and plants from the same area. That is both satisfying to create, and the best environment for the fish.
4. Costs & Characteristics
A final factor that you need to be aware of is the cost. There’s something for everyone in the range of LED systems and don’t be fooled by price points. Like most consumer products, brands carry a heavy price tag but that doesn’t always equal performance. Some LED lights come will a lot of extras that aren’t worth the budget in the long run. You’ll be able to find some very suitable systems at a price that won’t break the bank.
Because there’s such a diverse range, from seasoned coral expert to beginner, there is something for everyone – so don’t worry, there will be a way to find a product to fit your budget.
Comparing Value: Best LED Aquarium Lighting
We’ve compiled this list of the most popular led aquarium lighting systems for 2020. Each one offers great value and have it’s own positives and negatives. Consider the above factors when looking at each product and weigh up value vs benefit.
What makes LED aquarium lighting different?
LEDs are essentially just diodes that when connected to a source of energy, electrons within them convert into photons that emit light radiation. LED aquarium lights are small Light Emitting Diodes, that when put together on mass, produce a powerful light. These lights are easy to design in an array of colors and intensity settings.
The best aquarium LED lights often come with various programmable settings; such as sunrises and sunsets, bright growth phase lights, and even moonlight settings for fish that enjoy them.
LEDs also have various colors and spectrum’s, which means exceptional growth for plants, corals and even live rock.
What are the benefits of LED aquarium lighting?
The benefits of LED lights for aquariums is well documented. Let’s quickly cover the main reasons why this type of lighting is essential for your fish tank:
- LEDs produce about 8 times more light per watt of energy than standard bulbs. Most companies list lifetime at 30k-50k hours, that’s 7 years minimum even if you run it 12 hours a day. You certainly save on the electrical bills here!
- Not only energy efficient, but have a low base price initially too.
- LED lighting generates less heat than other aquarium lighting. That means less temperature changes throughout the day. Unlike a heater, you can’t let the aquarium cool if the lights give off radiant heat as well.
- The LED lights are excellent for fish and coral and plant life. They deliver 8,000K to 10,000K of lighting, which allows for optimal growth – providing UV rays without the damage.
- Small, compact and water resistant make them perfect for use as a fish tank light.
- LEDs go individually, meaning you won’t have to replace the whole unit if the lights go out!
- The good quality LED lights can produce light of different intensities and colors, which in turn produces an optimum ambiance for the aquatic growth in your aquarium, whatever be its kind and stage of growth.
- No toxic waste is created when using LEDs: they are much safer than metal halide and T5 fluorescent lights. With a lack of metal filaments and noxious gasses, these are environmentally friendly.
- They won’t shatter like tubes
- Dimmable – AquariumLEDs have great dimming capacity, whereas fluorescent tubes are expensive to dim and do so poorly as well
- Quality of light – less flickering
- Finally, the LED lighting systems are known as visual effects for an aquarium. They shimmer of plants, coral and fish, bringing out vibrant colors you didn’t even know were there.
As of right now, we cannot really think of any major downside to using LEDs over standard tubing. Aside from the initial cost difference, which really is irrelevant because the cost of savings offsets that. Let’s get down to the in-depth reviews and select you the best aquarium LED lights!
We also have specific articles on the best LED lights for reef tanks and the best LED lights for tropical tanks too.
Highest Rated LED aquarium lights with Reviews
1. Current USA Satellite Freshwater LED
Starting at $80 for a 24″ tank, this LED is a good price for it’s features. Packing a full spectrum 6.5k bright wave. This is a minimalist design and some people even use two of them on one aquarium.
This set up features:
- Newer, Safer, lower voltage LEDs
- Dynamic Mode real life effects that mimic your target aquatic conditions
- Ultra bright 6500K white LEDs and full spectrum RGB LEDs – with control panel
- Each LED is individually adjustable for unique custom color to bring out fish
Best for: Tropical Tanks on a budgetAvailable here
2. Marineland Single Bright LED Light
This LED is great because it’s so easily adjustable and the price is right. Coming in two sizes to fit up to 60 inch tanks, you’re looking at as low as $35 to get started with this system.
Again, the Marineland Single Bright LED Light comes with that unique shimmer setting to enhance aquarium fish and fauna profiles.
Full features include:
- Marineland’s revolutionary LED lighting systems
- 6000K one watt white and 60mW blue LED lighting system
- 17000-Hour of rated life
- Slim, stylized lighting profile and easy adjustment
- Mimics underwater “shimmer” effect of natural sunlight
- Energy efficient system that doesn’t require any bulb replacement
Best for: Beginners with low light coloring needsAvailable here
3. Current Fixture Orbit Marine Pro LED Aquarium
The current Orbit marine pro is a top of the range saltwater aquarium LED lighting system.
Specifically designed for live coral reef tanks, the Orbit Marine PRO provides the PAR, light spectrum and necessary wavelengths for strong growth and brilliant color in SPS and LPS corals.
Built in dome optics allow this light to be dispersed throughout the entire aquarium. Eliminating shadows, and multicolored spots in the tanks.
Full features include:
- High output LEDs, spectrum specific for SPS and LPS Corals
- Includes wireless 24 hour LED controller & timer control station
- Water resistant, no cooling fan, quick to install
- Wipe clean & hassle free care
Best for: Heavy planted saltwater or freshwater tanks.Available here
4. KOVAL 156 LED Aquarium Light
The KOVAL 156 LED Aquarium Light is good for both saltwater and freshwater aquariums. We think this is the the perfect set up for beginners, because it’s super easy to use and comes with extendable brackets fitting most standard 45″ to 50″ tanks.
Full features include:
- 156 Full spectrum and very bright LEDs with 5 multi-colors
- Strong coloring makes phycophyta vivid
- Three control station modes: All LEDs On / Only Blue LEDs On / Close
- Extendable bracket makes LED light fits different size aquariums in extendable range High-quality LEDs.
- Long life time use: 50000 hrs and great efficiency rating
Best for: First time LED usersAvailable here
5. VIPARSPECTRA LED Aquarium Light
This timer controlled LED aquarium light is unique with it’s compact design. It features both color and white LEDs interlaced in a cross pattern. The company believes this arrangement is optimal for bringing out the best in your aquarium life.
Unlike other designs, this is suspended above smaller tanks and measures only 15 inches long. It’s therefore perfect for smaller, or plant dense areas of tanks.
Full features include:
- Fully timed 165W LED Aquarium Light
- It has a built in timer which allows you to program a separate intensity for either channel, as well as a separate on and off time for each channel.
- The light is full spectrum with our proprietary layout, which is contributed by thousands of ReefCentral members, has had years of success.
- This fixture is suitable for all photosynthetic corals and for freshwater plants.
- Blue and white modes
- Unique adjustable hanging kit
Best for: Small compact tanksAvailable here
6. Finnex FugeRay Aquarium LED Light
This modern, sleek design is suitable for freshwater and marine tanks. This ungraded Ray 2 version features clusters of LEDs for high light output and has these clusters evenly spread, for optimal light.
The FugeRay even comes with a moonlight setting for evenings and to replicated moonlight.
Unlike a lot of the other LED lighting, the Finnex Planted+ has incorporated TRUE 660nm RED LEDs- which studies have found to be one of the most efficient wavelengths for plant photosynthesis.
With a LED light spread of 120 degrees, this slim LED bar lights up the largest of aquariums. This is truly well made, with splash guards, high grade aluminium, and the part itself has been designed to release heat away from the aquarium.
Best on the list, but slightly more expensive.
The complete feature list includes:
- 48″ Unibody Ultra Slim High Output Planted LED
- Moonlight features
- TRUE 660nm intensive photosynthesis RED LEDs
- (180) 7000k + (96) 660nm RED + (12) Blue Moonlights
- 35.6 Total Watts
- Splash guard
Best for: Experienced aquarium owners. Large, Coral or Plant heavy tanks.Available here
7. Finnex+ 24/7 Fully Automated Aquarium LED
Like the Finnex fugeray, the planted 24/7+ is another great model, but at a slightly lower cost. The Finnex Planted+ 24/7 LED fixture allows a simulated sunrise & sunset effect to take effect atop user’s aquariums.
This light is powerful, with 7,000k Daylight LEDs to allow planted aquariums to thrive and for corals to develop.
We love this one for it’s programmed features, thunderstorms, cloudy days, moonlight, sunsets and sunrises, your fish and plants can have a normal rain forest week with this!
It’s sleek, stylish and won’t break the bank either.
- Fully Automated Aquarium LED Fixture
- Remote control settings
- Red Sunrise to Blue Starry Night settings!
- 4 colours, dimmable
- 7k/Multi-color Blend for exceptional Plant Growth
- 48 Inch Fixture
Best for: General tank needsOur #1 recommended filter available here
8. Lightimetunnel 165W LED Aquarium Light Full
The Lightimetunnel 165W LED is very similar to the VIPARSPECTRA LED, but at a lower price point, with slightly less features.
At under $100 (currently, check discount link) you can’t find a flaw with this one!
Here’s some of the reasons we use this one on our smaller tanks:
They use high quality 45mil 3w Bridgelux/Epileds chips to ensure maximum brightness & high light penetration. With more light penetration, comes more growth. They have designed the LEDs for longevity and that makes them great for lasting aquariums.
Again, these lights feature a 120 degree covering rating to ensure ample coverage. You can use it for freshwater and tropical tanks. We use it on our densely planted hexagonal neon tetra tank.
It features an more than suitable light spectrum that can also be used on LPS/SPS coral. The current colors included are purple 430nm, royal blue 450nm, green 520nm. They also have a warm white and cool white setting which you can use to mimic moonlight with the dimmers.
It’s suitable for a compact tank up to 24″*24″*24″ fish/coral tank, however, I think it could handle slightly larger if you don’t mind the odd dark spot.
Best for: Compact tanks on a budgetAvailable here
9. Beamswork Fish tank LED
The latest DA series by Beamworks provides a high quality, energy efficient light fish tank LED system that can replaced fluorescent lights. Sitting nicely as a midrange LED, it’s not the weakest, nor most powerful – with a 6500K spectrum LEDs.
Commonly used for freshwater setups with dense plants, these can also be used for corals, although there are much more suited on the list.
Great sleek design, the price of this LED reflects the market positioning, if you’re looking for something all round that can get the job done, this standard LED setup is great value.
Best for: General needs, all types of aquariumAvailable here
Wrapping up: LED Fish tank Lights FAQs
Are Aquarium LEDs best suited for plants in a growth phase?
Absolutely. If you’re trying to grow plants quickly then you’ll want to get hooked up with a LED lighting system and also consider a CO2 generator.
The light spectrum emitted by the LEDs mimics natural sunlight, without causing excess algae.
How should I set them up?
Depending on the size and shape of the tank, you can either use a hanging LED light system, or the standard clip on systems. We’ve profiled both above. We tend to use two led strips or one large one in the middle.
Some of them have a bigger 120 degree profile and can adequately cover the whole area. Take a look at some aquascaping examples to see how they’ve lit up some areas of the tank over others.
How does LED light spectrum affect growth of plants?
LED aquarium lights are designed to help plants grow. They mimic the sunlight and promote photosynthesis needed for plant growth. The spectrum of light is both visible and non-visible.
They are much better than light tubing because of the broader light spectrum and the colors they emit. Furthermore, with programmable LEDs – you can construct the natural changing of light within a day.
Will my aquarium plants grow under LED lights?
My aquarium plants aren’t doing well, what’s wrong?
The most common issue here is that the aquarium isn’t aged, i.e. good bacteria hasn’t built up in the filter and you introduce plants too soon. Also, you may have purchased the wrong plants; check out requirements at the aquatic plant database.
When should I turn off an aquarium LED light?
That totally depends on what fish and what plants you have in the tank. This is why we’re fans of using fish and plants from the same regions. Fish from Europe may get 8 hours of medium light a day, if you pair them with afircan fish that have strong sunlight for 12 hours, then you will end up with sick fish.
Always ensure that it is off at night! Use a timer.
How high should I hang LED aquarium lights?
There’s no requirement here. We usually hang them about 3-4 inches above the surface of the water. This is the same for both clip on and hanging types.
Are LEDs really that much better than fluorescent tubes?
Yes they are. We’ve summarized the benefits of them, above in the What are the benefits of LED aquarium lighting section. Essentially, they provide a better light spectrum for plant growth, longer lasting life, less energy consumption, are programmable, bring out the colors in fish and live rock better and are mercury free.