Aquariums require maintenance. There are no two ways around it.
However, if continually maintaining your tank has gotten to you, or interrupts your busy schedule, there are ways around doing it all the time.
The best way to reduce your maintenance costs (time and money, included) is to install a monitor or controller that lets you know when you need to get ahead of a potential problem.
Instead of waiting until it becomes a significant problem that requires extensive maintenance, water cycling, adjusting equipment, etc., you can spot changes as they’re happening.
The best aquarium controller will let you know when your water conditions are starting to shift so you can make small adjustments instead of waiting until you notice a problem. That usually happens after it’s too late and you’re required to put in a large amount of work.
What Is The Best Aquarium Controller?
If you go on a search for the best aquarium tools, systems, and controllers, you’re going to get overwhelmed. Choosing the right one for your exact setup can feel impossible to do.
We’re here to help. To make sure you aren’t getting overwhelmed or end up buying the wrong equipment for what you need, we’ve gathered a list of the top 10 best aquarium controllers available in 2019.
1. Hydor Smart Level Controller - Low Voltage And Fully Electronic
In our research, we have found the best aquarium monitoring system is the Hydor Smart Level Controller with ATO functionality. ATO, if you’re unfamiliar, is “Automatic Top Off.” These controllers are designed to work with a wide range of tank sizes.
One of the most significant selling points is the dual alarms. Each alarm will let you know when you need to pay attention to the tank. The controller is also easy to install. You can use the included suction cups to keep the probes in place inside of your tank.
- A combination of magnets and suction cups keep your probes in place.
- The controller is designed to be energy-efficient out of the box.
- The controller features dual alarms that give audible and visual alerts.
- The controller is easy to set up; you can start using it within a few minutes.
- Some customers have stated the controller can be over-sensitive.
- The Hydor Smart Level does not give digital readouts.
2. Inkbird ITC-308 Digital Controller - Easy to use
Our second pick for the best aquarium temperature controller is the Inkbird ITC-308 Digital Temperature Controller and 2-Stage Thermostat. The 2-stage refers to an upper and a lower range that monitors when your tank is too cold and too warm.
The ICT-308 features a digital display that can readout in both Fahrenheit and Celcius, depending on your needs. The built-in alarm can be calibrated based on the temperatures that you’re looking for at the upper and lower end of the spectrum.
The alarm is loud enough to hear, but not overly annoying. The Inkbird ITC-308 is easy to configure and simple to install. All you need to do is plug it into a power source, set your probes in the tank, and dial in your desired temperatures. The monitor will do the rest.
- The digital display is bright and easy to read for both high and low temps.
- The alarm is about as loud as a smoke detector.
- Dual stages allow you to monitor temperature swings in your tank.
- The device has shorter cables that can make it hard to plug it into an outlet.
3. Seneye Reef Monitor - Tank Saver
If you’re looking for an aquarium nitrate monitor, the Seneye Reef Monitor is one of the best monitors you can find. These are specifically designed for reef and coral aquariums and help you keep an eye on what matters most to your corals -- nitrates and pH.
The Seneye is a wireless controller that syncs with your WiFi and smartphone so you can download average readings and keep a closer eye on your tank’s performance. However, the software is currently not compatible with Mac and Apple devices.
If you need more than basic temperature controls and want to monitor your reef tank, the Seneye is one of the best you’re going to find. You do want to make sure you’re keeping the device separated from other wireless controllers, though, due to interference.
- The Seneye will monitor the performance of your entire LED lighting system.
- You can easily monitor the ammonia levels, nitrates, nitrites, and pH levels.
- The Seneye is known for producing accurate readings.
- The wireless connectivity may interfere with other wireless devices in the area.
- The wireless connectivity software does not work with Apple and Mac devices.
4. Milwaukee Instruments pH Controller - Reliable Controller
From our research, the best ph controller is the Milwaukee Instruments pH controller. It is designed to monitor and control the acidity and alkalinity in your tank’s water. You can adjust the readings from 5.5 (at the low end) to 9.5 (at the high end).
If you are maintaining a planted or reef aquarium, the Milwaukee Instruments is a great monitor to use. If you want to increase the amount of control you have over your system, you can pair the Milwaukee Instruments with a solenoid injector.
This controller does not monitor temperature, like some others we’ve featured do. For monitoring saltwater environments, though, this controller is hard to beat even if you do need to use extra equipment with it.
- Milwaukee Instruments includes a solution to help stabilize your pH levels.
- The cables are long enough to install the unit underneath your tank.
- The controller is designed to provide easy CO2 readouts.
- This controller does not give you temperature or spectrometer readings.
- Some customers have complained the CO2 reading fails to turn on sometimes.
5. Bluelab CONTPH pH Controller - Easy to navigate menu
Next on the list is the Bluelab CONTPH pH controller and monitor. If you’re looking for a controller and monitor that is easy to use, the CONTPH is explicitly designed with you in mind. It does not require refills and can be used for up to a year before needing maintenance.
You can easily adjust the settings based on what you need. The easy-to-read display features digital readouts and a simple menu system. You can also add a separate temperature controller that works with the pH controller to give you a better look at your tank’s performance.
If you maintain a large tank and need an accurate monitor, this is one of the best you’re going to find. Being able to add additional Bluelab controllers and monitors to it means that this could be the only system you come to rely on.
- The pH probe is designed to be maintenance-free.
- The digital display is easy to read, and the controls are easy to use.
- Bluelab sells an additional temperature controller and monitor probe.
- The pH controller only monitors your pH levels.
- The LED stays on as long as the unit is plugged in.
- This will not dose your tank based on your pH readings.
6. American Marine Pinpoint pH Monitor - Accurate And Reliable
The American Marine Pinpoint is a pH monitor and calibration controller that works in both freshwater and saltwater tanks. The digital display is easy to read and provides fast readouts.
Calibrating the device is easy to do and doesn’t require any external fluids as many other tools do. You do want to make sure you’re taking care of the device, though, because it is smaller than many others and could be prone to breakage.
The control system is easy to use and can give you an accurate reading within a few seconds after inserting the probe into your tank.
- The design of the Pinpoint is straightforward and straightforward to use.
- The device displays accurate pH readings within a few seconds.
- The extra-long cables make it easy to get readings from your entire tank.
- Some customers have stated the device is fragile.
- You must manually calibrate the Pinpoint controller.
- This controller does not have any LED lights or indicators.
7. RISEPRO Digital pH & Temperature Monitor - Really Easy To Use
If you’re looking for the best aquarium heater controller, the RISEPRO Digital pH & Temperature Monitor is a great choice. It features multiple probes and a bright, digital display with an LED backlight that makes it easy to read.
This newer monitor is a dramatic improvement over previous models. You can now quickly calibrate the device and obtain accurate readings. The newer model gives you closer pH readouts and consistently monitors your water’s temperature.
- The RISEPRO is a lightweight design that is easy to configure.
- You can read both temperature and pH levels quickly and accurately.
- The bright digital display features an LED backlight for easy readouts.
- Some customers have stated that the pH readings can be slightly inaccurate at times.
8. Sequoia Digital Temperature Thermostat - Great Device
For temperature-only monitors, the Sequoia Digital is a great device. It features a minimalist design that is waterproof, so you do not need to worry about water splashing onto it from your tank. It’s designed to keep your tank within a very specific temperature range.
Where this monitor is different than others is what happens when you turn the device off. Instead of losing your settings, as many others will do, the Sequoia will store your settings when you turn the machine back on.
Sequoia sells additional monitors, based on your specific needs. If you need to monitor pH levels, for instance, there are other monitors that can be coupled with the Digital Thermometer and Thermostat to give you a complete reading on your tank’s condition.
- These controllers are suitable for both freshwater and saltwater tanks.
- The buttons and navigation menus are easy to operate.
- The controller can cool down your tank’s water temperature if it gets too warm.
- This is a temperature-only monitor and controller; no other readouts are available.
- The instruction manual is easy to follow but contains broken English.
9. Finnex Digital Heater Controller - Excellent Controller
The Finnex Digital Heater Controller is one of those devices that work well in a wide range of tank sizes. As a heater and a controller, the Finnex Digital will keep your water’s temperature where you set it and disable the controller when the temperature begins to rise too high.
A significant selling point of the Finnex Digital is that the settings you store will remain stored even during a power outage. Compared to other devices that require you to reset the device if you lose power consistently, this can be a significant point of frustration.
The device features a built-in alarm that goes off whenever your temperature drops below the range that you have set for it. Likewise, if the temperature rises too high, the heater will shut off and allow the water to begin to cool again.
- The Finnex Digital provides you with some of the best temperature controls available.
- You can use this device in both large and small aquariums.
- The device is constructed using high-quality materials and is built to last.
- The instructions in the box can be challenging to understand the first time you use it.
10. GROWNEER Digital Thermostat & Controller - Plug and play design
The GROWNEER may not specifically be a freshwater aquarium monitor, as it was initially designed for use in hydroponic systems, but you can quickly adapt it to your tank. The device features a digital thermostat and a temperature controller.
This is one of the toughest monitors we’ve found. Each GROWNEER is manufactured using high-impact ABS plastic to ensure a long lifespan. The menu system is easy to navigate, and the large digital display is easy to understand.
You can input high and low settings based on your specific needs. As long as the device is plugged in, you will receive readouts on the digital screen. However, if you lose power, you will need to reconfigure the device to your setup again.
- The design is ergonomic with a bright display that is easy to read.
- The menu system on the GROWNEER is easy to navigate and understand.
- The built-in alarm will let you know if you need to adjust your heater’s settings.
- The GROWNEER does not give you extra readouts, such as pH and salinity.
Aquarium Controller & Monitors Frequently Asked Questions
Now that you’ve seen what we think are the best aquarium controllers currently available, now it’s time to figure out some answers to the most frequently asked questions.
#1 - How Do I Determine Which Controller I Need?
For the most part, there are four main types of aquarium controllers. Each of the four different types is listed below so you understand precisely what you’re buying.
- Spectrometer - Spectrometers are built to measure the amount of radiation that is being emitted from a light source. If you are maintaining a reef aquarium or a planted tank, you’ll need to use a spectrometer. The spectrometer will help you measure how well your plants and reef are utilizing the light being emitted onto them.
- Temperature - If your tank’s internal temperature is always swinging (air-conditioned homes and offices are notorious for this), you’re going to need a way to control the temps. A temperature monitor will help you ensure that your tank’s water temp is remaining where you want it, while also managing your heater to keep the temp where you have set it.
- pH - A pH monitor lets you quickly identify problems with your water’s quality. The buildup of harmful toxins can be detrimental to your plants and livestock and usually starts with a swing in your pH levels. Knowing your water’s pH levels will help you diagnose potential problems like alkalines, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates building up.
- “All-In-One” - There are a few controllers that will allow you to monitor multiple different aspects of your aquarium setup. For instance, you can find a pH monitor that also monitors the temperature. You can find lighting controllers that operate with a timer to help mimic daylight and nighttime cycles. An “All-In-One” is usually a safe bet if you’re looking to save money and find one that monitors precisely what you need.
#2 - How Does pH Affect My Tank & What Is It?
Your tank’s pH level helps determine how alkaline or acidic your water is. If your water’s acidity levels get too high, you could have significant issues with your fish and plants. Fish prefer a specific pH range to be happy and healthy.
For instance, freshwater fish typically prefer a pH range between 6.0 and 7.5. Saltwater fish, on the other hand, prefer a pH level of 7.0 to 8.0. pH levels outside of these ranges will cause health issues for your fish.
#3 - What If My Controller Shuts Itself Off?
Controllers are designed with fail safes in them. If, for instance, a power surge creates too much power for the device, an internal safety mechanism will disable the controller to avoid damage.
Most controllers have internal batteries that will save your settings even after losing power. If it did not, you would need to calibrate the device again since it will restore itself to default settings.
#4 - Why Does My Controller Have Rods & Suction Cups?
Your controller is going to use multiple probes to take readings from inside of your aquarium. These rods are the probes that will be used to determine values that the controller measures, from pH to temperature, or other factors.
The included suction cups are designed to keep your probes in place during testing. If the probes move around too much, you could obtain inaccurate readings.
#5 - Do I Need A Multi-Purpose Controller?
If you already have controllers in place, but they lack a specific feature that you need to monitor, we suggest buying a separate piece of equipment. Multi-purpose controllers are more convenient than having multiple different pieces of equipment.
However, you do not necessarily need one if you prefer keeping your readings separate.
#6 - Will A Temperature Controller Keep My Temperatures Down?
There are different types of temperature controllers and monitors. Some will only tell you when the temperature in your tank has reached a certain level.
Others, however, will couple with your heater and disable it once the temperatures reach a set range. This will allow the temperature to begin cooling again until it reaches the level you’ve set. At that point, your heater will be activated yet.
#7 - Will My Aquarium Monitor Work In A Nano Aquarium?
This depends on the size of your aquarium monitor. There are quite a few different monitors that are designed to work with nano aquariums. However, if the controller is too large, it may have problems fitting into a smaller tank.
To save space, we recommend finding controllers and monitors that are specifically designed to work with nano aquariums.
#8 - Why Are Some Controllers Not Aquarium-Specific?
You may come across controllers that can be used inside of your aquarium that is designed for use in other hobbies and industries. For instance, many controllers are intended to be used in hydroponic gardening but function just as well in an aquarium.
With the end goal being the same, you can use this equipment in your tank and obtain the same readings they’re designed for.
#9 - Why Do I Need pH Calibration Fluid?
Your pH monitor is going to include a fluid that is used to calibrate the device. This solution helps stabilize potentially harmful impurities inside of your tank’s water. Quality pH monitors will consist of the solution that you add to the probe to prevent harming your fish or plants.
#10 - How Do I Change The Measurement Unit?
Most of the temperature monitors that you can find today will be able to swap between Fahrenheit and Celcius. If the device you’ve purchased is not set to the unit of measurement that you need, you can refer to the manual. The manual will let you know what needs to be done to switch between different modes.
#11 - What Makes A Controller “High-Quality”...?
There are going to be quite a few factors that separate a “high-quality” controller apart from low-quality and “budget” controllers. A “budget” controller isn’t necessarily always low-quality but, in general, price is a good determining factor.
If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Many manufacturers will use low-grade materials, electronics, probes, gauges, dials, etc., to save money. These parts typically fail very quickly after you purchase the equipment.
#12 - How Long Will My pH Calibrator Last?
For the most part, pH calibration probes are designed to last for around 12 months of consistent use before they need to be replaced.
As long as you are taking care of the probes and equipment in between uses, you can get a few years from your equipment. Keeping your probes submerged in water is the best way to get the most life out of them.
#13 - Will A Freshwater Monitor Work In Saltwater?
Unless the controller you’re thinking about purchasing says it is specifically for use in saltwater or specifically for use in freshwater environments, most can be used in both safely.
Freshwater-only monitors may be constructed of metals that do not play well in saltwater environments, causing corrosion and rust. Saltwater-only monitors can be used in freshwater ecosystems without much worry.
#14 - Do I Need A Controller With An Alarm?
Controllers with built-in alarms are designed to notify you whenever the variables you have set have been reached.
For instance, a temperature monitor with a built-in alarm can tell you when the water is too cold or too warm for your fish and plants. Then, you know when to turn your heater on or shut it off.
To take your equipment one step further, consider purchasing a controller that not only has a built-in alarm but one that works with a timer (for your lights) and can turn your heater on and off for you.
#15 - Can I Buy An All-In-One Monitor & Controller?
If you can find an actual “all-in-one” monitor and controller, we suggest buying it. In our experience, very few controllers can give you every function that you need. That means you will need to mix and match equipment based on your specific setup.
#16 - Do Monitors Affect My Filtration System?
Your controller or monitor should not affect your filtration system. Your filter is designed to remove waste and buildup from the system. Your monitor is intended to, as the name implies, monitor levels in your aquarium.
The only way your monitor would affect your filtration system is if you are placing the monitor directly in front of your filter’s inlet or outlet tubes. Otherwise, we recommend installing the monitor at the opposite end of your tank, to obtain more accurate readings.
#17 - Do I Need To Use A Surge Protector?
The answer to this question depends on the type of equipment you’re using. If you have multiple controllers and monitors on the same system, we recommend using a surge protector.
Some aquarists use extension cords that aren’t designed for the amp load, which can create a potential fire hazard. Surge protectors that are for use in environments around water are recommended.
#18 - What About Wireless Controllers?
Manufacturers have started creating monitors and controllers that can work wirelessly with your smartphone or through your internet’s WiFi connection. This allows you to quickly look in on your tank’s conditions through your phone or computer. If you want to pay slightly more for the controller, we recommend purchasing a wireless controller for the added functionality.
#19 - Does The Size Of My Tank Matter?
While you’re looking through different aquarium monitors and controllers, you may notice that the manufacturer has listed specifications on them. This will give you an idea if they are designed for use with the specific setup you’re trying to maintain.
Remember, if you are keeping a nano aquarium, you want to avoid purchasing a controller designed for a 250-gallon tank.
#20 - Why Do I Need An Aquarium Controller?
You don’t need an aquarium controller. However, once you use one, you will quickly come to rely on it for maintaining your aquascape. Without a controller, you are reliant on inaccurate testing methods, such as paper stripes and chemical drops.
With a controller, you will know the precise moment you need to perform maintenance on your tank instead of guessing.
What’s The Best Aquarium Controller In 2019?
After pouring through dozens of different aquarium controllers and hundreds of customer reviews, we have found the best aquarium controller in 2019 is the Hydor Smart Level Controller With Automatic Top Off.
Affiliate links & Images from Amazon Product Advertising API. Last update on 2019-10-18.