Though I am not completely finished with the light up-grade, specifically because I am still waiting for hanging kits to come in, I wanted to do a quick review for everybody about the Aquaillumination (AI) SOL LED
modular light fixtures.
The system is very flexible through its modular design. By ordering different sized mounting rails, you can configure this light based on your individual needs. Traditional T5/Compact fluorescent fixtures do not allow much flexibility for upgrade. Metal Halide in individual reflector boxes allow for upgrading your tank without having to upgrade your lights much like these LEDs.
Like metal Halide fixtures, the light is a concentrated point of source type of light. The further away from the tank you move the light, the more spread. With LED
fixtures, this is critical. Unlike Metal Halides, no reflector is used in LED
and as such the beam of light is very concentrated. What LEDs do utilize is a lens to diffuse the light, similar to the older glass headlights on cars that used baffles in the lens to spread the beam. The same concept using ribs in conjunction with convex lenses have helped to limit the "beam" effect of LEDs.
The AI SOL fixture uses a combination of 40 and 70 degree lenses on its light ports.
I call them light ports because there are three LEDs per port. In the SOL WHITE, that means 2 white LEDs and one Royal. In the SOL BLUE fixture it means one Royal, one Blue, and one White. My (4) modular fixtures are all white so that is what I will concentrate one.
AI SOL "port"
With a total of 8 ports, each containing 3 high powered LEDs, the fixture is able to hold a total of 27 individual LEDs. AI calls the mechanism which holds the 3 LEDs "pucks". The nicest thing about the AI SOL is the updatability of the fixture. Due to the constantly changing and improving LED
technology, Aquaillumination has developed these modules to allow users to easily upgrade lights as new technology is developed. With each module costing about $530 depending on retailer, this is huge to ensure that fixtures aren't outdated quickly.
As stated earlier, these individual modules can be configured on the dual rail system in either a elongated configuration, hanging off of one rail parallel to the fixture, or can be hung across both rails perpendicular. Why does this matter you ask? For users like me that have a cube orientated tank, the modules would have had to have been hung several feet above the tank to throw the light to the front and back of the tank for even coverage.
By allowing me to change the orientation, I have installed my lights in a square formation in 2 rows. I would like to see the manufacturer develop some different connection pieces, similar to track lighting which would allow owners to buy rails of varying size and build frames to fit any size or shape tank. Think and 'L' shaped tank.
Each module is about 75 watts. Considering that I have 4 of them, I am running about 300 watts. Not great, I agree. But when you consider that each module is about the equivalent of a 200 watt metal halide, my 150 is running about the equivalent of 800 watts. I certainly don't need this much light to obtain the PAR levels that I want, but I need this many modules to allow for even light coverage.
As such, I have the fixture scaled back to running at about 60 percent. I use an Apex Aquacontroller to automate sunrise, sunset, weather conditions, overcast Skies, and moon lights. If you don't have an aquarium controller, no need to worry. Aquaillumination has developed a very affordable model that integrates easily with its system.
AI Control Module
The light is bright. Like, wow that is brighter than metal halide bright. Plus, with blue and white LEDs intensity controlled individually, you can basically configure the light to run at any kelvin temperature desired. Get tired of 20K, then bump down the blues a bit and get 14K. Its that simple, just adjust the controllers. No alternative bulbs to buy.
While talking about buying new bulbs, these high powered LEDs have a life span of 70,000 hours. If you ran the bulbs all day every day, you LEDs wouldn't significantly dim for 8 years. Running them at 10-12 hours a day, that figure jumps to 11 years or so. Even then, as explained above, you can purchase new "pucks" from AI for about 25 bucks a piece and continue to use the same system.
So how do they work? So far great. Setup is simple. Simple plug it in and fire it up. You can simply run them off of a timer, but they would just run at 100% power. To give total controllability as noted above, plug in the supplied double ended 35mm cord, which daisy-chains between modules and the lights all become full controllable.
These lights are fantastic, but I do have some grips. The supplied legs for the fixture simply are not well thought out. They are very short, meaning that once the module is hung off of the rail (which the legs mount on the bottom of) the several inch thick module is just inches off of the water. This really concentrates the light into beams. To add insult to injury, there are no larger legs available though the manufacturer does offer an hanging kit.
We expect these 4 modules, 2 sets of rails, and 2 hanging kits to be paid off due to cost savings in approximately 4 years. This considers savings on electric bills as well as replacement bulbs compared to our old fixture.
In 4 years, after these things have finally earned their keep, maybe I will come back and update this review and let you know about their long term appeal. A quick positives and negatives:
2. Modular Design
3. Controlibility and powerful
1. Lack of options for mounting
3. Lack of rail modulation
I hope this helps anybody interested in these fixtures. I'm happy to answer any questions not addressed on the companies site or in this review.
All pictures taken from: AI - life illuminated