The Best Aquarium Powerheads: Our Top Picks

Best Aquarium Powerheads

Having adequate flow in your tank display is crucial for all freshwater, planted, saltwater and reef aquariums. It helps to keep the water oxygenated for fish species and it allows coral species to feed from the nutrients within your system. While the return pump is the main flow contributor, we recommend adding powerheads to the aquarium should you need additional flow in your tank. Within this article we will discuss powerhead recommendations for a variety of unique aquariums. While it may seem that all powerheads perform the same task, they set themselves apart with power, controllability, and shape. There are some elite manufacturers of aquarium powerheads that we will discuss within this article. If you have any wavemaker related questions or you are seeking a specific recommendation please reach out to our customer care team.

Each recommendation we make will be optimized for the particular aquarium in which we are suggesting it for. We will first make recommendations for a nano reef and planted aquarium. Then, we will present options for both a standard reef aquarium and a budget build. Finally, we will touch on a great powerhead choice for a peninsula tank.

Summary: 

A Perfect Choice for a Nano Reef: Innovative Marine WaveLink DC Flow Pumps
An Excellent Option for a Planted Aquarium: AI Nero 3 or 5
Top Flow for a Standard Reef: Ecotech Marine Vortech MP40 
A Great Choice for Flow on a Budget: Hydor Koralia 3rd Generation Wave Pumps
The Ideal Shape for a Peninsula Tank: Red Sea ReefWave Gyre Pumps

A Perfect Choice for a Nano Reef: Innovative Marine WaveLink DC Flow Pumps

Innovative Marine WaveLink DC Flow Pump
Innovative Marine WaveLink DC Flow Pump

Innovative Marine has long been one of the manufacturing leaders for anything and everything, nano tank related. This is due to their wide offerings of nano tanks where they are able to offer accessories that work well in their own aquariums. Their WaveLink DC Flow Pumps are perfect to operate on a plethora of smaller aquarium sizes. The WaveLink is offered in the two sizes of 1500 and 2300 gallons per hour. These pumps have a built in controller that allows them to be dialed in for the perfect flow you are needing within your tank. There are six controllable modes within each of these pumps that allow the user to vary the flow in different ways. For example, pulse mode causes periodic spurts of flow to create a wave like environment within the aquarium. These wave pumps will operate perfectly on aquariums between 5-30 gallons for the 1500 GPH model and 30-60 gallons for the 2300 GPH model. The pump will also feature a feed mode that allows aquarists to pause the flow on the unit for up to 10 minutes so that the fish can feed peacefully. For each of these features the WaveLink DC pumps from Innovative Marine are our choice for one of the best aquarium powerheads for a nano reef.

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An Excellent Option for a Planted Aquarium: AI Nero 3/5

Planted aquariums can be one of the most visually appealing and minimalist systems that can be created. The plants and other livestock within a planted tank rely on aquarium flow for their overall health. That being said, you don’t want an ugly powerhead sticking out and drawing attention away from the stunning setting of the aquarium. Therefore, the AI Nero series from Aquaillumination is a great choice for a low profile look. Depending on the size of the aquarium, hobbyists can select from the 3 or 5 models. Both of these models can be controlled via AI’s smartphone application. This app allows for the flow mode and the total output to be adjusted based on the needs of your aquarium. Despite their small size, these pumps can put out some serious flow including a maximum of 2,000 GPH for the 3 and 3,000 GPH for the 5. The application also allows hobbyists to create a fully customized schedule that suits the exact needs of the aquarium. Each of these reasons make the AI Nero series our pick for one of the best aquarium powerheads for a planted tank. 

AI Nero 5 Pump
AI Nero 5 Pump

Top Flow for a Standard Reef: Ecotech Marine Vortech MP40 

Ecotech MP40 Pump
Ecotech MP40 Pump

The Ecotech Marine Vortech MP40 is our best selling powerhead and is the perfect selection for medium and large saltwater and reef aquariums. The Vortech line has been around for years and it continues to improve its controllability and durability. Ecotech designs all of their accessories to be used in tandem with one another allowing for easy control and the ability to monitor aquarium systems. Ecotech’s new Mobius platform allows hobbyists to control their powerheads, return pumps, and lights from anywhere with internet and WiFi access. Mobius is an ongoing innovation from Ecotech Marine that will continue to provide more value through its ability to control and monitor their systems. The MP40 can operate on aquariums up to ¾” thick and can produce up to 4,500 GPH. The MP40 also features eight fully customizable modes that work perfectly for a variety of reef aquariums.  These powerheads can operate on aquariums as small as 50 gallons and as large as 500 gallons. Each of these features make the Ecotech MP40 our choice for one of the best aquarium powerheads for standard sized reef tanks.

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A Great Choice for Flow on a Budget: Hydor Koralia 3rd Generation Wave Pumps

Hydor is a proven manufacturer who has been producing some of the most durable and cost effective pumps on the market for years. The Koralia is their flagship line that comes in a wide variety of sizes and can operate on everything between a nano tank and a large aquarium. These pumps have been around quite a while and are on their third generation with plenty of upgrades to show for it. These upgrades include a dual magnet support system that keeps the pump secured to the glass but also allows them to pivot into unique positions. Another improvement with the 3rd generation models is that they feature vibration absorbent silicone to cut down on any noise. Additionally, these pumps can connect to a controller that manages their output and mode. All of the third generation models have the following dimensions: 4.5” X 3” X 3.25”. These pumps can operate on tank thickness up to ⅗” which should cover most aquariums that you would want to use these pumps on. The three sizes for the third generation Koralia include a, 1350, 1,950, and 2,450 GPH model that are perfect for freshwater tanks between 50 and 250 gallons and saltwater tanks between 40 and 150 gallons. At the value they are currently being offered at, the Hydor Koralia 3rd Generation line is our pick for one of the best aquarium powerheads for keeping to a budget.

Hydor Koralia 3rd Generation Pump
Hydor Koralia 3rd Generation Pump

The Ideal Shape for a Peninsula Tank: Red Sea ReefWave Gyre Pumps

Red Sea ReefWave Gyre Pump

Peninsula aquariums are some of the best ways to display a piece of a natural reef. Not only do these aquariums allow for viewing on three sides, they also allow for stunning aquascapes. In wanting to create a beautiful scape, the last thing a hobbyist wants is an ugly powerhead sticking out in plain sight. Luckily the Red Sea ReefWave Gyre Pumps allow aquarists to still maintain optimal flow for their tank while not taking away from the natural beauty within their aquarium. The gyre can be mounted beneath the overflow of a peninsula tank and will send flow throughout the system. We have the Red Sea ReefWave available in both a 25 and a 45 size that create a maximum of 1,980 and 3,960 GPH respectively. These pumps can be controlled via Red Sea’s Reef Beat smartphone application. The flow can be customized by programming up to 10 unique wave types a day with varying intensities. Another excellent feature of the reef beat app is its ability to be used remotely to program the flow in your tank from anywhere with a WIFI connection. All of the features of the Red Sea ReefWave Gyre’s culminate in the best aquarium powerhead for peninsula aquariums.

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Final Thoughts:


We hope this article has given you some detailed insight into a plethora of aquarium powerhead options. Regardless of the type of system you own, in most cases, adding a powerhead will only serve to help your aquarium and its inhabitants. Flow is a crucial element in all aquariums and even for a budget friendly tank, you can find the proper powerhead you need. Having the ideal flow will go a long way in the overall health and appearance of your aquarium. If you are requiring some assistance in picking out the proper powerhead for your needs, our customer care team would be more than happy to assist you.

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