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The Reef Aquatics IntelliSun LED review

  • INTELLISUN LED REEF LIGHTING UNIT: USER REVIEW

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    Well, to start off, I just want to state that this review was done out of my own initiative on a light unit I thought has great potential for lighting nano to large tanks.
    The unit wasn’t sponsored by Reef Aquatics & I had to pay for it out of my own pocket.
    A couple days ago, I saw a post from Reef Aquatics pet store from Cape Town (reef aquatics) about a new LED unit that they are importing as a test for sale to us local reefers in South Africa.
    Since I was in the marked for a LED unit to replace my 150W Metal Halide, I thought it to be a good idea to ask Reef Aquatics if I could purchase the first unit & test it for them. Thus, here are my findings & comparison results for these light units…

    First impression:
    When I first saw the pictures that Reef aquatics posted about this unit, it looked quite nice, but as soon as I opened the box that RA couriered to me, my first reaction was “WOW that’s sexy”.
    This unit looks VERY nice!
    It’s definitely not a slim & sleek super thin LED unit, but definitely a nice design for a led unit & it’s not the “average LED on the block”. The unit is 215x215 x 70mm which seems to be a very nice size… (not too big, & not too small)
    Then, to my surprise, the unit did not have any power supply with it! Only a power cord that plugs directly into the normal 230V plugs.
    They installed the transformer into the unit itself, which even surprised me more as its quite thin considering the size of some of the other LED unit’s drivers!

    The unit is also not that heavy either for a LED unit with an onboard driver/transformer. The total weight including the controller is just over 1.6kg (considering the transformer weight of a similar led unit alone weighs over 2kg’s)
    This LED is only available in matt black & brushed silver & seems to be of great quality & gives the unit a very professional look.

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    The bottom, top & sides are made from a high quality polished aluminium that creates a very nice finish to the unit, & the black plastic molded corners (which is also the ventilation grids) compliments the overall look very nicely. The entire unit is held together with 16 phosphate coated screws (more on the larger units) that fits in very nicely with the entire look of the unit.

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    On top of the unit, it has a “fan shaped” grid for the air intake of the cooling fan & also 4x brass/copper hanging lugs for suspending the light with the included suspension kit from a bracket or ceiling.

    The fan itself seems to be doing a great job at cooling down the whole unit even when it runs at full power.

    I set the Intellisun to 100% output on all the channels (3 channels) & ran it for a full hour in an ambient room temperature of 22 °C. I then tested the surface temperature of the unit with a professional thermometer & the maximum was 28.7°C right next to the leds. (Quite impressive)
    This surface temperature might be slightly higher in summer times, but I don’t expect it to go anything higher than 35-40°C even in very warm temperatures.

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    The fan is definitely not the quietest on the market, but still runs quiet enough not to distract me & I was able to get a normal night’s sleep even with the fan running in my bedroom. (Did a “sleep test” with the moonlights running).
    To be quite honest, the fan was quieter than my DC return pump which was located inside the sump of the frag tank that I am testing the unit on, & moves a good amount of air through the unit.

    On the left & right hand side of the unit, there are in & output plugs for both the main power & the controller. This looks a bit bulky when only one unit is used, but would be very neat when multiple units are installed over larger tank, as it minimizes the amount of wires required to power/control the other units. Thumbs up to the manufacturers for thinking of that…

    According to the manufacturer, one controller can run a maximum of 10 x85W “hops” & approximately 20 “LED hops” per 230V 16A plug which would make this unit the ideal for spacing an array of units over larger tanks!
    Although there are lots of other LED units out there that has wireless functionality to connect between other units, you definitely pay the extra dollar for that, & you still need to connect each unit to its own power supply which looks a lot less tidy than 2 cables running from unit to unit with a nice modular connecting system.

    The IntelliSun Controller:
    The controller was definitely my favorite part about the Intellisun system!!!
    Just to give a quick summary of my previous experience with LED controllers:
    I have literally spent countless hours struggling to program led units with my laptop & struggling to synchronize them & failed sync cable connections etc. etc. etc… Controllers have really given me gray hair even with some very expensive reef lighting unit! I have programmed +- 7 LED controllers before for myself & reefing friends before & it was always a headache!

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    Difficulty of programming the IntelliSun:
    Step 1: Plug controller into unit.
    Step 2: Push menu button & push down arrow to custom setting.
    Step 3: Select LED power level for every hour of the day for each channel (took about 2 minutes)
    Step 4: Select “save” & then exit…

    THAT’S IT??? I couldn’t believe my eyes!!!
    I programmed the whole custom lighting schedule for a 24 hour period including moonlights within less than 5 minutes & it WORKS!!
    You could give this controller to a 6 year old & they will figure it out in a couple minutes! It’s that simple!

    Well, on to a more serious note… The controller works, & it works well!
    It has a couple of very nice features that’s also extremely easy to use & works every time.
    Modes include: Sunny, cloudy, moonlight & custom.
    The Sunny, cloudy & moonlight are all manual modes that has to be selected on the controlled or remote every time you want to activate it, but the custom mode is a fully automatic function that allows you to select a output percentage for each of the 3 channels on a 24 hour time-lapse.

    Programming:
    It’s really easy to program. Select 00:00 & set values for channels for that hour, change to 01:00, & set values for channels. When you’re done to 23:00, just scroll down to the save setting & press “OK” button & then “menu” to return to automatic mode & you’re done.
    The custom mode also has a “preview” function that quickly runs through the entire program to help you preview the cycle like some of the expensive units & you can easily change any saved values afterwards as well…

    The controller comes standard with a +-40cm cable that connects directly to the input plug on the unit. I have found the cable to be exactly the right length, as it’s easy to “fold-&-hide” the cable if you want to use the controller on/against the Intellisun, & long enough to reach the outside of a tank hood if using it on a hooded tank.
    Overall, I give the controller a 10/10 for ease of use & being functional in all the right areas!

    Mounting the IntelliSun:
    Mounting this unit wasn’t too difficult either as I am lucky enough to have a wooden interlocking ceiling over the tank, & was easily able to screw normal hanging hooks into the ceiling, *make the suspension cables & simply hook the unit onto the included linking cables.
    *Please note that this unit only includes the two triangular connecting cables as an accessory with hanging clips. If you wish to hang the unit from a high ceiling/beam, you need to buy separate cables & do a quick DIY. The good news is that only one or two other reef led units includes them, so it’s not really a problem.

    The unit can also be hung from a normal led mounting bracket that rests on the tank or a wall mounted bracket and is light enough that you don’t need to worry about the unit pulling the hooks out of the ceiling or bending the bracket.

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    IntelliSun Performance:
    Now this is where it got interesting…
    Just to give some technical specifications:
    The IntelliSun works on three LED channels of which there is an AquaSpecial (cool white), a BluePlus (Royal blue) and a PurplePlus (Amazing purple color).

    The Aquaspecial: Consists of a large 40W central led that looks like an array led module & 8 x 3W leds that is evenly spaced around the 40W led. (Basically the normal cool white leds that’s used on all units)

    The BluePlus: Consisting of 6 x 3W Royal blue leds spaced into two clusters on either side of the 40W led. I must say that the blue was a very nice addition to the unit & complimented the overall output color very uniquely.

    The PurplePlus: Consisting of 6 x 3W** leds also spaced into two clusters on either side of the large 40W led.
    THIS IS THE COOLEST COLOR EVER!!! I couldn’t believe the effect this channel had on the colors observed on the corals. It seems to bring that extra eye popping neon & luminescent color out of the corals which can’t normally be seen when using other led units. Another 10/10 to the manufacturers.
    Although a couple other reef Led units uses purple in their LED selection, this is by far the best I’ve seen in any unit & it complements the overall emitted color spectrum very well.
    ** Although the manufacturer claims all leds to be 3W, I’m pretty sure the purples are 1W leds as the total output would come to 100W if the purples were indeed 3W each and not the 85W as stated by the manufacturers.

    Now, for the actual testing.
    I started out by switching the unit on at 100% output on the 3 channels after suspending the unit alongside my current 150W MH over my 600x600x450mm frag tank.
    I used a piece of solid black plexiglass to first cover the IntelliSun for about 10 seconds, & then quickly moved the cover over the MH for 10 seconds. (Asked my good friend to do the covering while I looked at the results in the tank from about 3m away)
    He did this about 5 times, & It was very obvious that this 85W led completely outlit the 150W metal halide unit (which had a brand new 16000K bulb) by about 30-40%.
    I then decided to slowly turn down the purple & blue channels & repeating the test until I could see the output being approximately the same between the MH & led units.
    First, I started turning down the purplePlus channel to 0%, & to my amazement, it was still about 25% brighter than the MH.
    Next, the BluePlus. I slowly decreased the blue by 10% at a time till I got to 0% & it was still slightly brighter (& the color spectrum was now approximately the same to the naked eye).
    Lastly, I started decreasing the AquaSpecial to 85%. This was simply put, incredible. This roughly calculates to a 51W output of the total 85W this unit packs out (& only on one channel) & it emitted about the same light intensity as a MH unit that consumed 3 times more electricity! WOW! To me, that was a good sign & quite impressive to say the least.
    My conclusion to this test was that this unit can be used as a direct replacement for a 150W MH with a great decrease in your electricity bill & stunning colors being displayed by the corals.

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    After seeing what this unit could do, I wanted to compare it to my Ecotech Radion.
    Although this is probably a bit redundant (unfair), since the Radion unit is 130W total output, I decided to get at it anyway.
    I turned the Radion down to 65% on all channels (which should be equal to 85W output on the IntelliSun) & did the same test as before with the MH.
    The brightness seemed to be slightly brighter on the IntelliSun, so I increased the Radion output to 70%, which appeared to be the same as the IntelliSun at 100%.
    This was to me quite an impressive outcome… The Intellisun brought the coral colors “pop” out a lot nicer than the radion!!
    Although the radion had a lot more channels & colors to mix with, on a full output on both units, the IntelliSun has the better color of the 2 units.
    I know the radion comparison can’t be used as an official measure of the quality of the IntelliSun’s intensity & color output, but was still quite impressive.

    I’m still looking for a PAR meter to give more accurate results, but have been unsuccessful to find anyone with a PAR meter locally. (Might have to order one myself).
    I will at a later stage update this review with proper PAR values & comparisons between the different light units.

    Coral reaction to IntelliSun:
    I have quite a selection of LPS (mostly Euphillia) corals in the frag tank that I’m testing the unit on & about 10 SPS frags (of which most require intense lighting).
    After 3 days of use over the tank, I noticed that all of the Euphillia corals looked “happier” than with the MH at the middle of the light cycle, & also tentacles extended slightly “fuller” than before (not stringy as before).
    My SPS all looked happy as before, so I couldn’t really see a major increase in them, but the purple leds certainly brought out the fluorescence a lot better than I couldn’t see in them before. Especially my blue tip acropora frag showed a lot better color with the Intellisun & the polyp extensions also seemed more evenly spread out. (not sure if the polyp extensions was because of the light.)
    Other than that, ALL the corals just looked a lot better color wise as the florescent colors literally “POPPED” out more than with any other light unit I’ve ever used before.
    Overall, the corals ALL seems to love the new light & looks very happy.

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    Coverage:
    The IntelliSun has a very nice light spread to start with.
    I mounted the unit at 300mm from water level & got a coverage on water level of +- 530x530 & I believe it ca can easily cover a 600x600mm cube tank from corner to corner if mounted slightly higher.
    The unit does have a bit of “centrally more intense” light under the central 40W led (about 350x350mm) but the rest of the leds complimented the entire surface very effectively.
    This “centrally more intense” area would mean that it can easily be used on deeper tanks & will have a better light penetration right to the bottom of the tank than normal units. (As an estimate, I would say you can keep some sps up to 800mm deep under this unit due to the centrally brighter are…)
    (Just keep in mind that in shallow tanks, this central brightness might be too much for corals placed directly under the unit & you would have to start the unit at a lower setting to allow corals to acclimate to the intensity & slowly increase over a couple weeks.)

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    IntelliSun Summary:
    This unit was definitely worth the cost (& more). It provides an excellent intermediate (& cost effective) alternative between the higher end (& a lot more expensive) LED units like the Radion, razor nano, mazzara, etc. & the regular metal halide or T5 units & would definitely give most of them a go…
    The great thing about this unit is that it provides a couple of unique features that isn’t found in any other led units & is a fraction of the cost, like the large central array led that is normally only found on the Kessil & orphek units & combines that with normal leds spaced around it. This gives a nice shimmer effect directly comparable to the single point light source of a metal halide, but a bit wider spread as well like that of the standard “rectangular” led units or t5’s.
    Overall… I loved the IntelliSun! Point!

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    PROS:
    1. Great value for money (R3300 for a 85W unit with a controller is less than half of the higher end units with a controller) This has to be one of the most cost effective units when “Rand per Watt” is considered.
    2. Stunning light spectrum for any type of reef!
    3. Covers up to 600x600mm tanks with enough intensity to grow even sps in any area of the tank.
    4. Very unique & good looking unit.
    5. Controller is easy to operate & gives all functionality of a high end unit with a very nice custom mode.
    6. Remote control is an added benefit that works nicely if you want to quickly switch modes, set intensities or switch off completely from anywhere in the room.
    7. Initial startup is a breeze & can go from boxed to fully operational in under 30minutes (including programming the controller).
    8. Linking plugs / cables (controller & power cables) makes it a “clean” setup if more than one unit will be installed over a tank.
    9. Hanging kit works as supposed to. (quick hanging / removal of unit)
    10. Available in a different sizes. 85, 170, 340 & 510W units to light up any size reef!
    11. Powerful enough to grow any coral within the 600x600mm area under it.
    12. Very cool running unit. (heated air is diverted away from water surface after being blown through unit)

    Cons:
    1. Power cable was fitted with a square type fused plug. (I had to change plug, but adapters is available at hardware stores for those who isn’t too good at DIY’ing.) (Will ask reef aquatics to request regular South African 3point plugs with future imported units.)
    2. No hanging cables included, only hanging kit. (Easy enough to DIY that…)
    3. Slightly thicker than other led units. (not really that thick considering everything they packed in there)

    Manufacturer technical info:
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