Review: Red Sea REEFER 170 rimless braceless aquarium system

If you’ve been following the blog you may know that in January we were lucky enough to obtain the very first of Red Sea’s REEFER range in the form of a white 170 model. Now we have had the tank running as our second test system for several weeks, we are pleased to bring you our detailed operational assessment of the system.

Starting with the display tank, our initial high praise seems fully justified as the quality of this aquarium’s construction has proved to be a talking point more than once. The finish is superb and the high clarity glass used on this aquarium not only looks good from a design standpoint, but also gives a crystal clear view of what’s in the aquarium (initial photography efforts also confirm this). We’ve had no leaks, but given that each tank is tested before it leaves the factory, we wouldn’t seriously expect this. One thing we would like to see is a bespoke tank cover system from Red Sea, or at least some subtle suspension points to allow the hobbyist to easily add their own cover if desired (anything to avoid having to use those overhanging acrylic clips). We strongly feel that livestock safety shouldn’t be compromised over aesthetics but let’s be fair, it is really down to the hobbyist to ultimately ensure this by staying away from known ‘jumpy’ species if no cover is used. Before we forget, the rear panel backing is a vinyl film so can be changed if desired, however we think the standard black that matches the weir is by far the best option.

On the subject of the weir, the overflow system works well and we haven’t suffered from surface film despite running a few different flow patterns in the tank. Beyond this effective surface skimming we can’t really say much more about the weir without being drawn into the plumbing system so let’s move on. In short, this is perhaps the most impressive part of the system. The height of the water level in the weir can be adjusted with superb accuracy by turning the large, knurled control dial either clockwise to raise water in the weir or anticlockwise to lower it. To tweak the level requires a movement of only a few millimetres but the dial is sufficiently sensitive to achieve this in our experience. It’s a compact yet robust, professional system, also easily accessible and easy to tune to complete silence. We run our system with the water level just at the top of the narrower bore pipe but not quite overflowing as this prevents any splashing noise from the water as it enters the weir. The system is good enough to set and forget, although slight variances in return pump efficiency might mean you need to tweak it occasionally (as would any system running on this principle in our experience).

20150130_174551Moving down to the sump and again build quality is great, with polished edges neat black silicone. The sump layout is fine and the main chamber and cabinet height provide plenty of room for an oversized skimmer if desired. It also offers versatility in that you could use it for an algae refugium, or include reactors if desired. The filtersock holder works well and it’s easy to change the sock, or even to run the system without one if desired. Larger models of Reefer have twin filter socks and Red Sea informs us that both 400 micron and 200 micron socks will be available. We found that our Jecod DCT4000 was perhaps a little on the powerful side, even at its lowest setting, and led to a trickle of water by-passing the sock (even when freshly rinsed). Red Sea provides a guide for maximum flow rates for every one of the 5 models of Reefer.

Talking of the top-up, the reservoir sits over the filter sock assembly and generally works well. We’ve noticed that, even with the flow set to maximum, the float drops quite a bit before the top-up keeps up with demand. The ATO is sufficient for a few days’ worth of evaporation and it is a bit tricky to refill the reservoir given the lack of headroom. For testing purposes we have installed a remote top-up system using an Elos Osmocontroller Digital. This system draws from a 35l jerry can concealed in a nearby cupboard and lasts the tank for 1 – 2 weeks. This also has the side-effect that the top up chamber can be put to other uses, indeed we have taken a piece of airline to siphon out of the top of the weir and this line is attached to the drain nipple of the top up reservoir (the tap is retained to allow some control over the flow). This basically fills the top-up reservoir up from the bottom at a rate of about 1 full res. per hour. We’ve used a piece of acrylic to tilt the reservoir forward so that water runs down the front panel and trickles onto the filter sock plate (this is barely audible but could be made completely silent with the addition of a small piece of acrylic sheet). The chamber is lit by an LED spot-light which is fixed using a bracket onto the rear edge of the reservoir (so it is not in the water). Lit on a reverse cycle, we have added some Chaetomorpa to this reservoir to essentially turn it into a fully functioning micro refugium! OK, it isn’t ideal in that anything that overflows from the res. still has to pass through the return pump to get to the main tank, but it does shows the versatility of the system. It also leaves the main chamber free for a skimmer of course. However, none of this is necessary and was just something we wanted to experiment with.

IMG_9529webThe final component of the system is the cabinet, and this wooden construction has proven sturdy and impervious to the odd spillage. The painted finish to the cabinet panels is both water resistant and hard-wearing. By all impressions, it should last for several years at least if well-cared for. We particularly like the slight gap left on one side of the sump as this not only gives us room to store foods etc, but also securing various control units for DC pumps etc with 3M velcro pads above this section means that if they did fall, they wouldn’t fall into the sump. That said, we’ve screwed our main 8 gang plug rack to the inside of the cabinet for added security. Let’s be clear, a metal framed cabinet as used on Red Sea’s flagship S-Series would be even better, but for this price and size, the wood finish is fine. Production units of the Reefer include a foam insert around the sump base to protect the cabinet further.

IMG_9533webIn conclusion, having seen similar offerings from other manufacturers, we have no hesitation in saying the REEFER easily leads the recent crop of rimless, braceless systems. It’s key strengths are the quality of construction, fantastic weir and plumbing system, and versatile sump system with top up included. The system of course leaves the choice of ancillary equipment to the hobbyist which is fine, and although it would be nice to have some fixing points for a cover and maybe some clearer markings on the control dial included, these are issues easily surmountable with a little ingenuity. To view more detail on the range visit Red Sea’s website.

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