Every year when we attend a trade show, we get a feel for the latest trends and general direction in which suppliers and manufacturers are moving with their various product lines. Several years ago, off-the-shelf aquarium systems themselves were the new, hot product. Since then, we’ve seen numerous refinements in the design of these systems. As a continuance to this process, as reported in our Aqua tradeshow report in issue 79, you may recall that one of the key themes of the show was manufacturers moving towards metal framed cabinets for their aquarium systems. Previously, metal framed cabinets have primarily been the reserve of bespoke systems with more mass-produced off-the-shelf systems usually having cabinets of wooden construction, and arriving flat-packed for DIY assembly.
The Aquarium Systems L’Aquarium range too has gone through a process of refinement over recent years indeed it originally piqued our interest way back in 2017 when we compared the ‘Gen 1’ version to similar systems from the likes of D-D, Red Sea, Evolution Aqua and TMC. Of course, each had pros and cons, but L’Aquarium was notable in particular for its generously sized sump compared to the other manufacturers. Jump forward to the present date and the refined L’Aquarium 2.0 range boldly defines itself with a cabinet composed of a sturdy powder coated aluminium frame clad with shiny glass and glossy composite panels. On these merits alone we were keen to put this system through a real-world trial and happily, Aquarium Systems were confident enough to submit a unit for scrutiny.
Before we get to our ‘hands-on’, let’s take a look at the range as a whole and examine the key features. So firstly, there are 4 models in the range, specifically a 250, 370, 570, 720. Available in just black for the time being, these systems cover volumes from 238 litres right up to 700. The aquaria are constructed of high clarity glass on the front and sides which ranges from 10-15mm in thickness depending on the model. We’ve already mentioned the aluminium and glass cabinets of course. One of the most important things though is that these systems come in crates with the cabinet fully assembled and even with sump in situ. You don’t have to worry about complicated assembly as with many other brands. You still need to assemble the plumbing but that all comes too and is relatively simple to install. We notice that the sump volumes quoted don’t seem to take into account the operating water level but they are still of a good size and perfectly suited to each system. For our evaluation purposes we are using the 250, the smallest in the range.
So, what was experience like with the L’Aquarium? Well, the kerbside delivery went well with the driver leaving the single pallet with 2 large crates containing the tank and cabinet separately at the top of our short but quite steeply upward-sloped driveway. From here, we first removed the plastic wrapping (protection against rain etc), and then carried the crates individually through into our studio. The crates were not particularly heavy as this was the smallest system but the cabinet crate was pleasantly lightweight compare to heavy wooden systems we’ve dealt with previously. Opening the crates was initially quite tricky but once the technique to prize open the metal clips was mastered (with the right tools) things speeded up. All components had survived shipping completely intact and undamaged no doubt thanks to thick foam packing and corner protectors which held everything in place. Once removed from the crates we inspected each component carefully. One small point we’d note is that some of the secondary packing in the cabinet create had left some adhesive marks on the glass door. These were removed with household cleaning products fairly easily. Boxes containing the pipework and fittings were also included and on checking, everything was complete and present. In just a few minutes we had the tank on the stand and ready for the assembly stage.
In reality, a few days passed before we began to tackle the plumbing but when we did so it was quite simple to work out ‘what went where’. We firstly inserted the twin drain pipes down into the weir. These are very similar to those on Red Sea systems with the shorter ‘main drain’ being capped with a thicker sleeve and the emergency overflow stands slightly taller and un-sleeved. These tanks comes pre-drilled with holes at the bottom of the central weirs and note that there is nothing pre-attached to stop you from sliding one of these tanks onto the stand if you need to do so (we mention this as one system we set-up did have pre-attached plastic fittings on the underside of the tank and this caused problems as it could only be lowered onto the cabinet). The central return pipe is a T-shaped design with outputs on either side of the weir and these can be adjusted reasonably well. They come with rotating outlets fitted but to be honest we removed ours back to the first elbow meaning the flow was directed straight downwards and there was as little pipework in the tank as possible. Each branch of the return passes through a gap in the weir comb and is capped with a small fitting to seal it tightly. The weir comb design is initially a little conspicuous for our tastes but when the tank has water in it, it becomes less so, and it is certainly one of the most rugged designs we’ve seen. The weir cover also fits very securely which we like. Underneath the weir the rest of the pipework simply screws-on meaning the critical parts of the installation are all done from underneath the tank where there is relatively good access. Take care to ensure the O rings are in the right place with all fittings and we’d suggest you fill the weir with a few litres of water and then use a torch and paper towel to check for leaks (we didn’t find any ourselves, even on the first attempt). Rather than having both drain lines routed into the first chamber of the sump, the emergency pipe goes into the return chamber. The main drain line has a control valve fitted and, while we’ve seen people complain about these and replace them with bulky gate valves, we’ve never found them to be a problem (it seems to be other factors that cause subtle flow rate changes in our experience). We do suggest that you add your own markings if you struggle to balance the flow though… to show which way is open and close, and to demark a known successful setting at a given return flow rate as a reference. We run ours with the water as stable as possible right at the lip of the emergency overflow tube. From the 1st sump chamber (main drain outflow) water passes through a single filter sock (multiple socks in larger versions) and then travels underneath a glass partition into the 2nd chamber. Water then passes through a mid-height grill into the 3rd chamber (see image). This is where our main criticism arises as we would have liked this to have had a removable barrier allowing for the 2nd and 3rd section to be opened to allow for more equipment or a larger, single refugium. Having said this, the format does provide for both a skimmer and refugium as standard which is likely to be just fine for most. Water finally passes into the return chamber at the rear, and while it is fairly easy to see water level through the front of the sump, monitoring if the ATO valve is working is slightly more tricky.
As touched on above, the final component is the ATO reservoir which sits on top of the return chamber. This drains via a simple mechanical float valve which seems to work well but which we imagine will require monitoring and occasional maintenance. The screw thread also sits slightly higher than the bottom of the reservoir so it doesn’t drain completely although we imagine it could be sawn-off if so desired). To be fair, many people will remove this ATO and hook up a remote top up reservoir but we’ve found that bringing an RO feed to this chamber controlled by a float valve activated solenoid valve (plus other fail-safes) suits our need. While we are still under the tank, we should mention that the interior allows for the attachment of devices (plug bars and controllers etc) but it can’t be drilled. We’ve used strong Velcro and so far, so good (although we’ve made sure that if anything falls, it can’t go into the sump). Overall the cabinet is very attractive and offers a strong, stable support. The adjustable feet were easy to adjust with the spanner included and foam pads on top of the cabinet cushions the tank nicely. It’s worth noting here that tank lighting passes through the bottom of the tank through to the sump space (if you aren’t running a substrate that is) and the walls of the cabinet are relatively thin meaning it perhaps doesn’t offer the sound insulation of a wooden cabinet. While sump lighting can’t be seen through the glass from outside, there are small gaps around the door. We imagine these could be filled easily if so desired… these are really just small observations rather than criticisms. The door has a push-click-close fitting attached but is not ‘soft close’ and the hinges appear to be lightweight stainless steel, which is fine as the door is very light. On the subject of the aquarium note that the water level sits at around 3cm below the upper edge of the glass. There is an Aquarium Systems etched logo on the front and the silicone is clear. No obvious issues to report here and quality appeared to be perfectly acceptable.
For the purposes of this review, we set up the L’Aquarium as described above and ran it for 3 weeks using a NewJet 3500 return pump, 2x NewJet Wave Nano 2200 circulation pumps and an Aquarium Systems Proten LED light bar in what was essentially an extended leak test, and to check stability, assess build quality and detect any potential operational flaws. We are happy to say that with the odd minor adjustment, the L’Aquarium performed perfectly well in this period, to the point where we’d be happy to commit to adding livestock. Based on our experience so far, we’d give it a definite thumbs-up and our recommendatio
Overall, despite the slight criticism of the sump layout and limited colour option for the cabinet, we think it’s a capable system that can be run as is, or tweaked if so desired. The attractive and modern-looking aluminium and high gloss finish cabinet really sets it apart in our opinion and of course, the water resilient cabinet also promises a potentially longer lifespan than a wooden one which is an important factor to consider. In terms of pricing, RRPs stand at £799 for the 250, £950 for the 370, £1299 for the 570 and £1799 for the 720. If you are in the market for a system of this kind, no matter what size, we suggest you carefully compare each of the attributes of the various manufacturers ranges while considering what your personal priorities are, to make sure you get the best deal and fit for your own particular purposes.
Look out for future features in which we will continue our set-up of this system and make longer term observations!