Back in August 2016 when the G4 Pro originally launched here in the UK, a flurry of reviews appeared as outlets competed to be the first to ‘spill the beans’ on this desirable new tech. Due to heavy demand, we didn’t receive our unit for review until late 2016 and given the bi-monthly run of the magazine, clearly some time has passed since then. This still qualifies as a ‘new product’ though, and therefore we feel another review has its place. Indeed, allowing the product to settle in the marketplace has proven useful and interesting in certain ways… Firstly, this period has given time for any potential general issues with the product to surface, and second, some of the quality outlets have already gone ahead and produced detailed and reliable spectral measurements that are publicly available. Although we’d suggest that the majority of hobbyists shouldn’t be overly obsessed with such data, for those with high demand/value collections, or those who just have a keen interest in this aspect of the hobby, the data is certainly there (and we’ve provided some web links at the end if you want to take a look[i]). This review doesn’t aim to go into such depth, rather our review here purely gives a technical ’primer’ on the product and our own opinions of its operation on a modest home reef system over the course of a couple of months. We’ll elucidate more on this shortly but first, lets get to the point and take a look at the key features of this unit.
We can’t imagine there are many hobbyists who aren’t already familiar with EcoTech’s Radion product-line and we are sure most realise that this is the latest offering in a line of fixtures that are already highly-regarded and proven ‘in the field’[ii]. Actually, the same can be said of LED technology generally, and now its not so much a question of ‘if’ an LED light fixture can grow corals, rather ‘how well’ it can achieve this aim. Exemplifying this paradigm shift, we’ve seen other key players in the market refining existing product lines recently; the AI Hydra HD for example, the Kessil AP700, the Maxspect Ethereal, and we’ve even had electronics giant Philips enter the market with their Coralcare fixture (which incidentally, we should be reviewing later this year). EcoTech did seem to take their time with this product though and it launched comparatively recently against those listed above. It seems that during this period, EcoTech refined their product in a typically thoughtful and rigorous manner, although you may be forgiven for thinking not much has changed at first glance, as the unit looks similar to the preceeding G3 (apart from the underside).
Firstly, the three different models of this G4 (4th Generation) series; the XR30w, the XR30w Pro, and the single-cluster XR15w Pro, offer a wider spectrum of light, and one which is likely the most comprehensive in any fixture to-date. The base model XR30w has 6 channels of colour control, with 150 watts of power spread across 34 LEDs in two clusters (which incidentally, brings it close in specification to the G3 Pro level fixture). The Radion G4 Pro however raises the bar with a whopping 190 watts spread across 46 LEDs. Overall in the new Pro fixture, EcoTech have added 4 more UV LEDs and 4 violet LEDs and take note that similar colour diodes have been grouped in each cluster so all the ‘blue end’ LEDs are placed close together and so are the warmer colours. This is clearly a measure aimed at reducing the ‘disco ball’ effect which was the bane of early LED fixtures (and even some poor quality modern ones). On this subject we come to the second major change and this comes in the form of the new Hemispherical Edge Illumination (HEI) lens system, which encases each LED cluster. As demonstrated by the studies I alluded to earlier, without getting too technical, this clever new optical system succeeds in distributing the considerable PAR output of the fixture over the recommended 24-30” spread much more uniformly than in previous models. In this way, incidences of shadowing and/or potential ‘hotspots’ directly underneath the unit (both of which can have negative effects not just on the aesthetic appearance of a system, but also on coral growth and health), are greatly mitigated. Finally, the last major redesign comes in the form of a new heat-sink system which copes with the higher power output while reducing the noise generated by the unit. If you’ve got your tank in a communal area this will be of particular benefit.
So, having used a number of LED units over the years, including previous incarnations of the Radion line, the G4 remains one of the most user friendly fixtures to set-up and control day-to-day, in our opinion. Take note however that while certain competitor fixtures now offer built in WIFI, the G4 still needs a Reeflink to act as the intermediary for ‘remote control’ of the fixture, or it can be set-up by linking it to a computer with a USB cable. That said, the Reeflink is also a proven product with an extensive knowledgebase accessible in the event of any complications, and the EcoSmart interface is user-friendly once you have familiarised yourself with its operation. The new unit is also compatible with all of EcoTech’s accessories including the X-brackets and the excellent single-arm or multi-light Radion Mounting System (RMS). One slight drawback is the fact that the internal reworking means that there’s no upgrade path from older generation fixtures. Finally, it’s not something we’ve investigated first-hand, but the G4 is also compatible with the Neptune Apex WXM module.
So that’s all very interesting but how does it actually look and perform?! Well, physically the unit looks fantastic in our eyes. We’d even go so far as to say that we think the Radion line has always been the best looking fixture of its kind, and this latest model is the most attractive of the lot so far. It is certainly quiet too, with just a whisper audible from the fan at close range on full speed. In terms of the light output, visually it’s hard to judge this unless you are running two different fixture side-by-side but we did manage to do this against a very similar model from a different manufacturer and overall the light from the Radion did appear to be much brighter on full power with less shadowing and no evidence of a ‘disco ball effect’ in the shadows cast on the substrate. A desirable ‘glitter effect’ was still evident where the surface of the water was disturbed by heavy turbulence. With the extensive range of colours available it was possible to create a diverse array of schemes, from a deep blue at dawn and dusk which produced pronounced fluorescence among certain corals, to a crisp white light with excellent colour rendition that really brought out the red pigment of certain LPS corals. We really can’t see anyone being dissatisfied with the overall versatility of this unit. One thing to mention, and this has been noted by others, is that the unit has the potential to scatter more light via light spill given the new optics, so consider this carefully if you are incorporating this light onto a system with no screening pelmet or canopy where the light may interfere with everyday life such a viewing the television, or computer etc (the unit really needs to be at least 8-10” above the water surface, and in this scenario illuminates an area of 24-30sq”). We have to say that we personally didn’t experience this but we have noted it in just a few online comments… it seems a subjective and minor issue.
Our final verdict is that the G4 range represents the pinnacle of current LED reef system lighting and it is one of the best choices if you have the budget and your system demands a high-power, state-of-the-art solution. EcoTech have clearly avoided rushing in headlong with this product, instead biding their time, measuring the competition and finally laying a ‘full house’ of upgrades on the table. Whatever the next major development in this fascinating and evolving market, we’ll continue to play our hand in the same way so look out for our next ‘Close Look’ review in issue 64!
[i] Youtube – “Testing the brand new EcoTech Radion G4 | #BRSTestLab”