After writing so many return pump reviews over the years, it can sometimes be challenging to get inspired to start another. Having said that, if there’s one pump that can pique our interest it’s the OCTO VarioS, indeed seeing these in the flesh at the AQUA tradeshow in Telford late last year made us determined to put one through its paces to see if they are really as good as they look. Before we get into that, here’s a quick primer for those who may be looking to buy their first pump.
The analogy has been made before but for typical sumped reef systems, the return pump is akin to the human heart, playing the vital role of tirelessly circulating fluid through the system. Aside from occasional maintenance, this is a device that you really want to be able to set-and-forget to some extent, confident that it will perform consistently. Given this, reliability is probably to most important aspect to consider, but other key factors include noise, efficiency, controllability, physical size and attachment options. Many pumps are now DC powered and come with a controller that allows variable speed operation and even remote App-based control. Whatever the case, it is strongly recommended that you match the pump to the size of system you are running, typically aiming for 10x the turnover of the display volume. On top of this though, take into account that the maximum performance figures quoted by any manufacturer may be reduced anywhere for 15-30% by the variety of plumbing configurations that may be employed… and of course, if you are pumping beyond the typical height of a few feet, performance will drop off far more. Given this info, with such pumps (providing space allows), it can be wise to purchase a pump that realistically provides your optimum flow rate at around 50% operation, thus allowing you to throttle it back rather than running at 100% constantly. This method typically results in lowest noise output and cheapest operation while providing some flexibility on both sides of the target flow range.
Going back to the VarioS range, we obtained smallest model for our review, the VarioS 2. This pump is rated to turn over a maximum of 3000lph at 4m head pressure, while consuming 25watts and as such, although it is complex to draw direct comparisons, this ranks the VarioS highly in its class. With the ability to be used in either wet/internal or dry/external configurations, the flexibility continues with the intuitive, attractive bespoke controller offering 5 preset speed settings and blue LED indicator lights. The controller also offers simple selection of 15 or 60 minute feed/maintenance modes which can be activated or deactivated. Furthermore, the VarioS comes with a float switch and adjustable bracket included and this can be attached to the controller. With ‘FS’ mode activated on the controller, this float switch offers a useful safety feature that goes beyond the typical ‘run dry’ protection systems employed. For a start this should prove especially useful to avoid those instanced where a return chamber runs low and large quantities of microbubbles are injected into the display. Going back to the pump itself, assembly/disassembly is simple and requires no tools. Components feel good quality and while we can’t comment on long term use, we’ve extensively researched user comments on this range and quality and reliability seem to be particular strong points in user feedback. Specifically, a 10 year expected lifespan is quoted by the manufacturer and this is backed with 1 year for rotor and 2 years for pump warranties. The pump body also features a ceramic shaft and bearings for quiet operation, and the volute can be rotated to allow for variation in configuration. A final note, although the controller offers no Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity out of the box, it does have a useful 0-10v input which allows for control devices such as the Neptune Apex system to be attached for expanded control and monitoring options. Actually, the VarioS even boasts official Neptune Apex accreditation… take note that you will need to purchase a separate cable to connect.
In terms of our direct experience, we concur and confirm all of those claims made above. We didn’t actually run the VarioS as a return pump but instead used it to feed a reactor. In this configuration it was possibly to observe and listen closely at the front of our sump and we can confirm this is a very quiet pump. The controller worked perfectly and we liked the sturdy, simple design and good quality attachment bracket with screw hole option for mounting also. We have now been using the pump for several weeks and no problems so far indeed we haven’t had to do anything to it since attaching it. It’s just doing its job quietly and effectively which is exactly what we want from such a device.
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With the VarioS 2 currently retailing for around £200, the key parameters of the larger models in the range are listed in the table below and these models range in price from £250 to £350. Finally take note that the VarioS is also available as a skimmer pump and we’d suggest that skimmers featuring these motors are worth investigating if you are looking for something a cut above the crowd.