For a large part of the reef-keeping community, time is probably the single largest ‘limiting factor’ when it comes to running a reef tank. For many, this means that managing time effectively becomes critical in maintaining a successful system, and automating the most repetitive and tiresome tasks has been shown to assist in this process. Enter aquarium controllers, and the rise in popularity of these devices over the last few years is perhaps unsurprising given the demand for tank automation and increasing system complexity. A common theme of such controllers is that they consolidate control of the core life support systems of a reef aquarium, and through providing a single control interface, simplify management which in turn allows for the focus to move to actually enjoying a system rather than maintaining it. Of course, the failsafe systems and remote monitoring capacity offered by such devices also give the owner peace of mind and can reduce the likelihood of catastrophic failure. The TUNZE® Smartcontroller, 7000 is a relatively newcomer on the controller scene and, if TUNZE®’s pedigree is anything to go by, it should be worthy of consideration.
Taking the product at face value, out of the box it oozes high quality construction, appearing compact (133 x 33 x 116mm) and durable, yet very attractive. The gloss white casing and blue-lit touch controls really do look lovely and are securely ensconced in a thick polycarbonate shell which bodes well for use with salty fingers! The fixing bracket is also both effective and versatile. Beyond the aesthetics, one’s first question is likely to be, “what does it do?”. Well, each of the 4 ports that run along the underside of the unit can perform an individual or combined role, either having a specific device or switching socket/valve attached. By devices we are of course talking about TUNZE®’s range of highly renowned Turbelle stream pumps and LED lights. Switching sockets are add-on devices; essentially plug sockets to which heating or cooling devices, calcium reactors etc. can be attached. Electrically operated valves allow for control of C02 and/or Ozone. In addition to the 4 sockets, the 7000 also has a built in BNC connector port for attachment of either a temperature or ORP probes, and a temperature probe. Furthermore, as said, each Port can perform a combined role through the addition of an optional ‘Y cable’ which allows say two pumps to be controlled through a single port. In short, to answer the original question, this unit can control a large number of the core functions of a modern, large reef system, and of course multiple controllers can cover much more.
In order to directly evaluate the operation of this unit in the field, we installed a single unit on our test system, a Red Sea Reefer XXL 625. We attached two Turbelle 6155 streams via a Y cable to Port 1, a switching socket to Port 2 (to control two Hydor Theo 200watt heaters running off a two-gang plug extension), another switching socket to Port 3 (running a USB fan via a USB plug), and off Port 4, we attached a TUNZE® 8850 LED light for our refugium. Furthermore, we added one of TUNZE®’s lab-grade pH probes on the connector. We also added TUNZE® safety connectors in case of power outage, one to run the 7000 itself, and one to power the two 6155s. Programming the unit via the controller itself is relatively straightforward although we did need to carefully read the instructions more than once, and the button presses and menu system do take a little getting used to. Setting the heating and cooling was straightforward once we had worked out the exact meanings of the terminology used and once set at 26c, these functions worked perfectly to maintain a consistent 26 – 26.3c. In terms of the pumps and lights, again it took a while to work out the interface but once we had, it worked perfectly. As said before, there is definitely scope for TUNZE® to improve the translation of their instruction documentation here. The pH probe was very simple to attach and calibrate and the accuracy (checked against reference solutions) held well for the several-week period of the review. The temperature probe was already attached and so also very simple to install and accuracy looked to be fine being within 1 degree C of a calibrated alcohol thermometer.
Beyond the control and operation detailed above, a key feature of the 7000 Is its ability to be controlled not just through the controller device itself, but also wirelessly via a website interface. To enable this feature, we either connected directly to the hotspot created by the unit itself at home (this proved exceptionally easy with the unit appearing in our network list as soon as powered-up), or connected it to our home network for remote use. The website interface is functional but it looks to be some improvements that could be made here. Due to the translation mainly, it took a bit of playing around to work out the exact purpose of the available settings. Another issue was that even when selecting English as the language we still had status notifications appearing in German which was rather confusing and necessitated copying and pasting into Google translate to see what they actually meant. Once done though, the functions did work very well and there is a myriad of options particularly for flow which could provide for highly naturalistic flow schemes. It was also great to be able to look at graphical readouts of both temperature and Ph over the last 22 hours.
In conclusion, the Smartcontroller certainly lives up to TUNZE®’s reputation for quality, reliability, durability and functionality. For those who don’t have a high level of technical competence it may represent a fairly steep learning curve given the less than friendly instructions but once configured it succeeds in consolidating numerous systems into one compact, attractive and easy to manage package. It’s certainly something that you could buy in basic format and then gradually add devices as your tank grows in complexity. The unit retails for a very reasonable £240 and is available now from selected UK retailers.