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Sleek, stylish, powerful, sexy, no it is not the 1998 Ford Contour SVT; it is the Via-Aqua 650 Canister filter.
I have been in this hobby for probably around 10years now and through my trials and tribulations I have found that it can be hard to get an honest review of a product from the hobbyist's standpoint; or any good unbiased information for that matter. That is why I would like to provide you with my opinion of my new canister filter, the Via-Aqua 650. That is also why I volunteer with a great group of folks who are dedicated to helping the hobbyist on wetwebmedia.com (I know, I know, shameless plug). I have been using canister filters since I bought my first Magnum 350 for a red eared slider tank. I saved up all the pennies I was earning at PetSmart and took the leap into the next stage of filtration, the CANISTER. What a great idea, take water from your tank, force it threw a bunch of media and blast it back into the tank with rocket-like force. Well they are not that powerful, but compared to my under gravel filters (shutter) and my little pump and my little bubbles, these things rock.
Fast Forward 6 years and 3 or 4 brands of canister filters and I am still saving my pennies to fund my obsession with this crazy hobby. While in the planning stages for my 125gal planted Angel Fish retreat I decided that I would need to try to do this tank on the cheap, not because I am frugal, but because I have no money. When it came down to filtration I wanted to use canister filters for a few reasons. They are powerful, there is less surface disruption, and I can use them to diffuse my Co2. Which canister to buy? I have used the Magnum 350, the Rena XP3, and the Fluval 404, all are good but I want to use two big canister filters and cannot afford two of the aforementioned. And Eheim (drool) way out of the price range. What's cheap and comparable? I recalled an article from one of my fish mag.s with a canister filter review, there was on in there that I was not familiar with, the Via-Aqua 650. 263gph, 60 bucks at Big Al's, I'll take 2 please!
So they arrived on time safely packaged and all that; thanks Al. They even tossed in a little extra something special, made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. So I tear into the packages like a kid at Christmas, and to my surprise there are no instructions. Odd, oh well, they have them printed on the side of the box, save money on paper, pass the savings on to me, I am with ya. My first impression of the filter itself right out of the box was good, they have a nice look to them, feels like solid construction, right on, I'm a happy boy.
I unroll my tubing that was included and soak it in a bucket of hot water to make it more pliable, good trick, try it. Now I may be slow, and I may be a little stupid, but I know how to work a canister filter. Figuring out how the tubing connects to the quick disconnects made me feel like a monkey on a math problem, no matter what I tried it just did not seem like a nice secure fit and the instructions were not very clear. The only way I could get these things on was push the tube over the end piece and then unscrew the plastic nut to cover the tubing and hold it in place. I would like to suggest a transparent plastic nut so I can actually see if it is securing the tubing or just pushing the tubing off of the thing I just squeezed it onto. Ok, I am nervous but I will go with it, they are the pros right? Somebody's QA department must have tested this.
I route my tubing up behind my tank to the intake tube and the return spray bar. The plastic used for theses pieces seemed a little thin compared to what I am used to with my Renas, but what does the thing really have to do, move water, no problem. Thin plastic, lower price, pass the savings on to me, right on. And the way the spray bar hooks together is a nice secure fit. Raise your hand if you have been sprayed while fooling with your Renas spray bar; everything is going good, aimed just right, then BLAMO off comes the little elbow and old faithful is blasting a couple hundred GPH in your face. Any way, this review is not about the Rena, that one is next. Where was I? Oh yeah, so I am sitting in my stand under my aquarium opening up the canister to check out the baskets. Two big baskets, cool filter floss and carbon, works for me. I poured some carbon into the basket which proceeded to fall right through the holes in the basket and onto the floor. Maybe next time I will use a bag, but for the time being I will just sandwich the stuff between two pieces of filter floss. I closed up the canister, clamped down the latches, which tuck away very nicely and add to the filters sleek appearance
I twisted the quick connect do-wackies onto the canister, these are really easy to get on an off, me likes. To fill up the canister there is a cool little plug in the top that removes and allows you to pour water into the canister. Well 30min later I decided that next time I will fill the canister then put the lid on then top it off using the cool little plug thing. Live and learn right.
Now the moment of truth, 3-2-1 plug in and wham, nothing, dang it. Let me try again, 3-2-1 deep breath, plug in and nothing, big sigh. Big curse. OH! I forgot to open the valves on the intro and the outro, duh, big slap on the forehead. 321/plug in/whamo/whatever, I'm over it. Water flow Hooray!
DRIP, DRIP, DRIP, as my canister filter started to cry, so did I. Why me, why must all canister filters be such a pain in the neck. Ok Ok Ok, pull yourself together Gage. I changed into my plumbing shirt and disconnected everything, lubed, Teflon taped, and reconnected. While disconnecting I discovered another fun little quirk that I will tell you about later.
DRIP, DRIP, DRIP, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Well thank goodness I bought two of these bad boys, and thank goodness for Eli Whitney and his crazy interchangeable parts idea. I swapped out the out disconnect and threw the whole thing back together and VOILA! filtration, beautiful. I then proceeded to hook up the second canister, bad part and all. Surprisingly it did not leak as bad as before; I love it when parts heal themselves. As I sat there under my stand enjoying my filters running in perfect unison, I realized something; these things are really really quiet, very nice.
All in all I am happy, the bum canister has been replaced, and no longer leaks. I doubt the leaky piece is very common, I have come to learn that if someone is going to get bad service, bad food, bumped in the head by the waiter tray, buy that one CD with the broken case, get a car part that does not work, it is going to be me. All of you out there who get things right the first time, you can thank me for getting the broken one.
Now, the nitty gritty, how does the Via Aqua compare to other canisters I have used?
Flow Rate, so far so good it does what it says it will do as far as I can tell.
Ease of maintenance, better than the Magnum 350, a little worse than the Rena.
Media Baskets, big I like it, better than the magnum which has that one container in the middle, with a bad connection on it, I think they call it the carbon spilling device. It does not seem to have the same quality as the Rena, the baskets on the Via-Aqua only fit one way, and the filter floss has to be cut to a certain shape for the tub thing that runs through the canister, no biggie, I own scissors, for the price, I am happy. The Rena on the other hand I could take it apart and put it back together drunk, in my sleep, in the dark.
What more do you want to know? Oh, how does it filter the water? Not sure yet, I just got it, I will keep you posted. So far I would venture to say that I would buy another Via-Aqua. Oh yeah, that fun little quirk I promised to tell you about; when you go to disconnect the canister for maintenance, the disconnects have valves that close to keep water from squirting all over the place, so you close the valves and unscrew the disconnect, well the disconnect is about 3-4in long and the water that was in there has to go somewhere, yup, you guessed it, all over the place, I recommend doing this with towel in hand.