Protein Skimmer Impressions
In this maiden issue of Conscientious Aquarist, I want to take a brief moment to introduce you to this column, which I hope will make a regular appearance in future issues. In ongoing editions, I intend to give you my ‘impressions’ of various pieces of equipment that I have used over the years. I am currently working on articles covering everything from power filters and canister filters to magnet cleaners and heaters. If there is anything specifically you want discussed, please let me know in my author’s forum. And, if you want to get a better idea of who I am, please visit my personal webpage.
In this particular column, I wanted to briefly go over some of the models of protein skimmers that I have used over the years and give you my impression of their installation, performance, and any ongoing maintenance or reliability issues I found with them. I am not going to discuss protein skimmers in general, why you should use one, or how the various technologies differ. If you need information like that, take a look at my suggested reading list at the bottom.
Below are all the brands and models I have used. They are listed in alphabetical order, not by some sort of ranking of performance. It is my wish that as newer brands or models come onto the market, that this listing be updated by me or other experienced hobbyists and industry professionals. What makes the electronic media so useful is its ongoing ability to be updated and edited, versus an in-print publication
This is by no means a complete listing of every conceivable
unit out there. They are merely the
ones I have personally used. Also,
I did no true comparative testing, a la
Consumer Reports. This is
purely a collection of my experiences and impressions of each.
Lastly, I have never been employed by any of these manufacturers.
Nor have I ever received any money or free products from any of these
companies. This is solely
unabashed, unbiased information from a fellow aquarist and industry
professional, with over a decade’s worth of experience in keeping marine
These are a very inexpensive alternative in the skimmer market. The smaller models can be purchased for just over $100 dollars from several online vendors, making them an attractive choice for a new hobbyist setting up their first marine aquarium. They are very easy to install and have an elegant, yet simple manner of making adjustments. These models use the same kind of method of adjusting skimmate production as Euro-Reef skimmers. The pumps run full blast, as does the air intake. The user merely raises or lowers the water/air mix in the skimmer body to adjust the production.
While these are nice units at a good price, I have a few
words of warning. I have seen
recommendations that the HV-1 (hang-on) and SV-1 (in sump version) models can
handle up to 100 gallons. While
they are good performers, I would say a more accurate rating would be up to 55
gallons. Their larger brethren,
HV-2 and SV-2 models suffer from the same exaggerated ratings.
Either would be a fine performer on up to a 90 gallon aquarium, but more
would be pushing it, in my opinion.
My only other gripe would be with the use of Rio powerheads.
I am not a fan of this brand due to reliability issues that I have
experienced. I have swapped out the
stock Rio on several HV-1 units for an Aquarium Systems Maxi-Jet 1200 with
venturi air kit and was very pleased with the performance.
It was every bit as good as the stock Rio, perhaps even slightly better,
with a much greater anticipated useful lifespan.
Aqua-C Remora and
I would have to say these are some of my absolute favorite
hang-on style skimmers. They are
extremely easy to install and adjust for maximum performance.
They also are well built, sturdy, and reliable.
One note about reliability, I have only used these skimmers with the pump
upgrade options (Maxi-Jet for the regular size Remora and Mag-Drive 300 for the
Pro). I have never used them with
the stock Rio pumps. Also, the
skimmer cup can be removed with ease for cleaning, and the manufacturer’s stated
tank size recommendations are accurate, in my experience.
These skimmers are a fine performer at a reasonable price. Their major downfall is their lack of clear installation
instructions. Frankly, these are
some of the worst instructions I have ever had to read, likely because of poor
translation from German into English.
This is truly a shame, because it takes away from an otherwise decent skimmer.
Aquarium Systems Seaclone:
While the ‘New & Improved’ 100 and 150 models are a
significant improvement over the first Seaclones to be offered for sale, they
still perform exceptionally poorly.
There are a tremendous number of hobbyists advocating various Do-It-Yourself
methods to improve this type of skimmer and many of these in-the-field
modifications found there way into the newer models.
Unfortunately, they still just don’t work well enough for me.
They are difficult to adjust such that they produce any skimmate at all.
Even once they are adjusted properly, they tend to be finicky and require
further tuning to continue to produce. And lastly, even when they are
working, their production is paltry, watery, and inconsistent.
Regardless of how attractive the price is, I don’t recommend anyone purchase one
of these. In fact, my opinion is,
these skimmers are a blemish on the reputation of an otherwise highly regarded
Aquarium Systems Visi-Jet:
I don’t believe these skimmers are being made anymore, but
I still see them available through a few mail-order catalogs and several eBay
vendors. What can I say about this
unit? They were made before the
Seaclone and one could say that the Seaclone was a significant improvement over
the Visi-Jet. Since I don’t have a
high opinion of the Seaclone, I really think the Visi-Jet is a poor choice.
I would not recommend this skimmer to anyone.
It is amazing a company as large and reputable as Aquarium Systems has not been
able to find a way to effectively mix air and water.
While not being in the same league as, for example, an
Aqua-C Remora, the CPR Bak-Pak 2 and 2R are still nice hang on units at a good
price. The Bak-Pak’s are in fact an
excellent compromise in a small package.
They are not the most efficient skimmers on the market, nor does the
included bio-bale make them the best Wet/Dry available, but they are the best
combination of those two technologies in a tiny footprint.
My biggest complaint with these is their stock use of the Rio powerhead,
but an Aquarium Systems Maxi-Jet with a venturi air kit is interchangeable with
the stock Rio. Making this
substitution should give you a more reliable unit, and at the same time, not
detract from the skimmer’s performance.
The SR2 is simply an in sump version of the Bak-Pak.
It has many of the same pluses and minuses of CPR's hang on style
skimmers. Again, it is a nice
compromise in a tiny package and at a good price, but simply not the best.
E. G. Danner/Supreme Skilter:
While Skilter filters are incredibly inexpensive, their
cheap purchase price is reflected in their performance.
They are easy to install and operate, but their very short reaction
chamber, coupled with their paltry production of bubbles makes them ineffective.
They are a number of hobbyists who have added wooden airstones and air
pumps to these units to increase their production.
However, once you do all that work and spend that additional money, you
have crept up into a different price range, making other skimmers more
attractive. My advice would be to
invest in a better unit from the beginning.
Euro-Reef CS Series:
These skimmers are beautiful in their simplicity.
They are also amazing in both the quantity and the consistency of their
product (producing a full collection cup of dark, thick, foul-smelling skimmate
every few days when properly installed and adjusted).
Installation is a breeze; they are plug and play right out of the box.
And, the company’s newly revised sizing recommendations are correct, if
not rather modest. My only
complaint is with removing the collection cup.
The union fitting makes zero clearance possible in tight situations, but
the number of turns to remove it is unnecessary.
It would be more convenient if they could come up with a one complete
turn removal, but this is a trivial complaint in comparison to the performance
of the unit as a whole.
Euro-Reef ES Series:
These are ostensibly the same thing as the CS series
protein skimmers, although the materials differ.
They use the same patented needle wheel technology and the same pumps. The difference is the CS is made of cast acrylic, while the
ES is made of cheaper extruded acrylic.
This change does not affect the performance, only the purchase price, making
these models a real bargain.
Red Sea Berlin
The Berlin line of skimmers can be separated into two
different technological classes; the venturi driven Classics and the aspirating
Turbo models. The Classic was the
original design, and while it was priced reasonably and easy to install, it was
difficult to clean and adjust. The
ones that I used all tended to suffer from the same ailments.
The venturi seemed to attract an unusual amount of calcium deposits and
was therefore easily clogged. This
venturi was not removable, necessitating taking the entire skimmer off of the
tank to be soaked in a vinegar bath to dislodge the obstruction.
Furthermore, the air adjustment screw was cheap and inaccurate.
Instead of a true needle valve to regulate the air intake, the Berlin
Classic relies on a plastic bolt which when tightened merely compresses the
neoprene airline. Given time, the
neoprene tubing, suffering from repeated crushing and damage, hardens and fails
to spring back to allow additional air to flow into the skimmer.
Some industrious individuals have replaced the standard venturi with
those made by Kent or Mazzei to increase performance and decrease maintenance
issues. At the same time, replacing
the stock neoprene airline and air adjustment screw with common airline tubing
and a proper needle valve is recommended.
This just seems like an unreasonable amount of work to get a protein skimmer in
this price range to operate reliably.
Red Sea Berlin Turbo
The Turbo models do away with the venturi and its
maintenance headaches, but it has another problem.
The only adjustment on the Turbo models is to restrict the air intake. This is in contrast to other aspirating model skimmers, such
as the Euro-Reef, which maintains the same amount of water and air being
processed, but simply adjusts the height of this mix in the skimmer body.
The Euro-Reef style design is better because it allows for the maximum
mixture of water and air at all times.
Still though, the Turbo redesign is a significant step forward, even though it
is not as good as others on the market.
Red Sea Prizms:
If you search the internet message boards about Prizm
skimmers, you are likely to get an overwhelming negative response.
I, on the other hand, do like these units for what they are.
The basic Prizm is a cheap entry in the market for beginners, perfect for
smaller aquaria. While the manufacturer states that these are good for up to
100 gallons, I am only comfortable using one on an aquarium up to 30 gallons.
But, on a tank that size, the Prizm will be a decent performer.
The Prizm Pro is a larger, more powerful unit, but it suffers from the
same overrating issues as its smaller brethren.
It is this kind of overrating that has so unnecessarily damaged its
reputation among advanced aquarists.
I have found the Prizm Pro to function completely adequately on tanks up to 55
gallons. This is in contrast to the manufacturer’s claim of operation in systems
up to 300 gallons.
These were good performers at a reasonable price back in
the day. I don’t think you can find too
many of these imported from Germany anymore, but you may still stumble across
one, or the very similar appearing Lee’s brand of skimmers. Their in tank installation is unsightly and they can be
tricky to adjust for maximum performance, but their price is attractive, and
with due diligence they can be made to work well.
This makes them a good option for those with a nano-reef tank.
These are some of the absolute best venturi driven skimmers
on the market. They are very simple
to adjust and have a collection cup that is easy to remove and clean. Also, their fine German construction makes them one of the
most reliable brands on the market, and their size recommendations are accurate.
On the downside, their installation is a bit strange.
The body needs to be nearly fully submerged and the water level must
remain constant to function, but this can easily be dealt with by using a baffle
system in your sump to provide a place with a constant water level for the
skimmer to operate in. Also, the
body is difficult to clean and it can be tricky to replace the pump when removed
for maintenance. Lastly, they do
not produce the same thickness of skimmate of say, a Euro-Reef, but still they
are a fine, consistent performer that is reasonably priced and built to last.
I hope that you have found this piece informative, and more importantly, I hope this article helped alleviate some of the daily email questions to the WetWebMedia crew. Please use this guide only as one of many resources in selecting the appropriate brand, model, and size of protein skimmer. I recommend that readers seek additional opinions and feedback from fellow aquarists and local trusted fish store employees, as individual circumstances may dictate a slightly different recommendation.
Marini, Dr. Frank.
“Skimming Basics 101: Understanding Your Skimmer.”
Shimek, Dr. Ronald. 2002. “Down the Drain, Exports from Reef Aquaria.” www.Reefkeeping.com December, 2002.