Best Aquarium Powerheads & Wavemakers (Reviewed 2021)

Updated on January 23, 2021 by

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Are Powerheads Really Important?

If you’re up to put things in motion with your reef tank, precisely the in-tank flow kind of movement, then you have to do that with one of the best powerheads for reef tanks. The good thing about powerheads or wavemakers is that you don’t need them right away on your tank.

So if you’re writing down the list of items that you need to get your tank started, you can leave the powerheads out for now. Yes, you’re going to want a powerhead or more, but don’t let that pause your whole tank build.

Get your reef tank up and running, then start looking out for your powerheads.

Best Aquarium Powerheads & Wavemakers

ImageProductFeaturesPrice
BEST AQUARIUM POWERHEAD
EcoTech Vortech MP10
EcoTech Vortech MP10

Flow: 2,500 gph
Power: 8 to 18 Watts
Tank Range: 2.5-50+ gall

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BUDGET PICK POWERHEAD
Hydor Koralia 3G
Hydor Koralia 3G

Flow: 1,950 gph
Power: 6.3 Watts
Tank Range: 55-110 gall

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RUNNER UP
Jebao RW-15 Series
Jebao RW-15 Series

Flow: 320 gph
Power: 6.3 Watts
Tank Range: Nano Tanks

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STURDY POWERHEAD
Hygger Powerhead
Hygger Powerhead

Flow: 2000 gph
Power: 16 Watts
Tank Range: 75-130 gall

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NANO REEF POWERHEAD
Fluval Sea CP2 Pump
Fluval Sea CP2 Pump

Flow: 425 gph
Tank Range: Up to 25 gall

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BUDGET PICK
Super Aquatic
Super Aquatic

Flow: 1300 gph
Power: 16 Watts

Tank Range: 50-75 gall

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TOP AQUARIUM WAVEMAKER
Gyre 2K Flow Pump
Gyre 2K Flow Pump

Rating: 20-90+ Gall
Max Flow: 2,000 GPH
Min Flow: 739 GPH
Power: 8-25 Watts

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AQUARIUM WAVEMAKER
Maxspect XF350 Gyre
Maxspect XF350 Gyre

Rating: 26-132 Gall
Max Flow: 2,377 GPH
Power: 5-35 Watts

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AQUARIUM WAVEMAKER
Red Sea ReefWave 25
Red Sea ReefWave 25

Rating: 75-150 Gall
Max Flow: 1980 GPH
Power: 4 – 25 Watts

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What are Powerheads or Wavemakers?

Powerheads and wavemakers for aquariums create an in-tank flow that’s important for several reasons. For both fish only and reef tanks, in-tank flow helps push waste into the overflows and into filters where it can be processed.

A lot of waste sitting in your tank leads to nutrient issues, and we all know that’s not something you want floating around in your reef. Corals are going to need water flow to bring them nutrients, and while fish don’t need that much flow for these reasons, you can certainly agree with me here that fish are much more active when there’s plenty of in-tank flow.

For these reasons, let’s say if you want a still boring tank with fish that don’t move much, then you get a freshwater tank with some Angelfish.

How to Create In-Tank Flow with Powerheads?

The simplest definition of a powerhead is that it’s a water pump that sits in your tank with the sole purpose of creating in-tank water flow. On a side note, keep in mind that a powerhead is different from other types of pumps, like return pumps, for example.

If you’re on the lookout for powerful filtration options, take a look at our best canister filters, or best HOB filters articles.

Those are simply meant to push water through a pipe, while a powerhead is intended to move water inside an aquarium. Powerheads come in two types, there are AC powerheads, and there are DC powerheads.

Besides the kind of power they run on, AC powerheads and DC powerheads’ critical difference is controllability.

To put this in other words, the AC powerheads run at a constant flow all the time – you plug them in, and they run at that speed constantly. One of the great things about DC powerheads is that you can buy one that’s more powerful than what you actually need, and after that simply adjust its speed to a lower level.

This keeps you from having to buy multiple powerheads over the life of your tank because if you started with an AC powerhead at a specific flow level, and you add more coral later on, then you’ll need a higher flow level powerhead.

Well, in such a case, all you can do is get rid of that AC powerhead idea, and simply go with a DC powerhead directly. You can ramp it up or down, depending on the flow needs, and how your tank is maturing.

Even if you have a variable speed powerhead for your tank, you still need to size it correctly, according to your tank needs and capacity. The best way to choose the right aquarium powerhead size is to use tank turnover rate formula.

What is Tank turnover Rate and How to Calculate It?

Tank turnover rate is calculated by taking the powerhead’s maximum flow and dividing it by your total tank’s water volume.

For example, let’s pick a powerhead that moves 2250 GPH, and use it in a 120 Gallons tank. So, 2250 divided by 120, will give us a turnover rate of 18.75.

That means that the powerhead from our example moves the equivalent of 18.5 x 120 (volume of the tank) in an hour. Now, that’s called a tank turnover rate. So, is this 18.75 turnover rate good or bad? And how much tank turnover would you need for your tank?It all depends on what you’re keeping in your tank.

Different types of coral and even other types of fish have different in-tank flow needs. For instance, soft corals and fish only tanks love a 20 – 30x tank turnover rate. The best water flow rate should be about 40x or higher tank turnover rate for mixed reef and hard coral tanks.

Certain types of fish like Tangs live in a surge zone to the reef, so if you want to keep these fish you’re going to need a high in-tank flow – 40x or better is the best in-tank flow for these guys. Also, as your tank matures and the corals grow and get denser, you’re absolutely going to need more flow. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

If you’ve got coral growth, you’re going to need more flow.

What’s the Best Place for Powerheads in the Tank?

Assuming you’ve decided to get the right powerhead for your tank, naturally, the next question is “where do I place the powerheads in my tank?” And there are two dimensions that I think about when I’m placing a powerhead: one is “up and down” dimension, and the other one is “front to back”.

Now, you can put powerheads on the tank’s back wall, but unless your tank is over 30 inches wide, I found that powerheads on the back wall don’t really do much for you, except perhaps moving sand around.

So, when I’m thinking about where to best place my powerheads, I’m thinking about one crucial aspect: “Where are they going to work in terms of my aquascaping?” because you don’t want to blast things on your aquascaping, which is going to be mainly corals.

You don’t want a high in-tank water flow that can disrupt even corals that like a lot of flow. So you’d want to place the powerheads close to the aquascaping, so it gets water over it, but not directly at the corals to be smashed with the flow.Ideally, the reef tank powerheads’ flow should go down the tank’s length and over the aquascaping without directly blasting in the corals.

PRO TIP I

I like to place one powerhead closer to the surface of the water to encourage gas exchange. The more the water’s surface is agitated, the more gas exchange will occur in the tank.

PRO TIP II

Regardless of what type of powerhead you’re running, you should mix up the flow! With reef tanks DC powerheads, you can ramp up or down the flow to create unique flow patterns. With AC powerheads, you can turn on and off the powerhead to mix up the flow in your tank.

Whatever you do just don’t leave all your powerheads on 100% power all the time.

How do I Choose the Right Powerhead for my Reef Tank?

When you choose a powerhead for your saltwater tank, you’d want to get one that’s adequately sized for the tank, and one that has variable speed.You can buy one powerhead and have it for the entire life of your tank because you can ramp up or down the flow depending on the in-tank flow needs of your tank.

Now, if you can’t afford a DC powerhead don’t let that stop your whole bill. Go ahead and get yourself an AC powerhead, get your tank set up, get it rolling and enjoy! Then you can build into that DC powerhead as your budget expands and gives you a goal to work on.

The last thing you’d want to do is to stop your build because you can’t afford a DC powerhead or another piece of superior equipment. Get started with an AC powerhead if you have to, and if you can afford it, by all means – get that DC powerhead at some other later stage.