Product Review: Product Reviews Revisited: Deltec MCE600 Skimmer, A.E. Tech ETS 1000 Skimmer, and UltraLife Mini-Reef Trap
I was watching the television program “MotorWeek” recently and they featured a segment where they evaluated an automobile that had been driven by their staff for an extended period of time. This same automobile was reviewed when it was new and now they were taking a “second look” at it to determine how well it stood the “test of time.” This got me thinking about my own product reviews that I’ve been writing since 1994. I thought it would be interesting and useful to revisit some of the aquarium products that I’ve reviewed over the years to see how well they’ve stood the “test of time.” Some of these products have since been replaced or withdrawn from the market for a variety of reasons, and others I’ve stopped using for reasons other than quality, so I won’t be taking a second look at everything, but there’s enough stuff left to fill a few columns. So in no particular order, here are my “long-term product updates:”
Deltec MCE600 Skimmer
I’m always concerned when writing about skimmers because aquarists tend to defend their choice in skimmers with religious fervor, and I usually get a lot of flak after writing skimmer reviews. As I stated in my original review of the Deltec MCE600 skimmer, these are simply my subjective opinions based upon having used or seen just about every skimmer offered for sale to marine aquarists.
I started using the Deltec MCE600 skimmer at the beginning of 2005, and wrote a product review in July 2005, so I have about 18 months of experience with it now (June 2006). The Deltec MCE600 is a “Hang–On-the-Back” (HOB) type skimmer and it’s advertised for use on aquariums from 100 to 186 gallons in size; although I feel it’s most appropriate for aquariums up to 100 gallons in size. It’s an “aspirating skimmer” that mixes air with water on the intake side of the pump, which effectively “chops” the air into the finest of bubbles. I was initially attracted to it because I don’t have a sump on my 42 gallon SPS-dominated reef aquarium. I also liked the fact that it required only 3 inches of clearance behind the aquarium and the only thing that intruded into the aquarium was a clear intake pipe. My previous HOB skimmers all required the pump and/or intake box to sit inside the aquarium. This not only looked terrible but took up a lot of valuable space inside an already small aquarium.
I stated in my initial review that the skimmer appeared to be well-made from quality acrylic and PVC parts. I’m happy to report that I haven’t experienced any failures of any components in the time that I’ve used it. In fact, I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t even cleaned the pump during this entire time. The skimmer appears to be working as effectively today as the day I installed it, so I just never thought a major cleaning was necessary. The only maintenance I’ve done is to empty and clean the collection cup every few days. It’s very true what they say about aquarium maintenance: if a maintenance chore is difficult or time-consuming, it’s less likely to get done. Cleaning the collection cup on the MCE600 is a breeze and takes less than one-minute, so I tend to do that often.
All the plumbing on the MCE600 is self-contained, so there is no possibility of a flood in the event that the collection cup overflows, the power goes out or the pump fails. This was particularly important to me because my aquarium is placed close to a wall and directly above an electrical outlet. I was able to “test” this feature on more than one occasion because whenever I use two-part epoxy to attach coral fragments in the aquarium, the skimmer “goes crazy” and produces an uncontrollable amount of foam. Since the skimmer is designed to direct excess foam back into the body of the skimmer, none of it winds up on the floor. Also, whenever I do a large water change, a few of my Acropora corals emit a lot of slime. This also causes the collection cup to overflow, unless I remember to raise the cup by a few inches, which is very easy to do. In that case the skimmer will rapidly remove the coral slime from the aquarium. Other skimmers I’ve used tend to “shut down” when overwhelmed with “coral mucus.”
So, my initial opinions and impressions of this skimmer remain the same. It’s the best HOB skimmer that I’ve seen or used, and I can confidently recommend it to anyone in the market for a high-quality HOB skimmer. You can learn more about the Deltec MCE600 skimmer, including pricing and local dealers, on the Deltec USA website at www.deltecusa.us.
A.E. Tech ETS 1000 Skimmer
While we’re on the subject of skimmers, it’s worth revisiting a skimmer that I first reviewed back in 1995 for the now-defunct “Aquarium Frontiers” magazine. That skimmer is the ETS 1000 from A.E Tech. I’m essentially using the same skimmer today on my 500 gallon reef aquarium; although I did lengthen the collection column to accommodate a larger pump. The ETS 1000 is a downdraft skimmer and was revolutionary at the time it was introduced. Now there are many fine choices in large skimmers, but the ETS still holds its own from a standpoint of price, performance, reliability, and ease of use.
I’ve seen behemoth skimmers on some reef aquariums, powered by multi-horse-power pumps that can’t duplicate the performance of the ETS 1000. I’m currently using an Iwaki 100RLT pump to power my ETS 1000 because I want to extract the maximum performance from the skimmer. This combination produces a tower of foam that’s 32 inches tall by 6 inches in diameter and the consistency of shaving cream. I empty a half-gallon of dark scum from the collection container each week.
Unlike traditional venturi skimmers, the downdraft design does not create a lot of backpressure on the pump. In my case, with the use of the Iwaki 100RLT, I’m passing approximately 2,000 GPH through the skimmer. This enables me to process the entire aquarium about 4 times per hour.
I generally hate doing aquarium maintenance and constantly having to constantly fiddle with equipment, so the ETS 1000 appealed to me in these areas. There are no moving parts, virtually nothing to adjust, and nothing to wear out or maintain. The skimmer is well-made from high-quality acrylic and PVC parts. The collection tower comes apart with a twist and it’s easy to rinse it clean each week.
Although the skimmer is fairly stable once it’s broken-in, it can foam violently and unpredictably at first, or if something such as two-part epoxy is added to the aquarium, so I utilize, and highly recommend, the accessory collection container that effectively shuts down the skimmer in the event of an overflow. This has saved my butt more times than I can remember.
The ETS 1000 skimmer is still one of my top choices in skimmers for larger reef aquariums (120 to 500 gallons). It’s a good value and a top performer. You can learn more about ETS skimmers at http://www.superskimmer.com/.
UltraLife “Mini-Reef Trap”
This next product is somewhat odd but it appeared as part of my first product review column back in September 1994 and I still rely on it today. It’s the UltraLife “Mini-Reef Trap.” Anyone that keeps a reef aquarium has at one time or another needed to remove a fish from their aquarium. This is typically because the fish is bullying other fish or picking at a prized coral. As you know, netting a fish from a reef aquarium decorated with live rock and corals is next to impossible. The “Mini-Reef Trap” is a tubular container (4” x 9”) constructed from clear cast acrylic and features a guillotine-type door at one end. When a fish enters the container, you simply release the door and trap the fish inside. There is a semi-sealed compartment at the back of the trap that holds food. This is intended to entice fish to enter the container. Although fish can’t reach the food, they can smell it.
Depending upon how aggressive a fish is, it can take from a few minutes to a few hours to catch it. I’ve found that most tangs and wrasses will enter the trap within minutes, while angelfish are a bit wary and may take a few hours before building up the courage to enter the trap. It helps to withhold food for a day or more before using the trap. Hunger often overcomes fear. If you have a really stubborn fish, I suggest leaving the trap inside the aquarium for a few days until it’s considered part of the decoration and no longer “feared.” If a fish is picking at a particular coral, place that coral inside the trap as a means of luring the fish inside. The position of the trap in the aquarium will also determine its effectiveness. Place it on the substrate to catch bottom-dwelling fish or mid-way to ensnare mid-water swimmers, such as Anthias and Chromis. I fastened suction cups to my trap in order to attach it to the glass. I also tied a four-ounce lead sinker to the end of the string that’s connected to the trap door. This allows the door to remain open without having to continually hold the string. Once the fish I’m after enters the trap, I simply lift the sinker to quickly close the door.
The UltraLife “Mini-Reef Trap” was a unique product when it was first introduced in mid-1990. Now there are similar products on the market and even one that’s constructed of glass. Although I haven’t used these competing products, they don’t appear to be better designs or better values than the “Mini-Reef Trap.” The “Mini-Reef Trap” can be found for sale at many local pet stores, at some of the larger online vendors, and directly from the manufacturer at http://www.ultralifedirect.com/traps.htm.