The Aquatic Gazette

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

Fluval C2 | First Impressions Review

In Filtration on March 28, 2012 at 00:01

We will be splitting our review of the Fluval C2 hang-on filter into two articles. In this first article, we will talk about our first impressions, accompanied with a slew of pictures of the C2. In our second article, we will discuss the C2’s operational effectiveness and efficiency.

Our first impressions of the C2 were highly positive. Even before opening the box, we were intrigued about the numerous filtration chambers and excited about how technical the filter was in comparison to the other hang-ons in the market. Needless to say, we are passionate about filtration and the way we gushed over the C2’s box at the store was a little embarrassing.

We got to the office as quickly as we could and eagerly opened up the box like kids on Boxing Day, we were not disappointed. The plastics used for the C2 are very solid, although still not at the same quality as Eheim’s Liberty series. We suspect the reason why the Liberty series has a better build auqlity is because it uses a plastic that is opaque while most other hang-ons, including the C2, uses plastics that are transparent.  Although the plastics are a tad lower in quality when compared to the Liberty series, we were easily satisfied with the C2.

The box is well designed, eye catching and full of details. It clearly explains all the filtration chambers, the path of water flow and the provided filter media. With just a quick glance, we knew that the C2 was a serious piece of equipment if all diagrams and claims on the box were accurate. For the first time, a hang-on filter instilled in us a faith that this filter would be on par with the effectiveness of a cannister filter.

The Hagen AquaClear and the Fluval C2 are in many ways similar, and not surprisingly since Hagen is the parent company of Fluval. The effective guidance of water flow through the various filtration media and the control of flow rate are the same in both filters. Also alike are how the filters are packaged and that they come with mechanical, biological and chemical filtration media. The C2 can generally be described as the upgrade of the AquaClear, having better filtration media compartments, better build quality and more up to date technologies.

The C2 boasts a 5 stage filtration process while Hagen’s AquaClear comes has a 3 stage filtration process. Eheim’s Liberty comes stock with a 2 stage and many other hang-ons struggle to effectively implement a proper single stage. Looking at the industry’s track record when it comes to hang-on filters, Fluval’s claim is most impressive.

Taking a closer look at the C2’s 5 stage process reveals that filtration is still carried out by the three main stages of mechanical, biological and chemical, but separated into 5 different sub-stages. Stages 1 and 2 is mechanical, stage 3 is chemical and stages 4 and 5 is biological.

Stage 4 is most interesting. All hang-on filters are constructed in such a way that the front walls of the filter body are lower than the back walls. This is so that as filter media clogs up over time and water inflow is higher than its outflow, excess water will simply wash down the front of the filter and into the aquarium. This design of the deliberate design of the filter body prevents the accidental emptying of the aquarium.

Fluval must be credited here for coming up with an ingenious way to use this flow of water as part of the filtration process. Unlike other filters in which water simply overflow back into the aquarium, the C2 uses this overflow to feed a trickle compartment in which biological media is placed. We were pretty impressed by this innovation.

With the filter body empty of its compartments, one can tell that high quality plastics have been used simply by looking at a picture of it. Instead of the normal transparent body found in almost all hang-ons, Fluval has tastefully used matt plastics for the back of the filter body. There are almost no sharp corners to be found on the body and all corners are stylishly rounded off. Also, Fluval has imprinted its brand name at the back of the filter, all these lend the filter body a touch of class, unknown in the vast majority of hang-ons.

With all the media compartments removed, a plastic plate with holes can be seen. This plate is responsible for the C2’s effective water flow, it blocks water from entering the biological and chemical media prematurely, without first passing through the mechanical media. Most hang-ons do not properly guide the flow of water through the proper sequence of filtration media, thus, filtration effectiveness suffers by a large margin. This guidance is what makes the C2 a proper filter, which cannot be said for other hang-ons without it.

As with all hang-ons, the C2 comes with flow rate control that allows for the strength of water output. Unlike most other hang-ons which depend on a water gate within the inlet pipe, the C2 controls its flow rate by maximizing or reducing the amount of water drawn into the inlet pipe, by its placement over the impeller. The AquaClear uses the same mechanism, but the C2’s feels smoother and better implemented.

The first stage of filtration found in the C2 is the mechanical media stage. The C2 mechanical media was very well thought out, water that flows into the filter is first met by a porous, sponge like material and when it flows through this material, it is then met by a dense foam. The porous sponge filters out the larger solids and particles while allowing the smaller ones to pass, the dense foam then traps these smaller solids and particles and at the same time, polishes the water. A two stage mechanical filtration allows for optimal water flow that last for a longer period of time, as compared to a mechanical filter media which consist of just one type of material.

One major issue in all hang-ons is the way the mechanical filtration media is implemented and this is important as this filtration media is the one the requires the most maintenance. Most hang-ons either do not provide for a effective mechanical media or implement it in such a way that it is troublesome to maintain. Of all our experience with hang-ons, Eheim’s Liberty was the easiest to remove for maintenance but now with the C2, it shares the crown with the Liberty.

With other hang-ons, the need to clean out the mechanical media is judged from the amount of water flow from the filter. A good strong flow will mean that the media is clean, while a slow and sluggish flow will mean that the media is clogged and requires cleaning. In the C2, Fluval removes the need for this observation and adds a visual cue to when your mechanical media requires maintenance. Working on the same fact that a clogged media will decrease water flow, the C2’s visual cue will rise and emerge from the filter body as a slower water flow means an increase of water levels within the filter, resulting in the cue’s rising.

After water flows pass the mechanical media, it then goes into the chemical media if used according to Fluval’s recommendations. However, we will not be using any chemical media as such media will require constant change and is costly over the long run. If a good biological media is used in its place, the filter will have no issues with maintaining an aquarium’s water quality.

All the media compartments in the C2 are top notch in design and in quality. The red basket that was designed to hold the C2’s chemical media was used instead to hold our biological media, Seachem’s Matrix. When we needed to remove the Matrix for cleaning, it was a joy to simply pull it out, no fussing around with nets, or trying to squeeze the netting filled with filter media back into a rigid filter body.

With the mechanical media and the chemical media compartments in place, the trickle biological compartment goes on top of them. This trickle compartment is fed by a sprout from the filter’s inflow pipe as well as any overflows when the mechanical media clogs up.

The top of the trickle biological compartment is covered by a thin mechanical media made out of soft foam. This will prevent solids and particles from falling into the biological media in the compartment and impeding water flow, which is highly vital in the up-keeping of a healthy biological colony.

This mechanical media is placed in a highly accessible location, which is advantageous as it will require the most maintenance as compared to any other filter media in the C2, due to its small size and thin nature. However, clogging of this media will not be much of an issue as the biological media compartment below it is also fed by another source. Such attention to design is a tribute to Fluval.

The trickle biological compartment is too small for our liking as the biological media is the heart of a filter system and space should be prioritised for it. As mentioned earlier, we replaced the ample chemical media basket with our biological media. In this trickle compartment, we placed the same biological media as well.

When looking at the space allocation difference between the chemical media and biological media, it is easy to see that the C2’s main filtration capabilities will largely be chemical. This is not a bad thing as chemical media are far more effective than mechanical or biological media. But as mentioned, the only issue we have with chemical media is its short lifespan, requiring a monthly change to be kept at peak performance. If the C2’s chemical media is constantly renewed, we have no doubts that its filtration capabilities will be better than other hang-ons in the same class.

As with the AquaClear, the C2 comes with a separate box within its packaging that holds its inlet tube, inlet guard, chemical and biological media. It’s nice when such attention is paid into packaging, and reinforce the image of a quality product.

The inlet tube and inlet guard deserves special mention as the plastic used were of an even better quality than the filter body itself. The quality and construction is so good that it surpasses Eheim’s. We were pleased as the inlet tube and guard is a component of a hang-on filter that requires frequent cleaning. Such great quality gives the assurance that this vital part will be long lasting.

Last but not least are the instruction manuals. There were clear and easy to read, with diagrams and information that were designed attractively and easily understood.

All in all, our first impressions of the Fluval C2 are overwhelmingly positive. Look forward to the second part of our review in which we discuss its operational effectiveness.



Takashi Amano Layout Seminar A | 180cm Cube Garden No.2

In Film on March 27, 2012 at 00:01

The recent Medaka No Gakkou Layout Seminar by ADA has resulted in a slew of short films of Takashi Amano aquascaping. Before the introduction of ADA View and the filming of such seminars, the only films of Takashi Amano aquascaping was during special events and trade shows. We bet many aquascapers are highly appreciative of such short films, every one a small nugget of inspiration.

In this film, Takashi Amano aquascapes a massive iwagumi using wabi-kusa. Instead of the traditional method of planting individual plantlets of foreground flora, the speed of aquascaping using wabi-kusa is simply amazing. In Japan, ADA’s home country, wabi-kusa is available for purchase in various local fish shops, but this is not so in many other countries. If our local fish shops will take the initiative to make these wabi-kusa available, we predict sales will be brisk and how we aquascape will change. Planting by wabi-kusa will also mean that planting heavily from the onset is possible for everyone and flora will grow well as there is no danger of them not rooting in the early stages of an aquascape.

We sometimes wonder if ADA goes through the same problems we encounter when aquascaping. Their aquascapes always seem flawless and not plague with algae or the other issues that we face. We deduce that experience plays a major role in avoiding any potential problems and in the film, Takashi Amano dispenses some of his experience. He mentions that effort should be taken to create a substrate that is as level as possible, this will ensure that flora would put out roots quickly and spread evenly, instead of growing densely without spreading.

The films in this layout Seminar have been most inspiring, we hope that such films will continue to be released.


credit: Aqua Design Amano | ADA View

Takashi Amano Layout Seminar A | 90cm Cube Garden

In Film on March 26, 2012 at 00:01

Here is another layout that Takashi Amano aquascaped recently. In the same layout seminar as our previous film featuring a 180cm aquarium, here he deals with the more popular size of 90cm

This film is interesting because he is aquascaping with driftwood that is less than ideal. Cable tie and lots of rocks were used to ensure the hardscape works. The depth of field on this aquascape was also worth mentioning and it will be something we will be personally trying to achieve for our future aquascapes.

As usual, he engages the audience and speaks about his thoughts behind this design. Enjoy this film!


credit: Aqua Design Amano | ADA View

Starpets | Ricca Base S

In Flora on March 21, 2012 at 00:01

Ricca is a popular flora due to its ability to hold bubbles of oxygen within its leaves when photosynthesising, giving the look of many beautiful pearls. Riccia in nature is a floating weed, it was made popular by Takashi Amano when he ingeniously thought of using it as a foreground plant by tying it down to a piece of rock with thread.

Since those many years ago, the aquascaping scene has been populated with Riccia filled aquascapes and from our experience, it is the flora that most impress our non-aquascaping friends.

Most of the Riccia used in aquascapes today are tied by thread or wire mesh to rocks or driftwood. The process is somewhat challenging for a newcomer and numerous practices are needed to bring about better results. As such, some of the more aquascaping-inclined local fish shops have made a tidy sum of profits selling ready tied Riccia to rocks or stainless steel wire mesh. Although the prices they charge are exorbitant, sales are still brisk as many local aquascapers do not wish to fuss over it.

With this Riccia base by Starpet, aquascapers that do not want to tie their own Riccia now have another option. With the Riccia base, all aquascapers have to do, is to place their Riccia within the caged base and clasp it close. Easy and straightforward.

The build quality of the Ricca base is very good. The metal mesh is of heavy quality metal and the base is of similar high quality plastic. Everything feels reassuringly solid and both parts clasp together nicely and smoothly. There is no flex in any of the parts.

Although Starpet’s Riccia base is still pricey in comparison to buying rocks and tying Riccia on it with thread, we would purchase this for a nano tank. Its ease of use and high quality components make it deserving for a try.


Takashi Amano Layout Seminar A | 180cm Cube Garden

In Film on March 19, 2012 at 00:01

ADA View, Aqua Design Amano’s film unit has been most prolific in its videos. Although most of their film are updates on their aquariums, once in a while, a gem shows up and this is one of them.

In the film, Takashi Amano aquascapes a 180cm aquarium and talks about the rational behind his aquascape. If you do not have the time to watch through the entire film, he starts to share his thoughts at the 5 minute 10 seconds mark.


credit: Aqua Design Amano | ADA View

Nanyang Sea View

In Local Fish Shop on March 16, 2012 at 00:01

Nanyang Sea View is the last of its kind in Singapore. It’s more fish farm and warehouse than fish shop, the variety of fauna, flora and equipment that it carries is staggering. Located off a sleepy road at Jalan Kayu, Sea View has been around for a long time. When walking down the small road to the shop, it felt like we were in a different time period as we enjoyed our idyllic settings, far removed from the usual concrete jungle that is our nation. As such serene locations become increasing rare, so is Sea View. By the end of 2012, they will be relocating to another town, as the government takes back the land for urban development.

It is possible to spend hours lost in Sea View, overwhelmed by choice as almost every desire of our hobby can be met. Our 80 pictures are a testimony to the vastness of the shop, and we only took pictures of the more famous brands. On top of its splendid selection, the retail prices of Sea View are hard to beat. A store wide discount applies for all equipment and numerous individual discounts can be found on most fauna. Some equipment also spot individual discounts and when the store wide discount comes into effect on top of that, we were amazed at how much we save when we paid for our purchases. And unlike other fish shops that mark up their products before giving discounts, the original price at Sea View is consistent with what the market prices. For example, we were shopping for a small aquarium for our Betta Tank set-up. Comparing prices from Sea View and a few other fish shops, the aquarium at Sea View was on average 40% cheaper because of stacked discounts.

Customer service at Sea View was good, with staff treating you as a valued customer. We have seen the service standard improve over the years and we are impressed by the effort. In the woods around here, it is not uncommon to be treated rudely by staff. We have had our manhood called into question once, as we politely bargained for a $2 discount at another fish shop. The staff are generally knowledgeable and friendly, listening and dispensing advice on any problems you may have.

We can write much more about our visit but lets allow the abundance of pictures to do the talking. Enjoy your pictorial visit, to one of the last of its kind.


Riusuke Fukahori | Goldfish Salvation at ICN Gallery, London

In Pictorial on March 10, 2012 at 00:01

Riusuke Fukahori has developed a unique and most beautiful skill of painting extremely lifelike, 3 dimensional goldfishes in traditional Japanese vessels. His goldfishes come to life because they are painted layer by layer in liquid resin, each layer adding more depth and dimensional perspective, the end result is simply breath taking. We even find ourselves half expecting the goldfishes to burst into life just by looking at these pictures. We would have loved to be given the chance to see these works of art in person.

Enjoy this visual treat.


image credits: Dominic Alves

Seachem Matrix

In Filtration on March 8, 2012 at 00:01

Seachem’s Excel, Prime and Purigen are three products that have been very well received within the community, being established as standards in their areas of expertise. For an aquarium company to have these many standards, is a remarkable achievement. Today, we are going to review Seachem’s biological filtration media and see if its up to par.

Co2 injection, high output lights, chillers or corals are all different areas of our hobby. Depending on which aspect of the hobby is embraced, these areas will then be applicable. Filtration however, is the foundation of the hobby. There is no self sustaining aquarium and filtration is the life support system that keeps everything going.

Within filtration, the biological aspect of it is perhaps the most important. The biological media hosts Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter bacteria, these bacteria breakdown ammonia and nitrite into less harmful substances that are then physically removed by regular water changes. An effective biological media will ensure that the bacteria is of sufficient quantity to maintain a negligible level of ammonia and nitrite.

The choice of biological filtration media is a passionate topic for most aquarists. Most of us have our favourites and there are well-established ones, such as Eheim’s Substrat Pro, ADA’s Bio Rio, Biotech’s Biohome, Fluval’s Bio-Max, Sera Siporax and of course, Seachem’s Matrix.

At [TAG], we have been using Eheim’s Substrat Pro and ADA’s Bio Rio to good effect. Although ADA’s Bio Rio has no scientific data as compared to most other brands and some have compared it to simply being very expensive lava rocks, we had good experience with it.

For this review, we replaced the filter media of our Eheim Aquaball with Matrix. This Aquaball is our Ranchu tub’s filter and the constant waste generated by our heavy and regular feeding of our Ranchus has been the perfect test bed.

Graphs and data are fantastic ways to delve deeply into products and judge with exact precision how effective they are. But here at [TAG], we have used enough products to recognise that observation and experience are sufficient to judge, and they do not dampen the joy of the hobby as meticulously pouring over data sometimes does.

Visually, the Matrix does not seem as impressive to look as when compared to Substrat Pro or Bio Rio. Substrat Pro has that splinted glass look that conveys a impression of a highly advanced media that has been created in the laboratory. Bio Rio on the other hand seems to be  a media taken directly from nature, harnessing the same power that keeps streams and rivers crystal clear.

Matrix in comparison, looks ordinary. And if we were not already convinced by Seachem’s reputation in creating great products, we would have simply written off most of its claims just because it does not look as capable its competitors. We were somewhat surprised that we derived that thought simply based on appearances alone. It seems that even in our hobby, packaging and appearances give off the same visual feed back on a product’s perceived value and effectiveness, the same way as other products outside the hobby would. The ability of ADA to retail some of its commonplace goods at premium prices, the recent dressing-up of Ocean Free to differentiate itself, Seachem’s launching of its premium line, Vitro, all convey the importance of visual feed back in impacting a company’s bottom line.

Seachem has claimed, after carrying out research and BET surface area measurements, that Matrix has 10 times the specific surface area of Substrat Pro. But this does not mean Matrix is 10 times better than Substrat Pro because not all surface area are usable by biological bacteria, some of Matrix’s pores are reserved for physical and chemical filtration due to its size. But even so, Matrix has 4 times more biological active surface area to Substrat Pro.

4 times more biological bacteria is a lot. If Seachem is right in its analysis, it would mean that a filter filled with Matrix will be equivalent to four similar filters filled with Substrat Pro. Although we may never really know Matrix’s true surface area lacking the availability of scientific equipment, we can attest that Matrix is the best biological media we have ever used.

We have had extensive experience with Substrat Pro and Bio Rio prior to using Matrix. So we will be comparing Matrix with both of them. The first positive impression we had of Matrix was how quickly it cycled. In our new planted tank with ADA Aquasoil, we achieved zero levels of free ammonia from day 5. When using Substrat Pro, we averaged about 14 days and with Bio Rio, about 10 days.

It should be noted that we utilise Seachem’s Stability on a daily basis for all our cycling tanks. Although Matrix took only 5 days to cycle, we continued using Stability up to the 2 weeks mark just to play it safe, as we do with all other media. The amazingly fast cycling by Matrix do lend credence to their claims that it has the ability to hold much more biological bacteria than Substrat Pro.

Besides a faster rate of cycling, Matrix also seems to be able to handle waste better than its competitors. When using Matrix in our highly polluting Ranchu tub, it trashes the performance of Eheim’s regular sponge. When compared to Substrat Pro, it ensure that water parameters stayed safe, longer. We were really impressed by its capabilities as we feed our Ranchus very heavily and no non-chemical filter media could keep up with it like how Matrix does.

Besides using it in a cannister filter, Bio Rio presents challengers as its minute size requires filter bags. It is not easy to find small enough filter bags to fit properly into internal power filters or hang-on filters. Substrat Pro fits nicely into some of these filters without the use of bags, however we never had quite good results when we use them outside a cannister filter. Matrix however, was surprising versatile in all our filters. It works best in cannisters and well-designed internal power filters, but does a most admirable job in hang-ons as well. In fact, Matrix is now our filter media of choice in all our hang-ons. When comparing it to all other available hang-on filtration media, there is really no comparison.

In hang-on filters, Matrix’s physical size becomes a great strength. It is easy to use it with a coarse filtration bag and the wide gaps between pieces translates to a higher flow of water. One issue with hang-ons when using third party filter media, especially those designed for cannister filters, is that they usually impede the flow in hang-ons by quite a substantial amount due to their closely packed nature. And it’s not an issue that hang-on filters can avoid, as insufficient flow rates are one of their weakest attributes. With Matrix, we discovered that flow rates were even faster than when using the stock biological media of the hang-on filters.

Matrix also seems to clog less frequently than Substrat Pro or Bio Rio. Bio Rio clogs the fastest but that can be easily explained by its dense and packed nature. However, an advantage is that Bio Rio polishes water to a level unmatched by Substrat Pro or Matrix. If you intend to use Bio Rio, we highly recommend using Eheim’s Classic cannister series, its ability to back-flush without removing Bio Rio from the cannister body is always very much appreciated and allows for easy regular maintenance. Even when Matrix is fully covered with detritus, its filtration performance do not diminish. With regular maintenance, Matrix would have no issues with earning its keep.

In a nutshell, Matrix really surprised us. It has proved to be able to take punishing aquarium conditions and yet have more to give. Its physical size is perfect for hang-on filters and the wide gaps between the pieces allows for better flow and reduce clogging tendencies. Used with Seachem’s Stability, we felt like we were running an engine that was fed fuel specially designed for it, cycling a new aquarium was a dream and free ammonia was not an issue.

In light of all our favourable experiences with it, Seachem’s Matrix has become [TAG]‘s biological filtration media of choice.


credit: Seachem