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AI Prime Review: AquaIllumination LED Reef Lighting (Updated)

About six months ago I decided to bite the bullet and upgrade my reef lighting.

I was using an old T5 fixture, which I can only describe as “just okay”. It always did the trick for my soft corals and LPS corals, but growth was never spectacular.

I have been reading about LED fixtures for quite some time, and its pretty amazing how far they have come over the last few years. I remember the days when Metal Halides (with all of their enormous drawbacks) were the gold standard, but LEDs have really become the cornerstone of high-end reef tanks.

A Quick Note: This post was originally written about the AI Prime HD+, but has been updated for the AI Prime 16HD. Here is a quick summary of the pros / cons of the new 16HD version. If you’re looking for a quick summary, I still recommend this light and the new 16HD is even better than previous versions!

Pros

  • Better spectrum thanks to an addition 3 LEDs (16 bulbs vs 13 in the HD+).
  • Better PAR output
  • Same low profile design as the original HD+. Still looks awesome!
  • Removable screen for easy cleaning

Cons

  • No longer connects to WIFI, only uses bluetooth
  • You have to buy the mounting kit seperately, since this is not included with the light

The AI Prime 16HD

Prime HD+ Aqua Illumination Aquarium LED Compact Fixture, White
  • 100 Max Par Vs 64 For The Non Hd Version
  • Built In Wifi Control Via Smart Phone Or Web...
  • Hd Dynamically Adjusts Power Available To Each...

Overview of my Reef Tank

Here is a bit of background info on the setup I tested the AI Prime on:

Tank Setup

I am pairing my AI Prime with a 20 gallon Innovative Marine Nuvo Fusion, which is a spectacular tank that I’ve really enjoyed owning. Admittedly, I should probably have bought two Primes to have a good spread. My wallet was a bit tight, so I decided to go with just one and rescape my tank to accommodate.

As long as you rock grouping is towards the middle of the tank, you shouldn’t have a problem with growth (as long as you’re not trying to keep any really difficult corals).

Coral Selection

My tank is dominated by mostly LPS corals with some softies mixed in. I don’t currently have any SPS corals, but plan to move into this in the future. Take my coral selection into consideration when deciding if the AI Prime is right for you.

If you’re running an SPS heavy tank, you might want to step it up to an AI Hydra or Kessil A160 fixture.


AI Prime 16HD Quick Review

  • Effectiveness: Great coral growth and coloration. Much better than T5 fixture.
  • Price: Kind of pricy. Should be expected though of any good LED fixture.
  • Customization: Love the fully controllable app. Makes it extremely easy to control remotely.
  • Accessories: Mount is seriously lacking. Hope AI comes out with a better one ASAP.

What We Like About the AI Prime 16HD

Here are a few of our favorite things about this unit:

Great Coral Growth

Like I said, I have only been using the AI Prime for six months or so. In that short time, though, my corals grew more than they ever had with my T5 fixture. Since I only keep LPS and Soft Corals, I don’t run my prime at full power. I suspect that if I wanted to ramp it up to 100%, I could definitely convert it into an SPS tank.

Honestly, I was kind of nervous about the switch from T5 to LED. I had always used T5 and it worked well for me, but I figured it was time for an upgrade. I am blown away at how much my corals love the AI Prime, though. Specifically, my Hammer coral and Frogspawn seem so be benefiting the most. They kind of hit a “plateau” with the T5s, but have grown several new heads since switching. My Zoas seem to be growing pretty steadily as well!

Vibrant Colors

Losing color in my corals, especially my Zoanthids, was one of my main concerns. T5s are notorious for bringing out the best colors, and that was something that I really didn’t want to lose. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised by how great my corals looked under the AI Prime.

I think a big reason that I was able to get good coloration in my corals is because of the AI Prime’s customization options. I was able to play around with the setting and adjust each color to my liking. This is a huge step up from my old lights, which basically just operated at one power 24/7. It is nice to be able to tinker with the settings until you’re happy!

Customization Options​

This one is huge for me. I have never owned something as high tech as the AI Prime, so it was definitely a nice switch. Most importantly, the ability to custom power each light class allowed me to dial in my Prime to the exact settings I needed. This is a pretty common question among new Prime owners, so I am going to share my settings here:​

  • CW 50%, DB 65%, DR 15%, G 15%, B 65%, UV 65%, V 65%
  • Sunrise: 9:00 AM, Sunset: 4:00 PM with a 3 hour ramp for both sunrise/sunset
  • Sits about 9 inches off the water surface

The setup for the mobile application is pretty straightforward and easy. If I managed to figure it out, anyone can. I really enjoy the lunar mode, which simulates the current lunar phases to create a natural environment. If you plan to keep you tank in the bedroom, the lunar phase might not be for you. Personally, the blue light doesn’t bother me too much.

Finally, I want to discuss the storm feature pre-programmed into the AI Prime. Though extremely cool, I am not sure if there is much practical use for this feature. I guess it lends to the natural environment, but I doubt it is very beneficial. I must say, though, it is pretty convincing. Turn it on in a dark room and you will be convinced it’s thunder storming outside.

Sleek Design and Quiet

I tend to like the “minimalist” look for my reef tanks. As a result, bulky lighting fixtures often put me off, which is why I was hesitant to switch from my T5 fixture. When I saw the design and size of the AI Prime, I knew i had to have it. The prime measures only 4.88 x 4.88 x 1.35 and weighs less than a pound. You would be hard pressed to find any sort of light fixture on the market smaller than that. It really helps preserve the low profile of my reef tank and doesn’t add any necessary bulk.

In addition, the AI Prime is extremely quiet. If you keep your tank in the bedroom like me, this is a huge plus. The fans are barely audible from a few feet away.


What We Don’t Like About the AI Prime 16HD

Of course, this AI unit isn’t perfect. Here are a few things we didn’t like during our testing:

The Tank Mount

There really aren’t many option when it comes to mounting your AI Prime. AI makes only two different models, and neither of them are very good. Leading up to my purchase, I read really bad things about the mount; cracking pieces, hinges coming off, etc. To be honest, I was expecting a bit worse based off the reviews I read online. What I got was just kind of average; not great, but not unusable.

One of the biggest complaint regarding the Prime mount is that it is hard to use with tanks with a rim. I have a Nuvo Fusion, which is rimless, so I personally didn’t experience this problem. According to reviews, though, there is no way to tighten down the connecting screw enough if your tank has a rim. For anyone that runs into this problem, I would suggest looking into a wall fixture or hanging mount. There are tons of DIY projects that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Doesn’t Have The Best Spread

Edit: I’m happy to say that this issue has been fixed in the newest version of the light (AI Prime 16HD, not the HD+). The spread has absolutely improved thanks to an additional 3 LEDs so I wouldn’t worry about this issue too much anymore.

I was hesitant if I should put this on the “what we don’t like” part of the review. That being said, only having one Aqua Illumination Prime on a 24″ long tank created a bit of shadows. This didn’t really bother me too much, but I could see how it would pose a problem for some reefers. I keep relatively easy corals and everything is set up near the center of the tank, so the spread was 100% fine for my needs. If you are running a longer tank and plan to keep difficult corals towards the ends, you may need to go with two Primes.

Based on my use, I would say that as long as you don’t plan to keep SPS corals on the far edges of your tank, one Prime is sufficient for tanks up to 24″ long. Any bigger than that, the PAR values may drop too low. Just try to keep SPS and LPS corals towards the center and any softies on the ends.

Overall, the spread provided more than enough light for my tank/corals, but could possibly bring forth some issues depending on what you plan to keep.


Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the spread? – The new AI Prime 16HD has a spread of 24″ x 24″
  • What is the PAR output? – The 16HD has a PAR of 100µMol at about 24″
  • How much power does this light use? – The 16HD draws a maximum of 55 watts, making it pretty efficient.
  • Does the light come with mounting kit? – The 16HD does not come with any type of mounting kit. You will need to purchase either the tank mount, hanging kit, or flex arm.
  • How much noise does it make? – The AI Prime isn’t silent, but it is definitely pretty quiet. From a few feet away you should barely be able to notice the sound.

Final Thoughts

The only significant negative I can think of when it comes to the Prime is the mount. Even then, it is only a mount. If you are a little handy, or know someone who is, it’s not too hard to make the mount work. Just a little tinkering and you should be good to go.

Overall, I would highly recommend the AI Prime 16HD to any reef tank owner. The benefits far outweigh any negatives experienced with this light. The low profile, sleek design really took the look of my tank to the next level. I never realized how bulky my old light was before I put this one up!

By far, the best thing about the AI Prime is the growth that it promoted in my corals. I have always been a coral person. In fact, I often consider converting my tank into a coral only setup. The difference in color/growth with the AI Prime makes the price seem negligent. If I could go back, I would have ditched my T5 fixture and gone to the Prime way sooner. Do yourself a favor and give the AI Prime a try, you will not be disappointed!

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