Choosing the perfect LED light for your reef aquarium can be a difficult task, especially with the amount of great options out there. In addition, an LED fixture is often one of the most expensive elements of a reef tank. As a result, you definitely want to weigh all your options before making a purchase. As someone in the reef hobby, I have been put in this situation a few times. I have experience owning both AI lights and Kessil lights, each of which come with specific advantages and disadvantages. In the comparison guide, we will compare the AI Prime to the Kessil A160 head to head and cover all of the major features.
The AI Prime HD+ is a small, sleek fixture that will probably catch you off guard. When I first saw the AI Prime, I thought “there is no way enough light can come out of that tiny thing”. I was new to LED light fixtures, and boy was I wrong. Though small, the AI Prime is packed with power and is capable of sustaining even the toughest corals.
One of the best features of the AI Prime is its user friendliness. It is wifi ready straight out of the box and takes only minutes to set up. I am definitely not a tech expert, but I found this fixture really easy to use.
In addition, the mobile application allows for a lot of interesting controls, such as ramp, intensity, storm modes, etc. In addition, the AI Prime is able to be moved around on a swivel. This gives you more flexibility as to where you place the light and allows you to point it exactly where you want. For those keeping both soft and SPS corals, this can be extremely helpful.
The real shining feature of the AI Prime is the amount of control it gives the tank owner. Before the Prime, most reef lights only had one “setting”; off and on, and maybe actinic. With the AI Prime, users can pick the exact light color they (and their corals) prefer. In manual mode, users can control the combination and intensity of seven colors; UV, Violet, Deep Blue, Blue, Green, Deep Red, and Cool White.
In addition, it is extremely easy to set up a precise schedule and ramp period (sunrise and sunset), making the AI Prime completely hands-off. If manual control really isn’t your thing, the Prime comes pre-programmed with several auto-modes for easy use.
- Allows for unlimited user control in regards to light color, timing schedules, and settings.
- User friendly and easy to use
- Small, sleek fixture that won’t look like an eye sore
- Hands-off, requires no upkeep or replacements
- Requires the purchase of an arm mount, which is poorly made
- Only covers 20″ by 20″ max, so you may need to purchase two for larger tanks
The Kessil A160 is a classic in the reef keeping hobby. It is highly regarded and known for its intense power, small frame, and fantastic build quality. The quality of the Kessil A160 is what ever other brand tries to match. To begin, the metal housing is very solid and doesn’t feel like it will fall apart any time soon. In addition, the fan on the Kessil A160 is virtually silent, which is something that can’t be said for many marine lights.
One of my favorite things about the Kessil A160 is its compact size. Being about the same size/shape of a soda can, this light is probably the smallest you will encounter int he hobby. Its compact frame also allows it to be added as additional lighting in larger reef tanks. I know a few serious reefers that buy a few of these lights to point directly at their large SPS corals. Wether you are a beginner setting up your first reef or an experienced reef keeper, the Kessil A160 can be extremely effective.
Another feature of the Kessil A160 that many people love is its famous “shimmer effect”. To be fair, you will notice the shimmer effect with any LED light. It is especially strong, though, with the Kessil. This gives your tank a lot of movement and almost brings it to life, in my opinion. This shimmer effect can be increased or decreased by controlling the water’s surface agitation.
How it Differs…
One aspect in which the AI Prime and Kessil differ is power. Though the AI Prime is powerful enough for even the toughest corals, the Kessil A160 still beats it out. Even at 40%, I noticed that some of my corals seemed to be getting too much light.
Because the LEDs in the Kessil are packed so closely together, most of the light will be focused in the middle of the tank. Simply place your more demanding corals towards the middle and the less demanding towards the outside. With this strategy, you should be able to keep any variety of corals you want with good effectiveness.
- Compact, small design that allows it to fit in small spaces and be used as complementary lighting
- Extremely powerful for its size, even at only 40%
- Has great actinic lights that (much deeper blue than the AI Prime)
- Built with high quality materials
- Fan is virtually silent
- Requires the purchase of a gooseneck mount
- Intense shimmer, which can be a pro or con depending on your preferences
AI Prime vs. Kessil A160: Features Compared
As someone who is not very tech compatible, user friendliness was a huge point for me. While the Kessil is simple to operate, the AI Prime definitely gets the win in user friendliness. I was kind of nervous about the idea of the AI Prime being controlled through my smartphone. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised. It is really nice to be able to turn my tank light on/off or change colors right from my phone.
Winner for User Friendliness: AI Prime
The AI Prime was built specifically for advanced user control, so it clearly wins out for this feature. While the Kessil can match up to the Prime with the addition of several controllers, this can get pretty expensive. The AI Prime comes right out of the box completely ready to go. The user has the option to control the intensity/combination seven different light colors right from their phone. In addition, it is very easy to set your AI Prime on a hands-off schedule that requires no further work. This includes any sunrise or sunset ramps along with any nighttime actinics.
Winner for Controllability: AI Prime
Though the AI Prime was more than powerful enough for my needs, it was clear from the moment I used the Kessil that it was the clear winner in this portion of the test. Even at lower settings, the Kessil was much brighter that the AI Prime. In addition, the PAR values of the Kessil at further depths blow the Prime out of the water. In addition, the spread of the Kessil seemed to be significantly better than the AI Prime. If you plan of keeping corals that require a lot of light, the Kessil may be a better option for you.
Winner for Power: Kessil A160
For this portion, I am pretty much just comparing the mounts for each unit. I was planning on leaving this part out, but wanted to bring up how much the AI Prime mount disappointed me. Even after hours of tinkering with it, the light still seemed to “slump” whenever I let go of it, making it hard to get the perfect placement. The Kessil gooseneck mount, on the other hand, gave me no problems. For that reason, I am giving the edge to the Kessil when it comes to accessories.
Winner for Accessories: Kessil A160
If you have read my other reviews, you would know that I am usually not shy to pick an outright winner. When comparing these lights, though, it was very tough for me. Both the AI Prime and the Kessil A160 have specific strengths depending on what you’re looking for. For this reason, what is best for one person may not be the best for another.
If you are looking for a cost effective, high tech light with a lot of controllability the AI Prime is probably your best choice. It is powerful enough for most corals, but might disappoint some reef keepers looking for a fully SPS dominated tank. What it lacks in power, though, it makes up for in user friendliness. With the AI Prime, you can set it up once and never worry about it again.
If you are looking for as much power possible in a small unit, I would recommend going with the Kessil A160. With the Kessil, you will never be limited by light again. That being said, you should be prepared to spend a little more money and sacrifice some control. In the end, the winner for this comparison really depends on the type of tank you wish to keep.