Archive for March, 2011

Skimmer Review: Super Reef Octopus XP-1000S HOB

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

(pics to come)

My previous SWC protein skimmer bit the bullet a few weeks ago. It was a terribly sad affair, my 39g deconstructed Cadlights Signature AIO is a pillar of SPS beauty, mostly due to the beast SWC Xtreme skimmer.  But, due to operator error, it developed a leak.  Over a year ago while cleaning the body I broke off the drain bulkhead at the bottom of the skimmer.  After a few pieces of acrylic, some PVC glue and some saltwater putty, I managed to seal up the break.  But now it is officially dead, and I can’t find an easy enough fix that doesn’t involve lots of DIY work, which I have since sworn off.

So I started to search for a new skimmer.  There were a few requirements for the skimmer based on my setup, and some requirements due to shortcomings from the SWC unit.  It had to be a hang on the back (HOB) model, since I have no sump on this tank.  It had to easily and completely disassemble, digging into the bottom of the SWC skimmer body to get to the pump was sloppy work.  It had to have a real step for the collection cup which is a feature most HOB skimmers do not have, instead opting for the flimsy rubberband around the collection cup or that insufferable tightening screw.  And it had to be quiet, the sicce based SWC unit had a mixed track record with noise levels, partly due to start up issues with the pump and partly due to the pump and bubble plate rattling against the skimmer body.  I believed I had found a suitable candidate in the Super Reef Octopus (SRO) XP-1000S HOB skimmer.

It took a small leap of faith on my part.  It was hard to find reviews of this unit.  I found one on Reefcentral, but it was written by someone who clearly did not understand some of the design decisions and how the unit operated.  I talked to Mike from Reef Specialty, who was more than willing to answer my questions.  I had purchased a Coralvue Lumenbright mini pendant and dimmable 250W e-ballst from Mike a year ago this March, and was impressed with the product and support.  So I jumped in with both feet.

The short version is MY XP-1000S is NOW a superb skimmer.  When I first received it, the skimmer was definitely very, very good.  Stick with me, and I’ll deliver the goods and stop teasing you.

I received the skimmer in an excellent package, nice solid packing materials with all the parts.  As with every Coralvue product, the instructions and written materials are quite amusing, obviously written by someone lacking in basic English grammar.  This is more entertaining than anything else, there are few parts to put together, and with the illustrations and various photos on the web, the unit was put together in no time at all.  There is one piece of bent pipe with a union connector at one end for the pump intake, the skimmer body with another union for the pump output, some plastic screws for setting the distance between the skimmer and the tank glass, some o-rings, collection cup, silicone tubing for the air tube and overflow tube (more on that later), noise reduction chamber and holder, and the pump.  I purchased the black unit, I can’t imagine why anyone would purchase the red color.  I had big enough problems getting over the white SWC I put in this tank prior.  Which is why when you take out the skimmer body and see a giant bright blue sponge in the outlet area to catch micro-bubbles, you can’t help but shake your head, then find the black sponge you have in the extras closet and cut it to size.

When you place the unit on the tank, it takes some experimenting with the screws to set the distance just right.  You do not want the skimmer to be lopsided or crooked.  It took maybe 5 minutes.  By the way, they ship the unit with four screws, but there are holes on the back for four screws, and on either side of the front intake/outlet box holes for three screws.  It took a second to figure out 2/1/1, but the right number of screw holes in each location would have been more useful.  When you get the skimmer up and level, you notice just how large the skimmer is.  The SWC was BIG, which prepped me just fine for the SRO’s size, but the SRO needs a lot of room behind the tank, 7 3/4″ at least.  There is also some unnecessary wasted space between the intake/output box that sits in the tank and the back glass, it looks like Coralvue was very conservative when estimating glass thickness or something.

Once physically adjusted and in place, I filled the skimmer with water, and made sure the outlet was wide open.  The valve design is quite novel, the valve controls a screw that closes a piece of acrylic over the outlet hole, the more it covers, the higher the water height in the skimmer body.  There is a large memory nut on the valve device so you can set where to keep the outlet valve.  Starting the skimmer was pretty quick, while holding a finger over the air intake tubing, the pump slowly began to prime.  Once the intake pipe is full of water, release the air intake.  But remember, you must close the air intake tubing before connecting the noise reduction chamber.  In addition to the nog drain, the collection cup has a 90 degree elbow with a barb fitting on the end, situated 3/4 up the collection cup.  This is meant to be connected to the noise reduction chamber, so in the event of an overflow, water will run down the air intake and the skimmer will stop sucking in air and stop overflowing all over your floor.

The unit operates nice and quiet.  I was concerned there would be some vibration between the inlet pipe rattling against the skimmer body as it bends over the top of the black acrylic, but my fears did not come to fruition.  The pump is quiet, and the HY1000S is well paired with the cone design. The noise reduction chamber is a nice touch and works as expected.  There is some water cascading sounds as the water returns to the first bubble trap chamber, but a small piece of black sponge or chaeto dampens it nicely.

The cone design is impressive, in my experience the skimmer was broke-in within 48 hours.  Keep in mind my water was pretty dirty, a week worth of whatever gunk my backup BAK PAK couldn’t take out (I’m guessing that means plenty of gunk).

That isn’t to say the skimmer was perfect off the bat.  I had to make a few adjustments, and in it’s current form is almost sublime.  For starters, that bright blue sponge in the second outlet chamber has to go.  The return design is fantastic, not a single micro-bubble.  But Coralvue obviously had feedback that the red color was an eye-sore and they decided to make a version that would blend better with most tank backgrounds.  How difficult would it be to source a black sponge instead of this bright blue one to really complete the thought?  Not detrimental, just a short sight that shouldn’t be present on a $300+ piece of equipment.

A more unfortunate short sight is the surface skimming box.  The intent is there: the intake has slits so large particles don’t clog the intake and pump, and they include a piece of acrylic with a screw so you can raise and lower the effective surface skimming based on your water level.  But the acrylic piece isn’t nearly tall enough.  In order to use it you would have to have an insanely low water level in the tank, and give up 2-4″ of water height depending on your setup.  I am in the process of procuring a small replacement piece from a local acrylic shop, same width, and able to accept the screw to hold it in place, but much taller.  I refuse to go back to a non-surface skimming design.  The fix is easy, but an absolute nuisance, the smallest bit of testing would have discovered this.

And lastly, the overflow drain mechanism on the collection cup.  The third day I owned this skimmer we had a ten minute power outage.  I work from home so I was in the living room, relaxing before my old lady came home.  The power came back on, the pump started to work without a hitch.  Fantastic.  But I noticed bubbles were coming out of half the bubble plate.  So I closed off the air intake, then released the finger, the bubbles came out of the whole plate.  Water level keeps rising.  Rising.  Rising.  Collection cup filling, poop on the floor, water flowing into the overflow tube, into the noise reduction chamber, into the air intake tubing, and still water spilling on the floor.  To be honest, I didn’t let it sit and run, it might have stopped and done it’s job.  But at that point, fish poo is on my floor and my top off device is replacing lost water, I am not about to experiment with this.  I have done numerous start and restarts since.  I sometimes open the outlet valve and adjust afterwords, but I have not had an overflow since.  Take it for what you will.  But since I have so much space behind the tank now to accommodate this skimmer, I am seriously considering a Skimmate locker from Avast Marine to handle the possible overflow situation.  An extra $100 is a fine amount of insurance to keep water off the floor.  This is just one more nail in the coffin for my new philosophy, never ever will I have a sump less tank.  An HOB, no matter what brand or model, at some point will overflow, either due to lack of collection cup emptying (I can be a lazy reefer, what can I say), pump restart, or other unforeseeable act.  The skimmate locker, or cup lid with float switch sensor, is really the only foolproof way to prevent an overflow for any external skimmer.

Overall, this is a very very solid skimmer.  The small changes I have made, replacing the blue sponge, fitting a taller piece of acrylic for the overflow box, the small extra sponge in the first return chamber, are definitely nuisances that I don’t think should be a part of a skimmer of this build and price.  However, in the end, they are just nuisances, and do not detract from the overall performance of the unit.  I am pulling out the darkest nog I have ever seen from this tank.  The bubble characteristics are top notch, small, dense, and rising without turbulence.  Build quality is top notch.  All of the requirements I had were met, this is a great HOB skimmer for people who do not have the luxury of a sump, if you have the space behind the tank.  Purchasing it from a reputable shop like Reef Specialty didn’t hurt, from my own personal experience, they offer great support.  The small drawbacks I listed here are definitely not enough to stop me from purchasing this skimmer if I had to do it all over again.  I am at the start of week 3 and haven’t looked back.

If you find yourself sumpless with less than 100g water volume, and have the need for a quality skimmer to match your high bioload, two thumbs up.