First impressions of the AI Prime 16HD Reef LED light

A new reef tank meant a chance to buy and try some new lights, and this time, I chose a couple of Primes by Aqua Illuminations. The Prime is the smallest light in the AI/EcoTech portfolio, providing controllable LED lighting from a single puck, and suitable for illuminating reef tanks up to a 24” cube. They are feature-packed for their £225 price tag, providing up to 55 watts of light across eight channels (including moonlight,) and are fully controllable via Bluetooth and an app on your phone, with no additional cables or controllers in between. They come in either black or white livery, with the Prime family now consisting of Reef, Freshwater, Fuge (for macroalgae,) and Sol, a stripped back version with fewer LEDs and colour channels. 

Upon opening the box, the units themselves are small considering their output with a slim, square shape and modern, desirable look. You get three mounting options (not included,) arm, gooseneck style and a hanging kit, and I went for the mounting arm, which would suit my tank size and look, while also partially hiding the power cables. 

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Set up was straight forward. Plug them in, download the My AI app and the units serial numbers appear on the screen for pairing up and programming. You can control the eight channels individually from 0-100%, but the HD stands for HyperDrive, and if some of the channels are running at less than 100% you can up the others to over 100% to take full advantage of the unit’s 55-watt max output. Ramping up those channels does drive the fan harder however and although they haven’t got the slight ringing fan noise of a Kessil, I found the powerful woosh of the fans on full pelt quite audible and I will try to programme the light to avoid it. I mounted two to my 900x600mm wide tank although being only 375mm high, I’m sure I won’t need to run them on full power. 

The AI logo stamped on the light changes colour to indicate program and unit status, which for a unit in this price range is a nice touch, and looks great. The AI Prime 16HD Reef appears to have it all and while watching a recent brstv video, they said that Prime was their biggest selling light of 2019. 

The only thing that is lacking is some pre-programmed set and forget lighting profiles which pretty much guarantee to be the right spectrum for most corals. Seven main colour channels mean pretty much infinite controllability but the paranoia in me would hate to set a profile and run it for a year, not knowing that if I’d have increased or decreased a channel, coral growth would’ve been better. 

On the AI site, there is the signature series featuring some downloadable settings for the Hydra 26, 52 and Prime HD, but now we’re onto the Hydra 32, 64 and Prime 16HD, with my Prime having slightly different slider settings to the previous HD model, and almost all YouTube videos showing settings relate to the previous model also. 

With the Radion, the profile they call AB+ is pretty much the setting that every owner goes for, to the point where EcoTech built the Radion G5 Blue to be able to mimic that profile with every colour channel on full chat. Then you just adjust the intensity depending on your tank depth. 

I would dearly love this function for the Prime as at the moment overall intensity is set by each channel because of the HyperDrive function. I realise you can’t have both but if I could just flick it to “LPS 1” for example and then adjust the intensity, that would really help. I’m sure more settings will be provided as and when retailers and reefkeepers find them, and as I myself get to know the light better.

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Optimus Prime

One nice new feature versus the old Prime though is the recessed puck which prevents sideways light spill into your eyes – perfect for viewing the tank from the comfort of your sofa. Its a nice light, and the fact that all four of my freelance retail and wholesale clients either use or sell AI goes a long way, and I can see the coral growth with my own eyes. I’ll update once I have some corals, and hope that mine will do the same.  

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