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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I just received my Aquacontroller Jr and given the relative scarcity of reviews for this product, thought I'd add one for the benefit of others. I plan to use it in my planted tank, so I thought this forum would be a good place to post this.

For anyone wondering what the Aquacontroller Jr does, it basically monitors pH and temperature, as well as is programmable to control various devices including lights, heaters, chillers, powerheads, pumps, CO2 solenoids and pretty much anything else you can plug into an electrical outlet. Programs are based on readings of temperature, time and pH. So, for example, you could set your lights to come on at 9 AM and shut off at 9 PM, or set a heater to come on when the temp is below 75F and shut off when it is above 77F.

Now, some pics. First, the box(es) the unit came in:

And revealing the goodies within.

The package includes:

The Aquacontroller Jr
The Direct Connect 8 power bar
Temperature probe
Standard pH probe (in the small box)
AC adaptor
Cable to connect DC8 to the Aquacontroller Jr
Two manuals (for the DC8 and Aquacontroller Jr)
Stick-on velcro strips

Two things not included were a serial cable and pH calibration fluid. More on this later.

The Aquacontroller Jr (henceforth referred to as "the unit"):

I'm holding it to give it scale. It's not particularly large and is pretty light. There are no mounting brackets (i.e. for mounting recessed in a cabinet or something). Velcro strips are included for mounting it on a flat surface.

Various connectors on the unit:

On the bottom of the unit are the various connectors. These include (from left to right) power (for the AC adaptor), control (to connect the DC8 power bar), serial port, temperature, and pH. The serial port is optional, but if you want to connect it to your PC (say, to program it using downloadable software), you need the serial port. One caveat is the serial cable was not included. I didn't realize that you had to purchase that separately since the serial port option itself adds about 20 bucks to the cost. Thus, I failed to buy it. If you are handy with computer widgets you can always make your own cable.

The DC8 powerbar:

One thing I don't like about this power bar is it is not "wall wart" friendly. So if you have extra large power plugs, you will have to give up an adjacent outlet or two.

Connectors on the DC8 powerbar:

These include an In port (which connects to the Aquacontroller Jr) and an Out port, which can be used to daisy chain additional power bars together. There are also switches on the left which assigns an address to each of the outlets. For example, A01 to A08 or A09 to A16, etc. The Aquacontroller Jr is capable of controlling up to 12 devices.

The Temperature and pH probes:

One caveat about the probes is there isn't really any good way included to mount them in a tank. They are clearly designed to be just tossed in a sump (i.e. for a reef setup). Because I'm using this device on a planted tank with no sump, right now I've just got them dangling in the water. I suppose I will try using suction cups to fasten them to the back tank wall at some point. Another issue is the pH probe must be kept wet at all times. So once you remove the protective cover (you can see it in the picture), you can't let it dry out ever. Otherwise it can apparently get damaged. The pH probe will last about year before it must be replaced. A replacement costs about $50 (for a standard probe) and about $80 for a "lab grade" version. The lab grade one supposedly lasts longer and is more accurate, but for now I thought I'd try out the standard probe and see how it behaves.

One more issue I'd read about is people having problems with the temperature probe. Some people have reported failures causing the temperature to read over 120F (!). This is certainly a problem for people relying on this device to control heaters and chillers. Supposedly Neptune Systems (the manufacturer) has modified the probe to alleviate these issues. Standard warranty for the probe is 6 months, but Neptune has been replacing probes out of warranty. I plan to hold off for a month or so before I try using the temperature controls to see how the probe behaves.

And finally hooked up with the probes in my tank:

I've got it side-by-side with my American Marine temperature monitor. You'll notice the temp on the American Marine device is a couple degrees higher than the Aquacontroller Jr. I tested both against a regular thermometer, which gave a reading of about 76F. So the American Marine thermometer is reading a couple degrees hotter than actual.

Another issue is the pH reading. I was surprised to see a reading above 7, since I inject CO2 and using a liquid test kit gives a reading of 6.8 to 7.0. However, I did not calibrate the pH probe prior to putting it in the tank. The manual recommends calibrating the pH probe, but for this you need two calibration solutions with a pH of 4.0 and 7.0 for freshwater (or 7.0 and 10.0 for saltwater). These were not included and I did not think to order them separately. Therefore I will have to wait until I acquire them before I can calibrate the pH and start using it to control my CO2 tank.

Programming the device is surprisingly easy given that there are only three buttons on it. It has a series of menus which you can cycle through using the Up and Down keys. These typically either execute commands on the device or take you a submenu with more options. It comes preprogrammed for controlling a couple lights, heater, chiller, powerheads, CO2 and an alarm (sold separately). Most of the programming syntax is very intuitive. For example the program,

If Temp < 77.0 Then HE1 ON
If Temp > 78.0 Then HE1 OFF

will turn a heater on if the temperature falls below 77F and turn it off it is above 78F. Some of the syntax is confusing, but the manual does a decent job of explaining the various commands and options.

You can assign your own custom 3 character names for a specific device and assign that device name to a specific outlet on the DC8 power bar. You can also give each device a special symbol, which are display in the lower left row on the main unit's screen. There are symbols for lights, powerheads, heaters and "other".

It also includes some interesting features such as being able to set things based on seasonality instead of just temperature or time. For example, it includes sunrise and sunset times for the various months of the year, so you can have shorter light periods in the winter and longer in the summer. You can also have it control the heater so that it is warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter. It even includes moon phase options, which will supposedly give different intensity to simulate the phases of the moon if you happen to be using moon lights.

One option I didn't find was the ability to program it based on days of the week. For example, if you wanted to keep your lights shut off one day of the week (say to simulate a really cloudy day), I don't think such a program is possible.

So far I've yet to do too much with the unit. I've got it set to control my lights on a standard photo period. Once I get the pH probe calibrated, I plan to try it out with my CO2 tank. And finally I plan to try out the powerhead controls on my reef tank. I'll include further updates as I get more experienced with this device.

· Registered
116 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Great, I'm actually considering getting an Aquacontroller Pro III with a full setup and lab grade probes.
Why the Pro model? Unless you are planning to get conductivity and dissolved oxygen probes (which cost an arm and a leg by themselves), the Aquacontroller III should be plenty. And I can't see why you'd want to monitor those things anyway.

· Registered
116 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
Can you set up simple formulas like:
If Ph > 6.2 and lights = 1 then CO2 outlet = 1

(lights = 1 means lights on, if lights on = 1 and lights off = 0)
I'm just guessing the programing language.

Or a certain time range that the CO2 can come on.
Like I turn my lights on from 11:30 am to 11:00 pm
So if the Ph > 6.2 from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm then turn on the CO2.
Unfortunately, the programming language does not allow for logical operators (it's not that sophisticated). However, what you suggest is still possible based on the way things are executed.
Because the program is executed in sequence and because you can check the state of another device, you could program something like:

If Time > 11:30 Then LT1 ON
If Time > 23:00 Then LT1 OFF
If PH > 6.2 Then CO2 ON
If Timer LT1 = OFF Then CO2 OFF

Also if you can turn on another outlet based on the PH getting too low,
For a water surface circulation power head or pump.
(I have heard of people's solenoids getting stuck open and killing the fish)
Yup, you can do that.

· Registered
116 Posts
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Update time!

I received my order of calibration fluids and serial cable. These are what the calibration solutions look like:

As you can see, they come in this little packets. They are designed to be one use only. Rip open the packet, stick the probe in, throw out. Fortunately, they are cheap ($1.25 each) so I bought 4 of each. A good thing too, since I spilled one of them when attempting the probe calibration.

On the back, there is a temperature correction chart:

Good news for people living in up North I guess.

Calibrating the probe was simple enough. First I selected the pH of the "low" calibration fluid (4 in this case) and stuck the probe in the fluid. The instructions say to wait until the reading stops changing. It rapidly dropped down to 4.8. Since I wasn't sure how long to leave it, I opted for about 10 mins. During this time, it slowly dropped down to 4.75. At which point I figured I didn't care about it being quite *that* accurate (does a few tenths of a degree really matter?). Then I did the same for the pH 7 solution.

Once calibrated, the probe returned a more reasonable tank reading of 6.95. This is in line with my previous liquid tests.

The instructions recommend calibrating the pH probe once a month. I'm going to wait longer than that just to see if it starts to drift out of whack and by how much. Fortunately, the calibration fluids are cheap, so recalibrating the probe won't break the bank. Just make sure to stock up in advance.

In the meantime, the timer controls work great and the temp probe continues to give accurate readings.

Haven't played with the software yet, but that's next on the to-do list... Stay tuned!
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