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Those are some loaded questions.

What's the best brand?
How deep are your pockets? How much detail do you need to know?

Marine Depot lists their lines like so:

LaMotte Test Kits - High-End Water Test Kits.
Red Sea Test Kits - Decent Middle-End Test Kits.
Salifert Test Kits - Excellent, reasonably-priced high-end test kits.
SeaChem Laboratories Test Kits - Decent Line of Test Kits
Hagen Test Kits - Easy to use, Convenient, Accurate Test Kits.
Tetra Test Kits - Pond & Saltwater Test Kits
Tunze Test Kits - Decent Middle-High End Test Kits.

If price is not an object a Hach or Lamotte Colorimeter would be one heck of a fun tool/toy.

WHere's a good place to purchase them?
If an APC sponsor carries the brand you desire, by all means they are THE best place to purchase. Otherwise, determine the model and chack the big time places like Marine Depot, PetSolutions, Drs Foster & Smith, Big Al's, That Fish Place etc etc.

Shelf life?
Not positive on this one. Salifert dates all kits with an experation date when made, it's about 2 years. Might want to ask Seachem in the Seachem froum here what the shelf life is on kits they produce.
 
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