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Ptahkeem,

Welcome to APC! :D

IMO, there is no one "best" substrate. There are several substrates that perform very well in a planted aquarium setting.

Flourite, Eco-Complete, Florabase, Aqua Soil, Onyx Sand all work well and have their pros and cons. Heck, even good old sand/gravel + laterite will work well.

I prefer to use a two layer substrate because I like to have some organics in the substrate. Amano does something similar. I use a home-made version of Power Sand and cover the first inch or so of the aquarium's bottom. I then layer 3-4 inches of Akadama soil but it could be any of the above commercial products also.

This combination has worked well for me for many years. It provides an acidic substrate solution that keeps key nutrients in solution, avoids compaction, provides a good home for microorganisms that help recylce the organics into nutrients, etc.

HTH.
 

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Aqua Soil and Power Sand are Aqua Design Amano products. Unfortunately, they are not currently available in the US. Aqua Soil is essentially a baked clay. Power Sand is a mix consisting of pumice stone, peat, charcoal and a bacterial additive.

There will be a little mixing of the two when used in combination. This is harmless though.

I purchase peat and pumice from a local orchid supplier. Akadama is special soil from Japan and it is commonly used in Bonsai. You can purchase it from a few locations in the US.
 

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Some akadama does have a lot of dust that should be rinsed off. It really depends on the brand. I use the small grain akadama.

Peat typically does cloud the water somewhat but if you have it under three inches of soil, the clouding is minimal if any. I typically add a layer of crushed charcoal that eliminates the cloudiness.

Akadama is basically baked clay. As such, it will take up magnesium and calcium initially in a chemical reaction similar to what ion-exchange resins do. This decreases the GH/KH in your water. You must monitor these two parameters closely the first week or two.
 
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